Tag Archives: Attica

Driver wants discipline, attention to detail with Attica Red Ramblers

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

Brian Driver spent more than 20 seasons as an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton at McCutcheon, North Newton and Twin Lakes.
Driver, a 1992 McCutcheon High School graduate, played for Burton and was his pitching coach at three stops — the past six at Twin Lakes.
Now head baseball coach at Attica Junior-Senior High School, Driver is building a program culture based on discipline and attention to detail.
“We’e going to focus on every rep and every ground ball,” says Driver, who was hired in July to lead the Red Ramblers. “Every cut has a purpose. You don’t take any rep off — in practice, games, everything.
“Footwork and handwork has to be correct.”
Driver also went to Milligan College in Johnson City, Tenn., where he played for Doug Jennett.
Attica (enrollment around 190) is in Fountain County and a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Covington, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage, Riverton Parke, Seeger and South Vermillio,).
In 2021, the Rambers were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Covington, Faith Christian, North Vermillion and Riverton Parke. Attica has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2017.
Driver and the Ramblers participated in baseball activities during the recent IHSAA Limited Contact Period (Aug. 30-Oct. 16) with about at dozen players, including junior high athletes, taking part with many players busy with Attica fall sports.
“We have a lot of field projects,” says Driver of the Rambler’s home facility. “We want it to be something they can take pride in.”
With community support, a full infield renovation and reworking of the mound and plate areas is in the offing thanks to former Victory Field head groundskeeper Jamie Mehringer, J&D Turf and Advanced Turf Solutions products.
“We want to be competitive with neighboring schools and those in Tippecanoe County,” says Driver of the Rambers’ field.
Driver’s coaching staff features four Attica alums — Theron Schmid, Seth Rooze, Kevin Burris, Carson Davis and Brian Powers. Schmid, who is also the Ramblers head football coach, was part of Attica’s state championship boys basketball and state runner-up football squad in 2000-21. Powers helps in the high school and junior high programs.
The feeder system at Attica includes school-affiliated junior high baseball (seventh and eighth graders and sometimes sixth graders). Attica Baseball Softball Association at Happy Walter Field is part of Town & Country Baseball.
In the works are the establishment of high school and youth summer travel teams.
Brian Driver has two children in Attica schools. Freshman Katelynn Driver (15) plays volleyball and softball. Sixth grader Cullen Driver (11) is in tennis, basketball and baseball.
Driver is a software salesman for Passageways, which has offices in Lafayette and Indianapolis.

Brian Driver.

Winning becomes contagious for Alabaugh, Parke Heritage Wolves

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Parke Heritage High School in Rockville, Ind., fielded its second baseball team in 2021.

The Wolves debuted in 2019, missed the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic and came back this spring. 

On Memorial Day, Parke Heritage won its first sectional championship, reigning at Sectional 44 hosted by Southmont. Tournament wins came against South Putnam Wednesday May 26 as well as Southmont and North Putnam both on Monday, May 31.

Down 3-2 against Southmont with six outs to go, the Wolves scored six runs in the sixth inning for an 8-3 triumph prior to an 11-1 title game win against North Putnam.

Parke Heritage heads to the IHSAA Class 2A Cascade Regional Saturday, June 5 with a 15-10 record after a 5-9 start.

“It’s been an up-and-down ride,” says first-year Wolves head coach Ron Alabaugh. “We lost last year with the pandemic and our basketball team went to the (2020-21) State Finals.

“Basketball players are key parts of the baseball program.”

These hoopsters, which finished as 2A state runners-up to Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, played catch-up while knocking the baseball rust off and getting their arms in shape at the beginning of the season.

“It took a little while to get things going,” says Alabaugh. “But they stuck with it and worked hard. It’s paying off for us late in the season.

“Winning is just as contagious as losing. At a certain part of a season we expected to lose. We had to work on that frame of mind and turn it around. It was rough on the boys, but we were able to do it.”

By the close of the regular slate, the Wolves were down to 15 players in the program. Two seniors — Joey Bouffard and Connor Davis — have been drawing interest from college baseball programs.

In recent years, Rockville/Parke Heritage sent Kaleb Huxford (Maryville University in St. Louis), Dalton Laney (Indiana State) and Hunter Michalic (Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.) to college diamonds. Logan White is on the football team at Franklin (Ind.) College).

Parke Heritage (a consolidation of Rockville and Turkey Run with an enrollment around 350) is a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Attica, Covington, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Riverton Parke, 2021 champion Seeger and South Vermillion).

WRC teams played each other twice — sometimes in home-and-away weekday series and sometimes in Saturday doubleheaders. 

Regular-season wins came against Covington (twice), Attica (twice), North Putnam, North Vermillion (twice), Fountain Central (twice), Sullivan, Greencastle and South Newton.

Parke Heritage plays at a facility named for former Rockville athletic director Stan Gideon, who died in 2006.

The Wolves count local youth leagues, travel teams and a junior high team as part of its feeder program. The high school took over the old Rockville High building. Parke Heritage Middle School is in the structure that once housed Turkey Run in Marshall, Ind.

Rockville won 12 sectional titles, five regionals, two semistates and was 1A state runners-up in 2014 and 1A state champions in 2015. Turkey Run won four sectionals.

Alabaugh was an assistant at Rockville to Bob Kyle for the 2008-13 and 2016-19 seasons.

