Even in rout, Cats expect more

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Members of the Jasper baseball team waited for Mark Giesler to finish his home run trot after Giesler belted a three-run shot Thursday at Ruxer Field, where the Class 3A No. 1 Wildcats stopped Northeast Dubois 10-0 in five innings. It was Giesler’s sixth homer of the season. For a gallery of images, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — As he stood outside the home dugout, Devon Traylor spoke with a scent of disappointment.

Sure, he and his Jasper teammates had just managed a run-rule victory against county rival Northeast Dubois, but many of the senior’s words embodied the common Wildcat refrain Thursday night at Ruxer Field.

Execution like this might not fly in late May.

Such is the Jasper credo this season.

Seldom relenting and rarely satisfied, the Class 3A No. 1 Wildcats predictably found flaws in a showing that the average spectator might consider a sound performance. Yet even after suppressing the Jeeps 10-0 in five innings, Traylor explained how several of the Wildcats’ nine hits — including his towering double to the edge of the right-center field warning track in the first inning — weren’t produced from the type of contact the team typically seeks.

“Our hitting could have been a lot better. We came out at the beginning of the year, we were smacking the ball. I mean, we were just hitting it. And right now, I think we’re thinking too much,” Traylor said. “Coach (Terry Gobert) knows that we can hit a lot better. Games like tonight, we need to get better. Games like tonight, we need to go out and just smoke that fastball right down the middle.”

As Gobert succinctly summed up, “I just didn’t think we brought it. I thought we did what we had to do to win.”

“We want line drives, not fly balls that dropped in or ground balls in between,” he continued. “We want better at-bats. We’re just not hitting the ball. We gauge by doubles. That’s really what we do. Not necessary home runs or anything else, but can you drive the ball? We’ve got to get back to that.”

The vapid display looked anything but flat early on for Jasper (14-1), as the Cats tallied seven runs before Austin Kunz gunned down Traylor trying to stretch a double into a triple for the third out of the opening frame.

While the inning was marred by a pair of Jeep blunders that prompted one unearned run, it did comprise model hitting from the Wildcats’ offensive ringleader, Mark Giesler.
Heard that before?

With Traylor already having crossed the plate on a Nick Gobert RBI single, Giesler defaced a pitch that exited the field almost as fast as it was delivered to the plate. It was the first baseman’s second shot in as many days and his sixth blast of the season.

The production surely comes as no surprise, Traylor said of his teammate. He’s just happy to now be benefitting from it.

“I remember in Babe Ruth he hit three home runs in one game — two off me, to be honest with you. It wasn’t a bright point in my Babe Ruth career,” Traylor kidded. “But he’s a great hitter and I’m not really surprised he has this many home runs already.”

Every Wildcat scored in the game, and five brought home a baserunner, including Traylor, who finished with a pair of doubles and two RBIs. Spencer Otto notched a pair of runs, Scott Stallwood laced an RBI double and Austin Alles went 2-for-2.

Meanwhile, the Jeep effort brought far more to be desired from Northeast Dubois coach Brian Kirchoff as well. He lambasted his huddled squad in center field after the contest, critiquing the group’s approach when stakes are high.

“We have a hurdle to get over in big games. We have a tendency to not play with a sense of aggression. We go in the opposite direction,” Kirchoff explained. “Big at-bats, big games, big innings, we’ve just got to find a way to convince ourselves to just lay it out on the line and play hard, and as the cliche goes, let the chips fall where they may. And trust your talent and trust your teammates. And we’re not doing that right now.”

The signs of passivity popped up everywhere for Kirchoff. Pitchers fell behind in counts, forcing fastballs to be thrown to catch up. Infielders appeared nonchalant at times.

With the Wildcats’ 10th run already across the plate in the fourth innings and the bases still loaded, a high popup to the left side’s infield grass was dropped. No harm was done with the infield fly rule, but the lack of execution exemplified the nonchalance, the Jeep coach explained.

The Jeeps were stagnated at the plate as well, mustering just three hits. And therein lay something Gobert did take comfort in.

In his first start of the season, Cal Krueger shined.

The freshman fanned six batters and walked just one, which came in the final frame. Yet what typified the hurler’s command more than anything was his composure in tight spots.

After admitting a leadoff double to Jace Terwiske in the fourth — the Jeeps’ lone extra-base hit — Krueger again exuded calm in the tricky spot, as he had Saturday. He battled through a 10-pitch at-bat from Kristopher Weisheit, eventually engaging his “quick, tight curve,” as Terry Gobert called it, with a blistering heater to fan the lefty. He then tempted Cameron Riecker, who entered the contest at a .412 clip at the plate, to swing at a breaking ball in the dirt. Finally, Krueger reverted back to the trusty gas to retire Joe Gress and strike out the side.

“When you’ve got a guy on second, you’ve got to bear down. There’s a possibility of a bunt so you’ve got to play that,” Krueger said in describing the sequence. “But I bear down, threw my pitch and I got ’em. Threw perfect pitches there for a while and got my outs. Another big inning there. Kept the shutout.”

After a game that lasted a brisk hour and 11 minutes, Kirchoff underlined an apparent root of the Jeeps’ struggles, saying, “Sometimes this group makes things out to be a lot bigger than they really are and they forget to just play baseball.”

As for the Cats, the focus should be simple, Traylor said. Dwelling on poor at-bats and missed opportunities does little for the collective mission.

“We just have to not get down on ourselves,” he said. “Just keep working toward our goal.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.

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