Simmons seizes hardware in first season leading North Posey Vikings

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

North Posey High School’s baseball team got to hoist the sectional trophy again in 2018.

The last time the Vikings had earned the hardware was in 2006 when the program went on to the second of back-to-back IHSAA Class 2A state championships with Mike Swartzentruber as head coach.

North Posey went 22-10 last spring, won the 2A Tell City Sectional and saw the season end in the Austin Regional final with a loss to eventual state runner-up Southridge.

Pitcher Shane Harris and outfielder Jarrett Motz made the all-Pocket Athletic Conference as juniors while infielder Camden Bender received honorable mention as a sophomore.

The Vikings finished 5-3 and tied for third place in the PAC (which also includes Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Pike Central, South Spencer, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City).

The first season as North Posey head coach was a special one for Jesse Simmons.

After eight seasons in charge at Princeton (Ind.) Community High School, Simmons came to North Posey, where he also works in the guidance department as coordinator for student programs, testing and scholarships.

During his time at Princeton Community, he spent part of his summers managing Princeton American Legion Post 25.

Simmons, a graduate of Gibson Southern High School in Fort Branch, Ind., played for an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jim Reid) in high school and a National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jerry Blemker at Vincennes University) his first two years of college.

He played two more seasons at Oakland City (Ind.) University for head coach T-Ray Fletcher. Toss in the lessons he gained from playing football at Gibson Southern for head coach John Obermeier and that has formed Simmons as a coach.

“You pick stuff from everybody,” says Simmons. “(Reid) was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He was always upfront. That’s what I try to do. To a fault, I’m almost too truthful.

“(Reid) was also big on the little things.”

A third baseman in high school, Simmons was moved to shortstop at Vincennes when the starter got hurt.

Blemker was known for his passion.

“Everyday he expected things,” says Simmons of Blemker. “This is how it’s going to be.”

The fiery Blemker, who died in 2012, won 1,178 games during a storied career. At the time of his retirement in 2006, that was the most coaching wins in NJCAA Division II history.

Simmons recalls how Obermeier wanted his athletes to “take care of business” and also had a good working relationship with coaches of other sports. They shared athletes at Gibson Southern.

“(Fletcher) is still a big part of my life,” says Simmons, who not only played for T-Ray’s Mighty Oaks but helped coach them during his fifth year of college while pursuing his master’s degree. “That’s when I got the bug for coaching.”

Heading into his second season at North Posey, Simmons’ coaching staff includes Lennie “Peanut” Titzer, James Hensley, Lance Fleener, Dustin May and Jeremy Lavanchy. Titzer was Simmons’ Babe Ruth League coach and an assistant at Gibson Southern.

The Vikings are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, Perry Central, South Spencer and Tell City. North Posey has an enrollment of about 500.

North Posey plays on a field behind the school that it shares with Cub (seventh and eighth graders playing 15 to 20 games in the spring) and Poseyville Babe Ruth programs (Red and Black teams are part of an eight-team league with biggest part being from Gibson County).

Simmons says he hopes to have an American Legion team — Poseyville Post 278 /New Harmony Post 370 — playing their next summer. The plan is to play weekday games to accommodate the weekend travel ball schedules of his players.

Jesse and Courtney Simmons reside in Haubstadt, Ind. with their five children — sons Jeter (9) and Jensen (8) and daughters Albany (7), Vera (6) and Savannah (1).

The oldest of three children, Jesse’s parents are Jim and Diane Hornby. His siblings are Amber and Quentin.

A New York Yankees fan, Jesse Simmons’ favorite players are Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly.

“(Jeter) thrived under pressure,” says Simmons. “He was a good leader. He was never afraid of the moment and the spotlight is a tough place to play.”

Mattingly, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer, is from nearby Darmstadt, Ind., and played high school baseball at Evansville Memorial.

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Jesse Simmons, the head baseball coach at North Posey High School in Poseyville, Ind., poses with his family. Front row (from left) Jeter Simmons, Vera Simmons, Albany Simmons and Jensen Simmons. Back row (from left) Jesse Simmons, Savannah Simmons and Courtney Simmons.

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Bock, Fremont Eagles eager to add to their baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fremont (Ind.) High School chased down an elusive sectional baseball championship in 2018.

Head coach Justin Bock saw the Eagles grab the program’s first sectional title since 2005, beating Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian 5-4 in the final of the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional.

Fremont (15-16) went on to lose 3-2 to Northfield in the championship game of the Caston Regional.

“We worked really hard to get that sectional trophy,” says Fremont head coach Justin Bock, who heads into his 22nd season in the program and 11th in charge in 2019.

Four-year starter Rhett Evans has moved on to Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich.

