Wildcat senior keeps it cool in debut

 Rachel Mummey/ The Herald
Jasper’s Jasmine Seitz surrendered just one hit and struck out six Thursday, paving the way for the Wildcats’ 7-0 stroll past North Knox in their season opener at the Jasper High School Softball Complex. Sophomores Paige Werner and Olivia Burger also socked home runs for the Cats, who committed just one error behind Seitz. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — Jasmine Seitz could hardly be blamed if she was a bit overwhelmed before the Jasper softball team’s season opener Thursday.

It wasn’t the senior’s first-ever start, but it was the first time she’s stood in the pitching circle with the designation as the Cats’ ace. Much of Seitz’s varsity career was spent watching four-year pitching stalwart Keegan Katter — now graduated — command the rubber.

So now, with the pitching duties belonging solely to her, a few butterflies could be standard.

Not really the case.

“No,” Seitz said about any pregame jitters. “Pretty chill.”

More like ice cold, as the senior allowed just one hit in a 7-0 shutout of North Knox. With her first win since April of last year, Seitz has already totaled a third of her win total from the 2013 season.

“(I was) just relieved for (Seitz) that she gets to enjoy these types of moments, instead of seeing someone else enjoy those moments,” Wildcat coach Matt Pryor said. “It’s her turn. She’s going to take her lumps. She’s going to feel the pain of having an off night as well, but it’s nice for her to get a positive with pitching instead of always doing the book next to the coach.”

The entire Jasper roster was able to revel in its play Thursday. Nicolette Eckert scored the Cats’ first run in the opening inning off Katelyn Hedinger’s single to right field. The next batter, Paige Werner, sent North Knox pitcher Bailey Wright’s changeup off the scoreboard in left field for a two-run homer and 3-0 lead.

“That was awesome. Whenever (Werner) hit it, I knew it was going to be over,” Seitz said. “I was already up (to celebrate the homer) before it even went out.”

Jasper (1-0) added two more runs in the second with RBI singles from Maddie Sellers and Abby Libbert before the bats cooled off in third and fourth innings with zero runs and three runners stranded.

But it didn’t matter, as Seitz, who walked two batters in the first inning, gained confidence throughout. She finished with six strikeouts, twice fanning North Knox batters with off-speed pitches.

“Her changeup is really nice. Batters can’t really pick it up because she doesn’t change her arm speed at all. That’s a go-to pitch for her,” Pryor said.

“The changeup was working and we were going for the outside (corner) mainly,” Seitz echoed. “The outside was rocking.”

And when the Warriors (1-1) were able to make contact, Jasper’s defense didn’t blink. Werner made the play of the evening after North Knox’s Brittney Potts looped a soft blooper to the left side of the infield. Werner, playing third base, rushed to her left and dropped to her knees while sliding to secure the first out of the inning. Jasper committed just one error in the game and no Warrior baserunner advanced past second base.

Even the Cats’ mistakes qualified as positives. Spotty base running resulted in two outs, and two more Wildcats were caught stealing. But if the execution was wrong, Pryor said the mindset was right.

“Even though we got caught being aggressive, in a lot of those situations it was more of the takeoff than our overall speed,” Pryor said. “Our takeoffs were just not on point, but it was good to see that they were aggressive on the base path. We can always pull back later, but we want them to be super aggressive this early in the season.”

Olivia Burger was the second sophomore to homer with a solo bomb to left in the fifth inning. In the sixth, Katie Krempp smacked a stand-up double to left, reached third on Allison Reckelhoff’s groundout and scored the final run on Eckert’s sacrifice fly.

A bolt of lightning caused a half-hour delay in the sixth, but after returning to the field, Jasper relief pitcher Olivia Knies quickly ended the contest. Against seven batters, the freshman gave up just one hit with two K’s.

“(Whether it’s) games that we’re ahead, games that we’re behind, we want to put (Knies) into every situation possible to get her comfortable out there on the rubber so she realizes it’s not about the situation, it’s about (her) and the catcher. This pitch, this time. So when she can get everything around her out of her head and just throw, then she’ll start seeing more time,” Pryor said. “But we’ve got to expose that to her often as soon as possible.”

With Seitz’s rock-solid opener, Knies can be assured for now that she’ll be able to lean on her senior starter. For the rest of the Cats, there were ocassional gaffes here and there, but it was mostly an impressive performance from a young team that’s looking to snatch up wins early and often.

“It’s nice to start the season with a ”˜W’ and a ”˜W’ with us having a lot of positives; not just winning the game, but seeing the aggressiveness, seeing our pitchers hit their spots, being aggressive at the plate as well,” Pryor said. “I think that’s just as valuable as the W.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli

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