Category Archives: High School

Payne’s doing big things at tiny Lanesville

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tiny Lanesville is making a name for itself in Indiana high school baseball thanks in large part to Zach Payne.

In Payne’s second season as head coach at the Class 1A school (about 250 students) in 2016, the Eagles were state runners-up.

Many from the Harrison County town of around 600 folks found their way to Victory Field in Indianapolis to see a 4-0 loss to Daleville.

In 2017, Payne has Lanesville (18-6) back in the 1A semistate. The Eagles’ opponent Saturday, June 10 (following the 1 p.m. 3A game) at Jasper will be Indianapolis Lutheran (18-7). The winner advances to the state championship game.

Payne, 27, explains how he has gotten Lanesville to excel on the diamond.

“The main thing is putting kids in their best positions to succeed,” says Payne. “At a 1A school, we have limited numbers. We have to make the most out of what we’ve got. We try not to waste guys on the roster.”

There are 30 players in the program — the most Payne has had in his short time at the school. There are 20 on the tournament roster. He gets all of them — the starters and the bench players — to embrace their role.

“We will have them all contribute at some time during the season,” says Payne. “There’s a special group of guys who have been the leaders of the team. Other guys have been happy to help out in any way they can.”

The Eagles made it back to semistate in ’17 by topping New Washington and Borden to win the South Central (Elizabeth) Sectional and Loogootee and Northeast Dubois to take the Loogootee Regional.

It was the fourth sectional crown in program history (1975, 2010, 2016, 2017) and third regional (1975, 2016, 2017).

Lanesville is in the Southern Athletic Conference with Borden, Crothersville, Henryville, New Washington and South Central.

With just five conference games (generally played one per week), Payne was free to have a challenging non-conference slate, full of larger opponents, including his alma mater and defending 2A state champion Providence.

“I like to schedule whoever,” says Payne. “This is probably the toughest schedule Lanesville has ever played.”

Lanesville, which plays its home games on Ed Jaegers Memorial Field at Heritage Park, is one of three teams in its sectional group with lights (South Central and Christian Academy of Indiana in New Albany, which did not field a team this spring, are the others) and those schools rotate as sectional hosts.

Zach Payne grew up playing baseball with his father Pat as a his youth coach.

“I wanted to be like dad,” says Payne. “I wanted to coach.”

Zach also counts older brother Sean (head softball coach at Floyd Central) and Providence coaches Scott Hornung, Scott Hutchins and Ben Hornung as mentors.

The 2017 Eagles coaching staff includes Josh Smith, Kyle Erwin, Christian Ensley at the varsity level with Jim Smith and Garrett Sherell guiding the junior varsity.

Payne, a computer programmer at Zirmed in Louisville by day, sees similarities in the community feel at Lanesville and Providence (he graduated from the school in Clarksville in 2008 and the University of Louisville in 2014).

“The biggest difference is the depth,” says Payne.

LANESVILLEEAGLES

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Zach Payne, 27, is in his third season as head baseball coach at Lanesville High School in southern Indiana. He took the Eagles to an IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up finish in 2016 and has the program back in the semistate in 2017.

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Moore’s new flock leads Zionsville Eagles back into semistate

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zionsville was on the biggest stage in Indiana high school baseball in 2016.

The Eagles played Roncalli in the IHSAA Class 4A state championship game.

Zionsville led 2-1 after their sixth at-bat and then lost 3-2 with the Rebels scoring the decisive run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

That Eagles roster was chock full of impactful seniors. So even though they left Victory Field oh-so-close to a championship in 2016, they flew under the radar in 2017.

“We were so senior-heavy last year, everybody (outside Z-ville) assumed we were going to be down,” says fourth-year ZHS head coach Jered Moore. “Everybody assumed we were going to have to rebuild.”

People in the community knew better.

“Our junior class was always very successful at baseball,” says Moore. “They would have been starting (last year) on a lot of other teams.”

