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Byall, Homestead Spartans value preparation

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Potter and Steve Sotir emphasized the fundamental parts of baseball — making the routine play on defense, pounding the strike zone from the mound and following an approach from the batter’s box — as head baseball coaches at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Nick Byall, who played for Potter and coached with Potter and Sotir, is carrying on the tradition while adding his own spin as the man in charge of the Spartans.

“We want to be polished and prepared each day,” says Byall. “When you’re doing (the fundamentals) well it makes the game even more fun.

“At the high school level, we can be really successful doing that.”

Byall, a 2000 Homestead graduate, spent 10 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater (two on Potter’s staff and eight with Sotir) and is in his fourth season as head coach in 2019.

Being competitive is also important to Byall.

“We’re always looking to compete — in a drill or a game,” says Byall, who heads up a program with around 50 players for varsity, junior varsity (JV Blue) and freshmen (JV Gold) schedules.

“We have a smaller senior class and kept a larger freshmen class,” says Byall. “We have 18 on the varsity roster most of the time. Some guys will swing between varsity and JV.”

The coaching staff features Shawn Harkness plus volunteers Josh Brock, Maurie Byall (Nick’s father) and Greg Wehling with the varsity, Austin Plasterer and Kyle Plasterer with JV Blue and Brian Landigran and Dominic Schroeder with JV Gold.

Harkness is pitching coach for the Spartan. He was a JV coach when Byall was a Homestead player.

Brock played and coached at Manchester University.

It’s more than the game that keeps Byall around baseball.

“I want to be a decent role model for (the players),” says Byall. “That’s why we do it.

“I enjoy the kids and the coaches I work with. If not, I wouldn’t do it.”

Homestead plays its varsity games on its campus with the JV teams playing on that diamond or at a field near Summit Middle School.

Marching band is a big deal at the school and the band has its own turf practice surface near the baseball field. The baseball team sometimes uses it when it’s facility is too wet.

There is no middle school baseball at Homestead, but many players participate in travel ball.

“We’ve got a lot of kids who enjoy baseball,” says Byall. “They’re pretty fundamentally sound.”

Senior Kade Kolpien has committed to Taylor University. Senior Will Ferguson has garnered some college baseball interest. Junior Eli MacDonald and sophomore Kaleb Kolpien and Carter Mathison are among younger Spartans getting college looks.

Recent Homestead graduates now with college programs include Justin Miller at Purdue Fort Wayne, Isaac Bair at the University of Indianapolis and Nick Davit and D.J. Moore at Huntington University.

Catcher Rob Bowen was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins and made his big league debut with the Twins in 2003. He also played for the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Infielder Andre Jernigan went from Homestead to the Xavier University to the Twins organization.

Right-handed pitcher Taylor Kinzer played at Taylor then in the Los Angeles Angels organization.

Second baseman Ryan Wright played at he University of Louisville and in the Cincinnati Reds system from 2011-15.

Catcher Matt Singleton played at Ball State University and in the Athletics chain.

Outfielder Bobby Glover was a Parkland College, the University of Dayton and with the independent Windy City Thunderbolts (2012).

Left-hander Kyle Leiendecker went to Indiana University.

It’s IU and the allure of Hoosiers basketball that brought Byall to Bloomington.

He was a basketball manager for four years and got to see in the inner workings of big-time college sports and went to the 2002 NCAA tournament championship game with head coach Mike Davis. Byall’s first week on campus was Bob Knight’s last.

Byall earned an education degree from Indiana in 2005 and a masters in business administration from Taylor in 2010. He teaches Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics and U.S. Government at HHS.

Homestead (enrollment around 2,430) has charted a schedule that features Bellmont, DeKalb, Evansville Central, Fishers, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Hamilton Southeastern, Indianapolis Cathedral, Mississinewa, Norwell, Wapahani and Warsaw.

For several years, Homestead has made a southern trip during spring break.

“It’s a chance to get away and bond a little bit,” says Byall.

The destination the past few seasons has been Vincennes, Ind. Treks have also been made to Terre Haute, Evansville, Cincinnati and Knoxville, Tenn.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Huntington North. Homestead has won 14 sectionals — the last in 2016. A 4A state runner-up finish was earned in 2008.

Byall is single and lives in the Homestead district.

“I’m real close with my family,” says Byall, the son of Maurie and Rosi Byall and younger brother of Troy Byall. His father owns Byall Homes, Inc., and has been building houses for 40 years. His mother is the Homestead treasurer and also the statistician for her son’s baseball team.

With three children, chiropractor Dr. Troy and wife Erica Byall have made Nick a proud uncle.

