Category Archives: High School

Byall, Homestead Spartans value preparation

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Potter and Steve Sotir emphasized the fundamental parts of baseball — making the routine play on defense, pounding the strike zone from the mound and following an approach from the batter’s box — as head baseball coaches at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Nick Byall, who played for Potter and coached with Potter and Sotir, is carrying on the tradition while adding his own spin as the man in charge of the Spartans.

“We want to be polished and prepared each day,” says Byall. “When you’re doing (the fundamentals) well it makes the game even more fun.

“At the high school level, we can be really successful doing that.”

Byall, a 2000 Homestead graduate, spent 10 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater (two on Potter’s staff and eight with Sotir) and is in his fourth season as head coach in 2019.

Being competitive is also important to Byall.

“We’re always looking to compete — in a drill or a game,” says Byall, who heads up a program with around 50 players for varsity, junior varsity (JV Blue) and freshmen (JV Gold) schedules.

“We have a smaller senior class and kept a larger freshmen class,” says Byall. “We have 18 on the varsity roster most of the time. Some guys will swing between varsity and JV.”

The coaching staff features Shawn Harkness plus volunteers Josh Brock, Maurie Byall (Nick’s father) and Greg Wehling with the varsity, Austin Plasterer and Kyle Plasterer with JV Blue and Brian Landigran and Dominic Schroeder with JV Gold.

Harkness is pitching coach for the Spartan. He was a JV coach when Byall was a Homestead player.

Brock played and coached at Manchester University.

It’s more than the game that keeps Byall around baseball.

“I want to be a decent role model for (the players),” says Byall. “That’s why we do it.

“I enjoy the kids and the coaches I work with. If not, I wouldn’t do it.”

Homestead plays its varsity games on its campus with the JV teams playing on that diamond or at a field near Summit Middle School.

Marching band is a big deal at the school and the band has its own turf practice surface near the baseball field. The baseball team sometimes uses it when it’s facility is too wet.

There is no middle school baseball at Homestead, but many players participate in travel ball.

“We’ve got a lot of kids who enjoy baseball,” says Byall. “They’re pretty fundamentally sound.”

Senior Kade Kolpien has committed to Taylor University. Senior Will Ferguson has garnered some college baseball interest. Junior Eli MacDonald and sophomore Kaleb Kolpien and Carter Mathison are among younger Spartans getting college looks.

Recent Homestead graduates now with college programs include Justin Miller at Purdue Fort Wayne, Isaac Bair at the University of Indianapolis and Nick Davit and D.J. Moore at Huntington University.

Catcher Rob Bowen was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins and made his big league debut with the Twins in 2003. He also played for the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Infielder Andre Jernigan went from Homestead to the Xavier University to the Twins organization.

Right-handed pitcher Taylor Kinzer played at Taylor then in the Los Angeles Angels organization.

Second baseman Ryan Wright played at he University of Louisville and in the Cincinnati Reds system from 2011-15.

Catcher Matt Singleton played at Ball State University and in the Athletics chain.

Outfielder Bobby Glover was a Parkland College, the University of Dayton and with the independent Windy City Thunderbolts (2012).

Left-hander Kyle Leiendecker went to Indiana University.

It’s IU and the allure of Hoosiers basketball that brought Byall to Bloomington.

He was a basketball manager for four years and got to see in the inner workings of big-time college sports and went to the 2002 NCAA tournament championship game with head coach Mike Davis. Byall’s first week on campus was Bob Knight’s last.

Byall earned an education degree from Indiana in 2005 and a masters in business administration from Taylor in 2010. He teaches Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics and U.S. Government at HHS.

Homestead (enrollment around 2,430) has charted a schedule that features Bellmont, DeKalb, Evansville Central, Fishers, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Hamilton Southeastern, Indianapolis Cathedral, Mississinewa, Norwell, Wapahani and Warsaw.

For several years, Homestead has made a southern trip during spring break.

“It’s a chance to get away and bond a little bit,” says Byall.

