Brycen Sherwood has followed moments of doubt with episodes of clout since leaving Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School. The 2019 ECHS graduate, who was a standout for Blue Blazers head coach Steve Stutsman, struggled in his first days on the diamond at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan. “I did really bad the fall of freshman year,” says Sherwood nearly three years later. “I said, ‘I don’t think I’m good enough to play college baseball.’” After a talk with his father — former Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University) player Chad Sherwood (who collected a school record-tying five hits in a 1996 game) — Brycen came to a decision. “I was going to finish the year out and work really hard,” says Sherwood, 21. “If it doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t pan out.” Sherwood was at MNU through a family connection. Uncle Craig Sherwood, a 1994 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant, played at Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., with Pioneers head coach Ryan Thompson. In the spring of 2020, Brycen got into eight games during a COVID-19 pandemic-shortened schedule. “The last week of the season Coach T let me start in a midweek game at third base and I hit a home run,” says Sherwood of a two-run shot socked in the third inning of a March 11 contest against Olivet Nazarene. “I left (freshman year) on a high note.” By going 7-of-15, lefty swinger Sherwood hit .467 in 2020 and his confidence grew. With limited opportunities, he did not play that summer. But he worked on his game. In 2021, Sherwood played in 52 games (51 starts) for MNU and hit .408 (64-of-157) with eight homers, 42 runs batted in, 53 runs scored, nine stolen bases and a 1.200 OPS (.518 on-base percentage plus .682 slugging average). Sherwood, a 5-foot-11, 185-pounder, made it a goal to get stronger. “My swing has always been pretty good,” says Sherwood. “I really started dedicating myself to the weight room. “Embracing the grind is probably the biggest reason I’m starting to hit balls out.” Thompson put shortstop Sherwood in the No. 2 hole in his batting order in 2022 and he hit .333 (65-of-195) with 11 homers, 40 RBIs, 70 runs and five stolen bases in 57 games (all starts). He posted a 1.067 OPS (.457/.610). MidAmerica Nazarene went 39-18 and wound up the season in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. “It’s such a great baseball environment,” says Sherwood. “(Harris Field) is right in a valley. The views are just beautiful. They have a grounds crew. The players are the grounds crew for our school. “People in Lewiston love their Lewis-Clark State team. The games are televised and that is awesome. It’s a really neat opportunity to play for something bigger than yourself.” This summer, Sherwood has been playing shortstop and third base as a second-half addition to the Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks. He had appeared in 11 games through July 21. Sherwood was going to play in the same circuit with the Mankato (Minn.) MoonDogs, but his contract was canceled with MidAmerica Nazarene’s march to the NAIA World Series. There is familiarity in Battle Creek. Battle Jacks manager Caleb Lang is an assistant at Concordia University Nebraska, which also played in Lewiston. Lang reached out to Thompson about Sherwood’s availability. The other Battle Creek shortstop is Robbie Merced. He plays for Central Methodist University, a Heart of America Athletic Conference rival for MNU. In a league full of NCAA Division I players, the Battle Jacks have plenty of NAIA talent. “You’re an underdog when we take the field (in the NAIA) so it brings you a little closer together,” says Sherwood. With a COVID year added, Sherwood has two seasons of remaining eligibility. The Business Administration major says he might add another major or minor. He is interested in Computer Applications. Born and raised in Elkhart in October of 2000, Sherwood took to shortstop at an early age. “I had above average learning ability,” says Brycen. “My dad (Chad) and uncles (Craig and former Franklin County High School head coach Clark) knew how to play – they taught me a lot of things.” At one point in ‘90s, all three Sherwood brothers played in the outfield at Anderson. Brycen started organized baseball at Osolo Little League in Elkhart then was in travel ball with the Michiana Scrappers followed by a summer with Bristol American Legion Post 143. Chad Sherwood recently retired after 25 years with the Indiana State Police. He was a master trooper detective. Chad and wife April Sherwood (a librarian at Eastwood Elementary in Elkhart — Go Wildcats!) have two other children. Lauryn Sherwood is a nursing student at Indiana University Fort Wayne. Baseball player Brady Sherwood is heading into his sophomore year at Elkhart High School. “I think he’s going to be the best of all of us,” says Brycen of little brother. “We will see.”
