Subdued mood spoils Jasper’s debut

Heather Rousseau/The Herald
Jasper’s Craig Shepherd, right, and New Trier’s Matt McCaffrey looked to see the umpire’s call during the fourth inning of the Wildcats’ season opener Monday at Ruxer Field. New Trier, a Chicago-area school and two-time state champion from Illinois, scored the game’s first five runs and handed the Class 3A No. 2 Wildcats a 5-4 loss. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — The symptoms were ample. And to Jasper, the sum was troubling.

Thirteen strikeouts. Seven harmless pop-outs. Five errors — officially — and maybe double that number of slip-ups according to coach Terry Gobert’s discerning eye.

There’s plenty of season left, and there no shame in losing to New Trier, a two-time Illinois state champion that made a pit stop at Ruxer Field on Monday on its way to Georgia for a spring break trip. But one game into the season, the Class 3A No. 2 Wildcats landed themselves squarely in Gobert’s doghouse. And the 27th-year coach didn’t hesitate telling his players or anyone else about the prevailing issue that was the root of the other issues within Jasper’s 5-4 setback.

“It’s one of the most disappointing openers I’ve ever coached in, because we just didn’t show any fire whatsoever,” Gobert said. “Five errors on the board, probably 10 altogether, there’s just no reason for it. We had the best opening-day crowd, probably ever. We’ve got 500 people in the stands and it’s 70 degrees. Good student body crowd, and (we have) no fire.

“We’ve got some guys who’ve got to figure it out. They had some good players ahead of them leading the way (last season), and we’re going to have to figure out it’s now their ball to carry.”

The Trevians (2-0) took what Jasper gave, plating two unearned runs in the second inning and running their advantage to 5-0 in the fourth, when the Cats (0-1) committed their fourth and fifth errors. The flaws aren’t easily hidden against quality programs. And as Gobert pointed out, thus the point of playing New Trier, a school of more than 4,000 students from Chicago’s north suburbs that features Division I recruits Grant Klenovich (Iowa), Drew Lamotte (Lehigh) and David Richman (Pittsburgh). Jasper athletic director and former assistant baseball coach Andy Noblitt helped arrange the matchup as he was teammates at the University of Evansville with New Trier assistant Scott Klipowicz.

Gobert equally lamented his squad’s inability to adjust at the plate: first against fastballer Drew Fischer, then versus Matt Cohen, whose curveball limited the Cats to two baserunners over the last three innings. Among Gobert’s golden rules — put the ball in play and force the defense to make plays. The only groundball the Trevians were forced to handle was a sacrifice bunt by leadoff man Ben Moore.

“The one thing you can control every ballgame is your approach, and our approach was not good. It starts with me, I’m the head coach,” Gobert said.

“I can handle everything, even the physical errors, but I can’t handle our mental approach tonight. We noticed it in batting practice, pregame. ... We had no mental approach whatsoever, offensively, defensively, just our attitude.”

“We came out a little tight tonight; we’ve just got to come out more loose and relaxed and play like we want to be here, like we’re having fun out there,” Moore added. “I thought the emotion picked up as the game went on, but we need to have the same emotion from the start.”

The Cats managed one gust of offense with all four runs in the bottom of the fourth, starting with Cal Krueger’s single. With two outs, Tyler Haskins and Brandon Bayer both coaxed walks, then Tyler Begle cleared the bases with a double and Moore scored Begle by cranking another double to the right-center gap.

To Gobert, it wasn’t all doom and gloom when considering the efforts of Krueger and Spencer Otto, who combined to allow six hits — three of them being infield singles. Krueger fanned six in 31⁄3 innings. Otto wiggled out of three jams and fanned the last two hitters looking in the sixth for Jasper’s only 1-2-3 inning. Krueger picked off a runner, and catcher Scott Stallwood erased three Trevians on the basepaths.

“There were some bright spots,” Gobert said. “Krueger showed he can be a good pitcher, and Otto as well.”

If there’s one salvation for the Cats, it’s that Gobert also repeatedly criticized last year’s group for some its groggy efforts in the regular season. That group discovered some late-season spunk to make the program’s 14th appearance in the state finals.

And as Moore indicated, the first step toward making reparations is a more forward-thinking approach.

“We’ve just got to make sure that when we come up to the field, we’re ready to play,” Moore said, “and we’re ready to go and that we’re thinking about the game, like situations — what we would do in certain situations, and just make sure that we’re aware of everything that’s going on in the game, and then just try to execute on what you’re thinking about.”

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