Tag Archives: ACAC

Rutgers-bound Besser keeps on buzzing the ball past batters

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Grant Besser’s habit of dodging bats with his pitches got him noticed during his prep days and it continues at the collegiate level.
At South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., the left-hander and four-time first-team all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection whiffed 451 in 241 innings with a 1.27 earned run average. He also hit .397 with eight home runs and 58 runs batted in.
As a senior, Besser fanned 130 in 54 frame and posted a 0.77 ERA and hit .426 with two homers and 17 RBIs for the Brad Buckingham-coached Starfires. He began working out that winter in Fort Wayne with Pittsburgh Pirates strength trainer Dru Scott.
When not pitching, lefty Besser was the unorthodox choice for South Adams at shortstop his last three seasons.
“I knew it looked silly, but I had been playing shortstop all my life,” says Besser. “I can throw from any arm angle. I had a great time doing it.
“Besides I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it for long. I knew pitching is what I wanted to do.”
Besser played in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Madison. He was honored as the 2019 Northeast Indiana Baseball Association/Dick Crumback Player of the Year.
The 2021 recipient of the award — Carter Mathison (Homestead/Indiana University) is Besser’s teammate this summer with New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats. Mathison was also the 2021 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Player of the Year.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Besser shined on the mound at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers.
In 36 appearances (10 starts), he went 6-4 with eight saves and a 2.66 earned run average as the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Buccaneers posted marks of 16-11 in 2020 (COVID-19 shortened), 44-16 in 2021 and 42-15 in 2022. He amassed 125 strikeouts and 42 walks in 94 2/3 innings.
Besser played no summer ball in 2020 and dealt with an injury at the beginning of the 2021. He came back and hurled five innings in the state tournament and did not allow a baserunner.
“I really saw a spike in all of my numbers for the good (in 2022),” says Besser. “I blew every category away from the previous years.”
He was in 20 games in 2022 and went 3-2 with six saves, a 1.28 ERA, 61 K’s and 16 walks in 42 1/3 innings.
Ben Bizier is head coach at Florida SouthWestern State. Derrick Conatser is Bucs pitching coach.
“I like that toughness to he brings to the table,” says Besser of Bizier.
In his exit interview with Bizier Besser was told that 18 Major League Baseball organizations have been following him as they prepare for the 2022 First-Year Player Draft (July 17-19 in Los Angeles).
“He said there’s a really good chance it happens this year,” says Besser, who turns 22 in September. “Out of high school I had zero (college) offers. Coach Buckingham offered me to Florida JUCO’s. I earned a scholarship at FSW in the spring.
“Money has never been the big thing for me. It’s opportunity and getting my foot in the door.”
This is Besser’s second straight summer at Keene and he has had several meaningful chats with Swamp Bats president and general manager Kevin Watterson.
So far, Besser has made four appearances (one start) and is 1-0 with an 0.87 ERA. In 10 1/3 innings, the southpaw has 10 strikeouts and one walk. The NECBL regular season ends July 30.
Throughout his college experience, Besser has been used in multiple pitching roles, including starter, long reliever and a closer.
“It doesn’t matter to me as long as we get a win,” says Besser. “I’m very versatile.”
Besser has excelled with an ability to keep his head when things get tense.
“It’s mental toughness. I preach it,” says Besser. “I can spot when somebody doesn’t have that mental toughness.
“I’m ready for the situation. I’m consistent with all that I do. I work quick and throw strikes. Preparation and a steady mindset is key.”
Throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, Besser uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball.
“My four-seamer has natural run and a high spin rate,” says Besser. “Up in the zone is where I get the most out of it.
“This summer it’s been sitting 89 to 91 mph (it hit 92 at Florida SouthWestern State).”
Besser’s two-seamer moves in to left-handed hitters and away from righties.
His “circle” change-up break to his arm side and is usually clocked around 83 mph.
“My curveball is more of a slurve,” says Besser of the pitch that’s often delivered at around 78 mph. “I mix and match. Sometimes it’s 12-to-6 and sometimes I sweep it. It depends on the situation.”
Grant is the oldest of Mike and Katina Besser’s two sons. Adam Besser, a right-handed pitcher for Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, turns 20 in August.
Mike Besser is a salesman for Moser Motor Sales. Katina Besser is chief financial officer at Swiss Village Retirement Community.
The family moved from Geneva and Berne when Grant was in the fifth grade. Beginning at 9U, he played travel ball for the Muncie Longhorns and Indiana Bandits and then Summit City Sluggers founder Mark DeLaGarza reached out to him and he spent two summers with the 17U Sluggers, playing for head coaches Todd Armstrong and Brent Alwine.
“My parents’ sacrifices let me do that,” says Grant. “The Sluggers gave me a lot of knowledge on baseball.”

