Tag Archives: Austin Peay State University

Former Vincennes, Indiana U. hurler Martin teaching at Pitching Performance Lab

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fortified with knowledge that he gained playing in Indiana and lessons learned since a Kentucky native is passing along baseball wisdom in the Commonwealth as owner/pitching coordinator at Pitching Performance Lab.

Opened in October 2019 by Chad Martin, the Lexington business has trained more than 300 players and currently works with about 200. PPL shares space and partners with Watts Performance Systems, owned by Drew Watts.

According to the WPS website: “The collaborative approach to baseball training offered by Watts Performance Systems and the Pitching Performance Lab is like nothing else available in central Kentucky. Throwing athletes who train at our facility receive training guidance that addresses their specific needs both from a skill standpoint and a movement/strength standpoint.”

Says Martin, “We’re integrating strength and skill together to make sure every athlete’s individual needs are met.”

Martin, who pitched at Vincennes University and Indiana University, says clients are taught to develop a routine and go through soft tissue and mobility work and an arm care plan.

The plan is not rigid. It is adaptable so adjustments can be made depending on the player’s needs.

One size does not fit all.

“We talk to our athletes and see what are goals are,” says Martin. “We don’t emphasize velocity alone.”

Martin and his instructors utilize motion-capture technology such as TrackMan and Rapsodo, which gives feedback on vertical and horizontal break, release angle and height, spin rate and efficiency and tilt and helps in the process of creating a separation in various pitches. 

While those these things are helpful, the idea is not to get too caught up in technical jargon.

“It’s a lot of information even for me,” says Martin. “It can be something as simple as a grip adjustment or a visual cue.

“We always go simple first. Our goal is not to overcomplicate pitching. We try to stay away from really big words because it doesn’t really matter.”

Of all the players trained by PPL, 25 to 30 have been strictly position players who don’t pitch. There have been many two-way players and pitcher-onlys.

With non-pitchers, the goal is to make them a better overall thrower with their arm speed and path.

Martin is a board member and coach with Commonwealth Baseball Club travel organization and is to coach the 17U Xpress team this summer with trips planned to Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. CBC teams begin at 13U with some designated Xpress and others Grays. Depending on the level, some teams will compete in events at Prep Baseball Report events at LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga.

Travel ball is about college exposure. There are opportunities at many levels.

“We are definitely not D-I or bust,” says Martin. “We look for programs where we feel comfortable sending kids.”

Martin, 30, grew up in Lexington, where he graduated from Dunbar High School in 2008. He was recruited to Vincennes by Ted Thompson (now head coach at Tecumseh, Ind., High School) and played two seasons (2009 and 2010) for Trailblazers head coach Chris Barney and pitching coaches Scott Steinbrecher and Jeremy Yoder. 

After two seasons at the junior college, 6-foot-7 right-hander Martin took the mound at IU for head coach Tracy Smith and pitching coach Ty Neal in 2011 and 2012. 

“I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it wasn’t for (my coaches),” says Martin. “I’m tickled to death to be able to coach and do it as my job.”

Martin made 36 mound appearances for the Hoosiers (17 starts) and went 4-8 with a 4.08 earned run average. He struck out 81 batters in 139 innings. 

Selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 10th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Martin relieved in 14 games with the Arizona Cubs in 2012 and played a few games with the independent Florence (Ky.) Freedom in 2013.

Martin remembers Barney’s approach.

“He was always real supportive and real,” says Martin. “He didn’t lie about how he thought we were performing. That was a good thing.

“I thought I was really good and I wasn’t. I decided to work harder.”

Martin thrived in the junior college culture.

“We had some long days in the fall,” says Martin. “Juco is synonymous for doubleheaders all the time.

“It’s a good opportunity to get reps.”

As younger coaches, Steinbrecher (who played at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.) and Yoder (who had been a graduate assistant at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.) introduced new wave concepts.

Smith (who is now head coach at Arizona State University) was a straight shooter like Barney.

“He had a real good ability to be able to kick you in the butt and pat you on the back,” says Martin. “He was able to give players the right source of motivation. He got into my rear end a bunch of times. Having expectations is something I needed — some guard rails to keep me in-check and focused.

“I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Martin appreciated Neal’s way of explaining pitching concepts.

“We’d talk about what location worked better for setting up certain pitches,” says Martin. “It was more about getting outs and not so much mechanics.”

