Cats, Athenians at home in big-game backdrop

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Austin Alles, center, and the rest of the Jasper baseball team will face No. 7 Crawfordsville in Saturday’s semistate as they gun for their 14th trip to the state finals. The top-ranked Cats will clash with the Athenians at approximately 3:30 p.m. at Ruxer Field.

By JOHN PATISHNOCK
Herald Sports Writer

The majority of players on Jasper’s baseball team have never played in a semistate before. This wouldn’t seem surprising for most ballclubs in the state, but Jasper isn’t a typical team.

There’s a different between not having experience and having no idea what to expect, however.

The top-ranked Wildcats (31-3) don’t have to worry about the latter during Saturday’s Class 3A semistate clash with No. 7 Crawfordsville (25-10) at Ruxer Field. The game is scheduled for approximately 3:30 p.m., following the Class 2A battle between South Spencer and Indianapolis Park Tudor, and is the first postseason meeting between the teams since a 6-1 Jasper victory in the 2006 semistate semifinals.

Jasper will be vying for its state-leading 12th semistate championship, and it’s possible the Wildcats will have just as many fans at Ruxer as the other three teams combined. That most of Jasper’s players will be competing in their first semistate game is noteworthy, though the Wildcats have already played plenty of competitive games in front of a larger-than-expected crowd for a typical high school baseball game.

“Our fans support us so well all year and all through the tournament,” junior catcher Scott Stallwood said. “It’s not going to be any different, I don’t believe, this weekend with all the fans. It’s great to have them but it’s great to be able to play in it before this, as well.”

Jasper coach Terry Gobert traveled to the Plymouth regional last week and saw only approximately 350 fans in attendance. It’s not surprising for that many fans to attend a Wildcat game during the regular season.

“That’s one advantage we have: playing in front of big crowds,” Gobert said, “especially in the tournament, but even during the year — we draw during the year.”

Crawfordsville is a seasoned team that isn’t a stranger to seeing big crowds. Six starters on this year’s squad were on the team that won to the 2011 state championship. Crawfordsville coach John Froedge and Gobert are familiar with each another — they’ve swapped notes about opponents before in the tournament after one team has been knocked out  — and Froedge’s assistants have seen Jasper play this year. They saw what Froedge has come to expect, as he said Jasper is “extremely fundamentally sound, willing to do whatever it takes: moving runners up, bunting, etc.”

Neither team will hear a new message before taking the field Saturday. Gobert recalled the 1986 season, when he was an assistant to Ray Howard on a squad that advanced to the state championship. He said Howard’s message that season has stuck with him through the years, and it hit him as the Wildcats were advancing through the postseason in ’86.

“It’s still the same game, same size-fields, those other kids are the same age,” Gobert said.

“You tell them it’s just the same game we’ve been playing, don’t make it any bigger deal than what it is.”

Crawfordsville advanced by claiming its fifth regional title and fourth in the last eight seasons, and has won two state titles in the last five seasons. The Athenians play a small-ball style, Gobert said, similar to Silver Creek, which Jasper ousted in the regional semifinals Monday. In describing Silver Creek’s penchant for executing bunts and hit-and-runs, Gobert said: “Crawfordsville is that on steroids.”

“Just a really good ballclub,” he continued. “They really know how to manufacture runs.
“They’re the type of team, if you give them a walk or a hit batter, and it’s on. They know how to run the bases, steal, delay steal, bunt, bunt-and-run, hit-and-run, real scrappy group. They look like clones coming up there, they do a real good job of staying back on the ball.”

“Basically, we can’t give them anything,” senior pitcher Nick Gobert added.

Terry said he hasn’t decided yet if Nick (8-0) or fellow senior Mark Giesler (8-2) will start Saturday, saying he’ll sleep on it before eyeing how each will fare in the expected matchups.

“They both did good on (Monday), so you have to match up with their running game and their style of play and see what would be more effective,” Terry said. “But either one of them, it’s not a slap (if they don’t pitch), it’s more of just a matchup, who matches up best. I really don’t have it yet.”

“They’re right up there with some of the best we’ve seen this year,” Froedge added of Gobert and Giesler. “It’ll be a huge challenge, they command the strike zone. ... We’ll just play our typical type of ball and try to figure out how to score a couple of runs.”

Gobert and Giesler both pitched complete games in Monday’s regional, with Gobert allowing just a single run (which was unearned) and Giesler firing a shutout. If he gets the start Saturday, Nick doesn’t plan on holding back.

“That’s the big thing, is just attack,” Nick said. “Don’t let anybody get on base, then they can’t bunt-and-run or they can’t hit-and-run, then you don’t have to worry about all that stuff.”

Nick played in Jasper’s last semistate contest in 2010, saying “that was probably the sweetest crowd I’ve played in front of.” Saturday, he’ll compete in his last home game. By this time, there won’t be any surprises.

“Saturday, it should be nuts, it’s going to be a great day, I think,” Nick said. “This place is going to fill up and I’d say we’ll outnumber them quite a bit hopefully, but it’s always been awesome playing in front of these Jasper crowds.”

Contact John Patishnock at jpatishnock@dcherald.com.




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