SHAWNEE — Norman North senior right-hander DJ Gasso and Yukon junior right-hander Garrett Benge were locked in a pitcher's duel for five innings Friday afternoon in the Class 6A semifinals at Ed Skelton Field.
The final two innings the momentum swung a couple of times before Norman North advanced to the title game for the first time, winning 2-1 on a comebacker to Benge.
After Yukon tied the game with two outs in the top of the seventh on a passed ball, Norman North first baseman Ryan McDaniel led off the bottom of the seventh with a double in the right-center gap. Dylan Sterling pinch ran.
Tyler Bottoms hit a one hopper back to Benge who fired to third. When Benge's throw skipped past third baseman Mason McAlister, Sterling raced home with the winning run.
“After we gave up the passed ball to tie the game our kids could have quit,” said Norman North coach Brian Aylor. “It was such an emotional letdown. We were one strike away. But we responded. They've been resilient all year.”
The Millers (33-9) tied the game in the top of the seventh when star catcher Jon Denney led off with a double down the left-field line. With two outs, Denney scored the tying run on a head-high pitch that glanced off catcher Colton Hansmeyer's glove to the screen.
Norman North used small ball to take a 1-0 lead in the sixth. Nick Basquine led off with a single. Daniel Herron and Gasso followed with bunt singles to load the bases with no outs. Austin Taylor grounded into a double play up the middle that allowed Basquine to score.
“Baseball is a funny game,” said Yukon coach Kevin James. “You can be so high one moment and it can rip your heart out the next moment. We didn't make the plays when we needed to. It wasn't a lack of effort. We just didn't get it done. Norman North played well and pitched well.”
Recording 11 ground-ball outs, Gasso went six innings, allowing only one hit, a single in the third. Aylor allows pitching coach Brad Dolejsi, a former Gary Ward assistant, to make all pitching decisions.
Dolejsi brought in Austin Cranford, who pitched 31/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the win in Thursday's win over Tulsa Kelley.
“Going into that final inning we almost perfect defensively and pitching-wise,” Aylor said. “Gasso threw an unbelievable game. He's an absolute warrior. The kid has done it all year long. He jumped on his back as a senior.”
Norman North (27-8) will play top-ranked, undefeated Owasso in the title game Saturday at 6 p.m. in Shawnee.
“There is no greater feeling,” Gasso said. “I've dreamed about this my whole life. I couldn't ask for a better senior year. We went to the finals in football and now baseball.”
Owasso 5, Broken Arrow 3
The top-ranked Rams (35-0) used the long ball to defeat Broken Arrow 5-3 Friday night in the 6A semifinals.
Owasso third baseman Trae Bobo slammed a solo home run in the second to tie the game 1-1. First baseman Austin O'Brien crushed a three-run homer, his 10th, in the third after the Tigers intentionally walked his brother, Mason O'Brien.
The Rams tacked on an unearned run in the fifth to lead 5-1. Broken Arrow closed to within 5-3 on Coleman Key's two-run double in the sixth but Owasso junior left-hander Jeb Bargfeldt pitched a 1-2-3 seventh for a complete-game four-hitter.
Owasso will be gunning for its 12th baseball title but their first since 2009.
“It means a lot to get back there,” said Owasso coach Larry Turner. “This is a special group, a tough out up and down the lineup. They don't try to do too much. It seems every day it's somebody different.”
To win another state title would be satisfaction enough but the Rams have a shot at a perfect season.
“I didn't talk about it at all until it was about 25,” Turner said. “I told the kids, ‘If we get beat, we get beat. Just don't give one away.' We just wanted to have a chance to win the last game of the season ... We've had a lot of close 1-run or 2-run games. There haven't been a lot of blowouts. It would be very special.”