With two years of eligibility remaining, has committed to NCAA Division I Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. He signed with the Scarlet Knights over the winter.
Why Rutgers?
“What really attracting me was coming home to the Big Ten,” says Besser, who was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Geneva and Berne. “It’s up-and-coming program and pretty hard-nosed.”
With Steve Owens as head coach and Brendan Monaghan guiding pitchers, the Scarlet Knights posted an overall mark of 44-17 and Big Ten record of 17-7 in 2022. Rutgers played Michigan in the conference tournament championship game.
After earning an Associate of Arts degree in Business Management at Florida SouthWestern State, Besser is considering a Labor and Relations major at Rutgers.

Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)

Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)
Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)
Head coach Ben Bizier (left) and Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)

City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla.
City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla.
Grant Besser (Keene Swamp Bats Photo)

Pierce wants Bluffton Tigers to play with ‘controlled aggression’

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Pierce knows what kind of identity he wants for his Bluffton (Ind.) High School baseball team.
“Our motto is to control what we can control,” says Pierce, who asks his Tigers not to dwell on mistakes and to rally together. “We’re very much a family here. This sport has a lot of ups and down. We want our players to have controlled aggression and do the little things the best they possibly can.”
Pierce stresses life lessons, high academics and building maturity in young men.
“We want to productive members of society,” says Pierce, who took over the program before the 2020 season taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic after seven seasons as head coach at Eastside Junior/Senior High School (Butler, Ind.) and two campaigns leading the Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School program. “You learn that through team sports.”
Bluffton went 14-16-1 in 2021 with five on-run losses and a pair of one-run victories with a team featuring just one senior starter.
“We’re young on paper, but we’ve got a lot of experience on the field,” says Pierce in looking ahead to 2022. “We’ve got a lot of athletes. We’re in a really good spot with guys who can move around the field.
“As long as we can keep our heads I think we’re going to be a pretty dangerous baseball team.”
The 14 players on Bluffton’s MaxPreps.com roster (as of March 28) include six seniors — middle infielder/pitcher Brock Drayer, outfielder/catcher Lukas Hunt, outfielder/pitcher/first baseman Dylan King, outfielder/pitcher/shortstop Kyler Rolston, pitcher/first baseman Grant Thompson and pitcher/outfielder Kayden Vineyard plus four juniors in corner infielder/pitcher Curtis Ellis, catcher/outfielder Kayden King, pitcher/infielder/outfielder, outfielder/pitcher Austin Lewis, Andrew Onuegbu and outfielder/pitcher Drew Pressler and three sophomores in pitcher/first baseman/outfielder Braxton Betancourt, middle infielder/pitcher Eli Garrett and catcher/pitcher Brody Lewis.
Left-hander Betancourt (5-5, 1.43 earned run average, 97 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings) was the Tigers’ No. 1 pitcher in 2021 and Pierce expects him to have the same role in 2022. Bluffton is to open the season Tuesday, April 5 at New Haven.
On a team with as many as 10 players can be effective pitchers, Pierce looks at right-hander Ellis as his probable No. 2.
Kaleb Riley (Class of 2021) is now on the baseball team at Indiana University South Bend.
Bluffton (enrollment around 470) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan).
The Tigers is scheduled play Adams Central and Southern Wells twice with the second game counting toward the ACAC standings. Bluffton is slated to meet Heritage, Jay County, South Adams and Woodlan one time each.
In 2021, the Tigers were runner-up in a IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Adams Central, Eastside (host and champion), Churubusco, South Adams and Woodlan. Bluffton has won five sectional crowns — the last in 2019.
Bluffton plays home games on Everett Scott Field. The facility on the north side of the campus is named after the Indiana Hall of Famer who played in a then-record 1,307 consecutive games for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees 1916-25.
Providing early diamond opportunities is Bluffton Youth Baseball (T-ball to age 15). Most high school players are with travel organizations, including the Indiana Bandits, Midwest Aces and Summit City Sluggers.
Pierce’s 2022 coaching staff features Tim Garrett, Marco Betancourt (pitching coach) and Doug Pressler with the varsity and Trae Jojola and Cody Harris with the junior varsity.
A 1993 graduate of St. Marys (Ohio) High School, Pierce played one season at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio, and then transferred to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. He got hurt in the fall and did not get to play for Lance Hershberger’s Warriors.
Pierce, who teaches seventh grade at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School, has two daughters — Leo sophomore Lillian (16) and Heritage grade schooler Harper (8).

