Cats get last word on gruff rival coach


Matthew Busch/The Herald
Jasper’s Nick Gobert slid to stop a ground ball and proceeded to complete a force-out throw to second base in Saturday’s clash with Evansville Memorial at Ruxer Field. Gobert moved to shortstop after pitching the first four innings of Class 3A No. 3 Jasper’s 4-3 victory. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — When Terry Gobert meets Evansville Memorial baseball coach Quentin Merkel each spring, he employs an uncanny communicative tactic when confronting the stern manager from the Pocket City.

He smiles.

Just don’t expect a reciprocal grin from the Tigers’ head honcho, now coaching his 45th and final season.

Merkel is as old-school as they come, Gobert said. After his squad dropped a 4-3 decision to the Class 3A No. 3 Wildcats on Saturday at Ruxer Field, Merkel directed an impromptu workout in left field; players burned through a dozen 30-yard sprints, then carried teammates a similar distance on their backs, while others continued churning out 90-foot dashes.

“Get your rear end down!” the coach yelled as the drills then switched to squats.

As Gobert explained, Merkel is a dying breed. He represents discipline meeting devotion.

“He’s a hard guy to know, but he’s a guy to respect. That’s the best way I can put it. To bring it every day for 45 years, those days are gone. You can hardly get somebody to stay in for five to 10 years. And I really respect what he has done over the years,” Gobert said.

“I don’t claim to know him great, but I just know that when I started coaching as a kid, he was the man in the neighborhood. He was the big dog. And it’s always been fun to go against his teams. He’ll do just about anything to win. And as I matured a little bit, it’s gotten more enjoyable. Instead of letting him get under my skin, I kind of play it the other way and just kill him with kindness.”

Though the ritual wasn’t employed Saturday, Gobert recalled instances where he’s sprinted down the right-field line to shake Merkel’s hand when the Tiger coach was too mad to slap skin after games.

Yet at the core of the two coaches’ relationship is commonality, Merkel said.

“Jasper’s got a good baseball background. And they compete. And hell, I like to play teams like that,” Merkel said. “You play teams you can beat 15-0, you don’t get anything from it. You get better when you compete. And that’s what I like, and I know (Gobert) does, too.”

So, too, does Nick Gobert, Jasper’s starting pitcher Saturday. The senior lasted four innings and surrendered two runs on six hits while striking out five. While he admitted to not having his best stuff — “that was pretty noticeable,” he said — he did relish in the game’s closeness.

“It’s nice to come through in one of those games,” the right-hander said. “You want to play teams like this who are going to get you better, not teams you’re going to blow out of the water every game.”

Withhold Jasper’s 5-3 win against Bloomington South on Tuesday, and the Wildcats had outscored their other three opponents by a combined score of 51-1 entering Saturday’s matinee. Saturday, the Tigers had the tying run on first base in the top of the seventh inning before Wildcat reliever Spencer Otto struck out Jeremy King to end the contest.

Otto entered the game in the fifth with a 3-2 cushion after the Wildcats plated two runs in the bottom of the fourth, when Gobert led off with a double before Otto walked. Andy Knust and Craig Schneider drew consecutive walks to bring home Gobert before Jacob Seibert, who pinch-ran for Otto, scurried home on a wild pitch.

Once on the mound, Otto allowed just two hits in his three innings of work. However, an errant pickoff attempt in the seventh allowed Memorial’s Sam Griggs to advance to third, and he scored two batters later on a base hit from Nick Abbott. Otto then resumed control for the final strikeout.

Though he applauded Scott Stallwood’s signaling behind the plate and Otto’s composure in his first true tight-game test toeing the rubber, Terry Gobert found plenty to lament as well.

Firstly, there were the objective criticisms. The Wildcats committed four errors, two of which eventually led to Tiger runs, and gave Memorial some favorable counts; Charlie Greif’s third-inning solo home run came on a 2-0 offering. Yet the Wildcat coach’s initial complaint referred to something far more subjective.

“I’m disappointed in our intensity. I thought we would come out, playing a storied program, 70-degree weather on a Saturday, I thought everybody would be flying all over the ballpark,” Gobert said. “You know, we’ve only been in one close game, really. And I didn’t think we brought the level of intensity we needed for a big ballgame.”

On the plus side for Jasper, Greif’s blast was Memorial’s lone extra-base hit. The Wildcats mustered three, which both contributed to runs. Ben Moore launched a triple to right-center field and scored on a passed ball in the first inning. Mark Giesler (1-for-3), whose bat cooled ever so slightly after starting the season 10-for-13 from the plate, clubbed a double in the fifth to score Gobert with the eventual game-winning run.

When discussing his history with Merkel after the game, Terry Gobert referenced the two teams’ 1992 semistate battle, which the Tigers won 9-6. By Gobert’s tally, the two squads combined to send 13 players on to collegiate baseball, including Jasper’s Scott Rolen and Andy Noblitt and Memorial’s Robbie Kent and John Ambrose.

While Nick Gobert might not have been around for the early 1990s duel, that doesn’t curtail the respect he has for a revered coach like Merkel.

“He’s always been a good coach. He’s taught them a certain way of baseball,” Nick Gobert said.

“They buy into his program and that’s why they’re successful. He’s done it right for the past 45 years. He’s done it the right way.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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