The destination the past few seasons has been Vincennes, Ind. Treks have also been made to Terre Haute, Evansville, Cincinnati and Knoxville, Tenn.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Huntington North. Homestead has won 14 sectionals — the last in 2016. A 4A state runner-up finish was earned in 2008.

Byall is single and lives in the Homestead district.

“I’m real close with my family,” says Byall, the son of Maurie and Rosi Byall and younger brother of Troy Byall. His father owns Byall Homes, Inc., and has been building houses for 40 years. His mother is the Homestead treasurer and also the statistician for her son’s baseball team.

With three children, chiropractor Dr. Troy and wife Erica Byall have made Nick a proud uncle.

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Homestead High School baseball coach Nick Byall (left) slaps hands with Kade Kolpien. Byall is in his 14th season as a Spartans coach — fourth as head coach — while Kolpien is in his senior season in 2019.

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Nick Byall is head baseball coach at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. He is a 2000 graduate of the school. (Homestead High School Photo)

 

 

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Character counts for Pennington, Eastern Musketeers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The longer Jeff Pennington is in coaching and education, the more he realizes that developing athletic skills — in his case, baseball — is secondary to fostering character.

“It’s not just the game of baseball,” says Pennington, who is in his seventh season as head coach at Eastern High School in Pekin, Ind., in 2019. “It’s the kind of young men they’re going to grow up to be.”

Seeing young men grow the attributes of respect, mental toughness, hustle and intensity — things that apply to life as well as sports — is what gives Pennington fulfillment.

“We are already know they’re baseball guys,” says Pennington. “What kind of young men we can turn these young guys into?”

Pennington, who teaches at East Washington Elementary School in Pekin, says the those lessons can start long before the teenage years.

“They can be established at 8, 9, 10 years old,” says Pennington. “You think they’re not hearing it, but it goes in.

“Now we’ve got them in high school. We’re starting see some of those benefits.”

Carson Ehlers, Payton Miller and Adam Stempowski are seniors. Hunter Anderson, Landon Snelling, Joe Fetz, and Rhett Pennington are juniors. Ryan Adamson, Brant Farris, Ethan Ford, Conner Gonzalez, Cauy Motsinger, Snyder Pennington and Adam Stewart are sophomores. Micah Robinson, Dallis Stayton and Clayton Young are freshmen. Miller, Anderson, Adamson, Motsinger, Gonzalez and both Pennington brothers are pitchers.

All three of Jeff and Mindi Pennington’s sons — junior Rhett (17), sophomore Snyder (16) and sixth grader Wyatt (11) — are ballplayers. All three play travel baseball. Rhett is with Louisville-based Wolves, Snyder with the Indiana Trailblazers and Wyatt and cousin Garrett Drury (son of brother Wes and sister-in-law Holly) with the Southern Indiana Rawlings Tigers.

There’s a lot of moving parts when getting players to games.

“It takes a village,” says Pennington. “This is one of the advantages of moving back home. Between (family members, including sister Jessica Huls and parents, Ronnie Pennington and Cindy Erwin), you just divide and conquer.

“I’ve been three different places in one weekend watching three different kids. It’s fun. But, man, it’s a whirlwind.”

Pennington is a 1992 graduate of Salem (Ind.) High School, where he played baseball for head coach Derek Smith.

Smith showed Pennington that its the relationships with the players that’s important.

“He was the kind of coach you could jell with real well,” says Pennington. “He was easygoing. He could take the discomfort out of you when you weren’t comfortable.”

Pennington played two-plus seasons at Indiana University Southeast when Rick Parr was head coach.

“I probably learned about hitting then anymore else I’ve been around,” says Pennington. “He was a very good hitting coach.”

Prior to returning to Washington County, Pennington spent seven years coaching middle school and high school baseball at Community in Unionville, Tenn.

Before that, he was an assistant for a couple of seasons at South Central (Elizabeth).

Pennington’s assistants are principal Darin Farris and volunteer Rick Snelling.

Eastern (enrollment around 460) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek).

