BY STEVE KRAH
Matt “Rip” Collins learned a winning system established from one of Indiana’s most successful baseball coaches and he is using many of those things to enjoy more accomplishments.
Collins played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Quentin Merkel at Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, graduating in 1990.
“I rode the coattails of those guys on the 1989 state championship team,” says Collins, referring to Tigers diamond stars like Pat Schulz who went on to play at the University of Evansville and in the Cleveland Indians organization.
Merkel racked up 941 victories, three IHSAA state championships (1978, 1989 and 1993), three state runner-up finishes (1970, 1979 and 2005) and 26 sectional titles in his 45 years at Memorial head coach.
The 1978 and 1979 squads were led by Don Mattingly, who went on to play for the New York Yankees, be inducted into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and manage the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins.
Collins, who started his teaching career at Holy Rosary School then moved to Memorial (the Western Kentucky University graduate leads classes for physical education and driver’s education) and has coached football, basketball and baseball at Memorial over the course of more than 20 years, was a Merkel assistant in 2013 and took over the program the next season.
“He’s a man I’ve looked up to,” says Collins of Merkel. “I’ve instilled a lot of things he did, like his work ethic and overall approach to the game.
“We bought into it. That’s what we’ve tried to do on our staff.”
Collins’ assistants are Chris Schaefer (pitching coach) and Dan Durchholz with the varsity on gameday, Aaron Schmitt and Ethan Sauls with the junior varsity and Eric Chamberlain and Sam Mattingly with the freshmen.
It’s about consistency for Collins and his staff.
“Baseball hasn’t changed very much,” says Collins. “We try to keep it simple.
“We have a daily routine. Our drills might be monotonous, but we think it’s important.”
This repetition has helped the Tigers.
“You’re not surprised when good things happen,” says Collins. “Mentally, we can get through the tough times.”
With the IHSAA allowing courtesy runners for pitchers and catchers the past two years, there have been more playing opportunities for reserve players.
Collins asks his athletes to embrace their chance to contribute.
“Define your role and relish in that role regardless of what it is,” says Collins.
Memorial generally has about 40 players for its three teams, which keeps the Tigers hopping since their home diamond, Stone Field, does not have lights.
The facility, located behind Holy Rosary on South Green River Road, now sports new higher bleachers on the home and visiting sides.
With Collins in charge, Memorial is coming off a 2018 campaign in which the Tigers went 23-7 overall and 9-3 in the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference. Memorial tied for the SIAC title and won city and Class 3A Evansville Bosse Sectional championships.
A 7-1 loss to eventual state runner-up Silver Creek in the Bosse Regional championship ended the Tigers’ season.
Senior Isaac Housman is committed to play baseball at the University of Southern Indiana. Branson Combs (Southern Illinois University) and Michael Lindauer (University of Cincinnati) are bound for collegiate football.
Recent Memorial graduates to are on college baseball rosters are Caleb Meeks (University of Evansville), Drew Ashley (Indiana University) and Luke Johnston (University of Southern Indiana).
Memorial (enrollment around 610) is a member of the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Castle, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville North and Evansville Reitz).
SIAC schools play each other twice in a same-week home-and-home series to determine the conference champion.
Non-conference foes for the Tigers include Boonville, Gibson Southern, Henderson (Ky.) County, Heritage Hills, Jasper, Mount Vernon (Posey), North Posey, Southridge, South Spencer, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington. The Tom Miles Invitational at Washington is slated for May 11.
The Tigers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Boonville, Bosse, Heritage Hills and Mount Vernon. Memorial has won 28 sectional titles — two with Collins as head coach (2016 and 2018).
Reitz Memorial operates under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Evansville.
A Cub baseball team for seventh and eighth graders who have committed to attend Memorial plays in the spring. There are many travel baseball organizations for junior high and high school players.
“Rip” went into education like his father. Larry “Pops” Collins coached with James “Mojo” Hollowell at Henderson (Ky.) High School and picked up the habit of giving a nickname to each of his players in 40 years as an East Side Little League coach. He carried that over to his children and grandchildren.
Larry, who died in 2009, and Donna had four kids — Laurie (aka “Pumpkin”), Lainie (“Bird”), James Patrick (“Jock”) and Matthew Ryan (“Rip”).
The latter handle is a nod to former big leaguer Rip or Ripper Collins.
“Jock” gives nicknames to his players in the same league where his dad coached baseball.
“Rip” and wife Shelby have three kids — eighth grader Leo (“Cleat”), sixth grader Clara (“Filly”) and third grader Walt (“Colt”). All are involved in sports.
Matt “Rip” Collins enters his sixth season as head baseball coach at Evansville (Ind.) Reitz Memorial High School in 2019. He is a 1990 Memorial graduate.
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