Volcanoes clinch first half division title

Volcanoes right-hander Jesus Ozoria threw five innings and gave up just one run against Boise on Thursday July 18. Ozoria is tied for second in the Northwest League lead in wins (3) (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

For the first time since 2015, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes will be in the Northwest League playoffs. 

Yorlis Rodriguez hit an RBI-double in the top of the 12th, then came into score on a base hit by Simon Whiteman, helping give the Volcanoes the 4-3 victory over the Boise Hawks on Sunday, July 21. The win allowed Salem-Keizer to clinch the first half crown in the NWL South division and earn a spot in the postseason.

“It feels good to give this back to the community, because they have waited a long time for this,” said Mitche Graf, the Volcanoes President of Businesses Operations. “Now we have to finish the job.”

The Volcanoes finish the first half with a 26-12 record, two games better than the second place Hillsboro Hops. 

“It’s a great feeling. I’m really proud of everyone on this staff and the hard work that we have put in so far,” Volcanoes manager Mark Hallberg said. “We have a talented group of guys that we’re developing.”

Salem-Keizer grabbed the early advantage in the top of the first to go up 1-0. Whiteman led off the contest with a double. But after a free pass was issued to Hunter Bishop, Franklin Labour lined into a double play. Logan Wyatt, however, was able to drive in Whiteman with an RBI-single to left field. 

The Volcanoes struck again in the top of the second thanks to a solo bomb from Armani Smith to put his team up 2-0. It was Smith’s second home run of the season. 

On the mound, Volcanoes starter Kervin Castro was phenomenal in his first four innings of work as the young right-hander from Venezuela gave up just one hit to the Hawks. But in the bottom of the fifth, Boise got on the board with an RBI-double by Daniel Cope to cut the lead to one. 

Castro left the game after five innings, giving up just three hits and one run. He gave up no walks and struck out four.

Boise came back to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth thanks to another RBI-double, this time courtesy of Aaron Schunk, which forced the game to go into extra innings.

A new rule implemented in the minor leagues last season is that when a game goes into extra innings, the player that was the last out of the previous inning starts the frame at second base — this rule was enacted to speed up the pace of play when a game goes past the ninth inning. 

Neither team was able to take advantage of the runner in scoring position in the 10th or 11th innings, but the Volcanoes finally capitalized in the top of the 12th. 

Rodriguez’s double to left field scored Alexander Canario to give the Volcanoes the 3-2 lead. Two batters later, Whiteman came through with an key RBI-single that allowed Salem-Keizer to get a much-needed insurance run. 

In the bottom of the frame, Hallberg brought in reliever Deiyerbert Bolivar to try and get his first save of the season. 

A pair of wild pitches allowed a run to score from second, but Bolivar struck out the side to seal the deal.

Even though the Volcanoes have already clinched a playoff spot, they still plan to attack the second half of the regular season with the same ferocity that they did in the first half. 

“We’re just going to keep putting time, energy and effort into the things that got us here,” Hallberg said. 

Graf added: “We’re very happy with what we accomplished, but the work has just begun. We have another half of a season in front of us, and from a business standpoint, this is when the work really begins. This is when we roll up our sleeves. We have a lot of great promotions left and some phenomenal games left against some very competitive teams.”