Chris Card plans to emphasize details as the new head baseball coach at Monrovia (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School. “We’re going to do all the little things right,” says Card, who was hired in July to guide the Bulldogs. “It’s the nuances of the game — how to field a baseball the proper way, how to lead-off — all the little things that are equivalent to the big things. “There are a lot of people that don’t teach that anymore.” Monrovia (enrollment around 525) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Beech Grove, Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina, Speedway and Triton Central). The Bulldogs were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Cascade, Covenant Christian, Park Tudor, Speedway and University. Monrovia, which won five games in 2022, is seeking its first sectional title. Card comes to Monrovia with assistant coaching experiences at three high schools. The 1995 graduate of Decatur Central High School in Indianapolis started on the 2005 staff of Phil Webster and spent eight seasons assisting with the varsity Hawks. Decatur Central won an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008. Card, who played second base for the man who landed in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, describes Webster as “very hard-working.” “It’s all the work done on the field and the countless hours he put in with the kids to get better,” says Card. “You learn dedication when you’re with him.” Born in Indianapolis, Card lived in Decatur Township until moving to the Monrovia district in May. While in school, he played baseball at Carson Park and one summer of American Legion baseball managed by Webster. Following his stint at Decatur Central, Card was away from high school coaching for few years then helped head Aaron Kroll at Ben Davis for one varsity season. After a few more seasons off, Card was with Kroll for one season as junior varsity coach at Roncalli. Card has also coached the Decatur Hawks travel team. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 29-Oct. 15. Card began going through the basics and getting to know participating players Tuesday. The plan is for two hours of baseball activities on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the LCP with weight room sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays. “We want to introduce ourselves, what we are about and get on the same page,” says Card, who counts Terry McGlothlin, Anthony Eldridge and Casey Martin as varsity assistants and Cole Keeley and one as-yet-named person as junior varsity coaches. While there are not college commitments among current players, Card says he says .472 hitter in 2022 Julian Zhou (Class of 2023) and right-handed pitcher Brayton Belcher (Class of 2024) have a shot. Belcher is a pitcher. Zhou is on track to be the school’s valedictorian and foresees a career in medicine. Feeding Monrovia baseball are a school-sponsored seventh and eighth grade teams. Card says he hopes to develop a relationship with Monrovia Organized Baseball & Softball. Away from coaching, Card runs the family lawn care business. Chris and wife Mandy Card have three daughters — Franklin (Ind.) College senior Haley (21), dental assistant Breanna (19) and first grader Kendalee (6).
Michael McAvene is doing his best to keep the momentum rolling in his baseball career.
The right-handed pitcher had to push the pause button during his high school and college days because of injury and now he’s at a standstill period as a professional because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down Minor League Baseball in 2020.
As a University of Louisville freshman in the spring of 2017, McAvene was hurt in an April relief stint and soon found himself on the operating table. His next pitch in a collegiate game came April 2018.
After getting into seven games (five as a starter) and going 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 17 1/3 innings as a U of L freshman, McAvene went to the bullpen when he came back from his surgery.
The righty made 34 appearances out of the bullpen his last two collegiate seasons, going 2-1 with nine saves, a 3.32 earned run average, 65 strikeouts and 18 walks in 43 1/3 innings. He was named second team all-Atlantic Coast Conference in 2019.
The Cardinals qualified for the NCAA Tournament 2017-19 and went to the College World Series in 2017 and 2019.
U of L was ranked No. 1 in the nation during part of that stretch and McAvene was labeled as the team’s closer during the end of that run.
“I loved it,” says McAvene. “You have to have a certain mentality for (that role).
“It came easy for me to get the last out of the game, which in my opinion is the last out to get.”
It was while going for that last out that McAvene received an automative four-game suspension following his ejection for disputing an umpire’s decision in NCAA regional victory over Indiana University.
He counts it as part of his experience.
“I definitely didn’t want to talk about it (immediately after the game),” says McAvene. “But you’ve got to be professional and not let emotions get in the way.”
“(McDonnell) gets you to the point where you’d run through a wall for him and your teammates,” says McAvene. “That’s the culture.
