Indiana State lefty Polley stays calm, keeps coming at hitters

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Triston Polley is the first weekend starting pitcher for the Indiana State University baseball team.

The senior left-hander knows what it means to face pressure situations and to perform in hostile environments when the Sycamores  go on the road.

At 22 and with 210 collegiate innings logged, Polley does his best to be the calm in the storm. Like the eye in the hurricane.

“We’ve played in some of the biggest ballparks in the country in my time here,” says Polley. “It’s the same everywhere you go.”

Polley, a 2015 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, was in one of those stressful situations in his last start Friday, May 3 at Illinois State.

“It was one of his best outings in terms of competing and giving us a chance to win the game,” says Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs. “I was really impressed with what he did (in the game) with the composure and from a competing standpoint.”

The host Redbirds collected 12 hits against Polley, but he battled for six innings and gave up just three runs in a no-decision.

“There’s always going to be games that don’t go your way,” says Polley. “You have to be able to keep a calm mindset and stay aggressive throughout it all and not fold, which is what the other team wants.”

Polley says it would be easy to get rattled pitching in front of a loud crowd and opposing dugout.

“It almost feels like things can speed up on you,” says Polley. “There was one point in the game (at Illinois State), where I just had to take a step off of the mound, re-group, try to figure out what I was and go at the other team again.”

As Polley and Indiana State (34-11, 11-4) enter a Friday-Saturday-Sunday Missouri Valley Conference series at Dallas Baptist, he is 6-0 with a 2.23 earned run average in 12 starts and 80 2/3 innings. He has struck out 65 batters and walked 33. Opponents are hitting .203 against the southpaw.

The 6-foot, 190-pound Polley competes using a sinking fastball, cutter/slider, change-up and big breaking ball.

He credits Hannahs and pitching coach Jordan Tiegs for helping him to develop an aggressive mindset on the mound and to hit his spots.

During winter breaks, Polley has worked with Greg Vogt (founder and operator of PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind.) on things like pitch design.

“He’s a really good dude and nice resource that I have,” says Polley of Vogt. “I can pick his brain. He’s a very knowledgable guy.”

Polley has also spent much time on his own doing research online to find the philosophies and routine that works best for him.

“I stick with ti and got about it everyday,” says Polley.

Growing up in Avon, Ind., Polley took the mound in high school as a strong-armed lefty. He later learned the craft of pitching.

Polley credits the Indiana Bulls travel organization for giving him a chance to play NCAA Division I baseball at Indiana State.

He says he’s come a long way since arriving in Terre Haute.

“A lot of it has to do with mentally (maturing),” says Polley. “I was an off-the-wall freshman.

“Once I got here, I knew if I took a step mentally, because I knew I had the physical ability that everything was going to play up.”

For his ISU career to date, Polley is 16-4 in 57 mound appearances (30 as a starter) with a 3.51 ERA, 167 strikeouts and 98 walks.

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Triston Polley is a senior starting pitcher for Indiana State University. In 12 starts, he is 6-0 for a team that is 34-11 heading into a weekend series at Dallas Baptist. (Indiana State University Photo)

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Triston Polley has been aggressive and calm at the same time at the front of the Indiana State University baseball team’s pitching rotation. The ISU senior is a graduate of Brownsburg (Ind.) High School. (Indiana State University Photo)

 

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Senior Dungan catalyst for Indiana State baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Clay Dungan has been a constant for the Indiana State University baseball team the past four seasons.

Heading into the Sycamores’ Friday-Saturday-Sunday Missouri Valley Conference series at Dallas Baptist, the senior has played in 200 career games, including 191 as a starter.

Playing shortstop and batting lead-off in 2019, Dungan is hitting .295, seven home runs, eight doubles, two triples, 27 runs batted in, 40 runs scored, .402 on-base percentage and is 6-of-6 in stolen base attempts.

“He’s just kind of been our catalyst,” says ISU head coach Mitch Hannahs. “He’s kind of the straw that stirs the drink for us.

“He’s just a very level-headed, consistent player that’s been good for us for four years. When he’s swinging it well and playing well, our club follows.”

Hannahs and hitting coach Brian Smiley have been working with the lefty-swinging Dungan about taking the ball to the opposite field, but they have also witnessed pull-side power from the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder.

“For the most part, he’s looking for a pitch he can drive early in the count and driving to move the baseball,” says Hannahs.

What does the 22-year old see as his part for the Trees?

