Tag Archives: Benton Central

Wood takes the reins of West Lafayette baseball

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

New head baseball coach Aaron Wood has long been a part of athletics at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School.
As a 2000 West Lafayette graduate, Wood earned eight varsity letters for the Red Devils — three in baseball, three in football and two in basketball.
His head coaches were Dan Walbaum in baseball, Ernie Beck and Lane Custer in football and father David Wood in basketball.
Wood has been an assistant coach for all three sports at West Lafayette.
“It’s my way of giving back,” says Wood, who has gotten to work with Walbaum and Joel Strode in baseball, his father in basketball and Shane Fry in football. “I’ve been a member of this baseball program for a long time. The opportunity (to be head coach) presented itself and I took it.”
In Wood’s 13 years on the baseball staff, West Lafayette won three sectionals, two regionals and seven Hoosier Conference titles.
Next year will mark two decades for Wood with Red Devils football. He was the running backs coach under Fry this fall and the 2022 team was ranked No. 1 in IHSAA Class 3A and finished 13-1.
“I have really enjoyed my time with that program,” says Wood. “I hope in some ways we can mimic the success (football) has had in the baseball program in terms of the postseason.
“We want to have some fun and win a whole bunch of games in the process.”
David Wood retired after the 2020-21 season — his 27th as Red Devils head boys basketball coach. He earned nine sectional titles, including in 1999 and 2000.
Aaron Wood, who is in his fifth year as a Physical Education/Health teacher and strength and conditioning coach for West Lafayette, was hired last week to lead West Lafayette on the diamond. Strode is the Red Devils athletic director.
West Lafayette (enrollment around 730) is a member of the Hoosier Conference (with Benton Central, Hamilton Heights, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes and Western).
Each conference baseball team plays each other twice in a home-and-home series during the same week.
The Red Devils are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2023 with Frankfort, North Montgomery, Northwestern, Twin Lakes and Western. West Lafayette has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2011.
The Red Devils play home games on Bob Friend Field, a facility which recently got new paint and work on the dugouts.
West Lafayette went 13-8 overall and 8-1 in the conference last spring. Senior Evan Cooke (.353 with six home runs and 27 runs batted in and 4-2 on the mound with a 1.51 earned run average for 2022) and junior Jack Shaeffer (.400 with 18 RBIs and 2-3) are expected back for 2023. Cooke scored 34 goals this fall for West Lafayette’s 20-1-1 boys soccer team.
While it is not affiliated with the school, West Lafayette Youth Baseball teaches the game at the younger levels.
While he was busy with football, Wood noticed that some baseball players were getting in work at various places in the fall. He looks forward to the next IHSAA Limited Contact Period (Dec. 5-Feb. 4) where baseball activities will be permitted two times a week for two hours.
Wood is in the process of assembling his coaching staff.
“We need to get administrative things out of the way and start focusing on player development,” said Wood.
A former multi-sport athlete himself, Wood is a believer in it.
“We have to have it for our school to have success,” says Wood. “It does wonders for your support and it develops the sort of toughness that we need to win.
“You’re remaining in competitive environments.”
Wood went into the working world out of high school and earned an degree in Organizational Leadership and Supervision degree from Purdue University more than a decade later.
The husband of West Lafayette Elementary School third grade teacher Jennifer Wood later decided to go into education.
“I have a passion for students and coaching,” says Wood. “I got a graduate certificate from Indiana Wesleyan and here I am.
“It’s the best decision I’ve ever made professionally.”
With Aaron and Jennifer both being teachers they are on the same schedule and able to spend time together and with daughter Carson (6) and son Carter (3).
“They enjoy being at the various fields and making it a family affair,” says Wood.

Aaron Wood.

