NORMAN — Daniel Herron fielded the ball near second base on one hop and delivered a perfect strike to first for the final out, and within seconds the T-Wolves were tangled up in a dogpile near the pitcher’s mound to celebrate.
Norman North is going to state.
The Timberwolves punched their ticket to the season’s final weekend with an 8-1 victory over Southmoore in a game that started out full of tension and finished just the opposite, as a number of timely T-Wolves hits combined with six SaberCat errors turned what was a 1-1 game in the fourth inning into a come-from-behind blowout victory for North.
It was North’s first time to advance to state from their home field since 2007, and their first overall regional victory since 2010. Centerfielder Luke Jones was a freshman then, watching in awe as the seniors celebrated a ticket to high school baseball’s biggest stage.
“As a freshman, you look up to them and say ‘that’s what I want to do one day,’” he said. “Now that I’m here, it’s just a dream come true. This is what you want to do every year you play high school baseball.”
It didn’t come easily.
Southmoore struck first, loading the bases with one out against starter DJ Gasso. But the senior worked out of the jam with minimal damage, with a baserunning error and a pop-up providing the final two outs. That gave North a chance in the second to regain the momentum, and the T-Wolves seized it, tying the game on a Tyler Bottoms sacrifice fly, after the first of Southmoore’s six errors put runners in scoring position.
But the SaberCats threatened to retake the lead in the bottom of half of the inning, as well as in each of the next three. But Gasso and the North defense worked out of every tough spot, holding Southmoore scoreless and forcing the SaberCats to strand five runners through three innings.
That opened the door for North to take control of the game, and the T-Wolves did so. They added a run in the fourth inning to take the lead when Kallen Snodgrass narrowly beat a throw to home plate, and the floodgates opened in the fifth. Jones led off the inning with a triple, Nick Basquine scored him by bunting for a hit, and Herron capped off a spectacular regional tournament in which he went 7 for 11 by providing the hit that brought in Basquine.
The Timberwolves only got stronger from there, adding another three runs in the sixth while Austin Cranford closed out the game, combining with Gasso to give up just four hits in the win.
“It feels good to be rewarded for your hard work, and these kids have worked so hard and gone through so much adversity this year,” coach Brian Aylor said. “They have bought in completely to our philosophy and they deserve this. All that hard work is for this moment right here. Now we’re just three wins away from a state title.”
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