Bluffton (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Pierce (left) and Cameron Nestleroad (Greenbear Photography Photo).
Bluffton (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Pierce (Greenbear Photography Photo).

Discipline important to Rheinhart, Southern Wells Raiders

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Blade Rheinhart is leading the baseball program at his alma mater with responsibility and discipline as points of emphasis.
“I like to keep kids disciplined — on and off the field — that creates better young gentlemen,” says Rheinhart, a 2014 graduate of Southern Wells Junior/Senior High School in Poneto, Ind., who took over the Raiders prior to the 2020 season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We do a lot of reflection.”
Rheinhart expects to have 10 or 11 seniors in 2022 — many of them who played at what is now Blackford Youth Baseball coached by his father Art Rheinhart and himself, including little brother Branson Rheinhart.
“They know my expectations,” says Rheinhart. “They know how things are going to be done and what it takes to possibly turn the program around.
“We should be very productive.”
Senior Evan Reynolds is to sign next week to study and play college baseball at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne and some other Raiders are considering their college options.
Evan Huffman, a 2017 Southern Wells graduate who played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, has joined a Raiders coaching staff which also includes Brett Vickery and Tyler Sonnigsen. Huffman was a high school classmate of Brennen Rheinhart, Blade’s middle brother and son of Art and Brandy Rheinhart.
Southern Wells (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams and Woodlan).
In 2021, the Raiders were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Anderson Preparatory Academy, Cowan, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. Southern Wells has not yet won a sectional title.
The Raiders’ home field is on-campus and gets year-to-year maintenance. Southern Wells once had junior high baseball, but does not currently. Local players can go to three different youth baseball leagues— Blackford, Bluffton and Warren.
Rhinehart decided he wanted to be a teacher and coach during his freshmen year at Southern Wells. He went on to earn an Elementary Education degree at Ball State University in 2018 and now teaches sixth grade math at Blackford Intermediate School in Hartford City, Ind.
“I knew the path I wanted to take,” says Rheinhart. “I had excellent teachers throughout my whole career. I wanted their job. Sports a huge part of my life.”
Rheinhart played baseball and basketball at Southern Wells. His head baseball coaches were Keith Kinder (2011 and 2012), Chad Smekens (2013) and Ben Mann (2014). Leading the Raiders in basketball were Ryan Thomas (2010-11 and 2011-12) and Brody Tarter (2012-13, and 2013-14).
Another generation came into the Rheinhart baseball family this year. Two days before Southern Wells’ first baseball game in 2021, Blade’s son William was born. Three days later, the baby was at his first contest.

Blade Rheinhart (Team Mantra Wear Photo)
Blade Rheinhart and son William (Team Mantra Wear Photo)

Lehrman still having fun in 43rd season leading Heritage Patriots

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dean Lehrman has been around the baseball program at Heritage Junior-Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., long enough that he is coaching a second generation of Patriots.

Just at the varsity level, there are four players whose fathers played for Lehrman at Heritage. There are seniors Cody David (son of Chad) and Clay Gerardot (son of Matt) and sophomores Jackson Bearman (son of Wade) and Austin Buuck (son of Greg).

The 2021 season is Lehrman’s 43rd season as a head baseball coach — 34th at Heritage after nine at Woodlan

At present, the 1973 Heritage graduate has 632 career wins. The ’21 Patriots are off to a 17-2 start.

“I got in this business because I love baseball and it’s a kids game,” says Lehrman, 66. “I wanted to pass that on to my sons and everybody in the neighborhood’s sons.”

Heritage (enrollment around 600) is a consolidation of Monroeville and Hoagland and that opened in 1969. The Patriots are a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Bluffton, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan). ACAC teams meet each other one time.

The Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Bellmont (the 2021 host), Marion, Mississinewa, Norwell and Oak Hill. Heritage has won nine sectionals (the last in 2015), three regionals and one semistate — all but a 1976 sectional crown on Lehrman’s watch. 

“A bunch of blue-collar, hard-nosed, out-work-you kids” with no superstars earned a state runner-up finish in 2007 (losing to South Spencer in the 2A title game).

Lehrman’s Heritage teams have won numerous conference titles and he has often been chosen ACAC Coach of the Year. He has twice been Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Coach of the Year and was on the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series coaching staff two times.

“In my mind we are still a 2A school although we’ve officially been 3A for several years,” says Lehrman. “It’s a numbers thing.”

Lehrman does not favor athletic specialization and embraces the idea of the multi-sport athlete. He enjoys a sense of cooperation between himself and fellow head coaches Casey Kolkman in football and Adam Gray with basketball and the sharing of athletes.

