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Eye disease can’t stop Plymouth, Murray State grad Elliott

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brandon Elliott may not view the world the way he once did.

But the former standout ballplayer is not letting a rare eye disease keep him from living life to its fullest.

A three-sport athlete in the Plymouth (Ind.) High School Class of 2009 (he captained the football and baseball teams as a senior and also played basketball) who went on to play NCAA Division I baseball at Murray (Ky.) State University.

Brandon, the son of Todd Elliott and Julie and Dave Shook, was born in Munster, Ind., and played youth baseball in nearby Schererville before moving to Plymouth in 2003. His brother is Tyler Shook. His sisters are Shannon Elliott, Andria Shook and Allie Shook.

He was a college graduate and working at his dream job when Brandon began to notice something wasn’t right with the vision in his left eye.

Trying to get some answers, he went to optometrists and opthomalogists in Kentucky.

It was the opinion of Dr. Landen Meeks in Paducah that Brandon likely had Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) — a sudden, painless loss of central vision. The condition typically starts in one eye and progresses to the other eye within eight months.

Meeks had never diagnosed LHON before. Brandon underwent a spinal tap done to rule out other things.

“He was a straight shooter and Brandon liked that,” says Julie Shook. “He told him there is no cure (for LHON).”

Meanwhile, central vision in the right eye was also going cloudy. Though blurry, Brandon could see shadows and movement in his peripheral vision. He described looking straight ahead like looking into the hole of a donut.

Julie Shook found Dr. Sophia Chung, a neuro-opthalmologist with SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, and took her son to St. Louis. Only genetic blood tests would determine the cause of Brandon’s vision loss so he went through eight hours of testing.

Several weeks went by. On May 10, 2016, the call came. A 25-year-old Brandon Elliott was diagnosed with LHON.

The condition is an inherited form of vision loss. This inheritance applies to genes contained in mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria produce most of the energy that cells need to function and these inherited mutations disrupt the mitochondria and cause cells in the retina to stop working or die.

LHON is a maternal hereditary disease, which means it is passed from the mother. Shannon Elliott was tested and she is a carrier. It is more prominent coming out in males in their mid- to late-20’s. It is not as common to come out in females.

“It is rare,” says Julie Shook. “Everyday they’re learning more. It’s hard as a mother when you find out something they have is something you gave them. But I had no idea.”

After learning of his condition, Brandon let it be known that his life was in Murray, Ky., and he had no intention of returning to Plymouth.

“That was hard,” says Julie Shook, who is dean’s administrative assistant at the University of Notre Dame Law School. “I also know you need to let people make their own decisions on their own time.

“I needed to be strong for him and listen to what he wanted.”

After the tests in St. Louis, the ride back to Kentucky was quiet at first. Then Brandon asked his mother a question.

“He said , ‘How do you go from seeing a 90 mph fastball to not being able to see it?,’” says Julie Shook. “‘It is what it is. God gave it to me for a reason. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’m strong and maybe I can help someone somehow.

“‘I just have to go on with life. This is what I’ve been given. I have to go on and enjoy life.’”

That life includes marriage and children, a fulfilling occupation and plenty of support from family and friends.

About six months after graduating with a business administration degree from Murray State in 2013, Elliott went to work for Sportable Scoreboards in Murray.

The family-owned company started in 1986 by Mike Cowen serves clients all over the place and has one of their boards at Johnny Reagan Field — home of Murray State baseball and the place where Elliott earned Freshman All-America honors in 2010 and finished his four-year career with a .323 average, six home runs, 35 doubles, 85 runs batted in and 135 runs scored in 180 games (171 as a starter).

Brandon was employed in the customer service department and one day a new employee came along — digital designer Meagan Cowen. He soon learned that she was Mike and Joyce Cowen’s granddaughter.

While Brandon and Meagan knew each other before the diagnosis, they began dating after it. They did not tell their grandparents until they had become serious. The young couple was married April 14, 2018 in Paris, Tenn.

“It was an emotional day,” says Julie Shook. “He told me in the morning of that day, ‘Mom, you don’t need to worry about me anymore. This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.’

“What a statement for a 27-year-old to make who lost their vision at 25.”

When she walked down the aisle to become Meagan Elliott, Brandon took out a pair of binoculars to see her when she first appeared.

“That brought everybody to tears,” says Brandon Eggenschwiler, whose Murray State career parallels Elliott’s. “It’s truly amazing. He hasn’t missed a step in his daily life. He still goes on golf outings.

“He’s been a real champ about this whole situation.”

Shannon Elliott expresses her gratitude for Meagan coming into her brother’s life.

“Brandon thought he would never get another girlfriend again,” says Shannon, a 2011 Plymouth High School graduate who played tennis at Saint Mary’s College, graduating in 2015, and earned a mortuary science degree from Vincennes University in 2017. “Mom and I prayed he’d find someone who would accept him for who he is.

“It’s a touching thing.”

While the 25-year-old works for a funeral home in Austin, Texas, sister and brother remain very close.

“He’s my best friend,” says Shannon of Brandon. “I talk to him and his family in Kentucky probably three times a week.

