Showdown has a little of everything

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Jasper’s Andy Knust tried to lay down a bunt during Saturday’s semifinal in the Jasper Invitational at Ruxer Field. The Wildcats rallied to beat Columbus East 4-1 after being no-hit into the fifth inning, before unbeaten Indianapolis Cathedral topped the 3A No. 3 Cats 3-1 in the championship. For a full gallery of photos from Jasper's game against Columbus East, click here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — Last-inning runs. A white-knuckled pitching duel. Nifty escapes. Defensive gems. Plays at the plate. Excitable fans. The Saturday night scene at Ruxer Field left just one question.

Is it really only April?

Stallwood


With Class 3A No. 3 Jasper outlasting Columbus East 4-1 and Indianapolis Cathedral trampling Evansville Central 16-0 in the midday semifinals of the Jasper Invitational, the matchup was set for the evening’s championship showdown, pitting undefeated state powers against one another.

The game’s outcome remained unsettled until the final pitch as the Wildcats, trailing by two runs, produced a pair of baserunners for the first time all game. However, a firm ground ball hit toward the shortstop hopped up off the grass and struck Cal Krueger in the back of the leg — an automatic out whenever a baserunner is contacted by a hit ball while in fair territory. The hapless bounce ended Jasper’s charge and cemented the Fighting Irish’s 3-1 triumph.

Sure, the season remains in its adolescent phase, but the fusion of dramatics, stout play and fervent fans furnished an atmosphere more reminiscent of June.

“These games are awesome. Anything like this — Saturday night playing underneath the lights,” Jasper catcher Scott Stallwood said, “there’s nothing better.”

After chatting for a bit with Jasper coach Terry Gobert after the contest, Indianapolis Cathedral coach Rich Andriole expressed similar sentiments. The rationale behind making the 21⁄2-hour trek from the Circle City was simple. Finding an atmosphere like this? A month before the state tourney? That’s something that can’t be passed up.

“You get an opportunity to play in this environment, in this facility, with some people in the stands that care, that are passionate, and all of a sudden it becomes a sectional, regional, semistate, state championship-type environment,” Andriole said. “And those are the environments that you’ve got to learn how to execute in.”

As Gobert added, the two-game day, during which the Wildcats (11-1) were pitted against formidable squads they typically don’t see, offers ideal imitation of what’s to come.

“You can’t simulate any better than playing Cathedral with a chance to win,” Gobert said. “You can practice all you want but you had people hanging on the fence on both sides at the end. It’s wonderful.”

Arriving at that gripping end was quite the ride.

It centered on the hurlers on the mound. Wildcat senior Nick Gobert went toe to toe with Fighting Irish sophomore Ashe Russell. Neither relented. Gobert strung together nine strikeouts through six innings, walking two batters while surrendering a single run on six hits. Meanwhile, Russell engineered a complete-game three-hitter, fanning seven and walking three.

Runs came sparingly. Cathedral crossed the plate first in the fourth inning, in a sequence that had the potential for significant damage. After the first two Irish batters reached safely, Gobert struck out Cathedral four-year starting catcher Austin Sparks before a subsequent base hit gave the visitors a 1-0 advantage with a runner looming on third and only one out.

Then the Wildcats executed when they needed to most. Gobert rang up Russell on strikes, and before returning the ball to the mound, Stallwood rifled it to Austin Alles at third, picking off Sean Snyder for the inning’s final out.

“We pitched out of some spots and made plays,” Terry Gobert said. “Not just pitched, but made plays to give us a chance to win.”

What worked for Nick Gobert, who moved to second base after throwing 100 pitches in the chilly weather, was a hearty blend of off-speed deliveries, many bounding for the dirt in situations where mistakes could have been costly. Stallwood, who estimated about 60 percent of the pitches he called were breaking balls, continuously blocked offerings that spiraled to the soil.

“We need him to run the defense,” Terry said of Stallwood. “And tonight, he did a pretty good job of that.”

It took little time for Jasper to muster a response. Mark Giesler, who collected the win in a complete game against Columbus East, led off the bottom of the fourth with a towering double off the wall in left field. Spencer Otto then advanced him to third on a groundout and Alles followed with a fly ball to center, permitting Giesler to tag and score.

Upon crossing the plate, Giesler yelled as he jumped into the arms of teammates who had departed the dugout to celebrate the score.

April baseball at its finest.

From there, the Wildcats went in order the next two innings at the dish, while Gobert surgically escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fifth before retiring the side in the sixth. His last pitch of the contest: a breaking ball to strike out Russell for a second time.

“Outstanding job by Nick,” Stallwood said. “Couldn’t ask for anything better there.”

Krueger took the hill in the seventh and surrendered back-to-back hits to start the inning. With runners on the corners, Giesler fielded a soft grounder to first and fired home for a bang-bang play at the plate. Though he blocked the bag well, Stallwood couldn’t hold on to the ball as the eventual winning run slid in safely.

The next batter then dribbled a ball toward third. Alles gunned home, but the throw was low. Amid the commotion, Cathedral baserunners advanced to second and third.

Two runners in scoring position with no outs. Then Krueger turned it on.

The freshman struck out the next three batters, who all went down watching the third strike. As they walked back into the dugout, Stallwood gave the hurler a pat on the behind.

“Cal’s a very, very talented kid. He can come in in a very key situation, just like tonight, and really did a great job,” Stallwood said.

Added Terry Gobert succinctly: “He gave us a chance to win.”

Ultimately, the Wildcats stranded two runners in the final frame, resulting in their first defeat.

Afterward, each coach’s admiration for the other’s program was made audible.

“Jasper’s tradition is second to none. Coach Gobert’s a hall-of-famer,” Andriole said.

“It would be tough to argue anyone else in the state being better than they are.”

Terry’s words were analogous.

“To play them, it’s going to make you better every time,” he said. “I don’t like losing, but you learn a lot more in a game like this. And we have a lot of respect for them. They’re Indy’s finest.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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