Opponents on the non-conference portion of the schedule include Borden, Crawford County, Henryville, Mitchell, North Vermillion, Lanesville, Orleans, Paoli, Seymour, South Central (Elizabeth), Southwestern (Hanover), Springs Valley, Trinity Lutheran and West Washington. It’s only a varsity slate that Eastern is playing this spring.

The Musketeers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Clarksville, Crawford County, Henryville, Lanesville and Paoli. Eastern has won four sectional crowns — the last in 2012.

Larry Ingram led the Eastern program for years.

“There’s a rich history of baseball at this high school,” says Pennington. “My goal to get it back where Coach Ingram had it.”

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The Eastern High School baseball team in Pekin, Ind., has three members of the Pennington family in 2019 (from left): junior Rhett, head coach Jeff and sophomore Snyder.

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Jeff Pennington is the head baseball coach at Eastern High School in Pekin, Ind. (Melissa Stewart Photo)

Armstrong, Madison welcoming IHSBCA all-stars this summer

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A baseball-mad town and surrounding area will be the focus of the Indiana high school diamond community this summer.

The 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star Series are scheduled for the week of June 17.

“We’re going to make it a week-long event,” says Tim Armstrong, head baseball coach at Madison Consolidated High School. “We’re exciting about having an opportunity to host. We want to do it up right.

“We’re going to make the all-stars feel like all-stars.”

Festivities are to be held at Madison Consolidated, nearby Hanover College as well as on and along the Ohio River.

Madison boasts the “largest contiguous national historic district in the United States” with sites, landmarks and tours plus speciality shopping, restaurants and cafes and the lure of Clifty Falls State Park.

Madison Consolidated will be the site of three all-star games for seniors (25 each representing the North and South) on the weekend. Hanover will house the players and be the site of the Futures Games (replaces the Junior Showcase) and all-star banquet.

Armstrong says Armstrong says Governor Eric Holcomb has agreed to throw out a first pitch. Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer has been tapped to be the keynote speaker at the all-star banquet.

The plan is to get local youth leaguers and Boys & Girls Club members involved in the fun.

Madison has long considered making a bid for the North-South Series. When Armstrong returned to the Madison Consolidated program for his second stint as head coach, he and former assistant Mike Modesitt (who now tends to all of Madison’s outdoor athletic facilities) began planning and got the mayor’s office and tourism folks involved.

Armstrong served as Madison’s mayor (Jan. 1, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2011) and was a city police officer for many years. He is currently certified through the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office and a resource officer at Madison Consolidated.

Basketball is also dear to Armstrong. He was varsity assistant in boys basketball at Madison two different times and was a lay head boys hoops coach at Shawe Memorial Memorial High School in Madison for two seasons.

The baseball-playing Madison Cubs call Gary O’Neal Field home.

Former Madison head coach Gary O’Neal, who retired for the second time after the 2002 season with 601 career victories, is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Armstrong graduated from Shawe Memorial in 1979. He became an assistant to O’Neal at Madison in 1982.

He started as Shawe’s head coach in 1989 and took the Hilltoppers the IHSAA Class 1A State Finals in 2001, losing 1-0 to eventual state champion Triton in the semifinals.

After sitting out the 2002 season, he returned as Madison’s head coach from 2003-07, resigned to serve as mayor and then got back into law enforcement. He returned to the program for the 2017 season.

Gary O’Neal Field is getting a new scoreboard and windscreen this spring and plans call for an expansion to permanent seating.

During Armstrong’s first stint with the Cubs, he enlisted the help of Madison American Legion Post 9 and got upgrades to the park like irrigation, a new back stop and fencing and a three-tier press box.

“It’s constant work if you want a nice facility,” says Armstrong. “We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and June. But we’re getting there.”

Madison Consolidated (enrollment around 875) is the smallest school in the Hoosier Hills Conference (which also includes Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour).

A tournament determines the HHC champion.

“It’s a great conference,” says Armstrong. “It’s traditionally strong.”

The Cubs are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Batesville, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville and South Dearborn. Madison has won 22 sectionals — the last in 2009. A 3A state championship was earned in 1999 as the Cubs topped Fort Wayne Carroll 10-0.

