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Grubbs guides Goshen College pitchers during unprecedented time

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In a year that has been anything but conventional, Goshen (Ind.) College baseball pitching coach Justin Grubbs has been teaching his hurlers to embrace their routines.

The ninth-year GC assistant has certain things for pitchers to do six days a week while they each are encouraged to find what works best for them.

These are college athletes. It’s no cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all system.

“A lot of these kids when they get here never really focused on pitching,” says Grubbs. “If they were at a school where they played multiple positions they might play shortstop, come in and pitch and the next day they’re back at shortstop.

“One of our outfielders — a freshmen — said he never thought of himself as a pitcher through he was the No. 1 at his school. Here, you’ve got to put a lot more emphasis on it if you want to get better at it.”

Having an abundance of quality arms has long been important when playing a 55-game NAIA schedule. But with the Crossroads League going to 36 conference games and Friday and Saturday doubleheaders, it has taken on even more significance for the Maple Leafs.

“You have a really good chance of getting on the field as a pitcher. We need pitching,” says Grubbs. “With this many innings, there’s going to be opportunities.”

Grubbs spells out his points of emphasis.

“What we’re big on the most is being able to attack hitters, have command and be able to throw secondary pitches for strikes,” says Grubbs. “We’re pretty successful with that compared to some other programs. 

“A lot of times, we’ll pitch backwards to teams. We’ll always work off our fastball. But you’ve got to be able to mix speeds and change locations.”

In 2019, the GC staff set a school record for strikeouts (345). In the past four seasons, the top four team earned run averages in Goshen’s DakStats-era history have been posted.

“We’d like to pitch to weak contact at times, too,” says Grubbs, recognizing that strikeouts tend to raise the pitch count. “We have a nice core of veterans back that are going to be able to help us (in 2021).”

Now in the sixth of seven fall practice weeks, the Maple Leafs are looking to get better even as the COVID-19 pandemic took away or shortened the 2020 spring and summer seasons.

Goshen was 7-11 overall and 2-1 in the Crossroads and on a two-game win streak when the season ended soon after a March 7 doubleheader sweep of visiting Taylor.

Newcomers and veterans are getting roughly the same amount of playing time in intrasquad games so the coaching staff can see what the players can do.

“We try to even up teams so they get a fair crack at it,” says Grubbs. “They have an opportunity.”

In a typical non-pandemic year, Goshen would be playing outside competition in the fall. Not so in 2020.

“We’re getting a lot of reps against each other,” says Grubbs. “Some nights we have to grind through it a little bit.”

The Maple Leaf World Series — Purple vs. Black — is slated for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week.

“I’m hoping our guys’ perspective changed. We have an opportunity to be out here (on J. Harold “Sarge” Yoder Baseball Field). Every day, we should be thankful for after last spring.

“We talked about the mental and emotional side and getting through those struggles.”

Grubbs is part of a staff led by head coach Alex Childers and featuring Doug Wellenreiter and Brad Stoltzfus.

Right now, Childers is with his wife Amber and family at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis while Wellenreiter and Grubbs run the team.

“Alex is the type of coach that has given us so much responsibility and given us the reins to lead our components of the team,” says Grubbs. “He gives us that freedom to coach.”

During the season, Grubbs helps Childers with in-game decision-making and also handles much of GC’s recruiting.

The Leafs roster includes players from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. But it also features those from California, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada and Texas plus Alberta in Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

Once the pandemic hit, there was a slow start to recruiting for the 2021 class. But with the help of the admissions office, virtual visits soon became the norm.

“These were guys we’d already done research on,” says Grubbs. “We’d seen videos and texted back and forth. We had an idea of who they are and talked with their coaches.”

Following the school’s protocol and precautions, there was one short recruiting trip to Michigan in the summer. In most years, Grubbs would log many miles in pursuit of players.

Grubbs grew up just outside Bourbon, Ind., and graduated from Triton Junior/Senior High School in 1998. The Trojans won the old Northern State Conference title in 1997 and were perennial NSC contenders.

Eric Stults, who went on to star at Crossroads League member Bethel College (now Bethel University) and pitch in the big leagues, lived just a couple of miles away. In Justin’s final high school game — left-hander Stults hurled Argos to a 3-2 victory over Triton.

Landon Grubbs — Justin’s brother — was the starting right fielder and clean-up hitter on Triton’s 2001 IHSAA Class 1A state championship team.

Both Grubbs brothers were coached by Jim Shively.

“He got the best out of his players,” says Grubbs of Shively. “He had a lot of enthusiasm. He taught guys how to hit. I never knew how to hit until I got (to high school). I was also more of a pitcher type who hit at the bottom of the order.”