This spring, Alabaugh’s staff includes Mark Harper and Jarred Russell.

His father — Ron Alabaugh — attends every game. He played many years of semipro baseball for the old Blanford Cardinals as a teammate of Kyle. Young Ron was the batboy and later played on the same field as a member of the Clinton American Legion Post 140 team.

“My mother (Beverly) walked away with the (sectional) game ball last night,” says Alabaugh. “She put up with 50-some years of my baseball. That’s the least I could do for her.”

A 1987 graduate of South Vermillion High School in Clinton, Ind., Alabaugh played for Tim Terry near the beginning of Terry’s Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame career.

Terry’s longevity in establishing a successful program is a marvel to Alabaugh, who counts winning a sectional title in his sophomore year among his favorite baseball memories.

The Wildcats beat Montezuma and Rosedale to win the 1985 South Vermillion Sectional and lost to Terre Haute South Vigo featuring Kyle Kraemer in the semifinals of the Terre North Regional semifinals.

Alabaugh has two degrees from Indiana State University. After nearly two decades in the car business — he had his own Chevrolet dealership — he decided to go back to college and at 43 he was ready to be an educator. He started at North Montgomery, where he was also an assistant girls basketball coach on the staff of Ryan Nuppnau.

The 2020-21 year is his sixth at Rockville/Parke Heritage. He is a Social Studies teacher, instructing classes in history, psychology and economics.

Ron and wife Annie Alabaugh have a married son named Jordan (his bride is Nikki). Jordan Alabaugh was a golfer at South Vermillion.

Parke Heritage baseball coaches (from left): assistants Mark Harper, Jarrett Russell and head coach Ron Alabaugh.
Parke Heritage won the 2021 IHSAA Class 2A Souhmont Sectional baseball title.

Cushenberry creating hard-nosed culture at Traders Point Christian

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jaylen Cushenberry was hired as head baseball coach at Traders Point Christian School in Whitestown, Ind., in January 2021.

Since then the enthusiastic 23-year-old, his assistants and players have been establishing the culture for the Knights.

“We’re going to work hard. We’re going to honor God. We’re going to play as one,” says Cushenberry of qualities he learned while being coached as a youngster by his grandfather. 

Robert Cushenberry, 78, is one of Jaylen’s Traders Point assistants.

“He likes to dance at practice,” says Jaylen of his grandfather. “He’s an energy source for us.”

Other Knights coaches in the Traders Point program are Nolan Nihiser, Conner Madding, James Gilbert and Ernie Mudis.

Cushenberry expects to have 17 or 18 players play a varsity-only schedule of more than 20 games. Participation and contest numbers are higher than usual at the school with an enrollment of about 130.

The 2021 opener is slated for March 30 against Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter. It’s the first time the Knights will meet the Raiders on the baseball field.

The Traders Point slate also features Providence Cristo Rey, Bethesda Christian, Tindley, Faith Christian, Lafayette Central Catholic, Heritage Christian, Purdue Polytechnic, Liberty Christian, Attica, Sheridan, North Vermillion, Irvington Preparatory Academy, Elwood, Wes-Del, Western Boone, Indianapolis Washington, Speedway, Horizon Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge and Muncie Burris.

“We want to play hard and fast,” says Cushenberrry. “It’s cool to see kids come out and want to be part of something special.”

The Knights are in an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethesda Christian (the 2021 host site), Indiana School for the Deaf, Irvington Prep, Providence Cristo Rey and Tindley. Traders Point’s first year in the state tournament series was 2019.

Home baseball games this spring will be at Roundtripper Sports Academy or Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Cushenberry says a new turf field on the TPCS campus is expected by the end of this year.

“It’s going to be a very special time,” says Cushenberry. “The good Lord has blessed us with the opportunity to be part of something special.”

Traders Point added a high school program in 2008 and had its first graduating class in 2012. A junior high building was opened in 2020. 

As a feeder for high school baseball, Grades 5-8 play on “A” and “B” junior high teams.

Jayden Cushenberry played recreational baseball at Warren Township Little League then travel ball from 10 to 13 with the Oaklandon Bombers and 14 to 17 with the Tom Caster-coached Irvington Rattlers.

Cushenberry, a former left fielder on the baseball diamond and safety on the football field, began his high school career at Warren Central in Indianapolis and graduated from Avon (Ind.) High School in 2015 before earning a Physical Education degree at Marian University in Indianapolis in 2020. He was a student coach with MU’s perennial NAIA football powerhouse steered by head coach Mark Henninger.

Last fall was his first as defensive ends coach at Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School, where he currently works as a study hall supervisor. With Scott Turnquist as head coach, the Eagles finished as 2020 IHSAA Class 5A football state runners-up to Indianapolis Cathedral.

“I coach exactly how I played,” says Cushenberry. “We’re going to be tough. We’re going to be gritty. 

“We’re going to go after you every single inning.”

It’s all about hard work and dedication and reaping what you sew.

Cushenberry knows he’s one of the younger coaches on the scene. But he sees that as an advantage.

“I’ve always been called wise beyond my years,” says Cushenberry. “We’re in a time now where the young coaches do a better job of relating to their players.

“Everybody wants to know why. I can let them know why and still coach them hard. I believe they respond better to hard-nosed coaching. We’re preparing them for life and creating a family atmosphere.”

