Crews roams center field, leads off for Evansville Purple Aces

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like the buffalo that used to roam his family’s farm, Kenton Crews is drawn to the open expanses of the baseball field.

A center fielder since his days at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., Crews uses the handle @superbuffaloman on Twitter and rambles in the middle of the outfield as a University of Evansville redshirt junior.

“I love playing center field,” says Crews, a 6-foot-1, 187-pounder. “It’s the most fun thing of everything about baseball.”

Crews, 23, tends to play shallow for the Purple Aces and chases balls over his head.

“I feel more comfortable running back and catching balls over my shoulder,” says Crews, who used to do a similar thing as Heritage Hills football wide receiver. 

When Crews reached UE, his favorite number — 5 — was not available. It was the number worn by his father Michael, who was a center fielder and a football player at Ball State University.

Kenton decided to go with 15 in purple, orange and white because that’s the digit donned by fly-chasing center fielder Jim Edmonds with the St. Louis Cardinals. Kenton grew up rooting for the Redbirds and stars like Edmonds, Jasper, Ind., native Scott Rolen and slugger Albert Pujols.

Speed put Crews in the outfield and made him effective in the lead-off slot with the Aces at-bat.

“One thing that we really focus on is that when the lead-off hitter each inning gets on base your chances of scoring go up,” says Crews. “A lot of (lead-off hitters) will take pitches. But if you can get a hittable pitch you should swing at it — especially fastballs early in the count instead of swing at the pitcher’s pitch.

“I’m usually pretty aggressive when I’m hitting lead-off.”

Going into a Missouri Valley Conference series April 23-25 against Illinois State, Crews is hitting .393 (35-of-89) with three home runs, four triples, eight doubles, 22 runs batted in, 21 runs scored and 6-of-9 in stolen bases. He sports a 1.145 OPS (.471 on-baseball percentage and .674 slugging average) in 28 games (24 starts).

For his career — which includes a redshirt season due to injury in 2019 — Crews is hitting .295 (161-of-545) with 11 homers, eight triples, 32 doubles, 79 RBIs, 81 runs and 33-of-42 in stolen bases. His OPS is .793 (.349 on-baseball percentage and .444 slugging average) in 143 games.

The righty swinger has 10 multi-hit games in 2021. He hit for the cycle (homer, triple, double and single) March 21 against visiting Butler. His 4-for-5 day produced four RBIs and two runs scored.

During his cycle, Crews tripled to left center in the bottom of the first inning, doubled to center in the third, homered to left in the seventh and singled in the eighth.

“Teammates were talking about it at a whisper,” says Crews about the Evansville dugout. “People didn’t know how to act.

“I was nervous about it. I didn’t want to let everybody down.”

The first two cycles of Crews’ baseball life came as a grade schooler with a Dale (Ind.) Buffaloes. 

Born in Evansville, Kenton lived with father Michael, mother Kathleen and sister Sienna in a house in Lincoln State Park.

Kenton grew up catching snakes, frogs and turtles for the nature center where his father was — and still is — an interpretive naturalist. He was a football coach at Heritage Hills Middle School was a long stretch.

When Kenton was 7, the family moved to a 100-acre farm, where the Crews raised big, wooly mammals and ran a restaurant — Buffalo Run Farm, Grill & Gifts — for two decades.

Michael coached Sienna’s T-ball team (she is a year older than her brother). After the Buffaloes, Kenton played travel ball with the Southern Indiana Spikes from 8-13. He was with the HHMS and was on a Pony team in Tell City, Ind.

As a high schooler, Crews was an all-stater and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series MVP as a senior in 2016 and also a all-state and all-conference baseball and football players. 

Greg Gogel was then head baseball coach at Heritage Hills.

“I love Coach Gogel with all my heart,” says Crews of a longtime family friend and former teammate of cousin Cole Seifrig (who took a lateral from future pro quarterback Jay Cutler and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Cutler in overtime to lead Heritage Hills to a 27-24 victory against Zionville in the 2000 IHSAA Class 3A state championship game). “He taught me more lessons in life than anyone other than my dad.”

Gogel’s wife, Jenna, is Kenton’s chiropractor.

Crews played for the Louisville-based Ironmen Baseball Club then — the summer following his senior year at Heritage Hills — the Evansville Razorbacks.

After missing his 16U summer with a hamstring injury, Kenton decided to attend college where his sister Sienna ran cross country and track.

He also liked the sincerity displayed by Aces head coach Wes Carroll and his staff during the recruiting process.

“They came to me instead of me chasing after somebody else,” says Crews. “I appreciated that effort and that honesty.

“Coach Carroll knows what he’s talking about. He told me he can make me into a better baseball player. I hope we can be friends and have a relationship the rest of my life.”

Kenton is the fourth NCAA Division I competitor in the family.

“She’s the real athlete in our family,” says Kenton of his mother.

As Kathleen Beumel, she was a 10-time state champion in cross country and track at Apollo High School in Owensboro, Ky. After attending Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, she transferred to the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she was cheer captain. At 20, she experienced a crippling injury.

“She broke her neck and was paralyzed,” says Kenton. “She wasn’t supposed to walk again or have kids.

“It’s a miracle she was able to move again and she was able to run.”

Kathleen Crews is now a program assistant at Heritage Hills and involved in the community.

Kenton graduated from UE in December 2020 with a degree in Communication, Advertising and Public Relations and is now pursuing a Masters in Leadership. All the courses are online.

“We get to work at our own pace,” says Crews. “We’re now learning empathy and showing people better ways to do things.”

