Tag Archives: Connor Wilkins

Bickel leads IUPUC Crimson Pride into first baseball season

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Athletic history is being made in Columbus, Ind.
Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus has been approved for NAIA status in 2022-23.
The Crimson Pride are up and running with three programs — baseball, softball and cross country — and more sports are planned.
The first official baseball practice was held Tuesday, Sept. 6 on the youth diamonds at CERA Sports Park & Campground in Columbus.
“The City of Columbus as a whole never had collegiate sports,” says Scott Bickel, IUPUC’s first head baseball coach. “We need Columbus and their business partners to support us for us to continue to grow.”
IUPUC is a sister school to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and offers Indiana and Purdue degrees at in-state tuition rates.
An independent pilot program that will not be eligible for NAIA postseason play in the first year, the IUPUC Crimson Pride hopes to get into an athletic conference — preferably the River States Conference (which includes national power Indiana University Southeast plus Indiana University-Kokomo and Oakland City University).
The baseball roster currently numbers 44 and the goal is 55 in order to have full varsity and junior varsity schedules.
“We want to give them an opportunity to compete for a position,” says Bickel. “We’re going to need to play at a highly-respected level to compete for conference championships.
“The main thing we have to do now is install everything. Everything is new to everybody.”
Former pitcher/outfielder Bickel was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star Series participant for Huntington North in 2006 and earned IHSBCA all-state honorable mention in both 2005 and 2006.
Among Bickel’s classmates and teammates were Chris Kramer, Andrew Drummond and Jarod Hammel. Kramer went on to play basketball at Purdue University and in the pro ranks. Drummond set offensive records at Huntington (Ind.) University. Hammel also played at HU and is in his second stint as Huntington North head baseball coach.
Bickel played two years each at Huntington North for Chad Daugherty and Russ Degitz (Chad’s younger brother Kyle Daugherty was an assistant) and Greg Roberts at the University of Saint Francis, an NAIA school in Fort Wayne.
Bickel is a first-time head coach with coaching experience as Roberts’ hitting coach for one season at Saint Francis (2016-17) and four campaigns at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne (2019-22) doing a number of things for head coaches Lance Hershberger and Connor Wilkins.
Others Ivy Tech coaches include Javier DeJesus (who gave pitching lessons to high schooler Bickel), Mark Flueckiger, Drew Buffenbarger, Benny Clark, Tony Gorgai, Jeff Griffith, Densil Brumfield and Seth Sorenson.
“I have Lance Hershberger to thank for taking a chance with me and offering me an opportunity to network with a great baseball town,” says Bickel. “I really grew my knowledge base from our relationships, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
In some way or other, Bickel says he has also been impacted by Brent Alwine (Indiana Tech and Indiana Summer Collegiate League)
Matt Brumbaugh (Fort Wayne Northrop), Patrick Collins-Bride (Indiana Tech), Mark Delagarza (Summit City Sluggers), Steve Devine (Indiana Tech), Rich Dunno (Ground Force Sports), Jason Garrett (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger), Zach Huttie (Indiana Tech/World Baseball Academy), Rick Davis (Strike Zone Training Center), Manny Lopez (The Diamond/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks), Kip McWilliams (Indiana Tech) and Mike Nutter (Fort Wayne TinCaps).
The 2017-18 Ivy Tech team — aka “The Dirty Dozen” for the 12 players left at season’s end — went 25-18 in that inaugural season. Bickel came along in 2018-19 and saw those players move on to four-year schools.
In 2017-18, Bickel was an assistant at Fort Wayne Snider High School. Marc Skelton and Bruce Meyer led the Panthers varsity and assistants included Tim McCrady and Josh Clinkenbeard (who is now Snider head coach).
The last two years, Bickel was a player-coach for the Richard Brown-owned Jackers, which qualified for the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series in both seasons.
While living in Colorado. Bickel met future wife Allie (the couple celebrates six years of marriage Oct. 15), started a business and played baseball.
Bickel holds degrees in Secondary Education for Mathematics and Mild Intervention from Saint Francis (2011) and a Masters of Athletic Administration and Coaching from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. (2021).
The IUPUC staff also includes pitching coach Zach McClellan (who is also the school’s Director of Athletics and a former big league pitcher), Mac Kido and Tyler Dunbar and is likely to expand.
Kido, a 2016 graduate of Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind., briefly attended Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., and has coached at Edgewood and travel ball at the Tier Ten Sports Campus in Spencer, Ind. He will coach Crimson Pride hitters.
Dunbar, a 2019 graduate of North Daviess High School in Elnora, Ind., played briefly at Hanover (Ind.) College and transferred to IUPUC to finish his degree in Elementary Education. He has coached travel ball for Demand Command. He will serve infield coach/assistant baserunning coach for the Crimson Pride.
“I’ll be mentoring and shepherding Coach Kido and Coach Dunbar the best I can,” says Bickel. “That’s a big goal for me.
“I want to give them the autonomy they need to be successful.”
Bickel will work with catchers and outfielders.
An exhibition game with Ivy Tech Northeast is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 8 at Fort Wayne’s Shoaff Park.
IUPUC is to open its 2023 season and play its first-ever games Feb. 10-11 against Huntington University in Tuscaloosa, Ala. New Foresters head coach Thad Frame is a 2004 Huntington North graduate, which means he was a Vikings senior when Bickel was a sophomore.

