By GREG MENGELT
Jeffersonville ace Trent Astle has spent the entire 2013 season chopping down giants.
The Red Devil senior has beaten Class 4A Floyd Central twice — for the Hoosier Hills Conference title and the sectional championship — and Class 3A Jasper. On Monday, Astle pitched eighth-ranked Jeff to a 1-0 win over Franklin in the Evansville Reitz Regional semifinal.
Astle has become one of the state’s top clutch pitchers.
“It’s fun to me,” Astle said of pitching in big games. “I’m a competitor.”
“Nobody competes any harder than Trent,” Jeff first-year manager Derek Ellis praised. “He’s probably the biggest big-game pitcher in the state. He just knows how to get it done. Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, his mediocre stuff is better than most pitchers’ best stuff.
“The thing that sets him apart is he knows how to pitch. If he threw 88-90, he’d be a first-round draft pick.”
On Saturday, Astle and the Red Devils will face another huge task — becoming the first team this season to knock off 27-0 and second-ranked Cathedral.
A win over the Irish would put Jeff (23-5) in the Class 4A championship since 1998.
“I know the first half of their lineup is strong,” Astle acknowledged. “I just need to get ahead of their hitters and I’ll be all right.”
Astle is 7-1 this season with an ERA below 1.00. He has 37 strikeouts to 13 walks, two shutouts and a no hitter on his resume.
With the final two games a week apart, Astle could be on the mound the rest of the way for the Devils. That could put Jeff in prime position to win its first baseball state championship.
“It’s a perfect scenario. We might only have to score a couple of runs and we could win a championship,” Jeff senior Nick Gallagher said. “Having Trent on the mound is like having a Major Leaguer out there. He’s going to get the job done.”
“I’ll take my senior, Trent Astle, over anybody in the state,” Ellis said. “I think most coaches would like to see a best 2-of-3 [state] tournament at some point. But when you have a pitcher like Trent Astle and it’s a one-game scenario, I’ll take it this year.”
Of course, the Red Devils will have to get at least a couple of runs to bring the state title back to Jeffersonville. That, at times, has been a chore.
They have scored two or fewer runs in seven games this year, including the 1-0 win over Franklin on Monday.
“There’s time when you have it and times when you don’t,” Ellis said. “Our offense has been hot and cold. The guys know they’re capable of putting the bat on the ball. I have a bunch of good hitters. Their averages may not show it, but from top to bottom, we’ve got guys who can hit the ball.”
Jeff scored seven runs in Monday’s 7-2 regional championship game win over Bloomington North. That result, combined with at least five in every tournament game except against Franklin, could indicate the Devils’ offense is starting to heat up.
“You’re definitely seeing better pitching,” Ellis said of the deep tournament run. “The pitching we saw with Bloomington North, they all throw hard. [North ace Adam] Cornwall was throwing 90 miles per hour, so pitching is definitely a lot better. [Producing runs is] going to be a challenge against Cathedral.”
“I think we’re hitting pretty good,” Gallagher said. “The Bloomington North pitcher was throwing about 90 and we put up seven [runs]. I think it’s headed in the right direction.”
Astle says how much offense he gets doesn’t matter to him. Give him one run and that should be good enough.
“I’m fine either way,” Astle said. “It would be a plus to go out 5-0, 6-0 in the first few innings. It would take a little pressure off, but I don’t mind going on in 1-0 games.”
This isn’t the first time this year Jeffersonville has met Cathedral in a semistate with a trip to the state finals on the line. The Irish beat Jeff 74-53 in the Seymour Semistate in basketball before falling to Carmel 57-53 in the championship game.
Basketball players like junior Drew Ellis — a starter on the Final 4 basketball team and the son of the manager — remember it well and are determined not to be denied by the Irish again.
“Drew Ellis, he’s a basketball player and that’s the first thing he said: ‘I don’t want to lose to Cathedral twice in one season,’” Gallagher recalled. “It will be a big game for him.”
“It may be motivation for the two basketball players on the team,” Derek Ellis said. “They definitely know they’re playing Cathedral again in a semistate. I think Drew may have posted something on Twitter that he’s not going to allow Cathedral to beat him again. I think it’s motivation, but fun motivation for them.”
CLASS 4A BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
Jeffersonville (23-5) vs. Cathedral (27-0), 3:30 p.m.
At South Bend Clay
Lafayette Jeff (22-12) vs. Elkhart Central (30-1), 2:30 p.m.