“Meagan been there for him. It’s been unbelievable. I can’t imagine being in her shoes. She has to drive everywhere. I couldn’t be more thankful for what she does for him.”

Brandon and Meagan expect to welcome a baby girl on Thanksgiving Day.

Shannon has been raising money and awareness of her brother and LHON through a website — howhesees.org. She sells bracelets with the inscription “VI510N” — which tells the date his brother was diagnosed.

Brandon and Meagan wrote their own wedding vows. Brandon also wrote vows to Meagan’s young son, Bentley (who would turned 5 in September).

The wedding party was quite large and included Tyler Shook, Brandon Eggenschwiler, Ty Stetson and Reed Thompson.

Three of them had been the top three batters in the Murray State Racers’ lineup at the end of 2013 — left fielder Stetson (Carmel, Ind.) leading off, followed by third baseman Elliott and designated hitter Eggenschwiler (Lexington, Ky). First baseman Michael Kozolowski (Crown Point, (Ind.) was the clean-up hitter. Those four were also roommates in 2012-13.

“Brandon has so many wonderful friends,” says Shook. “That’s just a tribute to Brandon. He’s just such a sweet kid. He has a big heart. People are just drawn to him.

“He’s an inspiration.”

Tyler Shook, a 2010 Plymouth graduate, played baseball and football with stepbrother Brandon in high school and was also an American Legion teammate.

“He was one of the best athletes I’ve ever played with or against,” says Tyler. “He was just good at everything and a quick learner.”

There was competition for competitive bragging rights around the Shook/Elliott household. But never any animosity.

“We all got along really well,” says Tyler. “we still do. Brandon was pretty humble for the skill he had. He wasn’t going out and telling everybody about it. It was always about the team.”

One the football field, defensive end/linebacker Brandon and safety Tyler were called the “Bash Brothers” for their ability to hit on defense even though they wore casts on their hands much of the 2008 season as the John Barron-coached Rockies went 10-1.

“My dad (Dave) raised us with the mindset of ‘tough it out,’” says Tyler. “For lack of better words, ‘If your legs aren’t broken you walk yourself off the field, play through it for the team’ kind of mindset.

“(Brandon) had the grit and was not afraid to stick his nose in there. They called him ’Squirrel’  because he was one of the smallest guys on the field — maybe 5-10, 170. He was not a big guy, but definitely played like one.

“He’s always been incredibly competitive whether it be team sports, golf, video games, you name it. He just has the biggest and strongest heart and drive of anyone I know. I think that mentality is what has helped him through the ups and down of the last few years.”

Thompson, an outfielder from Cheyenne, Wyoming, did not play with Brandon. But he lived near him and was around when his vision began to change and has witnessed how he has adjusted since the LHON diagnosis.

“He can still move around just fine,” says Thompson. “He just has a hard time seeing fine details. His work has been awesome for him. They’ve gotten him a 40-inch flat screen as computer monitor.

“He loves that job. That’s why he stayed in Murray.”

Tony Plothow was both head baseball coach at Plymouth High School and manager for Plymouth American Legion Post 27 when Brandon was a player. Plothow also coached Brandon in basketball at PHS.

Brandon played for Post 27 each summer after his four years of high school and first year of college.

“(Brandon) started for us as a freshman,” says Plothow. “He came in with a lot of confidence and he fit in pretty well. He became a mentor to younger kids.

“He was one of those kids you didn’t have to motive. As he got older, he was a great leader in the locker room.”

Brandon hit .438 with three homers, 22 RBIs and 42 runs scored as a Plymouth senior  and was named MVP of the 2009 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. In Legion ball, he shined against tough competition and got the the attention of Murray State, where he played for head coach Rob McDonald.

Mike Hite was an assistant coach for PHS and Post 27 when Brandon was a player.

“As an athlete, he was a competitor,” says Hite of Brandon. “He was a winner. He was a perfectionist. He always wanted to be the one that came through in the clutch. That was pretty special.”

As Plymouth parks superintendent, Hite employed Brandon for several summers. Allie Shook, Brandon’s stepsister, works for Hite now.

“(Brandon) wanted to excel in whatever he was doing — cutting grass, pulling weeds or going deep in the hole to turn a double play (at shortstop).

“He’s used to succeeding in everything he does and he still is.”

Former Plymouth head basketball coach John Scott recalls Brandon’s contributions in 2007-08, a season that saw the Pilgrims go 22-4 and make it to the Class 3A Warsaw Semistate.

“Brandon was so very athletic,” says Scott. “He was a very streaky shooter. We played NorthWood just before Christmas. He hit some huge 3-pointers for us that night on the road. He, along with a great game from Nick Neidlinger, got us off to a good start in the (Northern Lakes Conference).”

Scott is also assistant athletic director and longtime public address announcer for Pilgrims/Rockies sports.

Evan Jurjevic got to know Brandon as a fellow middle infielder for Plymouth Post 27. Shortstop Elliott was the lone Plymouth High product surrounded by three LaPorte Slicers — second baseman Jurjevic, first baseman Shawn Rogers and third baseman Jake McMahan.

