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Stambazze keeping minds in motion for Whitko Wildcats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-year head coach Bob Stambazze says he wants his baseball players at Whitko Junior-Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., to process the game.

“Your mind is constantly in motion,” says Stambazze. “We do chalk talk and go through (defensive) scenarios. Every play, everyone has a responsibility. Who to back up is so important in this game.

“Remember, back-ups are your last line of defense.”

Stambazze says he wants to establish a solid base for the program in years to come.

“They can say I did it the right way and they can build off of that,” says Stambazze.

A familiar face and voice to athletics in the area covered by the Three Rivers Conference (Fulton, Kosciusko, Miami, Wabash and Whitley counties), Stambazze also serves as sports director and play-by-play announcer for WJOT-FM 105.9 in Wabash and WARU-FM 101.9 in Peru.

He was hired for the baseball job at Whitko this winter after the unexpected passing of head coach Mark Fisher at 35 on Oct. 15, 2018.

“Mark said he got into coaching for how I treated him in Little League,” says Stambazze. “I want to continue what he tried to set up.”

Fisher played for Stambazze as a boy in Huntington County Baseball and was close with Bob and Marla Stambazze’s sons, Jake and Bobby. Both sons are married with two children. Jake Stambazze played multiple positions for Indiana Tech coach Steve Devine and was an NAIA All-America honorable mention for the Warriors in Fort Wayne in 2005.

Bob Stambazze played baseball at Huntington North High School, where he graduated in 1971. The first three years, Paul Buzzard was Vikings head coach. Wally Stoffel began in Stambazze’s senior season and took the team all the way to semistate.

Stambazze counts Don Sherman, Chuck Brimbury and Mike Frame as mentors.

At Huntington North, Stambazze competed against Tipton High School and then-Blue Devils head coach Sherman. It wasn’t long after that Sherman became head coach at Huntington North and went on to a successful career that got him elected to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

In Sherman, Stambazze saw a fierce competitor and someone devoted to baseball basics.

“He was very intense and everything had to be fundamental,” says Stambazze. “Like he did, I teach (fielders) to track the ball into the glove and ‘gator’ the ball with your right hand and glove. You always used two hands.”

Brimbury coached at Huntington North with Sherman then enjoyed his own success at Peru High School.

“I don’t know if anybody will play as aggressively as a Chuck Brimbury team,” says Stambazze. “He’s one of the more competitive and fun coaches to be around.”

Stambazze credits long-time Huntington University head baseball coach Frame for setting an example of how to handle pitchers and student-athletes.

“He was pitcher and he’s a student of pitching,” says Stambazze of Frame. “He does such a wonderful job with his staff. He has minimized stuff with his staff so they can do more. He breaks things down.

“His faith toward his players, it’s so important. I’ve always believed in telling parents, ‘they’re your sons and daughters, but they’re always going to be my kids.’”

Stambazze sold sporting goods for 32 years. He’s been an IHSAA-licensed official since 1975. This school year, he worked about 20 football games and eight basketball contests. He will be occupied this spring so he won’t be calling softball.

As for calling games on the radio, he does that for high schools in Wabash and Howard counties and Manchester University football and basketball.

“No one has more fun doing it than I do,” says Stambazze, who went on the air 13 years ago as a color commentator and moved over to play-by-play when there was an opening for that position. Uniquely, his color person rotates by the game.

“I’ve had moms work games with me, but they had to keep all the stats,” says Stambazze, who earned the Virgil Sweet Distinguished Service Award from the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association in 2015.

He calls 80 to 90 basketball games a year between high school varsity and junior varsity and college. This past sectional season saw him pull through while dealing with acute laryngitis. He also hosts a weekly Coaches’ Show for during football and basketball seasons.

Stambazze was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1972 and served in Germany. where he played basketball, managed the AYA on base and coached swimming. He played for the Germany/American baseball team in the world tournament in Nicargua in 1973 and coached the European 14-16 All-Stars to the Big League World Series in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1974.

After his military service, Stambazze played in three world fast pitch softball tournaments and also served as Huntington County Baseball president. He has been head softball coach at Huntington University and an assistant at Indiana Tech and Wabash High School.

Stambazze took over the Wildcats in time to help with some winter workouts. His assistant is Preston Myers, who made a long daily commute from Lebanon, Ind., to assist with the Northfield High School boys basketball program and is doing the same with Whitko baseball.