“It’s a testament to the players and the type of people he brings in.”
Williams pushed his pitchers.
“He taught me what it takes to be successful at this level,” says McAvene of Williams. “He’s a very challenging guy. He expects us to be on top of our games at all times. He won’t accept less. He made us accountable.
“When it’s your time, you’re all that’s out there. You have to execute and do all you can to get your team to win.”
McAvene says Williams is one of the best game callers in the country and his scouting reports are second to none.
Appearing in six games with the 2019 Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, he went 0-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 20 strikeouts and four walks in 12 2/3 innings. Of 199 pitches, 126 were thrown for strikes.
The way the organization is currently formed, the next step on the ladder would be with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs.
McAvene faced some hitters before spring training and he’s since had some competitive bullpen sessions while following the program laid out by the Cubs. He just hasn’t delivered a pitch in a game since Aug. 31, 2019.
“I have a pretty good player plan sent out by the Cubs,” says McAvene. “I just can’t replicate in-game reps.”
While some of his former Louisville teammates have been involved in the four-team Battle of the Bourbon Trail independent league in Florence and Lexington, McAvene has stayed in central Indiana to train.
The McAvenes family — Rob, Jennifer, Michael and Bradley — lived for years near Camby, near Mooresville, and now reside in Danville.
It’s about a 10-minute trip to Plainfield to work out at the home of his former Ben Davis Little League and Indiana Outlaws travel coach, Jay Hundley, along with pros Jacson McGowan (who played at Brownsburg High School and Purdue University and is now in the Tampa Bay Rays system) and Nick Schnell (who was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Roncalli in 2018 and is also with the Rays), Indiana University left-hander Zach Behrmann (Indianapolis North Central graduate) and others.
McAvene was able to retire most high school hitters with a fastball and a breaking ball.
While starting at Louisville, he began to get a feel for a change-up. When he went to the back of the Cards’ pen, he used a fastball, slider and curveball and, essentially, shelved the change-up on the shelf.
Given a chance to return to starting with the Cubs, McAvene again began working to get comfortable with throwing a “circle” change — a grip taught to him by a friend while he was with the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer of 2018.
“I knew my curveball and my slider were only going to get me so far,” says McAvene. “The change-up sets apart good players from great players.”
Throwing from a low three-quarter arm angle, McAvene throws more two-seam fastballs than four-seamers.
“It has a sinker action,” says McAvene of the two-seamer that registers as a sinker on Cubs’ analytic equipment like Rapsodo and TrackMan. “My arm slot allows for a lot of downward action on it.
“I wanted to make sure I’ve got some lateral movement on it. The sink is an added bonus.”
McAvene’s curve has morphed. He used to throw the pitch in the traditional manner with a sweeping motion.
“I switched the grip to a knuckle curve to get more depth,” says McAvene. “It pairs well with my fastball and slider.”
As for the slider, McAvene was throwing it at Eugene at 86 to 90 mph.
“It has a very hard and tight break,” says McAvene of the slider. “The movement is late and right at the very end.”
After the 2019 season, McAvene finished his Sports Administration degree, graduating magna cum laude in December.
McAvene, who turned 23 on Aug. 24, says he was hopeful that there might be fall instructional league with the Cubs this year. But since it’s already September and Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are still figuring out the terms of their agreement, that looks improbable.
Born in the same Indianapolis hospital where his mother has spent 30 years as an ICU nurse (IU Health University), McAvene grew up in the Mooresville area. He was an Mooresville Little League all-star from 9 to 11 — the last two with his father as coach (Rob McAvene is now an independent distributor for Pepperidge Farms) — before his one year at Ben Davis Little League.
Before attending Roncalli, Michael spent Grades K-6 at North Madison Elementary in Camby and middle school at Saint Mark Catholic School on the south side of Indianapolis.
Bradley McAvene (18) is a 2020 graduate of Indiana Connections Academy.
In order to build relationships and develop players, coaching staffs tend to stay with the same group of players from their 14U through 17U seasons.
“If I’ve only been around these kids for eight weeks in summer, I don’t really get to know the kid and the family,” says Jay Hundley, Canes Midwest Baseball president and 17U head coach. “The cycle — I believe in that.”
