By STEVE KRAH
An investment has been made in the future of baseball at Western Boone Junior/Senior High School in Thorntown, Ind., and Michael Nance is part of it.
After coaching travel ball in the community, in the junior high program that feeds the high school and helping at the high school level, Nance was hired in July 2021 to guide the Webo Stars.
The junior high team has players in Grades 6-8 and plays 12 to 14 games in the spring.
Nance reached out to Western Boone Little League and a partnership was formed. The Western Boone Baseball Club offers instruction on Sundays to players age 9 to 12 not involved in travel ball.
“It’s an opportunity to get these kids more baseball reps all year,” says Nance.
Out of that came 12U and 10U club teams that offer additional games to the Little League schedule.
Knowing his current players and what’s in the pipeline, Nance is upbeat in leading a program which produced five varsity victories in 2019 and four in 2021.
“I think we can win,” says Nance. “I’m very excited about the next six or eight years from what I can see coming.”
Western Boone’s four seniors are Casey Baird, Will Barta, Evan Hine and Mitch Miller.
Baird, who has committed to Franklin (Ind.) College for football, will be called on to play multiple positions, including shortstop, second base, catcher and relief pitcher. Barta is a designated hitter. Georgetown (Ky.) College-bound Evan Hine (.325 average with a team-best .509 on-base percentage in 2021) is a third baseman. Miller, who led the Stars with .349 average last season, is a center fielder and lead-off hitter.
There’s also junior first baseman Andrew Foster, sophomore left-handed pitcher/right fielder Jackson Grimes, sophomore right-hander/left fielder Luke Jackson, sophomore righty/shortstop Bryce Kopriva, sophomore catcher and clean-up hitter Cole Wiley and freshman second baseman Gavin Hawkins.
Nance labels Kopriva, Jackson and Grimes as 1, 1A and 1B on his pitching staff. He points out that athletic Hawkins was the No. 1 singles player in tennis and played on the junior varsity team in basketball.
Former Marian University pitcher Gabe Westerfeld is a varsity assistant coach and the program’s pitching coordinator.
“We are really, really young on the mound,” says Nance. “Gabe has our young guys believing and there have been velocity increases.”
Eric Gubera is JV coach and is also in charge of outfielders and base runners. He has coached with Nance in the summer since their sons were 8. Two years ago, they became affiliated with the Indiana Braves. This summer, they will guide the 12U Indiana Yard Goats — a squad that includes six players from Western Boone, three from Avon and one from Brownsburg player.
Nance, who was a catcher at Lebanon (Ind.) High School, Ancilla College (Donaldson, Ind.) and MacMurray College (Jacksonsonville, Ill.), handles catchers, infielders and hitters.
There are 22 players in the program and all practice together.
Western Boone (enrollment around 510) is a member of the Sagamore Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Tri-West Hendricks).
The Stars are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Clinton Prairie, Delphi (2022 host), Fountain Central and Seeger. Western Boone has won two sectional titles — 1982 and 1983.
Western Boone is scheduled to open the 2022 season with three games this weekend in Unionville, Tenn., south of Nashville. An optional part of the spring break trip is attending Sunday’s Tennessee at Vanderbilt college game.
The Stars play home contests on-campus with side-by-side varsity and JV diamonds north of the school building. This year, the Stars got new brick dust for the infield and new wind screens for the outfield as well as a Hack machine and new L screens. At the end of the season, lights will go up.
“It’s a really nice place to play,” says Nance.
A 2004 Lebanon graduate, Nance played for Tigers head coach Rick Cosgray.
“He demanded a lot but got more out kids than they knew they were capable,” says Nance. “You knew he really loved the game. He was always so upbeat and positive.
“I have nothing but admiration for Coach Cosgray. I try to run my program like him.”
Nance played for two head coaches at Ancilla — Rockie Dodds and Joe Yonto.
“(Yonto) had a profound impact on me,” says Nance. “He showed me how to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand (through eye-specific muscle training.”
In Nance’s last year at MacMurray, former high school coach Fred Curtis led the Highlanders.
“He just loved the game,” says Nance. “He said if you do the fundamentals right and not walk people, you can win ball games.”
Nance says he also appreciates the mentoring and assistance he’s received from men also leading high school programs — among them Matthew Cherry (Fishers), Troy Drosche (Avon) and Andy Dudley (Frankfort).
“There’s been such support from the coaching community,” says Nance. “They’ve been willing to help.”
Nance earned a Special Education degree at MacMurray and a masters in Criminal Justice from Xavier University in Cincinnati. This summer will mark 15 years with Boone County Community Corrections. After starting out as a probation officer, he is now executive director.
Michael and wife Emily (who played softball at Manchester University and MacMurray and now works in cancer research at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis) have a son and daughter attending Thorntown Elementary — Easton (12) and Harper (10). He enjoys tennis, baseball and duck hunting. She likes soccer and plays travel softball with the Indiana Magic.