Crews spent the summers of 2017 and 2018 with the Northwoods League’s Mankato (Minn.) MoonDogs and after sitting out the summer of 2019 while recuperating he was with the NL’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Mac Daddies, where former Mankato teammate and Indiana State player C.J. Huntley was on the coaching staff and Greg Weyrich was the manager.

“He was a super nice guy and knew a lot,” says Crews, who has another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2020 spring season. “I’m waiting to see about this summer.

“I’d like to play another season if (Carroll) would have me.”

Kenton Crews (University of Evansville Photo)

Crossroads Baseball Series helps talent connect with next level programs

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connecting baseball players who wish to play at the next level with coaches seeking talent is something that the Crossroads Baseball Series has been doing for more than a decade.

Started in 2008 by former Indiana University and professional infielder Eric Blakeley as an outgrowth of his Diamond Kings training business in northwest Indiana, CBS has grown to include showcases, tournaments and fall leagues in numerous states.

Blakeley ran Diamond Kings — former Griffith (Ind.) High School and Tulane University standout and current Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer Kody Hoese was one of his early pupils — for about a decade. 

Crossroads Baseball Series began as a way for “Region” area players to have exposure events without traveling to Indianapolis or Chicago. 

The first CBS event held at Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard include future big league pitcher Sean Manaea. Blakeley notes that 85 of the 87 players involved went on to play college baseball.

At Crossroads Baseball Series showcases, players work out in front of college coaches and play in prospect games against top recommended players.

There are 17 tournaments on the 2021 calendar with events in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. Many of these are for 14U to 18U players.

“We’re on the verge of growing our tournament space,” says Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series. “There’s a high demand for quality tournaments that don’t cost $2,000. We try to stay around $1,000 price point.”

Blakeley says college coaches can get on an RSVP list and attend events and receive information from them.

Rosters are collected and each player fills out an information form. Coaches have full access to this for free.

CBS provides social media coverage for recruiters and players’ families to share.

“We pride ourselves on educating the families,” says Blakeley. “We can get your names out there.

“The players have to do their research and count the schools that match (their choices).”

What Crossroads Baseball Series does, according to Blakeley, makes it easier for players to communicate with college coaches and do their research.

Blakeley emphasizes that college coaches will know if a player has done his homework on his program. 

It is even more important now that the competition for roster spots has become even more fierce with many players staying in college baseball longer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the smaller MLB Draft.

“It’s become a lot more competitive to get into these schools — academically and athletically,” says Blakeley.

The words of former Indiana University and current Arizona State University head coach Tracy Smith ring true with Blakeley.

“If you want to play college baseball, there’s a place for you,” says Blakeley. “You just need to do your research and go to camps.”

Travis Keesling, former head coach at Pendleton Heights High School, is Vice President of Baseball Operations for CBS after starting out as a coach selecting players for a showcase.

“Travis has a very good baseball background,” says Blakeley. “He knows the game very well.”

Keesling deals with finding on-field personnel, RSVPing college coaches and the overall vision of the company. He and Blakeley talk on a daily basis.

Nelson Gord, a former minor league opponent to Blakeley who resides in Illinois and is Director of Baseball for NCSA (Next College Student Athlete), is also Director of Recruiting Education for Crossroads Baseball Series.

“He’ll come to events and speak to parents about the recruiting process,” says Blakeley of Gord.

NCSA had purchased a platform called Coach Packet and CBS now has its own app that incorporates video, social media and results to the same player profile. College coaches are given access to this information.

The Crossroads Baseball Series staff also features field coordinators include Rob Fay, Craig Cotter and Austin Green.

Blakeley was a four-sport athlete at Greenville (Ohio) Senior High School.

“I was fortunate to have good coaches for high school and summer ball,” says Blakeley. “I got hit by pitch and broke my arm and did not play junior year of high school.”

The righty-swinging infielder wound up at Indiana through a relationship his coach had with Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan.

“He taught you some things about life,” says Blakeley. “There’s nothing easy about getting through a practice with Bob Morgan.

“He taught you accountability and taking care of yourself.”

As much as the process has changed over the year, one things has remained constant.

“It was word-of-mouth then and it’s still that way today,” says Blakeley. Coaches want to hear from coaches who they consider trustworthy and whose opinion they respect. “What has changed is technology. There is accessibility and instant updates now.”

Another change is the age of those being seriously pursued by recruiters.

“Recruiting has gotten a lot earlier,” says Blakeley. “When we started Crossroads in 2008, every single of the players had not made their college choice yet and were juniors going into their senior year. Ten years later, eighth graders were (verbally) committing going into their freshmen year.”

A shortstop for much of his four seasons at IU (1999-02), Blakeley was selected in the 21st round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners as a second baseman.

After his first pro season, Blakeley had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. He was in Class-A ball in 2003 and 2004 and made it up to Triple-A in 2005.

Released by the Mariners in 2005, Blakeley played for the independent Joliet (Ill.)JackHammers and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats before retiring as a player after the 2008 season. 

“I wasn’t trying to go back into affiliated ball,” says Blakeley. “I had my business and had gotten married (to Lake Central High School graduate Laura).”

Gary won the Northern League title in 2007 and were runners-up in 2008.

RailCats manager Greg Tagert invited him back for 2009, but Blakeley decided to focus on his business and having a family. 

Eric and Laura Blakeley now resides in Fishers, Ind., with daughters Isabella (10) and Gianna (8). Eric coaches both girls on the Fishers Cats.

“Sports can teach kids for the future — about adversity and how to overcome it,” says Blakeley. “Don’t think what might happen bad. Think what might happen good. 

“Failure is going to help you where you want to be. They just don’t understand that yet.”

