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2000 Alaska Goldpanners
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PANNERS GOING TO PLAYOFFS

By Beth Bragg
(Published July 28, 2000)

ANCHORAGE--Pitching in the most important game of the season following a 20-hour rain delay in which he readied himself for action three times, David Gassner was the potrait of poise and precision Saturday.

In leading the Alaska Goldpanners to their first trip to the National Baseball Congress World Series in 14 years, Gassner brought new meaning to the concept of being in the zone.

Gassner, a left-hander from Purdue University, shut down the Mat-Su Miners 3-0 with a three-hit, 10-strikeout complete game at Mulcahy Stadium.

His focus never wavered and neither did his pitching. Gassner was in the strike zone all afternoon, throwing first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 33 batters he faced and getting behind in the count only 12 times.

"Just unbelieveable," Panners catcher Ken Tirpack said. "There wasn't a pitch that wasn't a strike."

In the first three innings, Gassner was perfect--nine up, nine down--with 27 of his first 36 pitches landing for strikes.

"You can't pitch much better than he did," Mat-Su catcher Brad Harper said. "I can't think of one bad pitch from him. It was his day."

And because of that, the Goldpanners are going to Wichita, Kan., and the Miners are not.

The game, played as part of the annual Anchorage Bucs Wooden Bat Tournament, was a playoff game for second place in the Alaska Baseball League. Both teams finished the regular season with 16-13 records.

At stake was the league's second berth in the NBC World Series. The Peninsula Oilers, who own the league pennant, earned the first berth.

Both teams had plenty of motivation to claim the postseason trip.

The Mat-Su Miners had dedicated the season to longtime general manager Stan Zaborac, who died of a heart attack during the season.

A team always known for its scrappiness and work ethic, the Miners played spectacularly under late-season pressure. They cemented the second-place tie by splitting their final series, a four-game road stint against the champion Oilers.

"They had a great year," Panners manager Dan Cowgill said, "and in my opinion Bobby Myers is coach of the year."

The Goldpanners, meanwhile, had set a season-long goal of returning to the NBC World Series. The Panners used to own that tournament--they have a record five championships--but they have not played there since 1986. Their last title came in 1980.

So there was no need for players to look for inspiration for the playoff game. And the fact it took so long for the game to come off only added to the drama.

First, it was supposed to be played Friday afternoon, but a monsoon-like downpour made that impossible. There was a brief hope it could be played late Friday night, but the rain continued.

Rescheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, rain once again pelted an already soggy Mulcahy Stadium. Both teams showed up an hour or so before gametime, only to be sent home to wait for a noon start. The game finally started at 12:50 p.m.

At least the Goldpanners had a hotel to go to. The Miners, who are driving to town from Palmer each day, hung out at a fast-food restaurant before returning to Mulcahy.

"It kind of wears you down a little," said Mat-Su starting pitcher Josh Scott (6-2).

"We were over here four times in the last two days," Cowgill said, "so (the pressure) built even more."

But Gassner was more than prepared to handle it.

"You get a little anxious," he said. "We wanted to get this game over with. This morning it was raining, but as soon as they got me up, I started to focus."

David Gassner was a study in concentration. Before each pitch from the stretch, he touched the bill of his cap and then the back of his cap. Then he swiped his glove hand across his forehead. Then he bowed his head and shook his pitching arm at his side, keeping his head bowed until the batter was in his stance.

Only then did he look up.

"Pitching is a game of emotion," Gassner said. "It's full of ups and downs, and if you don't show emotion, people can't get to you. We're taught at Purdue to show as little emotion as possible."

Gassner mowed down 11 straight Miners until Jason Walker ended the perfect game with a single to right field. Walker was one of just six Miners who reached base against Gassner, whose only real jam came in the fifth. Mat-Su put runners at first and second with no outs, but failed to push across a run.

In the bottom of that inning, a Jeff Phelps sacrifice fly scored Greg Sain for a 1-0 Goldpanners lead.

"That took a lot of pressure off," Gassner said. "You have a lot of competition with the opposing pitcher--you don't want to give in before he does."

By outlasting Scott, who in six innings gave up five hits and three runs, two of them unearned, Gassner led his team to Wichita.

"Credit the kids," Cowgill said. "We were 6-11 at one point and they turned it around. One assistant coach says it's because of extra hitting. The other says it was him throwing batting practice. I say it was us going to the movies in between games once."

But on one point everyone can agree: On Saturday, the Goldpanners won a trip to Wichita because Gassner wouldn't let them lose.

July 30, 2000, Anchorage Daily News