With a four-game sweep at Miami (Ohio) during the week of May 16-22, Ball State earned the right to host the four-team Mid-American Conference baseball tournament May 25-28 in Muncie. The Cardinals are one of eight teams from Indiana going into NCAA Division I conference tournaments this week. Ball State (38-17), the MAC regular-season champions for the first time since 2014, is the top seed, followed by Central Michigan No. 2, Toledo No. 3 and Ohio No. 4. BSU is 7-3 in its last 10 games. The Rich Maloney-coached Cardinals are 18-4 at Ball Diamond at First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Twelve teams will compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament May 24-29 in Charlotte, N.C. Pool play is May 24-27. No. 4 seed Notre Dame (33-13) is in Pool D with No. 5 seed Virginia and No. 9 seed Florida State. Link Jarrett is the Notre Dame head coach. The Irish are 7-3 in their last 10. The eight-team Big Ten Conference tournament is slated for May 25-29 in Omaha, Neb. Maryland is the No. 1 seed, Rutgers No. 2, Iowa No. 3, Illinois No. 4, Michigan No. 5, Penn State No. 6, Greg Goff-coached Purdue (29-19) No. 7 and Jeff Mercer-coached Indiana (25-30) No. 8. The Boilermakers are 4-6 in their last 10, the Hoosiers 5-5. The eight-team Missouri Valley Conference tournament is scheduled for May 24-28 in Springfield, Mo. Southern Illinois is the No. 1 seed, followed by Wes Carroll-coached Evansville (30-22) No. 2, Dallas Baptist No. 3, Bradley No. 4, Mitch Hannah-coached Indiana State (25-20-1) No. 5, Missouri State No. 6, Illinois State No. 7 and Brian Schmack-coached Valparaiso (16-31) No. 8. The Purple Aces are 6-4 in their last 10, the Sycamores 3-6-1 and Beacons 3-7. The six-team Horizon League tournament May 25-28 in Dayton, Ohio. Wright State is the No. 1 seed. Oakland is No. 2, Illinois-Chicago No. 3, Doug Schreiber-coached Purdue Fort Wayne (18-35) No. 4, Youngstown State No. 5 and Northern Kentucky No. 6. The Mastodons are 5-5 in their last 10. Notre Dame is No. 17 in the D1Baseball.com RPI. Ball State is No. 70, Evansville No. 86, Indiana State No. 99, Indiana No. 115, Purdue No. 124, Valparaiso No. 210, Butler No. 238 and Purdue Fort Wayne No. 258. Automatic bids go to the winners of the MAC, ACC, Big Ten, MVC and Horizon tournaments and more. There are 31 automatic bids and 33 at-large picks that will be made by NCAA Division I Baseball Committee. The tournament bracket for the 64-team event will be revealed at noon Eastern Time May 30 on ESPN2. Butler (20-35-1) did not qualify for the four-team Big East Conference tournament, which is May 26-29 in Mason, Ohio. Bulldogs head coach Dave Schrage concluded his 38-year career with a 6-4 victory Saturday against Seton Hall. He recently announced his retirement. Taylor (41-18) and Indiana University Southeast (40-15) both went 1-2 and bowed out at separate NAIA Opening Round sites — the Kyle Gould-coached Trojans in the Upland Bracket and the Ben Reel-coached Grenadiers in the Santa Barbara Bracket. Earlham (26-13) lost twice at NCAA Division III regional at Lynchburg, Va. The Steve Sakosits-coached Quakers qualified by winning the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament. Vincennes (25-32) saw its season end with two losses in the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Mid-West Athletic Conference tournament in Normal, Ill. Chris Barney is the VU Trailblazers coach.
Santa Barbara Bracket Antelope Valley (Calif.) 3, IU Southeast 2 Championship Westmont (Calif.) 12, Antelope Valley (Calif.) 0
Junior College Wednesday, May 18 Mid-West Athletic Conference Tournament Danville Area 6, Vincennes 3 Parkland 2, Lewis & Clark 1 Lincoln Land 10, Illinois Central 0 Illinois Central 5, Lewis & Clark 3
Thursday, May 19 Mid-West Athletic Conference Tournament Heartland 7, Danville Area 0 Lincoln Land 5, Parkland 0 Illinois Central 7, Danville Area 6 Parkland 6, Vincennes 5
Friday, May 20 Mid-West Athletic Conference Tournament Heartland 8, Lincoln Land 4 Illinois Central 12, Parkland 3 Lincoln Land 11, Illinois Central 1
Saturday, May 21 Mid-West Athletic Conference Tournament Championship Heartland 4, Lincoln Land 2
But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.
Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.
As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.
“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”
Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.
Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.
Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.
Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.
At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.
Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.
In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.
Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.
Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.
MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.
“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.
Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.
The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.
In his current position, working for Urban Knights head coach Dan McDermott, Collins-Bride, 30, is in charge of pitchers, catchers and infielders.
“I’m a teacher,” says Collins-Bride, who joined the ArtU coaching staff in September 2019. “Baseball and strength and conditioning seems to be my best form of teaching.
“When you see people grow and see the light click on and they create really good habits, that’s the special part.”
Developing pitchers at the NCAA Division II PacWest Conference institution for Collins-Bride is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.
“It’s individualistic once you have a base,” says Collins-Bride. “It depends on the players’ needs.”
Some pitchers possess good command and need to improve their stuff. Some have superior velocity but lack movement on their pitches. Others need concentration on the mental side of baseball.
“We’re picking and choosing what we focus on,” says Collins-Bride.
A strength and conditioning coach for several Indiana Tech teams, Collins-Bride has studied biomechanics as it relates to athletes. He has become OnBaseU-certified.
“You have to know how each player moves and how they’re supposed to move,” says Collins-Bride, who does a movement assessment on each ArtU pitcher. “That’s critical.
“You structure the off-season around filling those buckets.”
You’re not treating every car like a Toyota. You also have Dodges and Kias. You don’t spend all your time racing the Lamborghini, you also spend time working with it in the garage.
COVID-19 caused the Urban Knights’ 2020 season to halt after 20 games. McDermott and Collins-Bride helped the player see the quarantine as an opportunity for growth.
“It was a chance to check something on your bucket list,” says Collins-Bride. “If you don’t do it, shame on you.
“Many (players) came back (in the fall) in the biggest shape of their lives,” says Collins-Bride. “It was really cool to see what these guys did over 6-7 months after only hearing about it over the phone.”
Alameda resident Collins-Bride used the extra time to go on long bike rides, including a trek around Lake Tahoe.
ArtU practices at The Presidio and plays games at Laney College. During fall practice, players went through daily temperature and system checks.
Most of the time, workouts were conducted with just six to eight players.
“It was different,” says Collins-Bride. “But it was really good from a development standpoint.”
There was more one-on-one time with coaching while raw skills — running, throwing, fielding and swinging — were being refined mixed with intrasquad play.
“Ideally, that’s what a fall should be — create some raw skills and play a little bit,” says Collins-Bride. “Summer baseball is failing kids. They’re playing too much and not practicing enough or practicing too much and not playing enough.
“We had a really good balance (in the fall.).”
It’s about building proper motor patterns. That’s why weighted balls and bats are used to carve a new path for the brain.
“It’s a brand new road and they learn that quickly,” says Collins-Bride.
Born in San Francisco, the son of carpenter Bob Bride and professor/nurse practitioner Geraldine Collins-Bride grew up loving baseball.
Patrick’s father did not have much experience at the game, but he did come up with several tools to guide “FUN-damentals” for Little Leaguers. Bob devoured books and DVDs while researching training methods.