Jordan, Tipton Blue Devils aiming at turnaround in 2023

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

Rob Jordan was to lead his first Tipton (Ind.) High School baseball season during the spring of 2020.
But the COVID-19 pandemic kept the Blue Devils from playing a game.
Jordan’s first on-field campaign as head coach was 2021. Most of the players from that team graduated, leaving very little varsity experience in 2022.
“Last season was pretty tough on us,” says Jordan of year where Tipton went 2-18 with 27 players in the program. “We had a whole new pitching staff.”
Jordan does expect most of his pitching to return in 2023, meaning they will have more experience. There is a big freshman class and the Blue Devils should have eight seniors (Zane Goodrich, Chase Higgins, Houston Nasser, Jack Nasser, Clark Rodibaugh, Joe Shelly, Eli Shook and Austin Smith).
“We’ve got good young kids,” says Jordan. “With our veteran leadership, we hope it’s a breakout year.”
Ten to 15 players — those not in a fall sport — have been going over fundamentals with Jordan at twice-a-week IHSAA Limited Contact Period fall practices.
Tipton (enrollment around 450) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with IHSAA Class 2A Tipton, 3A Hamilton Heights, 2A Lewis Cass, 3A Northwestern and 3A Western in the East Division and 3A Benton Central, 1A Lafayette Central Catholic, 2A Rensselaer Central, 3A Twin Lakes and 3A West Lafayette in the West Division).
The Blue Devis were part of an 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Blackford, Eastbrook, Eastern (Greentown), Madison-Grant and Taylor. Tipton has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2009.
Tipton plays its games on-campus. A new 30-by-30 college-style scoreboard was installed in the summer and new dugouts are nearing completion.
Feeding the high school program are travel baseball teams plus Tipton Youth Baseball League (Little Sluggers ages 3-5, Pee Wee 5-8, Cal Ripken 9-12 and Babe Ruth 13-15).
Right-handed pitcher Trayjan Phifer (Class of 2021) moved on to Cleary University in Howell, Mich.).
Jordan says pitcher/first baseman Vince Hoover (Class of 2024) has been getting looks for colleges.
Jordan’s coaching staff for 2023 includes varsity assistant Steve Cherry, junior varsity head coach Andy Hussong and JV assistant Brian Middleton and possibly two more.
A 1988 graduate of Tri-Central Middle/High School in Sharpsville, Ind., Jordan played for Trojans head coach Dave Driggs.
“We got a fair opportunity,” says Jordan of his prep days. “Politics wasn’t a factor for playing time.”
At the time, there was a big rival between Tri-Central and Tipton and the Trojans are still on the Blue Devils schedule.
At Missouri Valley College (Marshall, Mo.), first baseman/utility player Jordan played three seasons and learned about conditioning and hard-nosed play from Vikings head coach Ron Givens before an arm injury ended his career.
Jordan coached youth league baseball before taking the reins at Tipton.
Rob is foundation seed manager for Beck’s Hybrids. He and wife Laura had a daughter (Jessica) and son (Dylan). Dylan Jordan passed away in 2019 at 16. He was in the Tri-Central Class of 2022.

Rob Jordan.

