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Pitching plan helps Norman outlast Duncan to win Southern Oklahoma Invitational baseball tournament

Tigers overcome early deficit to beat defending 5A champions, tournament hosts

By Glen Brockenbush  

DUNCAN - Trying to save his top pitchers for next week’s district contests, Norman head baseball coach Cody Merrell went into Saturday's game against Duncan with a set plan for who would pitch and for how long.

“Driving home on the bus (Friday night), we talked about, ‘This guy’s available, this guy and let’s just go Johnny Whole Staff and stick to the plan,’” Merrell said. “If one guy looked really good for an inning, we knew we weren’t going to extend him.”

That plan worked out in Saturday’s championship game of the Southern Oklahoma Invitational, as Norman beat the defending 5A district champions and tournament hosts, 7-5.

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It was the third time the two teams had faced each other this season, and it marked the second consecutive weekend that Norman had beaten Duncan for a tournament title.

Earlier in the day, Marlow beat Guthrie in eight innings, 10-9, to claim third place.

Duncan was without three of its starters Saturday - Preston Giles, Bryson Brooksher and Jeffrey Cross. But that didn’t seem to matter in the first inning, as Blake Barnard got on board to start the game, and was moved to second thanks to a bunt from Eli Ramirez.

Barnard stole third, and scored on a sac fly from Chago Barham. Ramirez later scored on a hit by Jackson Poage.

Poage’s courtesy runner, Chris Kouts, would score on a wild pitch, giving the Demons a 3-0 lead after just the top of the first.

With Raymond Garland pitching for Duncan, Norman loaded the bases in the first inning. Still, it looked like the Demons might get out of the inning unscathed, when a pop fly was sent into shallow right field with two outs.

But the ball fell between three Duncan fielders, scoring two.

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Duncan’s first inning exploits were enough to chase Norman starting pitcher Clayton Moore from the game after just one inning, with Liam McKinney taking the mound.

After no runs in the second, Duncan nearly duplicated its first-inning blueprint - a base hit by Barnard was followed by a Ramirez bunt, and both players scored, giving the defending 5A state champions a 5-2 lead.

Norman tied the score in the bottom of the inning, and would get to new pitcher Jaxon Simpson in the fourth. With a runner on first, Norman executed a perfect hit-and-run with Hollis Breeding, giving the Tigers two runners.

Two straight walks brought home a run to give Norman its first lead of the evening. The Tigers tacked on another run later.

Similar to Norman, the Demons were trying to conserve pitching. That resulted in several inexperienced pitchers being featured in the game, including Simpson, Gage Ingram and Gabe Murillo.

Of course, Duncan was also dealing with the aforementioned attrition, which resulted in younger players being thrust into key spots. Murillo started the game at second base, while Rylan Samuels played in the outfield.

“You learn a lot about guys when they get an opportunity,” Duncan coach Grant Oliver said.

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In the top of the seventh, down a run, Duncan got two runners on. A bunt attempt resulted in a force out at third.

With two outs, Oliver rolled the dice and allowed Brooksher, the team’s regular leadoff man who hadn’t played all game thanks to a leg injury suffered in the semifinal win over Guthrie, to bat.

“We know we can trust him. We told him to be careful and we know he will,” Oliver said. “Just want to see if he can put a charge into one and give us the lead back late in the game.”

Brooksher put the ball in play, but it went straight to first baseman Trace Redwine to end the game.

Norman (16-7) gets ready for a two-game district series against Mustang beginning on Monday, while the Demons (16-4) play a two-game set against Elgin.