Jaylen comes from a large extended family. His mother, Donnice Cushenberry, is a former cheer and dance coach who instilled competitiveness and the willingness to understand people in her oldest son.

“I truly want to thank my family for engraving some core values that I live by,” says Cushenberrry, who is a brother to Jordan Cushenberry and stepson to Michael Howe.

When he’s not working at Zionsville or coaching at Traders Point, Cushenberry gives lessons at Roundtripper. He is heading into his fourth summer as a coach for the Indiana Mustangs. He leads a 17U squad.

“I want to thank (Roundtripper and Mustangs founder) Chris Estep,” says Cushenberry. “He believed in me when other people wouldn’t.

“He’s treated me like a son.”

Reid Andrews is Director of Baseball Operations at Roundtripper and coaches with the Mustangs and University.

“I’ve learned so much from him,” says Cushenberry of Andrews. “He’s a good source of information.

“I’m thankful to be colleagues with Reid.”

Cushenberrry was an assistant to Estep for two seasons at University, helping the Trailblazers win an IHSAA Class 1A state crown in 2019.

Before that, Cushenberry assisted Shane Abrel at Plainfield (Ind.) High School for two seasons and Troy Drosche at Avon for one.

“Shane taught me a lot about staying on top of things, being very organized and always getting the most out of players,” says Cushenberry of Abrel. 

Injury prevented Cushenberry from playing for Drosche, but he did play for David Seibel at Warren Central.

“I learned mostly about the fellowship of the game and to treat this game with respect,” says Cushenberry. “We always came to play and played very hard.

“I utilize that in my coaching today.”

Jaylen Cushenberry is head baseball coach at Traders Point Christian School in Whitestown, Ind.

Acton, Fountain Central Mustangs prepping for 2021

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pitching is the priority as Adam Acton gets his baseball team ready for the 2021 baseball season.

Heading into his fourth campaign as head coach at Fountain Central Junior/Senior High School in Veedersburg, Ind., Acton wants to get his hurlers on the mound twice a week during this time of year with many throwing 20 to 25 pitches.

There’s also flat ground work, strength training, running and band work.

“We try to mix it up and not make it mundane,” says Acton, who has been leading a small group through January workouts while other baseball players are in winter sports. “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) needed to happen. Some coaches were killing the kids

“It forces teams to have a deeper pitching rotation.”

Other items of importance for Acton’s Mustangs are aggressiveness and alertness on the bases, making the routine fielding play and being smart in the batter’s box.

Fountain Central (enrollment around 300) is a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Attica, Covington, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage, Riverton Parke, Seeger and South Vermillion).

WRC teams play each other twice — home and away — in the same week.

The Mustangs are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Clinton Prairie, Delphi, Lafayette Central Catholic, Seeger and Western Boone. Fountain Central has won 10  sectional titles — the last in 2009.

Acton was an assistant to Rick Cosgray at Lebanon (Ind.) High School for two years prior to spending four as head coach at Southmont High School in Crawfordsville, Ind. (2005-08). He’s also coached in the youth leagues.

Adam and wife Alison Acton have been married 19 years and have four sons — Owen (15), Nolan (13), Garrett (10) and Caleb (8). Freshman Owen Acton and seventh grader Nolan Acton play football, basketball and baseball. Third grader Garrett Acton participates in archery, football and baseball. Second grader Caleb Acton plays baseball. Adam Acton was on the archery team at Purdue University.

Acton is a 1992 Lebanon graduate, where he played for Tigers head coach Keith Campbell.

After a year playing at Milligan College in Johnson City, Tenn., for Doug Jennett (who also head coach at Benton Central High School in Oxford, Ind.), Acton transferred to Purdue as a student. He then headed in the work force.

This is his third year as a Construction/Building Trades teacher at Fountain Central. 

Acton’s coaching staff for 2021 includes Ryan Hall (head football coach) and Tim Garbison (former FC head baseball coach). There are others who help on an intermittent basis.

Fountain Central’s home field is on-campus. The diamond was re-done about five years ago and re-graded in the last year. There is need for upgrading in the bullpens.

“It’s a pretty nice facility,” says Acton.

As a feeder system, the Mustangs have Fountain Central Summer League in Veedersburg that serves ages 4 to 12. 

A junior high team for grades 7 and 8 (and sometimes 6) normally carries 12 or 13 players. Some players are affiliated with travel ball organizations.

There are no recent FC graduates playing college baseball and no current commitments though Acton expects some in the coming years.

“We’ve got some talent in those two younger grades,” says Acton. “We’re going to be relying on them quite a bit (in 2021).”

The Acton family — on a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming — are (from left): First row — Garrett, Caleb and Nolan Acton; Second row — Owen, Alison and Adam. Adam Acton is the head baseball coach and a  Construction/Building Trades teacher at Fountain Central Junior/Senior High School in Veedersburg, Ind. 

Carlton, Shelbyville Golden Bears embracing technology, sabermetrics

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Shelbyville (Ind.) High School baseball has made a commitment to technology.

Through the generosity of parents, donors and the SHS athletic department, the Golden Bears have provided head coach Royce Carlton, his staff and team with several modern tools.

Among those are a 4D Motion 3D motion capturing system, Rapsodo Hitting 2.0, Rapsodo Pitching 2.0, Driveline EDGE, Driveline TRAQ and velocity sensors for the weight room. On the wish list is a Sony slow-motion camera.