Scott Bickel. (Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Image)
(Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Image)
(Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Image)

Ivy Tech’s Smith honing two-way skills this summer in Kansas

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gage Smith grew up in the small town of Garrett, Ind.
The third baseman/right-handed pitcher is playing in another bantam burg this summer while playing for the Wellington Heat in Kansas Collegiate League Baseball.
“The community is close-knit and we have great group of guys here,” says Smith, a 2021 graduate of Garrett High School who has completed one season of college ball for the Connor Wilkins-coached Ivy Tech Northeast Titans in Fort Wayne.
Heat home games are played under the lights at Hibbs-Hooten Stadium in the seat of Summer County — Wellington. Road trips in the KCBL are as short as 30 minutes and as long as 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Wellington won the National Baseball Congress title in 2007 and were NBC World Series runners-up in 2013.
In his first eight games with the 2022 Heat, Smith is hitting .238 (5-of-21) with two home runs, four runs batted in and five runs scored. He has pitched in five games (all in relief) and is 0-0 with one save, a 2.70 earned run average, 11 strikeouts and two walks for 6 2/3 innings.
In 26 games at Ivy Tech in the spring, Smith hit .341 (29-of-85) with one homer, four triples, six doubles,15 RBIs and a .952 OPS (.411 on-base percentage plus .541 slugging average). The righty batter has also scored 16 runs and swiped 10 bases.
In four mound appearances (one start), Smith was 0-0 with a 4.91 ERA, nine strikeouts and four walks over 7 1/3 innings.
Smith does not wish to choose between infielder/hitter and pitcher as his favorite.
“I love both equally,” says Smith, 19. “I’d like to be a two-way for my whole career. I try to balance out the work with both positions.
“As a fielder my strength is putting it all on the line while backing my pitchers. At the plate, I try to spray it anywhere and be a tough out.”
While working with Ivy Tech pitching coach Javier DeJesus, Smith took the velocity on the four-seam fastball from 83 mph to 88 mph from the fall to the spring.
But Smith does not focus on speed.
“I try to be dominant on the mound,” says Smith. “I’m pitching in the (strike) zone and attacking hitters with their weaknesses.
“Every hitter has a tell about what he’s going to chase. The catcher will also help you with that.”
Throwing over the top, Smith has a 12-to-6 curveball and “circle” change-up and he has been working on a two-seamer.
Smith calls DeJesus “a pitching genius.”
“He’s been moving the ball around in our hand to get the best break we can on (pitches),” says Smith.
Another Titans hurler that has benefitted from working with DeJesus is Matt Peters, who is moving on to NCAA Division I Miami University (Oxford, Ohio).
“It was awesome playing with him,” says Smith of Peters, who throws the ball in the high 90’s. “We got to face him in live (at-bats).
“He made an impact on all of us.”
Smith has three Ivy Tech teammates at Wellington — Joel Deakins, Coby Griffith and Noah Matheson. Deakins is an outfielder, Griffith a pitcher and Matheson an infielder.
Another — Zach Green — plays for KCBL’s Park City Rangers as a catcher. Smith and Matheson are roomies with host family parents James and Jodie McCarthy.
“They are some sweet people,” says Smith. “They are willing to have people live there and care for them.
“It’s definitely more comfortable having (Ivy Tech mates) around.”
At Ivy Tech — an National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association Division II team — Smith has embraced the idea of a “JUCO Bandit.”
“I means you have some sort of grit to you. You’re dirtbags,” says Smith. “You train hard and play the game hard.
“That’s what a ‘JUCO Bandit’ means to me.”
Smith is in Kansas this summer and plans to return to Ivy Tech in the fall as a General Studies major with the idea of attracting a four-year school who will give him the opportunity to continue his baseball career.
Born in Fort Wayne, Smith grew up in Garrett and played about eight years at what is now Garrett Youth Baseball. The summers before and after his last high school season, he played for the Brett Ratcliffe-coached DeKalb County Thunder.
Ratcliffe was head coach at Garrett High in Smith’s freshman and sophomore years with Jason Richards leading the Railroaders in 2019-20 (the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and 2020-21.
“(Ratcliffe) was kind of an old school coach,” says Smith. “He taught me the basics of baseball and got me to where I wanted to play college baseball.
“(Richards) coached me in football in middle school. He was a guy I knew really well and could trust and depend on him.”
Gage’s parents are Pamela Smith and Chris Smith. He has a twin sister, Morgan Smith. Tori Smith is a few years older. Austin Carroll is second oldest sibling. Beau Carroll (who died in 2021 at 29) was the oldest.

