Toned-down Giesler remains a force

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Mark Giesler hasn’t gotten the pitching start in the regional opener or semistate, nor has the power hitter seen many fastballs lately. Still, the four-year varsity player and senior standout has found ways to contribute on both the hitting and pitching fronts. Friday, he’ll help lead Jasper into the Class 3A state championship against Norwell.

Herald Sports Editor

Insamuch as a guy 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds can maintain a lower profile these days, Mark Giesler is doing it.

All along, Giesler has been the guy who, by sheer size alone, has commanded attention. Teammate Nick Gobert remembers the days of Little League, when he was 5-5 and Giesler skyscraped at 6-foot. He remembers other teams whispering about Giesler, thinking that Jasper must be cooking up some sort of Danny Almonte deal.

“He’s so big. He must throw 70,” Gobert recalls other teams saying, when 70 mph used to qualify as serious gas.

As anticipated, Giesler’s hard-throwing, hefty-hitting rap translated to the high school game during a four-year career that will culminate with Friday’s Class 3A state championship game, where No. 1 Jasper (32-3) will face off with No. 3 Norwell (32-3) at 7:30 p.m. at Victory Field. It’s just that in the twilight of Giesler’s career, his presence is surprisingly discreet for one of the top hitters to ever don the Wildcat pinstripes.

Once a machine who was mass-producing RBIs earlier this season, Giesler hasn’t seen a fastball in just about forever. And tabbed as the team’s No. 1 pitcher much of the season, the University of Dayton recruit was passed up by Nick Gobert in the regional opener and last weekend’s semistate.

Don’t be fooled, Giesler’s presence remains large. But he’s not too big to take a step back.

“Any competitive person wants to be out on the mound if they’re a pitcher, but (Nick’s) been throwing better than I have lately, and tip the cap to him because he’s just been playing better,” Giesler said. “As a team, as a member, I want to win, so putting him out there is giving us a better shot right now. I want to win, so it doesn’t matter to me where I play.”

Even if Giesler 2.0 isn’t as domineering as the original model, it’s every bit as valued.

For three years, coach Terry Gobert tried to mine some more verve from the understated Giesler. He always got production; Giesler hit .401 as a sophomore and drove home 39 runs while batting .337 as a junior. These days, there’s more of a fusion with Giesler’s pop and pep.

“He’s a totally different kid this year,” Terry Gobert said. “His leadership has been super. ... He’s been fun, he’s been relaxed. I think signing early (at Dayton) was huge for him. You have a tendency to press when you’re unsigned. Mark had that out of the way, and honestly he’s throwing a lot better down the stretch now, and he’s realized just how good he can be.”

It still isn’t settled if Giesler or Gobert will get the ball for the start in Friday’s state title game.

Gobert has been the marquee man on the mound, but it’s not as much an indictment of Giesler as it is a credit to Nick and his tidy 0.81 ERA.

Giesler’s presence remains, though.

When he’s not pitching, it means the Cats have the comfort of a sure-handed first baseman. When the Cats wobbled with a throwing error to start Saturday’s semistate bout against Crawfordsville, Giesler saved Jasper from the jittery inning by later smothering a low throw from close range for the third out as Jasper tiptoed out of the frame without allowing any runs.

Around the Cats’ team, there’s even a running joke that Giesler regularly rescues Austin Alles, who can be prone to unwieldy darts from third base.

“He tends to give me at least one a game,” Giesler joked. “It’s grown natural to me to play there, just pick up (stray throws).”

It’s fitting, because diversity has typified his journey.

Giesler used to be reliant on a brutish fastball — his go-to offering, since his father dissuaded him from throwing a curve until he was older. His heat has touched 90. But anymore, there’s a little less in the way of mph and a little more in terms of changeups, forkballs and curveballs.

“As the years have gone on, he’s become mentally stronger and tougher. Especially on the mound,” Nick said. “There’s times where he’d pitch in his younger days and even a few times last year where he’d get in a tough spot, and kind of all hell would break loose. This year, you can see him bear down. He’ll get a big strikeout or he’ll collect himself and throw strikes.”

Terry Gobert figures the emergence of the rest of the pitching staff — Nick Gobert, Seth Hollinden, Cal Krueger and Craig Shepherd — has released some of the pressure from Giesler, since “all through Little League, Babe Ruth, he was the guy you expected to come through in every phase of the game,” Terry said.

That sounds an awful lot like Giesler’s first phase of this spring.

Through his first nine games, Giesler stacked up 20 RBIs. (Had that pace continued, he’d be sitting at a cool 78 RBIs right now.) Eventually, the cover was finally blown on a guy who recently tagged his 40th career double to break Scott Rolen’s school record of 39: If you serve a fastball, Giesler invariably destroys it.

After crunching a home run against Castle in early May, Giesler began keeping count. He didn’t see another fastball for six games.

“I was just laughing to myself. I was like, ”˜I knew this was going to happen.’ I prepared myself for that,” he said.

He waits, adjusts, aims for the opposite field and doesn’t care what his hits look like. In the semistate, he sat back on an off-speed offering and grounded it up the middle for an RBI. Against Silver Creek in the regional, he rainbowed a ball that barely breached the outfield grass but did its job — it scored the go-ahead run.

In the last five weeks, the juiciest pitch that came his way was the last one he saw. In the sixth inning of the semistate, a fastball came dancing in, smack in Giesler’s wheelhouse. He watched it go past. Strike 3.

“I remember looking and (thinking), ”˜Gosh, I’ve been wanting that pitch since the middle half of the season, and I never got it,’” Giesler said with a laugh.

The window may not be closing just yet on Giesler’s chances to crush it. Dayton originally recruited him solely as a pitcher, but when the Flyers struggled offensively this season and re-evaluated Giesler’s power, they told him he could get a shot at playing both ways.

Adding to his plate in college. Letting his buddy Nick potentially take the ball Friday in the biggest game of their lives. Whatever it takes for Giesler, who quietly accept whatever comes his way.

“He doesn’t wear his passion on his sleeve. One thing people don’t know about him is how deeply he cares, because he looks so quiet out there,” Terry Gobert said. “He truly wants to win, and he will do anything, including play first base, or whatever. (People) don’t realize just how much he wants to win.”

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