Split equips armed Cats with lessons

Photos by Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Jasper’s Brandon Bayer threw a pitch during the Wildcats’ 4-1 comeback win over Indianapolis Chatard on Saturday at Ruxer Field. Bayer gave up just three hits in his complete-game effort, while fellow sophomore Cal Krueger pitched a one-hit complete game in the Cats’ 1-0 loss to Class 4A No. 6 New Albany later Saturday for Class 3A No. 3 Jasper. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — Having Jasper baseball coach Terry Gobert assess a late-April outing as “perfect” is about as rare as any occurrence in the sport — perfect game, triple play, hitting for the cycle or otherwise.

That type of superlative simply isn’t uttered often by the longtime coach who’ll find areas to critique in almost any Jasper performance without fail.

The word seemed especially abnormal after the Wildcats split their doubleheader Saturday, claiming a come-from-behind 4-1 win over Indianapolis Chatard before Class 4A No. 6 New Albany squeezed past Jasper 1-0 in the backend contest.

But in considering the good and the bad that together presents “the kind of (games) you’ve got to find a way to win,” in Gobert’s mind, the day’s offering were as ideal as could be.

“Oh, this is perfect,” Gobert said after the one-run loss to the Bulldogs. “I don’t like the outcome, but this is how you learn lessons. … It’s a great example of how (mistakes hurt) you instead of getting away with it and winning by five or 10 runs. This is the kind of tournament game. That’s the kind of tournament pitcher.”

Pitching proved to be the twine that tied the game together. Solid contact at the plate arrived sparsely. Operations between pitcher and catcher were the pinnacle.

In that, the Cats (7-3) took solace. After sophomore righthander Brandon Bayer yielded just one run on three hits in a complete-game showing against the Trojans in the opener at sunny Ruxer Field, classmate Cal Krueger manufactured his finest act so far in this young season.

New Albany manufactured just one hit off Krueger — a soft roller toward second base off the bat of the Bulldogs’ No. 8 hitter Noah Smith that left Jasper shortstop Tyler Begle with no time to scoop and throw upon retrieval.

Smith was then awarded second base on a balk by Krueger before scooting to third on a sacrifice bunt and coming home on a sharply hit ball to Begle at deep short.

One hit, one mistake, and there’s your ballgame.

“He’s the best 0-3 pitcher I’ve had in a while,” Gobert joked about Krueger, who surrendered just two runs on two hits in his previous loss. “But one little mistake is all it takes. And we always tell the kids, you can’t let it come down to that.”

Jasper’s Austin Alles connected on a pitch against Indianapolis Chatard, which gave up four runs to the Wildcats in the bottom of the sixth inning of a game that took just 1 hour, 23 minutes to play.

Krueger’s well aware. And the win-loss record? He couldn’t care less.

“Stats don’t really mean anything to me,” Krueger said. “I’ve pitched well every outing so far and that’s what matters.”

It’s an evaluation suitable for Jasper’s battery as a whole Saturday, when the opposition mustered just four hits altogether in hasty games that each lasted less than 90 minutes. Bayer (2-0), who Gobert lauded for his efficiency and knack for changing speeds, required just 70 pitches through his seven innings.

Bayer’s work came as no surprise to Krueger, as the second-cousins have played together for quite some time. The two have thrown together “ever since we were this tall,” said Krueger, placing his hand at waist level.

Bayer enhances a crop of new arms that has “really excelled so far this year,” Krueger said. And the output keeps getting better.

After giving up 13 runs in their first two games of the season — both losses — the Wildcat defense has allowed just seven runs in the last 52 innings.

Jasper’s bats earned some valuable know-how as well, even if the runs came sparingly.

Against New Albany ace Brandon Johnson, the Wildcats seemed to produce all but that final hit. Freshman Evan Aders scorched a two-out single off Bulldog third baseman Matt Sogge’s glove in the second inning to move Scott Stallwood into scoring position, but a Johnson strikeout ended the frame.

Despite stranding seven runners on base (five in scoring position) against New Albany — including Begle on second base after the junior belted a two-out double to the left-field wall in the bottom of the seventh — and 10 more runners against Chatard, much of that could chalked up to the caliber of pitching the Wildcats faced, Gobert surmised.

More importantly, the Cats hit the ball hard. And that’s what made their comeback against the Trojans all the more gratifying as “we could have gotten frustrated,” Gobert said. “And twice we had the bases loaded and one out and (Chatard) got a double play. And I really thought we stuck with it.”

As Bayer emphasized, the chirpy atmosphere with a few hundred fans in the stands also allowed the squad to “just (have) a fun time out there.” And despite the second-game loss, “We still came out ahead,” Bayer insisted.

Gobert concurred. This was tournament experience, more or less. Teams that are constructed of tough fibers and ones that “really want it,” the Wildcat coach said.

After Johnson, a Xavier University recruit, induced Craig Shepherd to fly out to center for the game’s final out, the Bulldogs’ celebration in front of their dugout mirrored a scene from the postseason. And with Bulldog catcher Timmie Redford’s emphatic fist pumps after each of Johnson’s 10 strikeouts, the game’s impact wasn’t hard to discern.

With the newfound perspective for many Cats on what can be expected once the tournament rolls around, Gobert offered a few theoreticals to his group at the day’s end.

“What if this had been the tournament? How would you feel losing 1-0? When you miss those opportunities to score, when we made those mistakes,” he said. “And boy, if we can figure that out, then we’re going to run with this.”

Contact Joe Jasinski

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