Tag Archives: American Legion Baseball

Team chemistry counts for plenty with Kokomo Post 6 baseball manager Andrews

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Don Andrews wants to fill his Kokomo American Legion Post 6 baseball team with talented players.

But playing ability is not the first priority for the man who enters his eighth season as senior team manager in 2018 after serving as an assistant and with Post 6’s junior squad.

“Team chemistry is more important than talent,” says Andrews. “It’s something we work really hard at.

“We’re finding out what the dynamics of the team are going to be. I go to a high school baseball game in the spring almost every night. I’m watching the players and also watching the parents.

“By the time (open) tryouts come around (in August) we almost know who we want (for the following year).”

Through his observations and conversations, Andrews will invite desired players to the tryout. He wants kids with a high baseball I.Q.

But — again — there’s more than that.

“A big basis of what we do is try to find high character kids,” says Andrews. “It’s a long, hot summer so we want to have good kids.”

Andrews normally goes through the regular season with about 15 or 16 players and adds a few worthy juniors at the end of the summer.

Post 6 plays around 35 games before the regional. This year, the regular season opens June 4 and closes July 10.

The Kokomo Summer Classic at Highland Park Stadium is slated for June 15-17.

Andrews estimates that 70 percent of Post 6’s games are at Highland Park.

“Everybody loves to play on that field,” says Andrews. “The parks department does a great job of keeping it up.”

Then there’s the dimesions.

“We have a big home field advantage,” says Andrews, eluding to the short distance down the right field line with a high fence. “We know we’ve just got to play. We don’t worry about hitting it over that fence.”

Meanwhile, left-handed batters on opposing teams are practically drooling when they see that short porch.

Kokomo has realized plenty of Legion diamond success in recent years.

The Sixers won regional titles in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Sectionals were eliminated in 2014, but Kokomo won a few of those on Andrews’ watch.

The Indiana American Legion State Finals rotates from north to south each year with teams bidding for the rights to host.

Kokomo hosted in 2016 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and will do so again this year at Highland Park. The eight-team event (seven regional champions plus the host) is scheduled for July 27-31 (the Kokomo Regional is July 20-22).

The Great Lakes Regional Aug. 8-12 in Napoleon, Ohio, with the American Legion World Series Aug. 16-21 in Shelby, N.C.

Rockport Post 254 won the 2017 state championship in a tournament hosted by Terre Haute Post 346.

While the deadline for entries is still open, Andrews expects there to be up to 32 senior teams in Indiana this year and maybe a dozen or so junior (17U) squads.

Kokomo will also host junior regional and state finals at Highland Park and Northwestern High School July 13-15 and July 19-22, respectively.

Post 6 will take its senior players in 2018 from the following high schools: Kokomo, Northwestern, Western, Taylor, and Logansport.

Junior players come from those those schools plus Oak Hill, Sheridan and Tri-Central.

In some years, the Sixers had players from Eastern, Lewis Cass and Peru.

American Legion Baseball has been a tradition in Indiana since 1926. Legion ball thrives in many corners of the state.

While many Legion rules mimic those of Major League Baseball, the national organization voted not to adopt mound visit restrictions now used by MLB.

Andrews began his coaching career when son Reid was 5 and playing T-ball at Russiaville Little League. Andrews, with the help of Dan Weaver, followed his son up the line, including four years of travel baseball — three with the Bullpen Aces and one with the Central Indiana Kings — and summers with Kokomo Post 6.

Besides bench coach Weaver, Andrews is helped with his Sixers by third base coach Will Harris and first base coach Dave Takacs.

Reid Andrews, a graduate of Western High School and Purdue University, is now general at Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield and an assistant to head baseball coach Chris Estep at University High School in Carmel.

The Andrews family is full of coaches. Don’s wife Deb Andrews is a boys and girls swimming assistant coach at Western High.

Daughter Rae Andrews, an Indiana University graduate, is a swim coach and lifeguard at the YMCA of Greater Rochester (N.Y.).

Don Andrews, a 1977 Northwestern High School graduate, played a few years of prep baseball then discovered a talent for running and turned to track and field and cross country.

He was on the track team at Purdue when he was struck by a vehicle during a November training run. A few years later, he was on the cross country and track teams at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and coached the sports during and after college.

Andrews now works at the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles transmission plant in Kokomo.

DONANDREWS

Don Andrews is manager of the Kokomo (Ind.) American Legion Post 6 baseball team. The Sixers is scheduled to open the 2018 season June 4. Post 6 will also host regionals and state finals for both junior and senior divisions.

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Fougerousse has Linton-Stockton Miners digging the baseball experience

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mixing fun and a ferocious schedule, Linton-Stockton has launched into the 2018 high school baseball season.

The Miners, under the guidance of eighth-year head coach Matt Fougerousse and ranked in the top 10 in IHSAA Class 2A polls by Prep Baseball Report Indiana and the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, are off to a 5-1 start.

Fougerousse, a 1991 Shakamak High School graduate, played three seasons for Herschel Allen and one for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chip Sweet and gathered coaching wisdom from both men.

“They taught me a lot about how to run a program the right way,” says Fougerousse. “You keep things as simple as possible. You’re dealing with high school kids.

“We like laughing a little bit. We’re not not trying to be serious all the time. We tell them to go out there and have fun like you did in Little League.

“You try to make it as fun as you can for them and put the best schedule together you can.”

Linton, located in Greene County, has won nine sectional titles. Five of those have come with Fougerousse in charge — 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017.

The Miners, which went 22-9 in 2017 helped by all-state honorable mention selection Logan Hollingsworth (now a pitcher at Vincennes University), have not yet reigned at the regional level.