Bock expects the 2019 Eagles to be young and talented. The coach anticipates he will have one senior, but four returning starters. A couple of freshmen could find their way into the lineup. There could be as many as 30 players in the program, including 12 ninth graders.

It’s anticipated that senior center fielder Ethan Marten will be back for his third season as a Fremont starter.

Junior left-hander Mick Laisure (0.99 earned run average in 36 1/3 innings in 2008) and right-hander/right fielder Connor Kreis are supposed to return in 2019 as is sophomore lead-off man and second baseman Kameron Colclasure. As a pitcher, he was 5-0 with a 0.88 ERA in more than 24 varsity innings in 2018. He hurled a shutout against Fairfield and earned a relief victory against DeKalb.

“He throws three pitches with great control,” says Bock of Colclasure, who was awarded varsity letters in three sports as a freshman (football, basketball and baseball). He is expected to move over to shortstop in 2019.

Fremont, located in Steuben County in northeast Indiana, is a member of the 12-team Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview).

Each team plays the other once. There is also a blind-draw conference tournament in the middle of the season.

“It gives the kids a taste of what sectional is like,” says Bock. “It has a one-and-done tournament feel.”

The Eagles are in an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. Fremont is on the 1A/2A border and could go back up with the next realignment in 2019-20.

Bock has Fremont in the early-season Coldwater (Mich.) Invitational, an event that has the Eagles playing three games in one day.

“Our hitters get to see great pitching early in the year,” says Bock. “It gets us ready to see conference pitching.”

It also means Fremont could use as many as nine pitchers. This puts an emphasis on building pitching depth.

“It has become routine for us,” says Bock. “If we have you going through workouts, you will be on the mound.

“We can win by pitching to contact and playing good defense.”

The 2019 season will be the third of the IHSAA 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). Before that, pitchers were allowed 10 innings every three days.

“(The pitch count rule) has emphasized what we really believe,” says Bock, who used 11 different arms in varsity competition in 2018 with Evans has the most innings going into sectional play at 28, keeping him fresh. “We’re not afraid to throw guys.

“We have to work more on mixing pitches and pitching to contact. We can’t afford to walk people.”

This kind of approach to pitching has helped Bock and his coaching staff find some hidden gems over the years.

Bock’s 2019 assistants are Ron Colclasure, Dave Smith, Jim Burkhart and Chad Baker at the varsity level and Ian Burkhart with the junior varsity. Baker splits his time between Fremont and Glen Oaks, where his son Braxton Baker (the step-brother of Rhett Evans) went after Fremont.

Being a 1A school with about 300 students, Fremont is full of multi-sport athletes. This meant that many were busy during the fall practice window.

Bock says practice will begin in earnest in early January when pitchers and catchers report for pre-season workouts.

The high school program is fed by Fremont Youth League and a number of travel baseball organizations, including Hitters Edge, Kalamazoo Maroons, Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Sting. In the past, there have been players go with Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers.

“A lot of our kids go north because of how close we are to Michigan,” says Bock.

Fremont graduate and current Indiana Tech baseball standout Glen McClain played travel ball for the Kalamazoo Maroons.

A 1993 Fremont graduate after moving in from the Ann Arbor, Mich., area as a sophomore, Bock earned an English degree at Taylor University and master’s in education at Indiana Wesleyan University.

He spent 19 years at Fremont and is in his third year as an assistant professor and placement coordinator at Trine University in Angola, Ind.

Bock’s baseball coach at Fremont was Roger Probst, who led the Eagles on the diamond 1985-2007 and is now the school’s athletic director.

“He’s the most organized person I’ve ever been around,” says Bock of Probst. “He’s the best athletic director in the state and a clear communicator.”

Bock served as a Probst assistant for 11 seasons before taking over the baseball reins 2008.

A junior high football coach and varsity boys basketball assistant to Eagles head coach Craig Helfrich (as is Ron Colclasure), Bock says it makes sense for him to be a head coach in the spring.

“Baseball really suits my personality,” says Bock. “I enjoy the pace of the game and the time to reflect on how we want to respond to a situation.

“It’s much healthier for me to be a baseball coach.”

Justin and April Bock have two children — freshman Ethan and sixth grader Delaney. After 12 years at Angola Middle School, April Bock teaches sixth grade at Fremont Middle School, where Delaney Bock is a student. Ethan Bock is a tennis, basketball and baseball athlete at Fremont High School.

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Fremont (Ind.) High School baseball coaches celebrate with the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional trophy. They are (from left) Chad Baker, Jim Burkhart, Ian Burkhart, Ryan Allman, head coach Justin Bock, Ron Colclasure and Dave Smith.

