Cats fight hard but fall just short in semisMay 27, 2019
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
EVANSVILLE — In Saturday’s Class 4A baseball sectional semifinal against Castle, the Jasper Wildcats stayed true to a theme that has followed them all season — never give up.
Even though the Cats were eliminated from postseason play with their 10-7 loss in 10 innings to the Knights at historic Bosse Field on Saturday afternoon, Jasper rallied from multiple deficits to even keep their sectional hopes alive.
“All year long this team has found ways to just come back — no one even gave us credit at the beginning of the year with what we had coming back (to the team),” said Jasper head coach Terry Gobert. “We had several seniors who basically had no varsity experience that learned how to be not only leaders, but also great young men this season. I’m proud of our effort and I liked our fight all year.”
Jasper fell behind 4-0 right away in the top of the first inning as Matt Moore, Blake Ciuffettelli, CJ Backer and Jon Lawson all had RBI singles for the Knights. The Wildcats quickly answered back in the bottom of the first inning as they weren’t about to fall out of the game right away.
After senior shortstop Josh Weidenbenner was hit by a pitch to start the game, sophomore center fielder Eli Hopf quickly drove him in with an RBI triple that made it 4-1. Sophomore third baseman Andrew Wallace got the Cats their second run of the game as he scored Hopf with an RBI single that trimmed the lead to 4-2.
Jasper junior Carter Stamm held the Knights scoreless on the mound through the next two innings as he settled down after a little bit of a rough start. But in the fourth inning, the Wildcats made a change at the position as it was Weidenbenner who moved from shortstop to the pitcher’s mound in the fourth inning. Prior to this outing, Weidenbenner had only pitched roughly six or seven innings — he would end up pitching that much in this game alone.
“Weidenbenner’s effort was just phenomenal — I thought he was the best pitcher in that class as a freshman but he’s also the best infielder we’ve had in a long time,” Gobert said.
After the Knights added two more runs in the top of the fourth inning courtesy of an RBI single from Brodey Heaton and a wild pitch that snuck past the backstop, Jasper found themselves trailing 6-2.
It was at this point that Gobert had a brief discussion with his team in between innings and told them to just focus on the game’s final few innings.
“I challenged them there at the halfway point,” Gobert said. “It was 6-2 and I thought they were going to start quinning and I told them that we don’t ever quit.”
Then, a big moment in the bottom of the fifth inning started to give them a little spark. Senior designated hitter Phillip Noblitt came up to the plate and lifted a big solo home run over the left field wall that trimmed Castle’s lead to 6-3. The Wildcats ended up getting another run in the inning courtesy of an RBI single from senior first baseman Trevor Krapf as he drove in Weidenbenner to make it 6-4.
“We gave (Phillip Noblitt) a start on a feeling — he had two great days at practice in a row and changed the lineup to put him in,” Gobert said. “As (the home run) happened, I kind of teared up because his dad (pitching coach Andy Noblitt) hit a home run here in the 1991 semistate just like that right down the left field line. It’s kind of the first father-son combo for me like that.”
The fifth inning rally was just the beginning for the Cats. After Weidenbenner sat the Knights down in 1-2-3 order in the top of the sixth, Jasper tied the game up in the bottom of the sixth. Weidenbenner’s RBI triple made it 6-5 and then Hopf’s second RBI of the day to drive in Weidenbenner tied this game up.
Both teams had chances to win in the seventh inning as Castle advanced a runner to second and Jasper had a runner move all the way to third base on a wild pitch. However, neither team was able to score which meant extra innings.
The Knights and Wildcats were able to get runners on base in the eighth and ninth innings but no runs scored. However, Castle finally broke free in the 10th inning with a four-run inning. After Lawson had a one-out bunt single, the play of the game was a 17-pitch at-bat where Castle catcher Evyn King coaxed out a walk to put runners on on first and second. Then, Caleb Niehaus drove in both runners to make it 8-6 and shortly after that Heaton and Conner Lockyear added RBI singles of their own to make it a 10-6 ballgame.
Even after the big inning from the Knights, Jasper wasn’t going to go down without a fight. After Bartley’s single and Noblitt’s walk, Weidenbenner drove in Bartley to make it 10-7. Krapf came up to the plate as the potential game-tying run but struck out to end the contest.
“If we hadn’t put up a fight after the first, I’d be really angry but now I’m just disappointed for the kids — you can’t fault the effort they had today,” Gobert said. “I just don’t want to hear about how we can’t compete in the (Class) 4A sectional because last year we lost to a (Castle) team that has a kid pitching at Virginia (Zach Messinger) in the 7th inning and then this year we lost in the 10th inning.”
While the Wildcats’ season may have come to a close on Saturday, no one is considering this season a disappointment for Jasper. Entering this season, the Cats had just a handful of players with an extensive amount of varsity action but they still managed to come away with a 23-win season with victories over several ranked foes. Players such as sophomore catcher Ross Peter (started all 26 games he played in while committing just four erros), sophomore outfielder Eli Hopf (tied for most hits with 32) and sophomore infielder Andrew Wallace (team best batting average of .400) had impressive seasons while the Cats also saw impressive years from several seniors who were playing their first varsity action.
Gobert hopes the younger players on the team learn from Jasper’s eight seniors — Josh Weidenbenner, Grant Ahlbrand, Jade Jochum, Isaac Bartley, Jacob Ahlbrand, Nathan Schmitt, Phillip Noblitt and Trevor Krapf — and the lessons they left from their Jasper baseball career.
“I hope they learn these guys came a long way,” Gobert said. “When they started the year, they weren’t great leaders and we had to push them like we’ve never pushed a group before. But I’ll give them credit, they always found a way.”
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