Bryan Bullington was the winning pitcher in that contest, capping off a 15-0 senior season.

Bullington was selected in the 37th round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals, but opted to go to college. He played three seasons at Ball State University and was chosen No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made his MLB debut with the Pirates in 2005 and went on to pitch for the Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays and Royals then in Japan.

Armstrong’s 2019 assistants include Joe Jenner, Ryan Mahoney and Drew Frazier with the varsity and Derek Wynn, Peyton Head and James “Doc” Boyd with the junior varsity or C-teams.

Local attorney Jenner and insurance agent Mahoney both played on Madison’s 1999 state championship team. Frazier played for Armstrong during his first stint as head coach.

Wynn also played one season for Armstrong at Madison. Head is a Hanover student. Boyd played at Evansville Memorial.

Armstrong’s core coaching values include taking responsibility for one’s actions.

“I stress accountability,” says Armstrong. “I hold them accountable for what they do on and off the field.”

The coach also looks to build a relationship and a sense of trust with his student-athletes.

“I’m very personable with my players,” says Armstrong. “We’re building the character and the type of person they will be once leave high school.”

Armstrong says he appreciates the drive and camaraderie of his current group.

“These kids work hard and they get along together,” says Armstrong. “That’s a big part of it.”

There are 30 in the Madison Consolidated program in 2019.

“Our middle school program is really strong,” says Armstrong. “They are athletes and baseball players. They’re going bump our numbers back up.”

There are close to 30 for seventh and eighth grade squads that play in the spring. The Madison Junior High School field is inheriting the old scoreboard and batting cage from Gary O’Neal Field.

This year, Madison Baseball Club aka Mudcats will field eight travel teams ranging from 7U to 14U. The 14U team, made up mostly of seventh and eighth graders, goes by the Madison Fusion.

Not strictly a Madison organization, players are welcomed from all over southeastern Indiana.

“We want to give kids an opportunity where they can play and not travel far and play a lot of money,” says Armstrong, who indicates that costs to families are cut through fundraising and sponsorships.

Mudcats and Fusion players are encouraged to participate with the local recreation leagues during the week and their travel teams on the weekend.

Madison American Legion Post 9, which won a state championship in 2000, went on hiatus in 2018. Armstrong and Jenner were coaches and would like to bring the team back in the future.

“(Post 9) pays for it all,” says Armstrong, who saw American Legion Post 9 Field become a reality at Shawe Memorial and games move to Gary O’Neal Field when he landed there. “It doesn’t cost the kids a dime to play.”

Armstrong played Legion ball for Delbert Liter in the ’70s and later coached with him.

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Tim Armstrong is in his second stint at head baseball coach at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School.

Kleber, Trinity Lutheran Cougars are aiming high in 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-year head coach Ben Kleber and the Trinity Lutheran High School baseball team have set their sights high for the 2019 season.

“We expect to win the sectional,” says Kleber. “We want to be the first team in school history to win a regional game. That’s our goal.”

Trinity Lutheran (enrollment around 150) is an independent school located in Seymour, Ind. The school opened in 2002 and the first baseball season was 2003.

The Cougars’ schedule features Class 4A’s Bedford North Lawrence and Seymour, 3A’s Brown County, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Salem and Scottsburg, 2A’s Austin, Henryville and Southwestern (Hanover) and 1A’s Christian Academy of Indiana, Crothersville, Greenwood Christian Academy, Hauser, Indianapolis Lutheran, Jac-Cen-Del, Oldenburg Academy, Rising Sun, Springs Valley and West Washington. The Trinity Lutheran Invitational on April 13 includes a round robin with 2A’s Eastern (Pekin) and Switzerland County and 4A’s Jennings County.

Trinity schedules bigger schools to get ready for the IHSAA tournament series.

The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Crothersville, Orleans and West Washington. Trinity has won five sectional championships — the last two in 2016 and 2017.

Kleber, a graduate of Seymour High School (2007) and Hanover (Ind.) College (2011), was a varsity assistant and junior varsity coach the past two seasons to head coach Brandon Tormoehlen at Brownstown Central.