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Homestead High School baseball coach Nick Byall (left) slaps hands with Kade Kolpien. Byall is in his 14th season as a Spartans coach — fourth as head coach — while Kolpien is in his senior season in 2019.

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Nick Byall is head baseball coach at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. He is a 2000 graduate of the school. (Homestead High School Photo)

 

 

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Blasko sees positive attitude as essential for athletics, life

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chadd Blasko found out as an an athlete how far a positive attitude could carry him and he’s carried that into his roles as coach, educator, husband, father and citizen.

Blasko, who recently became a baseball instructor at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center in South Bend, graduated from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School where he was a standout in basketball and baseball. He went on to pitch for Purdue University when Doug Schreiber was the Boilermakers head baseball coach.

“He’s probably one of the most influential people ever in my life,” says Blasko of Schreiber (who is now head coach at McCutcheon High School). “I heard as an immature high school kid about attitude and things like that. I didn’t understand what attitude meant until I went to Purdue and was around Coach Schreiber. He drilled attitude, attitude, attitude, attitude.

“When I coach, I carry that piece from him. A good attitude can relate to every single thing you do — how you carry yourself, how your react to people, how you come to practice. It’s the attitude you bring to the table in sports and in life.”

Blasko, who likes to use analogies in his coaching and teaching, sees attitude as the glue that keeps the pieces of the puzzle together.

“If you keep that attitude sound, it takes care of everything else,” says Blasko.

The 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher was selected in the 47th round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star did not sign and three seasons at Purdue and was taken in the first round (36th overall as a “sandwich” pick) in the 2002 draft by the Chicago Cubs.

Mishawaka teammate Eric Good was drafted as a pitcher in 1998 and played in the Montreal Expos organization. Purdue mates David Gassner (Toronto Blue Jays) and Andy Helmer (Cleveland Indians) were also drafted as pitchers.

Blasko wound up his professional career in the Baltimore Orioles organization in 2007.

He has had two stints as a varsity baseball assistant at Mishawaka, where he has been an assistant boys basketball coach for a decade.

“I’ve always had a passion for playing sports,” says Blasko, 38. “(Coaching) allows me to still be young and be a competitor. This allows me to still connect to it.”

Blasko is also a physical education and health teacher at MHS. Chadd and wife Samantha have two sons — Baylen (5) and Brooks (3).

When he became a father, Blasko backed off his baseball coaching duties to spend more time with his wife and sons.

“I sit back a lot of times and realize how valuable my times is with my boys,” says Blasko. “The time people put in with me, especially my dad and mom (Ed and Sandy Blasko). Those things are so important.

“It’s nice to coach kids, but it’s very important to be there for your kids as a father. Before you know it, they’re going to be 7 years old, 10 years old then they’ll be a teenager and won’t want to talk to you because they know everything.”

Blasko, who has a younger brother named Phil (who played basketball at Defiance College in Ohio and is now Mishawaka Parks & Recreation Department director), played baseball at Mishawaka for head coach Gregg Minegar and basketball for Jerome Calderone.

“(Minegar) was more laid-back,” says Blasko. “He had a mellow way of reaching a kid.”

Calderone was more demonstrative as is current Caveman head boys basketball coach Ron Heclinski.

“I remember his tough love,” says Blasko of Calderone (who is now principal at MHS). “I thanked him when I was inducted into the Mishawaka Hall of Fame.

“He was old school. He’s going to let out a bark. He’s not going to let you just go through the motions. He had passion. You have to have a passion for what you’re doing.”

Blasko appreciates how Heclinski finds a way to get though to his young athletes and their many personalities.

“I relate to him a lot,” says Blasko. “If you don’t relate to the kids, it’s hard to get to them. I’ve learned that from him.

“Sometimes you have to give that tough love and get after a kid. You have to hold him accountable.

“Some folks betray that as being too harsh. It’s about knowing that line and not crossing the line to disrespect. You’re showing them your passion. I’m trying to help you out.”

Blasko has also learned from Heclinski that some players respond to the proverbial kick in the hindquarters while other wilt when you do that.

“You should learn your players,” says Blasko. “You can’t just be a cookie-cut coach.

“There’s a common goal there it’s finding a way of how to unlock the kid’s lock.”

Blasko’s bottom line: If you’re in the classroom, on the court or on the field, if you can’t connect with that kid, it’s going to be very hard to teach them.

“I don’t care if I’m trying to teach you to have self esteem and be nice to people or how to pitch,” says Blasko. “It’s going to be very hard for me to get in your brain and for you to trust me.

“If you trust me, I’ve got you. They’ve got to know they can trust you and know what you’re about.”