“My role on this team is to be a leader,” says Dungan, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. “I’m a guy who’s been here for a long time. I set the table for everybody at the beginning of the order and play good defense out there for my pitchers.”

Dungan has continued working in the field. The 2018 season was the first time in college he played shortstop, making the move over from second base.

At the plate, Dungan was usually in the third or fourth slot in the batting order before being asked to replace departing players at the top.

Dungan appreciates Hannahs’ approach to leading Indiana State (34-11, 11-4).

“He’s straight forward,” says Dungan of Hannahs. “He expects a lot out of you and pushes you.

“That’s what I like in a coach.”

Last summer, Dungan played 41 games and hit .354 with two homers, 10 doubles, two triples and 34 RBIs for the Savannah (Ga.) Bananas of the summer collegiate Coastal Plain League.

Dungan played at Yorktown for head coach Mike Larrabee.

“He was just a great guy and a great role model to play for,” says Dungan of Larrabee. “He always preached playing the game the right way and that stuck with me.”

As a Yorktown Tiger, Dungan earned four letters in baseball and two in football. He batted .488 with two bikers, nine doubles. five triples and 38 RBIs and was an all-state honoree and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Series as a senior in 2015. He was named series MVP.

Dungan, who turns 23 on June 2, is majoring in physical education. The son of Tony and Carolyn Dungan needs to do his student teaching next year to finish his ISU degree.

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Senior Clay Dungan is the starting shortstop for the Indiana State University baseball team. The Sycamores are 34-11 overall and 11-4 in the Missouri Valley Conference. (Indiana State University Photo)

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As the lead-off hitter, lefty-swinging senior Clay Dungan is a catalyst for the Indiana State University baseball team in 2019. (Indiana State University Photo)

 

Spiceland, Sycamores form special bond

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dan Spiceland started out as the man that got Indiana State University’s baseball team to and from its games.

But he soon became much more and in a decade of transporting the Sycamores the man they call “Dan-O” has made many meaningful relationships while having a lot of fun.

“He’s the grandpa of this team,” says Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs of Spiceland. “He’s just a great person with a great outlook on life. That’s why it’s great to have him around.

“He picks these guys up on the bad days and it’s really nice to see. Every team should have a grandfather in the dugout. He talks to these guys about life and a lot of things around this game. He’s invaluable to our club.”

At 52, Spiceland retired after 35 years from Ford Motor Company, where he was in plan engineering and a millwright by trade. He went to Ford a week after graduating from Taylor (Mich.) High School and received further education at Henry Ford Community College (where he also played baseball) and Northwood University with the help of his employer.

“Ford was very good to me and my family,” says Spiceland. “I really never thought I would work again.”

Spiceland and wife, Liz, live near Poland, Ind., and worship at the North Meridian Street Church of Christ in Brazil, Ind. The couple moved from Indianapolis and became a regular with the congregation in 2003.

Dan is one of the elders at North Meridian and was told by one of the members and Terre Haute-based Turner Motor Coaches driver, Robert Hostetler, that the company was in need of drivers.

“Robert was always putting a bug in my ear,” says Spiceland of Hostetler. “I told him out of friendship with you I’ll go down and take a look at it.”

Spiceland had never driven a bus in his life, but showed an aptitude for its right away and was hired.

He began by taking some tour groups on shorter trips.

In 2010, the ISU baseball team was getting ready to go on its first excursion of the season from Terre Haute to Shreveport, La.

The law allows motor coach drivers to be behind the wheel for 10 hours a day and then shut down for eight. This sometimes necessitates a relay system with one driver taking over for the other at a given point along the route.

Two days before the trip, the driver that was going to take the team from Sikeston, Mo., to Shreveport for four days asked to trade places with Spiceland, who was going to drive the first leg from Terre Haute and hand off the team in Missouri.

“I drove them down to Shreveport and we had a great series,” says Spiceland. “We won all the games there against Texas Southern.”

On the way back to the relay point, then-Sycamores head coach Rick Heller made it known how much he appreciated Spiceland. The coach told the driver he wanted him to be the team’s full-time transporter, always taking them on the long end of trips if a relay was involved.

Heller contacted Turner and Spiceland took on the ISU baseball team as part of his driving duties, which now also includes the Indiana State women’s soccer team in the fall and tours of all kinds.

“I’m a people person,” says Spiceland. “I like to meet people. I like to reach out to them any way that I can.

