Clay Middleton remembered when he first met his now assistant coach Turtle Thomas.
A few years ago, Middleton, who played at Bethune-Cookman, faced Florida International University where Thomas had previously coached.
Middleton only remembered the meeting because of one reason – it was his first time getting tackled by his teammates in college.
“It was 0-0 and they (FIU) brought in their closer. (He) threw gas, about 95, 96 (mph), and I just said, ‘Here comes a fastball,’” Middleton said. “I think I closed my eyes.”
With a runner on third, Middleton smacked a sacrifice fly deep enough to get his teammate home. It was the first walk-off of his college career.
“I got to second because I knew he was going to throw it home, and I just let everyone tackle me,” he said.
On Saturday, Middleton got to experience being at the center of a dog pile again when he had his first walk-off as a professional athlete.
With one out in the ninth and Chad Smith on third, Middleton lined an RBI single to right field, giving Spokane a 10-9 win over the Hillsboro Hops at Avista Stadium.
Before he even reached first base, the Indians flooded the field. They tackled Middleton to the ground and tossed a tub of water over him. It was a moment Middleton said he could never forget.
“It’s one of those things that you kind of live for,” Middleton said. “ It means a little more here. I know it’s a job, but I think this stuff is a little more fun.”
Jonah McReynolds started a three-run rally in the ninth with a single to right field. Four more Indians followed with singles, including Chad Smith’s shot to left field that brought in McReynolds.
Miguel Aparicio tied the score at 9 when Hops catcher Daulton Varsho made a bad throw to second in attempt to throw out Smith.
“We’re starting to believe in ourselves more,” Indians head coach Matt Hagen said. “We had some moments early in the first couple of weeks that kind of shook our confidence as a team, but to their credit, they haven’t quit yet.”
They Indians certainly fought back on a night that didn’t seem so promising at first.
Hillsboro’s Yan Sanchez led a two-run first inning with a line drive to left field on the first pitch of the night. Sanchez slowly made his way to third after stealing second and tagging up on a high fly to right field by Bryan Araiza. Sanchez eventually scored on a chopper to shortstop.
The Hops scored again on Drew Ellis’ RBI double that bounced off the center field wall.
Ellis attempted to take a third run for the Hops, but was caught halfway down the line tagged out to end the inning.
The Indians answered with their own pair of runs in the bottom of the frame, beginning with Miguel Aparicio’s double to left field. It was Aparicio’s club-leading seventh double of the season.
Tyler Ratliff followed with a shot that landed within feet of being foul in the parking lot, tying the score at 2.
But the Indians quickly lost control.
Lopez gave up leadoff single on a blooper that fell short in right-center field. The righty followed with a walk and two-run double that shot down the third-base line.
The Hops then quieted Avista Stadium with a two-run homer by Araiza extend their lead to 6-2.
Ronny Carvajal took over for Lopez in attempt to gain some control, but the right-hander loaded the bases on a walk and a liner to left.
The Hops scored one more time on a wild pitch. Carvajal finally ended the five-run inning with a fly out to right field.
But the Indians weren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. They slowly chipped away at the score, beginning with a run in the second on Novoa’s solo homer to right field.
Spokane added another score in the fourth inning when Kole Enright knocked in Clay Middleton on a single to right field. The second baseman tried to stretch his hit to a double and was tagged out at second for Spokane’s first out of the inning.
Hillsboro retired the next two batters on a fly and a short grounder to end the inning.
Spokane rallied in the fifth behind a three long hits, beginning with Aparicio’s single to right field. Chad Smith followed with an RBI single to center field to bring the Indians within two runs of Hillsboro.
Andretty Cordero brought the Indians back in the game with a long line drive that cleared the left field wall, sending home two runs to tie the score at 7.
But the tie was short-lived.
Hillsboro powered behind Sanchez’s double that hit the track in left-center in the sixth. Hops’ Eudy Ramos knocked in Sanchez on a single to left, lifting Hillsboro to a 8-7 lead.
The Hops added one more run in the ninth starting with Araiza’s leadoff double to center field. Hillsboro’s Varsho knocked in Araiza grounder to right field.
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