In his early Performance Center sessions, Blasko has been showing young pitchers how to load up and use their whole body rather than just their arms.

He told them that if you’re going to throw a punch, you want to bring it back before you take it forward for maximum power and the same is true with pitching.

Once again, Blasko is not using a cookie-cut approach.

“They’re all different,” says Blasko. “We have a main goal, but if something works for you, I’m not going to change it all that much. I’m not going to make everybody a robot . We’re not all going to look identical.”

He wants them all to have the same foundation and be able to balance during their motion.

“You’re not stopping but you’re gathering yourself to make that powerful movement toward the plate,” says Blasko. “We want to be equal and opposite (creating a rhythmic and synchronized arm swing; extending the arms at the same tine, in the same motion, with the elbows matching up int he exact identical position and foot strike), stay on top of the ball and follow through.

“You’ve got to have a base and build your way up to get to the power position.”

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Chadd Blasko recently became a baseball instructor at the First Source Bank Performance Center in South Bend, Ind. He is a coach and teacher at Mishawaka (Ind.) High School. He played baseball at Purdue University and in the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles systems.

 

Mental toughness key for Cubs minor league hurler Thompson

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Intellectual resolve helped Riley Thompson excel at high school and college baseball levels and he is hoping it will propel him as a professional.

Thompson, 21, is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher who played at Christian Academy of Louisville and the University of Louisville before being selected in the 11th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs.

He is now with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs of the Low Class-A Midwest League.

Thompson was picked in two previous MLB drafts (2015 in the 37th round by the Cincinnati Reds and 2017 in the 25th by the New York Yankees), but opted to stay in school.

After redshirting in 2016, Thompson appeared in 25 games for Louisville in 2017 and 2018. He started seven of 11 games in 2018.

His head coach for the Cardinals was Dan McDonnell.

“Coach Mac really harps on mental toughness and all the qualities that go along with that,” says Thompson. “It really helped me develop as a man and be ready for pro ball.

“He’s a great motivator. He knows what to say.”

Thompson got into nine games (eight as a starter) and went 0-2 with an 2.84 earned run average for the rookie-level Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds in 2018. He struck out 25 and walked nine in 25 innings.

In his short time in the organization, he has come to appreciate the way the Cubs handle their players from the nutrition and strength staffs to the facilities and accommodations they find for them.

“They really do treat us well,” says Thompson. “For that, I’m really grateful.”

There’s also the mental skills training.

“They do a good job of training our minds and getting us ready for the season,” says Thompson. “For me, it’s the ability to slow down the game.”

Thompson has learned to take a deep breath and realize that he may be just one pitch from an out. The training helps simplify things when chaos could be the rule.

Born in Evansville, Ind., in 1996, Thompson moved to Louisville around age 5.

He was a two-time all-state selection in high school and also played first base when not pitching.

At the end of the his high school career, Thompson played two summers of the travel ball with the Ironmen Baseball Club.

He was named to the all-tournament team at the 2014 Perfect Game WWBA 17U National Championship and was the top-ranked player in Kentucky by Perfect Game in 2015.

Outside of the mental toughness, what are his best qualities as an athlete?

“I feel I’m a pretty athletic pitcher,” says Thompson. “I have a good fastball and a good feel for my off-speed.”

The South Bend Cubs were to play a seven-inning exhibition against Notre Dame at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 3 and open the season at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, April 4 against West Michigan. Both games are at Four Winds Field.

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Riley Thompson (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Teenager Roederer welcomes challenge of full season in Cubs system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

By taking outfielder Cole Roederer in the second round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (77th overall), the Chicago Cubs see promise in the youngster.

The Cubs selected only two players — shortstop Nico Hoerner and outfielder Brennen Davis — before Roederer.

The lefty-swinger who graduated from Hart High School in the Newhall section of Santa Clarita, Calif., in 2018 has high hopes for his first full professional season.

“I have some very high expectations for myself,” says Roederer, who begins the 2019 season with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs of the Low Class-A Midwest League after playing 36 games with the rookie-level Arizona Cubs No. 2 team in 2018. In Mesa, he hit .275 (39-of-142) with five home runs, four triples, four doubles and 24 runs batted in.

Roederer, who played in the 2017 Area Code Games and had committed to UCLA before forgoing college for the pros, says it is a combination of his talent and maturity that has allowed him to go from high school to pro ball and to be sent to a full-season league as a teenager.

The 19-year-old is the youngest player on the South Bend roster and does not turn 20 until Sept. 24, three weeks after the regular season ends.