There have been 26 players with just two seniors at recent practices for varsity and junior varsity teams.

“We have a good JV schedule with about 20 games,” says Stambazze.

Whitko (enrollment around 460) will compete in the TRC with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Wabash.

Non-conference opponents include Adams Central, Bellmont, Bluffton, Churubusco, Heritage, Lakeland, Lakewood Park Christian, New Haven, Prairie Heights, Southern Wells, Wawasee and West Noble.

The Wildcats are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lewis Cass, Manchester, Oak Hill, Rochester and Wabash. Whitko won the program’s lone sectional crown in 2017 with Erik Hisner as head coach and Fisher as one of his assistants. Hisner then went to Northfield as an assistant and is now athletic director at Eastern High School in Greentown, Ind.

Whitko plays its home games on-campus. Since his youth, Stambazze has known the importance of grooming the diamond.

“I’ve always taken care of the field,” says Stambazze. “That kind of comes naturally to me. Our kids do a very good job. They had the rakes in their hands after practice.

“You’ve got to own your program.”

Stambazze has held a clinic for the Larwill youth baseball league and hopes to do the same for youth leagues in Pierceton and South Whitley. Those organizations cover T-ball to Pony League.

There is currently not junior high baseball at Whitko, but it’s something that Stambazze and athletic director Josh Mohr have talked about.

Stambazze opposes some of the rule changes Major League Baseball is implementing like limiting pitching changes and the like.

“MLB doesn’t need to manage the game,” says Stambazze. “That’s part of baseball. They’re trying to take the human element out of the game. That’s the greatest part of the game. Leave it alone.”

The coach does favor the idea of high school batters staying in the batter’s box and the pitchers not taking too much time between deliveries.

“You want to have a flow to the game,” says Stambazze.

The IHSAA pitch count (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) came along in 2017 and Stambazze favors that. Prior to the restriction, he broadcast games when pitchers representing the same school threw 225 and 175 pitches in tournament play.

Scrimmage rules allow for four innings of 10 batters each. Stambazze says he is planning to use 10 pitchers for four batters apiece in Whitko’s scrimmage and then restrict them to 45 tosses in each of the Wildcats’ first two regular-season games and work up from there.

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Bob Stambazze is entering his first season as head baseball coach at Whitko Junior-Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., in 2019. He is a Huntington North High School graduate and is sports director and play-by-play announcer for sports director and play-by-play announcer for WJOT-FM 105.9 in Wabash and WARU-FM 101.9 in Peru. (Jan’s Photography Photo)

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Rupley, Manchester Squires value baseball smarts

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jack Rupley began learning about the details of baseball decades ago from a man named Karl Merritt.

Merritt was the head baseball coach at Manchester High School in the Wabash County town of North Manchester. Rupley (Class of 1975) was one of his players.

“He taught us a lot of the intricacies of the game, which I try to pass along now,” says Rupley, who became Manchester Junior-Senior High School’s head coach in 1998 after a few seasons as an assistant. “It’s just knowledge of the game and see how the game unfolds. It’s baseball savvy. It’s baseball intelligence.”

Like Merritt, Rupley wants his Squires to carry a high Baseball I.Q.

“Every time that ball’s hit, everybody has a place to go,” says Rupley, repeating something that Merritt emphasized to his defenders. When it comes to fielding, if your feet aren’t right, your throw probably isn’t going to be very good.

“We work really hard and getting the feet set and going in the right direction.”

Next week, the Squires will be divided by positions. Shortstops and second baseman will get in plenty of double play flips and work on correctly back-handing the ball.

Infielders will rehearse their timing.

“A timing mechanism has to go off in your head,” says Rupley. “If I bobble the ball, do I still have a chance to get the guy at first? Our philosophy is if you can’t get rid of the ball in three seconds from the crack, you may not get the guy out because a decent speed from home to first is four seconds.”

Manchester plays on its campus on Faudee Field (named for former coach at Chester Township High School and the first athletic director at Manchester, Gerald “Doe” Faudee).

The diamond has a generous amount of foul territory. For that reason, making accurate throws and backing up throws is extra-important.

“We don’t want to compound a mistake by hurrying and making a bad throw and giving that guy second base,” says Rupley. “If a right fielder’s being lazy and not getting over there to help out, you might give them third.

