Slump dumped, Otto continues tourney surge

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Jasper junior Spencer Otto received a high-five from coach Terry Gobert as he rounded third base after crushing a three-run home run in Saturday’s 11-1, six-inning rout of Crawfordsville in the Class 3A semistate at Ruxer Field. After enduring a slump that dragged on most of the regular season, Otto is 8-for-17 in the postseason hitting in the No. 8 hole. For a full gallery of photos, click here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — Spencer Otto admitted he was focusing on the wrong things during the season’s early stages.

I hope I don’t ground out.

Oh, no, I don’t want to strike out.

Knust

Thoughts swirled around the potential negatives and the junior, who was batting in the cleanup spot at one point, to the latter part of the lineup. At one point, coaches even contemplated replacing the right fielder with a designated hitter at the plate.

“It was really difficult,” Otto said. “I mean, I was struggling. I went up to the plate with zero confidence.”

Following a road game late in the season, Otto even took to the batting cage after the bus returned to Jasper late at night, searching for swings that would put him back on track.

“He was eaten up in the cage,” senior Nick Gobert recalled from the postgame session. “I just said, ”˜Hey, let’s just not hit for two days, see what happens.’ And then he comes out and just smokes a few. It’s amazing. Baseball, it’s amazing at how mental it is.”

Knowing his capabilities — he sported a .309 batting average as a sophomore playing in 23 games — Otto’s peers and coaches stressed a uniform idea: Just keep it simple.

So he did. Forget about batting average, block out any gloomy musing and just connect. Bat on ball. Hard.

“We just told him, ”˜Simplify things. You’ve got the talent to do it. You showed us at the beginning of the year. You’ve got quick hands, you’ve just got to see the ball, hit the ball,’” Jasper assistant coach Phil Kendall said.

This postseason, Otto has applied the advice and the results have erupted. In Saturday’s 11-1 semistate rout of No. 7 Crawfordsville at Ruxer Field, Otto cracked a single in the sixth inning, a first-pitch RBI double to the opposite field in the second and one shot in the third that encapsulated the complete transformation.

Otto fell behind 0-2 after seeing a couple curveballs and fought off a third and fourth to stay alive with two on and two out and the Wildcats nursing a 2-0 lead. Crawfordsville starter Chandler Pursell then offered “a fastball down the gut,” and Otto seized the day.

The shot towered into left field before descending beyond the fence, sending the majority of the roughly 1,700 in attendance into a frenzy.

“The home run, without a doubt, was the play (of the game),” Crawfordsville coach John Froedge said.

“That definitely turned the tide of the ballgame.”

“He’s been having a pretty rough year this year,” senior Mark Giesler said of Otto. “For him to come out in the biggest game of the year, biggest game of his life, for him to come out with a home run and a double right off the bat, that was all the momentum that we needed the rest of the game.”

Otto was met by the hordes at home after the bomb. Nick Gobert waved him in from just inside the third-base line before teammates pummeled Otto after touching the plate.

“I’ve never been so excited in my life, I don’t think. Just for him and for the team,” Jasper catcher Scott Stallwood recalled. “I tried yelling and there was points where I couldn’t yell anymore, and that’s just a great feeling. It’s a great feeling for both him and the team.”

Otto is 8-for-17 (.471) with six RBIs this postseason. The four-RBI performance, capped by his second long ball of the season, brought the eight-spot hitter a bevy of postgame praise.

“Way to listen, buddy, that a boy!” 2012 Jasper graduate Caleb Begle said as he walked by the junior.

“The last few games, it looked like he had been pressing,” said Begle, who played with Otto last season. “I’ve been talking to him throughout the week, just, ”˜You’ve got to relax. Trust your instincts.’ He’s a hell of a ballplayer and he showed that today. He relaxed and he did what he can do.”

Furthermore, Otto headed a bottom half of the Wildcat order that accounted for seven of Jasper’s runs and six of its 11 hits. Cal Krueger scored twice, roped an RBI single and walked twice. Devon Traylor belted a double and scored in the fifth and stole two bases. Andy Knust reached base in all four of his at-bats, including a first-pitch single to left field that started the second-inning rally, and scored three times.

“I said earlier in the season that the bottom of the lineup starts it most of the time, it gets us going a little bit,” Knust said. “It’s not always true but I like to think that way for us, the bottom hitters.”

Parallel to Otto, Knust experienced his own share of troubles during the regular season.

“He struggled midseason and could have very easily buried himself,” Kendall said of Knust, who sat out one game before Traylor’s 14-game hiatus brought Knust (.348) back into the lineup.

“As far as the second half of the season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy that’s outperforming (Knust) at the plate.”

Four of the Wildcats’ five run-scoring innings started with players batting fifth or lower reaching base.

At the heart of it was Otto.

From trials to triumph, simplifying yielded success at just the right time.

“To see a guy bust out like that, come out huge, it’s awesome to see his work pay off because we’ve been waiting for it a long time,” Gobert said.

Added Giesler: “It (meant) all the world what he did today.”

Herald sports editor Brendan Perkins contributed to this report.

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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