If 2023 truly is the final baseball season for Ivy Tech Northeast Community College — a two-year institution in Fort Wayne, Ind. — bitterness is not an emotion displayed by the Titans as they look to finish strong. Ivy Tech Community College Board of Trustees voted 8-1 April 7, 2022 to discontinue athletics at the Northeast campus after 2022-23. “At this point I’ve pretty much heard we’re done,” says Ivy Tech Northeast head coach Connor Wilkins, who was an assistant to Lance Hershberger when the program began in 2017-18. “I haven’t heard of anything miraculous happening. “It’s not something we really talk about a lot. We’re just grateful for the team we have right now and getting to play out the rest of the year.” Wilkins and his players are staying positive. “I’ve got a good group of guys this year that buy into our identity,” says Wilkins. “They’re really trying to become great at what we teach as a baseball team — execution, bunt, steal, be selfless, an RBI approach with a guy at third, battle with two strikes and just try to do all the little things right. “I’m very proud of the young men we’ve turned out.” The Titans played their final “home” game at Shoaff Park Thursday, April 20 and beat Adrian JV 17-7. With a sense of gratitude, the team heads into the final week of the regular season. Pending the hiring of umpires, Ivy Tech was to play Lourdes JV today (Monday, April 24) at World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne. Away dates are slated Tuesday against Jackson (Mich.) Community College and Northwestern Ohio JV (doubleheader) Thursday. More games may be added for the weekend. By maintaining a record of .500 or better against D-I and D-II junior colleges, the Titans have qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association D-II sub-regional playoffs May 4 at Sports Force Park in Sandusky, Ohio. The four-team single-elimination event will also feature the No. 2, 3 and 4 teams from the Ohio Community College Athletic Association, likely Bryant & Stratton, Edison State and Lakeland or Clark State. The winner advances to the eight-team regional. The first round is slated for May 11-12 features three-game series with No. 1 vs. No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5. The four survivors play May 18-20 in the double-elimination second round to determine a qualifier for the NJCAA D-II World Series May 27-June 2/3 in Enid, Okla. The nature of junior college baseball is coaches working the phones to get athletes connected with their next school. “It was heightened this year because you have to find freshmen homes, too,” says Wilkins. “We’re excited. Most of our sophomores who are undecided are very close to making decisions.” Several Ivy Tech players have found a landing spot for 2023-24 and the others are considering their options and offers. Redshirt sophomores Noah Mattheson and William Myklebust are committed to the University Northwestern Ohio (NAIA). Among sophomore commits, there’s Gage Smith (NCAA Division I Southern Indiana), Grant Collins (NCAA D-II Purdue Northwest), Adam Besser (NAIA Indiana Tech) and Kaleb Fritz (NAIA Ottawa University in Arizona). Wilkins says sophs Justin Bultemeier, Mannuk Cadiz, Zachary Green, Logan Greer, Brayden Dockery, William Johnson, Andrew Lion, Jaycob McCullough, Johnny Sewell, Aiden Thompson and Tarron White are undecided. Freshmen Ivan Balboa and Max Shultz have indicated they will go to NJCAA South Suburban. Other freshman commits are Kail Baughman (NAIA Calumet of St. Joseph), Brandon Lehman (NAIA Roosevelt) and Hayden Lowe (NJCAA Jackson). Freshmen that are currently undecided include Samuel Dunlavey, Cal Ostrowski, Joey Spin, Nathan Tappenden and Brock Thornton. Besides Wilkins, the Ivy Tech coaching staff includes pitching coach Javier DeJesus and infield coach Drew Buffenbarger. DeJesus is also hospital administrator and instructor at The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy in Fort Wayne. Wilkins is a dual-credit advisor and Buffenbarger an admissions specialist at Ivy Tech Northeast. Connor and wife Alana have two daughters — Rey (3) and Margot (9 months). The youngest was born just before baseball Ivy Tech activities began last fall.
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.
INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL Records Through April 17 NCAA D-I Purdue 22-9 (4-6 Big Ten) Notre Dame 21-8 (8-7 ACC) Ball State 21-13 (15-3 MAC) Indiana State 19-9 (5-1 MVC) Evansville 19-16 (4-2 MVC) Butler 16-20 (2-4 Big East) Valparaiso 13-18 (2-4 MVC) Indiana 13-21 (2-7 Big Ten) Purdue Fort Wayne 10-23 (7-8 Horizon)
Week of April 11-17 NCAA D-I Tuesday, April 12 Evansville 11, Butler 1 Indiana 6, Indiana State 5 Notre Dame 14, Michigan 5 Eastern Illinois 7, Valparaiso 5
Thursday, April 14 Georgetown 14, Butler 8 Duke 15, Notre Dame 5 Penn State 12, Purdue 7 Purdue Fort Wayne 9, Northern Kentucky 5
Friday, April 15 Ball State 8, Akron 3 Butler 8, Georgetown 7 Evansville 6, Southern Illinois 4 Rutgers 5, Indiana 3 Duke 4, Notre Dame 3 (11 inn.) Purdue 11, Penn State 5 Northern Kentucky 5, Purdue Fort Wayne 4 Illinois State 7, Valparaiso 0
Saturday, April 16 Ball State 5, Akron 1 Ball State 16, Akron 0 Georgetown 8, Butler 4 Evansville 9, Southern Illinois 2 Evansville 14, Southern Illinois 2 Rutgers 4, Indiana 2 Duke 6, Notre Dame 2 Penn State 7, Purdue 5 Purdue Fort Wayne 10, Northern Kentucky 5 Valparaiso 10, Illinois State 2
Sunday, April 17 Akron 4, Ball State 3 Rutgers 10, Indiana 9 Valparaiso 2, Illinois State 1
NCAA D-II Tuesday, April 12 Indianapolis 15, Kentucky Wesleyan 1 Indianapolis 11, Kentucky Wesleyan 7 Grand Valley State 10, Purdue Northwest 7 Grand Valley State 9, Purdue Northwest 6 Oakland City 6, Southern Indiana 4
Thursday, April 14 Quincy 14, Indianapolis 4 Purdue Northwest 21, Northwood 19 Truman State vs. Southern Indiana
Friday, April 15 Indianapolis 3, Quincy 2 Indianapolis 3, Quincy 0 Purdue Northwest 2, Northwood 0 Northwood 18, Purdue Northwest 0 Truman State 6, Southern Indiana 5 Truman State 11, Southern Indiana 10
Saturday, April 16 Indianapolis 5, Quincy 3 Northwood 9, Purdue Northwest 7 Southern Indiana 16, Truman State 4
NCAA D-III Monday, April 11 Trine 7, Kalamazoo 5
Tuesday, April 12 Earlham 12, Transylvania 7 Transylvania vs. Earlham Hanover 12, Spalding 11 Wabash 6, Manchester 4 Manchester vs. Wabash Rose-Hulman 3, Mount St. Joseph 2 Rose-Hulman 16, Mount St. Joseph 1
Wednesday, April 13 Trine 11, Adrian 5
Thursday, April 14 Wittenberg 10, Wabash 4
Friday, April 15 Bluffton 11, Earlham 6 Bluffton 9, Earlham 3 Alma 8, Trine 5
Saturday, April 16 Hanover 10, Anderson 4 Hanover 10, Anderson 8 Kenyon 12, DePauw 1 Kenyon 4, DePauw 3 Franklin 9, Manchester 8 Franklin 6, Manchester 4 Rose-Hulman 10, Transylvania 4 Rose-Hulman 12, Transylvania 8 Alma 9, Trine 6 Alma 10, Trine 6 Wooster 4, Wabash 3 Wooster 12, Wabash 7
NAIA Monday, April 11 Bethel 13, Goshen 10 Bethel 12, Goshen 1 Calumet of St. Joseph 13, Trinity Christian 8 Indiana Tech 1, Rochester 0 Indiana Tech 12, Rochester 5 Spring Arbor 15, Taylor 7 Taylor 10, Spring Arbor 9
