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Dust Devils, Volcanoes punch tickets08/30/2009 1:56 AM ET
By John Torenli / Special to MLB.com
The Tri-City Dust Devils played their best baseball when it mattered most.
That's why they're the Northwest League's East Division champions, according to Freddie Ocasio, the circuit's Manager of the Year.
"That's one thing I told the guys today," Ocasio revealed after sharing some apple cider with his jubilant team during the postgame celebration.
"Championship teams get hot at the end of the season, and that's what we did."
Josh Hungerman tossed 5 2/3 solid innings and Jeremiah Sammy delivered a tiebreaking two-run single in the seventh Saturday night as Tri-City beat the Boise Hawks, 3-1, for its season-high eighth straight victory and second division crown in three years.
The Dust Devils (42-26), who already have set a franchise record for wins, endured a three-game funk from Aug. 18-21, including a pair of losses to second-place Spokane.
But a 5-1 victory on Aug. 22 over the Indians, who were eliminated with a loss at Yakima on Saturday, sparked Tri-City to its best run of the campaign.
Though they still have eight games left on the schedule, the Dust Devils can begin tuning up for a Northwest League Championship Series showdown with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, who clinched another West Division title later Saturday.
"It's a small celebration today because we still have the big one to come," said Ocasio, who guided the Dust Devils to the Finals in 2007, only to come up short against the Volcanoes.
"We're going to rest some guys. We're kind of banged up a little bit right now. We have to protect them before we get to the playoffs."
Though its team batting average ranks near the bottom of the league, Tri-City boasts the circuit's top ERA and has made a habit of coming through with big hits and clutch defensive plays.
"Early in the year, the offense pretty much carried the team," Ocasio noted. "But late in the year, the pitching and defense has been carrying us. Good pitching and defense helps win championships."
Volcanoes manager Tom Trebelhorn would agree. Pitching, he said, helped his team avoid any long losing streaks on the way to its fourth straight Finals appearance.
Salem-Keizer got off to an 18-5 start and quickly regrouped after a 21-1 loss to Everett on Wednesday.
"I told them this is an embarrassing loss. I think it's a loss that we could say was a bit disheartening, but it can't be demoralizing," said Trebelhorn, who told his players the story of how the Pirates won the 1960 World Series.
"As long as you've got tomorrow, you've got a chance. Getting clobbered doesn't mean a thing as long as you come back tomorrow."
The Volcanoes clinched with a 4-3 victory at Everett, scoring three times in the ninth inning.
Ocasio's Dust Devils were deadlocked, 1-1, in the seventh when Jose Gonzalez reached on an infield single and took second on a wild throw by Boise shortstop Hak-Ju Lee. Joey Wong's sacrifice attempt put runners on the corners when reliever Eduardo Figueroa (3-4) misfired to first.
Wong stole second before Tim Wheeler struck out, but Sammy came through with a grounder through the right side of the infield, giving Tri-City a two-run lead.
"Sammy came up with a big two-strike hit that just got through," Ocasio said. "Sammy's been hot at the plate. He seems like he's getting two or three big hits every game."
Hungerman, the Rockies' 17th-round pick in this year's Draft, allowed an unearned run on three hits and two walks with a season-high eight strikeouts before turning the ball over to the bullpen.
Paul Bargas (1-1) pitched 1 1/3 perfect innings and Aaron Weatherford worked around a hit in the eighth before Charles Ruiz struck out Jae-Hoon Ha to close out a hitless ninth for his league-leading 17th save as the Dust Devils and the 3,549 fans at Gesa Stadium began celebrating.
"We all ran onto the field and then we brought it inside," Ocasio added. "Like I said, we still have to win the big one."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.