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Fremont (Ind.) High School baseball seniors and head coach pose with the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional trophy. They are (from left) Zack Peele, Rhett Evans, head coach Justin Bock, Joe Molter, Seth McDowell and Evan Trusty.

 

New Indiana pitching coach Parker places premium on development

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Parker has been on the job as Indiana University baseball pitching coach for about three months.

The Fort Wayne, Ind., native, who spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons at the University of Central Florida after five campaigns at alma mater Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, has spent his time in Bloomington learning what makes each of his IU players tick and then creating an individualized program to maximize their potential.

“With (Hoosiers head) coach (Jeff) Mercer and I, it’s very individualistic development,” says Parker, who was a teammate of Mercer’s at Wright State. “It’s very much tailored toward their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all.”

Parker is taking the time to know his pitchers’ personalities as well as the pitches they throw.

“A lot of this fall has been self-scouting,” says Parker as IU comes near the end of a 12-week fall practice period. “You have to get to know them to be able to put together a plan for each of them.

“As a player, all you want is feel like your coaches are invested in your career. You want to make them feel like they’re leaving each day excited about getting better. Then they’re willing to come to work the next day.”

Relationships are key.

“We want to run a family program,” says Parker. “You build trust that way. That’s the name of the game when it comes to development.

“When you want to base your program off development, you have to gain the trust. You have to get to know them. You have to spend time with them.”

The team was invited after Tuesday’s practice to watch Game 1 of the World Series together.

Parker, Mercer and recruiting coordinator Dan Held have been identifying potential new Indiana players.

But they are also working to give the current ones their best chance at success.

“Recruiting is incredibly important,” says Parker. “We hope to do that at a high level. We’ve already got a great start.

“Development is kind of the second pillar.”

Looking at the fall roster, pitchers who saw the most playing time with the Hoosiers during the 2018 season are Pauly Milto (79 2/3 innings), Cameron Beauchamp (52 1/3), Cal Krueger (44 2/3), Andrew Saalfrank (35 2/3), Tommy Sommer (29 1/3) and Connor Manous (24).

Senior Milto (Roncalli High School graduate), junior Krueger (Jasper) and sophomore Manous (Munster) are right-handers. Juniors Beauchamp (Peru) and Saalfrank (Heritage) and sophomore Sommer (Carmel) are lefties.

Milto and Beauchamp were primarily used as starters last spring while Beauchamp, Saalfrank, Sommer and Manous were mostly relievers. All of Krueger’s 27 came out of the bullpen.

Born in Fort Wayne to Brent and Ranelle Parker and the older brother of eventual big league pitcher Jarrod Parker, Justin played Wildcat Baseball and at Elmhurst Little League as well as for a local travel team.

Parker was with the Indiana Bulls at 17 and 18. Among his teammates were future big league pitchers Lance Lynn, Tommy Hunter and Josh Lindblom.

In four seasons at Wayne High School, Parker was a right-handed pitcher and shortstop for Generals head coach Tim Gaskill.

Parker picked up on Gaskill’s emphasis on work ethic and putting in the reps.

“Baseball is such a game of repetition,” says Parker. “Confidence is hard to come by without success unless you’re willing to prepare.

“(Gaskill) used to talk about getting your confidence from the work you’ve put in. You trust that work is greater than the opponent. If you’re willing to work at that level, you ought to be confident regardless of your success.”

Parker was selected in the 43rd round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins as a right-handed pitcher at Wayne.

He had been an IHSAA Class 3A all-stater, hitting .498 with six home runs and 22 stolen bases as a Wayne senior, but opted to go to college.

Playing at Wright State for Raiders head coach Rob Cooper, Parker was a two-time all-Horizon League honoree (2007 at designated hitter, 2008 at shortstop) and was drafted again in 2008 in the sixth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks as a shortstop.

Parker played at Yakima, Wash., in 2008. He logged 91 games for the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks in 2009 and was with the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2010 and Minnesota Twins system in 2011.

When his playing career was complete, he went back to Wright State to finish his Organizational Leadership degree and was offered a spot on the coaching staff. He worked with head coaches Cooper then Greg Lovelady. Parker followed Lovelady to Central Florida.

“(Lovelady) is one of the most down-to-earth, easy-to-play-for players’ coaches,” says Parker. “Guys just feel comfortable playing for him.

“Baseball is a hard game to play. Sometimes — as coaches — we can forget that. We (as coaches) haven’t played in a long time.

“Coach Lovelady was good at getting guys to play free and easy. There was no tension or pressure from the coaching staff.

“We have to be relatable. We have to be identifiable. We have to have patience. Those are all things I’ve taken from him.”