The 2017 version of Zionsville (22-11) is back in the 4A northern semistate against Penn (26-6). The game is slated for Saturday, June 10 at Kokomo (following the 1 p.m. 2A game). The Eagles topped the Kingsmen in last year’s semistate showdown at Kokomo.

The ’16 Eagles had five pitchers who touched 90 mph on the radar gun. There are practically no innings back from that squad and the hardest thrower hits 86 mph.

A deep mound staff is led by right-handers — seniors Max Bohrer and Eli Copner and junior Nick Brier.

The new pitch count rules (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) have been a “non-factor” for Zionsville this season. Starters did not pitch more than once a week and rarely went more than 100 pitches.

“Last year, we had one of the top pitching staffs in the nation — top to bottom,” says Moore. “This pitching staff is completely different. Last year, we threw strikes and threw hard. This year, we rely on throwing strikes and good defense.

“If you concentrate on defense, more than likely you’re going to win games.”

Zionsville stresses pitching and defense so much that they keep a “free base” chart that tracks walks, hit batsmen, passed balls, wild pitches, stolen bases, errors, dirt ball reads, advancing trail runners and extra bases on balls hit to the outfield.

“If we win the free base war, we’re going to win 90 percent of our games,” says Moore. “It’s pretty much held true.

“We can’t be giving up free bases.”

Moore notes that in the four games where the Eagles committed five or more errors, they lost three of those (the win came in extra innings).

Two full-time starters from ’16 (senior third baseman Chad Garisek and junior shortstop Riley Bertram) and one part-timer (junior first baseman Sam Edgell) can be found in the field for the Eagles. The first six batters in the order are all juniors.

Zionsville advanced to the 2017 semistate by beating Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon to win the Kokomo Sectional and Fort Wayne Snider and Fishers to take the Lafayette Jeff Regional.

Playing three-game series in the strong Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Westfield) gets the Eagles ready for the rest of their schedule.

“Our guys are not going to be intimidated,” says Moore. “We just go out and play baseball and see who wins.”

Jered Moore is the son of Craig Moore, who played at East Gary High School and coached back-to-back state runners-up at Blackford High School in 1977 (losing to Logansport and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Jim Turner) and 1978 (losing to Evansville Memorial and IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach Quentin Merkel and player Don Mattingly) and then at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and many years with the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

The Bulls offer the Craig Moore Memorial Scholarship in honor of the man who passed away in 2004.

A 1989 Brownsburg graduate who played for Bulldogs head coach Wayne Johnson, Jered Moore also took the diamond at Sam Houston State for Bearkats head coach John Skeeters.

Jered coached about 15 years with the Bulls (he is still a 17U assistant) before joining the Zionsville staff. His brother, Quinn, is also a Bulls coach.

The 2017 Zionsville staff includes Alex Graman (pitching coach), Jeremy Honaker (hitting coach) and Drew Koning (assistant coach) at the varsity level with Josh Medvescek, Jarrett Johnson, Brock Noye and Stephen Damm running the two junior varsity squads (Green and White).

Graman, a Southridge High School graduate, pitched at Indiana State University and briefly with the New York Yankees and in Japan.

Honaker, a Connersville High School graduate, played at the University of Southern Indiana and also coaches with the Indiana Bulls.

Koning, a Lafayette Jeff graduate, played football at Franklin College and also coached with the Indiana Bulls.

ZIONSVILLEEAGLES

Trout, defending 3A state champion Northview ‘embrace the target’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Northview took a junior-heavy team to Indianapolis in 2016 and claimed the first IHSAA team state title in school history — a Class 3A baseball championship.

The question started around Brazil: What will the Knights do with all those seniors in 2017?

The answer is very well.

Fourth-year head coach Craig Trout has gotten his squad to “embrace the target” and led by 10 members from the Class of ’17, Northview is 25-3 and again in the 3A southern semistate against Jasper (30-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 10 at Jasper’s Ruxer Field. That’s one win away from a return trip to Victory Field.

