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.