In pro ball, Martin had to adjust from starter to reliever.

“I’d long toss like I did as a starter then sit for seven innings,” says Martin. “I got hurt my first outing.”

In the minors, Martin saw the importance of routines and taking care of the body. 

But the biggest takeaway was the anxiety component. Players can care too much about what people think and implode.

“It can be extremely stressful,” says Martin. “You can be around some of the best players on Planet Earth and wonder if you belong. 

“It helped from a mental standpoint.”

He passes that know-how along to his PPL and travel ball players.

“We put a big emphasis on the mental side,” says Martin. “We want them to be prepared for what they’re going to encounter during a game. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns.

“There are coping strategies when things go wrong so there are not as many peaks and valleys.”

Martin says younger players tend to be very emotional and there’s no shame in getting upset or embarrassed.

“You’ve just got to learn to process it and let it go,” says Martin. “It seems to help.

“Some players are better at it than others.”

When Indiana was recruiting Martin they wanted to see how he would handle hard times.

Neal (who is now coaching at Loveland High School in Ohio) attended four or five games where Martin pitched well and sent short messages afterward.

When Martin had it rough in a fall outing the conversation got a little more intense.

“They wanted to see how I would handle adversity,” says Martin. “It’s damage control.

“Things are going to go bad at some point.”

Chad Martin, a Lexington, Ky., native who pitched at Vincennes (Ind.) University, Indiana University and in the Chicago Cubs system, is the owner and pitching coordinator for Pitching Performance Lab in Lexington. He also coaches with the Commonwealth Baseball Club. (Indiana University Photo)

Owens leading Bellarmine into NCAA D-I era

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Larry Owens was playing baseball for Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School in the mid-1980’s, he had no sense of his future in the game.

Red Devils coach Don Poole, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, helped Owens see what could be.

“He opened my eyes to what was possible in baseball,” says Owens of Poole. “I didn’t have any clue I could play baseball beyond high school.”

Poole let the young left-handed pitcher know that the coach and some of Owens’ teachers could open some doors with their recommendations.

“I thank God for him,” says Owens of Don Poole Sr., who died in June at 82. “He helped me see I can have a job in baseball. That’s cool.”

Owens also appreciated Poole’s steady demeanor as a coach.

“(Coach Poole) never got too high and he never got too low,” says Owens, who was a classmate and teammate at Jeff of 2021 IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Chris McIntyre (the long-time head coach at New Albany High School).

Owens, who graduated from Jeffersonville in 1986, went on to play in college and briefly in the pros and has been a baseball coach since the spring of 1992. 

The future head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., was on the Jeffersonville High staff of Jerry Rusk (1992) and Al Rabe (1993).

Entering the college coaching ranks, Owens was as assistant to Warriors head coach Scott Rendel at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 1994 and 1995. 

In the fall of 1995, Owens was a volunteer at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) with Keith Guttin as Bears head coach and Paul Evans as pitching coach.

When Mike Snyder left the University of Louisville as pitching coach, Owens got the job and served with Cardinals head coach Lelo Prado in 1996 and 1997.

The 1999 and 2000 seasons saw Owens as pitching coach for Governors head coach Gary McClure at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

That was follow by a four-year stint (2001-04) as Tigers head coach Dave Anderson’s pitching coach at the University of Memphis.

In the summer of 2005, Owens got his first taste of pro coaching. He was pitching coach for the independent Golden League’s San Diego Surf Dawgs with manager Terry Kennedy, who had played in the majors with Anderson. It was also the last season as a player for a 46-year-old Rickey Henderson.

“It was awesome,” says Owens of his season in San Diego. “We played National League rules with no DH. That changes how you run the game quite a bit with double-switching. It’s about getting through a game and not crushing your bullpen.”

Owens learned that managing at the pro level was as much about managing personalities as game situations.

“It was a way to deal with people that I appreciated,” says Owens. “There’s a skill to it. You’re trying to get people to do things.

“That’s the approach I take at Bellarmine. We’re marrying both sides — amateur and pro.”

Owens was an area scout with the Boston Red Sox in 2006.

The 2021 season will mark Owens’ eighth as head coach at Bellarmine. It will be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I after years at the NCAA D-II level.

Owens played his freshmen college season at Bellarmine for coach Kevin Kocks.

“He was on the cutting edge with a boatload of passion,” says Owens of Kocks. “He believed in doing things fast and intense.”