“I learned a lot about hitting and catching drills from Coach T,” says Kleber of Tormoehlen. “He’s just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to offense. He definitely valued your option on things.

“I like his philosophy on the game all together. He has his guys playing the game fast.”

The previous two springs before he was at Brownstown Central, Kleber was on the Trinity Lutheran varsity staff of head coach Bob Tabeling.

He spent the 2012 and 2013 campaigns coaching freshmen at Seymour with Jeremy Richey as head coach.

“Jeremy was great,” says Kleber of Richey. “I’ll be forever grateful for him giving me the start in coaching at the high school level.”

After playing at Seymour for coach Bob Bowman (the man who led the Owls to an IHSAA state championship in 1988), Kleber pitched at Hanover for Shayne Stock.

“(Bowman) was a baseball guy,” says Kleber. “He knew a lot about the game.”

Much of what Kleber uses at Trinity Lutheran — from pitching to base running to field maintenance — comes from his time at Hanover with Shayne Stock and Panthers bench coach Wayne Stock (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer).

“I loved playing for Coach (Shayne) Stock,” says Kleber. “He was

a hard-nosed guy who expected things done the right way. He expected the best of out you. He wanting your playing hard and playing smart.

“I learned so much from sitting and talking to (Wayne Stock).”

Kleber says he is transparent with his players and let’s them know their roles.

“They know what they need to do to get more playing time,” says Kleber. “I’m an open door. I make sure you’re ready to hear the truth and what’s expected of them and what they need to work on.

“Everybody is a piece to a puzzle. We want to be a family as much they want to be a team.”

Kleber’s desire is that his Cougars to be baseball-curious.

“I want our guys to ask questions,” says Kleber. “They have to be students of the game.

“You can’t just show up. You have to understand why.”

During the summers before his junior and senior years at Hanover, Kleber helped Todd Miller coach an Indiana Bulls travel team that included Drew Ellis (who played at Jeffersonville High School and the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks system).

Miller, a Franklin (Ind.) Community High Schoolg graduate who played baseball and football at Hanover, is now a baseball assistant at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn.

The Cougars’ roster features 13 players. There is no junior varsity team this spring. Some of those are also on the track team. Four players who logged significant playing time in 2018 are back.

“We’re young,” says Kleber. “Wwe’re learning a lot of fundamentals and how to play the game the right way.

“We’re building for the sectional.”

Recent Trinity graduates who went on to college baseball are Sam Crick (Hanover) and Jacob Schult (Rose-Hulman).

Kleber is assisted by Tyler Reedy, a Seymour graduate whom Kleber coached before Reedy was in high school. Doug Nichols helps with statistics and field maintenance.

Trinity plays its home games on Alf Snyder Field, an on-campus facility built through a donation from Snyder’s family.

Two years ago, the infield went from grass with dirt cut-outs to a conventional infield.

This year, the mound was replaced and one of the batter’s boxes was re-done. There are new sponsors on the scoreboard. Sponsor banners line the outfield fence and a new batter’s eye is on the way. There is also plans to put fences in front of the dugouts.

Feeder schools from Jackson, Jennings and Bartholomew counties for Trinity Lutheran include Immanuel Lutheran (Seymour), Lutheran Central (Brownstown), St. Ambrose (Seymour), St. Bartholomew (Columbus), St. John’s Sauers (Seymour), St. Mary’s (North Vernon), St. Peter’s Lutheran (Columbus) and White Creek Lutheran (Columbus).

Kleber is a dispatcher for Rose Acre Farms, an egg producer in Seymour.

Ben and Katie Kleber were married in September 2015. They have a son — Braxton (2).

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Braxton Kleber (2) is the son of Ben and Katie Kleber. Ben Kleber is head baseball coach at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour, Ind.

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Katie and Ben Kleber were married in 2015. Ben Kleber is head baseball coach at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour, Ind.

 

Kiifner wants South Newton Rebels to be strong up the middle

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A border town will play more baseball in 2019 on the side of the state line where it plays its home games.