What are Parker’s strengths as a coach?

“Understanding the game,” says Parker. “I’ve seen it at a high level from both sides. I’m more patient as a pitching coach because I’ve been at a higher level as a position player. I think I can see things in pitchers from the eyes of a hitter.

“I’ll always tell guys the truth. I’ll always hold them accountable. I’m very detailed and very unassuming. I’m very thorough with an individualized program. Those things have helped the guys I’ve worked with have successful careers.”

Parker, 31, has coached 12 MLB draft selections, including five in the first 10 rounds. He sent nine arms to the pro ranks in just two seasons at UCF.

Justin and Angela Parker will celebrate four years of marriage in November.

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Justin Parker is the pitching coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)BLOOMINGTON, IN - 2018.08.23 - Headshot

New Indiana University pitching coach Justin Parker shows his players how to do things during a fall practice. (Indiana University Photo)

 

Individual development key as Mercer builds Indiana Hoosiers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer was once in their shoes.

That’s why he takes the approach he does as a head coach in college baseball.

Mercer, who was hired last summer to run the program at Indiana University, wants to give his players their best chance to showcase what they can do.

With that in mind, Mercer and his staff (Dan Held, Justin Parker, Casey Dykes, Scott Rolen and Denton Sagerman) design their fall practice schedule with individual work first before intrasquad and exhibition games.

“Development has always been the core foundational piece of our coaching philosophy,” says Mercer, who came to the Hoosiers after successful two-season run as head coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. “You really need to take the time to coach the players. We want to make sure we put guys in position to maximize their strengths.

“You only get to find those strengths through building the relationships and focusing on the individual development of the players.”

Rolen, director of player development, brings his expertise from 17 Major League Baseball seasons and helped the staff lay out the whole 12-week fall plan. Former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and manager Mike Matheny was consulted on coaching and catching. New York Yankees infield coordinator Miguel Cairo was asked for his guidance.

Talking with players, coaches get to see what the goals and the prism through which they view life and baseball.

“It helps a ton to know where they’re coming from when you’re trying to coach them,” says Mercer.

This is not a new concept with Mercer, who played NCAA Division I baseball at the University of Dayton and Wright State before beginning his coaching career.

“We’ve always done individuals first,” says Mercer, 33. “A lot of programs will do the team portion first. That’s their prerogative. I understand that.

“For us, if I look at it from a young man’s perspective. I want to come in and settle in. I want to get in the weight room, get my body right. I want to learn what your expectations of me are as a player.”

The athletes want to know what is expected of them from mechanical, workload and style/brand of baseball standpoints.

“All of those take a lot of time for a player to understand,” says Mercer. “The player will do whatever the expectation is. They always rise to the occasion.

“So if you take five or six weeks and you give them time and structure and coach them like crazy.”

“If I’m a young man, I want to be at my best when I’m competing and showcasing myself in the fall and earning an opportunity to play in the spring.”

By putting the individual work first in the fall, players can figure out where their classes is and make the necessary physical and mechanical adjustments.

Mercer says fear of failure is taken away through this approach.

“Fear of failure is what holds back the most successful people,” says Mercer. “If I remove the fear of failure, I can just go grow and compete.

“All the lessons we’ve been taught can be applied much more readily into the game.

“At the end of the day, these players have one career. It’s our job to help them maximize their opportunity to play this game.”

Mercer says that’s what he wants for his son if he grows up to play college baseball. Jeff and Stephanie Mercer welcome Grady into the world in June.

What brand of baseball will the Hoosiers play in 2019?

“This team is more offensive and can just flat drive the baseball as opposed to a small-ball style,” says Mercer. “Let’s not take a guy who may hit 15 home runs and try to convince him to bunt for 30 hits.

Let’s let him get into good counts. I want to run the bases, but let’s make sure when we have a guy at the plate who can drive the ball, we don’t take the bat out of his hands. We play in a more offensive ballpark (Bart Kaufman Field’s dimensions are 330 feet down the left field line, 400 to center and 340 to right).”

Based on the fall roster, some of the Hoosiers’ top returning hitters  are juniors Matt Gorski (.356 average, 8 home runs, 40 runs batted in for 2018) and Scotty Bradley (.326/7/19) and seniors Ryan Fineman (.309/7/37), Matt Lloyd (.275/9/41) and Logan Kaletha (.261/8/31).

Outfielder Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate) catcher Fineman (California) and outfielder Kaletha (Michigan City) swing from the right side while infielder/catcher Bradley (New Jersey) and utility player Lloyd (Alberta, Canada) are lefties.

There’s also might in the relief core and not just in the late innings.