Indiana Nitro grows from one team into successful travel ball organization

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

Indiana Nitro — a travel baseball organization launched in the central part of the state — has had 164 college commits and five Major League Baseball draft selections since 2014.
Among Nitro alums who went on to pro baseball are Zach Britton (Toronto Blue Jays system), Matt Gorski (Pittsburgh Pirates), Niko Kavadas (Boston Red Sox), Devin Mann (Los Angeles Dodgers), Tommy Sommer (Chicago White Sox) and Zack Thompson (St. Louis Cardinals).
The Nitro fielded more than 20 teams — spring, summer and fall — at the 8U to 17U levels in recent seasons. The group has earned many victories and championships and competed in multiple states.
It all began with a single 11U team that took to the diamond in 2010.
Tim Burns, whose sons Brendan and Brock were playing travel ball, was exploring diamond opportunities for his boys when he was approached by some fathers about coaching a team.
With the idea of being able to control development and practice schedules, the elder Burns agreed and led that first Nitro squad, featuring Brock.
Most of the players were from Hamilton County — one of the exceptions being Batesville’s Britton. Brock Burns is now on the football team at Ball State University as an outside linebacker while Brendan Burns was a right-handed pitcher for BSU baseball; Tim Burns is a graduate of Ball State where his major was Telecommunications.
Both Burns brothers are Hamilton Southeastern High School graduates — Brendan in 2014 and Brock in 2017.
Most games in 2010 were played in central Indiana and the team went 50-5 with five tournament titles. Eleven of the 12 players on that first team went on to play at the collegiate level.
Tammy Burns, Tim’s wife, told him that he did not have the time to head a travel organization. Yet momentum kept on building.
“Kids wanted to play,” says Burns.
Parents and players gathered and voted on a team name — Burns presented around 300 choices found on Google — and team colors. The Nitro wound up donning Athletic Gold and Cardinal Red and uses explosive terms like Bombs and Gas on social media.
In 2011, the Nitro had four teams. The number went to seven in 2012 then 11 in 2013. It jumped to 20 in 2014 (the first year the organization had a high school age team).
“The snowball got big,” says Burns. “It took on a life of its own.”
The mantra of the Nitro is “Advancing players to the next level.” That came to mean grooming them to play high school baseball and then — for those who wished to do so — college baseball.
“It’s a very complex recruiting process that we came up with over the years,” says Burns, a 1982 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., who grew up on the diamonds of Goodland, Ind., and counted Tracy Smith (who went on to coach at Miami University-Middletown, Miami University, Indiana University and Arizona State University) as a teammate. “You dive deep into it and build relationships with college coaches and recruiters.
“Learning how to help these kids get recruited was important to our board (of directors) and and organization.”
Nitro staffers work the phones on behalf of their players and are constantly seeking talent and getting ready for the next thing.
“It’s a year-round job,” says Burns, who is employed in sales for Bally Sports Indiana (the Indiana Pacers TV Network). “There’s so much behind the scenes in the off-season. It keeps the board and volunteers busy.”
Randy Poiry has been on the board since the beginning. Two sons — catcher Rutger Poiry (Lincoln Trail College and Eastern Kentucky University) and right-handed pitcher Carter Poiry (Murray State University and Quinnipiac University) — played for the Nitro.
Directors are Chris Poland (daily operations and high school age teams) and Dan Rodgers (ages 8-14). Jared Poland, son of Chris, is at the University of Louisville. Nathan Rodgers (Carmel High School Class of 2024) played for his father on the Nitro 14U Gold team in 2021.
Burns, who coached the Nitro 16U Gold team to a 26-9-1 mark in 2021 and will move up to coach the 17U Gold squad in 2022, gets players from near and far.
“We don’t care where they come from,” says Burns. “We want good kids from good families who want to put in the work.”
Nitro players train at Pro X Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus in Westfield, Ind. A membership is included with fees.
Burns counts four nephews — South Newton graduates Jarrett Hammel and Jay Hammel and Benton Central High school alums Payton Hall and Conner Hall — among former Nitro players. Former Saint Joseph’s College and Valparaiso right-hander Jarrett Hammel is now head baseball coach at Benton Central. Jay Hammel is a righty pitcher at Quincy (Ill.) University. Payton Hall is an outfielder at Oakland City (Ind.) University after transferring from the University of Southern Indiana. Former middle infielder Connor Hall is an Aviation Management student at Indiana State University.

Acton, Fountain Central Mustangs prepping for 2021

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

“We try to mix it up and not make it mundane,” says Acton, who has been leading a small group through January workouts while other baseball players are in winter sports. “The pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) needed to happen. Some coaches were killing the kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Hammel now in charge at Benton Central

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Hammel has quickly transitioned from student-athlete to educator-coach.

Ten months after pitching his last game for Valparaiso (Ind.) University he was announced as the head baseball coach at Benton Central Junior/Senior High School in Oxford, Ind. 

“I’m super-excited to get after it,” says Hammel, who was originally hired as pitching coach but became a head coach candidate when Jon Vernon opted to spend more time with family and focus on his duties as Benton Central’s head volleyball coach. “We want to do everything with a purpose. 

“Baseball is not like other sports.”

The son of Donovan (Ill.) Elementary fourth grade teacher Todd Hammel and Morocco Elementary first grade teacher Pam Hammel, Jarrett received an Elementary Education degree from VU and began the 2020-21 school year as a fourth grade teacher at Prairie Crossing Elementary in Oxford.

At South Newton — a K-12 school in Kentland, Ind. — Jarrett got a chance to help with younger kids as a high school junior and senior.

