Fresh faces add to Cats’ talent cycle

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper shortstop Craig Shepherd charged a ground ball Monday at Lincoln City, where Class 3A No. 3 Jasper blanked Heritage Hills 9-0 to improve to 9-0 on the season. Shepherd also pitched four innings of scoreless relief, combining with Nick Gobert on a two-hitter. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

LINCOLN CITY — Nick Gobert sees a little bit of himself in Craig Shepherd. And it’s not merely because of the breaking ball that continually buckled Heritage Hills batters Monday night in Lincoln City.

Krueger

Gobert and Mark Giesler bobbed into the lineup as freshmen for a team that reached the state championship game; Shepherd and Cal Krueger have become similar here-and-there contributors on this year’s Wildcat squad that remained undefeated after Monday’s 9-0 shutout. Gobert’s defense and Giesler’s physical presence had Wildcat backers buzzing about their potential back then; Shepherd and Krueger’s versatility is having the same effect now.

In the Wildcat program, talent simply regenerates. Monday’s win almost represented a transfer of power brought to life. Gobert fired three innings without allowing a hit. He passed the ball off to Shepherd, who worked with his catcher Krueger to extend the no-hit bid into the sixth inning.

“Not many freshmen have played (varsity) in basketball or football, but in baseball it’s different. You get a shot. Doesn’t matter what grade you’re in, and the guys on the bench don’t care what grade you’re in,” said Gobert, who doubled, singled, scored twice and also earned an RBI after being hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. “Craig’s doing the right things, he’s making some plays.

It reminds me of myself and Mark a little bit. We were definitely in that spot, got our chances and we made the most of it, and that’s what those guys are doing right now.”

Jasper coach Terry Gobert never hesitated to baptize two freshmen so early, as is his practice.

Gobert

With pitcher Seth Hollinden missing games early for disciplinary reasons and Nick coping with a tender shoulder over the last week, a shortage of arms spelled opportunity for both Shepherd and Krueger. With Nick, the usual shortstop, returning to start Monday night, Shepherd began the game at short and atoned for a third-inning error two batters later, ranging to his right to reel in a grounder from his knees and then winging to second base for an inning-ending forceout.

Terry Gobert also acknowledged that Krueger gives Jasper some options, as he can also pitch and play infield — and Gobert values that commodity as the third-ranked Cats (9-0) have more positions up for grabs to open the season than in years past. And as far as the Wildcat coach is concerned, a player’s skill set supersedes age considerations.

“We really don’t look at (grade level). If they go to Jasper High School, they’re eligible,” Gobert said. “(Shepherd and Krueger) have both got a long way to go, but they’re both doing a nice job, trying to learn what we want at this level and helping us out wherever they can. That’s been our key so far, is everybody’s finding a way to contribute.

“All our guys are doing a good job. There’s some juniors backing up guys that continued to work hard in practice. It’s going to make us better in the long run.”

Ben Moore, Spencer Otto, Craig Schneider and Andy Knust each drove in a run, while the Giesler tour de force continues; with his run-scoring triple, Giesler has 20 RBIs through the first nine games.

There was also a subtle star by Terry Gobert’s analysis. That was catcher Scott Stallwood, who repeatedly smothered balls in the dirt and kept Patriot baserunners close to the bag. Pitching for the first time in nine days after resting his shoulder, Nick Gobert found himself sliding on the mound initially and struggling to find his footing and locate his pitches.

Gobert walked two of the first three hitters he faced. But he didn’t have to be around the plate to be effective. He struck out five through the first two innings as low breaking balls were the punch-out pitch each time. His total K count was seven as Gobert muted a lineup that wasn’t picky in seeking pitches to hit.

“That’s the way we’ve been doing things. We’ve been very aggressive at the plate, trying to get balls to hit early in the count,” Heritage Hills coach Dave Sensenbrenner said. “Tonight we were too aggressive not recognizing strikes.”

Patriot sub Drew Grass finally broke through with a single to lead off the sixth, and Heritage Hills’ only other hit came from Justin Hedinger, who returned to action last week following knee surgery from football season. But the Pats had just two baserunners venture into scoring position.

Sensenbrenner said each of the Pats’ facets — pitching, defense, hitting — struggled. He added that his young team, which hasn’t won or lost more than two consecutive games this season, needs to be effective at two of those three to have a chance.

“Until we get that continuity, until we get consistent enough, we’ll win one, lose one, win one, lose one. That’s why we’re 7-7,” Sensenbrenner said.

“When we’re not consistent enough day in and day out, that hurts you big-time.”

The Pats managed a ripple with runners on first and second and no outs in the sixth, but Shepherd sat down the next three. He fanned four to cement the Cats’ third shutout this year.

The long-term potential of the freshmen is apparent, Nick pointed out, and just as valuable is their presence in the short term for weeks like this when the Cats are slated to play five games.

“It’s nice to get those guys out there and not just get them out in a game like this, but to have them later down the road when we actually need them in a tight game when we’re playing games back to back to back to back,” Nick said. “It’s nice that we can fall back on those guys.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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