Hundley recalls an emotional goodbye by himself and his assistant coaches to the Canes 17U team when they played their last game of 2019.
“We cried like babies for 25 minutes straight,” says Hundley. “(The players and their parents) became our second family.”
That bond happens through years of training (off-season workouts are done at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.), traveling and playing together.
McGaha (Mooresville), Honaker (Martinsville), McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central), Bear (Ben Davis), Webb (Western Boone) and McDaniel (Columbus North) are all high school head coaches. Sensenbaugh (Indianapolis Cathedral), Koning (Zionsville) and McIntosh (Columbus North) are also high school assistants. Bertram played at Purdue University and just graduated.
Hundley says there will be teams at each age from 10U to 17U when new squads are formed for 2020-21.
“We’ll only only ever have only one team per age group,” says Hundley. “We want to have the best kids and coaches. We’re trying to grow it the right way — slowly and surely.
“We’ve had the same coaches for almost 10 years.”
Hundley founded the Indiana Outlaws around 2012. A few years ago, that organization merged with Canes Baseball.
With President and CEO and 18U National head coach Jeff Petty and general manager and 14U National head coach Dan Gitzen based in the Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina area, Canes Baseball is one of the biggest travel programs in the country with thousands of players and a very large social media presence.
“The Outlaws were known in Indiana and surrounding areas,” says Hundley.
While Canes Midwest Baseball is locally owned and operated, Hundley says the national Canes brand helps with outreach in getting better players and with exposure to college programs.
Canes Midwest Baseball does not have a huge board of directors.
“It’s like a mom-and-pop operation,” says Hundley. “It’s myself and our coaches. It’s about baseball at the end of the day.
“We’re getting guys into college and developing our younger players. We build great relationships with families. We do it for the right reasons.”
Hundley says 21 of the 23 players on the 17U team in 2019 (members of the Class of 2020) made college baseball commitments.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 college season was cut short and players were given an extra year of eligibility. High school seniors missed the entire spring campaign.
The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was sliced from 40 to five rounds.
On top of that, the recruiting calendar for NCAA Divisions I and II was changed so coaches can’t see players in-person until after July 31. The travel season is essentially over by then.
To deal with that, Hundley says Canes Midwest Baseball will continue to provide those college coaches with video and use the equity built built over the years between the travel group and the college recruiters.
“We have to vouch for our player’s character, but we can’t oversell a player who’s not a fit for the school or we lose credibility,” says Hundley. “(Recruiters) can see a guy’s talent, but can’t see what’s in his heart or between his ears.”
It’s typical that close to 90 percent of players are committed by the end of the 17U summer.
Hundley says that it used to be that the 17U summer was the most important for players bound for Division I Power 5 programs.
That has changed to 16U and some players have even made verbal commitments as 15U players. At 17U, there are still D-I commitments made as well as at other collegiate levels.
“The landscape has changed so much,” says Hundley. “There may be a chain reaction for three or four years. There are a lot of guys that didn’t leave college because of not being drafted.
“The waters have gotten very muddy. I don’t think it’s going to get clear for awhile.”
Depending on participation by college recruiters, Hundley says the 17U Canes Midwest team might also play in the next Bullpen Midwest Prospect League event at Grand Park.
With their bright gold attire, it’s usually not difficult to spot the Canes at a tournament.
Hundley is a 1997 graduate of Ben Davis High School and played for head coach Dave Brown. Later on, Hundley was a Ben Davis assistant for six years and followed Aaron Kroll to staff Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and was on his staff 2015-19.
So Milto is the man who sets the tone for the staff and the team?
“I don’t think of it that way,” says Milto. “My job is to go out there and prevent runs. ‘Friday guy’ is just a label to me.
“I guess it’s kind of cool to be the first guy to pitch. But it’s the same job no matter when you go into pitch.”
Milto, who hails from Greenwood, Ind., and is a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, has started 10 games in 2019 and is 6-3 with a 2.29 earned run average.
In 70 2/3 innings, he has 69 strikeouts and nine walks. Opponents are hitting .212 against him. He fanned a season-high 10 batters in an outing against Iowa on March 22.