“I told them the target’s on their back,” says Trout. “They can run from it or embrace it. We want to play better baseball every time we go out and play somebody and still carry ourselves with humility and a hard work status.”

The Knights topped Sullivan, Owen Valley and Edgewood to win the Northview Sectional then Brebeuf and Tri-West Hendricks to take the Brebeuf Regional (moved from Crawfordsville after a tornado hit Montgomery County).

Northview, a member of the Western Indiana Conference (along with Brown County, Edgewood, Owen Valley, South Vermillion, Sullivan and West Vigo), is reaping the benefits of a core group that began playing and winning together at a young age. The senior class has earned seven state baseball titles from youth leagues on up.

“They’ve learned how to win,” says Trout. “That’s really important for a culture.”

Having been there before, Trout’s players know what it means to play in close games, come from behind or hold on to a lead.

Some of the younger Knights were also a part of the North Clay Middle School baseball program, started when Trout took over as head coach from Scott McDonald for the 2014 season (he was a McDonald assistant for five).

“It builds a cohesiveness,” says Trout of middle school baseball. “They play with each other at least two years and build that bond of brotherhood. It helps teams become winners.”

Clay Youth League and travel teams have also kept the diamond momentum up in a program that has long been a winner (just not a state champion until 2016).

Trout was a catcher for the Knights and coach Gary Witham, who went 581-274 in 31 seasons (1978-84 at pre-consolidation Brazil and 1985-2008 at Northview).

One of Trout’s fond memories was playing games for Witham in Costa Rica in the summer of 2004.

Brazil/Northview won 11 sectionals on Witham’s watch with the first regional coming in Trout’s senior season of 2005. The Knights won one sectional for McDonald and now have two sectionals and two regionals with Trout in charge.

Trout remembers Witham’s strengths as a coach.

“He would focus on practice, making sure the time we spent was time well-spent,” says Trout. “There was not a lot of down time.

“Gary was pretty calm during the game. I’m a really emotional guy. I ride the highs and lows a lot. He was good to the players.”

Besides embracing the target, Trout has his ’17 Knights “FIT” for the task at hand. That’s Focus, Intensity and Toughness.

“We want to win every inning and play Northview baseball (small ball with timely hits),” says Trout on Focus.

Intensity manifests itself in being present and positive — on the bench and on the field.

Toughness means the Knights are always tracking the ball and hustling.

“That’s been the M.O. for this team,” says Trout.

Helping make all those things happen are Trout’s assistant coaches — Mitch Lancaster, Tony Trout, Scott McDonald, Jim Tucker and Trent Lancaster.

Lancaster and Trout were in Craig’s first two hires.

Mitch Lancaster, who has coached multiple sports and various schools and the son of former Brazil head baseball coach Bob Lancaster, is in charge of defense and helps with strategy.

Tony Trout, Craig’s father, is the pitching/catching coach. Father and son are both social studies teachers at NHS.

Former head coach McDonald is a statistician and in-game strategist. Tucker coaches the junior varsity. Trent Lancaster is C-team and strength and conditioning coach.

Craig Trout, an Indiana State University graduate, began his coaching career in 2006 as a football assistant. He has coached basketball and track and was at Marshall (Ill.) High School for a time before coming back to Brazil.

The Trouts are a baseball family. Craig’s father Tony Trout was a catcher at Staunton High School, Wabash Valley College and Indiana University. Grandfather Virgil Trout pitched in the New York Giants system with Hannibal, Mo., and Michigan City. Uncle Joe Trout pitched for Indiana State. Great uncle Jim Casassa was also a pitcher who tried out for the Detroit Tigers. There are stories about seeing Satchel Paige pitch against the old Terre Haute Tots.

Craig has also been a sponge around Indiana high school’s greatest baseball minds, including Jasper’s Terry Gobert and Crawfordsville’s John Froedge.