One of Owens’ teammates was sophomore lefty Scott Wiegandt, who went on to a stellar diamond career and then became Bellarmine’s director of athletics. 

When the time was right, Owens accepted Wiegandt’s invitation to come “home” from a baseball odyssey that saw him hold coaching jobs in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, California, North Carolina and Virginia. He was a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox system from 2007-13, spending four seasons with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators and three with the Bristol (Va.) White Sox. His managers included Chris Jones, Nick Capra, Ernie Young, Pete Rose Jr., and Bobby Magallanes.

“I didn’t leave professional baseball just be in college,” says Owens, who turns 52 on Dec. 31. “It had to be the right fit for me to leave what I was doing and this is right fit.”

Owens notes that each time he moved in baseball it was to better himself. Coming back to his home area also meant being closer to family. A bachelor for his first four decades, he got married in 2008. Larry and Kelley’s blended family now includes four children — McKenna (22), Dawson (19), Grayson (11) and Easton (9).

Owens, who was featured on the Dec. 7, 2020 Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV and hosted by Jeremy Sheetinger, is leading Bellarmine’s move to D-I baseball. He cut his term as American Baseball Coaches Association NCAA D-II chair short when his program made the switch.

The northern-most team in a southern league, the Knights are now in the ASUN Conference (along with Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson.

“It’s exciting,” says Owens of the process. “There’s a transition period that happens. I want to have what my opponents have in terms of player development and facilities. We don’t have those things yet.

“There’s so much value in player development. To me, it is many, many things — not just the just the physical, mechanics, measuring things or getting in the weight room,” says Owens.

Bellarmine is hoping to break ground soon on a new baseball complex.

“I’m excited for our returning seniors that were allowed to come back and play a Division I schedule,” says Owens, who welcomes back six of seven players who had originally assumed the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign was their last. The coach says four of those returnees have a legitimate chance at pro baseball.

After his one season playing with Bellarmine, Owens transferred to Vincennes (Ind.) University and played for Trailblazers head coach Jerry Blemker (National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007).

“He was a great man,” says Owens of Blemker. “He taught us how to grow up and be a man in a variety of ways.

“He was demanding, but fair. He wasn’t for everybody, but if you paid attention to the right things you were certainly going to learn a lot.”

Blemker held his student-athletes accountable. They were accountable to their teammates. They were expected to be a good person — on and off the field.

“Coach has some standards,” says Owens. “We’re on the team. We have to live up to them.”

At the time, junior college baseball was not restricted in number of games so Vincennes played around 45 games in the fall and 85 in the spring. The 1998 Blazers won more than 50.

“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.

On top of that, he had to take more than a full load in each semester and then six hours during the summer while playing in the Cape Cod League to be eligible for a four-year school.

That ended up being Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga., where Lebanon, Ind., native Joe Roberts was the Pirates head coach.

“Joe gave us a chance to play,” says Owens. “He figured out how to build a roster and put guys in the right spots.”

Armstrong State went from NCAA D-I in 1987 to NCAA D-II in 1988 and went to the D-II World Series that first year and several times after that.

Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.

“Clyde taught us how to pitch,” says Owens. “You were not just heaving things. You’re trying to navigate the game. It’s how you use your stuff. The pitcher’s job is to get people out. 

“There’s a really good time for a 3-2 breaking ball and there’s a really bad time for it. You have to pay attention to the game situation. It’s not as simple as lifting your leg and throwing it as hard as you can.”

Owens was selected in the 27th round of the 1990 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by he Atlanta Braves and played that summer for the Pulaski (Va.) Braves, but he knew his future was in coaching.

So after taking 1991 off, he launched into what has been a baseball coaching odyssey.

Larry Owens talks to Ryan Wheat (Louisville Legends Video).
Larry Owens, a 1986 graduate of Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. The 2021 season is to be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I. (Bellarmine University Photo)

Gaura stresses competitive environment for Evansville Purple Aces pitchers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Gaura wants his to focus on what his University of Evansville baseball pitchers do best and let the rest take care of itself.

“It’s not about the hitter or the umpire,” says Gaura, heads into his third season in 2020-21. “It’s competing against ourselves.

“We’ve got to be competitive with two to three pitches and try not to over-think it.”

The Aces are beginning their fourth week of team practice after four weeks focused on individuals that missed much of their spring season (Evansville played just 16 games when play was halted in March) and summer to COVID-19. 