“(Brandon) was an incredible baseball player,” says Jurjevic. “He was extremely hard-working and talented. He played with a lot of energy and heart.

“He was an overall great guy, a good team player. He was always pushing others to get better.”

Jurjevic, a part-time strength coordinator and instructor for the Indiana Chargers travel organization who is pursuing a physical therapy doctorate at Trine University-Fort Wayne, sees his old friend meeting his condition head-on.

“Baseball is easy compared to something like this,” says Jurjevic. “It’s puts things into perspective.

“It’s definitely a challenge and an obstacle he had to overcome.”

While he must sit very close to view television and uses a large monitor at work, Brandon tries to lead as normal a life as possible. He bowls, plays golf and has fun in the backyard with Bentley.

“He doesn’t want people to know,” says Julie. “He was very hesitant about seeing someone about visual needs.”

Dave Shook spent a week with his stepson and they met with Kentucky Visual Aid. Brandon told them he could not take the aids because they were too expensive.

Then he was asked: “Do you pay taxes?”

His answer: “Yes.”

The reply: “You’ve paid for it.”

For more information on Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, visit lhonsociety.org.

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Brandon Elliott, a Plymouth (Ind.) High School graduate, hits the baseball for Murray (Ky.) State University, where he graduated in 2013 after four seasons. (Murray State University Photo)

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Brandon Elliott finished his four-year baseball career at Murray (Ky.) State University with a .323 average, six home runs, 35 doubles, 85 runs batted in and 135 runs scored in 180 games (171 as a starter). He earned Freshman All-America honors in 2010. (Murray State University Photo)

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Brandon Elliott, a 2009 Plymouth (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the school’s athletic Wall of Fame for being named MVP of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. He also excelled at football and basketball at Plymouth.

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Meagan and Brandon Elliott on their wedding day — April 14, 2018.

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Brandon, Meagan and Shannon Elliott share a moment during Brandon and Meagan’s wedding on April 14, 2018.

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Brandon Elliott, who was diagnosed in 2016 with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) — a sudden, painless loss of central vision — uses binoculars to see his bride, Meagan, during their wedding April 14, 2018. The couple met at Sportable Scoreboards in Murray, Ky. Her grandfather, Mike Cowen, founded the company.

 

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Bock, Fremont Eagles eager to add to their baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fremont (Ind.) High School chased down an elusive sectional baseball championship in 2018.

Head coach Justin Bock saw the Eagles grab the program’s first sectional title since 2005, beating Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian 5-4 in the final of the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional.

Fremont (15-16) went on to lose 3-2 to Northfield in the championship game of the Caston Regional.

“We worked really hard to get that sectional trophy,” says Fremont head coach Justin Bock, who heads into his 22nd season in the program and 11th in charge in 2019.

Four-year starter Rhett Evans has moved on to Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich.

Bock expects the 2019 Eagles to be young and talented. The coach anticipates he will have one senior, but four returning starters. A couple of freshmen could find their way into the lineup. There could be as many as 30 players in the program, including 12 ninth graders.

It’s anticipated that senior center fielder Ethan Marten will be back for his third season as a Fremont starter.

Junior left-hander Mick Laisure (0.99 earned run average in 36 1/3 innings in 2008) and right-hander/right fielder Connor Kreis are supposed to return in 2019 as is sophomore lead-off man and second baseman Kameron Colclasure. As a pitcher, he was 5-0 with a 0.88 ERA in more than 24 varsity innings in 2018. He hurled a shutout against Fairfield and earned a relief victory against DeKalb.

“He throws three pitches with great control,” says Bock of Colclasure, who was awarded varsity letters in three sports as a freshman (football, basketball and baseball). He is expected to move over to shortstop in 2019.

Fremont, located in Steuben County in northeast Indiana, is a member of the 12-team Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview).

Each team plays the other once. There is also a blind-draw conference tournament in the middle of the season.

“It gives the kids a taste of what sectional is like,” says Bock. “It has a one-and-done tournament feel.”

The Eagles are in an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. Fremont is on the 1A/2A border and could go back up with the next realignment in 2019-20.

Bock has Fremont in the early-season Coldwater (Mich.) Invitational, an event that has the Eagles playing three games in one day.

“Our hitters get to see great pitching early in the year,” says Bock. “It gets us ready to see conference pitching.”

It also means Fremont could use as many as nine pitchers. This puts an emphasis on building pitching depth.

“It has become routine for us,” says Bock. “If we have you going through workouts, you will be on the mound.

“We can win by pitching to contact and playing good defense.”

The 2019 season will be the third of the IHSAA 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). Before that, pitchers were allowed 10 innings every three days.

“(The pitch count rule) has emphasized what we really believe,” says Bock, who used 11 different arms in varsity competition in 2018 with Evans has the most innings going into sectional play at 28, keeping him fresh. “We’re not afraid to throw guys.

“We have to work more on mixing pitches and pitching to contact. We can’t afford to walk people.”

This kind of approach to pitching has helped Bock and his coaching staff find some hidden gems over the years.