“Being 31 and being a head coach is a difficult task,” says Trout. “You are still figuring things out. Being in the coaching fraternity and being successful has been great for me.”

“(Veteran coaches) came to me as mentors and gave me great information that I’ll always remember.”

CRAIGTROUT

Craig Trout celebrates a regional baseball championship with wife Robin, daughter Calli Drew and son Lincoln. Trout is in his fourth season as head coach at Northview High School. The Knights were Class 3A state champions in 2016.

Upp has storied LaPorte baseball program back in regional

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

LaPorte has three dozen IHSAA sectional baseball championships to its credit.

But the Slicers had experienced a title drought.

Until 2017.

The orange and black will not only be hosting but playing in the Class 4A LaPorte Regional for the first time since 2010.

Coach Scott Upp’s team earned that right by winning the Plymouth Sectional.

“Pitching and defense — that was the story of the sectional,” says Upp, who got commanding mound performances from Andy Samuelson and Chandler Banic. “We didn’t knock the cover off the ball. We got timely hits.”

LaPorte advanced through the sectional by beating South Bend Clay, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“All three of those programs are well-known throughout northern Indiana,” says Upp.

The regional field at Schreiber Field features Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) in Game 1, Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) in Game 2 and the regional final at night Saturday, June 3. Andrean is No. 6 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association 4A poll. LaPorte, Lake Central and Penn all received votes.

Between the four schools, they have won 18 state crowns (LaPorte 8, Andrean 5, Penn 4 and Lake Central) 1).

Upp knows from his experience as a LaPorte player (he’s a 1986 graduate who played for and later coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber) knows about the intensity and urgency of postseason baseball.

“You have your regular season and your second season,” says Upp. “If you can get hot or be playing your best ball at that time.”

LaPorte lost to Chesterton in the regular-season finale, but took the time between then and their sectional games and “got back to the basics.”

“We got individual time in with defense and hitting,” says Upp. “Our pitchers got a chance to breathe a little bit.”

Getting that chance to practice and refresh is just what the Slicers needed going into the sectional.

While LaPorte has won plenty of sectionals, Upp notes that it has become a tougher proposition since the class system came along with the 1998 season (the year he took over for Schreiber 11 games in).

With all the state’s biggest schools and, in the case of Andrean (playing “up” in class because of the IHSAA success factor, postseason success is not a given.

“We seem to have different sectional champs every year and there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Upp. “It’s good baseball.

“I’m not making excuses for LaPorte and why we’ve had a seven-year span. It is more difficult.”

Upp calls IHSAA state tournament games “a rough way to go.”

“In high school baseball, you take one guy on the mound and that team becomes totally different,” says Upp. “And it’s a one-and-done tournament.”

There are no series or second chances.

The coach notes that there are not too many back-to-back champions in the Duneland Athletic Conference (which also includes Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso) either.

The 2017 Slicers were tied for first place in the DAC going into the final two games with Chesterton. LaPorte lost both games against Chesterston and split two games each with Crown Point, Lake Central and Valparaiso, finishing 9-5 and in fourth in the conference.

Chesterton won it at 11-3 (then lost to Andrean in the Chesterton Sectional championship game).

It’s all-Slicer coaching staff at LaPorte. Everyone played their high school baseball on Schreiber Field.

Jeff DeMass (Class of 2005) is the pitching coach. Rob Schellinger (1998) has moved up from the junior varsity to be a varsity assistant. Mark Manering (1981) is a volunteer varsity coach. The JV Slicers are led by Kevin Upp (2010) with help from Blake Hindsley (2005).

The rich traditions of the program are detailed in a book, Slicer Baseball: A Cut Above (produced by Prime Time Publications LLC, dba Indiana Football Digest) and sold by LaPorte High School.