Gage Smith (Ivy Tech Northeast Photo)
Gage Smith (Ivy Tech Northeast Photo)
Gage Smith (Ivy Tech Northeast Photo)
Gage Smith (Ivy Tech Northeast Photo)
Gage Smith with the Wellington (Kan.) Heat (R .Newberry Photo)
Gage Smith with the Wellington (Kan.) Heat (R .Newberry Photo)

Even though program’s slated to fold, Ivy Tech Northeast baseball moving forward

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ivy Tech Community College Board of Trustees voted 8-1 April 7 to discontinue athletics at the Northeast campus in Fort Wayne, Ind., after 2022-23.
Titans baseball (established in 2017-18 by Lance Hershberger) is moving forward with the 2022 season and is looking to the 2023 slate, which appears it will be the school’s last.
Ivy Tech Northeast is 15-18 heading into a doubleheader Saturday, April 30 at Indiana Tech JV. After that comes a May 3 twin bill at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College followed by a National Junior College Athletic Association Region XII sub-regional May 5 in Sandusky, Ohio. The Titans must win two games in the four-team single-elimination event featuring the Nos. 2-4 seeds from the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference to advance to regional play.
“I’m enjoying the public response and fight to keep the program,” says Ivy Tech head coach and dual-credit advisor Connor Wilkins, 29. “I’m doing my part. (The board is) pretty dead-set on not having athletics. It comes down to financials and Title IX (gender equity).”
Wilkins describes the mood of the team.
“There’s a little defiance there,” says Wilkins, a Fort Wayne native. “We’ll show you how good we are and lay everything on the line representing our college. It’s frustrating as a coach knowing what we’ve built as a program and serving the community.
“In my opinion, northeast Indiana needs a junior college program.”
The Fort Wayne campus is the only one in the statewide Ivy Tech system with sports. An Ivy Tech Northeast volleyball team folded when the coach left and players followed after the COVID-19 year.
There are currently three junior college baseball programs in the state — Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson and Vincennes (Ind.) University.
Ivy Tech’s 2022 baseball team has 38 players with 22 on-target to graduate from the two-year school this spring. Some of that number have indicated that they will come back for a third year (granted because of the pandemic).
Six players — right-handed pitcher Matt Peters (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School graduate) to NCAA Division I Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), twins outfielder Conner Beatty and catcher Alec Beatty (Augusta, Mich.) and catcher/outfielder Joel Deakins (Heritage) to provisional NAIA start-up Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, infielder Brayden Dockery (Continental, Ohio) to the NCAA D-II University of Indianapolis and Coby Griffith (Papillion, Neb.) to NAIA Huntington University — have made commitments to their next school and others are expected to make that announcement soon.
This summer, fireballer Peters is to play in the MLB Draft League. Other Ivy Tech players are bound for the Great Lakes, Jayhawk and Florida circuits plus the local Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League.
Two players whose only college offers coming out of high school were from Ivy Tech Northeast are Grant Lashure (now a starting catcher at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University) and Zach Haefer (a right-handed pitcher at NCAA Division II Davenport University in Grand Rapids).
There are also 13 recruits coming to the Titans in 2022-23.
“We still have next year,” says Wilkins. “The recruits are still coming. It’s a testimony to our staff that they wanted to develop and leave after that.
“We’re going to do right by them. It’s our job to get them on to four-year or two-year schools.”
Besides Wilkins, the 2022 coaching staff features Scott Bickel (who is heading to IUPUC as part of Crimson Pride head coach Zach McClellan’s staff), recruiting coordinator Drew Buffenbarger (a member of the “Dirty Dozen” — Ivy Tech’s first team and an assistant admissions director at the school), pitching coach Javier DeJesus and hitting coach Mark Flueckiger.
Without conference membership, the Titans schedule this spring has been on-the-fly and inclement weather has not helped. NJCAA Region XII has a rule that teams are not supposed to play when the “Real Feel” temperature dips to 35 degrees.
Ivy Tech Northeast plays home games at Shoaff Park. The diamond is owned by the city, but is maintained by coaches and players.
“We take care of it,” says Wilkins. “We mow it. We weed-and-feed. We do it as a team.”
Fundraisers and donors have made it possible to do things like laser-grading the infield.
“It was hard to get donations during the COVID year,” says Wilkins.
And if the Titans are heading into their final days, the coach wants them to go out with their heads held high, representing their institution and community.
Says Wilkins, “We’re going to finish it out and hopefully make them proud.”

