By STEVE KRAH
Aaron Willard enjoyed plenty of success in his time as head softball coach at Eastside High School in Butler, Ind.
In 23 seasons, he Blazers softballers won 13 sectional titles (three in the IHSAA single-class era and five each in Class 1A and 2A).
When Jason Pierce left the head baseball post at Eastside and Aaron’s oldest son, Cade Willard, was a junior, he decided to take over the program.
In his second season (2017), the Blazers won the 2A Westview Sectional. Eastside did it again in 2018, besting Westview in the title game and earning a berth in the 2A Whiting Regional.
The Blazers (18-8) face Boone Grove in the second semifinal around noon CST (Hammond Bishop Noll plays South Adams at 10 a.m. CST) at Oil City Stadium. The championship is slated for 6 p.m. CST.
“Last year, we were built around pitching,” says Willard, who sent right-handers Cade Willard (redshirt at Fort Wayne), Conner Dove (Trine University), Jackson White (Franklin College) and middle infielder/closer Zach Orn (Ivy Tech Northeast) on to college baseball. They were among nine seniors. “A lot of those guys had played a lot of baseball.”
This year, the Blazers are not as experienced on the mound but have gotten the job done.
The staff is led by senior Chris Ballentine and also features juniors McGuire Jacobs, Nick Shewman, Chase Franz and Joe White and freshman Wade Miller. All but lefty Miller, who plays center field, are right-handers.
White is the team’s No. 1 catcher and joins Ballentine and Franz among Eastside’s most-productive hitters. The squad’s only other senior is first baseman Riley Thompson.
“Our guys have done a great job on the mound,” says Willard. “We’ve been solid defensively for the most part. The top of our order has been pretty good and we’ve now got some guys hitting in the bottom part.”
Eastside is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference. The NECC was led in 2018 by Angola (9-2) and Lakeland (9-2), followed by Fairfield (8-3), Westview (7-4), Eastside (7-4), Garrett (6-5), Fremont (5-6), Churubusco (5-6), West Noble (4-7), Prairie Heights (3-8), Central Noble (3-8) and Hamilton (0-11).
Willard’s assistant coaches are Tony Emenhiser, Garth Fiedler, John Gravante and Bryce Yoder.
The Blazers play their home games on-campus. The field has a wooden outfield fence and a few years ago, a net backstop was installed for clearer viewing by spectators.
A 1984 Eastside graduate, Willard went on to play baseball for four seasons at Huntington College (now Huntington University). His freshmen year was also the first in charge for head coach Mike Frame.
After receiving a physical education degree in 1989, Willard returned to Eastside and began teaching. He became athletic director and assistant principal in 1999 — positions he has held ever since.
Aaron and Terri Willard have three children — Madison, Cade and Owen. Madison Willard graduated this spring from Ball State University and is to marry Dalton Shetler in June. Owen Willard is an eighth grader.
Eastside celebrates its second straight IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional baseball championship in 2018. Assistant coach Tony Emenhiser, seniors Caleb Ballentine and Riley Thompson and head coach Aaron Willard pose with the trophy.
Eastside High School head baseball coach Aaron Willard (25) gets the bucket treatment from his team after they won the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional.
The Eastside High School Blazers hoist the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional baseball trophy as head coach Aaron Willard (right) takes in the moment.
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