OSSIAN – At the end of practice earlier this week, Norwell High School senior Josh VanMeter talked to his baseball teammates about red rings. He's not a fan.
VanMeter was a starter, and fellow seniors Nathan Shelton and Cale Schumm came off the bench, for Norwell's Class 3A state basketball runner-ups as juniors.
The blue ring is the thing, and that only goes to the winner.
VanMeter, Shelton and Schumm – all baseball starters – will get another chance when Norwell (32-3) plays Jasper (32-3) for the Class 3A state baseball title at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Victory Field, Indianapolis.
“People talk about it a lot more if you win,” VanMeter said. “People talk about what a great season we had (in basketball in 2011-12), but there's always a 'but you lost the state championship.' If we could just get the blue ring, it'd be pretty awesome.”
Norwell will need to be on top of its game to pull it off. Jasper has one of the state's most storied programs with a record 14 state-finals appearances. The Wildcats will be seeking their sixth state title.
Norwell coach Andy McClain expects Jasper to walk on the field with supreme confidence.
“They've earned that with the success they've had,” McClain said. “I've coached against teams that have that kind of swag, and I'd say our kids do have that to an extent as well.”
Indeed, Norwell will be seeking its third state title and making its fourth state appearance in the last 11 years, having won the 2003 and 2007 championships and finished runner-up in 2006 under coach Kelby Weybright. Weybright, who remains at Norwell as vice principal, stepped aside after last season, turning over a talented group to McClain.
McClain led Indianapolis Brebeuf to the Class 3A state title game last season and becomes the first coach to lead two schools to the big game.
“It will be a battle of wills,” McClain said of the state title game.
Jasper has outscored its playoff opponents 57-7, winning three games by the mercy rule. The Wildcats are led by Mark Giesler (.374, seven home runs, 46 RBIs) and pitcher Nick Gobert (9-0, 0.81 ERA).
Norwell has had two extra-inning wins in the playoffs while extending its winning streak to 19 games, so being battle-tested in tight games could be an advantage.
Norwell's history of success drives the current team, which can avenge the school's only state finals loss. Jasper beat Norwell 13-12 in the 2006 championship game. Assistant coach Dave Goodmiller was on the staff for those previous champions and assistant coach Jamie Feldheiser was a senior pitcher in 2006.
Norwell's 2007 team finished 35-0, led by current Oakland A's pitcher Jarrod Parker.
This year's Norwell team is also led by a Major League Baseball draft pick. VanMeter was taken in the fifth round by the San Diego Padres, and will likely sign a contract after one more prep game.
“Every reporter that's come to talk to us the last couple weeks has mentioned the '07 team, and Jarrod had a lot to do with that,” VanMeter said. “Down the road, if we win this game, maybe people will say, 'You can be like the '13 team.' That's taking nothing away from '07, but you want to make your own name.”