Gavin Smith makes a throw at third baseball for Ivy Tech Northeast baseball.
Gavin Smith swings the bat for Ivy Tech Northeast baseball.

Ivy Tech Northeast right-hander Peters now hitting triple digits

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Peters has not only unlocked the door to pitching velocity, the Fort Wayne, Ind., right-hander has kicked the door in and the baseball world is taking notice.
The 6-foot-4, 215- pound sophomore at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne has been clocked as high as 101 mph.
There are seven to nine pro scouts at all of Peters’ mound starts.
He nows gets mentioned among the nation’s hardest throwers, including University of Tennessee righty Ben Joyce, who has fired it at 104 mph.
Peters was on the cover of Collegiate Baseball.
The first time 101 came was March 5 against Lincoln Trail College at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Peters did that again as recently as Monday, April 11 as the Titans played the Trine University junior varsity in Angola, Ind.
A Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) commit, Peters has made a significant jump since the summer of 2021. 
“I worked a lot on my mechanics last fall with Coach Javi,” says Peters. “When I got into my legs my arm slot came up (to mid to high three-quarter overhand).”
Ivy Tech pitching coach Javier DeJesus helped Peters reorganize his mechanics to make him move more efficiently.
“Matt has confidence in how his body moves,” says DeJesus. “He can trust himself to throw the crap out of the ball and just where to put it.
“The first (bullpen) pitch out his hand in the spring was 99 mph. I thought, ‘what did I just create?’”
DeJesus gauged Peters’ deliveries last Aug. 16 and the speediest pitch came in at 93 mph.
DeJesus, who was an All-American at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, pitched professionally for 10 seasons and has instructed many young arms, put his Titans hurlers — Peters included — through a grueling training program he created 15 years ago that he calls “Hell in the Cell.”
“It is just as bad as it sounds,” says DeJesus of the routine that includes plenty of medicine ball work, long toss and sprinting to increase explosiveness.
“You get your quick-twitch muscles going,” says Peters. “Coach Javi knows how to teach. He makes me think. He’s taught me a lot about the game.”
After about six weeks of training with DeJesus, Peters attended a fall junior college showcase at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Miami pitching coach Jeff Opalewski saw Peters blaze them in at 98 mph and signed the hurler for the Danny Hayden-led RedHawks in 2022-23.
Peters follows another gas-throwing Indiana native in Sam Bachman. The Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate was selected in the first round of the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft by the Los Angeles Angels.
Bachman and Peters were on competing travel teams when they were of that age.
A general studies major, Peters says he needs summer credits to complete his associate’s degree.
Peters has been assigned to the MLB Draft League’s Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), where ex-big leaguer Homer Bush is the manager, former 14-year major league lefty Ron Mahay in the pitching coach and Craig Antush the assistant pitching coach. That season begins
Besides DeJesus, Peters is also thankful for mentoring by Ivy Tech head coach Connor Wilkins and Titans assistant Scott Bickel.
“(Coach Wilkins) is great role model,” says Peters, 21. “He’s helped me become a more mature person. He is a great example.
“(Coach Bickel) was the person I really looked to when my parents (Matt and Laurie) got divorced.
“I’ve had a lot of people who’ve helped me. My brother (David Peters) has pushed me very hard.”
Matt is the youngest of three with sister Rachel being the oldest.
Drew Buffenbarger and Mark Flueckiger are also Ivy Tech coaches. The program was established by Lance Hershberger, who was head coach from 2018-21.
Because of the savings, Peters transferred to National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Ivy Tech from NJCAA D-I Hillsborough Community College (Tampa, Fla.) where he spent the spring of 2021 after being at NJCAA D-III Oakton Community College (Des Plaines, Ill.) in the fall of 2020. It was while throwing at an indoor facility during winter break that Peters was spotted and presented with the opportunity to play in Florida.
A starter for Ivy Tech, he was a reliever for the Hillsbourgh Hawks and Oakton Owls.
Peters did not pitch during the summer of 2020 and was with the College Summer league at Grand Park’s Snapping Turtles in 2021. Robb Wicks was the head coach.
At Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School, Peters was on the baseball team as a freshman, sophomore and senior and was cut as a junior.
“My flip of the switch was when I didn’t play on my Senior Night,” says Peters.
Then he graduated in 2019, he was 5-9 and 160 when he graduated then hit my growth spurt his year of college.
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Peters played for the Indiana Prospects at 11 and 12 then for Indiana Baseball Factory from 13 to 17. The latter team was coached and organized by his father. The Prospects were started by uncle Mark Peters. The organization once included cousin Dillon Peters, who is now a left-handed pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Matt Peters’ four-seam fastball has the most giddy up.
“I get a lot of arm-side run with the two-seamer,” says Peters. “My change-up is a slower version of my two-seamer with more depth.
“My slider is good because I can throw it hard and it still has depth.”
He threw one slider at 90 mph with the rest at 87 to 89 Monday at Trine.
DeJesus showed him grips let him try to execute.
“Matt has been an absolute joy to work with,” says DeJesus. “I have not called one single pitch of Matt’s
“Pitchers and catcher have to work together. That’s how the they learn the game. They get a feel what they’re doing and give me the feedback.
“A young man has a mind and he’s got to use it.”

