It's a light night, but Cats end with flair

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper senior Andy Knust celebrated after throwing out Vincennes Lincoln’s Levi Archer from center field for the final out in Wednesday’s collision between Big Eight Conference rivals at Ruxer Field. The Class 3A No. 2 Wildcats blanked the Alices 3-0. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — Jasper turned up its nose at an offensive showing that resembled a predictable pregame routine of taking infield.

Groundball, groundball, groundball.

That big, fat, ringing line drive never quite came Wednesday night at Ruxer Field, so the Wildcats had to settle for staging a quality defensive response to a well-struck ball. Class 3A No. 2 Jasper didn’t derive too many highlights from its 3-0 blanking of Vincennes Lincoln, though the game’s final play provided a stark exception.

With the Alices seemingly ready to smudge Jasper’s shutout with two outs in the seventh on Brandt Nowaskie’s rip to the outfield, Wildcat center fielder Andy Knust charged the ball and unloaded a throw to the plate. The one-hopper arrived two steps before Lincoln baserunner Levi Archer did, and catcher Cal Krueger retained the ball after Archer barreled into him, allowing Jasper to revel in its ninth straight victory over its fiercest baseball rival.

No one might have been more pleasantly surprised by the throw by the interim center fielder than Knust himself.

“I was kind of just hoping it’d be on the right spot, because warm-ups I couldn’t throw it even near that good,” he said. “I just felt comfortable, I threw it as hard as I could on a line and hit the spot.”

For rescuing the shutout, Knust wasn’t requesting any sort of act of gratitude from pitcher Nick Gobert, who sculpted his second straight complete-game shutout after shackling Southridge on Friday. Knust called it even.

“Well, I thanked him for pitching such a good game,” Knust said of Gobert. “He said it wasn’t his best game, and it wasn’t our best game for our hitting, but we still kept a shutout, which was awesome.”

Jasper coach Terry Gobert was far more judicious with the superlatives.

Four of the Cats’ seven hits came by way of beating out soft infield grounders. Thirteen of Jasper’s 18 outs were via ground balls. Seven of the first nine Wildcat hitters were retired after pulling grounders to the left side of the infield, and Gobert said the same hasty approach is what cost Jasper in last year’s postseason exit to Silver Creek in the regional.

The saving grace was that “we were lucky they gave us three runs,” Gobert said. Scott Stallwood was nearly erased on a rundown but wound up scoring as a result of two errors, Spencer Otto doubled and scored on Courtland Betz’s single, and Ben Moore walked and scored on Mark Giesler’s groundout.

Gobert’s disgust was equaled — maybe exceeded — by Brandon Pfoff. The Lincoln coach bent at the waist with hands on knees and stared at the ground in frustration after the sixth inning, when the Alices (12-9) put two runners aboard with no outs but failed to score. They did the same in the fourth inning as Nick Gobert scattered five hits and sidestepped three Wildcat errors.

He trimmed his ERA to 1.06 by adjusting, as Terry pointed out his son was angling for strikeouts early on before reducing his pitch count and throwing to contact.

“I thought Nick did a really nice job,” Terry said. “I’m all over him after six, and my assistants point out he is throwing a four-hit shutout. He was strong enough to give us a chance.”

Once again, Terry Gobert hoped to see more pep from his squad with a chief rival in town, which brought out a Wildcat student section several dozen strong — complete with a beachwear theme and a roaming Fathead of Otto.

Knust offered something to shout about on the game’s final play as he continues to anchor the outfield. Normal center fielder Devon Traylor is serving a 14-game suspension for a code of conduct violation; if the Cats (20-2, 5-0 Big Eight Conference) play the rest of the regular-season games as planned, Traylor is on track to return after the opening game of the sectional. Knust had moonlighted in right and left field at times this season, but manning the outfield’s epicenter has required some adjusting.

“Devon’s been giving me good tips, (pointing out) where to stand. (Coaches) are always pointing me in the right direction every at-bat,” Knust said.

“It’s very demanding, for the center (fielder) to be the best outfielder out there, so I try to do my best and come up strong.”

Knust echoed what his coach has been saying almost all season: The Cats need to adjust better at the plate and refrain from trying to pull so many pitches. They’ve won nine of their last 10 but Gobert fully realizes how much they’ve been flirting with danger.

Not that he’s begging to get beat, but the Jasper coach said a loss wouldn’t kill his team as the Cats prepare for this weekend’s Hall of Fame Classic at Ruxer Field; they’ll have a rematch with No. 5 Silver Creek at 10 a.m. Saturday sandwiched by a Friday night contest with Evansville Harrison and a Saturday afternoon affair against Evansville North.

“Sometimes it’s better to get beat with high school kids and learn a lesson. Last night, same type of thing. Played well enough to win,” Gobert said of Tuesday’s 8-5, eight-inning escape at ninth-ranked Mount Vernon. “Tonight we played well enough to win, and we need to learn from this and correct those mistakes.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com