“He’d have us swing ax handles,” says Collins-Bride. “We’d hit wiffle balls with hoses to teach us to whip the bat. He turned a leaf blower into a wiffle ball pitching machine. To develop soft hands, we’d toss eggs or water balloons. We had stations all around my small house.”
Flood lights were installed over the garage so these sessions could go deep into the night.
Patrick went to the Boys & Girls Club and learned about pitching from major leaguers who hailed from Alameda. Pitcher Dontrelle Willis taught him how to play “strikeout.”
Middle schooler Collins-Bride learned about the proper way to field a grounder from shortstop Jimmy Rollins at an RBI camp held at Encinal.
Collins-Bride expresses gratitude of coaching with McDermott, who is heading into his 28th season as a college coach in 2021.
“It’s like coaching with your dad,” says Collins-Bride. “He really, really loves you and he’s not going to let you mess up.
“We get really great life lessons all the time. I’ve learned a lot from him.”
Collins-Bride coached for five seasons at Indiana Tech (2015-19), where Kip McWilliams is the Warriors head coach. “C.B.” worked with hitters, infielders, catchers and volunteered his strength and conditioning services while pursuing and after completing his Masters of Marketing and Management.
Indiana Tech typically carries a roster of 60 or more to help fund the program — with varsity and developmental teams.
“We had to carry a lot of players,” says Collins-Bride. “We decided if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it really well.
“Playoff time is when the Warriors showed up.”
Collins-Bride notes that almost all the players in the starting lineup in the 2015 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference championship game started out on the development team.
“That was so important,” says Collins-Bride of the large squad. “They all trained together. We created an efficient practice style. Everybody had a purpose.
“We competed. If you were recruited there, you worked hard. When you have that many guys with a passion for baseball, it makes for such a good atmosphere.
“To do it right, you make sure you treat each kid well. I think we accomplished that. The beautiful thing about baseball and life is what a kid can make out of himself in two or four years.”
Collins-Bride said the Tech culture was based on standards and not rules.
“There was an acceptable level of behavior for everyone in the program and accountability is a two-way street (standards applied equally to players and coaches),” says Collins-Bride. “Coaches didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walked.”
Or — better yet — they hustled from station to station just like the players.
It was also an atmosphere of positivity.
“No BCE (Blaming, Complaining or Excuses) was allowed,” says Collins-Bride. “Because it’s not helping the situation.”
Dosson, a graduate of Heritage High School in Monroeville, Ind., was a highly-touted player in high school who wound up behind an All-American for a few seasons with the Warriors then got a chance to hit behind Tech standout and No. 3 hitter Glen McClain.
Barksdale, who went to Cass Tech High School in Detroit, spent a few seasons on the developmental team then got his chance to shine with the varsity in a game against Florida Memorial.
“He had been training really, really hard,” says Collins-Bride. “He hit a ground ball in the 6-hole and beat it out for a base hit. That was pretty special.”
Collins-Bride calls Biagini, hard-nosed player from San Francisco, the “most impactful kid I’ve ever been around.”
“He was the epitome of leadership,” says Collins-Bride of the national gold glove shortstop. “He’d say what coaches would have to say. He’d see things and fix them.
“They way he practiced, he raised the level of everyone around him.”
Collins-Bride had been with McWilliams when he observed a Spring Arbor University practice led by head coach Sam Riggleman. The SAU Cougars made workouts fast and as game-like a possible.
“Practice is the hardest thing we would do,” says Collins-Bride. “Games were slow. Everything (in practice) counted. Everything had detail.”
Collins-Bride noticed that long-time Lewis-Clark State College coach Ed Cheff and Folsom Lake College coach Rich Gregory (who played for future Indiana State University and University of Washington coach Lindsay Meggs on a NCAA Division II championship team at Cal State Chico) also took to that kind of preparation — skill under pressure.
It did no good to see 50 mph batting practice pitches when the game was going to bring 90 mph.
Collins-Bride went from Ave Maria, where he played two seasons (2011 and 2012) and coached two (2013 and 2014), after checking his options of serving as a graduate assistant to Scott Dulin at Fisher College in Boston.
On his first working day with Tech, he flew from San Francisco to Boston then drove 15 hours to Fort Wayne. He met McWilliams at 5 a.m. and they drove all the way to Vincennes (Ind.) for a junior college showcase.
“We talked baseball the whole way,” says Collins-Bride.
During Collins-Bride’s entire at Tech, Debbie Warren was the athletic director.
“She was an unbelievable leader of people,” says Collins-Bride. “She knew how to push you. She was very tough and phenomenal to work with.”
Warren helped get the weight room updated just about the time Collins-Bride was leaving to go back to California.
While he was there he planted a desk near the weights and managed 80 athletes in a two-hour window.
Shawn Summe, a graduate of Penn High School and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., was the head coach at NAIA Ave Maria. He started the program. The Gyrenes’ first season was 2010.
“(Summe) is a very intense person and an emotional leader,” says Collins-Bride. “We practiced really hard. He was really awesome to play for.
“He deeply had your back and wanted you to succeed.”
Collins-Bride, who received a Politics degree from Ave Maria, sees his transition from player to coach as a smooth one.
“It was easy to step into a role of leadership and demand respect,” says Collins-Bride. “We had a special senior group in 2013.”
Lennon, who died in 2019 at 80, won three baseball letters at Notre Dame and later taught at the university and served as three decades for the Notre Dame Alumni Association.
Lennon’s zeal was on display even at early hours when Collins-Bride was getting a few more winks before greeting the day on an Ave Maria road trip.
“He’s say, ‘Wake up C.B., the world is waiting for us,” says Collins-Bride. “Talk about positivity. He was a beaming, shining light.”
After a semester at Cal State East Bay, Collins-Bride transferred to California Community College Athletic Association member Laney and played two seasons (2009 and 2010) for Eagles coach Francisco Zapata.
“Coach Z is a great human being,” says Collins-Bride. “He really knew his stuff and he knew how to push you.
