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Sycamores earn another sweep; Tuesday schedule chock-full

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana State University swept its sixth weekend series of the 2019 college baseball season, topping Valparaiso University three times in Terre Haute Friday and Saturday, April 12-13.

The Sycamores (27-7) are scheduled to visit Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 16.

Also Tuesday, Ball State goes to Indiana with a 6:05 p.m. start at Bart Kaufman Field.

The Hoosiers (24-12) are riding a seven-game win streak, including a three-game weekend sweep of Evansville. The Cardinals (23-12) have won four of their previous five games.

NCAA Division III’s Rose-Hulman (17-8) is on a five-game win streak.

The Ivy Tech Northeast program in Fort Wayne recently got the thumbs up from its administration to get going with the program, which is in its second season as a pilot for athletics in the Ivy Tech statewide system.

The Lance Hershberger-coached Titans won 25 games in 2018 and already have 22 victories in 2019, including the 600th of Hershberger’s storied coaching career.

If weather cooperates, there will be plenty of collegiate diamond action around Indiana Tuesday, including (all times local):

NCAA Division I

Western Michigan at Valparaiso, 3 p.m.

Evansville at Murray State, 5 p.m.

Northwestern at Notre Dame, 6 p.m.

Ball State at Indiana, 6:05 p.m.

Butler at Purdue, 7 p.m.

NCAA Division II

Lake Erie at Indianapolis (DH), 1 p.m.

Kentucky Wesleyan at Southern Indiana, 6 p.m.

NCAA Division III

Wittenberg at DePauw (DH), noon.

Wabash at Ohio Wesleyan (DH), noon.

Bluffton at Anderson (DH), 1 p.m.

Defiance at Manchester (DH), 1 p.m.

Earlham at Mount St. Joseph (DH), 4 p.m.

Franklin at Rose-Hulman (DH), 4 p.m.

NAIA

Mount Vernon Nazarene at Saint Francis (DH), 1 p.m.

Taylor at Bethel (DH), 1 p.m.

Goshen at Spring Arbor (DH), 1 p.m.

Indiana Wesleyan at Grace (DH), 2 p.m.

Marian at Huntington (DH), 3 p.m.

IU Southeast at Lindenwood-Belleville, 3 p.m.

IU South Bend at St. Ambrose, 4 p.m.

St. Francis (Ill.) at Calumet of St. Joseph, 4 p.m.

Junior College

Sinclair at Ivy Tech Northeast (DH), 2 p.m.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through April 14

NCAA Division I

Indiana State  27-7 (4-2 Missouri Valley)

Indiana 24-12 (7-2 Big Ten)

Ball State 23-12 (7-3 Mid-American)

Butler 18-15 (2-4 Big East)

Evansville 17-15 (5-1 Missouri Valley)

Notre Dame 13-21 (8-10 Atlantic Coast)

Purdue 11-23 (5-6 Big Ten)

Valparaiso 6-24 (1-8 Missouri Valley)

Fort Wayne 5-28 (0-15 Summit)

NCAA Division II

Indianapolis 23-14 (15-9 Great Lakes Valley)

Southern Indiana 21-14 (14-9 Great Lakes Valley)

Oakland City 19-11

NCAA Division III

Rose-Hulman 17-8 (6-0 Heartland)

Franklin 16-10 (5-3 Heartland)

DePauw 15-11 (2-4 North Coast)

Anderson 13-10 (4-4 Heartland)

Earlham 13-14 (5-5 Heartland)

Wabash 13-14 (1-6 North Coast)

Trine 11-15 (4-10 Michigan Intercollegiate)

Hanover 10-14 (2-6 Heartland)

Manchester 8-19 (3-5 Heartland)

NAIA

Taylor Trojans 29-13 (9-9 Crossroads)

Indiana University-Kokomo 28-13 (15-6 River States)

Indiana University Southeast 27-14 (15-6 River States)

Indiana Tech 25-13 (9-3 Wolverine-Hoosier)

Huntington 20-10 (14-5 Crossroads)

Marian 19-16 (11-8 Crossroads)

Indiana Wesleyan 17-24 (11-8 Crossroads)

Purdue Northwest 14-18 (9-5 Great Lakes Intercollegiate)

Goshen 13-24 (7-12 Crossroads)

Saint Francis Cougars 13-28 (7-12 Crossroads)

Grace 12-19 (8-11 Crossroads)

Bethel 9-23 (5-14 Crossroads)

Calumet of Saint Joseph 8-32 (1-19 Chicagoland)

Indiana University South Bend 8-32 (6-15 Chicagoland)

Junior College

Ivy Tech Northwest 22-11

Vincennes 18-18 (6-10 Mid-West)

Ancilla 5-18 (4-12 Michigan Community)

BASEBALLONDIRT

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Skelton, Meyer span eras of Fort Wayne Snider Panthers baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

They’ve got continuity happening on the northeast side of Fort Wayne, Ind.