“I knew I wanted to be a positive role model — someone to look up to,” says Hammel. “I look up to my parents a lot. They made a lot of sacrifices for me to be where I am today.

“They’ve always had my back.”

Coming from a close-knit family where both sets of grandparents live within 15 minutes, Jarrett counts younger brother Jay as his best friend. They grew up pushing each other in academics and athletics. 

With 1,195 points, 6-foot-4 Jarrett Hammel was the No. 1 all-time scorer in South Newton boys hoops history until he was surpassed by younger brother Jay Hammel with 1,363. The 6-6 Jay is now a 21-year-old junior right-hander on the Quincy (Ill.) University baseball team and a Multimedia Journalism major.

A 2016 South Newton graduate, Jarrett Hammel played baseball for Glenn Donahue and basketball for Mike Hall. 

Hammel was born in Lafayette, Ind., and grew up in Brook, Ind., where he still resides. He knew Donahue as a youth baseball coach who moved up to the high school ranks. 

Jarrett played four high school summers of travel ball with the Indiana Nitro.

His first college baseball season was spent with head coach Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When the school closed, he transferred to Valpo U., and played for head coach Brian Schmack.

Hammel was a high school sophomore when he appeared on O’Dette’s radar. He became a mentor to the pitcher.

“I learned a lot in the year I was (at St. Joe),” says Hammel. “My outlook on life has changed because of him.”

O’Dette stressed being a good example and always staying in contact with people who are close to you.

“Don’t let conversations get stale,” says Hammel. “You never know when they made need you or you may need them.”

Once it was announced that St. Joseph’s was closing, Hammel recalls that O’Dette was worried more about getting us placed than his own career. O’Dette landed at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

Hammel played summer college ball for the Lafayette Aviators in 2017 and 2018. Brent McNeil (now pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) managed the team to a Prospect League title in 2017. Will Arnold (now with Prep Baseball Report Arizona) was in charge in 2018.

While Hammel was at South Newton, Valpo also had interest in him and Schmack welcomed the southpaw when he became available.

What did Hammel learn from Schmack?

“Just being a man and owning up to your mistakes,” says Hammel. “Never put the blame on someone else.”

It’s about responding to adversity — something that is plentiful in baseball.

From his personal life, Hammel has learned to greater than his ups and downs.

“When things are not going your way in life you can’t put your head down and go through the motions,” says Hammel. “You have to ride the wave. Life is full of highs and lows.”

He also learned important concepts about teamwork and time management while playing NCAA Division I baseball.

As left-handed pitcher, left-hander Hammel hurled for Valpo at Alabama State March 11, 2020 and was announced as the head of the Bison program Jan. 12, 2021. 

The 23-year-old Hammel conducted his first winter practice session where he engaged with 15 athletes (many BC baseball players are involved in winter sports) and dished out baseball and life lessons. 

Hammel expects his players to be role models.

“I told them that someone is always watching your every move,” says Hammel. “You’re high schoolers now. Be good people and go hard with everything you do.”

Benton Central (enrollment around 550) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division). 

The Bison are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

While the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season, Benton Central fielded two teams in 2019 and Hammel says he expects to have about 30 players for two squads in 2021.

Hammel is in the process of finding assistant coaches. He would like to have a Benton Central alum on his staff. Bringing in coaches from Newton County is not practical since Brook is in Central Time and Oxford is in Eastern Time.

In looking to his feeder system, Hammel likes the youth program already established and plans to place players in competitive summer leagues and with top travel organizations.

“We want to get them out of their comfort zone and change their outlook on life,” says Hammel, who also plans to start a fall baseball program at BC.

“We went to keep kids at it and try to perfect their craft year-round,” says Hammel. “We’re trying to maximize everyone’s potential.”

Recent Benton Central graduates in college baseball include Matt Taylor and Taylor Varnado with Marian University in Indianapolis. Knights head coach Todd Bacon went to BC.

There’s also Alex Thurston at Valparaiso U., and Payton Hall at Oakland City (Ind.) University.

Benton Central senior Dalton Rennaker is a Marian commit.

Jarrett Hammel, a 2016 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., and 2020 graduate of Valparaiso (Ind.) University, has been hired as head baseball coach at Benton Central High School in Oxford, Ind.