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Scott Upp, a 1986 LaPorte High School graduate, has been the Slicers’ head baseball coach since early in the 1998 season. His 2017 team will play in the IHSAA Class 4A LaPorte Regional. (Steve Krah Photo)

Pishkur, Andrean 4A sectional champions for first time

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After nearly two decades, Andrean High School baseball is going back to LaPorte’s Schreiber Field.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur last took his 59ers to the home of the Slicers in 1998 — the year Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber retired.

Andrean — a private school with about 475 students in Merrillville playing “up” because of the IHSAA success factor (the 59ers were 3A state champions in both 2014 and 2015) — will take part of the Class 4A LaPorte Regional Saturday, June 3.

Game 1 pits Northwest Crossroads Conference champion Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) with the second semifinal featuring Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) with the regional final at night.

Joe Plesac, Ryne Pishkur, Tyler Ochi, Pat Antone and Bob Ochi are Dave Pishkur’s 2017 assistant coaches.

Pishkur took over as Andrean head coach for the 1980 season and played at LaPorte every year 1982-98.

“I had a very good, competitive relationship with Ken,” says Pishkur. “For many years, we were their first game of the season.

“I’ve thanked Schreib many, many times for being a mentor … I stole many ideas from Ken Schreiber.”

Pishkur’s 59ers of 2017 will go against the Scott Upp-coached Slicers after Andrean bested Portage 3-1, Valparaiso 9-5 and Chesterton 4-3 to win the Chesterton Sectional.

The Trojans, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell, sent three straight NCAA Division I-caliber pitchers to the mound (juniors Grant Brunt, Austin Peterson and Chris Torres) against the 59ers who countered with one (sophomore Mike Doolin).

Pishkur, who surpassed 900 coaching wins in 2016, notes the difference between 4A and 3A is the ability to have a deeper mound staff and batting order.

“It’s way more challenging to play the 4A schools,” says Pishkur. “We enjoy playing 3A because we think we are a pretty good 3A school. In all likelihood, we’ll be back in 3A next year.”

With its enrollment, Andrean (which also competed in 4A in 2016 and lost to Chesterton in the Merrillville Sectional championship game) would be in the middle of the IHSAA pack in 2A. Rules don’t allow for a team going up because of the success factor to go down more than one class.

Winning against bigger schools at tournament time is satisfying.

“A 4A sectional championship means a heck of a lot,” says Pishkur. “That’s so rewarding for our kids to compete and beat schools significantly larger than us.”

Pishkur, a 1971 Andrean graduate who also serves as alumni director, has more to say about playing out of class.

“I understand to some extent that the success factor is to even up the playing field,” says Pishkur. “They say private schools recruit. We just have open enrollment. More and more public schools (have gone to open enrollment and) have the same advantage that the so-called private schools had.”

By rule, the 59ers went up after the back-to-back state championships. Pishkur notes that graduation took the majority of those players and yet the school still went to 4A for two years.

“I don’t know how you remedy that,” says Pishkur.

The coach sees no cure for his lifelong obsession with the sport and he’s not seeking one.

“It’s a love affair with the game of baseball and, in particular, Andrean High School,” says Pishkur, who has had dozens of relatives attend the school, including his wife (Gretchen) and three children (Ryne, Courtney and Mark). “Not everybody is blessed with a job that they enjoy going to. It’s not a chore to get up in the morning. It’s not a chore to go to the school.”

Andrean started its baseball program in Pishkur’s junior year (1969-70) and played around a dozen games and treated it more like a recreation than a competitive venture.

“We were a basketball/football school,” says Pishkur.

The 59ers were 9-9 in 1979. The next season, Pishkur got a team featuring Dan Dakich to win more than 20 games and the first of the program’s 27 sectional titles (Andrean has also gone on to take 12 regionals, six semistates, five 3A state crowns — 2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015 — and a 3A state runner-up finish in 2004).

“The culture was changed because we took it more seriously,” says Pishkur. “Nobody had ever pushed them. We pushed. We had three-hour practices.”