“We’re getting them into a competitive environment as much as possible,” says Gaura. “Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday we’re treating like a weekend series.”

That means starters are going four or five innings and relievers two our three. The goal is to have each arm get 18 to 20 innings by the end of fall ball.

After team practice, the plan is to go back to a week or two of individual training before Thanksgiving break.

As a COVID-19 measure, students will turn to online classes and testing and not come back to practice until the beginning of 2021. Baseball players will re-assemble in the middle of January — about a month before the start of the season.

“It’s going to be a big challenge this year,” says Gaura. “We’ll rely on guys to get in work on their own.”

Gaura (pronounced Gore-uh) is also UE’s recruiting coordinator. Because of the virus, there have not been many opportunities to see players perform in-person or have face-to-face meetings.

“It’s definitely a strange time,” says Gaura. “We work the phones to build relationships.”

That’s when coaches can get a sense of a potential recruit’s character.

Evansville’s campus is currently open to visitors who must go through a sign-in process. Academic tours are available.

Gaura is on an Aces coaching staff headed by Wes Carroll.

“Wes is an awesome guy to work for,” says Gaura, 28. “He brings energy every single day.

“He gives his assistants a lot of autonomy. He focuses on the culture of the program and allows us to coach the skill aspects of baseball. It’s a great work environment.”

From 2016-18, Gaura was at Mississippi State University, where he served as graduate assistant video coordinator, coordinator of player development and volunteer assistant/camp coordinator and headed up on-campus recruiting was responsible for the organization of all on-campus recruiting, the scholarship and recruiting database and video needs for both player development and advanced scouting. 

During Gaura’s stay in Starkville, Gary Henderson was an MSU assistant then head coach. Henderson began his college coaching career in the late 1980’s.

Gaura gleaned much from the veteran coach about the intricacies of running a pitching staff and program on a day-to-day basis.

“He took me under his wing and taught me the dynamics of working with the coaches and players,” says Gaura. “With his experience, there’s so much that can be learned from him.”

As a 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher, Gaura spent two seasons at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs and two at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn. 

Playing for head coach Marc Rardin, Gaura was 17-1 and helped IWCC to an National Junior College Athletic Association Division I national championship in 2012.

“It was so much more than baseball for Coach Rardin,” says Gaura. “He was teaching us life lessons. 

“I hope I can have half the impact on our guys as he had on me and my teammates.”

Gaura reflects on the JUCO experience.

“It’s not for everybody,” says Gaura. “Guys understand that it’s just a stepping stone piece. 

“You’re working to win while you’re there. But you’re also working because you want to find your next home.”

At Austin Peay, he went 4-2 as a starter then a reliever in 2013 and 2014. His head coach as a APSU player was Gary McClure. He then became a volunteer coach for Travis Janssen.

The program was coming off two regional finals appearances when Austin Peay went to the Governors.

“I wanted to carry on winning ways (experienced at Iowa Western),” says Gaura. “After being around the guys, I knew that was the place for me.”

Gaura cites Janssen for his organization skills.

“He did a really good job of laying out what are jobs were as assistant coaches,” says Gaura. “There was no gray area at all.”

Laura prides himself of being organized with his Evansville pitchers.

“Having my guys know what to expect every day they show up to the field breeds confidence,” says Gaura. “They know exactly what’s expected of them. 

“They’re not showing up to the ballpark wondering. That way they can be mentally prepared when they get to the yard.”

Gaura is a 2010 graduate of Bay Port High School in Suamico, Wis. — just north of Green Bay. Playing for head coach Mike Simoens, he helped the Pirates to a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 state champions state title in 2009 and was a Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association all-star in 2010.

Given the frosty temperatures in northeast Wisconsin, Gaura learned how to get better on the diamond from April to August and what it means to train indoors. His first travel ball came in the summer before his senior year at Bay Port. Before that, he played American Legion Baseball.

“It was a very pure baseball experience,” says Gaura, who has five players from Wisconsin and two from Canada on the Evansville roster. “What I know we’re getting there is blue collar kids from good families. 

“Their best days are ahead of them. They find ways to eliminate the excuse of not being able to go outside for long toss. It’s about being creative. If you are really committed to getting better, there’s a million ways you can get your work in.”

While he does not have any camps scheduled and can see more and more virtual meetings in the future, Gaura was able to attend the American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics event Oct, 17 at Bosse Field in Evansville. Former Purples Aces head coach Jim Brownlee came out to share with the audience.