“I’ve made a lot of friends driving this motor coach. I can’t say enough about how much fun it is.”

Getting to drive for and developing a bond with the baseball team came as a a twist of fate when the other driver wanted to swap.

Spiceland drove for Heller for four years. When Heller left to become head coach at the University of Iowa, Hannahs took over the reins of the Sycamores.

“Mitch and myself, we have a great relationship,” says Spiceland. “About four years ago, Mitch took me aside and said, ‘I want to talk to you. You have such a great rapport with the team. You would be much more valuable to me to be in the dugout than to be up in the stands cheering.’”

Donning a uniform and cap, Spiceland spends games in the ISU dugout.

“That makes me feel like a kid again,” says Spiceland. “I’m in the dugout and like a spark plug.”

If a player has a bad at-bat or shaky inning on the mound, Spiceland will approach them and offer words of encouragement.

“I go over to him and it’s authentic — it’s not fake — but I’ll stroke their ego,” says Spiceland. “I try to build up their self-esteem.

“I think of them as my sons.”

Dan and Liz have two biological sons — Dan (43) in Huntsville, Ala., and Frank (40) in Findlay, Ohio, and six grandchildren.

“I’ve been through this before when my sons were this age,” says Spiceland. “There’s peer pressure. These guys have challenges in their lives.

“It’s a relationship that pulls at my heart strings. In four years, I was able to have a small smidgeon in their lives.

“More than a driver, I try to mentor these guys.”

With the baseball team alone, Spiceland averages about 7,000 miles a year.

Dan-O and the team spend a great deal of time together between the bus, baseball stadiums, hotels and restaurants. Many times, players invite him to breakfast to discuss some matters.

“I always accommodate them,” says Spiceland. “We talk about a lot of things. They can bounce things off of me. They know it’s not going to go any farther.

“We really love each other. We can communicate with each other. We just bond with each other.”

When the schedule allows, Spiceland finds a church on the road and players have been known to come along.

“it’s an opportunity for me to share my faith with people,” says Spiceland. “That’s an important thing.”

Earlier this season, Spiceland took the team to the University of Michigan, an experienced he thoroughly enjoyed with his Wolverine State roots.

Indiana State (34-11) is coming off a three-game Missouri Valley Conference series against Illinois State in Normal, Ill. Dan-O and Liz celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary Saturday, May 4, and the Sycamores won Saturday and Sunday to takes 2-of-3 from the Redbirds.

The next trip is this Friday through Sunday at Dallas Baptist. Since it will be Finals Week, players can’t leave campus until Thursday. The plan calls for the team to fly down that night with Spiceland leaving Wednesday and meeting the team in Texas.

After a home series May 16-18, Indiana State goes back to Normal for the MVC Tournament, which is slated for May 21-25.

NCAA Regionals are May 31-June 3 at campus sites with Super Regionals June 7-10 at campus sites and the College World Series June 15-29 in Omaha, Neb.

Whenever the last trip of the season comes for Spiceland and the Sycamores, he will stand at the front of the bus and tell them the same thing he tells each team.

“Guys, this is the last ride,” says Spiceland. “We will never ever be together again as this group of men.”

As the senior disembark in Terre Haute, the seniors have real tears in their eyes and they give Spiceland a hug.

“They say, Dan-O, we may never see you again,” says Spiceland. “But you’ve been like a dad or like a grandpa to us and we’ll never forget that.”

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Indiana State University baseball head coach says of team bus driver and mentor, Dan Spiceland: “Every team should have a grandfather in the dugout.” (Indiana State University Photo)

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Dan Spiceland aka “Dan-O” has been a bus driver and mentor for the Indiana State University baseball team since 2010. He is employed by Terre Haute-based Turner Motor Coaches. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Penn graduate Kavadas carries booming bat for Notre Dame

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Niko Kavadas likes to make noise.

The University of Notre Dame sophomore does it with his baseball bat.

“I’m just trying to make loud contact,” says Kavadas, a 6-foot, 240-pound lefty swinger with a .262 average, 10 home runs, 11 doubles, 35 runs batted in and .869 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) so far in 2019 with the Fighting Irish. “I’m just trying to hit the ball hard. I’m trying to hit the ball 100 mph.”

What are the origins of his power?

“It’s always been there, but I didn’t know how to access it,” says Kavadas. “All through high school, I would show some glimpses of power. But, for the most part, I was just gap-to-gap guy.”

