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Building a winning culture a priority for Ambrose, Heritage Christian Eagles

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In more than two decades guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Ambrose has learned that the X’s and O’s are important.

But in the last decade of so, Ambrose has begun to place his emphasis on building and maintaining a winning culture. He wants opponents to notice the way his Eagles go about warming up, how they hustle on and off the field and how they treat each other.

“That’s a big part of my coaching now,” says Ambrose. “I want to have a culture that is strong and healthy.”

The 2019 season will mark Ambrose’s 23rd at Heritage Christian School on the northeast side Indianapolis. He spent his first two seasons as junior varsity coach. Before that, the Cleveland, Ohio, native spent three seasons at Heritage Christian in Milwaukee.

Ambrose’s Indy-based program has won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) while always being competitive in the Circle City Conference (which along includes 3A Brebeuf Jesuit, 2A Covenant Christian, 3A Guerin Catholic, 3A Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and 4A Roncalli).

Heritage Christian (a pre-kindergarten through senior school with a current enrollment about 460 in the top four grades) has appeared in the last three city championship games against Indianapolis Cathedral, winning once.

Ambrose, who also teaches social studies at the high school level, has used different key words over the years and currently centers his team philosophy around the acronym E-A-G-L-E-S.

E — Each other.

A — Attitude.

G — God first.

L — Little things are Big things.

E — Effort.

S — Service to others.

The idea is to be both competitive between the while lines while still embracing and displaying Christian values.

“If you don’t care about winning, it’s easy,” says Ambrose. “But can i hold onto to my Christian character traits in the midst of an intense competitive situation?”

Ambrose had this in twins David and Ryan Ledbetter, who helped Heritage Christian to a football state title in the fall of 2008 and baseball state championships in the spring of 2009 and 2010.

First acquainted with the Lebetter boys as junior high youth group members at church, Ambrose later got to coach them when they transferred from Hamilton Southeastern to Heritage Christian after their sophomore year.

The Eagles go on a Dominican Republic mission trip every other year and the Ledbetters went that first year and bonded with their new teammates.

“We were a good team without them,” says Ambrose. “We were a great team with them.

“They were the icing on the cake.”

Both twins went to Cedarville (Ohio) University — Ambrose’s alma mater — and then pitched in the Texas Rangers organization. Ryan pitched through 2016, David through 2018.

“They were high energy, which can drive a coach crazy,” says Ambrose of the Ledbetter twins. “But I’d much rather pull back on a thoroughbred than kick a mule.

“They added that winning edge. Their teammates loved them.”

Team building is also done through a World Series party (scheduled for Friday, Oct. 26) and a leadership retreat for juniors and seniors and other events.

Looking ahead to the 2019 season, Ambrose sees a young team with plenty of freshmen and sophomores in the mix. The Eagles will field two high school teams — varsity and junior varsity.

With Rob Barber going to part-time status, he is looking for another top varsity assistant to pair with Nick Hibner, who is also head JV coach. Gary Vaughan is a JV assistant. Bryan Baker heads up the middle school program (Grades 7-8) with help from Jonathan Baker and Travis Willman.

Ambrose does have a veteran returning in Cooper Williams. The senior right-hander has already verbally committed to Xavier University in Cincinnati.

In order to get him used to being a college closer, Ambrose is thinking of using Williams in short starting stints of about 35 to 50 pitches, where he can use all his arsenal in the first inning if he so chooses.

Circle City Conference games are played at Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series. CCC coaches have been talking about adding an end-of-season conference tournament.

With the help of director of athletics Michelle York, Ambrose builds a non-conference schedule that includes as many sectional opponents as possible (HC is grouped with Eastern Hancock, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Irvington Prep Academy, Knightstown and Triton Central) plus neighboring rival Park Tudor as well as Faith Christian, Liberty Christian and Traders Point Christian.

Dan Ambrose graduated from Parma (Ohio) Senior High School in 1989, where he played for varsity coach Conrad Pokorski and JV coach Tim Tomc (who later took over the Redmen varsity).

Ambrose credits Tomc for teaching him the importance of an organized, focused practice.

“Baseball wasn’t just taking BP while people stood in the outfield,” says Ambrose. “(Tomc) was very structured.”

A full-squad Heritage Christian practice usually features multiple stations with players doing something different at each one.

“Every minute, every kid is doing something,” says Ambrose. “(Baseball coaches) gained a lot from football coaches. With so many kids in football, you have to be organized.”

During the fall, Ambrose had about eight or 10 players two hours two days a week to get in individual skill work while others were occupied with a fall sport. The same will be true in the winter, when the IHSAA practice window re-opens the first week of December.

“I encourage guys to play another sport,” says Ambrose.

Heritage Christian plays its game on-campus. A few years ago, a clubhouse was built near the baseball field and the net backstop — higher than the previous fence — was added last year.

“We lose a lot of foul balls in the neighborhood,” says Ambrose, who raises money for the upgrades through donations, the sale of hats and the Heritage Christian Youth Baseball League.

Started about a dozen years ago, the league for pre-K through fourth grade meets twice a week in the summer on the HC softball field. It is coach-pitch and score is not kept.

