Tag Archives: Brad Neffendorf

Ben Davis graduate Avery takes versatility to LSU Shreveport

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

Zyon Avery is known for taking several tools with him to the baseball field.
A self-described “utility” player, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder from Indianapolis grew up with catcher as his primary position, but he has also been used as a corner infielder/outfielder and more.
“I move very well for my size,” says Avery, 21. “I move my feet and have very fluid hands. It allows me to play a lot of different positions. In travel ball and high school I played all over the place.
“Coaches take advantage of my athletic ability.”
Avery was a varsity starter at third base his first two years at Ben Davis High School and the top catcher his last two. He also saw time at shortstop and on the mound.
The versatile athlete will call a new place his baseball home when he reports this weekend to NAIA member Louisiana State University Shreveport. He landed with the Brad Neffendorf-coached Pilots after spending the 2021 season at National Junior College Athletic Association affiliate Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.).
Making most of his starts at first base, the righty swinger hit .355 (44-of-124) with 13 home runs, one triple, nine doubles, 45 runs batted in, 43 runs scored, four stolen bases and a 1.245 OPS (.487 on-base percentage plus .758 slugging average) for a team that went 36-17 under Cobras head coach Jon Goebel.
Not able to get the credits to transfer to an NCAA Division I school, Avery decided to follow former Parkland teammate Trevor Burkhart to LSU Shreveport.
“It’s the best fit for my family,” says Avery, the son of Dana and Kimberly and older brother of Jahmir (15). The Averys moved to Indy’s west side when Zyon was 6.
Dana Avery is a maintenance, repair and operations buyer for Keihin. Kimberly Avery is a cargo shipment organizer for BDP International. Jahmir Avery is a freshman basketball player at Ben Davis, where Zyon graduated in 2018.
Avery earned four baseball letters and was a three-year captain at Ben Davis. He was an Under Armour Preseason All-American and rated as the No. 2 catcher in the state of Indiana by Prep Baseball Report as a senior. As a junior, he led the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference with 22 doubles and 30 walks, earned All-Marion County and All-State honors and was named a Perfect Game Underclass All-American. As a sophomore, he was chosen as a Perfect Game Underclass All-American.
After playing at Ben Davis — the last three seasons for Giants head coach David Bear — Zyon went to Ohio University where Edgewood High School (Ellettsville, Ind.) graduate Rob Smith was Bobcats head coach.
Appearing in 25 games, Avery hit .192 with a .591 OPS (.283 on-base percentage plus .308 slugging average) as a freshman in 2019 and redshirted in 2020 following shoulder surgery. For a few months he was bound for Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., but wound up at Parkland.
Avery played for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Southern Ohio Copperheads (Athens, Ohio) in 2019, spent the summer of 2020 rehabilitating and split 2021 between a temporary contract with the Propsect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans and the Kernels Collegiate League (Normal, Ill.).
Born in Los Angeles, Zyon began playing at Ben Davis Little League after moving to the Indianapolis area. He played travel ball for Tony Page and the Indiana Mustangs at 10U and 11U, John Keller, Mike Wade and the Indiana Bulls at 12U to 15U, Eric McGaha and the Indiana Outlaws at 16U, Trent Hanna and the Cincinnati Spikes at 17U and Jeremy Johnson and the Evansville Razorbacks at 18U.
Avery, who between redshirting and COVID-19 has three remaining years of college eligibility, was a Physical Activity and Sport Coaching major at Ohio. That degree was not offered at Parkland. He says he will begin at LSUS in General Studies. He turns 22 in October.

Zyon Avery (Parkland College Photo)
Zyon Avery.
Zyon Avery.

IU Southeast gearing up for first NAIA World Series trip

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University Southeast has been oh-so close to punching its ticket to the NAIA Baseball World Series in recent years.

In 2021, the Grenadiers finally made it and will be in Lewiston, Idaho for the 10-team event, which begins May 28 and runs through June 4.

“We’ve been moving vertically over the last decade,” says Ben Reel, IU Southeast’s 13th-year head coach. “We’ve learned what wins and what doesn’t to win the big game you’ve got to have a lot of resiliency, chemistry and poise.

“That’s what we’re looking at from a recruiting standpoint — those intangibles.”

The Grenadiers have a roster with 20 players from Indiana high schools. In the final game of NAIA Opening Round Kingsport Bracket, there were five of them in the starting lineup.

In that contest against No. 1-ranked Tennessee Wesleyan, this was Reel’s batting order: Lawrenceburg’s Clay Woeste (.371, 7 home runs, 50 runs batted in, 35 stolen bases) at second base, Drew Hensley (Bedford North Lawrence) .402, 0, 15) at first base, Brody Tanksley (Bedford North Lawrence) .355, 18, 69) at catcher, Marco Romero (Caracas, Venezuela) .370, 6, 55) in right field, Derek Wagner (Tri-West Hendricks) .314, 4, 25) in left field, John Ullom (Louisville, Ky.) .361, 5, 42) in center field), Ben Berenda (Lafayette Central Catholic) .247, 0, 32) at designated hitter, Jacob Scott (Huntington Beach, Calif.) .316, 5, 53) at third base and Daunte Decello (Hamilton, Ohio) .366, 1 29) at shortstop.