“Baseball doesn’t change. Yeah, kids are bigger and stronger. But if you can throw the ball, hit the ball and catch the ball better than the other team, you’re going to be a pretty good shape.”

Manchester works hard on fundamentals in practice, going through fly ball, ground ball, bunting and hitting stations.

Merritt was a strong believer in the bunt game. Everyone on the roster had to be able to execute when called upon to put one down.

“We bunt almost everyday,” says Rupley. “We put the pressure on the defense. We make that pitcher think about getting off the mound in a hurry.”

Rupley teaches these lessons with the help of assistants Matt Carver, Stacey Clark and Luke Helton.

Carver played for Rupley at Manchester. Clark represented the Squires on the diamond before Rupley’s time as head coach. Helton, a Manchester University student, played at Tippecanoe Valley High School and briefly for Manchester U.

Rupley really incorporates the bunt. In fact, his team bunted well enough and got enough timely hits, strong defense and solid pitching during the 2002 postseason to claim an IHSAA Class 2A state championship.

“We ran the bases like a Banshee,” says Rupley. “We might as well be aggressive. What do we have to lose?”

Manchester got off to a 4-13 start in 2002 and was 6-17 going into sectional play. But nine of those losses were by one or two runs.

“We had been in most every game we played,” says Rupley. “I told (my team), all we have to do is just relax and go play. What happened before doesn’t matter.

“Everything just clicked.”

The team, which included Ryan Roth (now co-head coach at Grace College), topped No. 3-ranked Batesville 9-8 in the championship game. Josh Staton got the mound victory and Todd Dale earned the save.

Baseball participation numbers at Manchester have gone up and down. Rupley has had as few as 20 players for varsity and junior varsity squads. In 2018, he had 26 and expects to have 27 or 28 in 2019.

“That’s about the right number for us,” says Rupley. “We don’t have enough kids to have a C-team or freshmen team. We’re not big enough.”

Everyone has a role.

“I sit them all down individually and tell them where I think they’re at,” says Rupley. “I ask them what position they want to play. I tell the kids up front, ‘listen, you may have two kids in front of you that are better at that position. But we may ask you to step somewhere else and help us out.’”

Lending a few more opportunities for players to participate is the rule that allows courtesy runners for the pitcher and catcher.

Rupley also wants his players to know the importance of being a student-athlete.

“I tell the kids, first and foremost, you’re in school to get an education,” says Rupley. “Grades are important because you use your brain the rest of your life.”

The coach notes that the percentage of going on to the next level is pretty minimal.

“I want them to be a good citizen — in and out of school,” says Rupley. “When you’re on that team you represent your parents, you represent the team and your represent the community.”

He also lets his young athletes know that life is full of adversity and the teen years are a time to learn about responsibility.

“Not everything is going to go your way,” says Rupley. “You have to understand that mom and dad aren’t always going to be there to make decisions for you. You’ve got to learn to make your own decisions and stand on your own two feet.

“I tell the kids, I know there are days when you’re not going to be at your best. But all I’m going to do is give me your best effort everyday.”

Manchester (enrollment around 510) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).

The Squires’ 2019 non-conference foes include Blackford, Caston, Central Noble, Churubusco, Columbia City, DeKalb, Eastern, Fort Wayne Wayne, Heritage, Oak Hill, Taylor and Wawasee.

The Wabash County Tournament (Manchester, Northfield, Southwood, Wabash) was suspended a few years ago since the teams already met in conference and sectional play.

When Rupley went to Manchester, conference games were played in the summer after the IHSAA state tournament series. At that time, the Squires played a double round robin in the Northern Lakes Conference through mid-July. There were a dozen or so non-conference games in the spring prior to the sectional.

If Rupley could change anything about Indiana baseball it would be to make the start of the season later.

“The weather is so unpredictable,” says Rupley. “To me, baseball is a warm weather sport.”

Recent Manchester graduate Hayes Sturtsman is on the baseball team at Indiana Tech. Seniors Mason Meyer (Grace College) and Grant Strobel (Ivy Tech Northeast) have made college baseball commitments.

Rupley says he will do what he can to help players who want to play college ball. He also explains what it entails.

“It’s going to be a lot different than what it is here,” says Rupley. “It’s 10-month commitment.

“It might be a lot harder physically and a little harder mentally, too. There are a whole bunch of guys who were good at their high school.