VanOeveren, Hamilton Heights Huskies ready to go

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A former all-Big Ten Conference and professional infielder was hired in the fall of 2019 as head coach of the baseball program at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind., and was getting the Huskies ready when the 2020 season was placed on hold and — eventually — canceled because of the pandemic.

Ryan VanOeveren, who was a standout at the University of Michigan and was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 26th round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, is now leading some Hamilton Heights players through twice-a-week IHSAA Limited Contact paces and is optimistic to really get rolling in 2021.

The Huskies have also been conditioning for the spring.

“It’s been pretty good,” says VanOeveren. “There’s been a good turnout. The kids have good attitudes and are hungry to get back on the field.

“We met Monday and the intensity level went up.”

VanOeveren, who was an assistant at Otsego (Mich.) High School after his playing career and more recently a coach in the Indiana Primetime Baseball travel organization, places an emphasis on fundamentals. Defense and pitching will be important to the Huskies.

“Making the routine plays on defense is absolutely critical to playing successful baseball,” says VanOeveren. “It’s about executing the fundamentals of the game.

“We’re building guys on the mound — Knowing when to push the envelope and when to back off. They’ve responded really well.”

Hamilton Heights (enrollment around 750) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western).

The Huskies are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Guerin Catholic, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Hamilton Heights has won two sectional titles — 2006 and 2012.

Recent Hamilton Heights graduates playing college baseball include Sam Fulton (Chattanooga, Tenn., State Community College), Alex Hewitt (Butler University in Indianapolis), Ike Peterson (Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.) and Reese Wills (Marian University in Indianapolis. VanOeveren says some current players are weighting their options.

“Recruiting is challenging for everybody because of COVID,” says VanOeveren. “I was recruited to numerous schools all over the Midwest. My advice: Don’t select the school just based upon baseball.

“Baseball comes to an end at some point for all of us.”

A 1991 graduated of Grandville (Mich.) High School near Grand Rapids, VanOeveren was initially recruited by Michigan assistant Ted Mahan (who went on to be head coach at Michigan State University) and Wolverines head coach Bill Freehan got involved near the end of the process. VanOeveren committed in May of his senior year.

VanOeveren knew about Freehan’s catching with the Detroit Tigers, but was at school in Ann Arbor when he learned about his exploits in baseball and football at Michigan.

“Coach Freehan was a genuinely caring person,” says VanOeveren. “He’d give you the shirt off his back.”

In his first fall, shortstop VanOeveren got to take infield instruction from volunteer assistant Moby Benedict

“Moby made me such a better infielder,” says VanOeveren.

Other U-M assistants during his career included Ace Adams and Steve Merriman.

“Ace was great to be around,” says VanOeveren. “He would not hesitate to get on you, but we were better for it.”

VanOeveren counted Merriman, who is expected to return to Michigan as pitching coach for 2021, as a friend back then and today.

“He’s a quality human being,” says VanOeveren of Merriman. “He shows that he cares about you if you work hard for him. 

“The baseball stuff falls into place after that.”

VanOeveren went to Michigan as an undersized player and continued to work.

“I was fortunate to have coaches that were patient for me growing up,” says VanOeveren.

After a strong junior season in 1994, teammates voted outfielder Rodney Goble and infielder VanOeveren as co-captains for 1995.

“It lead by example,” says VanOeveren. “I was not that verbal.”

As an Expos minor leaguer, VanOeveren played 49 games for the 1995 Class-A Albany (Ga.) Polecats. Several future big leaguers were on the team — among them Vladimir Guerrero, Brad Fullmer and Javier Vazquez.

VanOeveren was invited to spring training in 1996. At the end of camp, he was not assigned to a team as an infielder but was given the option of transitioning to a pitcher.

“I had a little too much pride back then,” says VanOeveren. “I asked for my release.”

VanOeveren went back to finish his college degree and moved on.

He was at Otsego for two seasons then did not coach again until the late 2010’s. By this time he had moved to central Indiana.

As an Indiana Primetime coach, VanOeveren gets to work with Quentin Brown and Ryan Cole and his players get to train at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.