Eric Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series

IU-Kokomo runs win streak to seven; Plesac fans 14

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jared Heard’s two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning helped Indiana University-Kokomo (22-16, 10-8) to a walk-off 2-1 baseball victory against Brescia Saturday, April 17 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

It was the Cougars’ seventh straight victory — the longest current streak among Indiana’s 38 collegiate programs.

By beating Brescia 8-1 in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, IUK gave head coach Matt Howard his 100th career victory.

Indiana Wesleyan (36-11, 25-3) built a three-game lead in the Crossroads League standings  with a four-game sweep of Huntington. The Wildcats have won six in a row.

Frank Plesac pitched a seven-inning complete game with 14 strikeouts as Bethel (13-30, 10-18) completed a four-game sweep of visiting Crossroads League foe Goshen and ran the Pilots’ win streak to five.

Indiana State (20-8, 7-1) finally played games at Bob Warn Field after opening the season with 24 on the road. The Sycamores swept a four-game Missouri Valley Conference series against Valparaiso.

Ellis Hanna II drove in four runs in a 12-1 win in the series finale. ISU has won five straight.

Clay Woeste collected nine hits, scored nine runs and drove in seven as Indiana University Southeast (32-13, 20-1) racked up 41 runs in a three-game River States Conference series sweep at West Virginia Tech. 

IUS also got eight hits, four runs and eight RBIs from Marco Romero, five hits, three runs and six RBIs from Derek Wagner, seven hits, four runs and five RBIs from Matt Monahan and five hits, seven runs and five RBIs from Brody Tanksley.

The Grenadiers have won four in a row.

Purdue (9-15, 9-15) ran its win streak to four by beating Michigan State twice and Illinois once during a three-team Big Ten Conference pod in Champaign, Ill.

Joe Moran smashed three homer runs as Taylor (33-12, 22-6) wrapped a four-game Crossroads League sweep of visiting Spring Arbor. Moran pushed his season homer total to 12.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through April 18

NCAA Division I

Ball State 21-11 (11-4 MAC) 

Indiana State 20-8 (7-1 MVC) 

Evansville 19-15 (4-7 MVC) 

Notre Dame 18-7 (16-7 ACC) 

Indiana 15-8 (15-8 Big Ten) 

Purdue 9-15 (9-15 Big Ten) 

Purdue Fort Wayne 9-18 (6-14 HL) 

Butler 7-15 (2-6 Big East) 

Valparaiso 5-20 (0-8 MVC) 

NCAA Division II

Southern Indiana 19-13 (15-9 GLVC) 

Indianapolis 13-13 (11-7 GLVC) 

Purdue Northwest 8-13 (2-10  GLIAC) 

NCAA Division III

Earlham 16-11 (16-11 HCAC) 

DePauw 16-12 (7-5 NCAC) 

Wabash 16-12 (7-5 NCAC) 

Hanover 16-13 (16-13 HCAC) 

Franklin 15-7 (15-7 HCAC) 

Anderson 15-10 (15-10 HCAC) 

Rose-Hulman 12-10 (12-10 HCAC) 

Manchester 12-16 (12-16 HCAC) 

Trine 5-16 (5-7 MIAA) 

NAIA

Indiana Wesleyan 36-11 (25-3 CL) 

Taylor 33-12 (22-6 CL) 

Indiana University Southeast 32-13 (20-1 RSC) 

Saint Francis 28-16 (18-10 CL) 

Huntington 24-12 (17-11 CL) 

Indiana University-Kokomo 22-16 (10-8 RSC) 

Indiana Tech 21-20 (8-4 WHAC) 

Marian 19-24 (12-16 CL) 

Indiana University South Bend 16-18 (12-7 CCAC) 

Oakland City 15-23 (8-13 RSC) 

Bethel 13-30 (10-18 CL) 

Grace 11-28 (8-20 CL) 

Calumet of Saint Joseph 4-25 (4-14 CCAC) 

Goshen 3-34 (2-26 CL) 

Junior College

Ivy Tech Northeast 18-18 

Vincennes 16-19 (4-12 MWAC) 

Ancilla 6-21 (2-10 MCCAA) 

Conferences

NCAA Division I

Big Ten

Atlantic Coast (ACC)

Big East 

Horizon (HL)

Mid-American (MAC)

Missouri Valley (MVC)

NCAA Division II

Great Lakes Valley (GLVC)

Great Lakes Intercollegiate (GLIAC)

NCAA Division III

Heartland Collegiate (HCAC)

Michigan Intercollegiate (MIAA)

NAIA

Crossroads League (CL)

Chicagoland Collegiate (CCAC)

Wolverine Hoosier (WHAC)

River States Conference (RSC)

Junior College 

Mid-West Athletic (MWAC)

Michigan Community College (MCCAA)

Thixton going out with a bang at Indiana Wesleyan

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tye Thixton figures he was born to play baseball.

He is named for his great grandfather on his mother Amy’s side — Leonus “Tye” Goheen, a standout pitcher in Kentucky in the 1920’s and 1930’s who once was matched up against a young Hall of Famer-to-be Dizzy Dean

Goheen led the Dawson Springs Daylight Ball Club to the state championship in 1932 and an appearance in the Little World Series in Battle Creek, Mich., in 1937.

When Tye Thixton was but a tyke his father — Jeff Thixton — introduced his oldest son to the game with wiffleball and followed him all the way through youth and travel ball and college until his passing at 50 on Jan. 10, 2020 with wife Amy and sons Tye and Trey surviving. 

