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Fougerousse has Linton-Stockton Miners digging the baseball experience

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s paid big dividends at Linton.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wanted to see that continue.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wall was instrumental in improvements to Roy Herndon Field.

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

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

MATTFOUGEROUSSE

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

 

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Uggen accepts challenge of returning to to alma mater Blackford

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Uggen achieved much diamond success away from the place he grew up.

As head coach at Northfield High School from 1994-2013, Uggen’s Norsemen enjoyed many victories. IHSAA state championships came in 2001 and 2012 with a state runner-up in 2013.

But Uggen’s heart belongs to Hartford City, so he came back Blackford High School as athletic director and head baseball coach, beginning with the 2013-14 school year.

“Although I loved it at Northfield (and also served 10 years as AD there), I felt it was time to focus on the greater challenge of rebuilding my alma mater that hadn’t had a winning season since ‘04,” says Uggen, a 1983 Blackford graduate. “I guess you could say I personally wanted to know if I really was a good coach or just a by-product of being in the right place at the right time.”

On the heels of 4-23 in 2015 and 8-21 in 2016, Uggen’s 2017 Bruins went 17-13 overall and 3-4 in the Central Indiana Conference. It was Blackford’s first winning varsity baseball season since 2004.

The special campaign also included the school’s first sectional title in any sport since 2010 when the Red, Black & White reigned at 2A Blackford Sectional.

“I am proud of where we have come over the past three years,” says Uggen. “And it was great to see the community come out at sectional in full force as it was a great experience for the kids and community.”

The spring of 1991 is the only year since 1980 that Uggen has not coached a baseball team at some level. He helped coach a Babe Ruth League squad at 16. A few years later, he started a six-year run of guiding his own Babe Ruth team.

Uggen took his first teaching job at Northfield in 1991-92 and was hired as junior varsity coach and heir apparent to long-time Norsemen head coach Craig Winegardner.

As a player, Uggen was part of minor league (third grade), Little League (Grades 4-6) and Babe Ruth (7-9) programs before playing for coach Gary Cheesman at Blackford.

“I liked his passion for the game and the fact that he had high expectations for us,” says Uggen of Cheesman. “Looking back I appreciated that he ran a disciplined program as well.”

Uggen played three seasons (1985-87) at Taylor University, where Larry Winterholter was head coach. A pitcher during his freshmen and junior seasons, Uggen sat out his sophomore year because a rotator cuff injury that plagued his college career.

Out of eligibility because of tranferrng from Purdue University at mid-semester and then going to Ball State University, Uggen did not play as a senior. Winterholter did allow him to pick his brain as a student assistant coach.

“Coach Winterholter was less intense as a coach than Coach Cheesman, but he still was a disciplinarian,” says Uggen. “I appreciated playing for each as they gave me different perspectives as to how to reach athletes. It allowed me to learn that different players respond differently to how they are coached. So some kids like the more ‘in your face approach’ while others are more receptive to being pulled aside and talked to.

“Over the years I try to adapt to how I feel the kids best respond which can be a challenge. A couple years I never felt like I was on the same page, but I have always liked a challenge so that makes coaching interesting.”

What qualities does Uggen wish to instill in his players?

“First and foremost, I want our kids to reflect a ‘class act’ program,” says Uggen. “And that starts with discipline. Without a doubt, the best teams I have coached were the ones who were disciplined and focused on wanting to learn and get better. Not all of them had winning records, but I felt many of those teams still exceeded my expectations and that’s a testament to their efforts.

“I also want to instill a strong work ethic and a commitment to excellence. In short, I want them to learn to compete at a high level.

Hopefully, my hope would be that all who play for me look back and say ‘Coach Uggen made me a better baseball player and person’ and have pride in their accomplishments as individuals and as teams when all is said and done.”

The 2017 season marked the first for the new IHSAA pitch 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 Uggen has has his take on it.

“I will admit I was leary at first,” says Uggen. “But in the end, the pitch count rule was a big reason we won the sectional. Taylor, who we beat in the sectional final, had to throw their ace all 10 innings in the opening win so he was done for the tournament.

“And in the sectional championship, we tied it when down to our last strike and they unfortunately ran out of pitching and had to turn to a young many who had only thrown about eight innings all year. So yes, the pitch count worked in our favor in the tournament.”

Uggen tried to worked up to five pitchers into a game early in the season then whittled back to three or less per game as pitch counts went up and the pitchers who could consistently throw strikes were identified.

“I think that helped us develop more kids capable of handling the grind of as the season wore on,” says Uggen. “And, thankfully, most of those kids are back (for 2018).”

His assistant coaches will be Bob Banter, Travis Huffman and Devon Kirkwood at the varsity level with Travis Huffman has JV head coach and Lucas Miller as JV assistant.

Uggen says he would be in favor of changing the IHSAA ‘open gym’ rule.

“I think it ties coaches’ hands only being able to work with two kids directly at a time,” says Uggen. “That frustrates me, especially knowing that there are schools probably not following the rule.

“Yes, I understand that not having it may open up some coaches to coaching year-round. We do it because it is the right thing to do and because I can’t say we are going to be a ‘class act’ and then break the rules.

