EUGENE — The ball rolled just inside first base and on into right field, the hitter somehow wound up out in center, and a night on which the Eugene Emeralds always seemed to get their wires crossed ended in jubilation.
The Ems in the dugout lined the rail for the 11th inning Tuesday night at PK Park, their caps on backwards, begging for a rally. Ronnie Richardson obliged them, sneaking a hit down the first-base line to score Marcus Davis from third and give Eugene a 3-2 victory over the Hillsboro Hops in a Northwest League baseball game before an announced crowd of 2,054 that numbered a couple hundred by the end.
The short-season Class A contest marked the professional debut of Medford's Braden Shipley, who started for Hillsboro, an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Shipley, a former North Medford standout, was Arizona's first-round draft pick a month ago — No. 15 overall — out of Nevada.
With a large contingent of family and friends in the stands, he was on a strict limit of two innings, and pitched around a leadoff double in the second after striking out the first two hitters in a 1-2-3 first.
His fastball reached 95 mph three times on the radar gun and was generally around 94.
"I felt pretty good for the first time out in five weeks," Shipley said. "First inning, I was pitching on adrenaline. I just have to get the feel back for how to start a game."
His line was two shutout innings, two strikeouts, one hit, no walks or hit batters.
And his night was done long before Richardson's winning hit.
Richardson rounded first and made a bee line for center field, but his teammates tracked him down, mobbing the Ems' center fielder after his walk-off single.
"They tackled me last year," Richardson said. "I was trying to get away, but they caught up to me.
"It's all fun and games. After a win like that? It's huge."
Richardson's dramatics put a happy twist on a mostly frustrating evening for the Ems (7-12). Eugene loaded the bases with one out in the sixth and with no outs in the seventh, yielding a total of one run. Starter Jeffrey Enloe had departed by then following six shutout innings, before the Emeralds could manage a lead.
The inability to break through for more looked back-breaking when the Hops (4-15) tied it in the eighth and took the lead in the ninth on a Tyler Linton homer. But Eugene rallied against Hillsboro reliever Will Locante in the bottom of the ninth on a sacrifice fly.
Richardson batted in that inning, with runners at the corners and nobody out. But Locante, his former Cape Cod League teammate, struck Richardson out.
"I knew how he was going to pitch me, and I let him beat me," Richardson said. "(But) if you give me a second chance, it's not going to be pretty."
That proved to be the case in the 11th. Davis was hit by a pitch to lead off, Michael Bass reached on a bunt the catcher couldn't field, and a sacrifice bunt moved both runners up to set the stage for Richardson.
The Hops might have walked him to set up the double play. Instead, Locante pitched to his former teammate, who made him pay for the Ems' second straight win following a seven-game losing streak.
"These last couple games, we've been playing pretty good baseball," Richardson said. —¦ We've got to execute better. But to grind that win out was huge, especially the way the season's been going so far."