State setting deepens arms dilemma

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Jasper’s Nick Gobert stopped after an inning to talk with freshman teammates Cal Krueger, right, and Craig Shepherd in last weekend’s semistate against Crawfordsville. Gobert limited the Athenians to one run in that game and could start again tonight against Norwell at Victory Field in the Class 3A state championship, a game that features two teams with their pick of several standout pitchers.

Herald Sports Writer

Sometimes, Terry Gobert wishes he were back in 1996. Things were simpler then.

No, it’s got nothing to do with technology. It’s not about Facebook or “kids these days.” Back in ’96, the year Jasper baseball won its first state title, Gobert knew exactly whom he’d give the ball to at the state finals. Then-ace and now pitching coach Phil Kendall was the guy.

“It’s a lot easier to hand a ball to Kendall and say, ”˜It’s your ball, go beat ’em,’” Gobert said.

Seventeen seasons later, things are more complex for Gobert and his staff. This season’s Wildcat roster offers two legit aces in Mark Giesler and Nick Gobert. Plus, the decision to hand either senior the ball for tonight’s Class 3A state championship at 7:30 between the top-ranked Wildcats (32-3) and No. 3 Norwell (32-3) at Victory Field is woven into a more intricate design.

With the state finals, all that remains in the season are seven innings, making pitching changes — when they come, why they come — all the more crucial. And Jasper, with its bevy of capable arms to complement its two aces, isn’t the only team with an issue. Norwell boasts a trio of arms that have combined to throw 186 innings, strike out 260 batters and display individual ERAs of 1.39, 1.90 and 2.07.

Now the aim becomes trying to generate the greatest benefit from that repertoire.

Terry Gobert, like most coaches, evaluates certain criteria in determining when to pull the plug. There’s the standard checklist — effectiveness, each batter’s ability to hit the ball, a pitcher’s tendency to miss pitches, like leaving curveballs hanging too long, and body language — but other factors are considered as well in the state finals scenario.

With veterans like Nick Gobert and Giesler, Terry said he’s more inclined to resist making a spontaneous change. It’s also about looking beyond the run column, he said.

“When you’re getting behind on counts, putting guys on base and then getting out on double plays, to the average fan, you’re doing a good job,” Terry said. “That’s not always the case.”

Much has to do with the game’s flow, which prompts a more “manage by heart” approach as the Wildcat coach described.

In tight contests, “you tend to be more aggressive and (change pitchers) with (a pitcher) still throwing well,” he said.

Or a game can follow the 2006 state finals blueprint, a 13-12 Jasper win against Norwell in which “halfway through, I just threw down my clipboard,” Terry recalled, before “literally (saying) to the team, ”˜Just try to outscore them.’”

“The state championship, it’s a weird situation,” he added.

As Nick explained, a pitching change isn’t looked at as a failed endeavor for either hurler. Especially in the single-game format, those changes are made to prohibit the opposition from establishing familiarity at the plate. With batters having to acclimate to new deliveries, pitches and speeds, there’s less likeliness that any rhythm can be established.

“Let’s say, in the course of the game, they’re on to one of our fastballs, then you just come in and give a different look,” Nick said. “It’s not a punishment, it’s not that you couldn’t get the job done, it’s a matter of giving a different look.”

While Terry Gobert is leaning toward starting Nick in tonight’s contest, the two main options aren’t easily distinguishable in terms of capabilities.

Nick sports a 9-0 record, Giesler touts an 8-2 mark. Giesler’s thrown 10 more innings than Nick but Nick’s sub-1.00 ERA is more than one run less than Giesler’s average.

With varying situations, pitching decisions become even more convoluted. Like any coach, Terry looks at matchups. He’s remarked from his scouting that Norwell batters oftentimes can devour fastballs. He’s been impressed with Giesler’s adoption of effective off-speed pitches and lauded Nick’s delivery of breaking balls and changeups as well.

Adding to the complexity, a change from Nick Gobert to Giesler — or vice versa — requires up to four positional changes to take place in the infield. A reshuffling more akin to musical chairs.

“Honestly, in 26 years, I’ve never had to do this,” Terry said of the positional swaps.

As onerous as the mixups may seem, Terry also admitted that they’ve come with advantages, most importantly the freshness of Nick and Giesler’s arms.

Entering the 2010 state championship, the last time the Wildcats battled for a title, Cat starter Spencer Sapp took to the hill having thrown 85 innings on the season, a standard count for most programs’ aces. Terry recalled that by the time Jasper reached Indianapolis, though, Sapp’s arm began feeling the fatigue.

This season’s deep crop of arms has afforded an antithesis.

Because of the work Seth Hollinden (22 1⁄3 innings), Krueger (31 1⁄3 innings), Spencer Otto (20 innings) and Shepherd (17 1⁄3 innings) donated throughout the year, the aces’ arms are unprecedentedly fresh, Terry said.

Giesler, who started the regional championship against Gibson Southern, has tallied 65 1⁄3 innings this year. Nick, who most recently plotted five innings in the Wildcats’ semistate thwarting of Crawfordville, has worked 55 2⁄3 frames.

“That’s why I’ll give credit to all our kids,” the coach said. “It’s the freshest our pitchers have been in a long time.”

The starter decision remains one Terry Gobert isn’t thrilled to make. However, it’s one with which “you sleep fine,” he said, for very simple reasons.

“I believe in kids. I really do. And I know this: We’ll play Norwell, and whether Mark or Nick starts the game, I’ll feel good, because I know in four years, they’ve put everything in,” Terry said. “The toughest call to make is when you’ve got a kid that’s got great stuff and you question his heart. And I don’t have that with those two. … With either one of them, they’ll give it everything they have.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at

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