Marc Skelton has been coaching baseball at R. Nelson Snider High School for three decades.

Skelton, a 1985 Snider graduate, enters his eighth season as Panthers head coach in 2019 after 22 as an assistant.

Bruce Meyer, who has also coached at Snider for 30 years, and Skelton can trace their lineage back to the origins of the Panthers program.

“We played for or coached with every (head) coach in Snider history,” says Skelton, who is Snider’s fifth head baseball coach. Jerry Miller (1971-83) was the first, followed by Jim Rousseau (1983-87), Dave Hey (1988-92) and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Andy Owen (1993-2011).

Miller and assistant Adrian Deusler held the first practice April 15, 1971 and had 95 boys trying out.

“He loved baseball and worked hard it it,” says Skelton of Miller. “He’s still our No. 1 fan. He comes out to games. It’s always good to see Coach.

“(Rousseau) stressed fundamentals and doing things the right way.”

Skelton leads the current Panthers squad while putting effort and excellence at the forefront.

“We believe in hard work,” says Skelton. “You want to give it your best effort every time you’re getting after something.

“Ten quality reps are better than 100 sloppy ones, just going through the motions.”

Besides Meyer, Snider assistants include Josh Clinkenbeard, Rob Hale, Peyton Bieker with the varsity and Tim McCrady, Eric Cirillo and Brandon Phelps with the junior varsity. All but Cirillo and Phelps are returnees to the staff.

Marc is the son of David and Karen Skelton. David Skelton has been scorekeeper for the Panthers for 30 years.

Skelton says he tends to have between 30 and 40 players in the program each season.

During the current IHSAA limited contact period, Snider players are working to get their arms in shape while position players and hitters are also getting in their training.

“We’re getting pitchers arms built up so we avoid injuries down the road,” says Skelton, who can take his team to a couple of tunnels in the gym to get things done.

Snider (enrollment around 1,900) is a member of the Summit Athletic Conference (with Fort Wayne Concordia, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne South Side and Fort Wayne Wayne as baseball affiliates).

SAC teams play each other in a home-and-home series, usually within the same week, to determine the conference champion.

“Theoretically, you need more than one pitcher to do it,” says Skelton.

Non-conference opponents include Blackhawk Christian, DeKalb, East Noble, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne Carroll, Homestead, Huntington North, New Haven and Norwell. The Panthers play in the Warsaw Invitational on May 18. DeKalb and Penn have been a part of that even in the past.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with DeKalb, East Noble, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Northrop. DeKalb and Carroll have rotated as the host site in recent years. Snider has won 11 sectional crowns — the last in 2017. State championships were earned in 2006 and 2009.

Snider plays its home games at Hawley Field, which is about 2 1/2 miles off-campus on Long Road. The facility is owned by Fort Wayne Community Schools and is maintained mostly by the baseball team.

The 2019 season marks the third of the IHSAA’s 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). This year, the standards will be the same for varsity and below varsity.

“It’s for the health of the arm so it’s a good thing,” says Skelton. “We want you to throw strikes because you are on a limit. Pitch to contact, so to speak.

“Strikeouts are boring. Work quick so the the defense doesn’t have time to wonder and can say sold behind you.”

Snider senior Mason McMurtry recently made a college baseball commitment to Ivy Tech Northeast Community College in Fort Wayne. Recent graduates Michael Brewer (Eastern Kentucky University) and Matt Eastman (Ivy Tech Northeast) have gone on to the next level.

The Panthers get players from many sources, including Georgetown Little League and several travel organizations.

“The last 10 years it’s been going strong,” says Skelton of travel ball. “As long as they don’t over-do it, it’s a good thing they’re playing baseball. It gets them in competitive situations.”

Even though Snider is a large school, there are a number of multi-sport athletes in the school.

“We leave them alone during other seasons,” says Skelton. “When they come to us (in baseball), they participate with us.”

Skelton graduated from Indiana University in December 1989 and came back to Fort Wayne to be an educator and coach.