“We bonded a lot of the time through baseball,” says Tye, who was granted an extra year of eligibility at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind,, because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2020 season and is shining in 2021 (Trey Thixton, 20, is a sophomore on the IWU men’s tennis team). “I want to leave it all on the field for dad.”

Tye has his father’s initials — JLT — on his wrist tape and writes them in the dirt each time he comes up to bat.

Thixton’s Indiana Wesleyan team, which also features “COVID seniors” Tanner Killian, Austin Swift and Jon Young, goes into a Crossroads League series today (April 16) and Saturday (April 17) against visiting Huntington at 32-11 overall and 21-3 in conference play. The team has its sights on being the program’s first 40-game winner.

Center fielder and lead-off man Thixton is hitting .349 (60-of-172) with 11 home runs, one triple, 11 doubles, 45 runs batted in, 48 runs scored and is 15-of-15 in stolen bases. He sports an 1.039 OPS (.423 on-base percentage plus .616 slugging average) with 20 multi-hit games.

For his IWU career, Thixton is hitting .360 (151-of-419) with 21 homers, three triples, 28 doubles, 96 RBIs, 106 runs and is 29-of-32 in stolen bases. His OPS is 1.020 (.428 on-base percentage plus .592 slugging average).

Thixton’s most-recent circuit clout came Monday, April 13 in Game 1 of a CL doubleheader against Taylor. The two-run shot in the fourth inning to left field cut through a steady cross wind and landed on the football stadium next to Wildcat Field.

“Off the bat I was thinking, ‘get on 2,’” says Thixton. “The fact that it got out gave us a lot of momentum and helped us get into their pen.

“My whole game has changed. I’m a little bit of a power threat this year. I think the COIVD year helped guys develop. We got to spend more time in the weight room and more time to work on the swing.

“Across the board players progressing and numbers on the pitching and hitting side a lot better.”

A center fielder and No. 1 hitter in the batting order since his days at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Thixton relishes both roles.

“I like being able to run the outfield,” says Thixton. “It’s fun playing gap-to-gap.

“I’ve always loved being a lead-off hitter — just being able to set the tone of the game.”

Thixton, 23, is finishing up his Business Management degree. Commencement at IWU is slated for May 1.

“I’ll be done,” says Thixton of his college days which began with two years at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, including a team MVP season in 2018. “Then I get on to the real world.”

Competing against NAIA No. 1-ranked Southeastern in Florida and No. 6 Faulkner in Alabama to begin the season in February, the Wildcats got off to an 0-7 start.

“We got walked off three times in seven games,” says Thixton. “But we knew we could compete with the highest level. We could’ve easily won three of four of those games.

“Nobody’s head was down. It was time to go on a win streak.”

And that’s just what IWU did. 

The Wildcats won their next 16 under the guidance of head coach Rich Benjamin.

“He loves all of his players,” says Thixton. “He’s done such a good job of bringing a team together and making guys want to play for each other and for him.

“We’ve got a good mix of all ages. Guys able to learn from each other. That’s really contributed to this year.”

Going through the uncertainty of the pandemic has also impacted the team’s outlook.

“We’ve played every game with the thought it could be our last,” says Thixton.

Born in Greenwood, Thixton started school at Clark Elementary in Whiteland and played at Whiteland Little League then moved to the Center Grove area as a third grader and he attended the former West Grove Elementary. 

He played in the Center Grove Little League then travel ball with a Center Grove team coached by Mike Chitwood that morphed into Indiana Elite Baseball and Pony Express Baseball, where his coaches were Kyle Beachy, Quentin Brown and Grant Bellak

“(Brown and Bellak) were a blast to be around,” says Thixton. “They helped me develop my game so much. 

Thixton graduated from Center Grove High School in 2016. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was in his final season with the Trojans while Thixton played on the junior varsity as a freshman. 

Keith Hatfield was Thixton’s varsity coach for three CG seasons.

What is Thixton’s impressions of Hatfield?

“It’s his passion for the game,” says Thixton. “We had so much fun playing with Coach Hatfield (in 2016).

“We had a talented group of seniors. We lost to (eventual IHSAA Class 4A state champion) Roncalli in the (Plainfield) Semistate.”

Clayton Hicks, who is now head coach at Danville Area, was an assistant when he recruited Thixton for the Jaguars and got him to play for head coach Tim Bunton.

“He’s the best baseball mind I’ve ever been around,” says Thixton of Bunton. “He took my game to a completely different level mentally.

“It was about winning every pitch and winning the little things in baseball.

“There are so many metrics now. But the game still comes down to the mental side and what to do when the ball is in play

“What you can do at-bat to help your team team?”

In two seasons at Danville Area (2017 and 2018), Thixton hit .376 (139-of-369) in 101 games (98 starts).

In the summers after his freshman and sophomore years, Thixton played for the Hicks-managed Hannibal Hoots in 2017 and the St. Louis Kats in 2018.

Tye Thixton (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)

McCowin makes himself at home with Saint Francis Cougars

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mikhail McCowin chose the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., for college and as he comes to the end of his senior year as a student-athlete he reflects on the experience.

McCowin, a corner outfielder on the USF baseball team, has found comfort, community, culture and camaraderie as a Cougar.

As an Exercise Science major with a Psychology minor due to participate in May 1 commencement, McCowin sees in Saint Francis the academics he sought and it helped that he was already in Fort Wayne as a 2017 graduate of Bishop Luers High School

McCowin likes that USF has a relatively small campus and student body (about 2,300 students), compared to larger schools that he explored.

“It’s close-knit here,” says McCowin. “Everybody has a familiarity with everybody. I’m more comfortable with smaller campus and interaction between teachers and students.”