“It was really hard to let him down. You know what he had to go through to play baseball. You’ve got nothing to complain about.”
Zapata grew up in Nicaragua and brought a work ethic to his coaching.
“There was an expectation level,” says Collins-Bride.
His prep career began on the Alameda High junior varsity for coach Joe Pearse and concluded at Encinal for Jim Saunders.
“(Pearse) was a hard-nosed guy,” says Collins-Bride. “We were working hard and there was a lot of competition.
“(Saunders, who coached Rollins) was an excellent manager of talent.”
During his time as a player and manager with the San Francisco Seals, Collins-Bride not only got a chance to enjoy the rivalry with the Arcata-based Humboldt Crabs but got the chance to play all over the place. During a two-year span, he traveled through 33 states and played in around 20.
The ninth-year GC assistant has certain things for pitchers to do six days a week while they each are encouraged to find what works best for them.
These are college athletes. It’s no cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all system.
“A lot of these kids when they get here never really focused on pitching,” says Grubbs. “If they were at a school where they played multiple positions they might play shortstop, come in and pitch and the next day they’re back at shortstop.
“One of our outfielders — a freshmen — said he never thought of himself as a pitcher through he was the No. 1 at his school. Here, you’ve got to put a lot more emphasis on it if you want to get better at it.”
Having an abundance of quality arms has long been important when playing a 55-game NAIA schedule. But with the Crossroads League going to 36 conference games and Friday and Saturday doubleheaders, it has taken on even more significance for the Maple Leafs.
“You have a really good chance of getting on the field as a pitcher. We need pitching,” says Grubbs. “With this many innings, there’s going to be opportunities.”
Grubbs spells out his points of emphasis.
“What we’re big on the most is being able to attack hitters, have command and be able to throw secondary pitches for strikes,” says Grubbs. “We’re pretty successful with that compared to some other programs.
“A lot of times, we’ll pitch backwards to teams. We’ll always work off our fastball. But you’ve got to be able to mix speeds and change locations.”
In 2019, the GC staff set a school record for strikeouts (345). In the past four seasons, the top four team earned run averages in Goshen’s DakStats-era history have been posted.
“We’d like to pitch to weak contact at times, too,” says Grubbs, recognizing that strikeouts tend to raise the pitch count. “We have a nice core of veterans back that are going to be able to help us (in 2021).”
Now in the sixth of seven fall practice weeks, the Maple Leafs are looking to get better even as the COVID-19 pandemic took away or shortened the 2020 spring and summer seasons.
Goshen was 7-11 overall and 2-1 in the Crossroads and on a two-game win streak when the season ended soon after a March 7 doubleheader sweep of visiting Taylor.
Newcomers and veterans are getting roughly the same amount of playing time in intrasquad games so the coaching staff can see what the players can do.
“We try to even up teams so they get a fair crack at it,” says Grubbs. “They have an opportunity.”
In a typical non-pandemic year, Goshen would be playing outside competition in the fall. Not so in 2020.
“We’re getting a lot of reps against each other,” says Grubbs. “Some nights we have to grind through it a little bit.”
The Maple Leaf World Series — Purple vs. Black — is slated for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week.
Right now, Childers is with his wife Amber and family at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis while Wellenreiter and Grubbs run the team.
“Alex is the type of coach that has given us so much responsibility and given us the reins to lead our components of the team,” says Grubbs. “He gives us that freedom to coach.”
During the season, Grubbs helps Childers with in-game decision-making and also handles much of GC’s recruiting.
The Leafs roster includes players from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. But it also features those from California, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada and Texas plus Alberta in Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Once the pandemic hit, there was a slow start to recruiting for the 2021 class. But with the help of the admissions office, virtual visits soon became the norm.
“These were guys we’d already done research on,” says Grubbs. “We’d seen videos and texted back and forth. We had an idea of who they are and talked with their coaches.”
Following the school’s protocol and precautions, there was one short recruiting trip to Michigan in the summer. In most years, Grubbs would log many miles in pursuit of players.
Grubbs grew up just outside Bourbon, Ind., and graduated from Triton Junior/Senior High School in 1998. The Trojans won the old Northern State Conference title in 1997 and were perennial NSC contenders.
Eric Stults, who went on to star at Crossroads League member Bethel College (now Bethel University) and pitch in the big leagues, lived just a couple of miles away. In Justin’s final high school game — left-hander Stults hurled Argos to a 3-2 victory over Triton.
Landon Grubbs — Justin’s brother — was the starting right fielder and clean-up hitter on Triton’s 2001 IHSAA Class 1A state championship team.
Both Grubbs brothers were coached by Jim Shively.
“He got the best out of his players,” says Grubbs of Shively. “He had a lot of enthusiasm. He taught guys how to hit. I never knew how to hit until I got (to high school). I was also more of a pitcher type who hit at the bottom of the order.”
Grubbs ended up in the No. 2 hole on a squad featuring Kyle Gould (who is now the head baseball coach at athletic director at Crossroads League member Taylor University).
On the mound, Grubbs was 15-4 and a two-time all-NSC selection. He also played football and was academic all-state in 1997.
Grubbs was relief on the baseball team at Indiana Wesleyan University. Mark DeMichael was then head coach of the Wildcats. He learned lessons of pitching and spirituality from IWU pitching coach Mike Burchette.
“He talked about the side work and what a pitching program really looks like,” says Grubbs of Burchette. “He had a really good Christian twist to everything and would really lead us spiritually.”
After a couple years, Grubbs decided to begin his coaching career while working toward a Indiana Wesleyan degree he earned in 2002 (he got a masters in Administration of Physical Education and Sport).
Grubbs then became varsity assistant and pitching coach to head coach Steve Shugart at Madison-Grant Junior/Senior High School in Fairmount, Ind. The Argylls regularly won 20 games as season and were state-ranked in Class 2A. M-G won a Central Indiana Conference championship.