“We’ve got more bullpen arms,” says Mercer. “We need to make sure we really use our bullpen to accentuate our starters.

“We have mid-relief guys who are good so let’s make sure we utilize that strength.”

With Mercer being new at IU, he came in with no preconceived ideas about players.

“I don’t know how successful or unsuccessful we were,” says Mercer. “I purposely did not look at any of the stats or video from last year.

“I came in with a blank slate for everybody.”

Mercer has never appointed captains, but lets leadership reveal itself.

“Those personalities step forward on their own and you try to empower them,” says Mercer.

When he transferred from the Dayton to Wright State as a player, the coaching staff did not tell him he could not be a leader because he was the new kid on the block.

“I was very empowered to lead early in my time at Wright State and I felt comfortable in that role,” says Mercer. “A big part of my success was me getting to be myself.

“I hope the guys here feel the freedom to be whoever they want to be now and moving forward.”

Mental skills was important at Wright State where Mercer brought in Diamyn Hall as the first full-time coach in D-I baseball devoted to that side of the game. At IU, mental skills are talked about on a regular basis and Mercer leads most of the discussions.

Mercer, a Franklin Community High School graduate, grew up around the Indiana program. His father, Jeff Mercer Sr., was an assistant for the Hoosiers in 1988 and 1989 and helped found the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.

Once the surreal idea of leading a team he cared so much about growing up wore off, Mercer began to focus on the day-to-day task.

“You have an ultimate responsibility to the young men and their families and the coaches that entrusted Indiana University to provide them a great experience,” says Mercer. “It’s an awesome responsibility, but it’s one we don’t ever take lightly.

“You can’t get caught being a fan. You’ve got go to work.”

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Jeff Mercer is the head baseball coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)

 

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New Indiana University head baseball coach Jeff Mercer has been spending the time to develop individuals this fall.  (Indiana University Photo)

 

Long-time coach Lehr prepares pitchers through Power Alley Baseball Academy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What Jay Lehr enjoys most about coaching baseball is passing along his wisdom to pitchers.

So the seasoned instructor has decided cease fielding travel teams — he ran the Aces Baseball Club out of Hamilton County Sports Complex in Noblesville, Ind., for six years —  to focus on pitching instruction.

The Carmel, Ind., resident and president of Power Alley Baseball Academy, teaches individuals and teams at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville and at Mooresville (Ind.) High School

Lehr calls himself a “mechanical nerd.”

Factoring in body type and age, gets pitchers to repeat their deliveries and throw strikes by starting at the feed and working their way up.

Concepts like ground force, lift (balance point), direction with the hip (center of gravity), hand separation, release point and finish are covered.

“The goal is to have pitchers become their own best coach so they can fix themselves,” says Lehr. “Pitching’s boring. You have to do the same thing over and over again.”

Unlike hitters, who can swing the bats hundreds of times a day, pitchers have to build muscle memory using dry runs and reps without delivering the ball.

“It’s like tee work for hitters,” says Lehr. “You’re no good to anybody if you can’t get anybody out.

“And you need to make reps count. There are only so many bullets. You want a career or a season?”

While the baseball world is obsessed with velocity, Lehr would rather see pitchers who can establish the fastball and locate it.

“Throw 83 (mph) with sink and cut,” says Lehr. “I enjoy that. Hopefully, that will come back.”

Lehr likes to challenge his pitchers to throw no more than three pitches per batter.

When working with a group, he likes to end a session with a competition.

Sometimes, they play H-O-R-S-E.

“The first pitcher throws a fastball on the inside corner,” says Lehr. “Everyone else has to do it or they’ve got an ‘H.’

“You want to try to hit a spot and have a purpose every time you throw a ball.”

At the younger ages, Lehr teaches a four-seam, two-seam and no-seam fastball.

Generally, the four-seamer has glove-side movement and is elevated for the batter to chase it.

The two-seamer produces arm-side action.

The no-seam goes down in the strike zone.

If they can command the fastball, Lehr will mix in change-up grips.

“It’s a fine line to when you start the breaking ball,” says Lehr. “I won’t teach it until they can command the fastball and the change-up.”

For all pitchers, the idea is to upset the hitter’s timing.

This can be done through perceived velocity.

By hiding the ball and releasing it late, pitchers can deceive the hitter.

“It’s all about late movement and command,” says Lehr. “And the most important (ball-strike) count is 1-1. Whoever wins the 1-1 battle is way ahead. You’ve got to trust that process (as a pitcher). Commit to a pitch and finish it.”

Lehr says players should be leery about lifting weights too young and should be getting advice from someone who is certified or holds a degree in strength training.