“It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work.”

Rupley saw that firsthand. Jack and Cathy Rupley have three sons — Keith (Manchester Class of 1996), Kory (2000) and Klint (2001). Keith played football at Earlham College while the other two played on the gridiron at Anderson University.

Jack Rupley was an assistant football coach at Manchester for 30 years. He has been IHSAA-licensed basketball official since 2000. He is the maintenance director at Manchester while Cathy is a cook.

Columbus East High School head coach Jon Gratz played for Rupley and graduated in 2001. Rupley-coached Dan Jones is a former head coach at LaVille High School.

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Jack Rupley has been head baseball coach at Manchester Junior-Senior High School in North Manchester, Ind., since 1998. He is a 1975 graduate of the school.

 

Herrold, Bluffton Tigers preparing to prowl in 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For Stacy Herrold, coaching baseball is not just about balls and strikes, safe and out.

“I look to create those relationships with my boys,” says Herrold, who will make the 2019 season his third as head coach and the eighth in the program at Bluffton (Ind.) High School.

The Tigers went 5-21 in Herrold’s first season in charge. After graduating one senior, Bluffton went and 15-11 in 2018, bowing 7-3 to South Adams in the IHSAA Class 2A Adams Central Sectional championship game. South Adams lost 1-0 to eventual state champion Boone Grove in the Whiting Regional final.

There are 11 players back, including Kankakee Community College commit Gavin King, from that Bluffton team this spring.

“We’re going to have a good run,” says Herrold. “I’m excited.”

Herrold is a 2004 graduate of Caston Junior/Senior High School in Fulton, Ind., where he played two years for coach Mike Buczkowski then two for Clay Hannah.

“He was super-patient,” says Herrold of Buczkowski, son of late Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski. “He wanted to stick with the process. “That’s something I didn’t do very well my first season (at Bluffton) after inheriting a team that was 5-24 the year before.

“(Hannah) wanted us just to compete. He always used that word. He wanted guys who would compete day in and day out.”

After high school, right-handed pitcher Herrold spent five years at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (he was redshirted for one season) and his head coach was Billy Gernon for the first four seasons and Bobby Pierce for the last.

“They had completely different styles, but both had great ways of getting things done,” says Herrold of Gernon and Pierce. “I owe them both a lot.”

“Coach Gernon was the epitome of a college coach. You clock in, work hard and take care of your studies.

“Coach Pierce had more of a pro style coaching philosophy. He trusted us more to get the job done. He didn’t have to watch us like a hawk. It was more about growing as individuals and molding into a collaborative team.”

Herrold, who had Tommy John, ulnar nerve and sports hernia surgeries during his career, is also greatful for Mastodons pitching coach Grant Birely.

“Coach Birely made me so much better of a pitcher,” says Herrold. “I started feeling the ball better out of my hand and having more success.”

One of the highlights was a 4-1 complete-game loss against a strong University of Michigan team in 2009.

Gernon played for Bob Morgan at Indiana University.

“I met Bob Morgan,” says Herrold. “(Gernon) was a spitting image of Bob Morgan. He was intense. He worked us hard. He got the best out of our bodies.

“I also remember he had a plethora of life quotes. I use quotes everyday with my practice plan.”

During this limited contact period, baseball is coordinating with other spring sports for practice time in the “Concrete Jungle” portion of The Tiger Den.

“We use those two hours to the best of our ability, getting arms in shape so we can long toss with the 120- to 150-foot area we have,” says Herrold. “We focus on bullpens, conditioning and taking as many swings as a we can so we can hit the ground running when the first pitch comes.

“If it’s 40 or above, we’ll go out on the turf on the football field.”

The three-sport athlete is not uncommon at Bluffton (enrollment around 470). The Tigers part of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan).

Bluffton is in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Adams Central, Churubusco, Fort Wayne Canterbury, South Adams and Woodlan. The Tigers have won four sectionals — the last in 2009.

Herrold is getting Bluffton players ready for the 2019 season with the help of assistants Kevin Powell (varsity), Eric Mettler (JV) and Ryan Crist (JV). Powell is a Norwell High School graduate. He teaches in the engineering department at Bluffton and helped place new railings and netting in front of the dugouts at the Tigers’ home field located northwest of the football stadium. Mettler (who pitched at Marietta (Ohio) College) and Crist are Bluffton graduates.