South Newton High School, located in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland, went 17-10 in 2018 and played 15 games against Illinois high schools.

After three seasons in the Illinois-based Sangamon Valley Conference (current members are Cissna Park, Clifton Central, Dwight, Iroquois West, Momence, Paxton-Buckey-Loda and Watseka), South Newton (enrollment around 190) is a member of the Midwest Conference (with Indiana schools Frontier, North Newton, North White, Tri-County and West Central).

Jim Kiifner, a 1984 graduate of Sheldon (Ill.) High School (now consulted into Milford Township), is entering his 10th season on the South Newton coaching staff — his third as head coach.

The 2019 Rebels — led by Kiifner and assistants Jason Krug (third season), Ricky Montemayer (fourth season) and Conner Ulmer (first season) — are scheduled to play 23 varsity and 13 junior varsity contests. Ulmer, a 2013 South Newton graduate, is a teacher while the others are lay coaches. Kiifner works in a warehouse for DuPont Corporation.

“My boss allows me to be a little flexible,” says Kiifner. “It also helps that I work in the Eastern Time Zone and coach in the Central Time Zone.

“I gain an hour.”

South Newon’s non-conference varsity opponents include Attica, Benton Central, Fountain Central, Frontier, Kankakee Valley and Seeger in Indiana and Cissna Park, Milford Township, Momence and Watseka in Illinois.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, Southwood and West Central. South Newton has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2017. That year, the Rebels advanced to the semistate for the first time, losing to eventual state runner-up Rossville at Plymouth.

“We’ve been pretty successful the last four years,” says Kiifner, 52. “We get a lot of fan support.”

Athletic budgets at the small school are supplemented through community fundraisers.

Kiifner was coaching in the Travelers Babe Ruth League when then-South Newton head coach Ron Benakovich invited him to join his staff. Benakovich led the Rebels from 2009-12 and Glenn Donahue from 2013-16 before Kiifner took over the as leader of the program in 2017.

“I want the kids to have the most fun as possible,” says Kiifner. “Discipline is a big thing. But I don’t like to be a brow beater.”

Program numbers are up to 23 with 11 newcomers.

“We’re working to get them up to speed on what we expect and do,” says Kiifner, who had a veteran team the past two seasons. The 2018 squad had six seniors and three juniors in the starting lineup.

Kiifner says he wants his teams to be strong up the middle on defense.

“Defend the middle first and work your way out,” says Kiifner. “(Pitchers are asked to) throw strikes and let the defense do the work behind them.”

With that in mind, South Newton has junior Austin Miller and sophomore Brandon Gilliam in the mix at catcher, senior Levi Sample and freshman Kayden Cruz at shortstop and Cruz and junior Terron Welsh in center field.

Senior left-hander Riley Patterson is the top returning pitcher who also plays first base. Senior Tyler Martell is at second base and freshman Kellen Krug at third base. Senior Ben Bryant is a candidate to play a corner outfield spot.

Offensive approach depends on personnel. Kiifner says the Rebels are transitioning from a power team to more of a small-ball squad.

The Hammel brothers have taken their pitching talents from South Newton to the college level.

Junior left-hander Jarrett Hammel started at Saint Joseph’s College and is now at Valparaiso University.

Freshman Jay Hammel was an all-state third baseman as junior, all-state first baseman as a senior and became the school’s second Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series player (Trent Smith was the first in 1990) and is now a freshman right-hander at Quincy (Ill.) University.

Trent Smith is the brother of Tracy Smith, a South Newton graduate who played at Miami University in Ohio and in the Chicago Cubs system before head coaching assignments at Miami University-Hamilton, Indiana University and Arizona State University. Smith’s 2019 Sun Devils were off to a 22-1 start.

Rebel Field, located on the South Newton campus, is a small non-lighted diamond with the distance down the foul lines at 272 feet to right field and 300 to left. Kiifner says there is talk about moving the fences back in the future.

With the school and field sitting in the midst of farm land, it is a breezy place.

“The are winds always blowing,” says Kiifner. “And it’s either too hot or too cold.”