A 1986 Carmel High School graduate, Lehr played one season at Chiplola College in Marianna, Fla., and three at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. His head coaches with the Pumas were Dennis Seitz and Mike Moyzis.

He was coach at the beginning of the Indiana Bulls‘ run and was an instructor when Chris Estep founded Roundtripper Sports Academy in 1993.

Lehr was Carmel pitching coach for seven seasons. He was on Eric Lentz’s staff, served one season as interim head coach then was an assistant to Dan Roman.

Mitch Roman, Dan’s son and a Chicago White Sox minor leaguer, is also a Power Alley instructor as is former big league corner infielder and current Philadelphia Phillies fielding coordinator Chris Truby, former Carmel and Notre Dame player Kyle Fiala and former Triple-A outfielder John Tejeck.

Last spring, Lehr was pitching coach for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Rich Andriole at Guerin Catholic High School in Carmel.

Jay is married to Amy and his two stepchildren — Brandon Stevens and Megann Blea.

Stevens played for Andriole’s IHSAA state champions at Indianapolis Cathedral in 2007. The catcher/pitcher went on to Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and the University of Indianapolis and dabbled in independent professional baseball. He is married with a 1-year-old and works as a roofing salesman in Jasper, Ind.

Megann is married to U.S. Army captain/engineer Dustin Blea and resides in Missouri.

Big league right-handers and Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduates Lance Lynn and Drew Storen have been working on pitching with Lehr since they were in grade school.

Lynn, 31, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2011 and pitched for the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees in 2018.

Storen, 31, first appeared in an MLB game in 2010 and pitched for the 2017 Cincinnati Reds. The Carmel, Ind., resident missed the 2018 season after having Tommy John elbow surgery. The free agent is exploring his options for 2019.

“Lance has God-given ability,” says Lehr of Lynn. “He’s loose and has the same delivery he’s had since 12 years old. It’s clean and simple.”

A move from the first base side of the rubber closer to the middle helped Lynn excel in the second half in 2018.

Lehr plans to meet Lynn and his strength coach this winter in Nashville, Tenn.

“Drew is very meticulous,” says Lehr of Storen. “He was smaller when he was young so he had to learn how to get people out.

“He did not throw hard until his junior year of high school.

“Once strength caught up to him, the velocity came.”

By then, Storen already knew how to repeat his delivery.

“Drew has a knowledge of the kinetic chain and how it works,” says Lehr. “He has has proprioception (the sense that deals with sensations of body position, posture, balance and motion).

Lehr says Pete Page and Bobby Pierce are the men who taught him the love of the game.

The late Page coached at the Carmel Dads’ Club started a travel program that became the Carmel Pups.

Pierce was head coach at Chipola and retired from Troy (Ala.) University.

JAYLEHR

Jay Lehr is the president of Power Alley Baseball Academy and lead pitching instructor. He conducts individual and team lessons at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind., and at Mooresville (Ind.) High School. He has been working with big league pitchers Lance Lynn and Drew Storen since they were kids.

Building a winning culture a priority for Ambrose, Heritage Christian Eagles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In more than two decades guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Ambrose has learned that the X’s and O’s are important.

But in the last decade of so, Ambrose has begun to place his emphasis on building and maintaining a winning culture. He wants opponents to notice the way his Eagles go about warming up, how they hustle on and off the field and how they treat each other.

“That’s a big part of my coaching now,” says Ambrose. “I want to have a culture that is strong and healthy.”

The 2019 season will mark Ambrose’s 23rd at Heritage Christian School on the northeast side Indianapolis. He spent his first two seasons as junior varsity coach. Before that, the Cleveland, Ohio, native spent three seasons at Heritage Christian in Milwaukee.

Ambrose’s Indy-based program has won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) while always being competitive in the Circle City Conference (which along includes 3A Brebeuf Jesuit, 2A Covenant Christian, 3A Guerin Catholic, 3A Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and 4A Roncalli).

Heritage Christian (a pre-kindergarten through senior school with a current enrollment about 460 in the top four grades) has appeared in the last three city championship games against Indianapolis Cathedral, winning once.

Ambrose, who also teaches social studies at the high school level, has used different key words over the years and currently centers his team philosophy around the acronym E-A-G-L-E-S.

E — Each other.

A — Attitude.

G — God first.

L — Little things are Big things.

E — Effort.

S — Service to others.

The idea is to be both competitive between the while lines while still embracing and displaying Christian values.

“If you don’t care about winning, it’s easy,” says Ambrose. “But can i hold onto to my Christian character traits in the midst of an intense competitive situation?”

Ambrose had this in twins David and Ryan Ledbetter, who helped Heritage Christian to a football state title in the fall of 2008 and baseball state championships in the spring of 2009 and 2010.