Grubbs ended up in the No. 2 hole on a squad featuring Kyle Gould (who is now the head baseball coach at athletic director at Crossroads League member Taylor University).

On the mound, Grubbs was 15-4 and a two-time all-NSC selection. He also played football and was academic all-state in 1997.

Grubbs was relief on the baseball team at Indiana Wesleyan University. Mark DeMichael was then head coach of the Wildcats. He learned lessons of pitching and spirituality from IWU pitching coach Mike Burchette.

“He talked about the side work and what a pitching program really looks like,” says Grubbs of Burchette. “He had a really good Christian twist to everything and would really lead us spiritually.”

After a couple years, Grubbs decided to begin his coaching career while working toward a Indiana Wesleyan degree he earned in 2002 (he got a masters in Administration of Physical Education and Sport). 

He was the freshmen coach at Marion (Ind.) High School then a freshmen coach at Kokomo (Ind.) High School

Grubbs then became varsity assistant and pitching coach to head coach Steve Shugart at Madison-Grant Junior/Senior High School in Fairmount, Ind. The Argylls regularly won 20 games as season and were state-ranked in Class 2A. M-G won a Central Indiana Conference championship.

After that, Justin and wife Emily (who also went to Triton and Indiana Wesleyan), opted to move closer to home to start a family (their daughters are Eliana and Maycee). 

The couple, married since 2004, settled in Bremen, Ind., and Justin took a job as a math teacher and assistant baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) High School. He was the varsity assistant for the Redskins (now RedHawks) for five years.

Grubbs continues to teach at Goshen and coach at Goshen College. When deciding whether to take the college job, Grubbs consulted with former GHS teacher and coach and GC coach DeVon Hoffman.

He also talked with GHS principal Barry Younghans, who makes it possible for him to teach and get to college games — sometimes the second half of a doubleheader.

“Alex is very flexible as a coach,” says Grubbs. “He’s even said there are times that I need you even more in practice than I do at the games because that’s where all of our work is put in and it’s just performance at the game.

“I’m thankful I’m around people that are really good people to work for at the high school and here at the college.”

Justin Grubbs is in his ninth year as baseball pitching coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. He is a graduate of Triton Junior/Senior High School in Bourbon, Ind., Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. He teaches math at Goshen High School.

VanArsdale builds Elkhart Christian culture of humility, hard work

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Tyler VanArsdale was asked to be the varsity baseball coach at Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy, the invitation came with a request.

Athletic director Richelle Viront wanted him to establish culture with the Eagles.

VanArsdale, a 2013 ECA graduate who had played baseball, golf and basketball at his alma mater, was a baseball assistant in 2017 and came back to lead the program in 2019.

“I’ve been preaching to the guys to stay humble and work hard,” says VanArsdale. “Humility is so valuable in a team sport.”

VanArsdale, who had also coached many of these same athletes as junior high basketball players, does not put the emphasis on personal statistics but the team.

“We talked about distractions,” says VanArsdale. “One huge one is pride.”

VanArsdale wants his players to know that “everyone matters” and that seniors with experience respect freshmen with little to none.

“When I see someone who is toxic to that culture, we’re addressing it head-on right away,” says VanArsdale. “At the end of the day, ECA baseball is about life development.”

VanArsdale saw the Eagles go from 1-11 in 2018 — a year he stayed out of coaching with the birth of his daughter (Bethel College graduates Tyler and Brittany welcomed Clara on their wedding anniversary of May 10, 2018 at 10:18 p.m.) — to 8-8 in 2019 with him in charge.

“It’s a mindset thing — a change in thinking,” says VanArsdale. “That’s a great turnaround.”

Elkhart Christian lost 4-0 to Fremont in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional.

“It was intense and competitive,” says VanArsdale. “I was proud of the guys.”

Two seniors — Bailey Petty and Mark Stevens — were on that squad. Many players return for 2020. Stevens has joined a coaching staff that also includes Tony Tice and Chad Viront.

VanArsdale started his high school athletic career at nearby Penn.

As a sophomore, he transferred to ECA. He was allowed to play junior varsity basketball. The Eagles did not have a JV baseball team, but an arm injury ended his travel season early.

VanArsdale played basketball as a junior and season for squads that won 13 and 14 games.

His senior spring saw ECA go 21-8 and win the school’s first baseball sectional title, reigning at Hamilton and advancing to the finals of the 1A Caston Regional.

That team featured Caleb Stayton (who went on to a standout career at Ball State University) and Tanner Watson (who excelled at Taylor University) and VanArsdale keeps in-touch with many of his former teammates.

A former golf mate of Alec Dutkowski, VanArdale was also able to juggle the links and the diamond in the spring at ECA. He anticipates that he will have some baseball players also competing in track and field this spring.