“A lot of high school guys aren’t mentally prepared for this kind of stuff,” says Roederer. “It’s very tough. It’s extremely mental.

“I’m able to fix my game and keep going forward regardless of the outcome. That’s what got me to pro ball. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the mind for it you’re not going to make it.”

Since joining the Cubs organization, Roederer has been able to benefit from mental skills training, including meditation.

“It kind of opened my eyes, the fact that you can train your brain and constantly improve yourself mentally,” says Roederer. “It’s something that’s very beautiful.”

Roederer got into two spring training games with the major league team and went 1-for-2 at the plate.

The first Cactus League at-bat on March 19 produced a home run against Seattle Mariners right-hander Tayler Scott at Mesa’s Sloan Park.

“I walk up there and the guy’s throwing fuzz — like 96, 97 (mph),” says Roederer. “I said, ‘I’ve got to get my foot down.’ I watched all the guys before. He kind of goes high and tight on my head. It kind of buzzed me awake. Let’s go. This is getting real.

“I had a lot of adrenaline flowing. For some reason, the crowd was screaming. I heard nothing. The coach was screaming. I heard nothing. It was just me and (former Cubs minor leaguer Scott). I was just dancing with him.

“When that pitch came I was screaming inside and freaking out. This is something I’d dreamed of.”

Roederer, who sees center fielder as his natural position, he looks forward to making the adjustment to the long season by developing a routine.

“This is definitely a marathon and not a sprint,” says Roederer. “You have to maintain yourself and have a good regimen go off of.”

Roederer will be playing his home games more than 2,000 miles from his California home.

His family is scheduled to bring his truck next week and will spend some time with him.

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Cole Roederer (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

 

Patience is virtue for new South Bend Cubs manager, pro baseball vet Bailey

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Buddy Bailey is heading into his 40th season in professional baseball in 2019.

The new manager of the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in the Low Class-A Midwest League is aware that his players are still discovering what pro ball is all about.

With most players 19 to 22 years old and in the earliest stages of their careers, they are not finished products and Major League Baseball-ready.

“Down here it’s going to take more patience,” says Bailey, who has been a skipper at levels from rookie to Triple-A and was the manager of the year in the International League Manager in 1996 and 2003 and Venezuelan Professional Baseball League in 2006-07. “There are going to be more mistakes.

“I’ve got a motto: If you’re not patient, you will become a patient. You’ve got to live by that motto and try to find a way to help them get better.”

South Bend is scheduled to play a seven-inning exhibition against Notre Dame at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 3 at Four Winds Field.

The 140-game regular season opens at home Thursday, April 4 with a 7:05 p.m. contest against West Michigan.

“A lot of these guys have big dreams and ambitions to put up good numbers,” says Bailey. “Some of them won’t be here long if they do things right.

“If we have half of a new team by June, it would be great for the (Chicago Cubs) organization.”

Bailey, who was born in Norristown, Pa. and went to high school and college in Virginia, says he has stayed in baseball so long because he sees it as an extension of his childhood and relishes the opportunity to turn young players into men with a kids’s heart.

“I still have passion and love for what I do,” says Bailey, who has won more than 2,000 games as a minor league manager. “Not all of them are going to be big league players, but at the same time, they’re going to have to go live their lives doing something else.

“Hopefully, you find some ways to build character — not only as a player, but you turn them into men.”

In four decades, plenty has changed in the world of player development.

Bailey says pitching is where it’s changed the most.

“Back then pitch totals were higher even in the minor leagues,” says Bailey. “Guys were allowed to collect more innings.”

Bailey recalls that Tom Glavine, who was on his way to 305 MLB wins and a trip to the Hall of Fame, pitched more than 150 innings (it was 168 2/3) in A-ball in 1985.

“We won’t have anyone get to that now,” says Bailey of the 2019 South Bend Cubs. Pitch counts and innings totals will be monitored and kept relatively low. “The whole industry’s got that mentality. That’s part of the way it is now. The game has changed.”

Welby Sheldon Bailey is a graduate of Amherst (Va.) County High School and Lynchburg (Va.) College.

A catcher, he signed his first pro contract with the Atlanta Braves in 1979.

Bailey managed in the Braves system 1983-90, winning the Southern League pennant as pilot of the Greenville Braves in 1988.

He went to the Boston Red Sox organization in 1991 and served as a minor league manager at Lynchburg (1991-92) and Pawtucket (1993-96, 2002-04) and served as a big league bench coach (2000 under manager Jimy Williams) and was a field coordinator of minor league instruction, or roving catcher instructor (1997-99, 2001).

Bailey has also led the Tigres de Aragua of the Venezuela Winter League, leading the team to a Caribbean Series title in 2009.