Gaura is engaged to Rachel Parrish and a wedding is planned for Dec. 5 in Orange Beach, Ala. The couple met when Gaura was coaching at Mississippi State.

A conversation with A.J. Gaura (Aces Insider Video)
A.J. Gaura enters his third season as a University of Evansville (Ind.) baseball assistant in 2020-21. He is the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Purple Aces. (University of Evansville Photo)

Mault helps build ballplayers from the ground up

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mault affirms that the body’s lower half is the foundation of baseball.

When instructing pitchers or hitters at Extra Mile Baseball in a pole barn next to his rural home near Kimmel, Ind., the former college and professional player talks a lot about the important part played by biggest muscle groups.

“I’m a mechanics guy,” says Mault, who had close to 20 lessons on his schedule this week and counts third baseman/second baseman and Wright State University commit Jake Shirk (Fort Wayne Carroll High School Class of 2020) and left-handed pitcher/first baseman and University of Kentucky commit Carter Gilbert (Northridge Class of 2022). “Hips is where it’s at with pitchers. I don’t care about the arm slot. If you can do what I want you to do, your arm will not hurt. Period.

“When your arm is sore baseball is not fun.”

Mault, who has a degree in Health and Human Performance from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville Tenn., has his athletes — first graders through college — doing different drills that emphasize hip, core and trunk rotation.

“I come up with some weird drills,” says Mault. “Everybody learns different.”

He uses a football pad to protect himself while asking hitters to thrust their knee at him.

Mault, 39, began teaching lessons in Fort Wayne, Ind., with Rich Dunno shortly after graduating from West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., in 1999.

Dunno is the inventor of King of the Hill, Queen of the Hill and King of the Swing training devices for Ground Force Sports.

“I had one of the very first ones,” says Mault. “It’s awesome.

“I wish I had it when I was playing.”

A right-handed pitcher and right fielder in high school then pitcher-only after that, Mault played for Tim Schemerhorn at West Noble (the Chargers won the IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional in 1998 then lost 7-5 to Northridge in the first round of the Wawasee Sectional with smoke-throwing Mault and Doug McDonald as the top two pitchers).

Mault got the ball up to 92 mph in high school.

“I didn’t have anything else,” says Mault. “I had a curve that curved when it wanted to. I couldn’t throw a change-up.

“My theory was throw hard in case they missed it. That’s how I pitched.”

Mault began his post-high school career with head coach Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College.

“It seemed like home,” says Mault. “It’s out in the middle of nowhere with cornfields.”

Mault grew up on a farm and still tends to chores at his in-law’s place in Wawaka, Ind., besides a full work week as parts/service advisor at Burnworth & Zollars Auto Group in Ligonier and having a half dozen lawns to mow.

Mault was a medical redshirt his freshmen year at Olney Central after a hairline tear was found in his ulnar collateral ligament, which is similar to the injury that leads to Tommy John surgery.

“(Surgery) was not even suggested,” says Mault. “Tommy John doesn’t make you throw harder. It’s the rehab (which for Mault took about nine months).

“The next year was a mental block. I just didn’t feel comfortable throwing hard.”

In his third year at OCC, Mault was back to normal and the Blue Knights won 39 games.

“We lways made it to (conference) championship game and got beat — usually by John A. Logan or Wabash Valley,” says Mault.

Olney played in a fall tournament at Austin Peay State. Governors head coach Gary McClure was looking for a closer so Conley used starter Mault to finish two games.

Once at Austin Peay State, Mault set the single-season school record with 10 saves in 2003. In his senior year (2004), he alternated closing and starting until he accumulated the three saves he needed for what made him at the time the Governors’ career saves leader.

Springfield/Ozark Ducks manager Greg Tagert offered Mault a chance to play with that independent professional team. He instead went for what turned out to be a very brief stint with the Gateway Grizzlies.

“I pitched in one game and they let me go,” says Mault. “When there’s money involved, it’s cut-throat.

“But if not for that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. Everything works out.”

That winter, Mault attended a camp in Florida run by Brad Hall (who has worked with Stephen Strasburg) and Matt Stark and learned mechanics.

Mault’s velocity went from sometimes touching 92 mph to 96.

“My arm never hurt again,” says Mault, who was 6-foot, 158 pounds as a pro player. “I was using the lower half. My floor work. I was using my hips and keeping my body straight.

