Jackson Smeltz has been through plenty of physical adversity in his athletic career. The Purdue University left-handed pitcher earned the Brady Comeback Scholarship Award from Methodist Sports Medicine in 2021, recognizing his return from hip surgery in 2020 and Tommy John elbow surgery while at McCutcheon High School (Class of 2018). He was redshirted for the 2019 season. Also while in high school, Smeltz had a noncancerous tumor removed from his brain. While in junior high, he suffered a severe groin injury. On Saturday, April 9 at Alexander Field, redshirt junior Smeltz pitched eight one-hit innings and struck out a collegiate career-best 13 batters and walked three over 121 pitches as the Boilermakers topped arch rival Indiana 17-0. It was his eighth start of the season. “First and foremost I just want to thank God for the opportunity to go out there and pitch still,” said Smeltz after the contest that pushed his 2022 record to 5-0 with a 2.66 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 20 walks in 44 innings for a 20-6 Purdue team. “All the glory to God. “He’s put me through a lot, but I can’t thank God enough.” A four-year letterwinner at McCutcheon, Smeltz played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton as well as Brian Eaton and Purdue alumnus Doug Schreiber with the Mavericks. After going 3-1 with a 3.26 ERA in 13 appearances (11 in relief) for Purdue in 2021, he played for the College Summer League at Grand Park’s Bomb Squad and was one of eight Boilers named to the CSL All-Star Game. Smeltz — the No. 1 starter in the Boilers weekend rotation who now has a 9-1 career mound mark with a 3.34 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings — got into a groove early against Hoosier hitters. “I was staying aggressive in a quick tempo,” said Smeltz, a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder and agribusiness major. “They were getting a little frustrated with it. That kind of fuels me. That gives me some extra motivation. “I was able to get ahead (in ball-strike counts) and stay ahead.” After Smeltz went to the dugout after eight frames, Purdue hitters came out and put up 10 runs. “Our team is just resilient,” said Smeltz. “We’ve got the hardest workers in the country. “They just don’t let up. I can’t say enough about those guys.” Purdue head coach Greg Goff had a similar sentiment on Smeltz’s big day. “You can’t say enough about Jackson Smeltz. He comes from a great family,” said Goff of the son of Robert and Shannon Smeltz and brother of siblings Zach, Darbie and Jed. “The things he’s had to overcome it makes it that much more special. He went out there and competed against a really good offensive team that hits the ball out of the park a lot. “He located his fastball on both sides of the plate and was just in total control.” Goff said Boiler hitters fed off Smeltz. “Anytime you send a guy out there and he puts up zeroes like he did early that allows the offense to relax a little bit,” said Goff. “Our guys did a great job with that.” Purdue is now 8-2 on its home diamond in 2022. The rivalry series was to continue with a 1 p.m. doubleheader on Sunday, April 10.
Now he’s enjoying a unique diamond and educational experience in the sunny Southwest.
Batting in the No. 3 hole, the righty-swinging freshman center fielder is hitting .412 (21-of-51) with two home runs, two triples, six doubles, 23 runs batted in, 21 runs scored, 12 walks, six times hit by pitch and three stolen bases for Arizona Western College in Yuma.
Max (19) is the youngest of Matt and Jennifer Weller’s three sons. Trent (23) and Sam (20) both played soccer at Chesterton.
Max decided a day or two after Christmas 2020 to transfer from Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill. — where he spent the fall — to Arizona Western College (a school that also recruited him in high school). He packed up all he had at his Illinois apartment in his truck and went with his parents on a 26-hour drive.
“It was a journey out here,” says Weller. “But all for the good.
“I loved it out here. We get to practice outside reps every single day.”
Using a machine, AWC outfielders field pop-ups and work on their communication.
Most teams on the Matadors’ schedule use wood bats.
“The metal bat games would drag out too long,” says Weller. “The (wood bat) barrel is definitely smaller and does not have as much pop. But there are many truer hits and it’s so much more satisfying.”
Good wood is what 6-foot, 180-pound Weller got on the ball in the first game of a home doubleheader March 9 against Chandler-Gilbert Community College and smacked a homer over the right field fence at Walt Kamman Field. His other college bomb came in a Feb. 18 win against Northeastern in which he plated seven runs.
Weller’s lone four-bagger in high school came as a sophomore in a junior varsity win at LaPorte.