“Some point to winning 20 games. I’d like to win the (Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference), but I’m not concerned with rankings or records,” says Fougerousse. “We play the schedule that will help us in the state tournament. I look at the regular season like spring training.

“It’s paid big dividends at Linton.”

Fougerousse says the up side of rankings is the recognition it brings to his players and that it ups the level of the competition day in and day out, trying to beat his squad.

“But there are only two rankings that really matter,” says Fougerousse. “A north team and a south team will be clashing for the state championship.

“Everyone’s goal every year is to end at Victory Field (in Indianapolis) with a state championship.”

Linton-Stockton belongs to the SWIAC along with 2A’s Eastern Greene and 1A’s Bloomfield, Clay City, North Central of Farmersburg, North Daviess, Shakamak and White River Valley.

The Miners’ non-conference slate includes 4A’s Bedford North Lawrence, Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Castle, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo, 3A’s Brown County, Edgewood, Mt. Vernon (Posey) Owen Valley, Sullivan, Washington and West Vigo, 2A’s Mitchell, North Knox and South Knox and 1A’s Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, Northeast Dubois, Orleans and Vincennes Rivet.

“I like to play as many teams as I can, maybe 20 different teams — quality teams with different pitchers,” says Fougerousse, who works with Miners athletic director Charles Karazsia.

In besting visiting North Central 12-0 in five innings Wednesday, April 11, Linton spread the offensive wealth among junior Tucker Hayes (home run, double, single, four runs batted in), senior Noah Woodward (two singles, two RBI), senior Dreyden Ward (double, single, RBI), junior Dane Witty (double, single), sophomore Kip Fougerousse (two singles, RBI) and freshman Josh Pyne (single). Pyne also pitched a no-hitter with nine strikeouts.

Fougerousse and Pyne have already verbally committed to play baseball at Indiana University.

SWIAC teams play one another once during the season. When possible, Fougerousse tries to schedule those games early.

This year, Linton is in a sectional grouping with Eastern Greene, Mitchell, North Knox, South Knox and Southridge.

Led by Fougerousse and assistants Travis Hayes, Darren Woodward and Jared Pyne, there are currently 21 players in the Miners program, playing varsity and junior varsity schedules.

There is also a junior high program that is not directly affiliated with the school system but does use Linton facilities. That serves as a feeder system to the high school as does Linton Boys Baseball League, American Legion programs in Greene and Sullivan counties and various travel baseball organizations, including the Indiana Bulls.

Fougerousse went to the University of Southern Indiana and began coaching at the Babe Ruth level in the summer. He changed his major at USI from accounting to education for the opportunity to become a high school coach.

After graduating college in 1996, Fougerouse went to work at Shakamak where he teaches elementary physical education as well as junior high and high school health. He served 10 years on Sweet’s Shakamak coaching staff then succeeded Sweet when he stepped away from leadership of the program.

In Fougerousse’s three seasons at the Laker helm, he helped produce a 1A state runner-up in 2007, a 1A state champion in 2008 and a 1A Avon Semistate runner-up in 2009.

He left Shakamak to coach son Kip’s travel team (Sandlot) and then was coaxed back to the high school dugout at Linton, beginning with the 2011 season.

“I wasn’t looking to get back into head coaching at the time,” says Fougerousse. “But the previous coach — Bart Berns — had the program going in the right direction.

“I wanted to see that continue.”

Berns won a sectional in his final season and drummed up the community support to build a training facility next to Roy Herndon Field that the Miners can use year-round.

The Fougerousse family — Matt, Jill, Libbi and Kip — live in Linton. Jill Fougerousse was in the first graduating class at White River Valley. Libbi Fougerousse is a sophomore at Indiana State University.

Outside the high school season, Kip Fougerousse is in his fourth year with the Indiana Prospects organization.

“I like travel baseball,” says Matt Fougerousse. “You get to see different competition and make lifelong friends.”

The inaugural class of the Linton Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004 included Roy Herndon, Paul L. “Tom” Oliphant, Dick Fields, Tom Wall and the 1967 sectional championship team.

Herndon played minor league baseball in the 1930’s and 1940’s and was the property of the St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Tigers, Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Braves and Washington Senators. He later helped start Little League baseball in Linton in 1956 and was a big part of local Babe Ruth, high school and American Legion baseball.

Oliphant, great grandfather to Kip Fougerousse, coached Linton to three basketball sectional and the school’s first baseball sectional crown in 1967.

Fields helped revive the community’s Babe Ruth and American Legion programs.

Wall was instrumental in improvements to Roy Herndon Field.

The ’67 Miners went 13-3 and topped Worthington, Shakamak and Bloomfield on the way to sectional hardware.

In the fall of 2016, Linton won the school’s first state championship in 106 years when the Miners went 15-0 and took top honors in 1A football.

MATTFOUGEROUSSE

Matt Fougerousse is in his eighth season as head baseball coach at Linton-Stockton High School in 2018. The Shakamak High School graduate led his alma mater to an IHSAA Class 1A state title in 2008.

 

Process among points of emphasis for Brabender, Northridge Raiders baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seeing the value in the process, staying with trends and building relationships.

That’s what baseball coaching is all about for Andrew Brabender, who enters his 11th season in charge at Northridge High School in 2018.

“I believe in the little things, the process of things,” says Brabender. “It’s getting kids to buy into doing the things that need to happen for the end result to happen. We’re not not looking toward the end result, but the little wins that happen throughout the process to get us to the end.

“I believe in staying current. It’s a great time to coach baseball. At the tips of your fingers you have Twitter, YouTube videos, apps and other gadgets.