With plenty of sweat and toil, players and coaches have gotten Cougar Field back into shape so home games can be staged on-campus rather than at the ASH Centre/World Baseball Academy.

“It looks amazing,” says McCowin of the diamond located on the west side of town. “We have high reverence and respect for our field.

“It’s sweet when fans can come straight from their dorms to the field and we can closely connect to the Saint Francis community. That plays a huge role in how we play.”

It’s common for USF teams to show up to cheer on other Cougar athletes (the school has 18 varsity sports).

An added bonus of the small campus is that the baseball team spends up to seven hours a day with each other, forming strong bonds.

“We get foster that relationship everyday,” says McCowin.

When he was recruiting McCowin through a contact at Athletes With Purpose (AWP) in Fort Wayne, Dustin Butcher (who was a Saint Francis assistant and became head coach following the 2018 season when Greg Roberts retired) emphasized culture at the NAIA member institution.

“He said it will definitely challenge my character and make me a better person,” says McCowin. “We keep ourselves accountable. We pick our brothers up. 

“If they need it, we get them help. We lean on each other.”

McCowin says the team GPA has increased considerably in the last few seasons.

“We take care of our bodies,” says McCowin. “We take care of our schoolwork.”

If there are opportunities — like a job opening or the chance to play for a summer team — the Cougars pass that information along.

There are several local players on the Saint Francis roster and this has allowed families to get involved with coordinating postgame meals — one broke out the grill as the Cougars celectrateb  recent victory — and cheering on the players.

As a student of exercise and psychology, McCowin knows the physical and mental side as a ballplayer.

“I live what I’ve learned everyday,” says McCowin. “I’m always seeking ways to be better at my craft and persevering through hard times.

“I’m making sure my body’s right and healthy.”

Early this season, McCowin tweaked his back and was out of the lineup.

“It was an inflammation of the SI joint at the hip,” says McCowin. “I got back though (physical therapy) and with the trainer. 

“I used every resource to get myself healthy.”

After being discharged, he still goes to the training room — as do many of his teammates — for maintenance.

McCowin follows several physical therapists on social media, including MoveU on Instagram, and seeks out mentors to learn such as AWP co-founder and Sports Performance Chief Performance Officer Bryan Bourcier.

He also has Butcher, who teaches a Sports Psychology class.

Heading into a home series Friday and Saturday, April 16-17 with Mount Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis is riding a six-game win streak and is 27-13 overall and 17-7 in the Crossroads League.

McCowin is hitting .328 (21-of-64) with four home runs, one triple, three doubles, 22 runs batted in, 14 runs scored and 4-of-5 in stolen bases in 26 games. His OPS is 1.004 (.410 on-base percentage plus .594 slugging average).

The righty swinger belted two homers in an April 6 win against visiting Indiana University South Bend.

For his career, McCowin is hitting .267 with nine homers, six triples, 22 doubles, 75 RBIs. 77 runs and is 20-of-25 in stolen bases in 133 games. His OPS is .824 (.384 on-base percentage plus .440 slugging).

McCowin was born in Marietta, Ga., then moved to Atlanta. He came to Fort Wayne while in grade school when the family came to take care of his ailing grandfather. 

Mikhail attended Irwin Elementary and Memorial Park Middle School. Having started baseball at age 4 in Georgia, he continued it at Elmhurst Little League in Fort Wayne and played travel ball for AWP.

At Luers, he was led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary Rogers.

“He definitely taught me resilience,” says McCowin of Rogers. “He brought out a lot of my competitive energy. I was always fighting against myself to be better being a sponge and asking questions.”

There was also plenty of repetition.

McCowin, 21 (he turns 22 on May 20), lives with his mother Kimberly, father Michael and sister Alexis (19). Older siblings Makesha, Sudedra and Michael are out-of-state — Sudedra in Ohio and the others in Texas.

Mikhail McCowin (University of Saint Francis Photo)

Ohio State righty Burhenn focuses on pounding strike zone

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Garrett Burhenn likes to get the plate umpire throwing up his right hand on a regular basis.

If arbiter is that means the Ohio State University junior is accomplishing his goal of pitching for strikes.

“I want to fill up the zone,” says Burhenn, a right-hander at the top of the Buckeyes starting rotation. “Walks kind of bug me a little bit.”

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder with the low three-quarter arm slot wants to establish command with his fastball.

“All my other pitches play off of it,” says Burhenn, who sports a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curve. “I pitch to contact and trust my stuff to get those outs.”

Burhenn, an Indianapolis native, is 2-1 with a 4.15 earned run average as Ohio State (13-9) heads into a Big Ten Conference series April 16-18 at Maryland. 

In six appearances (all starts), he has 36 strikeouts and 13 walks in 34 2/3 innings. The opposition is hitting .258 against him.

Ohio State head coach Greg Beals has given Burhenn the baseball 25 times — all as a starter— since the hurler began his college career in 2019.

“Coach Beals tells me to go out there and compete and to trust the process and the work I’ve put in since freshman year,” says Burhenn, who is 10-7 with a 4.59 ERA with 134 K’s and 48 base-on-balls in 147 career innings with close to two-thirds of his more than 2,300 pitches going for strikes. “He puts trust in me. 

“I take my work very seriously and I think he sees that.”

Burhenn credits OSU pitching coach Dan DeLucia and director of pitching development Brad Goldberg for their roles in making him a better moundsman.

“They’ve helped me to understand and have a purpose in each pitch I throw,” says Burhenn. “I don’t go out there (to the mound) with no game plan.

“I mix pitches and pound the zone.”