Weller played on the CHS freshmen team in 2017, moved up to JV in 2018 and was on the varsity in 2019, sharing time in right field with Tyler Nelson and at designated hitter.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Campbell leads the Chesterton Trojans.
“He taught me the foundations of the game and how to move runners from first to second,” says Weller of Campbell. “I came to understand the concept that everybody has a role.
“You’ve got to trust the system.”
For a time in high school, Weller was called “Sunshine.” Then wearing long locks, he resembled Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass from the movie, “Remember The Titans.”
COVID-19 took away spring sports in Indiana in 2020. But Weller found a summer baseball home.
Many circuits canceled their seasons, but the 12-team College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., sprang up and Weller was one of a few who had not yet played past high school to participate.
“I loved it,” says Weller, who was assigned to the CSL’s A-Team. “There was a lot of good talent.”
Weller’s weekly routine was to travel from northwest Indiana to his grandparents’ lake house in Monticello, Ind., on Sunday night and then drove back and forth for Monday and Tuesday games at Grand Park.
Weller’s says he has connections for the Grand Park or Valley League in Virginia this summer, but could land elsewhere.
“It’s about finding an opening,” says Weller.
Having chosen to attend Wabash Valley, Weller joined the Warriors in the fall of 2020. Because of the pandemic there were no outside games, but lots of intrasquad action against players bound for NCAA Division I or — in some cases — those that had already played at that level.
“I saw all these great pitches,” says Weller. “I learned how to play with a (ball-strike) count.
“We were practicing everyday for every single week. I was managing that load as student-athlete. All those reps were beneficial.”
Wabash Valley, currently ranked No. 1 in NJCAA D-I, has been led for a quarter century by Rob Fournier.
“He had a lot of knowledge on the game,” says Weller of Fournier. “He was a really personable guy, but he worked you really hard during practice.”
Keehn played at Central Arizona College and in the Colorado Rockies organization.
Mitchem, who played at Brown Mackie College and Tri-State University (now Trine University in Angola, Ind.) has coached at Georgia College, Henderson State University, Drexel University and Marshall University as well as in Germany, Australia and Costa Rica.
Being at AWC has also afforded Weller the opportunity to learn about many cultures and bond with young men from all over the globe.
Besides Indiana’s Weller, there are two Matadors with hometowns in Arizona plus one each from California, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Utah plus seven from Dominican Republic, three from Netherlands, two from Australia, two from Saskatchewan, two from Venezuela and one each from Czech Republic and Mexico.
Weller’s roommate is Nevada’s D.J. Contreras. They share a dormitory suite with two Dominicans.
“Everyone is open-minded here,” says Weller. “It’s one of the best groups I’ve ever been a part of so far.”
Contreras is from Las Vegas. Weller smacked three doubles for the Matadors in a Feb. 19 trip to Vegas to play a doubleheader with the College of Southern Nevada — the same school where slugger Bryce Harper played prior to pro ball.
Weller is working toward an Associate Degree in Science at the two-year school. This term he is taking Calculus, Chemistry and Astronomy (online).
He takes most of his meals in the campus cafeteria.
“I load up on lunch and get the calories up,” says Weller. “You’re definitely going to burn them in practice.”
After playing in a local league, Weller started playing travel ball at 10U with he Chesterton Slammers. Uncle Brian Eaton was his head coach for three summers. The team then changed its name to the Indiana Strikers. Weller played his 14U summer with the Indiana Breakers.
Rob Kucharski was Weller’s head coach at 15U and 16U with the Chicago-based Elite Baseball Training team. That squad had many northwestern Indiana players.
“We put pressure on the defense,” says Scott, who enters his seventh season in charge at the Frankfort, Ind.-based school in 2019. “We do a lot of hit-and-run and bunt-and-run. We find ways to make the defense make the play.”
Led by seniors Kameron Peters (30) and Sam Schoonveld (10), the 2018 Gophers collected 83 stole bases while going 10-14. Clinton Prairie swiped 70 bases in 2017 (led by Peters’ 18) and 75 in 2016 (paced by Peters’ 14). Schoonveld went on to play football at the University of Indianapolis.
Scott is a 1998 Frankfort High School graduate. His baseball coach with the Hot Dogs was Torrey Rodkey. Scott earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations (2002) and master’s degree in political science (2003) and now teaches social studies to both junior high and high school students at Clinton Prairie.