But all the gadgets are no good if the data they provide can’t be understood by coaches and players or used is effective ways.

With that in mind, Carlton recruited smart students to be part of the Shelbyville Sabermetrics department. So far there’s juniors Christian DeRolf and Austin Perry and senior Eric Santiago.

“We wanted to squeeze as much baseball out of our players as we possibly could,” says Carlton, a graduate of Morristown Junior/High School (2010) and the University of Indianapolis (2014) who is entering his third season at Shelbyville in 2020. “I saw a couple of college Twitter accounts where they had an analytics team or sabermetrics department.

“I’ve never heard of this done at the high school level so let’s give it a shot.”

The sabermetrics team, which was formed in September, is comprised of students near the top of their class.

“They’re real interested in the game of baseball,” says Carlton. “They may not have the ability to play but they still love the sport. This gives them a chance to help out and be part of the team. They’re just as important as my players as far as I’m concerned.”

DeRolf expresses his excitement about mining the data for information that can help his schoolmates.

“There’s such an opportunity to quantify absolutely everything,” says DeRolf, who sees himself going to college for information systems/computer science and continuing to apply his knowledge to baseball. “It’s not easy to change somebody’s behavior and see that there might be somebody better than what they’re doing.

“But there’s nothing wrong with being able to tweak things. Once they see how this helps, they tend to trust you. The trust is the hardest part to build.”

Santiago was invited to join the sabermetrics team by DeRolf. Before he goes to college to pursue a finance degree, Santiago will crunch the numbers to help the baseball team.

As the Golden Bears work out this winter, they will all be figuring out the best practices.

“It’s a learning process,” says Santiago. “Nobody’s an expert. Everybody is going to learn together.

“We’ll focus on basics and fix small things so we can go onto bigger things.”

Driveline EDGE helps with pitch design. Driveline TRAQ allows for individualized practice plans for each player (who will bring iPads to practice during the off-season to focus on their specific needs). Sensors on bar bells check to see that players are strong and moving in an explosive way.

“It’s not a cookie-cutter approach,” says Carlton. “One reason we got the 4D Motion 3D motion capturing system is slow-motion video can lie. You have clothes on. It hides things. To really be able to see the kinematic sequence for the right order of each body part firing, we had to get the sensors. I didn’t want to teach my guys something I saw on video that might actually be wrong.”

Prior to the next IHSAA Limited Contact Period (which began Dec. 9), Carlton tested the system by taking cuts himself.

“My video looked good, but when I went to the sensors my chest was actually firing before my pelvis,” says Carlton. “So I worked on changing that, where my pelvis would fire before my chest. I added 5 mph on to my bat speed just within a 20-minute session.”

Carlton, who is also the head strength and conditioning coach at Shelbyville, says there is a dynamic in athletics of “feel vs. real” and technology can help with that.

“Now, we can match the real with the feel instead of just guessing,” says Carlton. “A lot of it has been guessing up to this point.

“We can really bridge that gap.”

There’s also a learning curve for coaches.

“Technology’s just blowing up in baseball. Coaches don’t understand how to interpret. They get all these numbers. But what good do the numbers do unless you actually know how to transfer it to high school kids’ minds?

“That can be a chore.”

Carlton says the Golden Bears will be filming every single hitting, pitching and fielding rep through the iPads for analyzation.

“It’s going to be kind of weird having every single player with technology,” says Carlton “It kind of hurts me inside. I’ve still got a little bit of old school in me.

“But the game’s changing.”

Carlton has visited Indiana University to see how the Hoosiers use technology to help their players and recently completed his Driveline pitch design certification. He equates that experience to drinking out of a fire hose.

The program consolidates a great deal of information and involves physics, spin, horizontal and vertical break and much more.

Shelbyville’s plans call for using a pitching report which includes a pitcher’s strengths. Those with high spin rates will generally pitch higher in the strike zone than those with lower spin rates.

“We’re going to get super in-depth,” says Carlton.

Last spring, Shelbyville employed Major League Baseball-style defensive shifts.

“Most of the people on my coaching staff thought I was crazy,” says Carlton. “Most of the teams we played thought I was crazy. But it 100 percent worked for us. Most high school hitters kind of struggle to hit the outside pitches and we’d groove them pitch inside and they’d pull it right into our shift.

“I don’t have any flame throwers. No one who throws over 85 (mph). We had to be really crafty, do the shifts and pitch locations really worked.

“Some didn’t like it, but you’ve got to win.”

Maverick Alexander, one of Carlton’s assistant coaches, does a lot of digging in places like GameChanger and uses historical data against an opponent to put together spray charts to be employed in shifting game plans.

“He puts together a probability packet for us that we go off from batter to batter,” says Carlton, who also counts Mike Jackson, Chase McColley, Jacob Shively and Nate Stonebraker among his assistants. “I think we only got burnt twice all season by shifting and we probably shifted at least 50 percent of the time.

“(My assistants) are all smart. They see what the pro level is doing. We’re at the high school level, but there are still applications we can take. The pros wouldn’t do it if it didn’t win games for them. It’s a money game up there.”

Alexander’s day job is making maps for the State of Indiana. He uses his skills with Excel, Word and data analysis gathered in 2018 and 2019 to produce reports on Shelbyville opponents.

“We hope to be here a long time. It can be a long-term plan,” says Alexander. “If we see a player as a freshman, by the time they are juniors or seniors we’ll be able to see those trends more clearly.”