Koltan Moore (Kankakee CC) is a recent Bluffton grad who moved on to college baseball. Dane Hoffman (University of Saint Francis) is another. Jake Garrett finished at the Fort Wayne school two years ago.

In June, Bluffton, New Haven, Adams Central, Heritage and South Adams are among teams who play Monday and Wednesday doubleheaders to give returning players more reps.

Bluffton Youth Baseball has leagues from T-ball to Koufax division (ages 13-15). Area travel teams that attack Tigers include the Bluffton Bandits, Berne Bears and Summit City Sluggers.

Herrold is a sixth grade science teacher at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School. He and wife Andrea (a Fort Wayne Bishop Luers High School graduate) have two children — daughter Finlay (5) and son Hayden (3).

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Stacey Herrold and his Bluffton Tigers celebrate winning the Garrett Invitational in 2018.

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The Herrolds (clockwise from upper left): Stacy, Andrea, Hayden and Finlay. Stacy is head baseball coach at Bluffton (Ind.) High School and teaches sixth grade science at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School.

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Stacy Herrold enters his eighth season as a baseball coach at Bluffton (Ind.) High School in 2019. It will be his third as head coach of the Tigers.

 

Bock, Fremont Eagles eager to add to their baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fremont (Ind.) High School chased down an elusive sectional baseball championship in 2018.

Head coach Justin Bock saw the Eagles grab the program’s first sectional title since 2005, beating Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian 5-4 in the final of the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional.

Fremont (15-16) went on to lose 3-2 to Northfield in the championship game of the Caston Regional.

“We worked really hard to get that sectional trophy,” says Fremont head coach Justin Bock, who heads into his 22nd season in the program and 11th in charge in 2019.

Four-year starter Rhett Evans has moved on to Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich.

Bock expects the 2019 Eagles to be young and talented. The coach anticipates he will have one senior, but four returning starters. A couple of freshmen could find their way into the lineup. There could be as many as 30 players in the program, including 12 ninth graders.

It’s anticipated that senior center fielder Ethan Marten will be back for his third season as a Fremont starter.

Junior left-hander Mick Laisure (0.99 earned run average in 36 1/3 innings in 2008) and right-hander/right fielder Connor Kreis are supposed to return in 2019 as is sophomore lead-off man and second baseman Kameron Colclasure. As a pitcher, he was 5-0 with a 0.88 ERA in more than 24 varsity innings in 2018. He hurled a shutout against Fairfield and earned a relief victory against DeKalb.

“He throws three pitches with great control,” says Bock of Colclasure, who was awarded varsity letters in three sports as a freshman (football, basketball and baseball). He is expected to move over to shortstop in 2019.

Fremont, located in Steuben County in northeast Indiana, is a member of the 12-team Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview).

Each team plays the other once. There is also a blind-draw conference tournament in the middle of the season.

“It gives the kids a taste of what sectional is like,” says Bock. “It has a one-and-done tournament feel.”

The Eagles are in an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. Fremont is on the 1A/2A border and could go back up with the next realignment in 2019-20.

Bock has Fremont in the early-season Coldwater (Mich.) Invitational, an event that has the Eagles playing three games in one day.

“Our hitters get to see great pitching early in the year,” says Bock. “It gets us ready to see conference pitching.”

It also means Fremont could use as many as nine pitchers. This puts an emphasis on building pitching depth.

“It has become routine for us,” says Bock. “If we have you going through workouts, you will be on the mound.

“We can win by pitching to contact and playing good defense.”

The 2019 season will be the third of 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). Before that, pitchers were allowed 10 innings every three days.

“(The pitch count rule) has emphasized what we really believe,” says Bock, who used 11 different arms in varsity competition in 2018 with Evans has the most innings going into sectional play at 28, keeping him fresh. “We’re not afraid to throw guys.

“We have to work more on mixing pitches and pitching to contact. We can’t afford to walk people.”

This kind of approach to pitching has helped Bock and his coaching staff find some hidden gems over the years.

Bock’s 2019 assistants are Ron Colclasure, Dave Smith, Jim Burkhart and Chad Baker at the varsity level and Ian Burkhart with the junior varsity. Baker splits his time between Fremont and Glen Oaks, where his son Braxton Baker (the step-brother of Rhett Evans) went after Fremont.