Bock’s 2019 assistants are Ron Colclasure, Dave Smith, Jim Burkhart and Chad Baker at the varsity level and Ian Burkhart with the junior varsity. Baker splits his time between Fremont and Glen Oaks, where his son Braxton Baker (the step-brother of Rhett Evans) went after Fremont.

Being a 1A school with about 300 students, Fremont is full of multi-sport athletes. This meant that many were busy during the fall practice window.

Bock says practice will begin in earnest in early January when pitchers and catchers report for pre-season workouts.

The high school program is fed by Fremont Youth League and a number of travel baseball organizations, including Hitters Edge, Kalamazoo Maroons, Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Sting. In the past, there have been players go with Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers.

“A lot of our kids go north because of how close we are to Michigan,” says Bock.

Fremont graduate and current Indiana Tech baseball standout Glen McClain played travel ball for the Kalamazoo Maroons.

A 1993 Fremont graduate after moving in from the Ann Arbor, Mich., area as a sophomore, Bock earned an English degree at Taylor University and master’s in education at Indiana Wesleyan University.

He spent 19 years at Fremont and is in his third year as an assistant professor and placement coordinator at Trine University in Angola, Ind.

Bock’s baseball coach at Fremont was Roger Probst, who led the Eagles on the diamond 1985-2007 and is now the school’s athletic director.

“He’s the most organized person I’ve ever been around,” says Bock of Probst. “He’s the best athletic director in the state and a clear communicator.”

Bock served as a Probst assistant for 11 seasons before taking over the baseball reins 2008.

A junior high football coach and varsity boys basketball assistant to Eagles head coach Craig Helfrich (as is Ron Colclasure), Bock says it makes sense for him to be a head coach in the spring.

“Baseball really suits my personality,” says Bock. “I enjoy the pace of the game and the time to reflect on how we want to respond to a situation.

“It’s much healthier for me to be a baseball coach.”

Justin and April Bock have two children — freshman Ethan and sixth grader Delaney. After 12 years at Angola Middle School, April Bock teaches sixth grade at Fremont Middle School, where Delaney Bock is a student. Ethan Bock is a tennis, basketball and baseball athlete at Fremont High School.

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Fremont (Ind.) High School baseball coaches celebrate with the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional trophy. They are (from left) Chad Baker, Jim Burkhart, Ian Burkhart, Ryan Allman, head coach Justin Bock, Ron Colclasure and Dave Smith.

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Fremont (Ind.) High School baseball seniors and head coach pose with the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional trophy. They are (from left) Zack Peele, Rhett Evans, head coach Justin Bock, Joe Molter, Seth McDowell and Evan Trusty.

 

LHP Herrin goes from South Vigo to IU to Indians system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Just a few years ago, he was throwing touchdown passes in the fall.

This year, he’s going to college classes and looking back on his first professional baseball season.

Tim Herrin Jr. — he answers to Timmy — was an all-state quarterback at Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School where father Tim Herrin Sr. is a dean and head football coach.

Timmy helped the Braves win IHSAA Class 5A sectional and Conference Indiana titles in his final prep football season (2014).

Herrin was a three-sport athlete at South Vigo, earning four letters in baseball, three in football and two in basketball.

A left-handed pitcher, Herrin helped the Braves win the 2013 Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference baseball championship.

In the midst of Herrin’s prep career, there was a change from the MIC to Conference Indiana. He was an all-CI and all-Wabash Valley selection as a senior as he went 6-2 with one save and a 2.33 ERA. He fanned 50 batters in 42 innings while playing for head coach Kyle Kraemer.

A first-team all-stater and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star for South Vigo in 1986, Kraemer went on to play at Purdue. He was the Boilermakers team captain and home run leader (10) as a senior.

After graduation, he began passing along his knowledge as a coach.

“It was good to have a high school coach who had an idea of what it took to make it to the next level,” says Herrin of Kraemer. “He prepared us for that.”

Herrin was attracted to Indiana University by former Hoosiers head coach Chris Lemonis (now head coach at Mississippi State) and worked closely with former IU pitching coach Kyle Bunn (now associate head coach and pitching coach at Middle Tennessee State).

The southpaw appreciated that Lemonis was a straight shooter during the recruiting process.

“He was straight up,” says Herrin of Lemonis. “Other coaches tell you what you want to hear.

“He did a good job of telling it how it is. You saw how genuine of a guy he is. I wanted to come play for him. I knew I could trust him.”

Herrin credits Bunn for molding him as a moundsman.

(Bunn) helped me focus on what makes somebody a pitcher,” says Herrin. “I was really raw coming into school. I had never focused on one specific sport. Until the end of my junior year, I did not think about playing college baseball. I was not recruited.

“I became a more mature pitcher faster (with Bunn). It was how he would explain things.”

In three seasons in Cream and Crimson (2016-18), Herrin made 41 mound appearances (23 as a starter) with a combined 3.44 earned run average. In 120 innings, he struck out 80 and walked 46.

He also played two summers in wood bat leagues — Amsterdam (N.Y.) Mohawks (Perfect Game League) in 2016 and Harwich (Mass.) Mariners (Cape Cod Baseball League) in 2017.