For his career, Milto is 24-9 with a 2.81 ERA. He has 227 K’s and 65 free passes in 255 innings and 58 appearances (35 as a starter).
While Milto occasionally touches around 92 mph with his fastball, he relies on his ability to mix his four-seamer, two-seamer, wipeout slider and change-up.
“I’m not beating barrels with my velocity,” says Milto. “It’s tunneling pitches and making everything look the same until it gets closer to the hitter.”
Milto has learned to understand his body and make swift adjustments.
“The biggest part in my own personal development is just knowing myself and kind of figuring out that when I mess up, knowing right away instead of taking two or three more pitches to understand to fix an issue,” says Milto.
At Roncalli, Milto did not pitch that much. He played two seasons for Keith Hatfield and one for Deron Spink. He did not get to play for Aaron Kroll, missing his senior campaign with a back injury that required surgery.
“It was a six-month process,” says Milto. “All the rehab was worth it. I feel great right now.
“I’ve had no complications.”
Milto credits former IU pitching coach Kyle Bunn for teaching him how to pitch.
With the arrival of a new coaching staff in Bloomington for 2019, including pitching Justin Parker, Milto has embraced a new way of doing things.
“His philosophy on pitching is a little different than what I’m used to,” says Milto of Parker. “I’ve enjoyed evolving into a different kind of mindse.
“Also, he’s found some mechanical flaws that I had. We’ve been able to correct those pretty quickly.”
Milto’s earliest organized baseball experiences came at Center Grove and Edgewood youth leagues. He began playing travel ball at 9, first with the Edgewood Bulldogs then Indiana Irish and Pony Express.
“I’m just focused on the here and now and keeping the season going,” says Milto.
The 22-year-old graduated from IU in three years and is doing some extra schooling now to earn a certificate.
The son of Tony and Angela Milto has two siblings — Anthony and Sophia.
Indiana University’s Pauly Milto delivers a pitch against Iowa on March 22, 2019 in Bloomington, Ind. The senior right-hander has been at the front of the Hoosiers’ weekend pitching rotation. (Missy Minear/Indiana Athletics Photo)
“He helped me a ton on the mental side of the game,” says Schnell of Kroll. “Baseball’s a game of failure. He told me, ‘just believe in yourself’ and ‘ don’t get down on yourself because of one bad at-bat.’”
Kroll encouraged Schnell to become one of the Rebels’ vocal leaders and lead by example by always playing hard.
Right away, he saw a contrast in high school and pro baseball.
“The biggest difference was consistent velocity I saw (in the minors),” says Schnell. “I saw guys in the mid-90s, even 100. In high school, they were 80 to 85 and every once in awhile you’d see 90.”
While rookie league pitchers were working to control their stuff, even their sliders and curves would come in at 85 mph.
Schnell says it took him a little over a week to make the adjustment.
“It comes with adapting to the game,” says Schnell. “When you see it everyday it becomes second nature to you. It was a daily thing you knew was coming.”
Playing mostly center fielder and some right, the 18-year-old hit .239 with one homer and four RBIs and was 2-for-6 in stolen base attempts in 19 games. His season was cut short in late July with a small stress fracture in his wrist.
“It was a freak thing,” says Schnell. “It came from overuse.”
Rather than rush him back at the end of the season, the Rays let Schnell heal so he could participate in the fall instructional league.
He spent a month in Florida making up for time lost during the summer.
“My main focus was really developing more as a ballplayer — get some at-bats back and getting better in the outfield and getting a better jump on stolen bases.”
School was planning to study sports psychology at Louisville and he gravitated toward Rays minor league mental skills coordinator James Schwabach, who suggesting reading books like “Grit: A Complete Guide on Being Mentally Tough” by James Clear.
The lanky Schnell (he is 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds) considers versatility to be his strengths.
“I use my athleticism in all three outfield positions,” says Schnell, who was a starter in center for four seasons at Roncalli while hitting .473 with 25 homers and 109 RBIs. “I have all-fields hitting ability. I can hit to the opposite field or pull side.