“The guys on my staff are eager to learn and they really want to be current. What is the best stuff out there? What are the elite hitters doing? What are the elite throwers doing? What are the elite infielders doing and how do we make our kids do that?”

One way Brabender and his assistants — James Greensides, Dyrk Miller, Mike Miller, Blake Fry and Arick Doberenz — get players to focus on the path itself and not its end is the Raider Process Index, a system modified from Justin Dehmer and his 1 Pitch Warrior teachings.

“If we do this, this and this, the end result is going to take care of itself,” says Brabender, who has helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional championship (2015) and numerous conference titles.

The first section in the Raider Process Index is the Freebie War, which counts Northridge totals vs. opponents for errors, walks, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, strikeouts, stolen bases and dead-ball reads.

The second section is Pressure (or Press). Point totals are given for:

• Producing a big inning (10 points).

• Rally scored. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Eliminated rally scores. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Scored first. If Yes (10 points).

• Scored with two outs. If Yes (5 points).

The game goal is 30 points.

The third section is Quality At-Bats. QAB points can be given for a hard-hit ball (fly ball), freebie (walk, hit-by-pitch, error, catcher’s interference), moving a runner with no outs, a base hit or extra base hit, a six-pitch at-bat not ending in a strikeout and an nine-pitch at-bat even ending in a strikeout.

The overall RPI target is 48 points.

“We want to put pressure on the other team,” says Brabender. “We want to score first. We always want to have a shutdown inning after a big inning.

“This Raider Process Index is way for our kids to stay with the process. If we do that, the winning will take care of itself.”

Brabender regularly posts the RPI and QAB in the dugout.

“We don’t show our kids batting average,” says Brabender. “We just show them Quality At-Bats.

“They may have went 0-for-3 hitting, but went 2-for-3 in Quality At-Bats. That’s a good day. We’ve got lots of things in place for kids to value the process. You can’t just say it. You have to have things that will show them that we all value the process.”

For years, the Raiders have employed the mental training methods of sports psychologist Brian Cain.

The past five years, all Northridge players have been on a Driveline weighted ball throwing program.

Brabender says there are many benefits but the top ones are that is that it force feeds good arm action as well as arm development and the ability to throw with intent.

This year marks the second year that the Raiders are using a weighted Axe Bat regimen and the first year they’re really “diving into head-first, full speed ahead.”

The Axe Bat features overloaded and underloaded bats, which teaches intent and body positioning.

“With every kid in our program, exit velocity is up from the first time that we tested,” says Brabender, who has seen gains in hitting and throwing.

Exit velocity is measured with radar guns and with Blast Vision motion capture technology, which keeps track of all the post-contact metrics (things like launch angle, exit velocity and the distance the ball traveled). Blast Motion is used for pre-contact measurements.

Brabender has employed Blast Motion for three years and this is his first using Blast Vision.

Video analysis is also done with a RightView Pro app.

The Raiders boss was not talking about Launch Angle a decade ago.

“Now that’s all we talk about,” says Brabender, who had his youth campers hit on an upward plane. They were competing Saturday to get as many balls above a line on the curtain in the NHS fieldhouse. Below that line of 20 degrees or so was a groundout. Too far above it was a fly ball out.

“That’s what we call result-oriented training,” says Brabender. “That’s straight from (former Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs and current Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach) John Mallee. He does a ton of that.

“It forces kids to put their bodies in the right position to make something happen. If it’s not happening, they’re not doing it correctly.”

Northridge (enrollment around 1,400) belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). It is a double-round robin 14-game slate. Except for the final week of the NLC season, conference games will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Raiders are grouped at 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

What about the 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)?

“We’ve always believed in it,” says Brabender. “One of the things that’s always made our program strong is the amount of depth we’ve created in our pitching. Most of the kids in our program are going to pitch.

“I don’t think you can have enough arms at this level. In my 11 years, we’ve only had a handful of kids go over 100 pitches.

“Unless you’ve got someone with plus velocity — I’m talking 85 mph plus — you’re just asking for trouble. Getting a new guy in there just gives (the opponent) a different look anyway.”

Andrew’s father talked about the “24-hour rule.” A pitcher’s rest would go an hour by number of pitches thrown. That makes 24 hours if he throws 24 pitches and so on.

It comes down to the welfare of the player.

“It’s important that if kids want to play at the collegiate level, they’re healthy enough to do that,” says Brabender

Former Northridge players currently on college rosters include Shannon Baker and Brock Logan at Fort Wayne, Sam Troyer at Evansville, Matt Miller and Andy Ross at Indiana University South Bend and Andrew Kennedy at Taylor.

So far, current Raiders seniors Cody Bible (Indiana University Kokomo) and Dylan Trick (Spring Arbor University) have made college commitments.

Many Northridge players are part of travel baseball organizations like the Indiana Chargers, Michiana Scrappers and Middlebury Mavericks. Brabender and company also conduct coach clinic and player camps for Middlebury Little League.

Andrew is the son of Tom and Dorothy Brabender. Tom, who died in 2015, played football at Western Illinois University for Lou Saban and was a baseball coach in central Illinois for 40-plus years.

“The biggest thing from my dad was the way he related to his players,” says Andrew. “For them to follow what you want to accomplish, there has to be some likability.”

Brabender sees it as his duty to figure out a way to relate to each athlete in some way. He saw his father do it. Tom Brabender coached American Legion baseball into his late 60’s and was still relating with teenage players.

“That’s not easy,” says Andrew. “I hope I’m doing that here. I feel like I am. I want them to value the relationship with me more than baseball and for them to know that I’ve always got their back no matter what.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”

Before becoming head coach at Northridge, Brabender served one season as an assistant to Troy Carson — a man he also coached with in the Raiders football program.