After that, Justin and wife Emily (who also went to Triton and Indiana Wesleyan), opted to move closer to home to start a family (their daughters are Eliana and Maycee).
The couple, married since 2004, settled in Bremen, Ind., and Justin took a job as a math teacher and assistant baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) High School. He was the varsity assistant for the Redskins (now RedHawks) for five years.
Grubbs continues to teach at Goshen and coach at Goshen College. When deciding whether to take the college job, Grubbs consulted with former GHS teacher and coach and GC coach DeVon Hoffman.
He also talked with GHS principal Barry Younghans, who makes it possible for him to teach and get to college games — sometimes the second half of a doubleheader.
“Alex is very flexible as a coach,” says Grubbs. “He’s even said there are times that I need you even more in practice than I do at the games because that’s where all of our work is put in and it’s just performance at the game.
“I’m thankful I’m around people that are really good people to work for at the high school and here at the college.”
Namisnak was a designated hitter in the title game and one of nine seniors in the ECHS lineup.
Tanner Tully led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run — one of three Blazer hits off Ashe Russell — then pitched a five-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts.
There was also left fielder Kaleb DeFreese, shortstop Cory Malcom, first baseman Riley Futterknecht, center fielder Matt Eppers, second baseman Casey Ianigro, third baseman Austin McArt and catcher Kyle Smith. Devin Prater and Nick Ponce were also seniors on that team.
Junior right fielder Jesse Zepeda was the lone non-senior in the starting combo (he went on to play at Bethel College and start the Indiana Black Caps travel organization). Junior Mike Wain was a pinch runner.
Look at the game program and you’ll see Central wearing baby blue uniforms. During the tournament run, they broke out “camouflage” tops and that’s what they wore in taking the title.
Tully pitched at Ohio State University and is now in the Cleveland Indians system.
DeFreese went on to play at Indiana Wesleyan University and become an athletic trainer.
Malcom pitched at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and became a regional sales manager.
Futterknecht pitched at DePauw University and became a regional sales manager.
Eppers, who was the 4A L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner in 2013, played at Ball State University and became a national sales and product manager.
Ianigro became an office with the Elkhart Police Department.
McArt went on to become a regional sales manager at Forest River. Malcom, Futterknecht, Eppers and McArt all landed at Forest River Inc.
When you talked with him you knew he was going to ask questions.
“What have you been up to?”
“How’s your mother?”
“Can you tell me something new?”
When he got a chance, he explored historical places and books and soaked in as much new knowledge as he could.
As a coach, he wanted to break down and understand plays and positions so he could convey those to his athletes.
It’s that sense of interest that took Siler through his 84 years.
No doubt he had the sense of wonder as a boy growing up on a poultry farm near Ashland, Ohio, and playing sports on that same land. He was a catcher in baseball and wound up as a center and linebacker in football.
Too busy on the farm to go into Ashland to play ball, a plot was dedicated for that purpose. Sometimes it was used by the circus.
“It was two thirds football field, one third baseball field,” Siler once said. “The east end zone was just dirt.
“Dad let me use a panel truck,” said Siler. “I contacted people and got eight or nine other guys and we went around and played softball or baseball — probably more softball than baseball.
“If we had two bats, that was great. Most guys didn’t have baseball spikes.”
Siler carried big diamond dreams.
“I loved baseball so much,” said Siler. “I wanted to learn and nobody was teaching me.”
When it came time to play at Ashland High School, Siler (Class of 1953) did not play varsity. Future big league catcher John Roseboro (Class of 1951) was ahead of him.
“He threw a lot harder from his knees than I could shoot a gun behind the plate,” said Siler, who was on the junior varsity as a freshman and sophomore and at the start of his junior year.
Then came a call from the varsity. He got to the game on a Farmall F-20 tractor.
“It’s the only way I could get there,” said Siler. “I had no other vehicle.
“I threw on the gear. I didn’t have time to warm up They put me right in.”
The first or second runner got on base and went to steal.
“When I threw the ball, I felt like my whole arm went down to second base,” said Siler. “Something just ripped in there. I couldn’t get the ball back to the pitcher. They ended up pulling me out the game.
“That was the last school ballgame that I played. That was heartbreaking.”
Siler went on to coach baseball for decades, but he never threw batting practice. He caught BP until one of his knees locked up on him. The number of reps made with a fungo bat is nearly incalculable.
From north central Ohio, Siler took his curiosity to North Manchester, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University), where he played football and got the knee injury to remember it by the rest of his days.
More importantly, it was at Manchester that he met Marjorie Thompson. The two wed in 1956 and wound up in her hometown of Elkhart, Ind.
Dick took a job teaching and coaching at Jimtown High School after graduating Manchester in 1957.
His first coaching assignment was with Jimmies football. He was a coach all the way until the end, including the last 23 years as an assistant at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind.
The Siler family, which grew to include three children (Scott, Laurie and Julie), lived for years in Elkhart. Scott Siler was the Indiana Umpire of the Year in 2018.
Dick became head baseball coach at Elkhart High in 1968 and led that program through 1972. A split of the school sent him into a 25-year run as head baseball coach at Elkhart Memorial High School, where he also was a football assistant for many years.
The 1992 Crimson Chargers were the first Elkhart County baseball team to play in the IHSAA State Finals.
After retiring as coach and social studies teacher at Memorial (he won more than 500 games at the high school level), Siler accepted an invitation from Bethel head coach Sam Riggleman to join the Pilots staff. Margie came along as a scorekeeper.
She fought a battle with cancer for two decades before dying in 2002. She got to live in a new house in Mishawaka for a short time. Bethel has presented a scholarship in her name and has a plaque in her honor at Patterson Field at Jenkins Stadium.
Dick Siler, who went on to be on the staffs of Mike Hutcheon and Seth Zartman, talked of his wife often. He passed away at his Mishawaka home around 1:45 a.m. Monday, July 20.
What did he gain most from coaching all those years?