“I’m not pull heavy. I use the whole field.”
Nick, the youngest of Jay and Amy Schnell’s three children, comes from an athletic family. His mother played volleyball at Kankakee Community College, where she met her future husband.
Oldest child Aaron Schnell (Roncalli Class of 2014) was three-time all-county in high school and played baseball at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Bailey Schnell (Roncalli ’15) played volleyball for the Rebels and then Western Michigan University.
Nick considers his father and brother as his biggest mentors.
“My dad got my brother and I into sports at an early age,” says Nick. “My brother is five years older. I followed him everywhere.”
Nick Schnell, who attended St. Roch Catholic School in Indianapolis Grades K-8, was a three-sport athlete through eighth grade (football, basketball, baseball). He played basketball his first two years in high school before deciding to concentrate on baseball.
Southport Little League on the south side of Indianapolis is where Schnell got his baseball start. He played there until he was 12.
Travel baseball teams included the Scott Schreiber-coached Blue Wave (a group of Roncallli-bound players) his 13U summer, the Dalton Jones-coached Indiana Twins (14U) and Jay Hundley-coached Indiana Outlaws (15U).
Schnell donned the uniform of the Indiana Bulls for two summers, playing for coaches Dan Held (16U) and Sean Laird (17U).
He spent two falls with Team Indiana and participated in an elite tournament in Jupiter, Fla., leading into his sophomore and junior years at Roncalli.
Nick Schnell, a 2018 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, bats for the Gulf Coast Rays in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Schnell was selected No. 32 overall in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. (Cliff Welch Photography)
He then coached high schoolers and collegians in Arizona.
An invitation from a friend brought him to Indiana and he worked his way up to high school varsity head coach — first at Ben Davis and then at Roncalli. The 2018 season will mark his fourth leading the Rebels.
Right after college, Kroll moved to Arizona and took his first head coaching position for one season at Parker High School. He also served three seasons with the Havasu Heat of the summer collegiate Pacific Southwest Baseball League.
With a buddy’s girlfriend studying at the University of Indianapolis, Kroll was asked to move to Indy and began fresh in an unfamiliar baseball community.
“I knew after awhile I wanted to get back to the Midwest,” says Kroll. “When I got to Indianapolis I really had to start over. I really didn’t know anybody.”
“I owe a lot to those guys for the success in our program,” says Kroll.
What does the coach believe he brings to Roncalli baseball?
“Stability and overall toughness as a program,” says Kroll. “We’ve put together the most difficult schedule we could to challenge our kids. That’s critical. It’s a big part of why we won the state championship in ’16.
“We want to be challenged every time we take the field.”
Current Rebels who have committed to college baseball program include Nick Schnell (Louisville) and Colten Panaranto (Michigan State University) and there are likely to be others.
Kroll’s assistants for 2018 include Mark Pieper, Sam Konkel and Jay Hundley with the varsity, James Thorpe and Ryan Parrott with the junior varsity and Ron Wilson and John Mullin with the freshmen.
Roncalli plays home games on-campus at La Pinta Field.
With the help of the athletic administration, the facility has seen recent significant upgrades. Among them are a new clubhouse, drainage system, mound and plate areas and fencing with blue slats. There is new paint on the dugouts and press box and the outfield fence now sports several banners.
Roncalli baseball has made three State Finals appearances (1982, 2012, 2016) and won 13 sectionals (1976, 1979, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998 in 3A, 1999 in 3A, 2002 in 3A, 2004 in 3A, 2012 in 4A, 2016 in 4A, 2017 in 4A), eight regionals (1979, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1999, 2012, 2016) and three semistates (1982, 2012, 2016) plus conference and other honors.
“We think it’s really important to have the best field we possibly can and to give our kids the best experience possible,” says Kroll. “It’s really important in building and sustaining a successful program.”
Aaron Kroll helped lead Roncalli to an IHSAA Class 4A state baseball championship in his second season leading the Rebels in 2016. (Victory Views Photo)
After seven seasons as head coach at Ben Davis High School, Aaron Kroll was hired as head baseball coach at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis prior to the 2015 season. (The South Side Voice Photo)