During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, the Eagles have been practicing on Tuesdays and Saturdays with weight workouts on other days.

Players and coaches are communication via group chat and VanArsdale, who is also account manager for Legacy Fire Protection, has lunch with his seniors — a group that will have at least six.

“I’m excited,” says VanArsale. “1 through 9, we’ll be stronger at the plate.

“With pitching, we lost Bailey Petty. But we’ll be more diverse and may use three pitchers in a game.”

To keep his pitchers healthy, VanArsdale has them using J-Bands, lifting weights and stretching in the off-season.

For those players who have their sights on the next level, the coach has advice.

“If you have a goal to play college ball, I preach prospect camps,” says VanArsdale. “You don’t want to get worn out on travel ball.”

While ECA (enrollment around 170) is an independent in all sports but soccer now, the school will be part of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn), beginning in 2020-21. It will come with a double robin schedule and end-of-season recognition.

“It’s going to be really good,” says VanArsdale. “It’ll give each school something to shoot for.”

The Eagles are part of a 1A sectional grouping in 2020 and 2021 with Bethany Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian.

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Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy head baseball coach Tyler VanArsdale (center) appears with Bailey Petty (left) and Mark Stevens on Senior Day 2019.

Lawler seeing that success breeds success with LaVille Lancers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Buying into the multi-sport athlete idea and feeding off the success of other sports, the LaVille Lancers is enjoying a stellar 2018 season under fourth-year head coach Brian Lawler.

Heading into a home game Friday, May 18 against John Glenn, the Lancers are 20-2.

LaVille ran the table in the Hoosier North Athletic Conference, going 14-0. Pioneer (10-4) was second, followed by Knox (8-6), Winamac (7-6), North Judson (7-7), Triton (5-9), Caston (4-9) and Culver Community (0-14). Winamac is to visit Caston in the final HNAC game Friday, May 18.

“We’re a small school,” says Lawler, who coaches and teaches physical education in a LaVille Junior/Senior High building with around 350 students in the top four grades. “We believe in sharing athletes and providing opportunities for kids all year-round.

“We want to give them the best experience they can.”

Athletic director/head football coach Will Hostrawser leads a staff which coordinates their summer workouts so athletes can attend sessions in multiple sports.

Hostrawser has a baseball coaching background.

“He lets all his coaches coach,” says Lawler of Hostrawser. “But he’s always there if we want to pick his brain about something.”

As for success breeding success, two examples come in football and boys basketball. The Lancers went 8-5 on the gridiron last fall and 23-1 on the hardwood last winter.

The past four years, LaVille is 35-14 in football and 76-24 in boys basketball under head coach Michael Edison. Corey Duncan’s girls basketball squad was 16-8 in 2017-18.

Before playing baseball at Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University and earning his teaching degree at Bethel College, Lawler was a football and baseball athlete at South Bend St. Joseph High School. He graduated in 1999.

Before coming to LaVille, Lawler was a St. Joseph assistant for eight seasons on the staff of John Gumpf.

What does being a multi-sport athlete mean to him?

“Competing throughout the year and learning lessons from different coaches,” says Lawler. “It’s about being coachable and that translates into whatever sport that kid is doing at the time.”

The HNAC plays home-and-home two-game series with some doubleheaders, making it extra important to develop pitching depth.

“It forces you not the see that No. 1 twice,” says Lawler, who is assisted by Mark Elliot, Scott Wierczorek and Bryce Bustamante. “And with the pitch count rules (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) and our small roster (there’s 15 players in the program for a varsity and junior varsity schedule), we need to get as many pitchers as we can.”

The 2017 Lancers went 20-7 and graduated some quality senior pitchers. The current team has just one senior — first baseman Tyler Hollon. There is also a good mix of juniors, sophomores and a few freshmen.

Lawler counts catcher Reese Gallup and left-handed pitcher/outfielder Devon Schoff among the junior standouts and third baseman Jimmy Fischer, first baseman Isaiah Herbster, right-hander/outfielder Nick Moore and shortstop/right-hander Connor Wieczorek as some of the top sophomores.

LaVille plays its home games on its campus near Lakeville though it does have access to nearby Newton Park should field conditions call for a change of venue.

The Lancers’ non-conference schedule includes Argos, Bethany Christian, Bremen, Culver Military, Jimtown, John Glenn, Oregon-Davis, Rochester, South Bend Adams and South Central.

LaVille is in the IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional along with Bremen, Central Noble, Eastside, Prairie Heights and Westview. The Lancers have won three sectional baseball titles (1968, 1974, 1991).

Lawler and wife Sara reside in South Bend.

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LaVille Junior/Senior High School baseball coach Brian Lawler (right) poses with lone 2018 senior Tyler Hollon. The Lancers have reached the 20-win plateau again this spring.