If possible, players go over Alexander’s pamphlet in practice the day before a game to learn about opponent tendencies and then can go to it during the contest.

“It’s definitely important for pitchers and catchers  to know game plan for each inning,” says Alexander.

Carlton has enjoyed watching the way the athletes have taken to the approach.

“It’s neat,” says Carlton. “The players buy into it. They make it their own.”

Shelbyville (enrollment 1,167) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights and Yorktown).

Beginning in 2020, conference foes will face each other one time on Friday nights. Previously, they had met for Friday doubleheaders.

The Golden Bears are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus East, Columbus North and East Central. Shelbyville has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2005.

In 2018, the Bears featured pitcher/outfielder Damon Lux (now at Duke University) and first baseman Lucas Steineker and went 13-12 and then 9-17 with a very young varsity team in 2019.

“This year, we’re looking pretty solid,” says Carlton. “We’ve got our pitching and our offense straightened out.

“We do a lot of the (Driveline) command ball stuff — the oversized and undersized balls and weighted balls.”

Since Carlton arrived (he was formerly head baseball coach at Morristown and Attica), two teams — varsity and junior varsity — have been representing the school with 26 to 28 total players.

Blending the new with the old, Carlton also has plans to honor Shelbyville’s baseball past this spring when his team takes the field in throwback jerseys and limited edition hats from a time when the school’s mascot was the Camels.

“I’m trying to find some neat things to do during the spring to get some people out to enjoy the game and teach the guys a little about the history of baseball,” says Carlton, who has consulted with former Shelbyville head coach and history buff Scott Hughes, old school yearbooks and the local historical society. “Back when the game was super-pure.”

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Royce Carlton is entering his third season as head baseball coach at Shelbyville (Ind.) High School in 2020.

 

Hickman passing on his passion for baseball with Faith Christian Eagles

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Faith Christian School was established in Lafayette, Ind., in 1997.

FCS baseball is led by Dan Hickman. The 2020 season will be his second as Eagles head coach.

A graduate of Rensselaer (Ind.) Central High School and Missouri State University (1989), Hickman came to Faith Christian after helping for many years at RCHS including running the Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken programs there.

Hickman played baseball for the Rensselaer Central Bombers. Craig Grow was the head coach in Hickman’s freshman year then left for Loogootee and other coaching stops. Kent LeBeau was RCHS head coach in Hickman’s last three prep seasons.

“Both men were mild-tempered and highly-respected individuals,” says Hickman of Grow and LeBeau. “I learned that winning the right way is the only way to win.

“Winning at all costs will catch up to you in life.”

Hickman played at Missouri State (then known as Southwest Missouri State) and was a senior captain for Keith Guttin, who had led the Bears since the 1983 season and racked up more than 1,200 victories during his coaching career.

“I am very proud to have played for Coach Guttin,” says Hickman. “He had a massive impact on my life. I’ve met no one who desires to win more than he does, but he has the same beliefs as my high school coaches.

“You win with hard work, commitment, dedication and grit. No short cuts.”

Faith Christian (enrollment around 220) is an independent with no conference affiliation.

“It is a challenge being an independent and getting teams on our schedule,” says Hickman. “Most schools’ first priority is their conference games.

“I would be in favor at some point of belonging to a conference.

We currently play a good mix of Christian and public schools in the area.”

The 2019 regular-season schedule included dates with Attica, Carroll (Flora), Clinton Central, Covenant Christian, Delphi, Frontier, Greenwood Christian, Horizon Christian, Maconaquah, Morgan Township, Pioneer, Seeger, Sheridan, Traders Point Christian, Tri-Central and West Lafayette.

The Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Attica, Covington, North Vermillion and Riverton Parke. Faith Christian has not yet won a sectional title.

In 2019, there were 19 players in the program.

“My hope is that the numbers will steadily grow so that we can have a consistent junior varsity schedule that will feed the varsity,” says Hickman.

There is a also a middle school team for seventh and eighth graders which plays games from mid-April to June.

What drives Hickman and the Eagles?

“Our goal is simple,” says Hickman. “To compete in baseball at a high level so as to attract kids in our area to FCS schools.

“We see value in a Christian education and we want to do everything with a spirit of excellence. I have a passion for baseball and want nothing more than to pass that on to our local youth.

“To be able to use baseball to advance my faith is a true gift.”

Hickman is hoping to know who his 2020 assistants will be in the coming months.

Dan and Alicia Hickman have three children — Amanda, Cole and Jonathon. Alicia works at BACA, a Autism center for kids in Fishers, Ind. Amanda is married and living in Carmel, Ind. Cole, a 2010 Wabash (Ind.) College graduate, works for Geico in Carmel. Jonathon is a Wabash junior.

“(Jonathon) is a massive sports enthusiast and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pursue a career in the sports industry,” says Dan Hickman.

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Dan Hickman is the head baseball coach at Faith Christian School in Lafayette, Ind.

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Dan Hickman passes on his passion for baseball as the head coach at Faith Christian School in Lafayette, Ind. He played at and graduated from Rensselaer (Ind.) High School and Missouri State University.

 

Martin leads Riverton Parke to first sectional title in a decade

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Led by a fixture in Parke County, Ind., sports, the Panthers of Riverton Parke Junior/Senior High School celebrated their first sectional baseball title in a decade and are preparing for regional.