First acquainted with the Lebetter boys as junior high youth group members at church, Ambrose later got to coach them when they transferred from Hamilton Southeastern to Heritage Christian after their sophomore year.

The Eagles go on a Dominican Republic mission trip every other year and the Ledbetters went that first year and bonded with their new teammates.

“We were a good team without them,” says Ambrose. “We were a great team with them.

“They were the icing on the cake.”

Both twins went to Cedarville (Ohio) University — Ambrose’s alma mater — and then pitched in the Texas Rangers organization. Ryan pitched through 2016, David through 2018.

“They were high energy, which can drive a coach crazy,” says Ambrose of the Ledbetter twins. “But I’d much rather pull back on a thoroughbred than kick a mule.

“They added that winning edge. Their teammates loved them.”

Team building is also done through a World Series party (scheduled for Friday, Oct. 26) and a leadership retreat for juniors and seniors and other events.

Looking ahead to the 2019 season, Ambrose sees a young team with plenty of freshmen and sophomores in the mix. The Eagles will field two high school teams — varsity and junior varsity.

With Rob Barber going to part-time status, he is looking for another top varsity assistant to pair with Nick Hibner, who is also head JV coach. Gary Vaughan is a JV assistant. Bryan Baker heads up the middle school program (Grades 7-8) with help from Jonathan Baker and Travis Willman.

Ambrose does have a veteran returning in Cooper Williams. The senior right-hander has already verbally committed to Xavier University in Cincinnati.

In order to get him used to being a college closer, Ambrose is thinking of using Williams in short starting stints of about 35 to 50 pitches, where he can use all his arsenal in the first inning if he so chooses.

Circle City Conference games are played at Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series. CCC coaches have been talking about adding an end-of-season conference tournament.

With the help of director of athletics Michelle York, Ambrose builds a non-conference schedule that includes as many sectional opponents as possible (HC is grouped with Eastern Hancock, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Irvington Prep Academy, Knightstown and Triton Central) plus neighboring rival Park Tudor as well as Faith Christian, Liberty Christian and Traders Point Christian.

Dan Ambrose graduated from Parma (Ohio) Senior High School in 1989, where he played for varsity coach Conrad Pokorski and JV coach Tim Tomc (who later took over the Redmen varsity).

Ambrose credits Tomc for teaching him the importance of an organized, focused practice.

“Baseball wasn’t just taking BP while people stood in the outfield,” says Ambrose. “(Tomc) was very structured.”

A full-squad Heritage Christian practice usually features multiple stations with players doing something different at each one.

“Every minute, every kid is doing something,” says Ambrose. “(Baseball coaches) gained a lot from football coaches. With so many kids in football, you have to be organized.”

During the fall, Ambrose had about eight or 10 players two hours two days a week to get in individual skill work while others were occupied with a fall sport. The same will be true in the winter, when the IHSAA practice window re-opens the first week of December.

“I encourage guys to play another sport,” says Ambrose.

Heritage Christian plays its game on-campus. A few years ago, a clubhouse was built near the baseball field and the net backstop — higher than the previous fence — was added last year.

“We lose a lot of foul balls in the neighborhood,” says Ambrose, who raises money for the upgrades through donations, the sale of hats and the Heritage Christian Youth Baseball League.

Started about a dozen years ago, the league for pre-K through fourth grade meets twice a week in the summer on the HC softball field. It is coach-pitch and score is not kept.

“My main goal is to allow kids to get a taste of baseball and realize how fun it can be,” says Ambrose. “If I’ve them them well and they keep playing, I hope they’ll come back to me in the seventh grade.”

Most seasons, the majority of Heritage Christian’s high school players take part in summer travel baseball.

“There’s a big difference when a kid plays the game all summer long,” says Ambrose. “His instincts are better.”

Dan and Amy Ambrose (a Brownsburg, Ind., native who went to Bethesda Christian) have three baseball-playing sons.

Jadon Ambrose is a freshman at Cedarville. Seth Ambrose is a 6-foot-6 sophomore first baseman. Will Ambrose is in the sixth grade.

Coaching for USAthletic (a travel organization started by Barber), Ambrose began coaching Jadon in the summers when he was in junior high and plans to do the same with Will’s 12U team next summer.

Ambrose’s rule of thumb with travel ball is one out-of-town tournament per season.

Heritage Christian graduate Joey Butz is also joined the college baseball world with Huntington (Ind.) University.

DANAMBROSE

Dan Ambrose is the head baseball coach at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis. His Eagles have won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) during his tenure. (Heritage Christian School Photo)

 

Manes wants Warsaw Tigers to play with sense of urgency

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Manes says he wants his Warsaw (Ind.) Community High School baseball team to “play with a purpose.”