Ivy Tech Northeast’s Matt Peters’ delivery in slow motion.
Matt Peters (Ivy Tech CC Northeast Photo)
Matt Peters in 2021 with the Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (CSL Photo)
Matt Peters on the front page of Collegiate Baseball.

Wilkins wants ‘selfless’ players at Ivy Tech Northeast

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s a team-first concept that Connor Wilkins is emphasizing as the new head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind.
In June, Wilkins took over the Titans program started by Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Lance Hershberger.
“Be a selfless player and put your team ahead yourself,” says Wilkins, who turns 29 in October. “It’s a team approach. It’s never individual goals. Are you willing to do what is necessary for your team to succeed even if you fail?”
Wilkins has this in mind when looking for players to compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II program.
“We are very strict about how we recruit,” says Wilkins. “We see how they interact with their parents and their teammates. We coach the entire person. The results on the ball field take care of themselves.”
With games and practices at Shoaff Park, Ivy Tech is currently engaged in fall ball. They have had six scrimmages and could wind up having as many as 28 — most of them on the road at such four-year schools as the University of Northwestern Ohio, Indiana Tech, Indiana Wesleyan University and Taylor University.
The Titans went 1-0-1 in the recent Puma JUCO Classic — a Prep Baseball Report showcase at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
There are nearly 40 players honing fundamentals and getting down the details of Ivy Tech’s offensive and defensive systems.
“We start working on things now so that come spring time their mechanics and bodies are locked in,” says Wilkins, who is working toward a Masters in Exercise Science and Wellness with a concentration in Fitness and Performance through Liberty University.
Wilkins’ assistant coaches are Scott Bickel, Drew Buffenbarger, Javier DeJesus and Mark Flueckiger. Buffenbarger was Ivy Tech’s first baseball captain. DeJesus, who played for the Fort Wayne Wizards, is the Titans pitching coach. Flueckiger, who played at Huntington College (now Huntington University), has high school and college coaching experience.
A 2011 graduate of Concordia Lutheran High School, catcher Wilkins played for Steve Kleinschmidt as Cadets freshman and his last three seasons for Hershberger.
Wilkins went to Rick Smith-coached NJCAA member Jackson (Mich.) College then transferred to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, where an L5 (fifth Lumbar Vertabra) injury on top of a preexisting back issue ended his playing days in the fall of 2013.
His original career path was to follow grandfather Harry Wallace’s footsteps and become a chiropractor before he got the teaching and coaching bug. Wallace (who died in 2006) practiced for 60 years around Ligonier and Fort Wayne.
Wilkins transferred from Indiana Tech to Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and changed his major to Secondary Education through Indiana University.
In the spring of 2014, he was on the baseball staff of Fort Wayne Northrop High School head coach Matt Brumbaugh.
Before becoming head coach and an advisor at Ivy Tech, Wilkinson spent three years at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, where he taught History, Health Sciences and Strength & Conditioning.
Connor is the youngest of Dan and Beth Wilkins’ four children after Danielle Molter (36), Matthew Wilkins (34) and Brianna Kompara (32). Dan Wilkins is a retired IT specialist at GTE (now Verizon) and Beth Wilkins is in customer service at Parkview Hospital Randallia.
Connor and wife Alana will celebrate three years of marriage in October. Alana Wilkins is a Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School graduate and an insurance underwriter. The couple have a daughter — Rey (2).