It was while doing his practicum and student teaching at Frankfort that Scott was bitten by the baseball coaching bug. He spent a couple years on the staff of Andy Dudley.
After that, Scott was an assistant to Dan Hilgediek at Clinton Prairie for six years before taking over the Gophers program.
Scott says he learned things from each coach that helps him in his current position.
“(Dudley) is very detail-oriented,” says Scott. “He let’s the kids play the game, but there’s a sense of fundamentals,” says Scott. “He showed me organization and how to run a practice.”
Dudley was able to get his players to understand concepts like footwork and the intricacies of hitting.
Scott says Hilgidiek’s strength was as an in-game tactician.
“He knew when to go to the mound vs. letting the kids work through it,” says Scott. “He handled situations with umpires and with kids.
“He got the kids to understand that you play the way you practice.”
The IHSAA now allows a coaches to work with the team for two hours a day two days a week during certain windows rather than just two athletes at a time.
During the fall, Clinton Prairie (enrollment of about 330) had baseball players involved in football and other sports, but up to 10 participated in baseball workouts.
“We’re a small school. It’s difficult to have a lot of kids,” says Scott. “But we were able to get into individual groups, scrimmage and work on different things — like hitting the ball to the right side.”
Winter workouts are held early in the morning. One week there will be a defense/pitching session on one day and hitting the next. It flips the following week. This allows athletes in wrestling and basketball who show up once a week to get work in both areas.
In recent seasons, the Gophers have had about 25 players for varsity and junior varsity squads.
Varsity assistants Brian Hennen and Kip Skinner and JV coach Jonas Lenehan are on Scott’s 2019 coaching staff. Jerrad Blacker runs the junior high program (separate teams for seventh and eighth grade) with oversight by Scott.
All Clinton Prairie teams play on the same on-campus diamond. With former McCutcheon baseball coach and current CP athletic director Brian Eaton leading the way, sponsorships have been formed with local businesses to fund projects like double bullpens on both the home and visitor sides. There are also plans to skin the infield and re-plant sod and re-do the backstop.
Scott says baseball, football and softball are combining forces to seek a rural water grant that would bring irrigation to all their playing fields.
Clinton Prairie is a member of the Hoosier Heartland Conference (with Carroll of Flora, Clinton Central, Delphi, Eastern of Greentown, Rossville, Sheridan, Taylor and Tri-Central). Each team plays once to determine the champion. Delphi becomes a full HHC member in team sports in 2019-20.
Among the Gophers’ non-conference opponents are Frankfort, Covington, Fountain Central, Hamilton Heights, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Covington and Southmont.
The Gophers are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Carroll of Flora, Delphi, Lafayette Central Catholic, Seeger and Western Boone. Clinton Prairie has won four sectionals — the last in 1993.
Matt and Megan Scott have two children — Cooper (5) and Lynnlee (14 months).
Matt and Megan Scott share a moment together. Matt is a teacher and head baseball coach at Clinton Prairie Junior-Senior High School in Frankfort, Ind.
Matt Scott goes for a winter stroll with son Cooper and daughter Lynnlee. Matt is a teacher and head baseball coach at Clinton Prairie Junior-Senior High School in Frankfort, Ind.
Three generations of Scott men attend a Chicago Cubs game (from left): Matt, Cooper and Richard. Matt is a teacher and head baseball coach at Clinton Prairie Junior-Senior High School in Frankfort, Ind.
Ever since Doug Schreiber became a baseball coach, he has been working with young people.
In 18 seasons as head coach at Purdue University (1999-2016) and before that in assistant stints at Ball State University, Butler University, the University of Notre Dame and Arizona State University, he taught about the game and about life to young men 18-and-over.
“We’re trying to teach all the things that are going to help them at the next level and for the rest of their life, too,” says Schreiber, who had his Mavericks off to strong start in 2018 (14-3 overall and 8-0 in the North Central Conference). “We’re learning. Even though we have 13 seniors (Butler University commit Kollyn All, Evan Allen, Caleb Ely, Dylan Henning, Steven Krick, Parker Lamb, Darren Lathrop, Kobe McNeely, Ben Miller, Anderson University commit Kyle Pendleton, Kaden Rice, Purdue commit Jackson Smeltz and Kelden Tyson), they’re all like freshmen a little bit because they’ve got to learn all new signs, philosophy, temperament.