Before Northrdge, Brabender spent three seasons as a baseball assistant to Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central High School.

Prior coming to Elkhart County, Brabender followed his last two seasons as a baseball player at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri with two seasons on the Trojans coaching staff.

His coach and then his boss was Scott Ashton, who brought Brabender to the NAIA school after he played two seasons of junior college ball at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., following his graduation in 1996 from St. Teresa High School in Decatur, Ill.

“He was a huge influence in my life — spiritually, baseball-wise,” says Brabender of Ashton, who is now Mid-Missouri director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and team chaplain for University of Missouri baseball, football and softball. “He taught me how to be a man We’re still close. We talk as much as we can.

“He’s a mentor me not just with baseball but my walk with the Lord.”

Ashton came along at a rough time in Brabender’s life.

In 1998, Andrew was playing in a wood bat tournament in Evansville and his parents and girlfriend (later wife) Marcie were there to watch. When they got home, they learned that Jason Brabender — Andrew’s brother — had been killed in a car accident.

“It was devastating,” says Andrew. “It was a crossroads in a lot of different avenues in our lives.”

Marcie, who Andrew met at Lake Land, had committed to play basketball at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hannibal-LaGrange was one of the few schools that was recruiting both Andrew and Marcie.

“We just took that leap and that’s where we ended up,” says Brabender. “It worked out great. I met some dear lifelong friends there. Marcie was part of the national tournament team in 2000. Two of my buddies from Lake Land ended up transferring there. It was cool.”

Andrew and Marcie married in the summer of 2000. They have four children — Emma (16), Beau (12), Kate (8) and Luke (6). Andrew grew up with an older sister, Mindy, and months ago found out he has another sibling named Lisa.

During the school day, Brabender teaches physical education for Grades K-5 at two Middlebury Community Schools buildings — Jefferson Elementary and Heritage Intermediate.

ANDREWBRABENDER

Andrew Brabender is entering his his 11th season as head baseball at Northridge High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Kuester adding to rich baseball tradition at South Spencer

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Down on the Ohio River sits the town of Rockport, Ind.

They love their baseball there.

South Spencer High School and Rockport American Legion Post 254 have been making them proud for years.

The South Spencer Rebels have won four IHSAA state titles in five State Finals appearances and won sectional crowns in 2015, 2016 and 2017, pushing the program’s total to 23.

South Spencer holds outright or share several 2A State Finals team records, including most hit (16 vs. Heritage in 2007), most runs batted in (12 in 2007) and most at-bats (38 in 2007). Todd Marn drove in a record five runs in 2007.

Rockport Post 254 has piled up all kinds of hardware at the state level and the 2016 team played in the American Legion Baseball World Series in Shelby, N.C.

Brian Kuester, who is also a social studies teacher, is entering his 22nd season as head baseball coach at South Spencer. He and his assistants also guide Post 254’s 17U Junior Legion team in the summer.

Kuester is just the third South Spencer head coach in more than 50 years. He took over for Jim Haaff (who is still the manager of Rockport’s Senior Legion squad). Haaff followed Bill Evans.

All three men are enshrined in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“I take a lot of pride in following two guys like that,” says Kuester, who took the Rebels to Class 2A state championships in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015.

Among active coaches with state championships, Tim Bordenet (Lafayette Central Catholic) ranks first with seven, followed by Terry Gobert (Jasper) and Dave Pishkur (Andrean) with five each and Kuester and Greg Dikos (Penn) with four apiece.

South Spencer was in the State Finals in the IHSAA’s third state tournament in 1969. “You’re expected to have a good program. Some years are going to be better than others. Like at any small school (South Spencer has around 400 students), it’s going to be that way.

“We know we have a target on our backs almost every time we go out there to play, which is a great thing. It’s better being on that end than on the other end. We see a lot of people’s 1’s and 2’s. That only makes us better.

“The kids expect it, know it and kind of relish that.”

Seven starters from the 2017 South Spencer Sectional champions graduated and Kuester expects maybe three or four seniors in 2018. This just means other players will now get their chance to shine.

“We’re a very small school and we have a lot of blue-collar type kids,” says Kuester. “We don’t get the big Division I players very often. But we’ve had a share of nice talent.”

After leaving South Spencer, left-hander Blake Monar pitched three seasons at Indiana University and was selected in the 12th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Nationals. He played two seasons in the Nationals systems and then with the independent Evansville Otters.

Right-hander Josh Garrett was a first-round pick in 1996 by the Boston Red Sox and pitched six professional seasons.

Kevin Davis, also a right-hander, pitched four season at Middle Tennessee State University and was a 55th round selection of the California Angels in 1996, but no record could be found of him playing in the minors.

Recent IHSCA North/South All-Star Series players have been Nathan Hall (2011), Jared Lauer (2012), Nathan Kuester (2014), Jon Stallings (2015) and Sammy Rowan (2017).

Brice Stuteville (Frontier Community College in Illinois) is among recent graduates playing college baseball.

South Spencer baseball is built on concepts like hard work, dedication and being disciplined in behavior and performance.

Multi-sport participation is the rule rather than the exception.

“We like them to be involved in other sports and have that competitiveness in them and we want them putting priorities straight,” says Kuester. “Baseball is obviously not more important than other things in life. But when we’re on the field, it’s got to be the most important thing.

“We try to instill dedication.”

Brian Kuester, the son of former professional player, manager and scout Ivan Kuester and younger brother of former Clemson University player Steve Kuester, is a 1976 Evansville Central High School graduate. For the Bears, he played for Bud Steiler and Ted Niemeier.

