Cats set for title game rematch

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Craig Shepherd and the Jasper baseball team are bound for their state-best 14th trip to the state finals, where the top-ranked Wildcats will play at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Victory Field. The last hurdle to a state title is third-ranked Norwell, which boasts eight senior starters.

By JOHN PATISHNOCK
Herald Sports Writer

Friday night won’t be the first time Terry Gobert has seen the only team standing in the way of Jasper’s sixth baseball state title.

Top-ranked Jasper (32-3) will clash with No. 3 Norwell (32-3) in the Class 3A championship at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Victory Field in Indianapolis, a rematch of the 2006 title game in which Jasper concocted a seventh-inning rally for a 13-12 victory and the program’s fifth state title, which ranks third on the state’s all-time list behind LaPorte (eight) and Lafayette Central Catholic (six).

If Jasper is to temporarily move into a tie for second — Lafayette Central Catholic plays Saturday for its seventh crown — the Wildcats will need to upend an opponent that left Gobert impressed after he saw Norwell’s top three pitchers dominate in the regional championship against NorthWood. In a word, the Wildcat coach described the Knights’ pitching as “phenomenal.”

“It’s not a real fun drive home when you see them run out three guys that are around 90 mph and know how to pitch,” Gobert said, “but it’s going to be a matter of we’re going to have to hit strikes.

“It’s the same thing, just a higher level. If we chase them out of the zone, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. But then when they throw strikes, we’ve got to really make sure we get our hacks at it. We’ll be working on trying to speed up our bats a bit.”

Gobert watched the regional championship at Bellmont along with assistant coaches Jason Ahlbrand and Phil Kendall, seeing the Knights throw senior Josh VanMeter (13-1), who was selected in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the San Diego Padres; Gobert said VanMeter, who was drafted to play shortstop, is one of the best infielders he’s seen in a while and first-year coach Andy McClain compared VanMeter to Scott Rolen in an article published in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

The Knights also boast junior Jonah Patten (4-0), who has committed to University of Arkansas, and Luke Hunter (9-0), a Taylor University recruit whom McClain described as a “big, strong workhorse type of kid” who sports a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 15.5 to 1 (93-6).

Jasper hasn’t faced much resistance this postseason, outscoring its opponents 57-7. The Wildcats will need to rattle the Knights. That’s for sure, said senior Andy Knust.

“Getting the first pitcher off the mound, hitting him hard and hopefully they make mental mistakes and we can put them in doubt,” Knust said in describing the team’s approach Friday, “score in the first inning and keep going, make crooked numbers every inning.”

Gobert is familiar with McClain, a Martinsville High School graduate who’s in his first season leading Norwell after coaching stints with LaVille, Indianapolis Arlington and Indianapolis Brebeuf. The two previously were assistants together on all-star teams and both have served on the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association. Additionally, McClain was an assistant with Martinsville in the 1990s when the team won six consecutive regional titles and played against Jasper a handful of times in semistate.

Jasper defeated Norwell 14-6 in its season-opening game in 2011, and McClain said the two teams tried to schedule a game this year, but logistics didn’t allow Norwell to visit Ruxer Field on a Friday night. If the Knights had visited, fans would have seen mirror images, McClain hinted.

“Not too different from what people are used to with Jasper,” McClain said in describing his squad. “We’re community-based and our kids are strong, hard-nosed, hard-working kids.”

Tuesday, Gobert said he hadn’t settled on whether he’d start Nick Gobert or Mark Giesler, though he indicated he’s leaning toward Nick, saying “we’ve had good luck with what we’re doing.” Gobert and Giesler each were dominant in regional performances before Gobert fired five of the six innings against Crawfordsville. Terry Gobert said he’s fine with either starting, though he said whoever does get the call will need to throw off-speed pitches for strikes.

“They’re going to put the ball in play, we’ve just got to hope that it’s right at us and we make plays,” Gobert said. “We’ll be working on the same things we always do, but they’re just a really good team. They’re not your typical high school team, they’re not hiding guys in the lineup. (Nos.) 1 through 9, (they’re) college-type athletes, so we’ve got our hands full, that’s for sure.”

Norwell will be vying for its third state championship, previously winning in 2003 and ’07. Many of the Wildcats will be competing in their first title matchup, though some, including Knust, are familiar with the atmosphere they’ll encounter. Knust remembered watching the 2010 championship from the stands as a freshman, saying even knowing the layout of the field will help this time around when he’s in the lineup. He didn’t sound overly excited, and the reason for that was simple: The Wildcats’ mission isn’t yet complete.

“It’s a great feeling, but we’re going up there to win, not to be like, ”˜Hey, we made it this far, now it’s just going to be all fun,’” Knust said. “We have to win, and that’s what we all want to do.”

Contact John Patishnock at jpatishnock@dcherald.com.




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