Blackhawk Middle School is where Skelton, Meyer and Terah Brogan (Skelton’s sister) are teachers.

Snider graduates have gone on to professional baseball.

Andy Replogle pitched at Kansas State University and two seasons in the majors with Milwaukee Brewers.

Right-hander Kevin Cahill pitched at Purdue University and in the Washington Nationals system.

Catcher-outfielder Kyle Day took the field for Michigan State University and in the Cincinnati Reds system.

Left-hander Adam Sheefel hurled at Ball State University and in the minors with the Reds.

FORTWAYNESNIDERPANTHERS

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Marc Skelton, a 1985 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Snider High School graduate, enters his eighth season as Panthers head baseball coach in 2019 after 22 as an assistant.

Alum Stang now guiding Franklin County Wildcats baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Derek Stang received more and more responsibility from the two previous head baseball coaches at Franklin County High School in Brookville, Ind., and now he’s the man in charge.

After serving two seasons each on the staffs of Tony Windle and Dave Miley, 2007 FCHS graduate Stang is leading a Wildcats program that is used to success.

Franklin County has won 15 or more games in five of the past six seasons. The Wildcats have been consistent contenders in the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference and earned seven sectional crowns — the last in 2013.

Stang played for Windle as a young boy and at FCHS.

“(Windle) always stressed relationships with kids,” says Stang. “He made them feel comfortable around the coaches. It’s their program. They respected him and enjoyed playing for him.”

Miley brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to Franklin County. He managed or coached many years in professional baseball, including 2003-05 as manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

“Learning from him the last few years has been a great thing,” says Stang. “Dave had me coach third base the past two years. He gave me the freedom to do what I need to do.

“It won’t be a huge transition.”

Miley’s wife, Andrea, is from Franklin County and he is still local and in contact with Stang.

With his connections, Miley has helped bring Marty Brenneman, Tom Browning and Ron Oester to town for “A Night With A Legend” team fundraisers.

There is continuity on the staff since pitching coach Brett Rauch, junior varsity coach Scott Carie, freshmen coach Randy Bolos and volunteers Roger Miller and Gene Hodges are all returnees.

“That consistency is going to help a lot,” says Stang. “We know how we want to play.”

Stang plans to have his Wildcats playing a lively brand of baseball.

“We want to be aggressive — at the plate or on the bases,” says Stang. “We want to put pressure on the defense and make them make plays.”

When the other team is at the plate, he wants Franklin County fielders to make the the routine plays.

“We do not want to get too sped up on defense,” says Stang. “That starts with pitchers throwing strikes.”

Pitchers who can’t find the zone have a tendency to put their defense to sleep.

“Staying in the game is half the battle sometimes,” says Stang. “We also want to cut down on our number of strikeouts. Even the guys with the most RBI’s last year had too many strikeouts.”

During the current limited contact time when teams can practice two times a week for two hours, Stang and his coaching staff are trying to make the most of the opportunity.

“It’s a challenge this year,” says Stang. “We’ve got varsity, JV and freshmen in a two-hour time period and trying to get pitchers to get their pitch counts up.”

Players spend half their time at hitting stations then rotate to an agility station.

When it comes to defensive work, players are grouped by position. Catchers do a progression drill that focuses on receiving the ball, a POP drill that emphasizes footwork and a blocking drill.

In the old Brookville High School gym, infielders concentrate on fundamentals and take some ground balls. Middle infielders get some double play reps and work on communication.

Outfielders do zig-zag and angle drills — the latter to help prevent a gapper from turning from a single into a double.

“We utilize every foot of that space,” says Stang. “We make the most of it and get done what we can get done.”

Stang expects to have program numbers in the high 30’s this year.

In recent years, the Wildcats have sent players on to college baseball. Joe Monroe, Blake Ripperger and Jake Fields went to Miami University Hamilton and Brennan Meyers to Wright State University-Lake Campus.

Many players take part in travel baseball while participate in the Franklin County Recreational Baseball League (T-ball through age 12) and Franklin County Babe Ruth League (ages 13-15).

Each June, Stang, Rauch and some FCHS players conduct a youth camp. The youngsters who look up to the high schoolers enjoy being taught by them. There is also a youth night during the spring where kids get into the game free by wearing their uniform and are recognized on the field.

Franklin County plays its home games on its campus. This year the facility will be named Jim Hughes Field in honor of the former coach and educator at Brookville and Franklin County. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer died Nov. 12, 2018.