Herrin, a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder, was selected in the 29th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cleveland Indians.

Assigned to the Arizona League Indians 1 team (college signees), the lefty got into 13 games (all in relief) with the rookie-level Arizona League Indians 1 squad and went 0-1 with a 6.16 ERA. In 19 innings, he struck out 22 and walked eight. His manager was Larry Day. His pitching coach was Joel Mangrum.

Herrin throws a fastball (mostly two-seamers with a few four-seamers mixed in), slider and “circle” change-up. During the summer, he touched 95 mph a few times and sat at 90 to 92 with his heater.

During the college season, he lowered his three-quarter overhand arm angle.

“The ball comes out easier,” says Herrin of the adjustment.

He might have gone to fall instructional camp or a developmental camp in November, but Herrin is back at IU taking classes toward his sports management and marketing degree. After this term, he will be just six major credits and an internship from completion.

Herrin does plan to attend a month of camp in Goodyear, Ariz., in January. He will come back to Terre Haute for a few weeks then return for spring training.

The next stops on the Indians minor league circuit are Mahoning Valley (Short Season Class-A), Lake County (Low-A), Lynchburg (High-A), Akron (Double-A) and Columbus (Triple-A).

Born in Munster, Ind., Herrin moved to Terre Haute as a toddler. His parents — Tim and Cathy — met as students at Indiana State University.  His mother is a family consumer science teacher at West Vigo High School in West Terre Haute.

Timmy has three younger brothers. Carter Herrin is a freshman football player at Indiana State. Trey Herrin is a freshman footballer at South Vigo. Christopher Herrin is a sixth grader who plays football, basketball and baseball.

Travis Herrin, a Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate who is now a pitcher in the Los Angeles Angels organization, is no relation.

The Cal Ripken Baseball-aligned Riley Recreation League in Terre Haute is where Timmy played his first organized baseball. He began playing for travel teams around 11. In high school, he was part of the Wayne Newton American Legion Post 346 program.

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Timmy Herrin, a Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School graduate, played for three seasons with Indiana University before going into pro baseball. (Indiana University Photo)

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Timmy Herrin, a 2015 Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School graduate who pitched three seasons at Indiana University, gets set to throw a pitch during the 2018 season for the Arizona League Indians. Herrin was selected in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cleveland Indians. (Arizona League Indians Photo)

 

Mental toughness helps Roncalli grad, current Rays minor leaguer Schnell

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It used to burn Nick Schnell when his every at-bat didn’t produce a hit.

He expected to catch every fly.

Then the Indianapolis-born Schnell encountered Roncalli High School head baseball coach Aaron Kroll.

“He helped me a ton on the mental side of the game,” says Schnell of Kroll. “Baseball’s a game of failure. He told me, ‘just believe in yourself’ and ‘ don’t get down on yourself because of one bad at-bat.’”

Kroll encouraged Schnell to become one of the Rebels’ vocal leaders and lead by example by always playing hard.

Schnell responded by helping Roncalli to an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a sophomore in 2016 and solid seasons in 2017 and 2018.

The lefty-swinging center fielder enjoyed a monster senior season, hitting .535 with 15 home runs and 37 runs batted in for a 25-6 club that won Marion County and Ben Davis Sectional titles.

“I knew I had the capability to do that my senior year,” says Schnell. “I got on a roll and felt really good.

“I tried to repeat the same thing I was doing. I was playing with a lot of confidence.”

At one particularly red-hot stretch, Schnell went 12-for-15 at the plate with seven homers.

Schnell’s head-turning 2018 season ended in the first round of the Decatur Central Regional with a show of respect from Indianapolis Cathedral.

Leading 6-2 with two outs in the seventh inning with bases loaded for Roncalli and Schnell coming to the plate, the Irish intentionally walked the slugger and wound up with a 6-3 win.

Schnell earned Mr. Baseball honors from the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and was Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year and the Indianapolis Star Player of the Year.

He had verbally committed to play at the University of Louisville during his sophomore season and signed with the Cardinals as a senior.

But with Roncalli’s season winding down and the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft looming, Nick had a decision to make.

“My parents (Jay and Angie Schnell) and I sat down and talked about it,” says Nick. “The professional route is the best for me to create a good career.”

The Tampa Bay Rays selected Schnell as a compensatory first-round draft pick (No. 32 overall) and sent him to their rookie-level Gulf Coast League team in Florida.

Right away, he saw a contrast in high school and pro baseball.

“The biggest difference was consistent velocity I saw (in the minors),” says Schnell. “I saw guys in the mid-90s, even 100. In high school, they were 80 to 85 and every once in awhile you’d see 90.”

While rookie league pitchers were working to control their stuff, even their sliders and curves would come in at 85 mph.

Schnell says it took him a little over a week to make the adjustment.

“It comes with adapting to the game,” says Schnell. “When you see it everyday it becomes second nature to you. It was a daily thing you knew was coming.”

Playing mostly center fielder and some right, the 18-year-old hit .239 with one homer and four RBIs and was 2-for-6 in stolen base attempts in 19 games. His season was cut short in late July with a small stress fracture in his wrist.