Sheldon was a school of less than 100 students and baseball was a fall sport where there was no football team. Kiifner’s baseball coach was John Spezia, who has gone on to win more than 500 games as a basketball coach.

“He broke down fundamentals really well and brought it to your level,” says Kiifner of Spezia. “He tried not to overwhelm (his players).”

Jim and Madonna Kiifner have been married for 26 years. They have two sons who both played baseball at South Newton — William (24) and Luke (22).

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This is the 2019 South Newton High School Rebels baseball team.

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South Newton won a sectional and regional baseball title in 2017.

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Jim Kiifner is the head baseball coach at South Newton High School in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland.

 

Denbo looks for Springs Valley Blackhawks to take ownership of team

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rob Denbo is entering his first season as head baseball coach at Springs Valley Junior-Senior High School Springs Valley Junior-Senior High School in French Lick, Ind., in 2019.

But the 1989 graduate of the school wants his Blackhawks to know it’s not his team.

“I want to empower the kids,” says Denbo. “I want them to feel like it’s their team.

“I want them to have fun.”

Springs Valley has 13 players in the program — four seniors, four juniors, one sophomore and four freshmen.

“We have a pretty solid core,” says Denbo, who looks for lefty senior pitcher/first baseman/center fielder Christian Tucker to be the team leader. “They’ll all play at some point.

“We’re going to play a lot of freshmen. I’m looking forward to playing from the youngest to the oldest. When we come together and we’re going to be really hard to beat. I’m really excited for them.”

Denbo played baseball for the Blackhawks for four years — the last two for head coach Larry Pritchett.

“He was always very even-keeled,” says Denbo of Pritchett. “He was always excited for us, but he kept his emotions in-check.

“He also had a very dry sense of humor. He had a way of keeping the practices light. We all enjoyed playing for him.”

Pritchett did not believe in fancy plays and neither does Denbo.

“We won several games by keeping it simple,” says Denbo. “I try to do that as well.”

Denbo was a Springs Valley assistant coach the past two years under brother-in-law Bob Greger.

“They’ve bought into a new way of doing things,” says Denbo of the current squad. “I’m looking forward to watching them.”

Denbo, who is assisted by Henry Cruz, Seth Dickey and Broc Warner, has incorporated a good deal of drill work into Blackhawk practices.

“We get a lot of reps in the cage,” says Denbo. “We encourage good habits and create some muscle memory.

“The best way to do it is to have a drill that reinforces the right way to do something. They need to feel it.”

Denbo has noticed that his players are developing the ability to find their own flaws and correct them.

“I don’t have to say anything,” says Denbo. “They can self-correct. It’s not because I’m telling them to.”

Springs Valley (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Patoka Lake Athletic Conference (with Crawford County, Mitchell, Orleans, Paoli, Perry Central and West Washington).

Conference opponents play each other twice, but only the first meeting counts in the standings.

Non-conference foes include Barr-Reeve, Cannelton, Crothersville, Eastern (Pekin), Northeast Dubois, Salem, Scottsburg, Shoals, South Central, Trinity Lutheran and Wood Memorial.

The Blackhawks are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Cannelton, Northeast Dubois, Tecumseh and Wood Memorial. Northeast Dubois hosted the sectional in 2017. It moved to Cannelton in 2018. It is to be at Tecumseh in 2019. Springs Valley has won 17 sectional championships — the last in 2004.

SV home games are played on-campus on a field that was overhauled two years ago.

“We bulldozed the entire infield under and completely re-did it,” says Denbo. “We’re in really good shape.”

The field has lights, which comes in handy for twilight doubleheaders.

A junior high team of about 18 players also uses the field in the spring. Made up mostly of seventh and eighth graders with a few sixth graders, they play about as many games as the high school varsity.

Springs Valley Youth League and travel baseball organizations, including the Lost River Posse, are also feeders for the high school program.

Denbo played baseball for four years and football for two at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. His head coaches were Ed Meyer (baseball) and Nick Mourouzis (football).

After graduating in 1993, Denbo went into journalism and later switched to the hospitality business. He is internal communications manager for French Lick Resort.