“I want my kids to be involved in as many sports as they can,” says Lehrman. “It seems that more and more they get funneled into one thing 365/24-7. That’s not good for kid. You get more kids getting burned out that way.

“We’re not pulling kids in different directions and telling them you’ve got to do this in the summer or you can’t play. I’m a firm believer that a kid has to be a kid. He’s got to be free to choose. 

“He should be able to play football, basketball and baseball or whatever combination of sports you want to throw in there.”

Janice Lehrman has been a coach’s wife for all these decades.

“I can’t count how many uniforms she’s sewn back together and she still does it,” says Dean. “She just did it for a JV kid.”

Dean and wife Janice, who live in the country near Hoagland, have three children — Camryn, Derek and Ryne.

Camyn Klocinski is a social studies teacher at Summerfield Junior-Senior High School in Petersburg, Mich. She has traveled the world and is an expert on World War II.

Derek Lehrman is married with three children. He played football and baseball at Heritage (and was one of several IHSBCA all-stars coached by his father) and baseball at Eastern Michigan University and in the Detroit Tigers system.

He is now the Patriots hitting coach and serves on a staff with pitching coach Scott Lewis, a former left-handed pitcher from Van Wert, Ohio. Junior varsity coaches for 2021 are Heritage alums Jeremy Hullinger, Nick Bosler and Matt Saylor.

Ryne Lehrman (who gets his first name from Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg) played football and baseball at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind. He and his wife are traveling physical therapists and have one child.

Youth leagues in Monroeville and Hoagland as well as the Harding and New Haven areas feed into Heritage. 

A 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, Lehrman used his mechanics, wrist and forearm to generate velocity as a pitcher. His boyhood idol was Nolan Ryan

Lehrman took the mound for four years at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) for Hal Prickett and Dave Hey and drew attention from bird dog major league scouts.

As a coach, Lehrman encourages his pitchers to change speeds and the eye levels of batters.

“No matter how hard you throw if that’s all you do, they’re going to catch up to you,” says Lehrman. “Kids today are trained on pitching machine and you can se the machine to throw 90 or 95 (mph) and they can work on that — boom, boom, boom.

“To me, the change-up is the next-best pitch behind the fastball.”

Among the pitchers to come through Heritage are Andrew Saalfrank, a left-hander who hurled for Indiana University and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

Branson Dossen, son of former pro Jarrod Dossen, played baseball at Heritage then Indiana Tech. The younger Dossen was a standout quarterback for the Patriots.

Dustin Butcher is the head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and just led the Cougars to a single-season school record of 34 victories.

The IHSAA has been observing a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) since 2017. Lehrman has been tracking numbers for 43 years.

“We’re never going to hurt a kid,” says Lehrman. “I keep them in by book. At the end of the inning, I can tell you how many pitches he threw and what his first-pitch strike percentage was.”

Lehrman’s father — Donald — ran his scorebook for three decades and Dean now keeps it while his assistants coach the bases.

A teacher of mathematics after college, Lehrman retired from the classroom in June 2020.

“I was very blessed there because I had calculus and trigonometry,” says Lehrman. “I had good kids that wanted to be there and wanted to learn.

“That’s a huge reason I stayed in it for 43 years.”

The East Allen County Schools administration asked him to stay on to lead the Patriots on the diamond.

“As long as I’m still having fun, I’m going to hang around and coach baseball,” says Lehrman.

For many falls, he was on the staffs of two Indiana Football Hall of Famers — Leland Etzler at Woodlan and Bob Yager at Heritage. 

Lehrman was Yager’s defensive coordinator then served six years as Patriots head coach (going 40-26 from 2010-15) before stepping away from the gridiron

He was coaxed back by alum Kolkman, who heads into his second season as Heritage head football coach in the fall.

“Casey was an eighth grader when I first started teaching here,” says Lehrman. “He asked me to help out. I said I’ll do it on one condition. I’m strictly a volunteer and as long as I’m having fun I’ll stick around and do anything you ask.

“Casey has turned the program completely around. Look for big things out of our football team the next couple of years.”

Heritage baseball’s full week began Tuesday, May 11 with a win against Bluffton. The Patriots are slated to visit Van Wert Wednesday, Jay County Thursday and Manchester Friday with a rare Saturday off.

Dean Lehrman, a 1973 graduate of Heritage Junior-Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., is in his 43rd year as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2021. The quote on the Patriots dugout wall is from former Heritage pitching coach Don Grabner. (Steve Krah Photo)