Three weeks ago, the Tri-City Dust Devils were 12-2 and seemed unbeatable heading into their first meeting of the year against Salem-Keizer.
The Volcanoes took four of five games - two of them by just one run - to bring the Dust Devils' whirlwind back down to earth.
But Tri-City made a statement Tuesday at Gesa Stadium in a 3-1 win over the Northwest League's defending West Division champions.
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"We played some close games (in Salem-Keizer)," said Dust Devils manager Fred Ocasio of what remains the first of just two series losses this season. "We lost four, but we could have taken three or four of them."
Tri-City (24-14) picked up a half-game in the East Division standings, extending its lead to
7 1/2 games over Boise (16-21), which was idle.
Ben Paulsen, a third-round draft choice by the Colorado Rockies, drove a one-out RBI triple to straightaway center field to score Tim Wheeler and break a 1-all tie in the bottom of the seventh. Paulsen then scored on a single to center field by Kent Matthes to put Tri-City ahead 3-1.
The Dust Devils didn't have much luck against Volcanoes starter Jeremy Toole, a 10th-rounder out of BYU. But once he was relieved in the top of the sixth, Tri-City hitters found their rhythm against reliever Mario Rodriguez.
"(Toole) did a good job keeping us off balance," said Paulsen of the Dust Devils offense, which collected just three hits against the 6-foot-4 right-hander. "(Rodriguez) had a hard time throwing strikes."
Salem-Keizer took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning when Chris Dominguez hammered a 3-1 fastball from Tri-City starter Josh Hungerman over the left-center field fence.
Paulsen, who finished 2-for-4 with a pair of runs and an RBI, scored the tying run for the Dust Devils in the sixth inning, coming home on Joe Sanders' one-out single.
Hungerman was effective despite not feeling quite up to his best. The 17th-round left-hander out of Cleveland State allowed just one run on two hits through 42⁄3 innings in his third professional start.
"My arm didn't feel that great, but I'm thankful I managed to survive," said Hungerman, whose lowered his ERA to 3.15.
The only mistake Hungerman made was a 3-1 fastball which he left up in the zone to Chris Dominguez to lead off the second inning. Dominguez parked it over the left-centerfield wall for a 1-0 lead.
"When I was coming off the mound, I was laughing and smiling," Hungerman said. "I got away with some mistakes."
Once Hungerman left, however, the Dust Devils outstanding bullpen took over.
Rhett Ballard and Rex Brothers combined for 31⁄3 innings of scoreless relief, and closer Charlie Ruiz notched his NWL-leading ninth save with a perfect ninth.