Comprehensive Cats storm to state

Photos By Matthew Busch/The Herald
Top: The Jasper baseball team celebrated at Ruxer Field on Saturday after bashing seventh-ranked Crawfordsville 11-1 in a six-inning semistate mismatch to reach Friday’s Class 3A state championship. Chasing their sixth state title, the final hurdle for the Wildcats will be third-ranked Norwell. First pitch is set for 7:30 p.m. at Victory Field in Indianapolis. Below: Nick Gobert hurled a three-hitter for the Wildcats, who’ve held their last three tournament foes to a combined nine runs and two hits. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — The scene late Saturday afternoon at Ruxer Field wouldn’t have been possible without Jasper’s devotion to the minutiae.

After his second surprise ice-water ambush of the day, Wildcat baseball coach Terry Gobert relented and playfully wore the giant orange Gatorade jug over his head. Moments earlier, Gobert gushed more thoughtfully about his team’s persistence and aggressiveness, and the way the Wildcats stole 10 bases and forced Crawfordsville’s starter to wing 40 pitches in the first two innings of the Class 3A semistate.

Catcher Scott Stallwood, meanwhile, processed Jasper’s 11-1, six-inning rout that earned top-ranked Jasper a 14th visit to the state finals through opposite ends of the emotional gamut. At times, Stallwood talked so excitedly he was about to jump out of his skin. At the end, the thought of reaching the state finals mission moved him to the verge of tears. And while he certainly wasn’t the only protagonist, it was Stallwood’s auspicious popup hit with two outs in the third inning that helped launch Jasper’s dominant day.

Nick Gobert, meanwhile, was rattled for the first time all day when his uncle Shawn Gobert invaded the postgame interview. Wearing a catcher’s mask and a goony smile, Shawn popped his head in to sidetrack Nick only momentarily with laughter as the senior pitcher outlined the way preparation and placement allowed him to relegate a semistate-worthy opponent powerless.

Another semistate crown, and for a crescendoing Wildcat team that insists there’s still room and time to get better, there were so many small reasons that made the grand moment possible.

Nick Gobert hurled a three-hitter for the Wildcats, who’ve held their last three tournament foes to a combined nine runs and two hits.

“There’s no greater feeling than right now,” said Jasper senior Mark Giesler, who provided an RBI single and pitched the sixth inning, punctuating the win by blowing a fastball by Chandler Pursell for the final out. “There was a lot of pressure on our group, and we didn’t really feel it, but from the community there was (pressure). It felt awesome just to get this win behind us and then we can work for a state title. (It feels) like a huge weight’s been lifted off our shoulders. It’s been our goal ever since we put our uniforms on as a freshman. To get there twice in four years is pretty remarkable for us.”

The state runner-up in 2010, top-ranked Jasper (32-3) will return to Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis on Friday night at 7:30 to joust with No. 3 Norwell (32-3) for the state crown. The Knights topped defending state champ Western 5-2 in Saturday’s northern semistate, and Friday’s contest will be a rematch of the 2006 state championship, which Jasper rallied to win 13-12 with three runs in the bottom of the seventh.

No such drama applied to Jasper’s most recent semistate conquest.

After marooning runners on second and third with one out in the opening inning, the Cats cashed in the next frame when Andy Knust laced a single and motored from first to score on Spencer Otto’s double. Otto wasn’t finished. In the third, the junior slipped into an 0-2 count, then fouled off two pitches before finding something he liked: a fastball that he smoked over the left-field fence for a three-run bomb and a 5-0 lead.

As much as the power surge, the Cats cheered the steps that preceded it. When Otto homered in the third, it was already the 59th pitch of the game for Pursell, the Athenian starter. And to preface the blast, Stallwood kept the inning afloat with a pop single that dropped in a Bermuda Triangle of pursuing Athenians in shallow left field. Once Stallwood reached, Knust walked and Cal Krueger smacked an RBI single before Otto’s blast.

“We were just wanting to get on base,” Stallwood said. “You don’t think you’re going to come in with a four-run inning there with two outs with nobody on, and we just kept piling them on, just kept driving the ball, bunts, steals. Rally on two (outs), that’s just a big part — huge part — in baseball, especially in these key games later in the season.”

Jasper coupled aggression with discretion, also coaxing nine walks. The Cats unnerved both Pursell, who’d won 11 straight decisions, and No. 2 pitcher Connor Smith, who sported a 6-0 record and sub-2.00 ERA but was chased after yielding three more runs in two innings.

“We got some (batters) in the hole a little bit and then just couldn’t finish them off, and that’s a credit to them for staying alive and trying to hit the ball the other way and fouling off some good pitches,” Crawfordsville coach John Froedge said. “That’s the worst we’ve been kicked around in a long, long time.”

The Cats executed the brand of smallball the Athenians wanted to employ, as Jasper swiped 10 bases and Stallwood executed a textbook safety squeeze in the fourth when Jasper piled on three more runs. Terry Gobert guessed the Cats could run on Crawfordsville catcher Logan Meadows, whose throws to second strayed to the right of the bag, but when the Cats pilfered third base on three occasions, that was strictly the read of the baserunners.

Jasper’s Devon Traylor arrived headfirst at third base when he swiped the bag in the fifth inning. Traylor stole a pair of bases and the Wildcats were a perfect 10-for-10 in stolen bases on the day.

“I thought our aggressiveness really helped us,” Terry Gobert said. “I think sometimes that gave us confidence or showed the kids we’re not just going to sit back and hope to win, we’re going to do whatever we can. But it was kind of interesting — I thought our smallball was the advantage today, and the difference was getting that lead and keeping them off base.”

Nick Gobert tackled that duty by nibbling at the inside corner to foil the Athenians (25-11), who crowded the plate and wanted outside pitches to try to slap their way aboard. After a throwing error to open the game, Gobert sent down nine straight.

Stallwood sensed Nick “was fired up all week, that’s for sure.” Gobert assembled a three-hitter and kept Crawfordsville scoreless until Jasper already commanded a 9-0 lead, and after the Cats dropped a 6-1 decision to Andrean three years ago when Nick started at second base, receiving the ball for the semistate start provided him just the type of opportunity he wanted.

“This has been the goal ever since,” Nick said. “Once you lose one up (at the state finals), you want to go back and you want to change it and you want to get a victory, that’s for sure.”

One more win will equal a sixth state championship for the Cats, who, for much of the season, were scolded and challenged for play that Terry Gobert deemed careless in execution and flatlined in emotion. Now, they’re rounding more and more into the type of team Gobert knew existed all along.

“It’s something you push, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get there,” Terry Gobert said. “It’s hard to do. It’s hard when you try even harder. Sometimes the pressure on these guys is unreal. But I’d rather be somewhere where they expect to win than expect to lose.”

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