The Wilkins family (from left): Rey, Alana and Connor.
The Wilkins family — Matt, Alana and little Rey.

Hershberger’s Ivy Tech Titans fight way to 25-18 in inaugural season

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nobody said it would be easy — particularly Lance Hershberger — but Ivy Tech Community College Northeast completed its inaugural season in 2018 at 25-18.

For various reasons, the Fort Wayne-based Titans wound up the season with a roster of 14 — Alec Agler (Fort Wayne Northrop), Nick Bradley (Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran), Trey Bruce (East Noble), Drew Buffenbarger (Churubusco), Andrew Carpenter (Lakewood Park Christian), Drew Dobbels (Bellmont), Turner Gentry (Lexington, Ky.), Zack Haefer (East Noble), Deven Hill (Richmond, Mich.), Brandon Jencks (Churubusco), Zach Orn (Eastside), Noah Parish (Fort Wayne Concordia), Tyler Rickert (Leo) and Alex Vela (Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter) — and 12 able bodies.

There were no backups for position players. Rickert caught 18 straight games.

Head coach Hershberger, whose passion was captured by IndianaRBI.com last summer, calls them “The Dirty Dozen.”

“We fought tooth and nail and I give them all kinds of credit.,” says Hershberger. “They never made an excuse for it. I’d like to think that reflected the demands of their coaches. We didn’t cut them any slack.

“We were trying to get them to withstand all the things it was going to take to be successful with that few people.”

Ivy Tech, a two-year school, took the field as independents without conference affiliation.

Because of less-than-ideal meteorlogical conditions, Ivy Tech cobbled together a schedule that only slightly resembled the original 54-game sale.

“It wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on part way through the season because of the weather,” says Hershberger. “It got to the point that we’d play whoever. We had to go find people to play.”

The Titans wound up sending his squad against Kellogg (Battle Creek, Mich.) and Sinclair (Dayton, Ohio) — ranked Nos. 2 and 17, respectively, in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association Division II polls — a combined 10 times. “As the season went along, it got even tougher (to find games) because they found out we weren’t an easy win.”

Asked many times why they would choose to pick up games against the two toughest teams in Region 12, Hershberger had a ready answer.

“It was kind of house money because we can’t participate in the regional the first year,” says Hershberger. “But you can look across the diamond and see where you need to get to.

“When I was at Indiana Tech (1991-2002), we played as many (NCAA) D-I’s as would play us. That’s how you get better.”

It was a fun weekend for Hershberger. All but two of the players from the 1998 NAIA World Series runners-up came from all over the country to Fort Wayne for the Indiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame induction of the squad. The coach had the honor of introducing each of the Warriors.

“It was a great time,” says Hershberger.

He was back at Indiana Tech a few days later when Ivy Tech had a makeup game against Edison State (Piqua, Ohio) and Shoaff Park was occupied by Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School.

After the contest, Hershberger was admiring the championship banners his Indiana Tech teams had earned.

Then one of his Ivy Tech players came to the outfield to join him.

“He says, ‘Coach. Hey, I just want to tell you thanks for everything. I’d probably be dead if I wasn’t here playing for you.’ … He meant it. I could see it in his eyes. We started hugging and I started balling.

“I haven’t hugged and been told ‘I love you’ and said ‘I love you’ with so many grown men since the last couple of days.”

Full of emotion, Hershberger was so wound up after the final game that he and faithful dog Ryno just drove around town.

Hershberger had been coaching in high school and travel baseball with the Summit City Sluggers  the last few years, but had not coached college players since leaving Indiana Tech.

In his postgame remarks, Hershberger told his Titans, “I want to thank you for allowing me to get back into college baseball. That’s how I’m going to remember this group.

“I told (assistants Dru Sebastian and Benny Clark) that they’re young coaches and may coach another 30 years,” says Hershberger. But they may never get so much out of a team. We finished with 12 players.”

Connor Wilkins is also an assistant coach. Part-time help comes from Jim Cahill and Tony Georgi, mostly in the area of community outreach in the Urban Initiative Program that Hershberger and company run through Community Impact Zone/Strike Zone Training.

Hershberger had let those that were there at the beginning of the year know that the standards were set high.

Players reported three days at week at 6 a.m. for workouts at Optimum Performance Sports. There was practice every day after school and three nights of study table each week.

It was too much of a commitment for some and they didn’t stay.

“They said, wait a second. This isn’t LSU, it’s Ivy Tech,” says Hershberger. “But you’ve got to start the expectations.”

A history buff, Hershberger borrowed a page from Sam Houston and the line in the sand during the fight for Texas independence in the 1830’s.

