Wildcats’ paradox of unease deepens

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Forest Park’s Damon Wilmes applied the tag to Jasper’s Courtland Betz as Betz attempted to steal second base during Tuesday night’s game at Ruxer Field in Jasper. The Wildcats still manufactured a run amid the sequence, as Betz was thrown out but Spencer Otto scored from third on the play. Class 3A No. 1 Jasper scored four runs in the second inning to pick up a 6-3 victory. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — The paradox that is Jasper’s baseball team only continues to deepen.

The Wildcat win total rises, and coach Terry Gobert’s angst ascends in similar proportion.

The season churns forward, though the lineup vacillations only continue to increase.

Even within Tuesday’s 6-3 takedown of rival Forest Park at Ruxer Field, the Class 3A No. 1 Cats felt the same perplexing issues bubbling to the surface yet again. They danced the lineup shuffle yet again in their first game minus three-year starting centerfielder Devon Traylor, who’s out with a code of conduct violation and whose status going forward is uncertain. To Gobert, that was a peripheral storyline to what’s nagging him the most: He’s been trying to figure out his tranquil team the whole year, and he feels no closer to unlocking the motivational solution.


“What’s getting old for us — (assistant coaches) Jason (Ahlbrand) and Phil (Kendall) and (team) Doctor (Jared) Brosmer and I is having more emotion and more energy than these kids do,” Gobert said.

“If they don’t come excited and go all out and take advantage of their opportunities, what is the point in coming up here and working 12 hours on the field? What’s the point of getting a crowd if you’re not going to embrace it and appreciate it?”

Gobert’s raw take was part of a postgame discourse with a stilted feel.

Forest Park (9-8) continues to sense progress, and the Rangers were within a timely hit or two of making Tuesday’s encounter a ballgame; they forced Jasper into a pair of pitching changes and concocted threats, and perhaps their only complaint was marooning 11 runners on the basepaths.
On Jasper’s side, meanwhile, mostly frustration. It was aired in a session that was essentially Gobert Unplugged.

“They keep telling me, ”˜Oh, it’s a quiet group.’ Well, I don’t care. When they come up the hill here to play, they’re playing for Jasper. They’re past Little League. They’re not the past. They are whatever they want to make themselves,” Gobert said. “I don’t want them to be something they’re not, but it’s not hard to lock in and hustle. You don’t have to say a lot of words. I’ve had quiet teams, but I want an energetic team, I want a focused team. I don’t care about all the chatter and all that. That’s not what I’m talking about. But the energy ... I’ll just keep looking until I find it.”

Gobert’s irritation festered from the first batter Tuesday, as Forest Park’s Adam Braunecker and Lance Buechler opened the game by drawing walks and Bryan Hurst connected on a two-out RBI single. No. 7 hitter Trent Bayer factored into the other two Ranger runs, doubling and scoring on Damon Wilmes’ hit, then singling home Hurst in the fifth.

Gobert acknowledged “Forest Park took it to us” and wondered why a sense of urgency didn’t percolate when the Rangers were, at times, one big hit away from leveling the game. To Gobert, his team cycled through the “same old mistakes”: missing signs, missing pickoff chances, retreating to third base on first-and-third scenarios when a throw goes to first base.  

Jasper’s ever-morphing defensive alignment took on yet another complexion Tuesday. Without Traylor, Andy Knust slid from his traditional infield post to play center field and Ben Moore stepped into the leadoff hitting vacancy. As Nick Gobert, another infielder, was relegated to designated hitting duty because of a groin pull, Jasper adjusted with an all-freshman middle infield of Craig Shepherd and Cal Krueger.

“We’re one of the few teams ranked as high as we are with as good a record as we are, still searching for positions up the middle,” Terry Gobert said. With Traylor out of the mix, too, yet another curve ball.

“Everybody expects us to be down even more with what’s gone on. We need to find a way to do the opposite. This should bring us together more than anything,” added Nick, who poked a pair of two-out, opposite-field RBI hits. “We’ve been having open tryouts basically for several spots, and there’s no big winner. In a way, that’s an all right problem, but sooner or later you want to find your guy that’s going to be out there in the sectional that’s going to make plays for you.”
Forest Park is finding some clarity on that front, and the Rangers’ lone hiccup Tuesday came in the form of a scratchy second inning. A fly ball into the sun got the left fielder twisted around, a sky-high popup landed between two Rangers and a grounder was booted, allowing Jasper to plate four runs as Knust, Krueger and Shepherd each chipped in RBIs.


Otherwise, one thing was telling in the trip to Ruxer Field.

“I think this team knows we can compete,” Ranger coach Jarred Howard said. “It’s just a matter of doing it more often.”

Howard said a stronger stable of pitchers can make that happen. Some, like Jared Wilgus, are rounding back into form after injury. Others, like Bayer — a first-year varsity guy who recently held a nationally renowned Owensboro Apollo team to three runs — have been a surprise. Tuesday, freshman Ben Wendholt offered 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.

“We’ve talked all year about this being a process of getting better every week, and I think we’re getting closer,” Howard said. “We’ve known for the last two weeks that we played pretty well, and our pitchers are coming around, doing a nice job. We gave them six outs in one inning, and that was the difference in the ballgame. If we make a few plays, get a few more timely hits, it’s a different ballgame.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.

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