“It was a freak thing,” says Schnell. “It came from overuse.”

Rather than rush him back at the end of the season, the Rays let Schnell heal so he could participate in the fall instructional league.

He spent a month in Florida making up for time lost during the summer.

“My main focus was really developing more as a ballplayer — get some at-bats back and getting better in the outfield and getting a better jump on stolen bases.”

School was planning to study sports psychology at Louisville and he gravitated toward Rays minor league mental skills coordinator James Schwabach, who suggesting reading books like “Grit: A Complete Guide on Being Mentally Tough” by James Clear.

The lanky Schnell (he is 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds) considers versatility to be his strengths.

“I use my athleticism in all three outfield positions,” says Schnell, who was a starter in center for four seasons at Roncalli while hitting .473 with 25 homers and 109 RBIs. “I have all-fields hitting ability. I can hit to the opposite field or pull side.

“I’m not pull heavy. I use the whole field.”

Nick, the youngest of Jay and Amy Schnell’s three children, comes from an athletic family. His mother played volleyball at Kankakee Community College, where she met her future husband.

Oldest child Aaron Schnell (Roncalli Class of 2014) was three-time all-county in high school and played baseball at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Bailey Schnell (Roncalli ’15) played volleyball for the Rebels and then Western Michigan University.

Nick considers his father and brother as his biggest mentors.

“My dad got my brother and I into sports at an early age,” says Nick. “My brother is five years older. I followed him everywhere.”

Nick Schnell, who attended St. Roch Catholic School in Indianapolis Grades K-8, was a three-sport athlete through eighth grade (football, basketball, baseball). He played basketball his first two years in high school before deciding to concentrate on baseball.

Southport Little League on the south side of Indianapolis is where Schnell got his baseball start. He played there until he was 12.

Travel baseball teams included the Scott Schreiber-coached Blue Wave (a group of Roncallli-bound players) his 13U summer, the Dalton Jones-coached Indiana Twins (14U) and Jay Hundley-coached Indiana Outlaws (15U).

Schnell donned the uniform of the Indiana Bulls for two summers, playing for coaches Dan Held (16U) and Sean Laird (17U).

He spent two falls with Team Indiana and participated in an elite tournament in Jupiter, Fla., leading into his sophomore and junior years at Roncalli.

In the summer of 2017, Schnell was selected for the Perfect Game All-Star Classic in San Diego.

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Nick Schnell, a 2018 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, bats for the Gulf Coast Rays in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Schnell was selected No. 32 overall in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. (Cliff Welch Photography)

Accountability, camaraderie important to Wells and his Greencastle Tiger Cubs

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Wells received a baseball foundation that he now uses as head coach at Greencastle (Ind.) High School.

Wells played four seasons at Owen Valley High School in Spencer, Ind., and two at the University of Indianapolis and applies what he learned in guiding the Greencastle Tiger Cubs.

As a third baseman and pitcher, Wells started on varsity as a freshman for head coach John Heckman at Owen Valley. It wasn’t a common practice at the school at that time.

“Age doesn’t really matter,” says Wells of the message being sent by his coach. “You put your best nine out there and go with it.”

After the spring of 1999, John Heckman turned the Patriots program after that season to his son, Trent Heckman.

“I I learned a lot about quality of practice and to work hard at all times,” says Wells of the Heckamans. Wells graduated from OV in 2002.

Gary Vaught, who retired after the 2018 season with 808 career victories and a pair of trips to the NCAA Division II World Series, passed on the importance of discipline to Wells in his two campaigns with the Greyhounds (2003 and 2004).

Vaught held his players accountable. They knew where they needed to be and when. If they failed to do so, there was a price. It could involve playing time or, perhaps, extra running or conditioning.

“Kids don’t understand that being a college athlete is a full-time job,” says Wells, who found that out first-hand. “I also picked up valuable techniques and skills I try to instill in my players today.”

Finishing his history eduction degree at UIndy in 2006, Wells had an idea that he would like to be a baseball coach. He is heading into his third season as Greencastle head coach in 2019 after four campaigns as an assistant.

Wells was junior varsity coach at Owen Valley in 2007 and an assistant at North Putnam High School in 2009 and 2010.

Greencastle belongs to the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo in the West Division and Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley in the East Division.

“We have one of the best 3A conferences in the state,” says Wells, noting that Northview was moved up to 4A via the IHSAA tournament success factor. “Our conference is pretty loaded.”

WIC games are played back-to-back weeknights. Only the first game counts toward conference standings.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” says Wells, who has indicated that prefers both games count.

After the intradivisional games, crossover games are played between the divisions (West No. 1 vs. East No. 1 and so on).

Non-conference foes include Cascade, Covenant Christian, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Monrovia and Tri-West Hendricks.

With about 550 students, Greencastle is the fourth-smallest 3A school in Indiana. The Tiger Cubs are in an IHSAA sectional with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Northwest and Tri-West Hendricks.

The schedule includes some varsity/junior varsity doubleheaders.

The one-day Putnam County tournament brings Greencastle, Cloverdale, North Putnam and South Putnam together for competition. The Tigers Cubs won the event in 2018.