He joined the Cubs organization in 2006 as a roving minor league catching instructor and took over as manager at Daytona midway through that season.

Since then, Bailey has managed at Triple-A Iowa (2007), Double-A Tennessee (2008, 2012-15), High-A Daytona (2009-11) and High-A Myrtle Beach (2016-18).

Bailey’s South Bend staff includes pitching coach Jamie Vermilyea, hitting coach Paul McAnulty and coach Pedro Gonzalez.

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Buddy Bailey is the manager of the Low Class-A South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in 2019. He spent the past three seasons as manager of the High-A Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Pelicans. He has been in professional baseball for 40 years. (Myrtle Beach Pelicans Photo)

 

Kiifner wants South Newton Rebels to be strong up the middle

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I gain an hour.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Program numbers are up to 23 with 11 newcomers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Desmonds, East Noble Knights attack game with aggressiveness

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Anticipation is growing around the baseball program at East Noble High School in Kendallville, Ind.

Knights Field is getting a new brick and net backstop and a storage building complete with restrooms. There’s also new fencing all around.

“They’re doing a lot,” says East Noble head coach Aaron Desmonds. “It’s exciting.”

Desmonds, a 2004 East Noble graduate who earned four baseball letters (Bill Cain was head coach), is going into his sixth season on the Knights coaching staff and third in charge in 2019.

As an assistant to Cory Jacquay, Desmonds promoted an offensive approach that put pressure on opposing defenses with bunts and delayed steals.

That aggressiveness has continued since Desmonds took over the program. His 2019 coaching staff features Nathan Jones (varsity), Larry Leighty (junior varsity head coach) and Jason Meade (JV assistant).

In 2018, East Noble had 40 players in the program (20 varsity, 20 JV) and Desmonds says he expects similar numbers in 2019.

There are nearly 30 freshmen vying for a spot in the program.

Seven seniors graduated last year.

“We’ll be fairly young,” says Desmonds. “There will be opportunities for kids to step up.”

While it may not happen this season, Desmonds can see the need for adding a few C-team games to the Knights schedule in the future to provide game experience for younger players.

Official IHSAA practice began Monday, March 11. During limited contact time, the Knights met and got in as much time as sharing gym time would allow.

“We did not get in two full hours,” says Desmonds. “Our basketball coach (Ryan Eakins) played baseball in college and understands we need get arms ready).”

Jones is East Noble’s pitching coach and oversees a staff that works within the IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“I like it,” says Desmonds of the rule. “We haven’t had any arm issues. We’ve been able to manage their workload.

“They don’t throw a lot the day after they’ve thrown a lot of pitches.”

Recent East Noble graduates Zachary Lane (Anderson University), Zach Haefer (Ivy Tech Northeast and Davenport University) and Joe Kovets (Ivy Tech Northeast) have gone on the collegiate baseball.

Senior third baseman Rhett Norris, a Northeast Eight Conference second-teamer in 2018, is among the Knights’ top returnees.

Opponents for East Noble (enrollment around 1,200 in the NE8 are Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell.

Conference teams meet each other once with games on Tuesdays and Thursdays. An exception will be Wednesday, May 8 when East Noble meets Huntington North at Parkview Field in Fort Wayne.

Non-conference opponents include Angola, Central Noble, Eastside, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Snider, Garrett, Goshen, Lakeland, Wawasee, West Noble and Westview.

The Knights are scheduled to play a scrimmage game with NorthWood, which is coached by former Desmonds East Noble teammate A.J. Risedorph.

The Knights are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne Carroll, DeKalb, Fort Wayne Northrop and Fort Wayne Snider. East Noble has won 15 sectional crowns — the last in 1995.

Home games are played on a field located on the East Noble campus.

A feeder system includes youth leagues in Rome City, Avila and Kendallville (East Noble Youth Baseball). The latter serves ages 7 to 15 and has eight diamonds and hosts many tournaments during the summer.

There is also a Kendallville Titans travel organization.

This year, an eighth grade club team that Desmonds oversees — Knights Baseball — will play in the spring and summer.

“We wanted to get more of our kids to play together,” says Desmonds of the reason to form the eighth grade squad.

Besides coaching baseball, Desmonds is online salesmen for Antiques and More Kendallville. The company is owned by his parents, Kevin and Jennifer Sabrosky.

Desmond graduated from Purdue University with a business degree.

East Noble graduate Ben Van Ryn played in The Show.

The left-hander was selected in the first round of the 1990 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Montreal Expos and went on to pitch 26 games in the majors with the California Angels, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays.

EASTNOBLEKNIGHTS