“I enjoy the kids just for who they are — seeing them grow or seeing them change,” said Siler. “I get to see the light go on — he finally gets the idea about timing and using the barrel of the bat to hit.”
Whether it was baseball, football, track, wrestling or basketball (he coached those sports, too), it was about instruction.
“I wanted to teach,” said Siler. “I wanted to tell them this is the best way to do it.
“Kids are hungry to learn if you’ll just teach them.
“Too many people do too much yelling and not teaching. Kids want to get better and they love the game.”
Siler said he went into coaching baseball with a football mentality.
“A kid would say to me, ‘Coach, we’re trying not to fail,” said Siler. “That was a big learning and turning point for me. I need to teach them better than just yelling.
“For some, it’s just really hard (to fail). It destroys them. They failed Grandpa. They failed Dad. They failed the girlfriend. They failed the coach. It’s a heavy burden.”
Ever inquisitive, Siler asked these questions: How do we enjoy the sport more? and How do we get there?
“You don’t do it through negativity, I’ll tell you that,” said Siler. “My son (Scott) threw a bat once when he was really young and I made him run the hills. ‘But Daddy, I’m so young.’ I probably handled it a different way and I didn’t. That wasn’t right.
“You make mistakes. You’ve got to live with those, too.”
As a high school baseball coach, Siler was faced with having to cut down his roster.
“Only so many people can make the team,” said Siler. When he took over at Elkhart High, he could not use freshmen and still had about 125 trying out.
Siler and assistant Randy Miller had to do their evaluations inside a tiny downtown gym.
“We tried to be as fair as we could and didn’t have a whole lot of complaints,” said Siler. “Later, I did.”
Siler said figuring out the top and bottom of the roster is the easy part.
“Some of the kids who come up are coached by people who know baseball better than a lot of others,” said Siler. “The better athletes adjust faster and better than the lesser athletes.”
While Siler could teach technique and improve upon it, he knew that “some talent is just God-given.”
Siler said the difference in a successful high school player and an unsuccessful one came down to attitude.
“I’m not much on all-ness statements,” said Siler. “Sometimes the dog wags the tail and sometimes the tail wags the dog. In my perspective, the program is more important than the individual. Period.
“If you think you are going run the program or effect the program in a negative way, you’re not going to be around. The program is what it’s all about.”
Siler insisted on a pregame prayer.
“They’ll have to fire me,” said Siler. “I’m not changing. That was very important to me.
“I live and die on the idea of ‘family first.’”
Many family members came to visit or called in Dick’s final days.
While you’ll only see Adam Piotrowicz donning one cap — usually a brown one with a gold “W” — he essentially wears three.
A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Piotrowicz as associate head coach. He also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon.
“I help out more with scheduling, budget and things of that nature,” says Piotrowicz. “I have more administrative responsibility.”
Piotrowicz guides the Broncos’ offense. In 2019, WMU hit the most home runs (32) since the BBCOR Bat era in 2010 and posted the second highest batting average (.287) since 2012. The team also scored the most runs per game (6.0) since 2008 and racked up the most stolen bases (50) since 2013.
When the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic brought Western Michigan’s 2020 season to a close after 15 games, the Broncos had belted seven homers with a .261 average, 8.6 runs per contest and 35 stolen bases.
“I’m a big believer in having a great two-strike approach and competing in the box,” says Piotrowicz. “It’s about our daily routine — whatever it is.
“Each guy’s different.”
Some hitters are focused on power and others are looking to get the most out of their speed.
It’s the routine that keeps hitters sane.
“This game will drive guy’s crazy,” says Piotrowicz. “Just focus on the day-to-day process. It gets you over the 0-of-10 slumps and keeps you grounded during the 10-for-10.”
It’s helpful to Piotorowicz to know the style of learning that suits hitters best — Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic — in order to best communicate and assist them with their approach, mechanics etc., while competing at all times.
“We want to be a tough out,” says Piotrowicz. “We want to make other team earn all 27 outs.”
Piotrowicz is also aware that all players do not respond to the same coaching techniques based on their personality. Calling a player out in front of his teammates may not be appropriate for one while another will respond well.
“Our center fielder (Blake Dunn), I can yell at him,” says Piotrowicz of a junior from Saugatuck, Mich., who he expects to go high in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. “He was a multi-sport athlete and football player. He needs that. He wants that hard coaching.”
The analogy that Piotrowicz favors is the mail. A package, whether sent first class air mail or standard third class will carry the same message and expectations regardless of delivery method.
Piotrowicz says Western’s recruiting territory is reflective of the 2020 WMU roster which features 19 players with hometowns in Michigan, nine from the Chicago area and three from Indiana high schools — junior Ryan Missal (Lowell), sophomore Bobby Dearing (Lafayette Harrison) and freshman Hayden Berg (Penn). The Broncos have received a commitment from Ryan Watt (Mishawaka).
Piotrowicz says the school has helped by making out-of-state tuition only $2,000 to $3,000 more than for in-state students.
Working with Gernon, Piotrowicz absorbs knowledge someone who has plenty of coaching experience. He was an assistant at Indiana University, helped Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) transition to NCAA Division I as assistant then head coach then was a Michigan State University assistant before his first season in charge in Kalamazoo in 2011.
In 2016, WMU won its first Mid-American Conference tournament. Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate Gernon has 210 victories as Broncos skipper, including 104 in the MAC.
“I couldn’t ask for a more supportive boss,” says Piotrowicz of Gernon. “He’s given me a lot of freedom and responsibility.
“(Woodson) gave me a ton of freedom and a lot of trust,” says Piotrowicz, who go to work with hitters, infielders, catchers and outfielders while splitting strength and conditioning with Schmack.
In 2012, Valpo was regular season and tournament champions in the Horizon League and competed in the NCAA Gary Regional, losing to Purdue and Kentucky.
In 2013, the Crusaders won the HL tournament and took part in the Indiana Regional, losing to Indiana and Austin Peay but not before knocking out Florida.