“It’s all new to them.”
Schreiber, 54, has witnessed a resilient team.
“There’s days we don’t hit, but we do just enough defensively,” says Schreiber. “There’s days when we don’t play the best defense, but we hit.
“We’re a team that can beat anybody in the state, but we’re also a team that can lose to anybody. You’ve got to be attentive to detail and that’s something we could be a little sharper on.
“We’re not a attentive to detail as I want. But any coach is probably going to stay that.”
Using baseball as a platform, Schreiber has helped the Mavs grow up.
“We always talk about maturity being an important part of what we’re trying to do,” says Schreiber. “You hear it a lot. Coaches in all sports say they like some of their leaders because they’ve finally matured and become leaders.
“Our jobs as coaches — as an adult — is to help them mature. I don’t care if they’re 16, 17 or 18, I’m going expect things out of them that’s going to bring some of that maturity level. That allows them to be able to understand their coaches, teachers and other people a little better. They see the other peoples’ perspective and not always things out of their own eyes.”
With a senior-dominated lineup, Schreiber has gotten contributions from the junior class.
There are sophomores, who Schreiber says could probably play on varsity, that are getting quality reps with McCutcheon’s two junior varsity squads.
“They’re getting to be the team leaders and stuff like that,” says Schreiber. “During the end of the season, they’re going to be moved up and see what it’s like to be in our dugout with our coaches.
“We’ve got kids who are working really hard and buying in.”
Brian Eaton was McCutcheon’s head coach in 2017. When Eaton left to take the athletic director job at Clinton Prairie just before the start of the 2017-17, it created an opening at the top of the Mavericks baseball staff.
“They approached me and asked if I’d be interested,” says Schreiber. “I had to see if it was going to work within my working life as well.”
“It’s been a lot of time,” says Schreiber. “Because you don’t have a sports information director or a grounds crew (like in college). You wind up doing a lot of it yourself, which i love to do. You just don’t have a lot of time during the day.
“There’s not as much teaching time. You have to use game time to teach as well. We don’t have meetings in the off-season on the intangibles and life skills. We just can’t dominate their time like we can in college.”
Schreiber is incorporating those things at McCutcheon, but is sometimes doing it “on the fly.”
“When the other team makes a mistake, you have to point that out as a teaching moment for our guys,” says Schreiber. “You have to take advantage of all those things. If they do something good, you point it out.”
Schreiber has been teaching his players to take pride in their home field and the art of raking the infield and grooming the mound.
“It’s not about what you don’t have,” says Schreiber. “You have to focus more on what you have.
“It might not be the very best. But we try to keep it up and maintain it. The kids do work hard and they’re appreciative and grateful.”
Schreiber is grateful for his coaching staff which includes Kurt Schlicher, Tristan McIntyre, Justin Hartman and Ryan Wides at the varsity level and Brandon Fulk, Joe Richardson, Jeremy Boden and Dustin Anthrop with the JV.
Schilcher, a social teacher at McCutcheon, serves as hitting and bench coach for Schreiber and helps him navigate through high school concepts like re-entry. McIntyre, who played for and coached with Schreiber at Purdue, is Mavs pitching coach. McCutcheon alum Hartman also works with pitchers as well as outfielders and corner infielders. Wides, who played at Noblesville, works with catchers and outfielders.
Teams from the McCutcheon Youth Baseball League have been taking turns this season shagging flies during batting practice and being recognized at home games and getting a little taste of the high school experience.
“I like when the youngsters come out because they have more energy than any of us,” says Schreiber. “We’ve got to feed off that energy.
“We want them to keep enjoying playing baseball. I want to make sure they learn the game. The more they learn it, the more they’ll like it and the more they’ll stay with it.
“Hopefully, it will become their passion. When something becomes your passion, you do learn all those little details I been talking about to be better.”
Besides McCutcheon, the NCC includes Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond. The Mavs are coming off 8-7 and 16-2 conference wins against crosstown rival Jeff.
Two former McCutcheon players are currently on Major League Baseball pitching staffs — Clayton Richard with the San Diego Padres and Nick Wittgren with the Miami Marlins.
Doug Schreiber, 54, is in his first season as head baseball coach at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette. He was head coach at Purdue University for 18 seasons (1999-2016). (Steve Krah Photo)