Brian calls his father and brother his biggest influences in baseball.

“My brother told me that as a catcher, you’re the only one who can see everybody else on the field,” says Kuester. “You have to be the leader. You have to know every position and what they need to be doing in every situation. You have to be able to basically teach pitching as a catcher and be a psychologist, trying to get the most out of your pitcher.

“Being a catcher definitely has a major impact in being a head coach.”

Like his brother, Brian was a catcher and went on to play at Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) from 1977-80. His coach was former minor league pitcher Larry Shown.

Kuester was a graduate assistant at Southeastern Louisiana University and served as coach for Boonville and Evansville Pate American Legion and Oakland City University teams and five seasons at Tecumseh High School. He was associate head coach at Southern Indiana and an assistant for one season of Haaff’s South Spencer staff.

The 2018 Rebels coaching staff features Shawn Kuester, Mike Ogilvie and Mitch Rust at the varsity level and Chris Bartlett leading the junior varsity.

South Spencer is a member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (along with Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City).

Games are not played in a set pattern.

“Some weeks we might have two or three conference games,” says Kuester. “Some weeks we have no conference games.

“Our schedule is very, very tough. But that’s the way we want it.”

Non-conference dates in Indiana include Boonville, Castle, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz, Floyd Central, Jasper, Martinsvillle, Perry Central, Washington plus the Jasper Invitational.

Kentucky include Apollo, Daviess County, Hancock County and Henderson County and Owensboro Catholic.

Brian and Debbie Kuester have four children — Jeremy, Shawn, Nathan and Katie. All the boys played at South Spencer for their father. In college, Jeremy Kuester played two seasons at the University of Evansville and two at Kentucky Wesleyan College and is now University of Southern Indiana pitching coach.

Shawn Kuester at Evansville and Nathan Kuester is a senior at Southern Indiana. Katie Kuester is a softball player at Olney (Ill.) Central College.

Ivan Kuester, Brian, Kuester, Jeremy Kuester, Bill Evans and Jim Haaff) are members of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame — a group that inducted its first class in 2016.

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted 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).

Kuester said it has had zero effect on his teams and he only had one pitcher — son Jeremy — ever go above 120 pitches in a game. The main reason is that his pitchers also play other positions.

“I’m not always going to save my best for conference,” says Kuester. “If he’s available, we’re going to do it. Last year, we only threw our No. 1 in a couple of conference games. That’s just how it fell.

“We want to win the conference, but that’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is the (state) tournament.

The Rebels are all in it together.

“We stay away from he ‘me, me, me’ that our society seems to be in right now,” says Kuester. “We try to concentrate on what’s best for the team.

“Our players have bought into the concept. They learned if they play together, it will make you better as a team.”

BRIANKUESTER

Brian Kuester is entering his 22nd season as head baseball coach at South Spencer High School in Rockport, Ind., in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame calls ‘Old School’ Murphy of Valparaiso

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Murphy describes himself as “Old School.”

Murphy stayed loyal to his old school and his community, choosing to remain in Valparaiso — the city of his birth.

He attended Valpo schools and graduated from Valparaiso High School as senior class president in 1961.

Along the way, Murphy shined in football, basketball and baseball. He picked up plenty of baseball knowledge from nice man named Bob Rhoda — a coach he admired and, one day, would replace as the man in charge of the Vikings on the diamond.

His peers thought enough of Murphy’s career that he will be inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Class of 2018 at a dinner Saturday, Jan. 27 in Indianapolis. Other honorees will include Rich Andriole, Colin Lister, LaTroy Hawkins and Howard Kellman.

After his days as Valparaiso student, Murphy traveled less than 50 miles south for higher education, attending Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer and graduating in 1965 as a social studies major and English minor.

Where did he go from there?

Back to Valpo, of course.

Murphy took a teaching job at his alma mater that would last 37 years. He taught a few English classes in the early years then concentrated on social studies and helped generations know about U.S. Government and U.S. History.

Pat and wife Nancy would raise two boys — Michael and Tim.

Michael went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and become a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Marines, leading a squadron of Stingrays at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, while marrying and giving his folks two granddaughters. Tim earned a doctorate in cultural anthropology and moved out east.

Both Murphy boys gave their parents — married 45 years in 2017 — a reason to travel with Michael stationed for three years in Spain and Tim spending time in Brazil. In retirement, Pat enjoys walking with Nancy and sometimes gets her to accompany him on the golf course.

Back in Porter County, Indiana, their father was making a mark as a educator and a coach.

Pat Murphy spent 19 seasons on the Vikings football staff led by a pair of Indiana Football Hall of Famers — Tom Stokes and Mark Hoffman.

With Stokes in charge, Valpo won an IHSAA Class 3A state championship in 1975 — the first of three straight 3A title-takers from the Duneland Athletic Conference. Merrillville was state champions in 1976 and Portage reigned in 1977.

“It was up to the ball and go,” says Murphy of Valpo’s single-wing attack. “We wore teams down.”

Murph spent four seasons as a VHS baseball assistant to Rhoda then led the program for 28 more, retiring after the 1999 season.

“He was a very nice person, a very kind man,” says Murphy of Rhoda, who is also in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. “He was very knowledgeable.”

Murphy went into the Valparaiso Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010 after leading his team to 483 victories, 13 sectional crowns and two DAC championships.

All this was achieved against a schedule that regularly featured IHSBCA Hall of Fame coaches — men like LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber, Chesterton’s Jack Campbell, Andrean’s Dave Pishkur, Highland’s Dan Miller, Plymouth’s Bill Nixon and Munster’s Bob Shinkan.

