By STEVE KRAH
In the midst of an Indiana high school baseball hotbed, Fishers has grown its own crop of winning teams and productive student-athletes.
There were a few growing pains at the beginning, but it took off from there and Fishers now holds its own in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville) and beyond.
Fishers heads into the Class 4A Westfield Sectional ranked No. 3 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association poll (Carmel and Indianapolis Cathedral are 1-2).
Off to a 24-4 start in 2017, those four defeats came by one run each (to Oakland, Tenn., Hamilton Southeastern, Avon and Carmel).
“I’m not sure that there were many cons to this experience,” says Cherry of starting up the program. “We have been able to build our own traditions and history.
“We created everything (uniforms, baseball logo, expectations of Tiger baseball on the field and in the classroom, annual traditions like how we do Senior Night … everything).”
Cherry, who grew up learning and loving the game from father Mark, is a 1998 graduate of New Castle Chrysler High School, where he played for Gary Brown. He played for and later coached with American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon at Anderson University.
“Coach Brown was a great coach who held us to a high expectation on the field, but challenged me to be even better off the field,” says Cherry. “Coach Brown was intense on the field and a kind-hearted man off of it.”
New Castle went to semistate for the first time in 26 years in 1996 and was 21-2 and ranked No. 2 before losing in the 1998 sectional.
Cherry knows Alabama native Brandon as “Bama” and credits him for a major part in his development.
“Coach ‘Bama’ influenced me on the nurturing side of relating to players,” says Cherry. After an arm injury ended his playing career, Cherry was an AU assistant for two seasons, including the 2003 season when the Ravens placed third at the NCAA Division IIII World Series.
From Anderson assistant Brian York Cherry learned the importance of the little things in building a successful and winning program.
Todd Salkowski was football offensive coordinator at New Castle when Cherry played there and also left a lasting mark on Cherry.
“He is a winner in everything he does and taught me so much about the bigger picture beyond winning and losing,” says Cherry of Salkowski, now athletic director and girls basketball at Shenandoah High School. “I still use his favorite quote that said every week: ‘If what you did yesterday looks big to you today, then you haven’t done much today.’”
Cherry also counts high school baseball coaches Justin Keever (Noblesville), Ryan Bunnell (Westfield), Curry Harden (former Hamilton Southeastern head coach and current HSE assistant), Jake Burton (formerly of McCutcheon and now at Twin Lakes), Dave Ginder (Fort Wayne Carroll) and many more as mentors.
“I truly believe I have been called to be a teacher and a coach,” says Cherry, who was also a volunteer varsity assistant at Pendleton Heights (2005) and head JV coach at Hamilton Southeastern (2006). “Obviously, my competitive nature wants to win baseball games, but I believe there is far more to coaching than winning and losing.
“I believe I have been entrusted with these young lives to help develop them into young men who will be strong fathers, husbands, and citizens using the avenue of baseball to aid in this development.
“(Motivational speaker) Joe Ehrmann talks about the success of your program will be determined by who those young men become in 10-15 years, and I truly believe that is why I am a coach to help in that development process.”
On the field, Cherry’s emphasis is geared to the current crop of talent.
“I tend to be an extremely aggressive offensive coach trying to constantly put pressure on the opponent’s defense, while being more conservative on defense … taking outs as they come, making the routine play routinely as we race to be the first team to 21 outs.”
Fishers did play its first season without a senior class and had to learn how to win after a few losing seasons.
“Thankfully, we have been blessed with successful years recently, so we have been able to see the rewards of the hard work from all of our coaches and former players in our program,” says Cherry, whose 2017 staff include Darren Simms, Jeff Harkin, Brice Davis and Craig Huls with the varsity, Matt Poisel and Chris Hebert with the junior varsity and Rich Wender and Adam Glaze with the freshmen.
Simms has been with the program since the beginning. His responsibilities include outfielders, third base coach, defensive play caller, baserunning and bunting. He played at Anderson U. when Cherry was an assistant in 2003.
Harkin coaches first base and is assistant defensive play caller.
Davis, a 2008 Fishers graduate, is hitting coach.
Huls is pitching coach.
The HCC has adopted a three-game series. Cherry is a fan of the format.
“I am a huge proponent of the three-game series,” says Cherry. “It has forced us to develop depth with our pitching staffs. We now have three starts that pitch in huge conference games each week plus we must develop a bullpen to make it through the three games. In addition, we are able to develop a fourth starter to pitch in our non-conference games.
“We have some of the best coaches in the state in our conference competing against those guys night in and night out makes it a lot of fun,” says Cherry. “The coaches in our conference are not only great coaches, but great men as well. We have battles on the field, but were all friends off the field. All the coaches work really hard and have built strong baseball programs.
“The coaches in our conference make the three-game series a lot of fun, because they are work at creating scouting reports, pitching hitters certain ways, and positioning their defenses against the scouting report. This forces hitters to learn how to hit against good pitching. Our three-game series is a great opportunity to prepare our players who are going on to play college baseball. Our guys are playing in intense, meaningful games every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”
HCC are tight-knit lot.
“We have some of the best coaches in the state in our conference and competing against those guys night in and night out makes it a lot of fun,” says Cherry. “The coaches in our conference are not only great baseball coaches, but great men as well.
“We have battles on the field, but we are all friends off the field. All the coaches work really hard and have built strong baseball programs.”
The ’17 Tigers went unbeaten at home. The school recently re-configured the fence foul line to enclose the bullpens. From the outfield end of the dugouts the fence line angles towards the outfield and then runs parallel down the foul line to the outfield fence (similar to Wrigley Field).
“Our fence line is not as close to fair territory as Wrigley, but it is a lot closer than many high school fields, which gives is a unique setting,” says Cherry, an IHSBCA district representative and a member of the ABCA and National High School Baseball Coaches Association (BCA).
Matt Cherry is the only head baseball coach Fishers High School has ever known, starting the program from scratch and fielding the first varsity team in 2007.