No. 1 Wildcats fielding the challenge of cleaner 'D'

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — One thing will turn Jasper baseball coach Terry Gobert twitchy like nothing else.

Krueger

Gobert abhors letting extra opposing runners reach base — whether it’s by errors, walks or some other variety of free pass. Walks haven’t been an issue for a pitching staff that pounds the strike zone. But the errors, that’s been a point of contention.

Even as the Wildcats have zoomed to the top of the Class 3A rankings, their fielding percentage has dipped to .926 about halfway through the season. They’re accustomed to seeing it around .950 or better. With a pair of errors in Tuesday’s 5-0 blanking of Vincennes Rivet at Ruxer Field, Jasper may not have tidied up that number significantly. But the Wildcats flashed enough shutout-preserving glove work to indicate their defense isn’t a liability, even if the numbers don’t conform with their standards.

“It’d be nice if we could string some errorless games together,” Gobert said. “We’re getting closer, but I don’t like putting anybody extra on, that’s for sure.”

Rivet tested the Cats’ run prevention by consistently putting the ball in play, and the Patriots (5-7) appeared bound for a run when Collin Wirth sent a shot near the right-centerfield gap in the second inning. But speedy Devon Traylor reached the ball and relayed it to Mark Giesler, who lasered a throw to catcher Scott Stallwood that beat Peyton Cummins by a full step.

Jasper (12-1) snuffed out threats via double plays in the sixth and seventh — the first one dashing a first-and-second, none-out chance by Rivet. Wildcat shortstop Cal Krueger ended the game by gobbling a grounder, stomping on second and completing the double-play throw to first. A routine play, though maybe not so considering the circumstances for Krueger.

The freshman made his first start at shortstop Tuesday, and the first grounder of the night came skipping his way. He bobbled it. But three batters later, Krueger smothered another grounder to his right from his knees and comfortably completed a forceout throw on a tougher play.

“It’s not natural for us to be making errors, but we’ll be fine in the long run,” Krueger said. “We’re starting to figure it out, I think. We’re going to get it here.”

Jasper’s variability at shortstop has been the root of some of the defensive instability, Gobert acknowledged. Tuesday, Krueger became the fifth Wildcat to play shortstop this season, and Gobert said many of the errors have originated from that position. The spot is still in flux, since Gobert prefers to have a full-time shortstop though two players who’ve seen the majority of time there (Nick Gobert and Craig Shepherd) also pitch.

“We’ll keep working on (determining a full-time shortstop), but part of it is we haven’t had enough reps and settled on anything defensively,” Terry said.

Part of the reason could even be botanical. Terry Gobert noted the Cats have played a few games on Bermuda grass or fields with short grass, compared to Ruxer’s lush surface that tends to slow down grounders.

Still, “you’ve got to field the ball and knock it down,” Terry said. And Stallwood continues to accept that charge.

He did his part defensively Tuesday, squeezing a pair of tough popups — one he made at nearly the entrance of the Cats’ dugout, and the other that practically grazed the screen and fence on its way down but that Stallwood tracked all the way and calmly grabbed. Stallwood also cut down a base-stealer at second. Gobert noted that starter Landon Ball, who worked three innings for the win, earned the assist on that play, since his delivery to the plate was clocked at a swift 1.1 seconds, affording Stallwood plenty of time to throw.

Stallwood’s defense has always been there, Gobert said, and the first-year catcher has solidified his status in the lineup now that he’s cleared up a hiccup in his game. Over the winter and in the preseason, Stallwood developed the yips on the exchange to the pitcher, often overshooting the return throw. He thinks he’s corrected the issue via simplicity: Don’t think about it, and throw the ball back as hard as possible.

Gobert added that Stallwood is fearless by nature. It’s mirrored in the catcher’s words.

“You always want that ball to come to you,” he said. “We might make a mistake here or there, but we learn from it, move on, make the next play.”

Defense fused with the shutout pitching of Ball and Shepherd to propel the Cats on a light-hitting evening. The night began with a four-run gust in the first inning, which included an RBI double by Ben Moore and a run-scoring single from Krueger.

The Cats didn’t score again until the seventh, thanks to a reserve who Terry Gobert credited for providing a paradigm of patient hitting.

Gobert lamented that his big hitters continually tried pulling the ball against the light-throwing Wirth. But Courtland Betz, who entered in the fourth, twice stung first-pitch singles to the opposite field. The reward? Trotting home on Traylor’s single, and a hearty atta-boy from his coach.

“He’s got a lot better in his hitting in practice, and we talked about getting him more at-bats and just wanted to get him out there,” Gobert said. “He’s a kid that had a chance to start, didn’t, and he’s worked very hard in practice. Through hard work, at least offensively, he keeps doing a nice job.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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