Franklin County (enrollment around 750) is part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Batesville, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Madison Consolidated, Rushville Consolidated and South Dearborn.

A member of the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference, Franklin County competes with Batesville, Connersville, East Central, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville Consolidated and South Dearborn. In 2018, the EIAC went to a format where each team played a home-and-home series against each other on Mondays and Thursdays and that will continue in 2019.

Stang also played basketball at Franklin County for coach Josh Johnson. He was an assistant coach at the high school the past four years and switched to eighth grade this winter.

He has also been a baseball and basketball assistant at Daleville High School and coached basketball at the AAU level for the Spiece program and at Zionsville Junior High.

A math teacher at FCHS, Stang attended Indiana University in Bloomington and received his degree from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis.

Derek and Heather Stang have a daughter — Amelia. She turned 1 on Thursday, Feb. 7. Heather is a sixth grade teacher at Mt. Carmel Elementary in Cedar Grove, Ind.

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Derek Stang is heading into his first season as head baseball coach at Franklin County High School in Brookville, Ind. He is a 2007 FCHS graduate and has served the past four seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater.

 

Bye getting small pack of Orleans Bulldogs ready for 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Numbers might be low, but baseball spirit is high at Orleans (Ind.) High School.

The Bulldogs won an IHSAA Class 1A West Washington Sectional championship in 2018 and senior Duncan Gerkin was honored as an all-state catcher.

In 2015, Orleans went 26-6 and produced three all-state players — senior second baseman Burton Gerkin, senior first baseman Cale Hall and senior outfielder Jason Mosson. Other recent first-team all-staters include junior outfielder Steven Phillips in 2014 and junior shortstop Terry Bradley in 2012.

Jeremy Bye was an assistant to Mark Wheeler for 10 years then took over the Bulldogs program for the 2016 season.

“I had no intention of ever coaching high school baseball,” says Bye. “But as the cards were dealt, I came to love it.

“I’m very fortunate to spend 10 years under a tremendous coach and motivator and learn from him.”

Bye heads into 2019 with 13 players in the program. For the for the first time since he has been in the program, Orleans does not plan to field a junior varsity team.

Off-season workouts have drawn five boys. These twice-a-week sessions include 45 minutes of throwing and 45 minutes of running or weightlifting.

The other baseball players are busy with basketball.

“In southern Indiana, basketball is king,” says Bye.

Basketball the winter sport for boys at Orleans. Cross country is offered in the fall with baseball, track and golf in the spring. There is no football and some potential students go to nearby schools that do have football.

With an enrollment around 225, Orleans is the member in the Patoka Lake Athletic Conference, which also feature Crawford County, Mitchell, Paoli, Perry Central, Spring Valley and West Washington.

PLAC teams play each other twice during the season in home-and-home series. Only the first meeting counts in the standings.

The Bulldogs are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Crothersville (enrollment around 100), Medora (50), Trinity Lutheran (150) and West Washington (280).

Orleans has won nine sectional titles, including four since 2006 (2006, 2014, 2015 and 2018). The Bulldogs won regional crowns in 2006 and 2015. The 2006 team bowed out to Hauser in the semifinals of the Avon Semistate. Eventual 1A state runner-up Shakamak bested Orleans 3-2 int he 2015 Plainfield Semistate.

Graduate Adam Poole was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 32nd round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but did not sign. The left-handed pitcher played at Lincoln Trail College and Indiana University.

Platted in 1815, Orleans stands as the oldest town in Orange County. Founded two months after Andrew Jackson’s famous victory over the British at New Orleans, the settlers named their new town to honor this event.

For the third season, IHSAA teams will abide by a 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).

“We have always used a pitch count,” says Bye. “Our issues is having enough pitchers to play a 28-game schedule and be effective. It’s always been like that.

“Our better athletes are our pitchers and they are also shortstops, center fielders and third basemen. It’s harder to manage the other positions the kids have to play.”

While its not a school-sponsored sport, Orleans does have junior high baseball. Bye says 22 boys have signed up to play from April through early June. There will be 11 on the eighth grade squad with nine seventh graders and two sixth graders on the seventh grade team.

“The boys have to play,” says Bye. “It’s the only (baseball) avenue they have (from age 13 to high school).

The Orleans Baseball League is a recreation organization that starts with T-ball and goes through sixth grade.

Jeremy and Kristin Bye’s sons play both rec league and travel baseball — Breckin (10) with the Louisville-based Ironmen and Brayson (7) with the Southern Indiana Strikers of New Albany.