“(Indiana Primetime) is good to the kids at Hamilton Heights, giving them the opportunity to play really competitive baseball,” says VanOeveren.  “I love Finch Creek. We’re spoiled getting access to that place.

“We’re very fortunate to live in this area and have those opportunities.”

Besides VanOeveren, the 2021 Husky coaching staff features varsity assistants Brian Clancy and Brad Pitts, junior varsity head coach Adam Hughes and JV assistant Cole Meyer. Clancy, who played at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., was on the 2000 staff. Pitts, who had coached at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, is a newcomer to Hamilton Heights.

Husky Ballpark has received laser-leveling and upgrades to the irrigation system from Marschand’s Athletic Field Service and a new backstop is going up. VanOeveren says new dugouts and other improvements could come this summer.

Ryan VanOeveren is head baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Brad Pitts is an assistant bseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Cole Meyer is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.
Brian Clancy is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.
Adams Hughes is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Twin Lakes’ Burton has been coaching with discipline for four decades

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Burton has not changed the way he coaches much in more than four decades of leading high school baseball programs in Indiana.

Modeling his style after men like LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber and Lafayette Jeff’s Paul “Spider” Fields, Burton decided discipline would be the cornerstone of his teams.

“We’re demanding,” says Burton, who is in his 41st season of doing things his way — third at Twin Lakes High School in Monticello in 2019 after 37 at McCutcheon (1979-2015) in Lafayette and one at North Newton (2016) in Morocco. “The kid has to make sacrifices. We don’t allow long hair. It has to be an inch above the collar and off the ear.

“If they miss a practice unexcused, it’s a 20-mile run. You don’t play again until you get done.”

Burton hasn’t wavered from that approach since his first game in 1979.

“People say that’s crazy, but we’ve eliminated problems because kids don’t take a chance,” says Burton. “They don’t test you on those things. They know we mean business. We’ve not changed that.

“Not that these things make the program, but they establish a culture for the program.”

With 849 career wins coming into this week, Burton is second among active high school baseball coaches in Indiana (behind Andrean’s Dave Pishkur). He was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1998 and became just the fourth Indiana prep baseball coach to do into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2016.

Twin Lakes (enrollment around 820) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Twin Lakes, Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Rensselaer Central and West Lafayette in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division).

A two-game home-and-home series on consecutive nights is played within the division. Crossover games are then played with corresponding seeds in each division — 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2 and son on.

The Indians opened the 2019 season with a trip to Tennessee, where they met Halls, West Carroll and Tipton-Rosemark Academy (2018 Tennessee state runner-up among private schools).

“It was a good experience for us,” says Burton.

A year ago, a team rule was made that players could be away at the beginning of spring break through Tuesday and had to be back on Wednesday in order to travel to Tennessee and be ready to open the conference season against Lafayette Central Catholic.

Other non-conference opponents include Crawfordsville, Delphi, Eastern (Greentown), Frontier, Kankakee Valley, Lafayette Jeff, Maconaquah, McCutcheon, North Newton, North White and Tri-County.

The Indians are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox and Wheeler. Twin Lakes has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 1993.

Twin Lakes was off to an 11-5 start in 2019, including 5-1 in the HAC.

“I think we’ve turned the corner a little bit,” says Burton. “We are winning games that we should win and competing well in all our games except for a couple.

“The kids seem to be confident that they can win. When I first got here that didn’t exist.”

Burton started out with 32 players in the program his first year and had 18 in the second season after some weeding out.

“They weren’t here for the real reason you play baseball,” says Burton. “You play sports to get better at it and enjoy the camaraderie, but also enjoy the competition.

“They were doing it as if it was just something to do rather than something they wanted to do.”

Retired as a school administrator, when he’s not serving as a substitute at Twin Lakes, Burton likes to play golf or pickleball before coming to the school.

Pickleball is a paddle-and-ball game similar to tennis played to 11. When he and his partner got down 10-1, the partner started talking about asking their opponent for a rematch. Burton wasn’t willing to concede defeat. He knew the game wasn’t over until one team got to 11.

Burton recalls a day in1984 at McCutcheon when his team was down 10-2 in the first game of a doubleheader.

