By STEVE KRAH
Curt Welch knows what it’s like to take a team to the IHSAA state baseball championship game.
He was an assistant to head coach Dave Sensenbrenner in 2001 when the Castle High School Knights finished as runners-up to Penn at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
Castle, which is located in the Warrick County town of Newburgh, Ind., is one victory away from getting to go back to “The Vic” in 2018 and this time Welch is the head coach.
The Knights (22-8) play Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) in the 4A Plainfield Semistate Saturday, June 9. It’s the second game of the day, following the 1 p.m. 1A clash between University and Tecumseh.
Welch sees pitching as a strength for Castle, which won the Evansville Reitz Sectional and Evansville Reitz Regional — the 14th sectional title and eighth regional crown in program history (the first for either since 2014).
“Our pitchers have kept us in all the games during this run,” says Welch. “They did a great job of keeping hitters off-balance.
“They’ve been working ahead (in the count) and making teams earn runs.”
The Knights staff is led by 6-foot-6 senior right-hander Zach Messinger (a University of Virginia commit), junior left-hander Blake Ciuffetelli and junior right-hander Jared Nutt.
Welch says fourth-year varsity player Messinger has a fastball that reaches the upper 80s, which he can mix with his breaking ball and change-up.
Ciufetelli has the ability to change arm angles and velocity. Nutt has relieved in three of Castle’s four postseason games.
When not pitching, Messinger is usually the designated hitter or third baseman.
Offensive contributions have come up and down the lineup.
“It’s been a team effort,” says Welch. “We have guys come up at times with two-out hits.”
Among the leading producers have been senior left fielder Garron Moffett, senior center fielder Griffin Scaggs and senior shortstop Nate James. Moffett has committed to play baseball at NCAA Division I Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., while Scaggs and James are bound for Kankakee (Ill.) Community College.
According to Welch, right-hander Zach Wagner (Anderson University), DH/catcher Ben Newhouse (Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky.) right fielder Cale Mattingly (Hanover College) and cacher Noah Gilbert (Oakland City University) are also seniors who have made college baseball commitments.
Graduates who were in college baseball rosters in 2017-18 include Jonathan Blackwell and Will Randell at Vincennes University, Nick Coudret and Wyatt Daly at the University of Southern Indiana, Nick Ciufettelli at Hanover College, Sam Huff at DePauw University, Jeff Wetzler at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill., and Korbin Williams at Indiana University Southeast.
Castle had 40 players in the program this season for varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.
Welch, who is in his 15th season as head coach after 14 as an assistant to Chuck Hawkins then Sensenbrenner and two as as volunteer for Mike Metzger at alma mater Boonville, counts Hawkins, Dan Labhart and John Barisano as his varsity coaches. There’s also John Copeland, Corey Steele and Art George with the JV and Daniel Nichols and Chris Stallion with the freshmen.
Borrowing ideas and approaches from Hawkins, Sensenbrenner, Brian Kuester (who helped played American Legion baseball for in the summer) and high school coaches Metgzer and Howard Buickel, 1983 Boonville graduate Welch has melded his coaching approach. He’s even taken a thing or two from Terry Wetherald, his wrestling coach at the University of Indianapolis.
“All those coaches did a great job of getting me ready for where I am right now,” says Welch. “(Hawkins and Sensenbrenner) did a lot for me. Being a coach and being a player are two different things. As head coach, everything falls back on you. There’s a lot more pressure when you make decisions.
“As a head coach, you are always thinking three, four or five innings down the line and not just in the moment.”
While there are no wrestlers in the current Castle varsity mix, Welch appreciates what grapplers bring to other sports.
“Wrestlers are hard-nosed kids,” says Welch. “They are not afraid to battle for win or come from behind.
‘They know about mental toughness. You’ve got to be mentally tough to go 0-for-3 and then come in the last inning and produce.”
Welch estimates that about half the players in the Castle baseball program are multi-sport athletes at a school of about 1,900 students.
“I like multi-sport athletes,” says Welch. “You can’t get that competition in a practice or in a gym.”
Castle plays its home games on-campus in a facility that’s been totally overhauled during Welch’s time.
“It’s been a gradual process,” says Welch, which saw a new locker room go in near the field. About the only thing that was there when he joined the coaching staff was the press box. “We’re proud of what we have.”
The Knights belong to the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (along with Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville Memorial and Evansville North, Evansville Reitz).
Welch, who teaches advanced mathematics at Castle, has four children with wife Dawn. Daughter Courtney is the oldest and she has three girls. Twin sons Chad and Doug as well as Luke Welch all played baseball for their father at Castle and wrestled at Purdue University. Doug Welch is now the head wrestling coach at Zionsville High School and is assisted by Chad Welch.
Saturday, June 9
Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.
Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.
Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.
Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.
Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.
Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.
Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.
Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.
Head coach Curt Welch and the Castle Knights won sectional and regional titles in events hosted by Evansville Reitz and will face Indianapolis Cathedral in the IHSAA Class 4A Plainfield Semistate Saturday, June 9.
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