While many summer college leagues shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Burhenn spent eight weeks learning about pitch design and developing his craft at FullReps Training Center in Camp Hill, Pa., near Harrisburg. His Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft advisor Sam Samardzija Jr. (brother of big league pitcher Jeff Samardzija) is good friends with FullReps owner Scott Swanson.

Burhenn, 21, hopes to be selected in the 2021 MLB Draft, but if that doesn’t happen he expects to pitch somewhere this summer though he does not yet know where. 

He says he was thinking about going to the Cape Cod League, but did not play in the summer after his OSU freshman season because he logged 91 innings — nearly twice what he pitched as a senior at Lawrence North High School in the spring of 2018.

Burhenn played three varsity seasons for the Richard Winzenread-coached Wildcats.

“I started seriously pitching with him,” says Burhenn of the veteran coach. “I started getting pitching tips as a freshman. He’s developed me and helped me understand things.

“I’m very grateful for everything he’s taught me.”

Seeing some varsity mound action as a sophomore, Burhenn also played center field his last two high school seasons. The two-time all-Marion County honoree posted a 1.76 ERA and 88 strikeouts as a junior and went 6-1 with an 0.76 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings as a senior while earning Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-state distinction. He’s been a pitcher-only at Ohio State.

“I kind of miss swinging the bat,” says Burhenn. “I know it’s extremely hard at this level.”

Growing up in Lawrence Township, Burhenn’s first organized baseball came at Skiles Test Little League. He played travel ball for the Indiana Bandits and Indiana Mustangs.

Mike Farrell coached him with the Mustangs.

“My presence on the mound, I learned that from him,” says Burhenn. “He taught me to be a better player and better teammate. He’s very blunt and straight to the point, which I liked about him. 

“He’s very honest. I really appreciate Mike.”

In a 2021 regular season with only Big Ten games and no conference tournament, Burhenn has started against Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan. He racked up a season-high nine strikeouts and seven innings pitched March 26 against Iowa.

Attendance at Big Ten games has been restricted to family members and those on the guest list.

“It’s enjoyable when your family and loved ones are there at least,” says Burhenn.

He’s also relished the opportunity to compete against players he knows from high school or travel ball.

“It’s fun playing against familiar faces in an elite conference,” says Burhenn, who saw many of those in the Indiana lineup and counts Kokomo (Ind.) High School graduate and junior right-hander Bayden Root as an OSU teammate.

On the academic side of things, Burhenn is majoring in Operations Management as part of Ohio State’s Max M. Fisher College of Business.

Dave and Heather Burhenn have two sons — Garrett and Nick. The latter is a soccer player and Lawrence North junior.

Garrett Burhenn (Ohio State University Photo)

Kentucky’s Collett making most of his extra time on diamond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

T.J. Collett was not sure he’d still be playing baseball a year ago and the University of Kentucky slugger is enjoying the opportunity.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, Collett and the rest of the Wildcats were getting ready to leave for a trip to Nashville, Tenn., to play Vanderbilt.

The series with Vandy was postponed. Then the players were sent home for two weeks. Then the season was called off and the rest of the spring semester was completed through online classes.

“For all I knew — for about a month — I’d never play baseball again,” says Collett. “I’m glad the NCAA gave me the chance to come back and finish my career on my terms.”

Offered an extra year of eligibility after completing his undergraduate Communication degree, Collett took it and pursued his Masters in Communication while also playing as a graduate student in 2021. He’s about four weeks from completing his work.

He began his college career as a Finance major, but changed.

“I went with Communication because I love people,” says Collett. “I can interact in a business environment and there’s wide variety of jobs.

“I’m not sure what I want yet.”

In 29 baseball games (all starts), the lefty-swinging first baseman is hitting .301(31-of-103) with nine home runs (including two in his first multi-homer game March 16 against Murray State), one triple, five doubles, 20 runs scored and 36 runs batted in to go with a .425 on-base percentage and .631 slugging average.

Kentucky is 20-9 heading into a Tuesday, April 13 non-conference home game against Bellarmine.

Collett (pronounced Caw-LET) has played in 147 games at UK (120) starts and is hitting .276 (135-of-490) with 35 homers, two triples, 22 doubles, 133 RBIs, 87 runs, a .373 on-base percentage and .543 slugging average.

He sits eighth on Kentucky’s all-time homer list behind John Wilson (50), Terre Haute South Vigo High School graduate and good friend A.J. Reed (40), Aaron McGlone (39), Collin Cowgill (37), Jeff Abbott (37), Randy Clark (37) and Jeff Shartzer (37). 

Most of the time Collett is in the No. 3 or No. 4 slot in the batting order. Recently, he’s been in the 2-hole.

“There’s not a huge difference,” says Collett. “I’ve noticed my at-bats come around a little bit quicker. I like it.

“But responsibilities don’t change. I do anything I can anything to get a run in — anyway we can score.”

Collett was recruited to Kentucky out of Terre Haute (Ind.) North Vigo High School as a catcher. He recovered fine from hip surgery his senior year but four more procedures had him switching to first base. 

He played summer ball for the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Mohawks of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League in 2017, recuperated from surgery in 2018 and was with the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League in 2019 and in the College Summer League at Grand Park in 2020.

At North Vigo, Collett played for IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up teams in 2014 and 2015 and was 2016 Indiana Mr. Baseball. As a Patriot he was coached by Shawn Turner and Fay Spetter

“They were two of the most influential people in my baseball people,” says Collett of Turner and Spetter. “They poured into me as much as they could.”