What about the 2019 team?

“We have a pretty talented sophomore group,” says Wells, who expects to have number of players who played varsity as freshmen in last spring. Among those are Bryce Barger, Ethan Maier, Jordan Meyer, Nick Sutherlin and Brody Whitaker.

Seniors Alex Costin, Tanner Sanders and Trey Wood are also in the mix.

The Tigers Cubs have not yet had any college baseball commitments. Wood plans to attend Taylor University in Upland, Ind., to play football. Recent graduate Tanner Nicholson is on the baseball team at Franklin (Ind.) College.

Wellls’ assistant coaches are Greencastle head boys basketball coach Bryce Rector (who is also head JV baseball coach) and boys basketball assistant Craig Whitaker.

The Tiger Cubs play on-campus on a field that was recently added new infield dirt, clay mixture around home plate and upgrades for drainage.

“There’s still a lot more we want to do,” says Wells.

A seventh grade social studies teacher at Greencastle Middle School, Wells has the opportunity to get to know future players before they get to high school.

“It’s an interesting dynamic,” says Wells. “I get a head start building relationships with those players.”

GMS, which serves Grades 6-8, has a baseball team. It is a club sport and not affiliated with Greencastle Community School Corporation.

“What we’ve lacked in the past is a feeder program,” says Wells. “When I grew up, Babe Ruth was the big thing. When we got to high school, we had known each other and played together since we were young.”

Such a system would build camaraderie and Wells would know what he had coming at the high school level.

“It’s something I’m trying to build,” says Wells. “We have not been able to get it pulled off yet.”

Greencastle is coming to the end of its fall baseball workouts. A new IHSAA rule allows coaches to practice with their teams for two hours two days a week during a certain period of time. The window closes after Oct. 12 and opens against the first week of December.

“I kind of like it,” says Wells. “I puts us all on a similar playing field. We’re a smaller school and have to share a lot of our athletes. (The rule) allows us to get as many guys together at once to throw and get in their cuts. It keep us in baseball shape throughout the year.

“It also helps us not burn out students on one thing.”

Ben and Kristen Wells have been married 11 years and have three children — 5-year-old son Lincoln and 3-year-old twin daughters Britain and Brooklyn.

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Greencastle (Ind.) High School won the 2018 Putnam County baseball tournament. Tiger Cubs with the hardware are (from left): assistant coach Bryce Rector, Gus Manion, assistant coach Craig Whitaker, Abe Wade, head coach Ben Wells and Jacob Harris.

Bell makes discipline, competitiveness cornerstones for Columbia City baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What Columbia City (Ind.) High School baseball needed was a dose of discipline and a culture of competitiveness.

That’s way Rob Bell saw it so he decided to apply to be the Eagles head coach going into the 2018 season.

The previous two Columbia City teams had won three games. In Bell’s first campaign in charge last spring, the Eagles went 6-21.

“We got better,” says Bell, who had coached basketball, football and softball at the high school level before taking on baseball. “The best thing we did last year is we competed. We were in the majority of our games.”

Just two players from that team graduated and up to nine seniors and 10 players who started in 2018 are expected back in 2019.

“How these guys pull together as a team, that’s going to determine how well we do this year,” says Bell. “We’re trying to drive some of that individuality out of it.”

Bell was an assistant to Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Wayne Kreiger for Columbia City’s girls basketball program and served on the Eagles boys basketball staff of Chris Benedict and coached middle school basketball and football at Columbia City.

There have also been stints as girls basketball head coach at Whitko and girls basketball freshman coach at Angola as well as football and softball assistant jobs at Garrett, the school Bell graduated from in 1991.

Bell, 45, has been at Columbia City for 18 years — first as a science teacher and now as dean of students. He was convinced that he was the man to help Eagles baseball.

An Eagle Scout while he was in high school, Bell brought in the Boy Scout Law (A scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent) as a code of conduct in his first head coaching job with Whitko girls basketballers.

With Columbia City baseball, he’s added Disciplined to the list.

“What this program needed I believe is discipline with someone who knew how to build a program and a culture and who could define the expectations of all the members of the program,” says Bell. “If you discipline yourself and nobody else has to.”

He also wants his athletes to know that each of them represents a piece of a much bigger puzzle.

“We’re trying to build that culture of selflessness and get our guys to understand that,” says Bell. “We’ve got them to volunteer in the community.”

This culture includes his own family. Rob and Lori Bell, who have been married for 20 years, have two baseball-playing sons at Columbia City — senior Dalton and freshman Brady.

Bell counts five men as the biggest influences on his coaching career. Besides Kreiger and Benedict, there’s his football coach at Garrett (Greg Moe), the head girls basketball coach when he was student-teaching at Angola (Doug Curtis) and the head softball coach when he was assisting at Garrett (father-in-law Alan Hunter).

“I’d like to think I’m a combination of all of them mixed in with what I do well to make it my own,” says Bell. “I wanted to be a lot like (Moe). He had a huge impact on my life.

“There was his intensity, work ethic and willingness to prepare. He loved us and because he loved us, he would not let us settle for anything less than our best. He drove us to get that out of us.