Charlie Martin, who has been at Riverton Parke for 24 years with two stints as head baseball coach (1996-2005 and 2016-present), steered the pitching-rich Panthers to the IHSAA Class 1A Parke Heritage Sectional championship.

No. 10-ranked Riverton Parke (19-10) topped North Vermillion and Covington to hoist the trophy and earn a spot opposite No. 2 Rossville in the semifinals of the Carroll (Flora) Regional at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 1. The second semifinal features Blue River Valley vs. Daleville (the Broncos were 1A state champions in 2016 and 2018) with the championship at 7:30 p.m.

“Our biggest strength is pitching,” says Martin, who saw junior right-hander Garrett Lawson toss a complete game against North Vermillion and junior left-hander Logan Harrison hurl six innings and Lawson close out Covington.

“They’ve been varsity starters since they were freshmen,” says Martin of Lawson and Harrison. “Both have shown flashes of brilliance. This year, they’ve put it all together.

“They are workhorses on the mound.”

Lawson is 6-2 in 10 starts with four complete games and 79 strikeouts in 64 innings. Harrison is 7-1 in 10 starts with three complete games and 80 K’s and 54 innings.

Righty swinger Lawson is hitting .402 with 33 hits, 11 doubles, five home runs, 20 runs scored and 31 runs batted in. Sophomore catcher Pierson Barnes also swings the bat from the right side. He is hitting .430 with 40 hits, nine doubles, one triple, five homers, 21 runs scored and 29 driven in.

Martin is assisted by Chad Lawson, Ben Porter, B.J. Barnes and Travis Sutton. This spring, numbers were up with large freshmen and junior classes and there were 26 players for varsity and junior varsity squads.

Little Leaguers from Montezuma, Rosedale and Clinton feed into Riverton Parke.

Riverton Parke (enrollment around 310) is a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Attica, Covington, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage, Seeger and South Vermillion).

The WRC plays a double round robin with home-and-home weekday series and Saturday doubleheaders. Covington and South Vermillion tied for first place at 11-3. Riverton Parke and Seeger tied for third at 9-5.

Located near Montezuma, Ind. The Riverton Parke Panthers play on a little land-locked on-campus diamond. It’s less than 300 feet down the foul lines and short of 350 feet to center field.

“It makes for some nerve-racking coaching,” says Martin of the cozy confines. “One walk and one swing and a two-run lead is gone in a hurry.”

Martin notes that many of the top run and home run seasons during the pre-BBCOR bat days were set by Riverton Parke teams.

“Home runs not quite as plentiful since we switched the bats,” says Martin.

To click off the runs that are tallied, a manual wooden scoreboard stands in right field.

Martin, who has been athletic director at Riverton Parke for 14 years and has served as the school’s head boys basketball coach as recently as 2014-15, was in the last graduating class of Montezuma High School in 1986. Montezuma consolidated with Rosedale to form Riverton Parke. Martin’s baseball coaches were Bob Kyle (currently head coach at Parke Heritage) and Scott Weis.

“I definitely learned a lot of baseball strategy from Coach Kyle as well as the competitive side of the game,” says Martin. “There’s never been a better competitor than Coach Kyle.”

Charlie and Angel Martin have been married for 26 years. They have two children — Jake (25) and Maggie (22).

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An aerial view of the baseball field at Riverton Parke Junior/Senior High School near Montezuma, Ind.

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The manual baseball scoreboard at Riverton Parke Junior/Senior High School near Montezuma, Ind.

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Riverton Parke Junior/Senior High School baseball coaches celebrate a 2019 sectional championship (from left): assistants B.J. Barnes and Chad Lawson, head coach Charlie Martin and assistants Travis Sutton and Ben Porter.

Kiifner wants South Newton Rebels to be strong up the middle

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A border town will play more baseball in 2019 on the side of the state line where it plays its home games.

South Newton High School, located in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland, went 17-10 in 2018 and played 15 games against Illinois high schools.

After three seasons in the Illinois-based Sangamon Valley Conference (current members are Cissna Park, Clifton Central, Dwight, Iroquois West, Momence, Paxton-Buckey-Loda and Watseka), South Newton (enrollment around 190) is a member of the Midwest Conference (with Indiana schools Frontier, North Newton, North White, Tri-County and West Central).

Jim Kiifner, a 1984 graduate of Sheldon (Ill.) High School (now consulted into Milford Township), is entering his 10th season on the South Newton coaching staff — his third as head coach.

The 2019 Rebels — led by Kiifner and assistants Jason Krug (third season), Ricky Montemayer (fourth season) and Conner Ulmer (first season) — are scheduled to play 23 varsity and 13 junior varsity contests. Ulmer, a 2013 South Newton graduate, is a teacher while the others are lay coaches. Kiifner works in a warehouse for DuPont Corporation.

“My boss allows me to be a little flexible,” says Kiifner. “It also helps that I work in the Eastern Time Zone and coach in the Central Time Zone.

“I gain an hour.”

South Newon’s non-conference varsity opponents include Attica, Benton Central, Fountain Central, Frontier, Kankakee Valley and Seeger in Indiana and Cissna Park, Milford Township, Momence and Watseka in Illinois.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, Southwood and West Central. South Newton has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2017. That year, the Rebels advanced to the semistate for the first time, losing to eventual state runner-up Rossville at Plymouth.