You had to play a hard-nosed brand of baseball to have any success.

“I had to play Schreib (at LaPorte) a minimum of three times (regular season and postseason) to get out of the regional,” says Murphy. “There were times four Duneland schools were in the regional.

“It was extremely competitive. You have to mean business. It’s not something you take lightly. In fact, you take it very seriously. In one week, I may play against three Halll of Famers.

“I’m honored to be considered one of them.”

Murphy’s philosophy: “Work hard, play smart, and most of all, have fun!”

“You can’t get things done unless you work hard,” says Murphy.

The catcher who blocks nasty pitch after nasty pitch is able to do so because of all the time he spent having balls whizzed at him in practice.

“Catchers are like (hockey) goalies, making 40 or 50 saves a game,” says Murphy. “You don’t get that unless you work hard at it.”

Staying with the catcher example, the man behind the mask must have the smarts to know the situation — the score, number of outs, position of runners and order of hitters coming up and what they had done the last time up.

“In baseball, there are more variables than most sports,” says Murphy. “Of course, I’m biased.”

Murphy says fun is an essential additive to this mix.

“Life’s too short not to have fun,” says Murphy. “Whether it’s coaching, teaching or your job,  it can be a real tough thing to do if you dread what you’re doing.”

A true-blue Chicago Cubs fan, Murphy notes that the 2016 World Series champions were a team that had fun while they were winning.

Murphy and his assistant coaches over the years taught young Vikings the game and then sent them into competition.

“You hope they perform the way you’ve told them, but kids are kids and sometimes it’s an adventure,” says Murphy. “You have to remember, these are 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids.”

Biff Geiss was a Murphy assistant the longest. A successful player at DePauw University, he came to VHS to teach languages and helped Murphy impart many baseball lessons.

Murphy expresses gratitude to many baseball assistants who also offered their talents to other sports. Among those are Todd Coffin, Dale Gott,  Zane Cole, Dave Coyle, Rich Spicer, Steve Krutz, Jeff Wood, Gary Gray and John Gutierrez.

Current Valpo head baseball coach Todd Evans was a senior in Murphy’s last season in 1999. The former program leader likes what he sees.

“Todd has brought back things to the sport that are important,” says Murphy. “Things like punctuality, loyalty and accountability. Some of those things aren’t there any more in school or sports.”

Murphy recalls having two at least full teams playing summer games in June and July. That has been replaced by travel baseball when Valparaiso’s high school season ends.

“That’s not right,” says Murphy. “I’m pretty old school. But you have to have pretty deep pockets (for travel ball). Many kids who can’t do that. Some coaches are trophy hounds. I don’t know how much fundamental baseball is being taught and it takes away from the chemistry of the high school team the way it used to be.

“It was nice to see them playing Legion ball (for Valparaiso Post 94), too.”

PATMURPHYVALPO

Pat Murphy is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in January 2018. He was head baseball coach at his alma mater — Valparaiso High School — for 28 seasons and won 483 games.

Baseball odyssey takes many twists, turns for Vincennes native Ashley

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nevin Ashley always wanted to be in charge on a baseball field.

Coach Bill Cary let him play different positions on the North Knox High School team.

But Ashley was always drawn back to catcher.

“He was great because he knew at that age I had a future in baseball,” says Ashley. “He challenged to think about the game in a little bit more of an in-depth way. That really helped me, especially as a catcher.”

Cary, who was on the South staff for the 2006 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches All-Star Series when Terre Haute North Vigo catcher Josh Phegley was MVP, encouraged Ashley to call pitches and manage the game on the field.

“I began taking extra time to read batters and see any adjustments they might make,” says Ashley. “That helped me have the long career that I had.”

The 2003 North Knox graduate went on to play three seasons at Indiana State University (2004-06) and 11 in professional baseball.

At ISU, he learned much from head coach Bob Warn and pitching coach C.J. Keating.

Warn’s last season with the Sycamores was also Ashley’s last in Terre Haute.

“He was definitely an old school baseball coach,” says Ashley of American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Warn. “He was a good influence on my career. I learned his will to win and how important it was.”

Keating and Ashley went over scouting reports so the receiver would know the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. He would study the starters and potential pinch-hitters the night before games.

“I met a lot of good people at Indiana State that I stay in contact with,” says Ashley. “I was fortunate for those years of my life.”

Ashley was selected in the sixth round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and set out on a long minor league journey.

From team to team and organization to organization, he just kept going.

“I had a lot of perseverance and a lot of people in my corner,” says Ashley, the son of Dan and Jamie Ashley, younger brother of Natalie and Nathan, the grandson of Robert and Patricia Ashley and Jim and the late Shirley Cardinal, the husband of Ashley (yes, she’s Ashley Ashley) and father of two boys — Gaige (5) and Aiden (1).

His parents rarely missed a home game while Nevin was in college and came to see him whenever possible when he became a professional.

Not able to travel much, his paternal grandparents followed on the Internet. If the feed went bad or something about their Nevin on-air was incorrect, they were sure to get a phone call.

“She knows best, so you better listen to her,” says Nevin of Grammy Ashley.

Nevin, who was born in Vincennes, began his baseball players tagging along with Nathan at the Vincennes Cub League. Heading into his freshmen year at North Knox, Nevin played American Legion Baseball in Vincennes. His next three summers were spent with the Indiana Bulls. He went back to Legion ball for the summer prior to Indiana State.

Ashley played for the Springfield Rifles in the Central Illinois Collegiate League in 2004, Solano Thunderbirds in the Sierra Baseball League and Horizon Air Summer Series in California in 2005 and briefly with the Eau Claire (Wis.) Express in the Northwoods League in 2006 before signing with the Devil Rays.