In travel ball, Collett spent his 14U through 18U summers with the Indiana Bulls and counts former Bulls coach and director of player development and current Indiana University assistant Dan Held as another who made a big impact on his game.

Collett’s first year at Kentucky was also the first for Wildcats head coach Nick Mingione.

“He’s a man of faith,” says Collett of Mingione. “He really has everybody’s best intentions at heart.

“When I first met him he had this insane energy. The past five years that energy has stayed up.”

Collett has put his energies into his studies and his play as well as community service and his a nominee for the 2021 Senior CLASS Award.

“It means a ton to me,” says Collett. “It’s more than just playing the sport.

“Maybe some younger players can be inspired by that.”

UK’s Troy Squires was the Senior CLASS Award winner for baseball in 2018.

“He told me that’s one of the coolest awards he’s ever received,” says Collett, who has spent much of his community service time with the NEGU/Jessie Rees Foundation helping children fighting cancer to “Never Ever Give Up.”

Notre Dame’s Daniel Jung is also on the 2021 Senior CLASS nomination list.

Timothy John Collett, who turns 24 on June 26, is the son of John and Sallee Collett. His older brother is Doug Collett (29).

T.J. Collett (University of Kentucky Photo)

Bixler providing power at or near top of Franklin College order

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Bixler smacked two home runs in Franklin (Ind.) College’s win on Saturday, April 10 and was named Monday, April 12 as the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Week for the fourth time in his college baseball career.

It wasn’t the first case of multiple-mashing for the Logansport, Ind., native.

The righty-swinging fifth-year senior right fielder lofted two dingers May 10, 2018 against Manchester, two April 17, 2018 against Rose-Hulman, three April 16, 2019 at Rose-Hulman and two March 1, 2020 against Heidelberg.

On April 3, 2021 in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Franklin’s John P. McDowell Field against Hanover, Bixler’s eight-inning clout made the school’s all-time homer king.

The Grizzlies are 13-5 overall and in the HCAC heading into twin bills Saturday, April 17 vs. Rose-Hulman and Sunday, April 18 at Anderson.

The HCAC tournament (site to be determined) in May will include all 10 teams this year with the top five seeds serving as the home team in best-of-three series. A five-team finals will feature a double bye for the top seed. 

Bixler’s head-turning batting numbers so far for 2021 include a .449 (31-of-69) average with five homers, one triple, nine doubles, 25 runs batting, 31 runs scored and 5-of-6 in stolen bases. He owns a .576 on-base percentage and .826 slugging average.

“I look to do damage,” says Bixler of his offensive approach. “I just try to get the ball in the air or in the gap.”

While he has homered to center and right, he estimates that more than half of his long balls have gone out to left field.

During his Franklin days (Bixler played at Indiana Wesleyan in 2017 then transferred), he is hitting .354 (159-of-449) with 33 homers, nine triples, 34 doubles, 145 RBIs, 156 runs and is 32-of-38 in stolen bases. He sports a ..475 on-base percentage and .690 slugging average.

Bixler hit .321 with three homers, nine RBIs and 10 runs in eight games in 2020..

In 2019, he was first-team all-HCAC and third-team all-region by D3Baseball.

In 2018, he was the HCAC Offensive Player of the Year and conference tournament MVP. He was also honored as a third-team All-America pick by D3Baseball.com and was on the D3Baseball.com and American Baseball Coaches Association all-region.

Normally a 2-hole hitter, Bixler has been moved to the top of the Grizzlies order because of an injury to shortstop Quenton Welllington.

Bixler has had little trouble making the switch since he led off for four seasons at Lewis Cass Junior-Senior High School in Walton, Ind. (2013-16).

Is there a difference between 1 and 2?

“Maybe to start the game,” says Bixler. “As lead-off see as many pitches as you can for your teammates.”

Franklin coach Lance Marshall recruited Bixler while the player was in high school and welcomed him when he decided to transfer.

“Everyone respects him,” says Bixler of Marshall, FC head coach since the fall of 1997. “He knows how to win games.

“It’s a fun culture to be around for sure. This was the best fit for me.”

Bixler grew up playing baseball in Logansport and transferred to Lewis Cass after his eighth grade year. With the Kings, he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Marschand.

“He’s huge role model,” says Bixler of Marchand. “He took me under his wing and taught me almost everything I know today about baseball.

“He truly cares for each player. He is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met.”

Bixler was supposed to graduate in 2020. When granted another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to play another season and took a class while also working as a salesman for Warweg & Co., Irrigation in Franklin. He is slated to graduate this spring with a Public Relations degree and a minor in Business.

At 23, Ryan is the youngest of Brad and Kathy Bixler’s four sons. Josh is the oldest, followed by Justin and Brandon.

Ryan Bixler (Franklin College Photo)

The BASE Indy poised for a comeback with Jackie Robinson Day activities

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The BASE Indianapolis — an initiative to help interurban youths — is looking to bounce back from tough times.

Like many not-for-profits it was dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But through the incredible resilience of our volunteers and supporters, we are poised to make a definitive comeback – starting this week,” says Rob Barber, President and CEO of The BASE Indianapolis. “If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that the needs in our community are real and the opportunity gaps continue to grow. Because of that reality, we do what we coach our kids to do: we pick ourselves up and continue to fight for what we believe.

“We believe in providing meaningful opportunities for educational achievement, career exploration, health and wellness education, and life skills development that allow our young people to reach their fullest potential. We believe the game of baseball can be a catalyst for teaching, learning, and developing the underlying foundational characteristics that drive success.”

Each April 15, Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson on the historic anniversary of breaking the modern color barrier in professional baseball. 