Pishkur remains close with members of that ’80 team.

“They established the program so future teams would know what to expect,” says Pishkur.

Mark Pishkur, a four-year player for his father and a 2012 Andrean graduate, never expected to play baseball again but got the chance five years after his high school days.

His senior year, Mark played the field but could not bat because of injuries incurred his junior and senior years though he did lay down two left-handed bunt singles.

After his last 59ers game, Mark walked away from the diamond for good.

Or so he thought.

Time had healed him and made him stronger. He added life and movement to his fastball, hitting the gun around 84 or 85 mph.

In the fall of 2016, he walked on at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., and impressed enough to be considered for a scholarship in the spring.

However, he hurt his arm during the winter and decided against pitching with pain or the possibility of a Tommy John reconstructive surgery.

Sidearmers and submariners are not unusual at Andrean. Pishkur likes to have at least one player in the program give it a try.

“A lot of kids can’t change arm angles,” says Pishkur. “But it’s a look you don’t see very often in high school.”

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Dave Pishkur is in his 38th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater — Andrean High School. His teams have won more than 900 games and taken five state championships. (Andrean Photo)

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Jennings sees Griffith work ethic bring championships

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Griffith High School baseball is a product of its environment.

The players come from working class families.

Consequently, the Panthers are not afraid to put forth the effort on and off the diamond to be successful.

“These are blue collar kids,” says Griffith head baseball coach Brian Jennings. “Their parents work in the (steel) mills. We just grind it out.

“I grew up in (and coached at) Whiting and my dad worked in the mills. The fit for me is perfect.”

For that labor, Griffith has won 11 sectionals in the 19 seasons Jennings has been head coach, including the last six. The Panthers topped Hammond Clark for the latest one. The last regional title came in 2001. That was the year of a 3A state runner-up finish.

The 2017 Panthers will meet South Bend St. Joseph in the first game of the Class 3A Griffith Regional Saturday, June 3. The second semifinal pits Western against Glenn with the final at night.

Jennings respects St. Joe, coached by John Gumpf. The two met years ago when Jennings was working Notre Dame baseball camps and Gumpf was an Irish assistant to Paul Mainieri.

This Griffith squad is a mix of experience and youth with four seniors and three or four sophomores in the mix.

These players understand their roles, strengths and weaknesses.

“We know what we are and what we aren’t,” says Jennings.

Griffith is a team that plays a tough schedule. The Panthers (15-14) went 7-5 in finishing third behind Andrean (11-1) and Highland (8-4) in the Northwest Crossroads Conference (which also includes Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster). Griffith split a pair of NCC games with Highland and Munster.

“We’re around .500, but we’ve lost a lot of games by one run,” says Jennings. “We play a lot of 4A schools. That prepares you for the postseason.”

Because of the IHSAA success factor, five-time state champion Andrean is playing “up” in the tournament and will be in Saturday’s Class 4A LaPorte Regional as will Griffith regular-season opponent Lake Central.

Knowing that postseason runs often come at a premium, Jennings says he expects the team that advances from the regional to be the one that has the best defense, pitching and execution.

As a 3A regional host, the Panthers will get to show off their on-campus field.

“We’re really proud of what we’ve got here,” says Jennings of a facility that had lights added a few years ago and houses a clubhouse with individual player lockers. “We do our own work.”

When Jennings says “we” he is referring to the whole Griffith baseball community.

“I’m not arrogant enough to think it’s all ‘me,’” says Jennings. “It’s been a total effort.”

A parent group — the Griffith Diamond Club — has raised the money to make the improvements.

Jennings has a long list of things he wants to upgrade. It’s an idea he got at a clinic from then-LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman.

“It makes kids proud,” says Jennings of the steady program improvements. “It makes the parents and the community proud.”

Jennings works with coaching staff carrying plenty of experience, including Drew Martin, Todd Iwema (former Griffith and Lake Central head coach) and John Novosel (former Hammond Noll assistant) at the varsity level and Jeff Kawa with the junior varsity.

