Jasper baseball giving thanks to '68 squadApril 12, 2018
By GREG ECKERLE
Special to The Herald
Jasper will honor the 50th anniversary of its 1968 high school baseball state finalist team before the 6 p.m. start of the Wildcats’ game this Friday against New Albany at Ruxer Field.
Jasper’s 1967 and 1968 squads both earned state finals berths in the first two years of the IHSAA-sanctioned tournament. It was then a single class tourney, which it remained through the 1997 season. Current Coach Terry Gobert’s teams won the final two one class tourneys in 1996 and 1997, and have tacked on three more state titles since.
The Wildcats have more state finals appearances and more sectional championships than any other program in the state, so it’s understandable when an Indianapolis sportswriter called Jasper the baseball capital of Indiana in 2015 and Evansville North’s baseball coach recently referred to Jasper baseball as the “gold standard.”
The 1968 squad, in pulling off the impressive back-to-back semi-state title, deserves a lot of credit for helping build the solid foundation for the program’s long-running success.
Gary Corbin, a sophomore shortstop/pitcher on that team, says a key to their success was senior leadership. “Just like in 1967, the seniors were so strong. They didn’t accept losing.”
There were six seniors in the starting line-up, which was the same throughout eight tourney games: Gabe Mehringer, senior, pitcher/shortstop; Dan Loftus, senior, second base; Larry Seger, senior, first base; Corbin; Steve Pfister, senior, third base; Ron Snyder, junior, center field; Lee Boehm, sophomore, left field; Alan Dick, senior, right field; Mike Eckstein, senior, catcher.
Said Eckstein, “We had been there before, and felt the success. We knew how to run bases. We used our speed. We were a singles-hitting team, and took advantage of every miscue by the other team. Coach Noblitt knew how to get the best out of his players. And we had excellent pitching.”
The pitching ace was Mehringer, who had posted a brilliant 15-1 mark in 1967. Jasper’s coach, the late Don Noblitt, said in a 2009 interview for the Dubois County Museum, “(Mehringer) was as good of a high school pitcher as you would want. He could control a fastball, and throw a curve. I didn’t tell him what to throw. I had him and Corbin on the mound. I just put them out there.”
“Gabe was great,” says Corbin. “If I got in trouble, Gabe came in and put the fire out. As soon as he put the fire out, and we got a couple runs, I was back in there. He was just incredible for two years.” It was part of a unique tourney strategy that had Mehringer and Corbin switching back and forth between the pitching mound and shortstop, to comply with a 10-inning pitching limit for a hurler within a three-day period.
Mehringer had a good feel for what the batters could do from his vantage point. “I’d tell Coach Noblitt, ‘These guys coming up, let Corbin pitch to them, and I’ll wait until the better ones come up,’” says Mehringer. “He’d say OK.” Mehringer won two of Jasper’s three sectional games and both games in the regional and semi-state, all played in Jasper. The Wildcats had a 2-0 lead after five innings over Marion in the semi-final game of the state finals before losing 8-2.
Ironically, Jasper was nearly derailed in the sectional championship game by Ireland, a school which consolidated into Jasper two years later. The Wildcats beat the Spuds in eight innings, 5-2.
The Wildcats also had timely hitting. They hit only two home runs the entire season, but both in crucial spots – Pfister had a three-run homer in a 4-1 win over Clarksville in the semi-state opener, while Mehringer had a three-run homer against Evansville Memorial in a 7-6 win in the semi-state championship.
“Their pitcher threw one right down the middle of the plate, and I wanted to hit a line drive over the shortstop, and it got away from me,” said Mehringer of his homer, laughing.
He also chuckled about the game’s last out. “I remember Coach Noblitt came out and said, ‘I don’t know if you realize this, Gabe, but the tying run is on third base.’ I thanked him for reminding me, and struck the next guy out on three pitches. Years later, the brother of the batter that struck out told me that his brother was a heck of a fastball hitter, but ‘you threw those balls right by him.’”
Boehm also points to that game as helping to start the baseball rivalry with Memorial. He recalled that Noblitt always wanted to be the visiting team, even if he won the coin flip. After Jasper was named visitors, Memorial’s coach requested to have Jasper’s usual home dugout on the first base side. Jasper players already had their equipment and gear in that dugout, and had to move it all to the third base side. “That inspired the senior leaders of our team,” says Boehm. “I remember how fired up they were.”
Boehm also recalled how fired up Loftus was before the Clarksville game in the semi-state. The year before, Jasper beat a Clarksville team in the semi-state that Noblitt thought was probably the best squad in the state. And here Clarksville’s players came again in 1968, walking past the right field corner where Noblitt had gathered his team. Noblitt said, with a laugh, “They had fancy uniforms and fancy coats. We had an old flimsy nylon jacket and old uniforms with patches everyplace. So we tried to take advantage of that. I think we did.” Boehm said Loftus noted the Clarksville players carrying a second uniform, and Loftus told them they didn’t need that, We (beat you) last year and we’re going to (beat you) again this year.
Another big key that Corbin pointed out about 1968 was Noblitt moving Eckstein from center field to be the regular catcher in the second-last game of the season. “Eckstein did a super job catching,” says Corbin. “That might have been the biggest thing Noblitt ever did in the four years I played, putting Eckstein behind home plate.”
Noblitt looked for an edge everywhere he could. He brought in Alan Dick, one of Indiana’s fastest sprinters, after the track season, and taught him how to bunt and slap down on the ball so he could utilize his speed on the base paths. He encouraged the use of double steals, especially with runners on first and third, not caring so much if a runner got thrown out at second if he could scratch out a run from third. He had confidence in his pitching, but he needed to get the lead somehow. Mehringer and Eckstein executed just such a play to deliver the final go-ahead run in the semi-state championship game. And since Jasper had a dirt infield at the time, he took the team to three 9 a.m. practices on Rockport’s grass infield the week before the state finals to better simulate the conditions for Jasper’s 9 a.m. game against Marion in Indianapolis.
Team reserves were Dave Luegers, Mike Rohleder, Terry Fleck, Tom Wilz, Mark Schneider, Jeff Hochgesang, Steve Seger, and Paul Knust. The assistant coach was Keith Steczyk. Team managers were Jack Schaaf, John McGovren, Terry Brown, and Glenn Seger.
Members that can make the reunion will be introduced in a special ceremony before this Friday’s Wildcat game. Three of the players are deceased. Larry Seger will be represented by his son, Phil; Mark Schneider by his widow, Jan; and Steve Seger by his son, Andy. Noblitt will be represented by his widow, Alice, and his family. Some of the players are planning to take batting practice at 4:15 p.m. on Friday.
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