Friday game causes state of change

 

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Molly Litteken, who graduated from Jasper High School last month, tied a balloon to a locker in the fieldhouse at Ruxer Field in Jasper on Wednesday. She was joined by fellow senior bat girls Mikaela Lechner and Emily Farr, all of Jasper. The girls also decorated the players’ cars, chalked sidewalks at Ruxer Field and provided the team with snacks as they prepare for Friday’s Class 3A state championship against Norwell.

 

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

Brian Heeke had one day targeted, and one day only. After the Jasper baseball team captured last weekend’s semistate, Heeke naturally swung his attention to the Wildcats’ state championship game Saturday.

“I didn’t even know they played state (finals) games on Friday night,” the Jasper resident and Babe Ruth baseball coach said.

Heeke expected to be cozily situated in the Victory Field stands, watching Jasper chase state championship No. 6. Instead, tracking the action on radio or TV is the best he’ll be able to do.

Wildcat fans projected shock after learning their Class 3A state finals slot will be Friday evening at 7:30 in that day’s only game. The 1A, 2A and 4A games all will be completed Saturday afternoon and evening. Many of Jasper’s supporters are cutting corners wherever they can to attend the collision between No. 1 Jasper (32-3) and No. 3 Norwell (32-3), whether it’s chewing up a vacation day or jetting out of work an hour or two early to get hauling to Indianapolis. Whether they’re able to make it or not, the question has been the hot topic among Wildcat fans this week: Why Friday?

As part of its contract to play the state finals at Victory Field, the IHSAA has to reserve a two-day window in advance with Victory Field’s usual inhabitant, the Indianapolis Indians. In turn, the agreement requires the IHSAA to play at least one game Friday, said Jason Wille, the IHSAA’s sports information director.

Wille said the geography of the eight total state finalists is the main determinant of which teams play Friday; it’s “not the sole (consideration), but it’s certainly a big part of it,” Wille said.

With the 2A finals featuring South Spencer and Elkhart Central playing in 4A, Jasper and Norwell were picked for Friday despite the fact the two schools have a combined trip of 230 miles to Victory Field. Lafayette Central Catholic and Vincennes Rivet, the 1A finalists, have a combined trip of 191 miles.

“Looking at the four games together, it made enough sense” to have the 3A game Friday, Wille said. “Geographically, it’s not perfect, but it was still a good matchup and two great teams and we thought it would be a great matchup for primetime on Friday night.”

With proximity as a consideration, last year’s 3A state championship between Indianapolis Brebeuf and Western, a Kokomo-area school, also was played Friday night. Jasper coach Terry Gobert didn’t expect the Friday assignment again. It’s left Gobert, who’ll be leading his 10th team to the state finals, feeling like he’s a state finals novice all over again.

In the Cats’ previous 3A finals, when they played midafternoon Saturday, Gobert always picked a departure time Friday afternoon to stay overnight. This time, he wasn’t sure whether to go to Indianapolis earlier Friday morning or Thursday night. So he relied on a player poll. Thursday night it is.

“At first it kind of threw us for a loop. But you like the fact you’re the only game in town,” Gobert said. “The biggest difference is playing at night. Normally our strategy is to try to wear the other team out in the heat, and it won’t be as hot. We’re just grateful to be in it. It is different, but we’re just looking at the positives.”

The switch does work out for some. The JCards youth baseball teams have several age divisions scheduled to play tournaments this weekend, and originally they were planning to cancel their appearances in all of them Saturday to watch the state finals game instead. Now, they don’t have to back out of Saturday’s commitments. Wildcat assistant coach Jason Ahlbrand plans to stay overnight in Indy on Friday, then swing down to Paoli the next day to catch his sons’ tourney games.

Among those with 9-to-5 employment, though, Friday is posing a logistical quagmire for some.
“I wasn’t real happy about it, because I had already made plans to take off on Saturday,” said Jasper resident Maggie Schmitt, who’s been attending nearly all of Jasper’s home baseball, football and boys basketball games with husband Doug for the last 20 years. “I’ll rearrange, see what I can do. We’re going to have to wait and see.”

The good news: Schmitt is the deli manager at Hometown IGA in Jasper. So she makes the schedule. She’s hoping that Doug, who owns Best For Less Painting, can be similarly flexible.

“He usually gets finished up around 5. As long as he can get done with his (work), I can leave when I need to, probably,” Schmitt said.

Meanwhile, sleep trumped sports for Heeke. He works in manufacturing at Jasper Engines & Transmissions, and with a shift set for 6 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, he backed out of Friday’s trip since he estimated it would be well beyond midnight before he would get back from the game.

“It’s just a bad deal, for me,” Heeke said. “It’d be too much to get back at 1:30 in the morning, and I would have to be (at work) at 6, so I would have to be up a little after 5.”

The next best thing for Heeke will be following the action on radio or on TV, as WTVW-Local 7 will air the game live. Former Jasper baseball coach Ray Howard estimated that the Friday slot could cost Jasper several hundred fans compared to a Saturday game.

Still, no one expects the Wildcat crowd to dwindle to meager proportions, even if some fans might be left behind.

“I think Jasper brings a good enough following that we’ll have a pretty good crowd up there the way it is,” Heeke said. “We’ll have to wait and see, but I would say we’d probably still bring a pretty good following.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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