“My main goal is to allow kids to get a taste of baseball and realize how fun it can be,” says Ambrose. “If I’ve them them well and they keep playing, I hope they’ll come back to me in the seventh grade.”

Most seasons, the majority of Heritage Christian’s high school players take part in summer travel baseball.

“There’s a big difference when a kid plays the game all summer long,” says Ambrose. “His instincts are better.”

Dan and Amy Ambrose (a Brownsburg, Ind., native who went to Bethesda Christian) have three baseball-playing sons.

Jadon Ambrose is a freshman at Cedarville. Seth Ambrose is a 6-foot-6 sophomore first baseman. Will Ambrose is in the sixth grade.

Coaching for USAthletic (a travel organization started by Barber), Ambrose began coaching Jadon in the summers when he was in junior high and plans to do the same with Will’s 12U team next summer.

Ambrose’s rule of thumb with travel ball is one out-of-town tournament per season.

Heritage Christian graduate Joey Butz is also joined the college baseball world with Huntington (Ind.) University.

DANAMBROSE

Dan Ambrose is the head baseball coach at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis. His Eagles have won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) during his tenure. (Heritage Christian School Photo)

 

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Son of former Bethel coach Hutcheon now in Indians organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dane Hutcheon has found himself on Indiana soil again this summer — in two different professional baseball uniforms.

Hutcheon, the son of former Bethel College head baseball coach Mike Hutcheon, played for the independent Lake Erie (Ohio) Crushers at Evansville in July.

Now back in affiliated ball with the Lake County (Ohio) Captains in the Cleveland Indians organization, Dane has been taking to the diamond during the current series in Fort Wayne.

Hutcheon recently turned 24, but he was just 7 and the team batboy when the Bethel Pilots ventured from Mishawaka, Ind., to Celina, Ohio, and won the 2002 National Christian College Athletic Association national championship.

Mike Hutcheon, who had been a graduate assistant at Mississippi State University under Hall of Fame coach Ron Polk (1988-89), led Bethel for four seasons (2000-03) then went back to his native Colorado and was head coach at Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs for seven seasons (2004-10) and later three at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood for three (2014-16).

Dane Hutcheon was born in McKinney, Texas and moved with his family to Jackson, Miss., when his father became head baseball coach at Belhaven University, a post he held for five seasons (1995-99) before going to Bethel.

While in northern Indiana, Dane played at what is now known as Harris Baseball Softball in Granger.

A 2013 graduate of Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, where he played for Glenn Millhauser, Dane played college baseball at the University of Montevallo (Ala.) for Chandler Rose (who was an assistant to Mike Hutcheon at Air Force).

“In a way it was like playing for my dad,” says Dane Hutcheon of his time with Rose. “To this day, he’s one of my mentors.

“(Millhauser) was another great guy. I’ve had a lot of luck with coaches.”

After three seasons at Montevallo (2014-16) where he played shortstop and hit .310 with three home runs, four triples, 30 doubles, 83 runs batted in, 132 runs scored and 28 stolen bases, Dane Hutcheon was selected in the 29th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.

Hutcheon played for the Short Season Class-A Gulf Coast League Twins in parts of 2016 and 2017 and also with the High-A Fort Myers Miracle in 2017.

The Twins released him in March 2018 and he hooked on with Lake Erie, where he hit .305 with three homers, 29 RBIs and 16 stolen bases as a Frontier League all-star and caught the attention of an Indians scout.

The lefty-swinging 5-foot-9, 177-pounder then moved his base of operations from the west side of Cleveland to the east. His first game with Lake County in the Low Class-A Midwest League was Aug. 21. In his first nine games with the Captains, he hit .300 with nine singles, three RBIs and one stolen base.

“Every one in awhile I squeak a home run out but, other than that, I do whatever I can to try to help the team,” says Hutcheon. “I wasn’t always the fastest or never really had any power (as a youngster). But as I got older and filled out body, things happened in the way they did.

“I was kind of a late bloomer in a way.”

A shortstop in college and second baseman in the Twins system, he has been used at third base so far this summer.

“I have a decent arm and I’m able to move,” says Hutcheon. “It’s been awesome to play other positions. I get to see how it all works.”

Throughout his baseball career, Mike Hutcheon has been Dane Hutcheon’s rock.

“My dad has always been that guy that I could go to if things are going good or bad,” says Hutcheon. “He tells me that there’s so much more than life than just the game. It’s helped me relax. He’s always there to give me pointers. He keeps me strong in my faith. He’s just a great guy to have as a mentor.

“He’s always just a phone call away to help put things into perspective and calm me down when I need it.”

Mike and Laura Hutcheon have four children — Manie, Dane, Gigi and Hal. Dane’s older sister works in Arizona. His younger sister is in college. His younger brother is a baseball player at student at Discovery Canyon Campus High School in Colorado Springs. Laura Hutcheon is the cheerleading coach at Air Force.

“We’re a family full of athletes,” says Dane Hutcheon.

DANEHUTCHEON

Dane Hutcheon, son of former Bethel College baseball head coach Mike Hutcheon, recently joined the Lake County (Ohio) Captains of the Cleveland Indians organization. Dane was a youngster when his father’s 2002 Bethel team won a National Christian College Athletic Association national championship. (Steve Krah Photo)