That’s what Manes says after being hired as the program’s head coach. He spent the past four seasons as a volunteer varsity assistant.

“We want to play with effort and sense of urgency,” says Manes. “We can’t be afraid to fail.”

While Drake Graham and Liam Patton are expected to return and make college baseball commitment, Manes also looks for underclassmen to fight for some playing sports in the spring.

“I don’t care if you’re a ninth grader. I don’t care if you’re a senior,” says Manes. “If you can play, you can play. I want the best.

“There’s no reason Warsaw — year in and year out — can’t be a program others look up to.”

Being with the team that past four years, Manes comes in with a sense of familiarity.

“In know all the guys,” says Manes. “We’ve definitely laid a foundation.”

Looking to build a relationship with younger baseball players in the community, Manes has made it a point to be visible at Warsaw Little League’s fall session.

“We want to a strong relationship,” says Manes of the league that plays near Boggs Industrial Park. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much your care. We want to be visible.

“We want to teach them how we do it at the high school level.”

This past summer, the Little League had Junior League for ages 13 and 14, but lacked enough 15- and 16-year-olds for a Senior League.

Manes says if he can instill the “Tiger Way” to players before they get to high school, he will not have to spend as much time re-teaching them certain things.

His opportunity to join the high school staff came from Mike Hepler and Manes is grateful.

Hepler coached the Tigers the past 13 seasons, for bringing him on to his staff. The two knew each other from playing adult baseball together years ago with the Warsaw Indians.

Warsaw belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Wawasee).

The NLC plays 14 double round-robin games to establish its champion.

Warsaw, coming off a 2018 season in which it was 7-17 overall and 3-11 in the conference, is in a seven-team 4A sectional grouping with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge and Penn. The Tigers last won sectional titles in 2006 and 2010.

Warsaw expects to play non-conference contests against Columbia City, Elkhart Central, Fort Wayne Carroll, Huntington North, Kokomo, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Riley and Tippecanoe Valley.

Three players from the Warsaw Class of 2018 — Jared Hawley, Mike Nunez and Matt Shapiro — planned to play college baseball.

A new sprinkler system went in this fall at Tiger Field. On the wish list is lights.

“We’re the only athletic facility on-campus without lights,” says Manes. “It prevents us from hosting sectional. But I know you can’t have everything at once.”

Manes works as a financial advisor at 1st Source Bank in Warsaw.

His Tigers assistants are John Edwards and Adam Augustine with the varsity as well as Eric Lane and Aaron Christenberry with the junior varsity.

Augustine played at Warsaw and was an NCAA Division III All-American at Manchester University in 2005. Christenberrry played at WCHS and Grace College in Winona Lake, which is adjacent to Warsaw.

Manes (pronounced MAN-us) played for four seasons (1997-2000) at Grace College. As a catcher, first baseman and designated hitter, he made his way onto Lancers Top 10 lists for career hits (140), career runs batted in (110), career doubles (30), career home runs (11), single-season runs (33 in 1999), single-season RBIs (38 in 1998) and single-season doubles (11 in 1999).

After his college playing days, 2000 Grace graduate Manes turned down an offer to try out with the independent Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs.

Glenn Johnson, who was then the Grace head coach, drove 10 hours to recruit Manes out of Lincoln. He convinced the 1996 Lincoln Christian High School graduate to come to northern Indiana.

A small school, Lincoln Christian plays American Legion baseball in the summer. Manes played Legion ball from his eighth grade through senior years and was a part of district championship teams each year and two state runner-up finishes. Andy’s father, Mike Manes, was his head coach.

Andy is the oldest of Mike and Connie Manes’ four children. All of them went to Lincoln Christian and then to college athletics.

Second son Tony Manes played baseball at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and is now a chiropractor.

Daughter Michelle Manes played volleyball at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark.

Third son Aaron played baseball at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill. By this time, Mike Manes had become head coach of the Trojans. Since the 2008 season, he has been leading the baseball program at Cedarville (Ohio) University.

Andy and wife Jennifer Manes celebrated two years of marriage in 2018. Their large blended family includes Jacob Rios (Trinity International freshman football player), Braden Rios (Lakeview Middle School eighth grader), Michael Manes (Lincoln Elementary sixth grader), Sophia Rios (Jefferson Elementary third grader) and Luca Manes (Washington Elementary third grader).

ANDYMANES

After four years as a volunteer varsity assistant, Andy Manes is now head baseball coach at Warsaw (Ind.) Community High School. He played at Grace College in nearby Winona Lake, Ind. (Warsaw Community High School Photo)