4 outs to go, it was the play that saved the dayApril 14, 2020
By GREG ECKERLE
It’s the miraculous play team members quickly bring up — with a laugh — when asked their memories of Jasper’s 2000 baseball state championship season.
Catcher Brandon Jahn’s epic trip around the bases in the 3A state semifinal has become legendary, because of the dire situation, what was at stake, who was running and a pointed question-and-answer exchange en route at third base.
The Wildcats, trailing West Vigo in the bottom of the sixth inning, 3-1, were batting with two outs and nobody on base. Just four more outs and their hopes for a fourth state championship in five years would be over.
“We had nothing going,” Coach Terry Gobert recalls. “We were in a daze the whole game.”
Clean-up hitter Phil Schwenk still remembers being down 1-2 in the count, but he worked his way to a walk. Ben Schmidt then laced a double down the line. Then up came Jahn, who already had two of Jasper’s five hits. “I definitely had some confidence,” Jahn remembers. “The first pitch he threw was a fastball right down the middle. I was looking for a fastball, so I attacked it.” He ripped the ball into the right center field gap, the ball rolled all the way to the fence and the fun began.
Gobert recalls the ball going underneath the center fielder’s glove. The fielder ran to the fence and slid to retrieve the ball, but his foot got caught underneath the fence, he dropped the ball, picked it up and slung it to the right fielder, who missed the relay. Meanwhile, two Cats had scored to tie the game, Jasper players were pouring out of the dugout to greet them, and Jahn was still lumbering around the bases.
“I finally get to third base, and Coach Gobert is waving me home. I look at him and say, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Jahn remembers, laughing.
Gobert says, “Brandon didn’t want to believe it, so I said something like ‘just shut up and run.’ I ran down the line with him, probably faster than he was. But Brandon found another gear. That’s definitely one of my favorite memories, because it was a good hustle play on his part. West Vigo’s coach still can’t talk about it. I’ll see him and he just shakes his head and walks away. That play doesn’t happen very often.” Jahn was credited with a double, with a two-base error tacked on.
“I was tired sprinting that far. As a catcher, you’re not used to running that distance,” Jahn says, still laughing. “Coach Gobert is sprinting down the line with me, and I’m chugging along, trying not to pass out.” Jahn scored standing up to give Jasper a 4-3 lead, and was immediately swamped by teammates. “I just wanted to get off the field, I was so tired. Guys were slapping my head, my back, and fans were up screaming and slapping the fence, there was a lot of chaos. Teammates still always say, ‘I bet you’re still tired from running around those bases to this day.’ They always bring it up. It’s a good memory. Maybe it’s fun to see a catcher chug around all the bases.”
“I never saw a guy so winded after running around the bases,” Schwenk says, chuckling. “I think he was half shocked that he made it around, but he was pretty pumped up.”
“That was the most exciting play of my high school career,” Neil Giesler says.
Another key to the semifinal victory was pitcher Mark Seger’s three-inning relief stint. He entered the game in the fifth inning to strike out the side, leaving the bases loaded, and then set down West Vigo in order in the seventh. It was a rare relief appearance for Seger, normally part of the starting duo with Schwenk. “We put Seger in a really tough spot, but he came through,” Gobert says. “His breaking ball was sharp.”
The coaching staff then had to pick a starting pitcher for the next night’s state championship game against Plymouth. “Schwenk had been our man all year, he carried us,” Gobert says. “We had confidence in both, but Seger threw the ball so well [against West Vigo], we just decided to start him, and we knew Schwenk could come in and finish it.” Which is what happened, as Seger pitched five scoreless innings and Schwenk one and one-third, as Jasper won its fourth state title, 10-3.
Gobert says one of his favorite pictures from his 32-year Jasper coaching career is the one The Herald ran of Seger tipping his hat to the crowd after leaving the state title game. “You don’t see a kid look any happier. I mean, how many times does somebody get both wins in the state finals?”
Seger was thankful he didn’t find out until just before the final game that he was starting. “I probably would have been extremely anxious the whole day,” he said with a laugh in an interview last summer. “I remember some great plays out there defensively.” Michael Alles, named the team’s Most Valuable Defensive Player in 2000 and 2001, played his usual stellar shortstop. Third baseman Giesler started an unusual third-to-home-to-first double play. Left fielder Ben Schmidt made another play still talked about, catching a foul ball, slipping and falling on the bullpen mound, getting up and throwing out at home plate a runner that had tagged up from third base, stifling a Plymouth rally. “It was a phenomenal play, [especially] for a freshman,” Gobert says.
The coaching staff promoted freshman twins Ben and Chris Schmidt to varsity starters part way through the season. “That was a difference maker,” Gobert says. “They brought speed, power and athleticism. And they were playing for fun. I don’t think they felt the pressure that maybe a senior might.” Chris played center field, which made the Cats strong up the middle defensively, along with Jahn, Alles and second baseman Jason Wolf.
Right fielder Matt Kiefer led the regulars with a .439 batting average. The Cats were prolific base stealers, with Chris Schmidt converting 10 of 10 attempts, Giesler 12-13, leadoff batter Reggie Hayes 9-10 and Ben Schmidt 8-9. Giesler led the team with 39 RBIs and six home runs, while Schwenk, named Most Valuable Player, had 38 RBIs and five homers. Pitcher Andrew Kreiger had the lowest ERA at 1.75, followed by Schwenk at 1.78.
Schwenk credits Gobert, assistant Andy Noblitt and former coach Ray Howard with having the pitchers well prepared, from arm strength to the fundamentals of throwing certain pitches. “And we were probably more well-conditioned than any team out there. Come the heat of summer, we were ready to go.”
“That team was really good at putting the ball in play, and putting pressure on teams,” Gobert recalls. “They knew how to bunt. Everybody contributed, and there were never any issues of having to keep a kid happy. It was fun to watch them play. You could see the love and enthusiasm they had for each other.”
They also knew how to have fun. While catching, Jahn was fond of going to the mound to talk to a struggling pitcher about anything but baseball. “We’d talk about what we were going to do after the game, or what our girlfriend is doing,” Jahn says. “I was trying to get them to relax, because it does get stressful and they (pitchers) put so much pressure on themselves. It seemed to be effective. They’d laugh, and I’d go back to calling pitches again.”
Greg Eckerle can be reached at email@example.com
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