“I love homegrown players,” says Reel, a native of Dillsboro, Ind., and South Dearborn High School graduate. “There’s something to be said about development.

“This is a program.”

IU Southeast prides itself in having a team full of battlers at the dish.

“We’re definitely going to grind it out at the plate,” says Reel. “We’re tough to strikeout and fast on the bases.”

As a team, the Grenadiers are hitting .332, 62 homers and  526 runs (8.4 per game) with a .949 OPS (.434 on-base percentage plus .515 slugging average).

At 48-14 (including 26 in the River States Conference), the 2021 IU Southeast team has tied the school record for single-season victories set in 2017.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. 

Including being swept in a four-game home series Feb. 26-27 against Huntington (which wound up 33-16), the Grenadiers got off to a 5-10 start.

Since March 3, IU Southeast is 43-4 with win streaks of 18, 14 and six games (current).

After going 26-1 during the River States Conference regular season, the Grenadiers beat Point Park (40-16) to win the RSC tournament title.

The Kingsport (Tenn.) NAIA Opening Round saw IUS win one-run games against Warner (33-23) and No. 1-ranked Tennessee Wesleyan before another World Series berth-clinching win against the Bulldogs (53-6).

Along the way, IU Southeast has had to deal with injuries (RSC Player of the Year and New Lenox, Ill., native Matt Monahan, who hit 428 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs, went out with a season-ending ailment late) and then there’s been all the COVID-19 testing, virtual classes and other issues.

“We’ve been through a lot of trials and tribulations,” says Reel. “But it’s not about what people think you’re supposed to do, it’s about what you’re actually going to do. 

“We’ve focused on the little things. We’ve always tried to put our team in the best situation. You have to plan ahead or you’re going to plan to fail.”

The Grenadiers’ pitching strength comes from its depth. It’s not an insult to say “Johnny Wholestaff” is pitching today.

“Johnny’s alive and well down here,” says Reel. “That’s given us a lot of confidence.”

Left-hander Hunter Kloke (Henderson, Ky.) is 9-1 with a 3.01 earned run average and has made 17 mound appearances (14 starts).

Right-hander Cade Reynolds (Greensburg) is 5-2 with a 3.45 ERA with 15 appearances (13 starts).

Besides his first base duties, right-hander Hensley is 8-3 with a 5.21 ERA on the bump with 16 appearances (12 starts).

Lefty Trevor Reynolds (Greensburg) is 9-1 with a 2.81 ERA. All but three of his 22 games are in relief.

There are eight other pitches with at least 10 appearances.

The saves leaders are right-hander Jacob Frankel (Louisville, Ky.) with four at a 1-1 record, righty Brenden Bube (Lanesville) with three at 4-3 mark and right-hander Lane Oesterling (Batestville) with two and a 5-1 ledger.

“The moment has not too big for (our pitchers),” says Reel. “We’ve made some great plays defensively.

“When we need to make a play we’ve found a way to make it.”

While the NAIA World Series will be a first-time experience for Reel and his program, he will be among friends Idaho.

LSU Shreveport (La.) coach Brad Neffendorf is probably Reel’s best friend in baseball. They were groomsmen in each other’s weddings and Reel is the godfather to Kash Neffendorf.

Jeremy Sheetinger will have his Georgia Gwinett team there. Reel knows Sheets from his days at Brescia. 

Reel also counts Southeastern (Fla.) coach Adrian Dinkel as a buddy and he met Central Methodist (Mo.) coach Nate Breland this past year.

The field will also feature Concordia (Neb.), Faulkner (Ala.), Keiser (Fla.), Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) and Oklahoma Wesleyan.

Reel and his team are learning about all the travel details that goes with playing across the country.

Then there’s the fact that he came home to wife Morgan and newborn son Beckham (born April 24 and in NICU for the first seven days) and water issues at the house.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” says Reel. “I guess (my son) is my lucky charm.”

Ben Reel (Indiana University Southeast Photo)

Reel helps turn IU Southeast into respected NAIA baseball program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University Southeast’s baseball team will play in the NAIA Opening Round for the second straight season and the fourth time since 2010.

The 21st-ranked Grenadiers are in Kingsport, Tenn., for a five-team double-elimination event Monday through Thursday, May 15-18.

The winner out of No. 1 seed Keiser (Fla.) (39-18), No. 2 Tennessee Wesleyan (39-18), No. 3 Indiana University Southeast (45-13), No. 4 Talladega (Ala.) (36-22) and No. 5 Marian (Ind.) (29-21) advances to the 10-team NAIA World Series May 26-June 2 in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Grenadiers are slated to play Tennessee Wesleyan in Game 2 Monday afternoon. Kingsport is where IUS used to go for their conference tournament. Upon arriving Saturday night, they learned that former Grenadier Shane Weedman had pitched a no-hitter for the Evansville Otters of the independent professional Frontier League.