Orleans plays its home games on a lighted on-campus diamond. In recent years, the outfield fence has been raised and pushed back and dugouts have been replaced.

Bye mows the field himself and his players help line it and rake it.

“We’re our own field maintenance crew,” says Bye. “Everybody does their own spot. We take pride in it.”

Bye is a 1996 Paoli (Ind.) High School graduate. He played four years of baseball for the Rams — two for Tom Stuckwich and two for John Hahn. He earned a electronics technology degree at Indiana State University and works for Jasper Group in Orleans.

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Orleans (Ind.) High School won an IHSAA Class 1A sectional baseball title in 2018. It was the third season as head coach for Jeremy Bye. He joined the program as an assistant in 2006.

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The Byes (clockwise from left) — Jeremy, Kristin, Breckin and Brayson — celebrate a 2018 IHSAA Class 1A sectional baseball championship. Jeremy Bye has been a coach in the program since 2006 and head coach since 2016.

 

Becich welcoming new bunch of Wheeler Bearcats to varsity baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A new bunch of Bearcats will get a chance to make an impact on Wheeler High School baseball in 2019.

The 2018 squad had several seniors who had been playing for the school located in Union Township near Valparaiso, Ind., since they were freshmen.

Jake Armentrout moved on to Xavier University in Cincinnati. Clayton Sanders signed at the University of Saint Francis in Joliet, Ill.

Catcher Mason Diaz, a Northern Kentucky University commit who hit .388 last spring, is back for his senior year. Rex Stills, who hit .302 in 60 plate appearances as a freshman, is back for his sophomore season.

There will be opportunities for others to make their mark on varsity baseball for the first time.

How will the Bearcats go about doing that?

“We’re looking to do all the small things right and, hopefully, everything else falls in line with it,” says Kyle Becich, who is entering his ninth year with the program and fifth as head coach. “We’re rebuilding a foundation.”

Becich, who spent four seasons as a Wheeler assistant on the staff of Josh Long, counts Tommy O’Shea, Phil Sanchez, Christian Rosta and Payton Ball as assistant coaches.

The Bearcats generally have 24 players in the program for varsity and junior varsity squads. Some players swing back and forth based on the needs that day.

Wheeler (enrollment of about 540) is in the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest and Whiting as baseball-playing members).

Past non-conference foes have included Crown Point, Hammond Clark, Hammond Gavit, Hebron, Hobart, Lowell, Merrillville and North Newton. The Bearcats have met Hebron in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary.

Wheeler is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox and Twin Lakes. The Bearcats last won a sectional title in 2008.

“It’s a tough sectional,” says Becich of a field which is full of traditionally-strong teams and produced the 2018 3A state champion (Andrean).

Wheeler plays its home games on its campus at Richard Wendt Field. Wendt, a former Wheeler coach, died in 2012.

Recent upgrades to the facility include re-building the pitcher’s mound,  installing a new home plate and pitcher’s rubber, leveling the playing surface, realigning the bases, adding new wind screens in the outfield and reworking the speaker system.

Every October, the Bearcats have a field day where players, coaches and parents put the field to rest for the winter.

During the current off-season period, the Bearcats are getting stronger in the weight room.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, IHSAA and Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association have been working together on a proposal to add an arm care program to the baseball calendar.

“I support that, especially for kids that have nowhere to throw right now,” says Becich, noting that some of his players can work out with their travel teams at indoor facilities but not all have that kind of access. “You only have one arm your entire life and so many bullets to throw. It’s best to protect it when you can.”

Wheeler baseball has also been building a relationship with Union Township Little League. Last season, players who hope to one day don the Green, White and Orange were invited to work out on the field and were treated to pizza.

Becich, 32, is a 2005 Munster High School graduate. He played baseball and football for the Mustangs then one football season at North Central College in Naperville, Ill. He finished his education degree at Indiana University in Bloomington. His first job out of college was as a social studies teacher and coach at Wheeler.

Becich credits former assistant principal Jack Schimanski for playing a major role in his development.

“He was a huge mentor for me,” says Becich of Schimanski. “I was picking his brain all the time, learning some of the minor details.”

Schimanski had been a head coach at Joliet (Ill.) Catholic High School and learned much from Gordie Gillespie, who won 1,893 games in his 58-year college coaching career.

Kyle and Kelsey Becich have two children — son Liam (4) and daughter Reese (3).

