Boise strikes first in Northwest League playoffs

Unpredictable Hawks cool off scorching Volcanoes in South Division series opener.

clangrill@idahostatesman.comSeptember 4, 2013 

Boise Hawks second baseman Danny Lockhart, left, and outfielder Kevin Encarnacion share a laugh after getting out of the seventh inning during Game 1 of their Northwest League South Division playoff series against Salem-Keizer on Tuesday night at Memorial Stadium in Boise.


— The odds were stacked against the Boise Hawks in the first game of their Northwest League divisional playoff series against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

• Salem-Keizer won the first- and second-half South Division titles in the regular season.

• The Volcanoes had won five games in a row, and Boise came into the playoffs on a five-game losing streak.

• Salem-Keizer went 4-2 at Memorial Stadium during the regular season.

• The Volcanoes came into the game with a 9-1 record against the Hawks in the postseason.

But the Hawks have been a streaky, hard-to-figure team all season. But this much is known about them: Don’t count them out.

Boise defeated Salem-Keizer 3-0 on Tuesday night at Memorial Stadium. The Hawks take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series as it heads to Keizer, Ore., where Boise can advance to the NWL championship series with a win Wednesday or Thursday night.

“We came into the playoffs kind of cold, and they came in hot,” infielder Danny Lockhart said. “We’ve definitely got to take advantage of this momentum while we have it.”

Manager Gary Van Tol said before the game that he thought Hawks starter Paul Blackburn would be the key to Boise’s fortunes in the first game.

Blackburn came through in a big way. The 2012 first-round draft pick struck out eight and allowed just two hits in seven shutout innings. It was the longest outing for a Hawks pitcher this season.

“A big-time effort,” Van Tol said. “He stepped up big time, and we needed that. … He pitched the best game of his young career.”

The Hawks were indeed in dire need of a strong outing from their pitching staff. They had given up 49 runs in the final five games of the regular season.

Tuesday night, Blackburn and Zack Godley combined on a three-hit shutout.

Blackburn was spotted a lead when Boise scored two quick runs in the bottom of the first. Kevin Encarnacion, the league’s batting champ, led off with a single on the first pitch he saw. Lockhart then hit a double to right field, and Encarnacion scored and Lockhart went to third when Volcanoes right fielder Brian Ragira misplayed the ball.

Yasiel Balaguert drove in Lockhart with a sacrifice fly to right, and Boise led 2-0.

“That was huge for us,” Lockhart said. “It gives Blackie confidence and it gives us confidence because we knew that we had the lead early, and that’s when we work best.”

It turned out that was all the scoring the Hawks would need, but Balaguert, the league RBI leader in the regular season, drove in a run in the seventh to cap the scoring.

And with that, Boise heads to Salem-Keizer, where the Hawks need to win one of two games.

“The last time we went to their place wasn’t too long ago, and we swept them,” Van Tol said. “So, to go into their place up 1-0, with the success that we’ve had at their park, with the huge confidence boost we have now, you couldn’t ask for anything better.”

But after beating the odds in the first game, Van Tol won’t be taking anything for granted as his team tries to win another.

“We know it’s not going to be easy, and we’re not going to get too excited,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do, and these guys know that, but we’d definitely rather be in this position than the other way around.”

Chris Langrill: 377-6424

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