After he produced plenty of run-producing gappers at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., that trend continued into his freshman season at Notre Dame.

Then something clicked.

“All of a sudden I just found something in my swing,” says Kavadas, who hit .299 with five homers, five doubles and 20 RBIs in 2018. “The kinetic chain was in sequence and, all of a sudden, the ball started to fly.”

Add muscle and that helps even more.

“Our strength and conditioning programs here are incredible,” says Kavadas. “Coach Kyle (Jean) does an awesome job of getting us ready to play and take our game to the next level.”

In baseball, it’s not always about maxing out and bench pressing 300 pounds.

“We’re trying to stabilize our cores and promoting good, overall health so those fly balls to the warning track found their way over the fence,” says Kavadas.

At ND, Kavadas works on his hitting with both head coach Mik Aoki and assistant Adam Pavkovich.

When he’s going well, Kavadas is typically on his own. But when he struggles and needs to a tweak, he goes to the coaches and taps into their wealth of knowledge.

“Any time I really struggle I go to my dad,” says Niko of Jim Kavadas. “When I was in high school, I went to an instructor up in Sturgis (Mich.) named Mike Marks and he really helped me. My dad went to every single lesson (at Hitters Edge) with me and absorbed all that information. Any time I struggle, he can see something Mike would have said. It’s just like having Mike there.”

On defense, Kavadas has been primarily a third baseman this season. Last summer with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers of the Northwoods League, he played at first base.

“I’m really comfortable over there as well,” says Kavadas, who has committed to play this summer at first base for the Harwich Mariners of the elite Cap Cod Baseball League.

Kavadas saw that the summer collegiate routine is different from the spring season where he typically plays four games a week (mid-week game and three-game weekend series) with practices plus at least three workouts and, of course, classes and study time (he is enrolled in ND’s Mendoza School of Business).

There are many built-in obligations during the school season and players are on their own during the summer collegiate season.

“It’s a lot of baseball,” says Kavadas of the summer. “We play 70-something games in 70-something days. “You have to be able to manage your time, take care of your body and prepare for each game.

“That was a new experience for me, but I think I came out a lot better.”

Kavadas played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos and his longtime assistant Jim Kominkiewicz at Penn.

“Me and my brother (C.J.) both have had an incredible experience playing at Penn,” says Kavadas. “We’ve had so much fun with our best friends.”

The Kingsmen won an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in Niko’s sophomore year (2015), lost to the semistate his junior year (2016) and finished as state runners-up his senior year (2017).

Kavadas was a an all-state honoree as a junior. He played for Lids Team Indiana during the summers and the San Francisco Giants scout team in the fall.

He started playing organized baseball at Harris Baseball/Softball in Granger, Ind., until 7. Then some fathers, including his own, started a travel team called the Granger Cubs that played 60 games a summer. One of his teammates was Matt Kominkiewicz.

Jim and Robin Kavadas have four children — Abigail, Niko, C.J. and Tess. C.J. Kavadas is a junior on the Penn High School team.

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Niko Kavadas (12) is a sophomore on the Notre Dame baseball team. He is a power-hitting corner infielder. (Notre Dame Photo)

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Niko Kavadas eyes a pitch as a power hitter for the University of the Notre Dame baseball team. The sophomore is a graduate of nearby Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind. (Notre Dame Photo)

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Niko Kavadas gets set at third base during a 2019 baseball game for the University of Notre Dame. He has mostly at the hot corner for the Fighting Irish. He anticipates he will be at first base this summer with the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod Baseball League. (Notre Dame Photo)

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When Niko Kavadas found something in his swing midway through his freshmen season at the University of Notre Dame, his power increased. The sophomore currently has 10 home runs, 11 doubles and 35 runs batted in for the 2019 Fighting Irish. (Notre Dame Photo)

 

Hardy The Hat Guy out to collect a baseball cap from every current IHSAA school

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A story for every cap.

Dan Hill is taking his love of baseball and fondness for collecting hats and turning it into a quest to gather an official lid for every Indiana High School Athletic Association-sanctioned program.

That’s more than 400 teams.

Along the way, he is enjoying meeting coaches, athletic directors and fans and hearing their stories.

Hill’s hobby has him traveling around the state on his free time to gather caps and stories.

“I get to see every side of the spectrum,” says Hill, who has been to schools with the best of everything and enough players to fill three full squads to those getting by with little and having around a dozen in the program.