Other Indiana schools in the Opening Round are Huntington and Indiana Tech.

After losing seven starters from 2016, IU Southeast reloaded in 2017.

“It’s definitely been a year to remember,” says IUS head coach Ben Reel. “This team has been very competitive. When they show up everyday, they work.”

With Opening Round appearances in 2010 and 2011 as Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference conference champions and at-large berths in the KIAC and new River States Conference the past two springs, the Grenadiers have established a respected program.

It’s been a progression that’s taken time to achieve.

When Reel took over as head coach for the 2009 season at age 24 (he followed Joe Decker, who decided to go back to Silver Creek High School), the coaching staff was paid with stipends.

“We were like starving artists,” says Reel. “And nobody knew where we were.”

For the record, the school is in New Albany, just across the Ohio River from downtown Louisville.

“We had to crawl before we could walk and walk before we could jog,” says Reel, now 33 and still one of the younger head coaches in college baseball. “We’re starting to run a little bit. We’re starting to get some momentum and it’s taken a decade.”

Reel, who played at South Dearborn High School in Aurora and Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College before transferring to IU Southeast, led his first team to a 32-24 mark and saw the Grenadiers turn the corner in 2010.

That’s the year IUS went 39-20 (setting a school record for wins), NAIA second team All-American Kyle Lenn smacked 24 home runs and the program produced its first Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selection — Cameron Conner to the Kansas City Royals in the 20th round.

“Once that happened, everything started rolling,” says Reel. “That’s what put us on the map in our region.”

With IU Southeast, the University of Louisville (NCAA Division I), Bellarmine University (D-II) and Spalding University (D-III) all within 10 miles of each other, teams are competing for talent.

“You have to be very competitive,” says Reel, who looks at a roster with 15 players with Indiana hometowns and five from Kentucky. “But once prove you can mentor and develop players, you’ll start getting some better athletes.”

That’s not easy when you only have one scholarship to offer (11 below the NAIA limit).

“That puts us in bottom 10 percent out of the 198 (NAIA) teams in the country,” says Reel. “We take a lot of kids who are raw and help them find a niche.

“We get a lot of guys here who want to be coached. Myself and my staff do a lot of player development. We coach the heck out of them.”

Andrew Stanley, a high school teammate of Reel’s, has been with him since the beginning. The young coaching staff also features Jarret Young (second season), Brian Coffman (first season) and student assistants Justin Franz (fourth season) and Logan Coughlin (first season).

“We roll up our sleeves and get in (the batting cage) with them,” says Reel, who considers his communication skills (he’s talk to just about anyone for hours) and practicality as strengths. “That’s how I was raised. I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’m going to show you what to do. That’s what we believe as a staff.

“We go the extra mile. Our biggest selling point is these kids will be coached.”

Reel grew up on a farm near Prairie Creek in Vigo County, spent his middle school years in West Virginia then came back to Indiana and landed at South Dearborn.

With the Knights, he was a catcher for head coach Jay Malott.

“He was a fierce competitor,” says Reel of the former Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis coach. “He was a perfectionist. Nothing was ever good enough. We were never done practicing. We were just relentless. I learned that sense of dedication in high school.”

At Cleveland State, Reel played for Mike Policastro.

“Coach Poli taught me a sense of professional,” says Reel. “He was very calm and very businesslike. He was organized and concise. He would be very honest and open with you about what you needed to do to get to the next level and be a man.”

Reel saw coaching in his future and behind the plate — where he did not make a an error as a sophomore (matching the feat of his senior high school season) — helped prepare him for the profession.

“As a catcher, you’ve got to get to know all these pitchers,” says Reel. “You get to know a bunch of strangers at the collegiate level.”

Relationships have always been important to Reel. One of his best friends — who he met through coaching — is Tennessee Wesleyan assistant Brad Neffendorf (they were in each other’s weddings).

“This game has some of the best people that Planet Earth has to offer,” says Reel. “They just truly love the sport and the people in it.

“That’s the most memorable part of doing this, it’s the people that you meet.”

Reel notes three major things IUS has going for its in community support, education and location.

“We fundraise $50,000 a year,” says Reel. “I takes $70,000 year to run a college baseball program. Our budget is $33,000. You have to have synergy to do that.

“We’re offering an IU degree. We have a tutor on the bus. It’s a big time education.”

Being so close to Louisville is very helpful. There’s so much to do there and there is easy access to an international airport.

IUSOUTHEASTGRENADIERS

BENREEL

At 33, Ben Reel is in his ninth season as head baseball coach at Indiana University Southeast. He has the Grenadiers in the NAIA Opening Round for the fourth time in 2017. (IU Southeast Photo)