From April 15-20, 2021, Indiana high school baseball and softball teams will introduce The BASE Indianapolis to a larger audience and rally support for its mission to transform the lives of urban youth.

The BASE Indianapolis was launched in April 2019 and the organization hosted the first Chuck Harmon Urban Baseball Classic in the summer of that year.

To learn more about The BASE Indianapolis, visit thebaseindy.org.

Indiana gets first no-hitter since ’84; Ball State leads MAC

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It hadn’t happened since 1984. 

Indiana University’s pitching staff produced a no-hitter in the Hoosiers’ 8-0 Big Ten baseball win Saturday, April 10 against visiting Illinois.

Starter McCade Brown went five innings and reliever Braydon Tucker four for the combined no-no. 

The 1984 IU no-hitter came against Rose-Hulman. 

Indiana (13-7) trails Nebraska (15-6) and Michigan (15-7) in the Big Ten standings. 

Ball State (19-9) has the longest current win streak among the state’s 38 college baseball programs at eight. 

Coming off a four-game sweep at Akron, the Cardinals are 10-2 and atop the Mid-American Conference standings.

Indiana State (16-8) began Missouri Valley Conference play by taking three of four games at Illinois State. The Sycamores are second in the league in terms of conference win percentage.

Evansville (18-12, 3-4) took two of three MVC contests at Bradley.

Notre Dame (15-6, 14-6) went 2-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference series at Georgia Tech. The Irish are in second in the ACC Atlantic Division.

NCAA Division II Southern Indiana (15-12, 12-8) went 3-1 at Great Lakes Valley Conferene foe McKendree. The Screaming Eagles are in third place in the GLVC Blue Division.

UIndy (13-11 overall, 11-5 GLVC Blue) split four game at Missouri-St. Louis.

In NCAA Division III, Franklin (13-5, 13-5) leads the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. The Grizzlies beat Manchester and Defiance once each in a rain-interrupted weekend and pushed their win streak to four.

Earlham (15-9, 15-9) took two at Mount St. Joseph and lost two against Transylvania in HCAC competition.

The clash in the NAIA’s Crossroads League — Taylor (30-11, 19-3) at Indiana Wesleyan (29-10, 18-4) — saw the host Wildcats and visiting Trojans split a Friday doubleheader. Saturday’s rain pushed another twin bill to today (Monday, April 12).

Also in the Crossroads, Saint Francis (25-13, 15-7) is riding a four-game win streak which includes two against Marian.

Huntington (22-8, 15-7) won two against Goshen Friday and was to make up the other two today.

By going 2-1 against Point Park, Indiana University Southeast (28-12, 17-1) remained in first place in the River States Conference. 

A doubleheader split against Vincennes puts National Junior College Athletic Conference D-II member Ivy Tech Northeast at 18-17 while VU is at 16-15.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through April 11

NCAA Division I

Ball State 19-9 (10-2 MAC) 

Evansville 18-12 (3-4 MVC) 

Indiana State 16-8 (3-1 MVC) 

Notre Dame 15-6 (14-6 ACC) 

Indiana 13-7 (13-7 Big Ten) 

Purdue Fort Wayne 9-14 (6-10 HL) 

Butler 6-12 (1-3 Big East) 

Purdue 5-15 (5-15 Big Ten) 

Valparaiso 5-16 (0-4 MVC) 

NCAA Division II

Southern Indiana 15-12 (12-8 GLVC) 

Indianapolis 13-11 (11-5 GLVC) 

Purdue Northwest 7-10 (1-7 GLIAC) 

NCAA Division III

Earlham 15-9 (15-9 HCAC) 

Franklin 13-5 (13-5 HCAC) 

Anderson 13-8 (13-8 HCAC) 

Hanover 13-11 (13-11 HCAC) 

Wabash 11-11 (4-4 NCAC) 

Rose-Hulman 10-8 (10-8 HCAC) 

Manchester 9-14 (9-14 HCAC) 

DePauw 8-10 (1-3 NCAC) 

Trine 1-14 (1-5 MIAA) 

NAIA

Indiana Wesleyan 30-11 (19-3 CL) 

Taylor 29-10 (18-4 CL) 

Indiana University Southeast 28-12 (17-1 RSC) 

Saint Francis 25-13 (15-7 CL) 

Huntington 22-8 (15-7 CL) 

Indiana University-Kokomo 17-16 (7-8 RSC) 

Marian 17-19 (10-12 CL) 

Oakland City 15-20 (8-10 RSC) 

Indiana Tech 14-19 (3-3 WHAC) 

Indiana University South Bend 13-17 (9-6 CCAC) 

Grace 9-24 (6-18 CL) 

Bethel 8-29 (5-17 CL) 

Calumet of Saint Joseph 5-25 (3-13 CCAC) 

Goshen 3-28 (2-20 CL) 

Junior College

Ivy Tech Northeast 18-17 

Vincennes 16-15 (4-8 MWAC) 

Ancilla 6-17 (2-6 MCCAA) 

Conferences

NCAA Division I

Big Ten

Atlantic Coast (ACC)

Big East 

Horizon (HL)

Mid-American (MAC)

Missouri Valley (MVC)

NCAA Division II

Great Lakes Valley (GLVC)

Great Lakes Intercollegiate (GLIAC)

NCAA Division III

Heartland Collegiate (HCAC)

Michigan Intercollegiate (MIAA)

NAIA

Crossroads League (CL)

Chicagoland Collegiate (CCAC)

Wolverine Hoosier (WHAC)

River States Conference (RSC)

Junior College 

Mid-West Athletic (MWAC)

Michigan Community College (MCCAA)