The coach began pulling out his starters and telling them to get something to eat and be back for the second game.

Meanwhile, the subs started hitting doubles and singles and — all of a sudden — in was 10-10. The Mavericks went on to win.

“Baseball is a unique game,” says Burton. “There is no clock and that’s the neatest thing about it.”

There are 22 players for varsity and junior varsity in 2019 and the number is expected to rise.

“We’re building it back up,” says Burton, who had five seniors in 2017, three in 2018 and has four in 2019 (Zion Cosgray, Brock Deno, Graham Howe and Ethan Luzadder). The Indians have nine freshmen.

Burton is assisted by Brian Driver, Mike Hirt, Sam McVady, Jeremy Stinson and Trent Wright.

Pitching coach Driver played for Burton at McCutcheon in the early 1990’s and has coached with Burton at McCutcheon, North Newton and Twin Lakes. Wright serves as the first base coach. Hirt, McVady and Stinson are JV coaches. McVady played for Burton at Twin Lakes.

Since arriving, Burton has watched the Indians’ home field get a new drainage system. A new outfield was installed and leveled.

“We really take care of the field,” says Burton. “We make sure it’s immaculate and things are put away each night.

“We just take a little pride. You can play on a good field and get nice, new uniforms and kids start to feel a little bit better about themselves. It’s something that’s contagious and it spreads and we play a little bit better.”

Monticello Youth Baseball League — a part of the Town & Country system — develops players that will eventually get a chance to wear Twin Lakes uniforms.

Burton says the change from a single class to class sports is the biggest change he’s witnessed in his time coaching baseball in Indiana.

“I never was in favor of class baseball,” says Burton. “I liked it when you had one true champion.”

When McCutcheon was a state runner-up during the one-class system in 1994 it meant as much to Burton as when the Mavericks won 4A state titles in 1999 and 2003.

The 1994 state championship game was won 4-3 by Penn, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos.

“That game hinged on one play in the top of the seventh,” says Burton. “We got our 2-hole and or 3-hole hitter on and our clean-up guy, Preny Rodgriguez had just hit one off the wall the last time up.

“We were down 4-2. Do we bunt here? I let him swing away and he hits into a double play. The next batter get a base hit to make it one run but we don’t get two.

“That’s just a decision a coach makes. It happens all the time.”

Burton was a Purdue University student at a time when Indiana coaching legends were still on the scene.

“Things have changed. Ken Schreiber, Jim Reinebold, Bill Jones, Paul “Spider” Fields — they set the tone on how baseball should be coached and played. I was lucky enough to be young enough to be going through college and seeing that.

“You don’t see that anymore. You don’t see people putting in the time like that.”

Burton’s teams have held the No. 1 statewide ranking four times and knocked off No. 1 on 10 occasions. His squads have been state ranked in 33 of his first 40 seasons.

He has coached 23 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series selections and a pair of Indiana Mr. Baseballs Clayton Richard (2003) and Logan Sowers (2014).

Six former players were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including big leaguers Richard in 2005 and Nick Wittgren in 2009.

Burton has had 84 players play college baseball (10 are still active) with 10 first-team all-staters and 150 all-conference selections.

He’s sent former assistants/players have gone on to become high school coaches in Indiana.

Burton was chosen Indiana Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2003 and was runner-up in the balloting in 1994. He has been a conference coach of the year 13 times and a regional coach of the year eight times.

He has amassed 15 conference championships, 11 sectional title, five regional crowns and twice claimed semistate hardware.

In Burton’s one season at North Newton, the Spartans went 20-9 and won the program’s first conference championship in 26 years.

Jake and Brenda Burton have been married 47 years and have three children — Mike, R.J. and Beth — and seven grandchildren. Teacher Mike (Class of 1993) and project engineer R.J. (1995) played baseball at McCutcheon for their father. Teacher Beth in a 1999 McCutcheon graduate. Jake is currently a Tippecanoe School Corporation board member.

JAKEBURTONTWINLAKES

Jake Burton is in his third season as a high school baseball head coach in Indiana in 2019. It’s his third season at Twin Lakes High School in Monticello.