Facebook and Twitter pages — Hardy The Hat Guy — are dedicated to the project. Hardy is his middle name and a family moniker that goes back several generations.

“I’m a guy who loves baseball and has a chronic hat habit,” says Hill.

He is not looking for a hand-out. Hill appreciates donations, but he is willing to pay for every cap.

The first hat came courtesy of Dave Clark, a disabled Vietnam War veteran from Rochester.

When Hill offered to pay for the cap, Clark’s reply was “Do two good deeds for somebody and we’re square.”

Coaches in northwest Indiana, including Jim Tucker at Kouts and Brian Jennings at Griffith, are helping by getting hats from their opponents.

“Coaches in the Region reaching out to me is really cool,” says Hill.

With help in gathering the head covers, Hill says he might be able to get all the caps and display them at the 2019 IHSAA State Finals June 17-18 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

At last count, he had 72 IHSAA caps. He hopes that number will swell this week with a trip to gather hats in the Region.

Hill grew up in Clinton, Ind., and played baseball for head coach Tim Terry at South Vermillion High School, graduating in 1992. He now calls Brownsburg, Ind., home.

His day job takes him to Monument Circle in Indianapolis as a computer systems administrator.

The hat that started it all was from his youth league days playing for a team called Push.

That team also sported red jackets and was a salute to Old Push, a “local nine” from the earlier part of the 20th Century.

Even as a kid, Hill enjoyed that tie to history.

“I always joke I was born in the wrong generation,” says Hill.

Ever the optimist, Hill carries a little yellow calling card.

On one side it says “I’m not selling anything, but I’ll buy your hat” with his contact information.

On the flag side is a message he shared while coaching youngsters:

THERE IS ALWAYS THE NEXT PITCH

#FORWARD

Phillipians 3:14

That Bible passage says: I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

“Everything is forward,” says Hill. “The only thing that matters is what is next.”

So what’s next?

After Hill finishes his current IHSAA collection — whenever that happens — he is considering going after hats of former Indiana high schools.

Anybody seen a cap for the Montezuma Aztecs or Rosedale Hots Hots? Here’s a hint: They both were consolidated into Riverton Parke. Montezuma’s school colors are purple and gray and Rosedale black and gold.

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Dan Hill aka “Hardy The Hat Guy” is on a quest to collect every IHSAA baseball school’s cap. That’s more than 400. He is well on his way. (Hardy The Hat Guy Photos)

 

 

Feyerabend giving back with Franklin Community Grizzly Cubs

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Feyerabend appreciates what his community and a game have done for him.

That’s why he’s decided to give back by becoming the head baseball coach at his alma mater.

Feyerabend is a 1996 graduate of Franklin (Ind.) Community High School. He is now in his sixth season of leading the Grizzly Cubs program after three years as an assistant.

“I do it because I owe a lot of people,” says Feyerabend. “A lot of people helped me a long the way.”

Feyerabend played for two head coaches at FCHS — Noel Heminger and Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of Indiana University head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.).

Heminger retired and turned the program over to Mercer for Feyerabend’s senior year. He was the head coach when he extended an invitation to coach to Feyerabend, who stayed for two seasons helping Paul Strack before taking over the reins.

From Heminger and the elder Mercer, Feyerabend learned the importance of team.

“We did not worry about the opponent,” says Feyerabend. “Worry about Franklin Community and doing your job. What is your piece in this puzzle?

“The class ahead of me was loaded with talent (including future minor leaguers Randy Phillips and Brian McMillin). I knew I could be a small piece on a great team. If I worked harder, I could be a bigger piece on a great team.”

The Grizzly Cubs advanced to the Richmond Semistate in 1995, bowing to the host Red Devils 7-3 in nine innings in the semifinals.

Feyerabend recalls that when Mercer made out his lineup card, he asked himself, “Does this make Franklin Community High School better?.”

It’s that approach that has simplified things for Feyerabend as a coach.

Not that the job doesn’t keep he and his assistant coaches busy. There is batting practice to throw to 40 players and fungos to hit and so many other details.

Feyerabend has learned that being a sale engineer, spending several hours a week on baseball and raising a family is demanding.

“But it’s all worth it,” says Feyerabend, who lives in Franklin with fiancee Brooke, Lyric (10), Zain (3) and Preston (14 months).

“There’s so much to do,” says Feyerabend. “You have to be there of the love of the game.”