Tuesday, April 12 Goshen 17, Grace Christian 5 Goshen 3, Grace Christian 1 Marian 5, Huntington 2 Marian 19, Huntington 5 Oakland City 6, Southern Indiana 4 IU South Bend 18, Trinity Christian 8 IU Southeast 7, Georgetown (Ky.) 5 Madonna 7, Indiana Tech 6 Indiana Tech 16, Madonna 6 Indiana Wesleyan 10, Cleary 7 Indiana Wesleyan 8, Cleary 0 Mount Vernon Nazarene 10, Saint Francis 6 Saint Francis 9, Mount Vernon Nazarene 2
Thursday, April 14 Saint Xaver 17, IU South Bend 13
Friday, April 15 Bethel 2, Huntington 1 Huntington 9, Bethel 7 Olivet Nazarene 15, Calumet of St. Joseph 2 Indiana Wesleyan 14, Goshen 2 Indiana Wesleyan 13, Goshen 6 Saint Francis 5, Grace 3 Saint Francis 2, Grace 1 IU Kokomo 9, Brescia 1 IU Southeast 11, West Virginia Tech 0 Spring Arbor 8, Marian 5 Marian 16, Spring Arbor 3 Taylor 9, Mount Vernon Nazarene 5 Taylor 17, Mount Vernon Nazarene 9
Saturday, April 16 Bethel 3, Huntington 1 Huntington 9, Bethel 2 Olivet Nazarene 12, Calumet of St. Joseph 4 Olivet Nazarene 14, Calumet of St. Joseph 3 Indiana Wesleyan 12, Goshen 2 Indiana Wesleyan 15, Goshen 6 Grace 10, Saint Francis 8 Saint Francis 14, Grace 4 IU Kokomo 7, Brescia 3 IU Kokomo 13, Brescia 2 IU Southeast 11, West Virginia Tech 1 IU Southeast 9, West Virginia Tech 6 Lawrence Tech 2, Indiana Tech 1 Lawrence Tech 7, Indiana Tech 4 Marian 7, Spring Arbor 5 Marian 11, Spring Arbor 3 Mount Vernon Nazarene 6, Taylor 4 Mount Vernon Nazarene 14, Taylor 1
Junior College Monday, April 11 Ivy Tech Northeast 6, Trine JV 5 Ivy Tech Northeast 8, Trine JV 5
2021 IHSBCA ALL-STATE TEAM Class 4A Pitchers: Grant Stratton (Jasper), Nate Dohm (Zionsville). C: Hunter Dobbins (Mount Vernon of Fortville). 1B: Kaleb Kolpien (Homestead). 2B: Joel Walton (Mount Vernon of Fortville). 3B: Connor Foley (Jasper). SS: Tucker Biven (New Albany). OF: Carter Mathison (Homestead), Max Clark (Franklin), Tommy O’Connor (Mooresville). Honorable Mention: Evan Waggoner (Bedford North Lawrence); Austin Bode (Columbus North); Jaden Deel (Hobart); Andrew Wallace (Jasper); Jackson Micheels (Carmel); Breenen Weigert (Homestead); Jack Braun (Fishers); Tyler Walkup (Lawrence North); Quentin Markle (Westfield); Joe Huffman (Avon); Nick Mitchell (Carmel); Brad White (Andrean); Blake Herrmann (Castle); Camden Jordan (Cathedral); Sam Gladd (Columbia City); Eli Hopf (Jasper); Brody Chrisman (Zionsville); J.D. Rogers (Carmel); Keaton Mahan (Westfield); Gage Standifer (Westfield); Kyler McIntosh (Columbus North); Chris Gallagher (Cathedral); Carter Doorn (Lake Central); Grant Comstock (Valparaiso); Tate Warner (Fishers); Carter Gilbert (Northridge).
The list will be narrowed in early May to a group of award finalists. The winner will be announced May 26 to coincide with the start the IHSAA state tournament series. The winner will be honored at a Fort Wayne TinCaps game since the NEIBA banquet has been postponed until Sept. 12.
Since 1961, the NEIBA has recognized local baseball players, personnel and ambassadors through a Hall of Fame and honors program. South Adams’ Grant Besser was named Dick Crumback/NEIBA High School Player of the Year in 201. With the 2020 season being canceled because of the COVID-1 pandenic, there was no award given for 2020.