“I’m extremely intense. I’d like to think I’m as organized and prepared as he was.”

Bell played baseball his first two years at Garrett then switched to track. He went to Butler University to study pharmacy and play football. Along the way, he gave up the grid and switched to education. He finished college at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

So far, Columbia City’s 2019 coaching staff includes Bell, Skylar Campbell, Jared Ambrose with the varsity and Justin Dailey with the junior varsity. Campbell is an agriculture teacher/Future Farmers of America advisor and Ambrose a business teacher at the school. Dailey is still attending Indiana Tech. Bell says he expects to add one more to his staff.

Last spring, there were 31 players for varsity and JV teams. This fall, 31 freshmen have indicated their interest in playing baseball in the spring, causing Bell to look into the possibility of fielding a C-team or freshmen squad in 2019.

“I’d love to be able to carry 45 guys,” says Bell. “The biggest hamstringing thing is pitching depth.

“We may be able to keep kids as pitcher-onlys — at least for this year.”

The pitching depth issue really comes to the front when the schedule gets stacked up. Between having one field on-campus and the weather, last spring saw one stretch where Columbia City’s JV played six-days-a-week for two straight weeks.

Looking to the future, Columbia City is planning to build a new high school and move into it in 2020-21. With that will come new athletic facilities.

Long before that happens, Bell wants to field a squad to fans can get behind.

“We’d like to have a really quality product in terms of guys in the program,” says Bell. “People will come to watch good guys OK baseball.

“It’s not enjoyable to watch a bunch of jerks.”

Columbia City plays in the Northeast Eight Conference (along with Bellmont, DeKalb, East Noble, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell). Conference games tend to be played twice a week and each team plays the others once.

The Eagles are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Garrett, Leo and New Haven. Columbia City has won nine sectional titles all-time — the last in 2007.

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Rob Bell is the dean of students and head baseball coach at Columbia City (Ind.) High School.

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Head coach Rob Bell (right) talks with Cameron Harris during the 2018 Columbia City (Ind.) High School baseball season. Harris is expected back for his senior year and Bell’s second in charge in 2019.

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Rob Bell (center) enjoys time with sons Dalton (left) and Brady (right). Bell is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Columbia City (Ind.) High School in 2019. The Bell boys are both ballplayers, Dalton a senior and Brady a freshman.

 

New baseball coach Doherty wants Concord Minutemen to be competitive

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Doherty has fond memories of his time in a Concord High School baseball uniform.

From his four years as a player at the Elkhart County, Ind., school to his stint as a Minutemen assistant, Doherty wore the green with pride.

Now he gets to do it again as head coach.

The Concord Community School Board of Trustees officially approved his hiring at their meeting on Sept. 17.

I’m excited. It’s awesome to be back at Concord High School,” says Doherty, a 2005 CHS graduate. “I’m blown away by the support. There seems to be a buzz around the program.

“It’s my job to keep it going. I want the players to buy in and compete everyday and let the chips fall where they may.”

Doherty looks to bring consistency to the program. He is Concord’s fourth head coach in five years.

“We want to be competitive — in the classroom and on the field — and bring a sense of pride back to the baseball program,” says Doherty, 31. “That’s a the high school and youth level.”

Doherty plans to form relationships at Concord Little League and will keep tabs on area travel baseball organizations that may feed the Minutemen.

The past two summers, he has coached the Concord Pride 12U and 13U travel squads.

He was a JV coach then assistant at CHS in 2016 and 2017.

Doherty coached baseball on head coach Steve Stutsman‘s staff at Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School 2008-11 after playing two seasons (2006 and 2007) for head coach Keith Schreiber at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich.

Doherty played four baseball seasons at Concord and earned three letters for head coaches Cary Anderson and Mike Jackowiak. He also earned three letters in swimming and participated in cross country and football one year each and played baseball for Jim Treadway-managed Bristol American Legion Post 143 following his junior and senior years of high school and freshman year of college. 

I’m a big proponent of the three-sport athlete,” says Doherty, who will be meeting with returning seniors this week after having open fields two times a week this fall. “To be out on a baseball field at this time of year is always good at this time of year.”

While it is early in his tenure, Doherty has talked to some potential assistant coaches and has been talking with a few area head coaches about bringing back some instructional summer games, like the ones he played when he was in high school.

Another fond high school memory is of the Concord Marching Minutemen Band. He helped earn a state championship in 2003 and was drum major as a junior and senior.

Concord is a member of the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee).

The Minutemen are in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, Penn and Warsaw.

Pat and Kelly Doherty (a 2006 Concord graduate) have been married for nine years. They live in Elkhart with daughters Addison (7) and Ryleigh (9 months).

In addition to coaching, Pat Doherty is plant manager for Lippert Components in Mishawaka, Ind., and broadcasts high school football and basketball and hosts a talk show on Froggy 102.7 FM. Kelly Doherty is about to embark on a teaching job with Headstart in Elkhart.

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Pat Doherty, a 2005 Concord High School graduate, has been named head baseball coach at his alma mater. His hiring was approved Sept. 17, 2018. (Concord High School Photo)