By STEVE KRAH
Being consistently competitive on the baseball field at a small school is no small feat.
Fielding just a varsity team with about 12 to 14 players, the IHSAA Class 1A Braves have faired well against a schedule that is full of larger schools, including 4A’s Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour and 3A’s Corydon Central, North Harrison, Salem and Silver Creek.
“Aside from conference, we have only one 1A opponent,” says Stotts. “It’s the nature of the beast where we’re located.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a modest amount of pitching depth for a 1A high school.”
One way Borden dealt with the new pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) last spring was to sometimes lift pitchers at the front of the rotation early in games and go back to them later if needed.
“Everybody’s dealing with it,” says Stotts. “With 12 kids on a baseball team, our arms are limited.”
In 2017, Borden went 16-7 and might have gotten to the 20-win plateau if not for some rainouts that never got made up.
Lanesville edged Borden 1-0 in the championship game of the 1A South Central (Elizabeth) Sectional. The Eagles went on to hoist the 2017 state championship trophy a year after beating Borden 4-1 in the Lanesville Sectional final then going on to be 2016 1A state runner-up.
“We have see-sawed back and forth (with Lanesville),” says Stotts, who has led Borden baseball 2000-07 and 2015 to the present. “We gave them the toughest game in their state tournament run both years.”
Because of the IHSAA success factor, Lanesville will move up to 2A in 2018. That leaves Christian Academy of Indiana, New Washington, Shawe Memorial, South Central (Elizabeth) as potential sectional foes for Borden.
Borden will still meet up with Lanesville. They are both members of the Southern Athletic Conference (along with Crothersville, Henryville, New Washington and South Central).
If SAC schools meet twice during the season, the first one counts toward the conference standings. Crothersville (about a 50-minute trip) is the furthest SAC school from Borden.
Borden, Henryville and Silver Creek are all part of West Clark Community Schools.
With the help of full-time assistants Sam Beckort and Eric Nale and part-timers Kyle Kruer (Indiana University Southeast student) and Dawson Nale (University of Southern Indiana student), the Braves go into 2018 with a trio of seniors that have been starters since Stotts came back to the program in 2015 — catcher/shortstop/pitcher Lucas McNew (a USI commit), first baseman/utility player Cory Anderson and outfielder Noah Franklin.
Having seen him speak at clinics, Stotts has incorporated some infield drills taught by USI head coach Tracy Archuleta.
Stotts draws on the influence of a real diamond veteran. The 1993 Clarksville High School graduate played for the Generals and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Wayne Stock, who taught lessons of dedication and commitment.
“Coach Wayne threw every pitch of batting practice,” says Stotts. “He was a wonderful man and a wonderful mentor.
“I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet. I’m now a coach and social studies teacher. That’s exactly what he was. No one outside my family was more influential on me.”
Stotts recalls the words of the late Billy Graham: “A coach will impact more people in a season than the average person does in a lifetime.”
“I firmly believe that,” says Stotts, who is father to Jonathan (22) and Zane (15).
As for strategy, Stotts says Stock was not a fan of the bunt. It took Stotts some time to learn how effective “small ball” can be.
“Now that has become a main weapon in any high school coach’s arsenal,” says Stotts.
As an assistant to Larry Ingram at Eastern (Pekin) High School in 1999, Stotts saw the Musketeers lay down up to a dozen bunts a game.
“You can have a lot of success with it,” says Stotts. “Getting the ball down means somebody (on defense) has to make a play.”
Before the BBCOR era, Stotts might have multiple long-ball hitters in his lineup. He can’t count on power now.
“Everybody can bunt — slow, fast, whatever,” says Stotts.
Stotts began his coaching career in youth leagues while he attended IU Southeast. He was freshmen coach on Chris McIntyre’s staff at New Albany in 1998.
McIntyre was a student teacher at Clarksville when Stotts was still in school.
“Coach Mac is a great old-school kind of coach,” says Stotts. “His teams do things the right way.”
One of Ingram’s products at Eastern (Pekin) was Brad Pennington. Drafted in 1989, the 6-foot-5 left-hander went on to pitch five seasons in the majors with the Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, California Angels and Tampa Bay Rays.
Like tennis, track and softball, Borden has its baseball facilities about a mile from campus.
The baseball field does not have lights. But fencing and other equipment was replaced after a low-grade tornado tore through last season.
Upgrades last year at Borden Youth League meant that junior high age players no longer had to share the high school diamond.
Eric Stotts gets a point across to his Borden High School baseball team. He has led the Braves in two different stints — 2000-2007 and 2015 to the present. (Greg Mengelt/News and Tribune Photo)
Borden High School baseball players listen intently to head coach Eric Stotts. The 1993 Clarksville High School graduate is in his second stint with the Braves. (Joel Ulrich/News and Tribune Photo)