SHAWNEE — DJ Gasso called it karma.
Four years ago it was Norman North that defeated Yukon on a passed ball in the bottom of the seventh to advance to the state tournament. This time around it was the Millers, down to their final out, who scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at one.
But an error in the bottom half of the inning swung that pendulum back toward the T-Wolves, when Yukon pitcher Garrett Benge threw the ball past third base while trying to get the lead runner. And, with that throw, the Timberwolves are headed to the state title game with a 2-1 victory.
“It’s like the baseball gods wanted it to be this way,” Gasso said. “It was a great way to end the game.”
Gasso was the main reason the Timberwolves were even in a position to pull off the exciting inning. The senior threw six scoreless innings, recording just one strikeout but forcing the Millers into 11 groundouts, keeping the game tied while his counterpart, Garrett Benge did the same.
It was an especially impressive performance considering Gasso said after the game he didn’t even consider himself a pitcher.
“I just throw it and let them hit it,” he said. “But today was one of those days I was feeling it.”
His coach was a little more complimentary.
“DJ is an absolute warrior,” North coach Brian Aylor said. “He’s such a competitor, and that’s such a great job as a senior to go out and do what he did. We just got on his shoulders and he carried us.”
Gasso and Benge worked efficiently throughout the game. The pair combined for just five strikeouts but forced opposing hitters into groundout after groundout, and the defense made every play behind them. It made for a lightning-fast first five innings that left the two squads tied at zero.
It was in the sixth inning when things began to get interesting. After North escaped the top half of the inning when Gasso picked off a runner at first base, Nick Basquine led off the bottom half of the frame with a single to right field. The Timberwolves followed up with what has become a hallmark of Aylor’s teams — a pair of bunts for singles. Austin Taylor followed followed by hitting into a double play, but it also scored the game’s first run and gave the T-Wolves the lead.
After the Millers tied it, North responded. For the second day in a row, the Timberwolves took control of the game late. This time it was Ryan McDaniel doubling off the left-field wall. Next up was Tyler Bottoms, who sent a hard liner back at Benge, who stopped it and fired low to third. It skipped past the base and allowed the Timberwolves to score the winning run.
“These kids could have quit after being down to that last out, but they didn’t,” Aylor said. “That’s what they do; what they’ve done all year. They fight.”
There’s just one fight left, and it will come at 6 p.m. today in Shawnee with a state title on the line.
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