Being a 1A school with about 300 students, Fremont is full of multi-sport athletes. This meant that many were busy during the fall practice window.

Bock says practice will begin in earnest in early January when pitchers and catchers report for pre-season workouts.

The high school program is fed by Fremont Youth League and a number of travel baseball organizations, including Hitters Edge, Kalamazoo Maroons, Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Sting. In the past, there have been players go with Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers.

“A lot of our kids go north because of how close we are to Michigan,” says Bock.

Fremont graduate and current Indiana Tech baseball standout Glen McClain played travel ball for the Kalamazoo Maroons.

A 1993 Fremont graduate after moving in from the Ann Arbor, Mich., area as a sophomore, Bock earned an English degree at Taylor University and master’s in education at Indiana Wesleyan University.

He spent 19 years at Fremont and is in his third year as an assistant professor and placement coordinator at Trine University in Angola, Ind.

Bock’s baseball coach at Fremont was Roger Probst, who led the Eagles on the diamond 1985-2007 and is now the school’s athletic director.

“He’s the most organized person I’ve ever been around,” says Bock of Probst. “He’s the best athletic director in the state and a clear communicator.”

Bock served as a Probst assistant for 11 seasons before taking over the baseball reins 2008.

A junior high football coach and varsity boys basketball assistant to Eagles head coach Craig Helfrich (as is Ron Colclasure), Bock says it makes sense for him to be a head coach in the spring.

“Baseball really suits my personality,” says Bock. “I enjoy the pace of the game and the time to reflect on how we want to respond to a situation.

“It’s much healthier for me to be a baseball coach.”

Justin and April Bock have two children — freshman Ethan and sixth grader Delaney. After 12 years at Angola Middle School, April Bock teaches sixth grade at Fremont Middle School, where Delaney Bock is a student. Ethan Bock is a tennis, basketball and baseball athlete at Fremont High School.

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Fremont (Ind.) High School baseball coaches celebrate with the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional trophy. They are (from left) Chad Baker, Jim Burkhart, Ian Burkhart, Ryan Allman, head coach Justin Bock, Ron Colclasure and Dave Smith.

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Fremont (Ind.) High School baseball seniors and head coach pose with the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional trophy. They are (from left) Zack Peele, Rhett Evans, head coach Justin Bock, Joe Molter, Seth McDowell and Evan Trusty.

 

Davis, Northfield Norse are positively bound for 1A Kokomo Semistate

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Promoting positivity, third-year Northfield Junior/Senior High School head baseball coach Clint Davis has the program one win from a return to the IHSAA state championship game.

The Norse (16-14) play Daleville (20-9) Saturday, June 9 in the IHSAA Class 1A Kokomo Semistate for the right to go to the State Finals at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Rather than dwelling on the failures of the game, the Norse are focused on the good.

“We’ve made a pretty good transition the last month or so of getting out the negative thoughts,” says Davis. “We think positive.”

Northfield, which is located in the Wabash County city of Wabash, Ind., had the community full of positive vibes when the coach Tony Uggen and the Norse won state championships in 2001 and 2012 and had a state runner-up finish in 2013 — all in 2A. Uggen is now back at alma mater Blackford.

Davis says it has been a fundamental approach that has gotten the Norsemen this far.

“We run the bases, throw strikes and swing at our pitches,” says Davis. “I’m not re-writing the book at all.”

Northfield’s top pitcher the past two seasons has been left-hander Blake Harner. The senior left-hander had 16 strikeouts and one walk in the Caston Sectional championship game against South Newton and 13’s and one free pass in eight scoreless innings in the Caston Regional semifinals against South Central.

Junior right-hander Nate Drancik started the regional championship game against Fremont — a contest won in walk-off fashion. Sophomore right-hander Jonah Truman was the winner in relief.

Leading hitters for the Norse are junior shortstop Chance Hartman, Harner, senior left fielder Matt Coe, senior second baseman/first baseman Jared Vigar and freshman third baseman and lead-off man Clayton Tomlinson.

Varsity assistants to Davis are Tory Shafer and Erik Hisner (who came over to Northfield after a decade at Whitko, including earning the Wildcats’ first sectional title in 2017). Junior varsity coaches are Stan Cox and Shane Vigar. The Norse had 27 players in the program this spring, playing on-campus at Winegardner Field.