“I pitched like Tim Lincecum all through high school and college.”

Seattle Mariners scout Stark signed Mault and after short stints in extended spring training and Everett, Wash., he went to High-A ball in San Bernadino, Calif. (Inland Empire), where he made 14 relief appearances, struck out 13 and walked 13 in 20 1/3 innings with a 3.10 earned run average.

Mault was released the following year in spring training.

“I worked out with Triple-A,” says Mault. “I was on the field for two hours and got called back in and they let me go. That was rough.

“But I was still going to play.”

He came back to Noble County and worked on the farm then finished college in fall of 2004.

In 2006, Tagert was in his second season as manager of the Gary SouthShore RailCats and brought Mault aboard. The righty went 0-2 in eight games (six in relief) with five strikeouts and five walks in 18 1/3 innings with a 4.91 ERA.

Mault was reunited with former Olney Central assistant Andy Haines in 2007. At that point he was manager of the Windy City ThunderBolts in Crestwood, Ill., and is now hitting coach with the Milwaukee Brewers. The pitcher went 3-0 in 11 contests (eight in relief) with 21 K’s and 17 walks in 24 1/3 innings and a 3.70 ERA before his pro career came to a close at 26.

Jeff and Abbey Mault have two children — daughter Cora (9) and son Casyn (6). Abbey is an Arts teacher at Central Noble Junior/Senior High School in Albion, Ind.

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Jeff Mault, who pitched at West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., Olney (Ill.) Central College and Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn., was signed by the Seattle Mariners and pitched in Everett, Wash., in 2005. (Everett AquaSox Photo)

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Jeff Mault, a former college and professional pitcher, offers instruction at Extra Mile Baseball in Kimmel, Ind.

Howard looking for first IU Kokomo baseball team to play the game fast

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Howard hit the ground running when he took over as head coach for the new baseball program at Indiana University Kokomo.

That’s fitting since Howard wants his Cougars to play the game fast and put pressure on opponents.

Since starting in January and hitting the recruiting trail, Howard and his assistants — associate head coach/pitching coach Joe Thatcher (a Kokomo High School graduate who pitched in the big leagues), recruiting coordinator Zach Hall (who played at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.) and infield/assistant hitting coach Jason Leone (who played at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo.) — have built a roster and begun establishing a culture.

“We want to play fast,” says  says Howard, who used his speed as a outfielder to a be an NCAA Division II All-American and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Slippery Rock State University and was an assistant at Chestnut Hill College, where the Griffins were consistently among the D-II leaders in stolen bases. “We want guys that understand the game and play the game hard. We want to put pressure on the defense and take advantage of any mistake they make.”

A Philadelphia, Pa., native, Howard served three seasons as manager of the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the summer collegiate Prospect League (2014-16) and was on the baseball staffs at Ball State University, LaSalle University and Chestnut Hill after his collegiate playing career.

Howard and his IU Kokomo staff have a group of 38 for 2017-18 and are now working on the recruiting class of 2018-19.

“We’re just looking for the best student-athlete we can find,” says Howard. IUK has about 3,000 students — many of them of commuters.

What attracted him to the heart of Indiana?

“Kokomo is a special place,” says Howard. “It’s a baseball town. We’re at an institution where we can attract a very strong student-athlete

“Our athletic department is young and looking to add sports strategically and run them in a competitive manner,” says Howard.

By having nearly 40 players, its creates competition within the squad and gives the Cougars some depth as they go through fall ball activities. Practices will wrap in a few weeks and players will hit the weight room. When classes begin again after winter break on Jan. 8, the team will kick it into gear as it prepares for the inaugural season opener Feb. 9 at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. It’s the first of three straight weekend series in Tennessee. The home opener on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium is Feb. 27 against Indiana Wesleyan.

At 28, Howard is one of the younger head coaches in NAIA baseball. He sees it as a positive.

“It’s an advantage,” says Howard. “I have a lot of energy and passion for what I do. I’m out everyday to prove I’m the guy for the job. I’m able to get my players on the field more.

“Baseball is a beautiful game that teaches a lot of life lessons and about (dealing with) failure. Baseball is a tough game to play. You need to take the positives from the negatives.”

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Matt Howard, 28, is the head coach of a brand new NAIA baseball program at Indiana University Kokomo. He is a Philadelphia, Pa., native who was an NCAA Division II All-American at Slippery Rock State University. (IU Kokomo Photo)