Rob and Stacy Denbo have been married 21 years and have three daughters — Andi (19), Emma (17) and Alayna (14).

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Members of the 2019 Springs Valley High School baseball team attend a game at Indiana University in Bloomington. Rob Denbo (third from left) is the head coach of the Blackhawks.

Willis keeps things fresh for Covington Trojans

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keeping things fresh and appealing, Evan Willis enters into his sixth season as head baseball coach at Covington (Ind.) High School in 2019.

A 2007 graduate of the school in Fountain County, Willis is constantly blending in baseball ideas to incorporate into the Trojans program.

Willis finds drills and other instructional materials online and shares them with his players.

“It’s not always the same thing everyday,” says Willis. “We mix it up.”

To build camaraderie, excitement and the understanding of the game, Willis adds competitive things to each practice.

“There’s a lot of down time in baseball,” says Willis. “You have to get the kids to buy into it.”

As a spring sport, baseball has to contend with seniors who are competing while graduation and their future often dominates their thoughts.

“It’s difficult to keep seniors focused on the game,” says Willis. “You have to be serious, but also keep it fun and exciting for the kids so they want to be a part of it.”

Willis played for Mike Holland at Covington.

“He made it fun for us,” says Willis of Holland.

After earning his elementary education degree at Indiana State University, Willis returned to Covington to teach second grade. Besides baseball, he has coached junior high and junior varsity basketball.

Covington (enrollment around 280) is a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Attica, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage, Riverton Parke, Seeger and South Vermillion).

Conference games play one another twice — either in home-and-home weekdays series and Saturday doubleheaders.

Non-conference opponents on the schedule include Benton Central, Clinton Prairie, Crawfordsville, Danville (Ill.), Delphi, North Montgomery, North Putnam, Southmont, Terre Haute South Vigo and West Lafayette.

The Trojans are in an IHSAA Class 1A grouping with Attica, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage (consolidation of Rockville and Turkey Run) and Riverton Parke. Covington won the latest of its 12 sectional crowns in 2018.

Willis has three other Covington graduate on his coaching staff — Matt Gerling (fifth season), Ryan Tolley (second season) and Jon Covault (first season). Gerling (Olney Central College) and Covault (Danville Area Community College) played college baseball.

Former player Ollie Pettit went to Danville Area while current junior Tanner Dreher has made a verbal commitment to the University of Illinois-Springfield. The versatile player has been used by Covington as a catcher, pitcher, shortstop and third baseman.

Willis says senior right-handed pitcher Logun Freed has shown an interest in playing at the college level.

During the off-season, the Trojans who were not in a winter sport went through strength training and conditioning. Hitters took cuts in new indoor batting cages. Pitchers began building up their arms.

“I love the 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),” says Willis. “It’s the healthiest thing for the pitchers’ arms.

“It also forces you have (pitching) depth. We play four games the first week. We’ll have to have a lot of people to throw.”

Many Covington athletes take part in an Advanced Physical Conditioning class.

Trojan Complex on Ninth Street is the home to Covington baseball, softball, track, football, soccer and tennis.

While its not affiliated with the school and is funded through Covington Youth Baseball (Scott Holycross is the organization’s president), there is a junior high team of seventh and eighth graders which play about 10 games in the spring and play home games on the high school field. Many of those players go on to to play Pony League in the summer.

Covington Youth Baseball sends its peewee, minor and major league players to a six-week youth camp conducted by high school coaches and players in the winter.

Evan and Shannon Willis have been married for two years. Their fathers (Ron Willis and Shane Bowling) coached together at the youth league level with sons Landon Willis and Bryce Bowling on the team.

Ron and Ruthann Willis sent three sons through the Covington High School program. Oldest son Brad Willis (Class of 2005) was a center fielder and played two seasons with shortstop Evan. Landon Willis (Class of 2011) and Bryce Bowling (Class of 2012) both played for coach Brad Short.

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Evan and Shannon Willis take in a baseball game at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Evan Willis is head baseball coach at Covington (Ind.) High School.