His 2019 coaching staff features Dustin Peddycord, Travis Miles, Dalton Carter (pitching coach), Tyler Urban (Feyerabend’s nephew) and Chad Brown at the varsity level with Dylan Drybread and Dane Johnston leading the junior varsity. All but Carter and Brown are Franklin Community alums.

Feyerabend wants his players to know there is system to follow and it will only work if they commit.

“We’re not working toward a participation certificate,” says Feyerabend. “To make those lifelong memories, you have to buy in. Everybody has a job to do.

“In the winter time, we focus on our swings if we’re not playing basketball. We work on strength and conditioning. We can’t skip steps in the process.

“There’s a process to everything we do. I’m trying to build a monster here. We’re going to do the best job we can do.”

Feyerabend took hitting lessons from Jeff Mercer Sr., even before playing for him and is close with the whole Mercer family, which was honored in April when the Franklin Community diamond was dedicated as Mercer Field.

Mercer Sr., is retiring this year as a business administrator at Franklin. Feyerabend and he talk frequently about baseball or life.

Mercer Field is an on-campus facility is in its 13th year like the rest of the school, which is on the north side of town. With its location, wind and wind chill is always a factor at the diamond in the spring.

“I tell the players it might be OK in the parking lot,” says Feyerabend. “But when they get up to the field they’re going to need sleeves.”

Feyerabend played with the Indiana Bulls in the fledgling years of that elite travel baseball organization in the early 1990’s. His head coach for three summers was Craig Moore.

“He was one of the most intense human beings I’ve ever been around,” says Feyerabend of Moore. “He cared about us. But there was no gray area for him. We performed or we got replaced.”

When Moore told a 15-year-old Feyerabend that he needed to work on his conditioning, he took it to heart and improved in that area.

“Coaches like that, their wisdom is so appreciated,” says Feyerabend. “Kids today don’t work on their deficiencies. My body had to get fixed or I wasn’t going to have an opportunity.”

With the Bulls, Feyerabend was a teammate of top-flight players like A.J. Zapp and Eric Bruntlett.

Corner infielder Feyerabend went on to Indiana State University, where Hall of Famer Bob Warn was head coach and Mitch Hannahs (now the Sycamores head coach) was an assistant.

“(Hannahs) is one of the best baseball minds in the country,” says Feyerabend, who recently got to take his team to ISU’s Bob Warn Field to play Bloomington South thanks to Hannahs and West Vigo coach Culley DeGroote.

Feyerabend is grateful to Mercer Sr., for bringing him back to the game after being away about a decade after college.

“The other reason I do this is that we have great, great kids and human beings in Franklin,” says Feyerabend. “Without that, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

“We’re not winning state championships yet, but we have state-champion character guys.

“We’ve been really, really competitive.”

Franklin Community (enrollment of about 1,570) is part of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Perry Meridian, Plainfield and Whiteland Community).

“It’s super competitive,” says Feyerabend of the MSC. “They’re a lot of good coaches. You know you’re in for it every night.”

A tough non-conference schedule includes Bloomington South, Center Grove, Columbus East, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Cathedral, Roncalli, Silver Creek, Southport and West Vigo.

“We can’t measure the kind of team we are if we don’t play the meanest and nastiest,” says Feyerabend. “We’re going up against the best we can put on the schedule.

“We have to ask ourselves, ‘are we playing are best baseball when we walk into that sectional?’”

The Grizzly Cubs are in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Center Grove, Franklin Central, Greenwood Community, Martinsville and Whiteland Community. Franklin Community has won five sectionals — the last in 2013. The was the same year the school won conference and Johnson County titles.

Three recent Franklin Community graduates are college baseball rosters — Evan Giles (Indiana State), Alec MacLennan (Judson University) and Jacob Heuchan (Franklin College).

Senior shortstop Luke Miles has committed to Purdue Fort Wayne. Senior Tyce Miller is going to Rose-Hulman to play football. The other three seniors — George Admire, C.J. Brown and Nathaniel Whetstine — have not yet announced college choices.

Franklin Community graduate Jeremy McKinney is currently a relief pitcher in the Washington Nationals organization.

A feeder program for the Grizzly Cubs is Franklin Youth Baseball, which generally serves 7U through 13U.

“We try to keep the kids in Franklin playing together as long as possible,” says Feyerabend.

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Mercer Field is the baseball home of the Franklin (Ind.) Community High School Grizzly Cubs.