Wielding a sword from the school mascot, Hershberger came to practice and drew his own line.

“Step across if you’re buying into this. If you’re not, get out of here,” says Hershberger of what he told his players that day. “We’re going to move forward with this.”

Hershberger knows that he can be polarizing and is unapologetically old school. He frequently quotes former University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler: “Those who stay will be champions.”

“Difficult. Hard. Demanding. Being in good physical shape. No excuses,” says Hershberger. “Those aren’t bad words in our program.

“That’s not for everybody. I don’t think it’s antiquated either.

“I tell recruits that there isn’t a whole lot of gray area. It’s black-and-white. You either buy in or you don’t.

“The worst thing you can say about a coach is, ‘Oh, he’s OK.’ There are too many kids sleepwalking though life. You need to be passionate about what you’re doing. If they say ‘he’s a horse’s patoot’ at least he’s passionate about it.”

Hershberger tells recruits and our players that the goal is to get to Enid, Okla., and win a national championship .

“That’s not hot air,” says Hershberger. “That’s what we want to do and that’s extremely difficult.

“The standard that they’re held to is the perfect game. You seek perfection and settle for greatness. The less mistakes you make, the better chance you have of winning a national championship.

“There’s going to be demands put upon you. You’re going to be challenged. That’s where we’re coming from.”

Hershberger doesn’t expect his teams to win every game, but he insists they play the game the right way.

“The selling point to me about junior college baseball is that you get to teach the game,” says Hershberger.

Looking to 2018-19, Ivy Tech has signed 17 new recruits to put with the 14 who intend to come back for their second and final season.

Ivy Tech could be independent again or find a home in the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference.

Fundraising efforts are needed to bring an on-campus stadium that would be shared with Dwenger. Hershberger says the Titans could go back to Shoaff Park or find a home at the Ash Centre.

Whatever happens with Ivy Tech with Hershberger in charge, one thing is certain:  It won’t be easy.

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Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne finished its inaugural baseball season in 2018 with 14 on the roster and wound up 25-18. (Ivy Tech Photo)

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Ivy Tech baseball coaches from left: Head coach Lance Hershberger and assistants Benny Clark, Dru Sebastian and Connor Wilkins. The Fort Wayne-based Titans just concluded their first season with a 25-18 record. (Steve Krah Photo)

Hershberger pouring baseball passion into new Ivy Tech Northeast community college program

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Twice in a lifetime.

Lance Hershberger is starting another college baseball program in his native Fort Wayne.

Hershberger, who turns 62 Friday, June 9, built the Indiana Tech program from the ground up (1991-2003) and took the Warriors to multiple NAIA College World Series trips.

Now, Hershberger is heading up the new squad at Ivy Tech Northeast — the third community college baseball program in Indiana, following Vincennes University and Ancilla College. It also brings the number of Indiana college programs at all levels to 36.

Hershberger and his assistants — Connor Wilkins, Dru Sebastian, Todd Armstrong and and Mark DeLaGarza — are currently on the recruiting trail for the Ivy Tech Northeast Titans, which will field a team in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II in 2017-18. Teams are allowed to play 56 spring games with more contests in the fall.

Hershberger would like to carry about a 25 players the first year. That’s a minimum of four outfielders, three middle infielders, four corner infielders, three of four catchers and as many pitchers as he can get.

“If we get 100 kids in here for visits, we’ll meet our 25,” says Hershberger. “The excitement level’s there.”

As an NJCAA D-II school, Ivy Tech Northeast is eligible to provide athletic scholarships limited to tuition, books, fees, and course required supplies. The school is researching the possibility of joining a conference in the region.

Hershberger, who was inducted last weekend into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame and coaches the Summit City Sluggers 16U travel team which includes son Grant (daughter Maddie just graduated from Homestead High School), is educating folks about community college baseball.

“I think there’s really a place for a JUCO here in northern Indiana,” says Hershberger. “In Indiana there’s a big void of knowledge about junior college. A lot of players think it’s a step down (from NCAA Divisions I, II and II and NAIA).

“You go south and you go west and they understand what they’re about.”

Hershberger, a Wawasee Prepatory School and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne graduate (he also attended the University of Saint Francis) who has also coached high school ball at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Whitko and with the Wildcat Baseball League, lists some of the main reasons a player chooses a junior college:

1. His grades weren’t good enough to go to a four-year school.

2. Maybe he was drafted and didn’t get the round or the money he wanted and doesn’t want to wait until after his junior year to get drafted again.