“I’ve surrounded myself with baseball guys,” says Jennings. “It makes my life a lot easier.

“I’m very lucky and fortunate to be the baseball coach here at Griffith.”

Jennings represented the Panthers as North head coach in the 2012 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

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Brian Jennings has led Griffith High School to 11 sectional championships in 19 seasons as head baseball coach.

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Keesling expects discipline, encourages expression at Pendleton Heights

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Travis Keesling is keeping up baseball traditions at Pendleton Heights High School while also creating a culture all his own.

A 1995 Pendleton Heights graduate, Keesling played four years for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt and became the Arabians head baseball coach after Stoudt retired at the end of the 2012 season with 654 wins, 14 sectional titles, three regional crowns and 10 conference championships in 32 seasons.

“Coach Stoudt is still around,” says Keesling. “He’s always ready to lend an ear if I call him. He is my mentor in coaching and one of the guys I respect more than anybody else.

“He does a phenomenal job of letting me grow as a coach.”

Like has been the case at Pendleton for the last four decades, Keesling does not let his players have facial hair and hair cuts must be short. He insists on discipline.

The Arabians are not flashy and come to the diamond with a “lunch pail” mentality. They’re there to work.

But he also lets his student-athletes express themselves.

“We allow players to be themselves and have their personality as long as they are respectful of the game,” says Keesling. “We want them to have a voice.

“Nowadays kids want to be heard. We have had more success as my coaching career has gone on by letting players have a little more freedom.”

Keesling played one season at Southeastern Illinois College and continued his schooling at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

He was an assistant to Stoudt at Pendleton 2003-06 and also coached travel baseball in the summer. His coaching resume also includes involvement with the Indiana Crossroads Showcase Series, Crossroads Championship Series, U.S. Baseball Academy camps and managing Anderson American Legion Post 127.

Keesling was head softball coach for one season at Wes-Del and five as head baseball coach at Greenfield-Central before returning to his alma mater.

The 2017 Arabians won the Hoosier Heritage Conference (which also includes Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon, New Castle, New Palestine, Shelbyville and Yorktown) for the first time under Keesling, playing mostly Friday conference doubleheaders, and reigned as Madison County champions for the fourth time in five seasons.

Pendleton typically has 45 to 50 players in the program with a varsity, junior varsity and freshmen team. The JV plays conference doubleheaders on Saturdays.

The ’17 coaching staff also includes Carlos Leyva (outfielders, baserunning and third base coach), Brad Schnepp (pitching coach), Jeff Freeman (infielders and first base coach) and Jim Kayajan (bench and hitting coach) at the varsity level, Matt Vosburgh and Mike Taylor with the JV and Brandon Schnepp with the freshmen.

Keesling and the Arabians will try to take a third straight sectional trophy when the IHSAA postseason begins Wednesday, May 24 at the Class 4A Pendleton Heights Sectional.

Pendleton Junior Baseball League has recreation teams from 8U through 14U. In Keesling’s first year, he started the PJBL-affiliated Indiana Arabians travel organization, which has teams 8U through 16U, to teach the game the Pendleton Heights way.

“We create an environment of how we’re going to play at the high school,” says Keesling of the approach with younger players. “I want my son to be a better player in July than he was in April. It’s all about development.”

With the arrival of the IHSAA tournament, a focus will be the new pitch count rules (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). Keesling said the standards used this season don’t go far enough in protecting arms.

“I think it’s too lax,” says Keesling, an IHSBCA district representative. “Ours at Pendleton Heights is stricter to the IHSAA. When a kid gets to 100 pitches, sweat starts dripping down my face. (Many players) have a career beyond us (in college). It’s not a win-at-all-costs.”

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Travis Keesling, a 1995 Pendelton Heights High School graduate, is in his fifth season as Arabians head baseball coach.