Heavily armed Cats waste little time

Heather Rousseau/The Herald
Jasper’s Austin Alles (18) was welcomed by teammates, including Ben Wendholt, left, and Tate Blessinger, after Alles scored a run in Tuesday’s collision of county rivals in Ferdinand. The Class 3A No. 4 Wildcats cruised 17-3 as Wendholt collected the pitching win in his first varsity start, Blessinger blasted a two-run double for his first varsity hit and Alles finished 4-for-5 with five RBIs in the five-inning win. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

FERDINAND — The between-inning soundtrack ran a little too long, but that didn’t matter to Jasper’s Ben Wendholt.

Wendholt had completed his warm-up tosses and was ready to roll in the second inning Tuesday evening at Ferdinand, so background music be damned. A Creedence Clearwater Revival tune was still playing, but the sophomore pumped the ball plateward without pause before the song could be muted.

Wendholt may have been new to everything, but all of Jasper’s pitchers are wired similarly. Get the ball, throw the ball. Work ahead. Throw strikes. Get outs. The beat rolled on as Wendholt, Austin Alles and Landon Ball combined to provide a little relief for a Jasper squad needing to rest some of their dinged-up hurlers. As those pitchers satisfied the program’s golden rules of pitching in the Wildcats’ 17-3 dismissal of Forest Park, the other side of the five-inning affair similarly revealed how pitching rules.

“We can sit here and talk for 30 minutes about hitting and not making plays and this and that,” said Ranger coach Jarred Howard, whose team committed six errors while cycling through five pitchers. “Bottom line is, baseball’s a game that’s taken care of on the mound.”

And the Cats (13-5) took care of it in their fifth run-rule verdict in the last seven games.

Alles and Ball each issued a walk, but outside of that, Jasper’s hurlers threw 80 percent of their pitches for strikes. In his first varsity start, Wendholt did encounter a third-inning bump when he left the ball up, allowing Bryan Hurst, Trent Bayer and Cody Tempel to yank shots into left field, with Tempel’s double scoring two as Jared Wilgus followed shortly later with an RBI single.

Jasper coach Terry Gobert joked with his guys afterward that the only reason he started Wendholt was that he hoped Forest Park would start its sophomore pitcher by the same name for a Ben Wendholt vs. Ben Wendholt showdown. (The two used to play on the same travel team when they were younger and were forced to extend to their middle initials — Ben G. Wendholt for Jasper and Ben M. Wendholt from Forest Park.)

The all-Wendholt face-off didn’t happen — Forest Park’s Wendholt had just three days’ rest to go on — but there were deeper reasons for why Jasper’s Wendholt was called for duty. Gobert said Cal Krueger and Brandon Bayer weren’t options Tuesday as he wanted to rest both during a week the Cats play just one more game — Friday at Southridge (13-2) — before next week’s gamut of six games.

“We’re a little banged-up right now. So for (Wendholt) to come out and Alles and Ball to pick up the next two innings, it was big for us,” Gobert said. “They did what we wanted them to do: Don’t put people on (base), and I thought our defense, we made plays that we need to make.”

The Cats hit two of Gobert’s biggies there — they were error-free as the defense settled into a rhythm behind pitchers operating with a get-it-and-go tempo.

“That’s our mindset: get outs as quickly as possible and just throw strikes,” Jasper’s Wendholt said. “You just have to be ready to go at all times. I didn’t know until I got here that I was going to start, so you’ve just got to be ready.”

That need for attentiveness is similar in the Ranger dugout. For Forest Park (5-8), the hunt for reliable arms creates musical chairs as, amid Tuesday’s four pitching changes, the only Ranger who remained in the same spot the whole game Tuesday was Tempel in right field. Howard switched pitchers twice in the third inning and two more times the next frame.

“We’re looking for somebody to get outs on the mound. It’s not because our guys aren’t trying hard; I do think they’re trying hard,” Howard said.

“I told them I’m going to figure out who can play and who can’t. We need some consistency, and we need them to be tougher. The biggest thing for our guys right now is they’re not very tough.”

It didn’t help that the Rangers ran into a Jasper squad that stung the ball relentlessly after a Monday practice that Gobert labeled one of the team’s best all year. Reece Heilers, Forest Park’s fifth and final pitcher of the night, was the only Ranger to retire Alles, who’s in the midst of a midseason tour de force that started when the Cats’ coaches got him to correct his balance and eliminate the moving parts in his swing.

“For whatever reason, I’m not getting as many strikes (this season), but that keeps me more aggressive. When I get one, I’ve got to be ready to hit it,” said Alles, who finished 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and five RBIs. “I got a little frustrated at the beginning of the year, but a few Saturdays ago I started hitting the ball hard, got my confidence back and felt great after that.”

Jasper’s hitting boom began at the top with Alles, Craig Shepherd (2-for-4, two runs) and Spencer Otto (two RBIs), and didn’t recede at the bottom of an order that continues to produce. The last four in the order — Krueger, Tyler Haskins, Tyler Begle and Tate Blessinger — combined to reach base in 13 of 15 at-bats and Blessinger roped a two-run double for his first varsity hit.

“It doesn’t matter to me where they hit, and I don’t think it matters to them. A lot of people like getting up in that first inning,” Gobert said. “But having guys down there that you at least have confidence in, can battle, can bunt a little bit, put it in play, that makes a difference.”

Contact Brendan Perkins

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