Piotrowicz got his college coaching start with two seasons at NCAA Division III Heidelberg University (2009-10) in Tiffin, Ohio, where they won Ohio Athletic Conference Conference and regular-season titles both seasons. The 2010 team won the Mideast Regional and competed in the D-III World Series in Grand Chute, Wis., beating Johns Hopkins and Wisconsin-Stevens Points and losing to eventual champion Illinois Wesleyan and Linfield.
Though he was a graduate assistant, he worked like a full-time coach and had his perceptions of what a coach is shaped while developing head coach Matt Palm’s Student Princes. He aided hitters and catchers and shared in recruiting.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Matt Palm,” says Piotrowicz.
After a season at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. (now Bethel University), Piotorowicz finished his playing days at Manchester.
“(Zartman) was a good guy,” says Piotrowicz. “He was very big on team culture.
“(Siler) was amazing. He was very, very knowledgable guy and a down-to-earth person. He worked with catchers and made sure I was in shape.
“(Jimenez) also brought a ton of knowledge.”
Rick Espeset was and still in head baseball coach and athletic director at Manchester. Given his workload and Espeset’s young family, Piotrowicz and his teammates marveled at how organized he was.
“Practices were always detailed,” says Piotrowicz. “He did a good job of teaching guys how to the win the game.”
Points of emphasis included baserunning, defense and playing the game hard and fast.
“You do that and winning will take care of itself,” says Piotrowicz. “We called (Espeset) the ‘Silent Assassin.’ He was a psychology major with a very dry sense of humor. The mental side of the game, that’s where he was the strongest.”
Adam and Heather Piotrowicz, a former Manchester basketball player, have two sons — Hunter (4) and Elliot (1).
A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Adam Piotrowicz as associate head coach. The graduate of John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon. (Western Michigan University Photo)
Dave Krider and wife Lois led the FCA chapter and helped plant that compassion in Mumma, who earned 11 athletic letters for the LaPorte Slicers (three in football and four each in basketball and baseball), where he graduated in 1999.
“My coaches were fantastic role models and leaders for me,” says Mumma.
After playing for Bob Schellinger on the gridiron, Joe Otis on the hardwood and Ken Schreiber and Scott Upp on the diamond, the Slicer lefty went on to play baseball at Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., and Western Michigan University, where he met his future wife Rose (the Mummas now reside in the Detroit Metro town of Fraser, Mich., with their four children — Madelyn, 8, Bradley Jr., 7 Ellie, 3, and Max, 1).
He was in the Blue Jays system through 2006 then spent three seasons in independent professional baseball with the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, Schaumburg (Ill.) Flyers and Joliet (Ill.) JackHammers.
When Mumma decided to get into the world of travel baseball and to cross-promote, he decided to call his group Baseball Utility Travel.
“I found some like-minded people,” says Mumma. “We can do this without some undesirable things about travel ball.
“Parents can really put a lot of pressure on their own kids.”
It’s about player development and human development.
Something as seemingly innocent as “Come on, Johnny, throw strikes!” can be a negative cue or phrase.
“Studies show that players don’t want you to say these things,” says Mumma. “We’re trying to help guide (parents) on what is proper to say.
“A clap is sometimes better than saying something.”
Baseball Utility Travel’s mission statement: “Development. Our mission statement could end right there. We are about developing your child into the best player he can possibly be at the age and skill level he is currently at. Striving for that on a year to year basis you will see the growth of your child both on the field and off the field. Nothing, including winning will ever trump the development of your child, period. All of this being done in a positive environment that promotes maximum growth.”
Mumma has crafted a comprehensive Code of Conduct for both players and parents and has them sign a copy.
In part, that code states that players are expected to be on time (which means being ready to go 15 minutes before any activity). If they are going to be late, they are expected to call or text their coach.
Another expectation: Spikes on, uniform on, belt on, hat straight, Shirt tucked in, pants not sagging.
“You can rock your hat backward at the mall, I do myself, but on the field it’ll be straight with no hair showing out the front,” says Mumma. “Take pride in how you look.”
Mumma notes that umpires are going to miss calls and players should get used to it. If you show-up an umpire on the field they will promptly be taken out.
“I don’t care if he blew the easiest call ever, we will play with class,” says Mumma. “When you fail, which you will, act like you’ve played the game before and you understand that failure is a big part of this game.
“If you decide to put on a show after you strike out or make an error a replacement will be sent in without hesitation. The same will take place if you hit a pop up and don’t run it out as hard as you can. We will sprint on and off the field as if we were running from the cops.”
Another lesson to be learned is responsibility. So players are expected to carry their own bag, bring their own drinks and equipment.
“Control the things you can control and this will be a great experience,” says Mumma. “Things players can control: Attitude, effort, preparation, hard work and dedication. Things they can’t: Umps, crappy fields, crappy weather, umps, umps, where you hit in the lineup, and much more. And umps.”
As for parents, they are expected to get their player to practice and games on time and communicate with the coach if they are going to be late.
Mumma also tells parents how to deal with game officials.
“Umpires won’t be great so please understand that,” says Mumma. “It is not your job to communicate with them, you will directly affect your son and our team if you take that matter into your own hands. We’re teaching our coaches how handle them with class, and how to get on them when necessary.”
There is a policy where parents can ask a manager or coach about playing time or the place in the batting order 24 hours after a competition. But they must be ready to hear something they might not want to hear.
Parents are asked to cheer and avoid negative cues. They are to stay away from the dugout unless it is absolutely necessary. They are not to approach a coach in the dugout, after a game or in the parking lot.
“Please wait until the next day to handle your issue,” says Mumma. “After games please tell your kids that you are proud of them and you enjoyed watching them play. Baseball will suck the life out of a growing child because it is a game of failure.
“They do not need to get into the car after the game and hear how they went 0-4 and made two errors. Our coaches will handle that part of it and very rarely will it be in the heat of competition or after. We will take care of those types of conversations in practice and training sessions, the correct avenue for learning.”
