Brian Billigen needed to make a few calls home in June for some moral support.
The Spokane Indians might want to find somebody to call for positive vibes.
Billigen’s three-run homer to right field in the top of the 11th inning Tuesday night gave the Hillsboro Hops a 4-1 win over Spokane and extended the Indians’ losing streak to four games.
Spokane’s defeat, coupled with Tuesday wins by Everett and Vancouver, created a three-way tie for first place in the Northwest League’s North Division. All three are 12-14 in the second half, with 12 games left in the regular season. Tri-City (11-15), with four consecutive wins, is one game back.
The Hops improved to 15-11 in the second half and closed within one game of South Division-leading Salem-Keizer.
Billigen unloaded on a 1-0 fastball from Ricardo Rodriguez (0-2) for his second homer of the season and the series. Until his winning hit, he was 0 for 4, all groundouts.
“I used a smaller bat (for the homer), because I had been getting jammed and my hands felt a little slow,” the Hops outfielder said. … “I guess it made a difference.”
Billigen, a second-year professional who wasn’t drafted out of Cornell, started the season in a brutal slump.
“I was down to about .130 (batting average) in June,” he said. “That was my bottom of the barrel there, but it’s been uphill since then. I talked to my dad a lot and talked to my sister a lot. They’re great support. My mom, too, and a couple of guys on the team were helpful.”
The Hops were held to three hits through 10 innings by starter John Niggli and relievers John Straka and Rodriguez. They tied the game at 1 in the fourth when Yogey Perez-Ramos, who had doubled with one out, scored on a passed ball by Indians catcher Joe Jackson.
Niggli lowered his earned-run average to 1.59 in three starts by working seven solid innings.
“It was an outstanding outing for him,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “That was probably the longest he’s ever gone. That’s a good note tonight.”
The Hops, who won the series 4-1 and the season series 7-3, held Spokane to three runs over the final 30 innings of the series.
Spokane stranded runners at third base in the fifth and sixth innings, and had runners in scoring position in the ninth, 10th and 11th.
“We had opportunites with guys in scoring position, but you have to get that big hit with two outs to win games like this,” Hulett said.
The Indians had been 6-3 in extra-inning games this season.
Spokane will continue its eight-game homestand tonight with the first of three games against Tri-City. Spokane is 8-1 against T-C this season, with five consecutive wins.
Hops get pop
The Hops will receive some pop for their lineup for the rest of the season.
First baseman Daniel Palka, a third-round selection this year out of Georgia Tech, is joining the roster after hitting .302 with seven homers at Missoula of the Pioneer League.
Hillsboro infielder Ryan Kinsella will be sent to play in Missoula.