3. He’s not big enough yet or needs to work on his skills.

The top two objectives when Hershberger was flying high at Indiana Tech were compete for the national championships (during Hershberger’s tenure, the Warriors won 407 games and were NAIA World Series runner-up in 1998 and a fifth-place finisher in 2003 as well as a World Series participant in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 ) and send players on to the professional ranks.

While winning is important, development and getting a player ready for the next level will be the top priorities at Ivy Tech Northeast.

“Every program I run or am coaching for is going to compete we want to win,” says Hershbeger. “But we’re going to get kids ready.”

Hershberger (Kansas City Kansas), Wilkins (Jackson of Michigan) and Sebastian (Owens of Ohio) all played community college baseball. Hershberger is excited that Ivy Tech Northeast chancellor Jerrilee Mosier once worked at Allen Community College in Iola, Kan., which is in the same conference at KCK.

“She gets it,” says Hershberger of Mosier. “She knows what it takes.

“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right or I’m not in. You can be a great coach at the college level, but if you don’t have the resources to get players it doesn’t matter.”

State Representative Bob Morris has also helped make baseball at Ivy Tech Northeast a reality.

Hershberger notes all the ties to northeast Indiana with the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College team that won the 2017 NJCAA Division II World Series.

Assistant coach Bryce Shafer (Northfield High School) played for the Sluggers, Valparaiso University and in the Chicago Cubs organization. KCC’s 2017 roster included Logan Gallaway (Fort Wayne Bishop Luers), Noah Hoeffel (Fort Wayne Bishop Luers), Devin Peters (Churubusco), Pancho Luevano (West Noble), Waylon Richardson (West Noble) and Brennan Kelly (Southwood) plus Indiana products Benjamin Clevenger (Carmel) and Caleb Matthews (RoncallIi).

“We hope to keep some of (the local talent) home,” says Hershberger, “We would eventually like to recruit nationally, but I don’t think we can every forget that we are a community college.”

The NCAA D-I College World Series is slated for June 17-27/28. Hershberger promises that the eight teams in Omaha will have rosters with plenty of players from junior colleges.

Hershberger signed on at Indiana Tech in late July, meaning that it was too late in the recruiting cycle to bring in much talent and the first squad went 0-23.

“I think it better positioned starting out than Indiana Tech was,” says Hershberger. “People find that hard to believe because they look at the stadium down there (at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Anthony Road) which I designed. They see the end product.”

All that happened over time. When Indiana Tech was national runners-up in 1998, the Warrior Field had one set of bleachers behind a chain link backstop (most fans sat on the berm), wooden bleachers and the “press box” was a card table with scoreboard controller.

“There’s going to be bumps,” says Hershberger of the Ivy Tech Northeast program. “There’s going to be naysayers. Indiana Tech was the same way.

“(Baseball) put vibrancy into that school. We’re hoping to do it again.”

As he does with all his other baseball ventures, Hershberger is bringing passion and “ridiculous attention to detail.”

He has already been checking on the facilities at Ivy Tech Northeast’s North and South campuses, picked out “old school” green and white uniform designs, met with planners on a baseball stadium (the Titans are likely to play home games at Shoaff Park until a field can be constructed on the north campus behind the Innovation Center on Stellhorn Road), talked with local patrons about funding and on and on.

“I’m really busy,” says Hershberger. “I’m really tired. But it’s a good tired. I’m really fulfilling what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m involved in all kinds of baseball stuff in Fort Wayne.

“It’s what I do. I’m a baseball coach, a baseball guy.”

Besides getting Ivy Tech baseball up and running, he’s also the executive director of Community Impact Zone, a non-profit organization that is partnering with groups like Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana and the Euell Wilson Center bring the game to intercity kids at Fort Wayne’s Strike Zone Training Center, 4141 N. Clinton.

Ivy Tech will also do its indoor workouts at the facility.

“It’s a been a dream of mine for a long time, this urban initiative,” says Hershberger. “I don’t want to walk away from it right when I’m finally getting it going. I don’t want kids to limit their options or their horizons. I want them to look at baseball as a viable option for college and beyond.

Many area high schools have already volunteered to the Community Impact Zone instructors.

Hershberger is working with urban leaders to get young adults from the community to observe his coaches so they can take knowledge back to their neighborhoods and maybe rejuvenate local youth leagues.

“I love teaching the game,” says Hershberger.

He does that for players from college age on down to kindergartners.

Baseball. It’s what he does.

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Lance Hershberger has been involved in many baseball ventures in his hometown of Fort Wayne in his 62 years. The latest include the new Ivy Tech Northeast community college program along with Community Impact Zone. (Steve Krah Photo)