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Mason Diaz, a Northern Kentucky University commit, catches  for Wheeler High School during the 2018 baseball season. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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Rex Stills crosses the plate for Wheeler High School during the 2018 baseball season. He is back for 2019. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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Mason Diaz, Sam Beier, Jake Armentrout, Nate Gosbin, Adam Wagoner and Hunter Catherman line up for the Wheeler Bearcats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Diaz returns for Wheeler in 2019. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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The Wheeler baseball team gathers during the annual High School Challenge at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

KYLEBECICHCOACHESTHIRD

Kyle Becich coaches third base for the Wheeler High School baseball team. The 2019 season will be his ninth in the program and fifth as head coach of the Bearcats.

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Head coach Kyle Becich (left) and assistant Tommy O’Shea watch their Wheeler High School Bearcats baseball team.

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Kyle Becich, head baseball coach and social studies teacher at Wheeler High School near Valparaiso, Ind., and wife Kelsey have two children — son Liam and daughter Reese.

 

UIndy’s Ready talks about offensive approach, pitch framing, defensive shifting

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There are less than two weeks before the University of Indianapolis is scheduled to open its 2019 baseball season (the NCAA Division II Greyhounds host Wisconsin-Parkside at 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15).

UIndy head coach Al Ready took the time to discuss offensive approach, pitch recognition, catcher pitch framing and defensive shifting.

Ready says probability can be applied to anything in baseball. He wants to put his players in the best position to have success and for hitters that translates to their approach.

“I have them watch the pitcher and what he’s throwing in certain counts,” says Ready. “We want guys sitting on the pitches they’re going to get, not the ones they want to hit.”

Pitch recognition — knowing a fastball from a curve, slider or whatever — is a valuable talent for hitters to possess.

“It’s a skill,” says Ready. “It can be improved on.”

Ready, who was a switch-hitting catcher for Indianapolis and still holds school records for most walks in a career and in a season and played in independent professional baseball, notes that most pro hitters adjust off the fastball because of the high velocity at that level.

He says that most high school hitters are timed for 80 mph with those in college for 85 to 90 mph and pros for 90 mph-plus.

“If you’re not ready for it, you’re not going to hit it,” says Ready. “If you don’t have pitch recognition, you have to be a fastball adjust hitter. You sit on pitches.”

In other words, you wait for a particular pitch to swing at.

Ready talks daily with his UIndy hitters about approach.

“I used to be a cookie-cutter approach guy and teach the same approach to everybody,” says Ready. “That simply doesn’t work.”

The Greyhounds employ an approach spectrum. For some, it as simple as “see ball; hit ball.”

“If that’s what’s going give that kid the best success rate,” says Ready. “I’m going to get behind that 100 percent.”

Others will sit on a pitch based on count, read pitcher tendencies in certain counts, look for grips, tipped pitches and take into consideration the game situation. How many outs? How many on base? What’s the score? Is it the first inning or the ninth?

While some hitters can rely on their physical skills for success, they are in the minority.

“The majority of us at this level have to be a smart hitter,” says Ready. “The best place to be on the approach spectrum is in the middle.

“If the (pitcher’s) throwing hard and you’re indecisive, you should be fastball adjust.”

To improve on this process, UIndy hitters do a lot of vision training and things of that nature.

They learn to recognize pitches thrown in pitcher-friendly and hitter-friendly counts.

“If it’s 1-2 and you have a fastball/slider pitcher, there’s a good probably you’re going to see a slider,” says Ready.

The coach would like his hitters to swing at pitches they can handle and hit with authority.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of kids at this level if they’re fooled on a pitch, they don’t swing through it,” says Ready. “They still try to make contact and hit in weakly.

“Swing through and go to the next pitch.”

Vision is of utmost importance to a hitter.

“You can work on your swing all you want,” says Ready. “If you’re not seeing the ball, you’re not going to hit it.”

One way, UIndy hitters work on their eye strength is with a concentration grid test.

On a laminated 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper, 100 squares contain numbers 00 to 99 placed randomly.

With a dry erase marker, players are asked to find each number in order for time.

A quick time would be 3 to 4 minutes. For others, it might take 6 to 10 minutes.

“At the end of that 6 to 10 minutes, their eyes are extremely tired,” says Ready, who notes that there are two basic kinds of eye focus — soft and hard. “You can only stay at hard focus for a split second before you blur up.”

These concentration grid tests done in different ways — sometimes counting by threes and getting as far as you can in five minutes — are done each week and posted for team competition.

The Hounds also do this with some distraction training.

