Tri-City Dust Devils

Dust Devils head to NWL championship series

PASCO -- The Tri-City Dust Devils have been able to hold champagne celebrations in the clubhouse twice this season.

First, the Dust Devils did it in late July after clinching the first-half title in the Northwest League East Division. They did it again Tuesday after a 9-1 win over Boise to win the NWL Divisional Playoff series at Gesa Stadium.

They're counting on getting good and happy one final time, hopefully to commemorate Tri-City's first Northwest League championship since 1984. The Tri-City Triplets were the last team from Tri-Cities to win the NWL title. The Tri-City Posse, an independent team, won the Western Baseball League championship in 1999.

"This was a big game for us. We established that we're the team to beat in the playoffs," said Dust Devils starting pitcher Tyler Gagnon, who allowed just one run on six hits over six innings for his first professional playoff victory. "For me to get the win is awesome, but even better is for the team to win. Now we get a day off to prepare for either Eugene or Vancouver."

Tri-City is prepared for its next series, the best-of-3 NWL championship, which will begin either Thursday or Friday. The question is, who will the Dust Devils face and when?

"I'm not the type who worries about (matchups). We just need to keep playing the way we've been playing," said Tri-City manager Fred Ocasio. "We pitched well. We were running the bases and had guys moving around, which caused some (Boise) errors."

Vancouver visits PK Park in Eugene at 7:05 p.m. today to decide the West division series, which is tied at a game apiece after the Canadians' 10-3 road win Tuesday.

If Vancouver wins, Game 1 of the NWL championship series would begin at 7:15 p.m. Friday at Gesa Stadium, followed by Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver.

If Eugene wins, however, the Emeralds would forfeit home-field advantage in order to accommodate an Oregon Ducks football game on Saturday. In that situation, the Ems would play host to Game 1 at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, followed by Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) at Gesa Stadium at 7:15 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Gagnon's only slip up was a first-pitch fastball he grooved to Reggie Golden, who took him deep to left field for the Hawks only run of the series.

Meanwhile, the Dust Devils offense was clicking on all cylinders for the second straight day, collecting 13 hits -- four apiece from Brian Humphries and Jaron Shepherd -- while batting 7-for-16 with runners in scoring position.

"It's all about timing and confidence. During the last three games against Salem-Keizer, we really got some momentum going," said Humphries, who had RBI singles in the fourth and eighth innings.

Shepherd scored twice and added an RBI single during Tri-City's four-run fourth inning that made it 5-0.

"We're at a point where everybody's rolling," Shepherd said. "We're playing good baseball on offense and defense. When you put those two together, it's hard to beat."

The Dust Devils ran into a bit of trouble in the top of the seventh inning. Rafael Suarez relieved Gagnon and appeared to strike out Zeke DeVoss on a check swing. But home plate umpire Lee Meyers ruled that DeVoss didn't go around, prompting a furious response from Tri-City catcher Ryan Casteel.

"I thought the batter swung, but the umpire thought otherwise. What he says goes," Casteel said.

"It was a strike. He swung the bat, and Suarez would have had an easy inning," Ocasio said. "That would have changed the game. It would have tied it (at 5)."

Suarez then gave up a walk to DeVoss, a single to Brad Zapenas and another walk to Rafael Lopez to load the bases. The next batter, Boise cleanup hitter Ryan Cuneo, hit a towering shot down the right field line that cleared the fence but was foul by only a few feet.

Suarez survived the close call, however, and got Cuneo to pop out to Humphries in center field to end the inning.

"Suarez is tough," Casteel said. "He battled and fought the guy off."

Nelson Gonzalez and Rhett Ballard each threw a perfect inning of relief to cap the win. Boise starter Joe Zeller took the loss, allowing five runs -- four earned -- in 3 1/3 innings.

Notes: RHP Ben Alsup will get the start in Game 1 of the NWL. championship series. RHP Chris Jensen is slated to start Game 2.