Ashley strapped on the catching gear day after day, year after year.

Things he began learning back as a youngster were being reinforced and he was getting acquainted with analytics as part of the scouting report.

“It’s good and a bad thing,” says Ashley. “I’m kind of old school. But (analytics) is very crucial. Stats show that a guy might pull the ball on the ground so we make a shift.”

To stay on the same page, there would be a constant dialogue between innings involving Ashley and his pitching coach and — if he had a catching background — his manager.

“All that being said, it’s still up to the pitcher,” says Ashley. “Those stats go on his baseball card.

“As a good catcher you have to build a relationships with each and every pitcher and build their trust. Some guys you need to coddle a little more. Some you have to push — and maybe even make them a little mad — to get the best out of them.”

In 2007, Ashley smashed 12 of his 66 career minor league home runs for the Columbus (Ga.) Catfish. He played in the 2009 Arizona Fall League with the Phoenix Desert Dogs.

For all his hard work, he finally got called up to the big leagues in as a reserve for the Rays (by this time they had dropped the Devil) during the 2010 playoffs. He did not play.

In 2011 (and again for a short time in 2015), Nevin, Ashley and Gaige went to learn another way of living and about baseball in the Dominican Winter League.

“It was a great experience,” says Nevin, who was with Gigantes de Cibao in 2011 Toros del Este in 2015. “I wanted to submerge myself into their culture. Now I have a better understanding of why Latin players they play the will they do. All that showmanship, fans thrive on it. It’s good for baseball.”

A seven-year run with the Tampa Bay organization ended when Ashley declared free agency and signed with the Cincinnati Reds before the 2013 season. That year, he played not far from where he grew up with the Triple-A Louisville Bats.

He was again granted free agency and signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was assigned to the Indianapolis Indians in 2014. He got called up to the majors again with Pittsburgh in New York. The catcher he was going to replace decided to play through injury and Ashley was sent back to Triple-A.

Once again, he became a free agent after the season and caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers and went to their Triple-A affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

That summer, Ashley was called up to the bigs late in the season. After 870 minor league appearances, he made his MLB debut on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015 in Miami. He was 31 years old. Batting eighth in the Milwaukee order, he collected his first big-league hit — an RBI double in his first at-bat — off Tom Koehler.

Ashley would finish the season with one more hit — an infield single off Carlos Contreras on Sunday, Sept. 20 in Cincinnati — and a .100 batting average. He got into 12 games and drove in one run and scored two.

After the 2015 season, Ashley declared free agency and signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets and played with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51’s in 2016 until being traded to the Texas Rangers organization in June and putting on the colors of the Triple-A Round Rock Express.

Once again a free agent, he joined the Seattle Mariners organization for 2017.

In Arizona for spring training, Ashley suffered a pretty severe concussion that kept him off out of games for the whole season.

“When I first started playing, concussions were not looked as thoroughly as they are now,” says Ashley, who turned 33 in August. “As a catcher, I had my bell rang plenty of times. I shook it off, took a few aspirin and kept going.

“This was different. I had two little ones at home. I started looking at my priorities in life.”

Ashley opted to retire as a player and come home to Evansville to sort out his future.

The tagline on his Twitter profile at @nevin_ashley reads: Baseball is what I do, not who I am.

It is followed by a Bible verse — Philippians 4:13. That passage — “I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.”

“I’m trying to mend,” says Ashley. “I still having constant migraine headaches.

“I’ll move on from there. I don’t know if I’m going to stay in the baseball world. I have a few opportunities. Right now, I’m going to catch up with all the family time I missed.”

Nevin and Ashley grew up together. They were wed early in his professional baseball career and she and the couple’s oldest son have put in plenty of miles together.

“We decided that we were going do this baseball thing together — no matter what,” says Nevin. “We signed up for it. It doesn’t make it any easier. We have had to deal with a lot of ambiguity.

“But she’s independent. I don’t know how any of the baseball moms do it. They go through a lot out there that not a lot of people see. They think it’s glitz and glamour and it’s not.”

While baby Aiden imitates a bowling ball.

“He runs into everything,” says Nevin. “My 5-year-old, he loves baseball.”

Gaige was eight days old when he attended the first of many baseball games.

“I don’t push it at all, but if he wants to play baseball that will be special for me,” says Nevin. “He’s a lefty. He’s going to have to find a different position.”

NEVINASHLEYFIRSTMLBHIT2015

After 10 years in the minors, Milwaukee Brewers catcher Nevin Ashley hits a double in his first Major League Baseball at-bat Sept. 9, 2015 in Miami. The Vincennes, Ind., native began his professional career in 2006 and retired in 2017. (MLB Photo)

 

Four decades later, South Bend Post 50 still Indiana’s lone American Legion national champions

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

American Legion Baseball dates back to 1925.

Indiana joined in 1926 and has crowned a state champion 91 times, including Rockport Post 254 in 2017 (competing now in the Great Lakes Regional in Napoleon, Ohio).

Only one Indiana team has ever reigned at the American Legion World Series.

That’s South Bend Post 50 in 1977. “Machuca’s Marauders” went 18-0 during the tournament run, which included the state tournament and a win against Lafayette Post 11 in the championship game in Richmond and concluded at the American Legion World Series in Manchester, N.H.

Post 50 topped Boyertown, Pa., Santa Monica, and Hattiesburg, Miss. (twice) to finish as the best 16-18 baseball team in America.

More than 3,800 teams entered the double-elimination event at the local level in ’77 and the lone team standing at the end was from South Bend, Ind.