Players will have a partner who will stand next to their partner say random numbers during the test.

“The main point is to improve the strength of your eyes,” says Ready.

UIndy also uses the colored ball drill.

While throwing regular batting practice, balls with red and green squares on them are thrown.

It used to be that players were supposed to swing at green and take on red.

“But with a good four-seam fastball with a high spin rate, you’re going to see red,” says Ready. “So green is take and red is swing.”

The pitching machine the Hounds use goes up to 100 mph.

“We train at a high rate of speed,” says Ready. “For our guys 88 is the new 82.”

Ready is more interested in quality at-bats and hitting the ball hard than what he calls the “internet statistics.”

“I don’t judge success by batting average,” says Ready. “I judge them by contact. Are you hitting the ball hard?”

It often comes down to pitch recognition/selection by the batter.

“I laugh when one of our young hitters have a great at-bat (hit a ball hard) and next time they come up and they fly out or strike out and say, ‘coach, what’s wrong with my swing?,’” says Ready. “It’s the same swing. You may have swung at the wrong pitch or didn’t see the ball as well. The first question you should ask: Are you seeing the ball?

“If they say they’re seeing the ball well: Are you swinging at pitches you should be swinging at or swinging at the pitcher’s pitches?.

“As coaches, we get a little to quick to fix problems that aren’t really there.”

Another way some teams help identify pitches is with occlusion training (GameSense is a company that offers tools for this visual reaction training).

Hitters watch videos of pitchers. They may be allowed to see half or three-quarters of the pitch and cut it off or when the pitcher is about to let go of the ball. This allows hitters to look for the release point, see the grip or spin or how it pops out of the hand.

“If it’s a slider, you’ll be seeing a dot at the halfway point,” says Ready.

With a senior-laden roster, Ready says pitch recognition is no necessarily something he is worried with his current team.

As a former catcher, Ready knows about framing pitches.

“Pitch framing’s important,” says Ready. “But you don’t frame everything — only borderline pitches.”

Catchers who try to jerk pitchers several inches outside back into the strike zone will quickly lose credibility with the plate umpire.

Ready says some catchers apply the “skinny and sway” method. But umpires are starting to recognize that and calling balls when they sway outside to catch the baseball.

Other catchers stand wide and only move their glove.

The Molina brothers — Bengie, Jose and Yadier — played behind the plate in the big leagues and it was Jose who was especially good at framing.

An overlooked aspect of catching is how far back they squat from the plate.

Ready contends that most are too far back. He understands that in pro ball, there a good reason because many hitters have a big back swing and catchers are at risk of getting hit by the bat so they get out of the way. But that does not happen as much at the college or high school level.

“The closer you can get to the pitcher the better,” says Ready. “That’s less distance the pitch has to travel.

“You’re going to get more calls. You’re in a position to stick that low pitch.”

By being too far back, catchers can miss out on some opportunities to frame some pitches and it’s a longer throw to a base when a runner is attempting to steal.

Ready says being up on the dish can make the difference in turning a 1-1 pitch into a 1-2 pitcher-friendly count or 2-1 hitter-friendly count.

He kept track in a fall game and noticed that his catcher was up where he needed to be and the opponent’s was too far back. There were a dozen 1-1 counts — six for each team — the next pitch was low and UIndy got all of them called for strikes and the other side got them all called as balls.

Spray charts like those produced by Indiana-based Diamond Charts are helpful for teams in placing their defenders. Taking published play-by-play accounts from NCAA Division I and II games and data gathered from televised contests, opponents’ tendencies can be traced.

Ready says most coaches place their fielders where the majority of the balls are hit.

“I like to take it a step further,” says Ready. “I want to know how the ball was hit (fly ball, line drive, in front of the fielder or over his head).

“I like to place my fielders to take away the hits, not where the likely fly-ball outs are. That’s the logic I use when looking at a spray chart.”

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University of Indianapolis head baseball coach Al Ready pays attention to probability in many areas of the game. (University of Indianapolis Photo)

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Al Ready is the head baseball coach at the University of Indianapolis. He played for the Greyhounds and was a longtime assistant before taking over as leader of the program. (University of Indianapolis Photo)

Grid, mat lend toughness to diamond for Quasebarth’s North White Vikings

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball players at North White Middle/High School in Monon, Ind., know something about toughness.

Many of the young men who take to the diamond for the Vikings also participate in football, wrestling or both.