There are now about 150 players on 12 teams ages 9U to 18U that train and play based out of a facility shared with the Detroit Diamond Jaxx in Warren, Mich., a northern suburb of Detroit.
High school players participate in six tournaments during the summer, finishing by Aug. 1. The younger kids play in eight and are done by July 1.
“Kids need to be kids and have a summer,” says Mumma. “Rest time — physically and mentally — is important for them.”
The season generally begins when the weather breaks in April.
Baseball Utility Travel has won some trophies. But that’s not the important thing.
“It’s not a prestige thing for us,” says Mumma. “Our ratio of practice to games is 2:1.
“(Beginning in late October), we have 70-80 training sessions and 35-40 games.”
Mumma is one of the lead instructors on a staff of 17 — all being former college or professional players.
“We have no parent coaches,” says Mumma. “All our guys coach all the teams in the winter. We train in big groups.
“All of our coaches) has something to offer.”
Joe Small, a former assistant at Macomb Community College, has come aboard to coordinate defensive concepts and do administrative work.
When Mumma was with the Blue Jays, minor leaguers participated in Baseball 101 class room sessions.
That’s when Mumma realized how much could be taught about the game on a chalk board and has brought that to Baseball Utility Travel.
“In these non-competitive situations, kids learn so much better,” says Mumma. On the field — with so many other players and coaches around — some might have a tendency to “clam up.”
To get messages across to his players, Mumma and his staff have brought in many guest speakers — players, coaches, sports psychologists, nutritionists and more.
While the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has players and coaches physically apart, Mumma wants his players to be ready when baseball resumes.
“We give them things to do at home,” says Mumma. “Throwing the ball is the best way to get your arm feeling good again. Your body wants the consistency of work.
“Make sure you’re throwing.”
Not just about balls and bats, Baseball Utility Travel is also a charitable organization. Mumma says the group annually spends $25,000 to $30,000 in the community. This is done through such deeds as delivering Thanksgiving meals, Christmas gifts or paying the rent for families who lost their home in a fire.
“I always wanted to do that,” says Mumma. “We have the power of numbers. But it’s just a helping hand.”
Baseball Utility Travel celebrates with (from left): Chuck Rinehart, Broc Riggs and Brad Mumma. Rinehart is the father-in-law of organization founder Mumma.
Brad Mumma talks to Baseball Utility Travel players via Zoom conference. The graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Western Michigan University founded the organization in the suburbs of Detroit. (Steve Krah Photo)
Fraser, Mich.’s Mumma family (from left): Max, Rose, Madelyn, Bradley Jr., Ellie and Brad. Baseball Utility Travel was founded by Brad Mumma as a way to lead player and human development.
Athletic director Richelle Viront wanted him to establish culture with the Eagles.
VanArsdale, a 2013 ECA graduate who had played baseball, golf and basketball at his alma mater, was a baseball assistant in 2017 and came back to lead the program in 2019.
“I’ve been preaching to the guys to stay humble and work hard,” says VanArsdale. “Humility is so valuable in a team sport.”
VanArsdale, who had also coached many of these same athletes as junior high basketball players, does not put the emphasis on personal statistics but the team.
“We talked about distractions,” says VanArsdale. “One huge one is pride.”
VanArsdale wants his players to know that “everyone matters” and that seniors with experience respect freshmen with little to none.
“When I see someone who is toxic to that culture, we’re addressing it head-on right away,” says VanArsdale. “At the end of the day, ECA baseball is about life development.”
VanArsdale saw the Eagles go from 1-11 in 2018 — a year he stayed out of coaching with the birth of his daughter (Bethel College graduates Tyler and Brittany welcomed Clara on their wedding anniversary of May 10, 2018 at 10:18 p.m.) — to 8-8 in 2019 with him in charge.
“It’s a mindset thing — a change in thinking,” says VanArsdale. “That’s a great turnaround.”
Elkhart Christian lost 4-0 to Fremont in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional.
“It was intense and competitive,” says VanArsdale. “I was proud of the guys.”
Two seniors — Bailey Petty and Mark Stevens — were on that squad. Many players return for 2020. Stevens has joined a coaching staff that also includes Tony Tice and Chad Viront.
VanArsdale started his high school athletic career at nearby Penn.
As a sophomore, he transferred to ECA. He was allowed to play junior varsity basketball. The Eagles did not have a JV baseball team, but an arm injury ended his travel season early.
VanArsdale played basketball as a junior and season for squads that won 13 and 14 games.
His senior spring saw ECA go 21-8 and win the school’s first baseball sectional title, reigning at Hamilton and advancing to the finals of the 1A Caston Regional.
That team featured Caleb Stayton (who went on to a standout career at Ball State University) and Tanner Watson (who excelled at Taylor University) and VanArsdale keeps in-touch with many of his former teammates.
A former golf mate of Alec Dutkowski, VanArdale was also able to juggle the links and the diamond in the spring at ECA. He anticipates that he will have some baseball players also competing in track and field this spring.
During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, the Eagles have been practicing on Tuesdays and Saturdays with weight workouts on other days.
Players and coaches are communication via group chat and VanArsdale, who is also account manager for Legacy Fire Protection, has lunch with his seniors — a group that will have at least six.
“I’m excited,” says VanArsale. “1 through 9, we’ll be stronger at the plate.
“With pitching, we lost Bailey Petty. But we’ll be more diverse and may use three pitchers in a game.”
To keep his pitchers healthy, VanArsdale has them using J-Bands, lifting weights and stretching in the off-season.
For those players who have their sights on the next level, the coach has advice.
“If you have a goal to play college ball, I preach prospect camps,” says VanArsdale. “You don’t want to get worn out on travel ball.”
While ECA (enrollment around 170) is an independent in all sports but soccer now, the school will be part of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn), beginning in 2020-21. It will come with a double robin schedule and end-of-season recognition.
“It’s going to be really good,” says VanArsdale. “It’ll give each school something to shoot for.”