“We’ve been pretty successful the last four years,” says Kiifner, 52. “We get a lot of fan support.”

Athletic budgets at the small school are supplemented through community fundraisers.

Kiifner was coaching in the Travelers Babe Ruth League when then-South Newton head coach Ron Benakovich invited him to join his staff. Benakovich led the Rebels from 2009-12 and Glenn Donahue from 2013-16 before Kiifner took over the as leader of the program in 2017.

“I want the kids to have the most fun as possible,” says Kiifner. “Discipline is a big thing. But I don’t like to be a brow beater.”

Program numbers are up to 23 with 11 newcomers.

“We’re working to get them up to speed on what we expect and do,” says Kiifner, who had a veteran team the past two seasons. The 2018 squad had six seniors and three juniors in the starting lineup.

Kiifner says he wants his teams to be strong up the middle on defense.

“Defend the middle first and work your way out,” says Kiifner. “(Pitchers are asked to) throw strikes and let the defense do the work behind them.”

With that in mind, South Newton has junior Austin Miller and sophomore Brandon Gilliam in the mix at catcher, senior Levi Sample and freshman Kayden Cruz at shortstop and Cruz and junior Terron Welsh in center field.

Senior left-hander Riley Patterson is the top returning pitcher who also plays first base. Senior Tyler Martell is at second base and freshman Kellen Krug at third base. Senior Ben Bryant is a candidate to play a corner outfield spot.

Offensive approach depends on personnel. Kiifner says the Rebels are transitioning from a power team to more of a small-ball squad.

The Hammel brothers have taken their pitching talents from South Newton to the college level.

Junior left-hander Jarrett Hammel started at Saint Joseph’s College and is now at Valparaiso University.

Freshman Jay Hammel was an all-state third baseman as junior, all-state first baseman as a senior and became the school’s second Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series player (Trent Smith was the first in 1990) and is now a freshman right-hander at Quincy (Ill.) University.

Trent Smith is the brother of Tracy Smith, a South Newton graduate who played at Miami University in Ohio and in the Chicago Cubs system before head coaching assignments at Miami University-Hamilton, Indiana University and Arizona State University. Smith’s 2019 Sun Devils were off to a 22-1 start.

Rebel Field, located on the South Newton campus, is a small non-lighted diamond with the distance down the foul lines at 272 feet to right field and 300 to left. Kiifner says there is talk about moving the fences back in the future.

With the school and field sitting in the midst of farm land, it is a breezy place.

“The are winds always blowing,” says Kiifner. “And it’s either too hot or too cold.”

Sheldon was a school of less than 100 students and baseball was a fall sport where there was no football team. Kiifner’s baseball coach was John Spezia, who has gone on to win more than 500 games as a basketball coach.

“He broke down fundamentals really well and brought it to your level,” says Kiifner of Spezia. “He tried not to overwhelm (his players).”

Jim and Madonna Kiifner have been married for 26 years. They have two sons who both played baseball at South Newton — William (24) and Luke (22).

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This is the 2019 South Newton High School Rebels baseball team.

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South Newton won a sectional and regional baseball title in 2017.

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Jim Kiifner is the head baseball coach at South Newton High School in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland.

 

Willis keeps things fresh for Covington Trojans

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keeping things fresh and appealing, Evan Willis enters into his sixth season as head baseball coach at Covington (Ind.) High School in 2019.

A 2007 graduate of the school in Fountain County, Willis is constantly blending in baseball ideas to incorporate into the Trojans program.

Willis finds drills and other instructional materials online and shares them with his players.

“It’s not always the same thing everyday,” says Willis. “We mix it up.”

To build camaraderie, excitement and the understanding of the game, Willis adds competitive things to each practice.

“There’s a lot of down time in baseball,” says Willis. “You have to get the kids to buy into it.”

As a spring sport, baseball has to contend with seniors who are competing while graduation and their future often dominates their thoughts.

“It’s difficult to keep seniors focused on the game,” says Willis. “You have to be serious, but also keep it fun and exciting for the kids so they want to be a part of it.”

Willis played for Mike Holland at Covington.

“He made it fun for us,” says Willis of Holland.

After earning his elementary education degree at Indiana State University, Willis returned to Covington to teach second grade. Besides baseball, he has coached junior high and junior varsity basketball.

Covington (enrollment around 280) is a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Attica, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage, Riverton Parke, Seeger and South Vermillion).

Conference games play one another twice — either in home-and-home weekdays series and Saturday doubleheaders.

Non-conference opponents on the schedule include Benton Central, Clinton Prairie, Crawfordsville, Danville (Ill.), Delphi, North Montgomery, North Putnam, Southmont, Terre Haute South Vigo and West Lafayette.

The Trojans are in an IHSAA Class 1A grouping with Attica, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage (consolidation of Rockville and Turkey Run) and Riverton Parke. Covington won the latest of its 12 sectional crowns in 2018.

Willis has three other Covington graduate on his coaching staff — Matt Gerling (fifth season), Ryan Tolley (second season) and Jon Covault (first season). Gerling (Olney Central College) and Covault (Danville Area Community College) played college baseball.

Former player Ollie Pettit went to Danville Area while current junior Tanner Dreher has made a verbal commitment to the University of Illinois-Springfield. The versatile player has been used by Covington as a catcher, pitcher, shortstop and third baseman.

Willis says senior right-handed pitcher Logun Freed has shown an interest in playing at the college level.