“Wrestling brings a work ethic,” says Kirk Quasebarth, who coaches baseball, wrestling and football at the IHSAA Class 1A school of about 250. “You’ve got to be out there ready to go and be mentally tough. You also see that on the football field.

“You’ll see baseball players take a ball off the chest — those little intangibles.”

Quasebarth participated in all three sports at North White, playing football and wrestling for head coach Jim Davis and baseball for head coach Bill McDonald. He then played three seasons for head coach Bill Reagan at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and got his education degree at Purdue University.

What did Quasebarth learn from Indiana Football Hall of Famer Davis?

“Patience, seeing the big picture and planning,” says Quasebarth. “He was good at keeping things simple for kids.”

Like Davis, Quasebarth plans his baseball practices to eliminate dead time.

“Kids always working on skills,” says Quasebarth. “The goal for every practice is to get something out of it.”

McDonald was known for his enthusiasm for the game.

“We had fun,” says Quasebarth. “That gets lost sometimes in high school athletics.

“It’s about kids growing up, taking responsibility and having fun.”

Since 1999, Quasebarth has been the school’s head baseball coach. Eight of the program’s eight sectional titles have come on his watch. The last one came in 2016. The Vikings advanced to the 2013 South Bend Semistate before bowing to eventual state champion Lafayette Central Catholic.

Quasebarth has led North White’s football program the past two seasons. He took over as interim head wrestling coach midway through the 2018-19 season. Six of the 10 grapplers on the squad qualified for the Logansport Regional, including baseball players Colton Jones and Parker Smith (alternate).

Quasebarth has held principal and vice principal jobs and is now back in the class room teaching social studies to seventh and eighth graders.

Youngest son Eli, a seventh grader, is also involved in football, wrestling and baseball.

While numbers have not been high for football and wrestling in recent years, Quasebarth usually sees between 20 and 25 baseball players yearly to fill varsity and junior varsity teams.

All three of his baseball assistants are North White graduates. Tony Rodgers and Brad Hahn played with Quasebarth and Travis Combs played for him.

“We’re a family,” says Quasebarth.

North White (enrollment around 250) is a member of the Midwest Conference (with Frontier, North Newton, South Newton, Tri-County and West Central). This spring, teams will play each other twice in a home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Thursdays and both games will count in the standings.

The Vikings are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, Northfield, South Newton, Southwood and West Central.

Quasebarth says he recalls the challenges his teams faced against teams coached by Ryan Wolfe at West Central, Ryan Long at Frontier, Blake Mollenkopf at Caston and Jeff LeBeau at Tri-County. Wolfe is now at Plymouth and Long at Delphi.

“You have to be up on your game to play those guys,” says Quasebarth. “They are very fundamentally sound. I have a lot of respect for those guys.

“Now we get to play (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) Jake Burton and his Twin Lakes teams.”

The North White Babe Ruth League in Monon prepares ages 13 to 15 to play for the high school. Tyler Hileman, who is married to Kirk and Sherie Quasebarth’s daughter Whitney (a North White Elementary first grade teacher) and given them grandson Emmett, heads up the league.

North White Babe Ruth coaches include Jakob Quasebarth (who also plays football at Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute) and former members of the 2013 North White regional champions — Colton Cooley, Luke Diener and twins Clint and Caleb Hendress. Caleb Hendress played baseball at Saint Joseph’s before the school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

A number of North White players have gone on to college baseball in the past decade. Current senior Grant Buschman is committed to Grace College.

Around 2000, North White opened a complex for baseball and softball.

“We constantly try to do a few things,” says Quasebarth of the baseball field. “We want to raise money for a halo (around home plate).”

For the past several seasons, the Vikings wore camouflage-style uniforms in school colors — Royal Blue, White and Gold. This spring, the plan is to go with a Houston Astros-like “Rainbow” design.

North White has been rotating its winter workouts in the North White Elementary gym with pitchers on one day and hitters on another.

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The Quasebarths at a Rose-Hulman football game (from left): Sherie, Jacob, Eli and Kirk.

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Interim head coach Kirk Quasebarth poses with his North White Vikings wrestling team.

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Head coach Kirk Quasebarth posed with his North White Vikings football team.

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Head coach Kirk Quasebarth and his North White Vikings baseball team celebrate a sectional championship.

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Kirk Quasebarth is head football coach at North White Middle/High School in Monon, Ind. His first season at the helm for the Vikings was 2017.

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Kirk Quasebarth (left) has been the head baseball coach at North White Middle/High School in Monon, Ind., since 1999.