For more information, contact Gary Rogers at email@example.com or Brett Windmiller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is not unusual for the 11th-year head baseball coach at South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., to spend an hour crafting his practice plan.
Buckingham, a 1998 South Adams graduate, played for and later coached one season under former Starfires head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dean Stahly.
Looking back, Buckingham sees how Stahly, who led South Adams from 1971-2008, had a knack for organization.
“It may sound crazy, but I want to make sure each of those players are on the move so they’re not bored and get the instruction they need so they can grow as a player,” says Buckingham. “With limited resources and limited coaches, you’ve got to be creative in that regard.”
South Adams had 33 players for varsity and junior varsity schedules this spring.
At Bluffton College (now Bluffton University) in Ohio, Buckingham played four years for Greg Brooks and gained an appreciation for persistence.
“In baseball, a lot of bad things happen and a lot of good things happen and you still keep going,” says Buckingham, who also was head coach at Frankton High School for five seasons in Madison County, Ind. The Eagles were 2A state runners-up in 2003. “You have to stay the course and keep going.”
Buckingham has taken that knowledge and applied it. This spring, it’s helped South Adams win a second straight IHSAA sectional title (the ninth in program history and second in a row) and earn a spot in the Class 2A Whiting Regional. The IHSBCA No. 2-ranked Starfires play Hammond Noll at 10 a.m. CST, followed by Eastside vs. Boone Grove. The regional final is slated for 6 p.m. CST.
At 27-2, the 2018 South Adams squad has already tied the 1982 state finalist team (27-6-1) for the school’s most single-season baseball victories ever. The school also produced a state runner-up in 1972.
The Starfires are led on the mound and at the plate by junior Grant Besser. The left-handed pitcher/shortstop has a 9-0 record with six saves to go along with a .511 batting average, six home runs, two triples and 16 doubles.
The South Adams mound staff also features sophomore left-hander Collin Shaffer (6-1), freshman right-hander Adam Besser (6-0), senior right-handers Austin Davidson (3-0, 3 saves) and Mark Cleary (3-1, 1 save).
When not pitching, Shaffer plays first base and Cleary is the team’s starting catcher.
Besides Besser, Cleary (.412) and senior second baseman Joe Stuber (.396) are the top offensive threats.
No current players have yet made college baseball commitments. South Adams graduates Collin Affolder (Bethel College) and Chandler Ingle (Goshen College) just finished their collegiate careers. Blake Fox (Bluffton University) wound up his in 2017.
Buckingham’s coaching staff includes Craig McKean (former head coach at Southern Wells for 10 years before coming back to his alma mater), Jim Buckingham (Brad’s father), Branden Alberson, Chad Mitchell and Blade Rheinhart.
South Adams plays its home games on-campus at Harry F. Anderson Field. The facility named for the school’s first athletic director and a former baseball coach just got new pro-style brick dugouts last year.
A fundraising campaign brought in around $90,000 for the project.
“They’re pretty neat,” says Buckingham. “We took a lot of measurements at Parkview Field (in Fort Wayne).”
The Starfires try to do projects each year to improve Anderson Field.
“That’s foundational in our prorgam,” says Buckingham. “We want to make it a hangout place for our players — something they want to come to. That’s something we have control over. We don’t have control over how much talent we have.”
The South Adams Youth League, which has a 12-person board that Buckingham and Starfires head softball coach Jessie O’Dell both sit on, is a feeder system for the high school.
Brad Buckingham is an eighth grade math teacher at the high school while wife Ashley Buckingham is a physical education instructor and head volleyball coach at the high school. The couple have four children (one boy and three girls) — Duke (8), Emmaline (6), Elizabeth (4) and Everly (who turns 2 next week).
The Buckingham family celebrates a 2018 IHSAA sectional baseball championship for South Adams. Brad and Ashley are in the back. In the front (from left): Duke, Everly, Emmaline and Elizabeth. Brad Buckingham is in his 11th season as Starfires head coach.