“We thought that was going to open the flood gates (to other national champions from Indiana Legion baseball),” said Mel Machuca, Post 50 manager in ’77, at a 40-year reunion of the title-takers.

It just hasn’t turned out that way.

Machuca has often been asked over the years how he won a national championship.

“If I knew that I would do it again,” said Machuca in response.

But that team 40 years ago certainly caught lightning in a bottle.

On the way to that special achievement, Post 50 beat the defending national champions (Santa Monica, Calif.) and the previous national runners-up (Arlington Heights, Ill.). Between the two, those loaded squads had 13 players that went on to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

The lone MLB draftee for Post 50?

It was Dan Szajko. The outfielder, second baseman and third baseman was picked by the Montreal Expos in the 27th round out of Notre Dame in 1982 and played in the minors through 1985.

Slugging third baseman Jeff Coker did have a brief minor league career after his Post 50 days.

Szajko was the youngest player on a ’77 Post 50 squad dominated by older guys. In those years, American Legion Baseball was 18-and-under (later changed to 19U).

“He was 16 and a gift from (South Bend John Adams High School coach) Len Buczkowski,” recalled Machuca. “Dan Szajko was the player to be named later.”

Two players hit .429 during the Legion tournament run — center fielder Szajko and shortstop Bill Schell.

Greg Heyde (15-1) won eight tournament games, Dave Hankins (15-1) seven, Dennis Janiszewski two and Dave Yates one to pace the pitching staff. Heyde were also left fielders.

First baseman Jim Andert, pitcher/center fielder Mike Clarke, pitcher/right fielder Jeff Kowatch, catcher Scott Madey, catcher Dom Romeo, catcher John Ross, pitcher Jeff Rudasics, pitcher/second baseman Will Shepherd, first baseman Mark Toles and second baseman Gary Vargyas were also a part of the champs. Bob Kouts was past commander of Post 50 and longtime Indiana baseball chairman.

Bill Barcome was assistant coach at American Legion Coach of the Year in ’77 (Machuca was Manager of the Year). Dan Toles was a bench coach during the tournament run. Todd Machuca served as batboy. Veteran reporter Forrest “Woody” Miller wrote about the team’s exploits in the South Bend Tribune.

Janiszewski died in 1996, Kouts in 2002 and Miller in 2009.

Machuca, who would coach Post 50 into the ’80s and went on to guide youth teams in Carmel, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, built what turned out to be  a national championship team with a simple formula. He introduced it at the first ’77 tryout session.

“Baseball is a defensive game,” said Machuca. “Hitting wins games. Pitching wins pennants. Defense wins championships.”

Machuca and Barcome made sure players knew what they were doing on defense.

Post 50 was also well-armed for the task at-hand.

“I was blessed,” said Machuca. “I had eight pitchers (using four of them in tournament play).”

The squad that Machuca assembled became very close, which is in evidence all these years later as players gather to swap stories on the golf course, at dinner and at a South Bend Cubs game.

“What we had here in South Bend, the attitude was amazing,” said Machuca. “They were family.

“They took us for the ride. I didn’t play. Bill didn’t play. Everything was built on trust.”

Machuca interjected confidence from Day 1.

“‘You guys are the best I’ve ever seen. You’re going to win the state championship. Go home and be prepared to work for that,’” said Machuca of his words that day. “It seems that what we’ve lost is kids today aren’t willing to work together for a common goal.

“They want an advantage. They want to be guaranteed this and guaranteed that.”

In American Legion Baseball, the team you register is the team you take into the tournament. There are no add-ons or ringers.

“Whatever you start with, you end with,” said Machuca.

In ’77, there were no designated hitters or courtesy runners in American Legion Baseball and that’s the way coaches, players and organizers liked it.

Tryouts for the ’78 Post 50 team drew 400 eager youngsters.

Two decades after the national title, the Post 50 men of ’77 played a game against the Post 50 team of ’97. The “old” guys did well enough to get that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid reaction: “Who are those guys?”

Even folks in the local baseball community did not know about the national champions.

A seed was planted which grew into a book, co-authored by Machuca (No. 20) and player Will Shepherd (No. 11).

“An Inning At A Time: An American Legion Baseball National Championship Story” was published in 2011.

Machuca explained the title of the book.

“I win innings, I don’t win games,” said Machuca. “Games are too big. Do what you can do at the time.”

In the Arlington Heights game, Post 50 got down 5-0 early. Machuca asked his players to come back with one run — two would be a bonus.

“‘We get one run and we’re going to win this game,’” said Machuca of that in-between half innings speech. “Once you get to the point of total confidence on the field, it’s hard to get beat.”

Shepherd looks back on the national title and still marvels at what he and his ball-playing buddies did.

“For my money what makes it special is that it was a legitimate World Series. It was a bracketed, countrywide tournament. One state champion moved on the regional and that one regional champion moved on.”

The 91st American Legion World Series Aug. 10-15 in Shelby, N.C. Games will be shown on ESPN3 and ESPNU.

SBPOST5077-1

South Bend Post 50’s 1977 American Legion Baseball national champions at a 40-year reunion dinner are (from left): First row — Will Shepherd, Bill Schell, manager Mel Machuca, assistant coach Bill Barcome and Jeff Kowatch; Second row —  Paul Kazmierczak (member of ’75 and ’76 team), Mike Clarke, Jim Andert, Greg Heyde, Dave Hankins and Jeff Coker. Not pictured —  Dennis Janiszewski (deceased), Scott Madey, Dom Romeo, John Ross, Jeff Rudasics, Mark Toles, Dan Szajko, Gary Vargyas and Dave Yates plus batboy Todd Machuca and tournament bench coach Dan Toles.