“And, frankly, there are a lot of kids today that get pulled in the wrong direction for whatever reason. If I could work with more kids than those kids are less likely to get lured into doing something they shouldn’t.”

Tony and and wife Lisa have been married eight years and have five children ages 12 to 23 — Stephanie Uggen, Christian Fleener, Brandon Fleener, Brendan Uggen and Elly Uggen.

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Tony Uggen, a 1983 Blackford High School graduate, has been athletic director and head baseball coach at his alma mater since 2013-14 after a long stint in both jobs at Northfield High School. (Blackford Photo)

 

Gernon building successful baseball culture at Western Michigan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Billy Gernon is reaping the rewards of his labor as a college baseball coach while also giving back to a game he embraced as boy.

Gernon saw his sixth Western Michigan University squad go 22-34 and win the school’s first-ever Mid-American Conference tournament championship in 2016 while the Broncos earned their first NCAA tournament berth since 1989.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting things going on,” says Gernon. “I’m trying to capture that momentum and bottle it.”

Left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin was chosen as WMU’s first MAC tournament MVP and was then selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, getting an invitation to big league spring training in 2017.

Akin was the Broncos’ highest draft pick since Harry Shaughnessy in 1970. Shortstop Connor Smith was named 2016 MAC Freshman of the Year.

As if to prove that old adage about the importance of pitching and defense, Western was among the nation’s leaders in fielding percentage at .978 — the all-time best mark at a school that started playing baseball in 1911.

“The strengths for me as a coach speaks to where I come from,” says Gernon. “Competition for big bats is heavy. Competition for defense is not as high.”

Gernon’s first season in Kalamazoo was 2011 after two at Michigan State University and nine as head coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Gernon grew up near the baseball fields near Mt. Tabor Road in New Albany, Ind.

“The game became surrogate father,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time.

“I came from a broken home at a very early age. I had an unexplainable love for the game. I was gifted at pitching. Being good at it probably made me like it more.”

Now 50, Gernon still fondly looks back to his 13-year-old summer at playing Babe Ruth League baseball in New Albany, Ind., for a trio of enthusiastic coaches — Louis Jensen Jr., Buzz Benson and John Shine.

“They were young guys and they were a lot of fun,” says Gernon. “I remember looking forward to going to practice.”

Jensen is now director of high school eduction for New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.

After graduating from New Albany High School in 1985, Gernon took his pitching talents to Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. He was the MVP for the IUS and that gave him a chance to play for IU Bloomington as a senior in 1990. Head coach Bob Morgan asked him to join the Hoosiers and he was excited about his opportunity.

Then tragedy struck.

“My brother died it the day I got there,” says Gernon. A car wreck took David Gernon’s life in 1989. “I was a very vulnerable person.”

Morgan’s passion pushed Gernon to succeed on the diamond.

“At Big Ten level, you need to win,” says Gernon. “You need to perform.”

With Morgan’s insistence on hard work, no excuses and accountability, Gernon flourished and became IU’s closer.

“He catapulted me to another level,” says Gernon.

Somewhere along the line, his focus went away from becoming a radio announcer and a chance to coach came along.

“I just decided to go for it,” says Gernon.

There were bumps along the way. At IPFW, Gernon took over a program that made a transition from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I during his tenure. For seven of his nine seasons in Fort Wayne, the Mastodons were not in a conference and had just five in-state scholarships with no paid assistant coaches. The teams averaged 11 home games and 40 road games per season.

Yet, Gernon still scheduled the best competition he could find even if his record (157-275-3 in those nine campaigns) suffered for it.

“The biggest teacher for me, personally, has been failure,” says Gernon.

Time, maturity and sincerity plus having a son of his own (Jacob David is 16 and a sophomore at Portage Central High School) have also taught him to be a better coach.

“I always try to keep my brother’s spirit alive in me,” says Gernon. “It’s important to me that my players know I love them. I need to do a better job of not only making sure I was saying it, but doing it.”

His Broncos have responded to that passion.

“Players want to perform for me,” says Gernon, who is 136-193 at WMU. “When they don’t, they’re so bothered. They don’t need anything from me but to address the wound.

“Failure is an event, not a person. The game is riddled with failure and great players learn how to deal with it.”

More than ever, Gernon is concerned with building the culture.

“Cultures are more important than anything,” says Gernon. “Great cultures win over talent. It’s my job as a leader to have guys know what the culture is and become great messengers of the team’s philosophy and culture.”

Gernon expects players to spread the word in the locker room: This is how we do things and this is what’s expected.

“Great culture is why Western won the first MAC tournament in school history and went to the NCAA tournament,” says Gernon. “We have great leaders.”

And through it all, he’s giving back.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time. I’m trying to do everything I can to serve it in the form of gratitude. I talk to current players more about their legacy, how they want to be remembered and the mark they want to leave on other players.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach.”

It’s just that important.

billgernonwmu

Western Michigan University head baseball coach Billy Gernon played at New Albany High School, Indiana University Southeast and IU Bloomington and coached at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne before heading north. (Western Michigan University Photo)