 

Kiifner wants South Newton Rebels to be strong up the middle

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I gain an hour.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Program numbers are up to 23 with 11 newcomers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOUTHNEWTONBASEBALL2

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

SOUTHNEWTONBASEBALL1

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

JIMKIIFNER

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

 

Willis keeps things fresh for Covington Trojans

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willis played for Mike Holland at Covington.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love the pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days),” says Willis. “It’s the healthiest thing for the pitchers’ arms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVINGTONTROJANS

EVANSHANNONWILLIS

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

Foxworthy, Seeger Patriots value being a good teammate

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In his capacity as head baseball coach at Seeger Memorial Junior/Senior High School in West Lebanon, Ind., Reed Foxworthy wants his players to know that they’re all in it together.

“One of our big things is always be a good teammate,” says Foxworthy, who heads into his fourth season of leading the Patriots in 2019. “That covers a lot of stuff like getting your schoolwork done and making sure you’re eligible, being prepared and giving it your best effort.”

Foxworthy, a 2008 Seeger graduate who spent three seasons as junior varsity coach before taking over the program, also emphasizes the importance of having a good attitude.

“Focus your energy on things you can control,” says Foxworthy. “Don’t worry about what you can’t control.

“Hopefully, that carries on to life and whatever they do after baseball.”

Foxworthy graduated from Purdue University in 2012 with a degree in social studies education. He now teaches math to seventh graders and psychology and sociology to high schoolers at Seeger, which is located in Warren County and 15 miles east of the Indiana-Illinois state line.

When he was a high school student, Foxworthy played baseball for head coaches Doug Allison and Brent Rademacher and basketball for head coach Brad Metzger.

Foxworthy credits Allison and Rademacher for running well-organized practices.

“We had something to do,” says Foxworthy. “There was never down time. I try to carry that over. That’s important to us.”

Those coaches also instilled characteristics that Foxworthy wants from his players.

“We were always doing things the right way, being on time and respectful toward officials,” says Foxworthy. “We tried to control what we could control.”

Foxworthy remembers Metzger as a stickler for details.

“The little things add up,” says Foxworthy.

Seeger (enrollment around 390) is a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Attica, Covington, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage, Riverton Parke and South Vermillion).

WRC teams play each other twice to determine a conference champion. These games are played either as a weekday home-and-home series or in a Saturday doubleheader.

Non-conference opponents for the Patriots include Benton Central, Bismarck-Henning (Bismarck, Ill.), Clinton Prairie, Faith Christian (Lafayette), Frontier, North Montgomery, Oakwood (Fithian, Ill.), Southmont, South Newton and Tri-County.

There has been talk about having Seeger play Cascade, where Cadets head coach Ty Foster is Foxworthy’s cousin. But the two schools are 85 miles apart.

The Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Carroll (Flora), Clinton Prairie, Delphi, Lafayette Central Catholic and Western Boone. Seeger has won five sectional titles — the last two in 2012 and 2015.

Foxworthy’s assistants are Dale Carroll, Avery Acton and Andy Stover. There are usually around 20 players for varsity and junior varsity squads.

“We’d like to have a few more,” says Foxworthy, who has played with 11 varsity players and sent nine to a JV game on the same night.

Home games are played on-campus on a diamond that in recent years has gained a new batting cage and bleachers and had its infield, mound, home plate and base areas re-done.

During the IHSAA limited contact periods since the end of the football season, baseball players — many of whom are also basketball players or wrestlers — have met on Thursday mornings. As the season approaches, workouts have been on Tuesday nights.

Taking advantage of auxiliary gym space, the Patriots have been able to pull down two indoor batting tunnels and have enough room for long toss.

“Not every school around here has this,” says Foxworthy. “It’s pretty nice.”

A junior high club team of seventh and eighth graders played in the spring. In the summer, those same kids take part in the Wabash Valley Summer Baseball League.

Players also play with various travel baseball organizations, including those around Crawfordsville, Indianapolis and Danville, Ill.

Reed and wife Madison Foxworthy do not have children.

SEEGERPATRIOTS

step0001

Reed Foxworthy is head baseball coach at Seeger Memorial Junior/Senior High School in West Lebanon, Ind. He is a 2008 Seeger graduate.