Davis, who also serves as Northfield’s athletic director and has been kept extra-busy this week preparing his baseball team while looking to hire a new boys basketball head coach.

“It’s been a good busy,” says Davis.

Through his relationship with Andy McManama at the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne, where the Norse played early in the season, Davis and his teammate getting a chance to practice this week on the ASH Centre turf.

Kokomo Municipal Stadium also has an artificial surface.

Early in the week, Davis had not yet gathered too much information about Daleville. But he is familiar with Broncos head coach Terry Turner. They saw each other twice a year when Davis was at Marion High School and Turner was head coach at Anderson High School.

Davis came to Northfield after two seasons as head coach at Marion. In his second year, he helped the Giants to 12 victories — their highest total in more than a decade.

His focus was teaching patience along with general life lessons.

“Those guys bought in,” says Davis, who was an assistant to Dave Ginder at Fort Wayne Carroll and Mark Grove at Churubusco before his stint at Marion.

Northfield is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (along with Maconaquah, Manchester, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).

A 1996 Churubusco graduate, the thing that Davis noticed must about Grove was his temperament.

“His his personality is very even the whole time,” says Davis. “He didn’t get too high or too low. The kids fed off that.

“As you spend some more time in the game, you understand that it is a game of failure.”

Davis did not play college baseball. He did earn degrees in sports medicine and health education at Ohio Northern University, a minor in physical education at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and a master’s degree in administration from Ball State University. Before going into administration, he was a teacher.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

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Third-year Northfield High School head baseball coach Clint Davis (center) celebrates an IHSAA Class 3A Regional championship with varsity assistants Tory Shafer (left) and Erik Hisner.

 

Success follows Eastside’s Willard from softball to baseball diamonds

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Willard enjoyed plenty of success in his time as head softball coach at Eastside High School in Butler, Ind.

In 23 seasons, he Blazers softballers won 13 sectional titles (three in the IHSAA single-class era and five each in Class 1A and 2A).

When Jason Pierce left the head baseball post at Eastside and Aaron’s oldest son, Cade Willard, was a junior, he decided to take over the program.

In his second season (2017), the Blazers won the 2A Westview Sectional. Eastside did it again in 2018, besting Westview in the title game and earning a berth in the 2A Whiting Regional.

The Blazers (18-8) face Boone Grove in the second semifinal around noon CST (Hammond Bishop Noll plays South Adams at 10 a.m. CST) at Oil City Stadium. The championship is slated for 6 p.m. CST.

“Last year, we were built around pitching,” says Willard, who sent right-handers Cade Willard (redshirt at Fort Wayne), Conner Dove (Trine University), Jackson White (Franklin College) and middle infielder/closer Zach Orn (Ivy Tech Northeast) on to college baseball. They were among nine seniors. “A lot of those guys had played a lot of baseball.”

This year, the Blazers are not as experienced on the mound but have gotten the job done.

The staff is led by senior Chris Ballentine and also features juniors McGuire Jacobs, Nick Shewman, Chase Franz and Joe White and freshman Wade Miller. All but lefty Miller, who plays center field, are right-handers.

White is the team’s No. 1 catcher and joins Ballentine and Franz among Eastside’s most-productive hitters. The squad’s only other senior is first baseman Riley Thompson.

“Our guys have done a great job on the mound,” says Willard. “We’ve been solid defensively for the most part. The top of our order has been pretty good and we’ve now got some guys hitting in the bottom part.”

Eastside is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference. The NECC was led in 2018 by Angola (9-2) and Lakeland (9-2), followed by Fairfield (8-3), Westview (7-4), Eastside (7-4), Garrett (6-5), Fremont (5-6), Churubusco (5-6), West Noble (4-7), Prairie Heights (3-8), Central Noble (3-8) and Hamilton (0-11).

Willard’s assistant coaches are Tony Emenhiser, Garth Fiedler, John Gravante and Bryce Yoder.

The Blazers play their home games on-campus. The field has a wooden outfield fence and a few years ago, a net backstop was installed for clearer viewing by spectators.

A 1984 Eastside graduate, Willard went on to play baseball for four seasons at Huntington College (now Huntington University). His freshmen year was also the first in charge for head coach Mike Frame.

After receiving a physical education degree in 1989, Willard returned to Eastside and began teaching. He became athletic director and assistant principal in 1999 — positions he has held ever since.

