The Durham Bulls got some revenge for last season and captured their first Governors' Cup title in six years Thursday night at PNC Field.
But it certainly wasn't easy.
John Jaso drilled a go-ahead RBI double in the top of the 12th inning and Justin Ruggiano made a game-saving catch in the bottom of the frame as the Bulls held on for a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, completing a three-game sweep of the defending International League champions.
"It was great teamwork all around," said manager Charlie Montoyo after guiding Durham to its third Governors' Cup crown and first since 2003.
"That's what's beautiful about it. Everyone contributed."
Last September, Durham lost the Finals in four games to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, including a humbling 20-2 defeat at home in the finale.
Things went much differently in the rematch as the Bulls used a pair of strong pitching performances to take the first two contests at home before surviving an epic struggle in Game 3.
"I was never really thinking revenge," Montoyo said. "But whoever was in front of us, we were going to have to beat."
After both teams squandered several chances to snap a 2-2 deadlock, Durham finally came through in the 12th as Elliot Johnson singled off Eric Wordekemper (0-1) with one out before scampering home on Jaso's booming two-base hit that short-hopped the right-field wall.
"I hadn't really been having good at-bats," Jaso admitted. "I was just trying to see the pitch and not get too big. It all just came together. It was a fastball, two-seamer away, and I got it. But breaking the tie was only half the battle."
On the verge of elimination, the Yankees mounted a rally in their half of the 12th. Durham closer Winston Abreu walked Juan Miranda to start the inning before leaving the mound with an injury.
Julio DePaula came in and got Cody Ransom to fly out to center field before issuing the Bulls' 11th walk of the night to John Rodriguez.
Reegie Corona stepped to the plate and smacked a line drive down the left-field line that appeared to be just out of the reach of Ruggiano. But the 27-year-old Texas A&M product threw caution to the wind as he approached the ball.
"To be honest, I had no idea if it was going to be fair or foul," Ruggiano revealed. "I knew if it dropped, at
least the tying run would score. I figured if I missed it, we could still come back and win tomorrow. At that moment, I went all out."
Ruggiano's gamble paid off as he made a spectacular diving catch in fair territory before sliding across the foul line. He quickly fired the ball back into the infield, hoping to double up Rodriguez at first.
But second baseman Ray Olmedo's throw was wild, just avoiding the dugout and allowing both runners to move into scoring position.
"When the ball didn't go in the dugout, I knew we were lucky," Montoyo said. "That was just a great catch."
DePaula got Doug Bernier to hit a comebacker to the mound and ran the ball to first himself for the final out, setting off a wild celebration in the infield as the Bulls secured a trip to Tuesday's Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game against the Pacific Coast League champions in Oklahoma City.
"That's a long way from now," said Montoyo of the game formerly known as the Bricktown Showdown. "I'm just looking forward to celebrating tonight, but I'm glad we're playing that game because my family in Puerto Rico can watch it."
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starter Ivan Nova appeared to have Game 3 under control, limiting the Bulls to only one hit -- a fifth-inning single by Sean Rodriguez -- over the first seven innings before running into trouble in the eighth.
The 22-year-old Dominican right-hander issued a leadoff walk to Ruggiano before Johnson ripped a single to center, prompting Yankees manager Dave Miley to call for left-handed reliever Zach Kroenke.
Jaso flied out to center and Olmedo popped to second as Kroenke appeared on the verge of escaping the jam. But Southern League Player of the Year Desmond Jennings came through with a two-run single to left, forging a 2-2 tie.
"That was a huge hit by Jennings," said Ruggiano. "Nova did a good job. I had never faced him before. He's got good stuff, but we made our hits count and our pitchers did a good job of keeping us in the game."
Nova was charged with two runs on two hits and two walks with five strikeouts over seven-plus frames.
Calvin Medlock (1-0) picked up the win after allowing a hit and a walk with four strikeouts over two scoreless innings of relief.
Ransom drove in both runs for the Yankees with a sacrifice fly in the second and an RBI single in the third, but Scranton/Wilkes-Barre finished 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 15 on the basepaths.