During the off-season, the Trojans who were not in a winter sport went through strength training and conditioning. Hitters took cuts in new indoor batting cages. Pitchers began building up their arms.

“I love 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),” says Willis. “It’s the healthiest thing for the pitchers’ arms.

“It also forces you have (pitching) depth. We play four games the first week. We’ll have to have a lot of people to throw.”

Many Covington athletes take part in an Advanced Physical Conditioning class.

Trojan Complex on Ninth Street is the home to Covington baseball, softball, track, football, soccer and tennis.

While its not affiliated with the school and is funded through Covington Youth Baseball (Scott Holycross is the organization’s president), there is a junior high team of seventh and eighth graders which play about 10 games in the spring and play home games on the high school field. Many of those players go on to to play Pony League in the summer.

Covington Youth Baseball sends its peewee, minor and major league players to a six-week youth camp conducted by high school coaches and players in the winter.

Evan and Shannon Willis have been married for two years. Their fathers (Ron Willis and Shane Bowling) coached together at the youth league level with sons Landon Willis and Bryce Bowling on the team.

Ron and Ruthann Willis sent three sons through the Covington High School program. Oldest son Brad Willis (Class of 2005) was a center fielder and played two seasons with shortstop Evan. Landon Willis (Class of 2011) and Bryce Bowling (Class of 2012) both played for coach Brad Short.

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Evan and Shannon Willis take in a baseball game at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Evan Willis is head baseball coach at Covington (Ind.) High School.

Lopez, North Vermillion baseball looking to feed off football, basketball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Success in one sport can lead to another.

That’s is the hope for baseball at North Vermillion Junior-Senior High School in Cayuga, Ind., after the school saw its football team make it to the state championship game last fall and its boys basketball team advance to the regional championship contest this winter.

Six starters on the football squad that finished as IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up are returning starters for the Falcons in baseball — senior two-way lineman/right fielder Derek Foncannon, junior quarterback/shortstop Brennan Ellis, junior running back/center fielder Wyatt Reynolds, junior center/catcher Kale Flynn, junior offensive tackle/inside linebacker/third baseman Josh Little, and junior wide receiver/left fielder Lucas Cook.

The Falcons’ top two pitchers — senior right-hander Alex Tallman and junior righty Luke Osborn — are also back for 2019.

Hank Lopez, who is defensive coordinator in football and the father of Derek Foncannon (a Vincennes, Ind., University baseball commit), returns for his fourth season as North Vermillion’s head baseball coach. His assistant coaches are Maris Clark and Paul Hamilton.

“We want to be mentally tough,” says Lopez of his team’s core values. “They’ve put in some adverse situations in practice that hopefully make the games a little easier.

“We have high expectations.”

Lopez says there are usually 18 or 19 players in the program for varsity and junior varsity teams. This year it should be 15. The Falcons have a large junior class, but just one sophomore.

Feeding the high school program is a seventh and eighth grade junior high club coordinated by Lopez which plays 12 to 14 games in the spring.

A North Vermillion Pony League squad for grades 7-10 plays about that many games plus an end-of-season tournament in the summer.

North Vermillion (enrollment around 240) is a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Attica, Covington, Fountain Central, Parke Heritage, Riverton Parke, Seeger and South Vermillion).

WRC teams meet once each twice to determine the conference champion, either in weekday home-and-home series or Saturday doubleheaders.

The Falcons are scheduled to open the season March 28 in a non-conference game against Eastern (Pekin) at Vincennes University.

North Vermillion is slated to meet Peru May 4 at Wabash College in Crawfordsville.

Among other non-conference foes are North Central (Farmersburg), Shakamak and West Vigo along with Illinois teams Bismarck-Henning, Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman and Westville. Cayuga is less than five miles from the Indiana-Illinois state line.

The Falcons are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Attica, Covington, Parke Heritage (consolidation of Rockville and Turkey Run) and Riverton Parke. North Vermillion has won five sectional crowns — the last in 1997.

NV home games on-campus. Lopez says there has been discussions about re-working the infield and mound.

IHSAA official practice began March 11. During the limited contact period, Lopez had his team working out when they could find gym space.

“We threw in he gym whenever we could get it,” says Lopez. “If it was nice enough outside, we’d throw in the parking lot. We did conditioning in the hallways of the high school. We did baseball and flip drills in the weight room.

“We did a lot of conditioning, arm strengthening and working on swing technique and instilling the fundamentals. We wanted to hit the ground running when practice starts.”

Before going to North Vermillion, Lopez was assistant to Charlie Martin at Riverton Parke for one season then spent 10 years as Panthers head coach.

Lopez is a 1998 graduate of Vincennes Lincoln High School, where Chris Rhodes was his head coach, and 2002 graduate of Indiana State University, where he earned a elementary education degree with a social studies endorsement.

“He was a hard-nosed, fundamental-type of coach,” says Lopez of Rhodes, who was also his seventh grade basketball coach. “He was very successful in Vincennes.”

The Rhodes-coached Alices won sectional titles in 1996 and 1997 and a regional championship in 1996. Rhodes later coached at DeKalb.

Katelyn Foncannon, daughter of Lopez, is a cheerleader at Vincennes University.

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Hank Lopez is the head baseball coach at North Vermillion Junior-Senior High School in Cayuga, Ind. He is also defensive coordinator for the football team.