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Mercer Field, which was dedicated with the new name in April 2019, is in its 13th year like the rest of the Franklin (Ind.) Community High School campus on the north side of town.

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The location of Mercer Field at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School means that wind and wind chill is almost always a factor during the spring baseball season.

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Franklin (Ind.) Community High School baseball head coach Ryan Feyerabend (right) and son Zion share a ride around Mercer Field. Zion is clutching a baseball.

 

Lefty Thompson keeps on collecting K’s for Kentucky

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zachary David Thompson goes by Zack.

Perhaps, it’s fitting that the last letter in this standout baseball pitcher’s shortened name is a K.

Zack Thompson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior left-hander at the University of Kentucky, sure has made short work of opposing hitters by putting up strikeout after strikeout.

“I love the punch-out,” says the graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is fanning opposing hitters at a rate of 12.81 per nine innings for the 2019 season (102 K’s and 24 walks in 71 2/3 innings) and 12.09 for his collegiate career (240 whiffs and 82 freebies in 178 1/3 innings). “I’ve got pretty good breaking balls. I can expand the zone on them.”

Thompson, who employs a four-seam fastball that he can sometimes get up to 97 mph that he mixes with a cutter, change-up, curveball and slider, says he goes to the mound with two keys in his mind: Get a first-pitch strike and after that win the 1-1 battle.

“There’s such a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Thompson.

Currently the Saturday starter during weekend series for the Wildcats, the southpaw is 4-1 with a 1.88 earned run a 1.88 earned run average. Opponents are hitting .179 against him in 11 games (11 starts).

Since coming to UK, Thompson is 14-3 with one save, a 2.57 ERA and .188 opponent’s batting mark in 40 appearances (31 as a starter).

Thompson is on a team with Nick Mingione as head coach and Jim Belanger as pitching coach.

Why did Thompson choose Kentucky?

“It was just the right fit and has a very blue collar feel,” says Thompson. “My family (which includes father Bill, mother Jan and older brother Nick) can see games. They’re usually down here every weekend. And it’s in the (Southeastern Conference).

“The SEC has the best competition and best environment to improve.”

Thompson describes the atmosphere at conference road games as “incredible.”

He has gotten to stand on the bump on a circuit that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.

In the summer of 2018, Thompson played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, making three appearances with one start. He was 1.0 with a 0.00 ERA, eight strikeout, five walks and three hits allowed in 8 2/3 innings. Opponents, including Chinese Taipei, Japan and Cuba, hit .107 against the left-hander.

“That was just an awesome experience,” says Thompson. “I was representing my country and playing with the some of the best players and for some of the best coaches.

“I got to see how other people do it.”

Louisiana State University head coach Paul Mainieri was the USA CNT head coach. The pitching coach was University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor.

“Coach O is great,” says Thompson of O’Connor. “We worked on things in bullpen that translated to the game really well like his philosophies and pitch calling.”

Mainieri is a former head coach at Notre Dame, where O’Connor was his pitching coach.

Baseball America made the 21-year-old Thompson the No. 1 SEC prospect in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which is slated for June 3-5). D1 Baseball has him No. 2 on their list. He is also high in prospect rankings for MLBPipeline.com and Perfect Game.

“I try not to worry about it,” says Thompson of the MLB Draft. “It won’t matter if I don’t do my job on the mound.”

Thompson was born in Anderson, Ind., and grew up in Selma near Muncie. Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley at Wapahani.

“Brian was awesome and a great mentor,” says Thompson of Dudley. “He’s a great leader in the community.

“He sets his players up for success in the class room and on the field.”

Thompson was a National Honor Society student that led him to study business management in college. On the diamond, he put up eye-popping numbers.

On the mound, he went 23-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 405 strikeouts for 183 2/3 innings (15.43 per seven innings). As a sophomore, he helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2014 while going 13-0 with a 0.64 ERA over 87 innings as a pitcher and also hit .500 with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in.

High school summers were spent traveling with the Indiana White Sox or Indiana Bulls.

Thompson was selected in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, but opted not to sign and went to Kentucky.

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Zack Thompson, a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is a junior left-handed pitcher at the University of Kentucky. (University of Kentucky Photo)

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Zack Thompson is among the nation’s top pitching prospects for the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The left-hander is a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and has been racking up strikeouts in droves as a University of Kentucky junior. (University of Kentucky)