By STEVE KRAH
There’s a new baseball tradition at Batesville High School. Call it the Running of the Bulldogs.
Releasing its brand of “havoc,” Batesville has turned up the heat on opponents with its baserunning and bunting.
It’s a style choice made by Justin Tucker (BHS Class of 2007) when he took over as head coach of his alma mater for the 2016 season. He learned it from John Rigney when both were assistants to Scott Holdsworth at Greensburg High School.
Rigney, who took Batesville to a state runner-up finish in 2002, adopted the go-go model as a freshmen coach under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary O’Neal at Madison.
“We are very aggressive,” says Tucker, who watched his 2017 squad swipe 116 bases while going 21-10 and making it to the championship game of the IHSAA Class 3A South Dearborn Sectional. “Our guys will go first-to-third and force balks. It’s just a fun way to play.”
Tucker’s collection of grinders started the 2017 campaign at 10-8 then went on a run.
“When you’re feeling good, the ball just bounces your way,” says Tucker, who watched his club make the dirt fly on the skinned infield at Batesville’s Liberty Park.
In the sectional final against Lawrenceburg, the Bulldogs led 6-5 going in the seventh inning thanks to a three-run home run in the fifth by sophomore Quinn Werner before losing 7-6.
Senior Zach Britton — a University of Louisville commit and a left-handed slugger who had teammates playing outside the fence to protect nearby houses whenever the team looking batting practice at Liberty Park — was on base when the game ended.
“They are probably pitching and catching to one another,” says Tucker. “I’m glad our kids are being put in (McDonnell’s) hands.”
As a center fielder in 2017, Werner made 79 putouts (one short of the single-season state record set by Goshen’s Rick Mirer in 1989). Werner had a shot to surpass the career mark of 191 established by John Glenn’s Lonnie Shetler (2007-10).
Batesville had come back to best South Dearborn 17-12 in the 2017 sectional semifinals. The Knights plated 11 runs in the fourth inning while the Bulldogs tallied seven in the top of the seventh. They finished the game with 12 stolen bases.
“The guys have some grit,” says Tucker.
In his first season in charge at Batesville, Tucker had to fill seven starting positions yet the Bulldogs went 10-10 and bowed 7-3 to Greensburg in the 3A Madison Sectional championship game. Batesville knocked off state-ranked Franklin County in the first round.
Tucker was a primarily a center fielder when he played for Ozzie Smith and Gary Jewell at Batesville. He went on to Indiana University Purdue University-Columbus. While there, he spent two seasons as freshmen baseball coach at Greensburg. When he graduated, he became a teacher and junior varsity coach for the Pirates.
Greensburg made it to the championship game of the Jasper Semistate in 2012, losing 10-9 to Brebeuf Jesuit.
As a Batesville sophomore, Tucker had experienced semistate play as the Bulldogs went to the final at Jasper and lost 3-0 to Evansville Memorial.
Batesville won the Connersville Sectional and beat North Harrison in the one-game regional to make it to the semistate.
Years later, Tucker came back to Batesville when an opening for associate principal and head baseball coach opened at the same time.
He enjoys the release that coaching baseball gives him.
“As an assistant principal you deal with a lot of discipline,” says Tucker. “(Coaching is) truly therapeutic. Some people jog. Some people read a book. That’s what I truly enjoy doing.”
Baseball allows him to have a positive impact and build relationships with students.
Tucker had a unique chance to build relationships with top seniors from all over when he was named as a South coach for the 2017 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.
“It was just awesome to be around all those players and coaches,” says Tucker. “I’m following (the careers of) all those guys I coached now.”
Batesville plays in the eight-team Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference (along with Connersville, East Central, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville and South Dearborn). Starting with 2018, the EIAC will play a piggyback type of schedule with home-and-home conference games against the same opponent on Mondays and Thursdays.
The 2017 season brought with it the introduction of the IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).
Tucker says he favors the rule because it adds strategy and planning elements for he and his coaching staff, which includes Batesville graduates Alex Meer, Eric Feller, Ian Manlove and Jason Meyer and Franklin County alum Brian Roleson.
At tournament time, the rule really came into play, especially when rain forced the Bulldogs to play once Saturday and twice Monday at the sectional.
“I had a senior I would have loved to pitch in the sectional championship,” says Tucker. “How can you make it even better than it is right now is the real question?”
The Bulldogs fielded a varsity, JV and freshmen team in 2017 and had nearly 50 players try out for the program. Feeder programs include Batestville Babe Ruth League and a travel organization called the Batesville Bats.
Justin Tucker, a 2007 Batesville High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. In 2017, he was on the South coaching staff for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.