Aaron and Terri Willard have three children — Madison, Cade and Owen. Madison Willard graduated this spring from Ball State University and is to marry Dalton Shetler in June. Owen Willard is an eighth grader.

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Eastside celebrates its second straight IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional baseball championship in 2018. Assistant coach Tony Emenhiser, seniors Caleb Ballentine and Riley Thompson and head coach Aaron Willard pose with the trophy.

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Eastside High School head baseball coach Aaron Willard (25) gets the bucket treatment from his team after they won the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional.

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The Eastside High School Blazers hoist the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional baseball trophy as head coach Aaron Willard (right) takes in the moment.

Isaacs in charge of a baseball ‘brotherhood’ with Lakeland Lakers

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Banding together as baseball brothers, the Lakeland High School program has enjoyed a turnaround in two seasons with Michael Isaacs as head coach.

“We call ourselves a brotherhood,” says Isaacs. “We’ve got a group of young men to believe in themselves and believe in each other.

“Our group is pretty loose. We’re not wound tight. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles the last couple years.”

The Lakers won a combined six games in 2015 and 2016. The first season under Isaacs (2017), Lakeland posted 10 victories.

Heading into three straight Northeast Corner Conference games — Tuesday vs. Hamilton, Wednesday at Churubusco and Thursday at Garrett — the 2018 LaGrange County-based Lakers were 16-5 and with two NECC setbacks tied in the loss column tied atop the standings with Angola.

The rest of the conference includes Central Noble, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview. Each team plays the other once and there is a midseason blind-draw tournament. Westview topped the Lakers 5-2 in the championship game this spring.

Lakeland is in the seven-team IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional along with Angola, Fairfield, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee and West Noble.

The Lakers play their home games on-campus. The field has received upgrades in recent seasons of new lights and re-worked dugouts.

There are 21 players in the Lakeland program, with some rotating between varsity and junior varsity as needed.

Two Lakers seniors have made college commitments — right-handed pitcher/first baseman Drew Grossman (Indiana Tech) and first baseman/designated hitter Tristan Witham (Cincinnati Christian). Juniors with college baseball aspirations are shortstop/right-handed pitcher Hunter Frost and catcher Kole Miller.

All three of Michael Isaacs’ sons are involved with the program. Oldest boy Britain, who was a Lakers catcher, is now an assistant coach. Then there’s senior Nolan and freshman Colton. The latter has rotated in enough to earn his letter in his first year of high school.

Isaacs’ other assistants are Todd Miller, Kevin Witham and Aaron Pieri.

A 1987 East Noble graduate, Michael Isaacs played high school baseball for coach Steve Nelson.

After going to Taylor University in Upland, Ind., to play football, he transferred to the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, with the idea of playing baseball. But that was the year the Saints temporarily dropped the sport.

Isaacs coached in the Noble/LaGrange Little League out of high school then took about a decade off and got back in when his sons came along.

Besides the Little League, which serves players ages 6 through junior high, some Lakeland players are involved with travel ball organizations such as Hitters Edge and the Indiana Chargers.

The 2018 season marks the second season for pitch count rules in IHSAA-sanctioned games (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).

“At first, I was very hesitant about it,” says Isaacs. “But then it was not that big a deal. We have mindset for the week of who we’re going to pitch how much we’re going to pitch them. It’s worked out pretty good.

“(The rule) makes you develop four or five pitchers which is good for everybody.”

With teams counting pitches, Isaacs has seen a change in the game. Instead of a pitcher using extra pitches trying to get strikeouts, he’s seen some of them aim for efficiency.

“There’s more of an emphasis on putting the ball in play and letting the defense do the work,” says Isaacs. “It’s something we’re trying to beat into (our pitchers’) heads.”

If Isaacs could change anything about Indiana high school baseball, he would tweak the class structure.

“Personally, I think the private schools should be separate,” says Isaacs, who coaches at a public school. “Now you’re tied to a class because of your size. I’d have public school divisions and the private schools could maybe a big division and small division.”

Isaacs is not an educator. He works in the recreational vehicle industry.  He is a mill room manager for Jayco’s Starcraft division in Topeka, Ind.

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Michael Isaacs (right) bumps fists with oldest son Britain Isaacs during a 2017 Lakeland High School baseball game. Michael Isaacs is in his second season as Lakers head coach in 2018. Britain is one of his assistants.