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‘Small ball’ one way Stotts, Borden Braves achieve small-school baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Being consistently competitive on the baseball field at a small school is no small feat.

Head coach Eric Stotts has found a way to make the Braves of Borden High School (enrollment just over 200) into a program to be reckoned with around southern Indiana.

Fielding just a varsity team with about 12 to 14 players, the IHSAA Class 1A Braves have faired well against a schedule that is full of larger schools, including 4A’s Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour and 3A’s Corydon Central, North Harrison, Salem and Silver Creek.

“Aside from conference, we have only one 1A opponent,” says Stotts. “It’s the nature of the beast where we’re located.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a modest amount of pitching depth for a 1A high school.”

One way Borden dealt with the new 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) last spring was to sometimes lift pitchers at the front of the rotation early in games and go back to them later if needed.

“Everybody’s dealing with it,” says Stotts. “With 12 kids on a baseball team, our arms are limited.”

In 2017, Borden went 16-7 and might have gotten to the 20-win plateau if not for some rainouts that never got made up.

Lanesville edged Borden 1-0 in the championship game of the 1A South Central (Elizabeth) Sectional. The Eagles went on to hoist the 2017 state championship trophy a year after beating Borden 4-1 in the Lanesville Sectional final then going on to be 2016 1A state runner-up.

“We have see-sawed back and forth (with Lanesville),” says Stotts, who has led  Borden baseball 2000-07 and 2015 to the present. “We gave them the toughest game in their state tournament run both years.”

Because of the IHSAA success factor, Lanesville will move up to 2A in 2018. That leaves Christian Academy of Indiana, New Washington, Shawe Memorial, South Central (Elizabeth) as potential sectional foes for Borden.

Borden will still meet up with Lanesville. They are both members of the Southern Athletic Conference (along with Crothersville, Henryville, New Washington and South Central).

If SAC schools meet twice during the season, the first one counts toward the conference standings. Crothersville (about a 50-minute trip) is the furthest SAC school from Borden.

Borden, Henryville and Silver Creek are all part of West Clark Community Schools.

With the help of full-time assistants Sam Beckort and Eric Nale and part-timers Kyle Kruer (Indiana University Southeast student) and Dawson Nale (University of Southern Indiana student), the Braves go into 2018 with a trio of seniors that have been starters since Stotts came back to the program in 2015 — catcher/shortstop/pitcher Lucas McNew (a USI commit), first baseman/utility player Cory Anderson and outfielder Noah Franklin.

Having seen him speak at clinics, Stotts has incorporated some infield drills taught by USI head coach Tracy Archuleta.

Stotts draws on the influence of a real diamond veteran. The 1993 Clarksville High School graduate played for the Generals and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Wayne Stock, who taught lessons of dedication and commitment.

“Coach Wayne threw every pitch of batting practice,” says Stotts. “He was a wonderful man and a wonderful mentor.

“I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet. I’m now a coach and social studies teacher. That’s exactly what he was. No one outside my family was more influential on me.”

Stotts recalls the words of the late Billy Graham: “A coach will impact more people in a season than the average person does in a lifetime.”

“I firmly believe that,” says Stotts, who is father to Jonathan (22) and Zane (15).

As for strategy, Stotts says Stock was not a fan of the bunt. It took Stotts some time to learn how effective “small ball” can be.

“Now that has become a main weapon in any high school coach’s arsenal,” says Stotts.

As an assistant to Larry Ingram at Eastern (Pekin) High School in 1999, Stotts saw the Musketeers lay down up to a dozen bunts a game.

“You can have a lot of success with it,” says Stotts. “Getting the ball down means somebody (on defense) has to make a play.”

Before the BBCOR era, Stotts might have multiple long-ball hitters in his lineup. He can’t count on power now.

“Everybody can bunt — slow, fast, whatever,” says Stotts.

Stotts began his coaching career in youth leagues while he attended IU Southeast. He was freshmen coach on Chris McIntyre’s staff at New Albany in 1998.

McIntyre was a student teacher at Clarksville when Stotts was still in school.

“Coach Mac is a great old-school kind of coach,” says Stotts. “His teams do things the right way.”

One of Ingram’s products at Eastern (Pekin) was Brad Pennington. Drafted in 1989, the 6-foot-5 left-hander went on to pitch five seasons in the majors with the Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, California Angels and Tampa Bay Rays.

Like tennis, track and softball, Borden has its baseball facilities about a mile from campus.

The baseball field does not have lights. But fencing and other equipment was replaced after a low-grade tornado tore through last season.

Upgrades last year at Borden Youth League meant that junior high age players no longer had to share the high school diamond.

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Eric Stotts gets a point across to his Borden High School baseball team. He has led the Braves in two different stints — 2000-2007 and 2015 to the present. (Greg Mengelt/News and Tribune Photo)

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Borden High School baseball players listen intently to head coach Eric Stotts. The 1993 Clarksville High School graduate is in his second stint with the Braves. (Joel Ulrich/News and Tribune Photo)

 

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Things continue to look up for Bayes, Austin Eagles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Bayes played on the team that made the deepest postseason run in school history.

Less than a decade later, he found himself as the head baseball coach of the Austin High School Eagles.

With Jeff Barrett as head coach, Austin (located in southeastern Indiana) earned its second-ever sectional crown in Bayes’ sophomore year (2006).

In his senior season, Bayes was part of the 2008 Austin squad that went 30-3 and won the school’s lone IHSAA Class 2A regional title to date and made its first semistate appearance.

The Eagles’ two regular-season losses came against 4A schools (Floyd Central and Seymour). The run ended with a 9-6 loss in 10 innings against Elwood. Austin was down 6-1 in the seventh inning before forging a tie and forcing extra frames.

“A lot of good memories were made,” says Bayes. “I’m going to get together with that group of guys over the holidays to celebrate 10-year anniversary of that (2008) team.”

A left-handed pitcher, Bayes spent one season at NCAA Division I Indiana State University in Terre Haute before transferring to NCAA Division II Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky.

Austin is located 35 miles north of Louisville.

Lindsay Meggs was the head coach at ISU during Bayes’ stay while he played two seasons for Deron Spink and one for Matt Tyner at Bellarmine.

Meggs (who is now head coach at the University of Washington) helped Bayes see the game at an in-depth level. Bunt defenses and the way of holding runners was more advanced as was the sign systems.

That has come in handy at Austin.

“We like to challenge our guys to have that high baseball I.Q.,” says Bayes, who also picked up more strategy from Spink while also observing his leadership style. “(Spink) was hard-nosed. He recruited the right kind of guys that wanted to play hard for him and for one another.”

Bayes appreciated the intensity that Tyner (now head coach at Townson University) and pitching coach Brandon Tormoehlen (now head coach at alma mater Brownstown Central High School) brought to the Bellarmine Knights.

“They had a lot of fire and passion,” says Bayes of Tyner and Tormoehlen. “For me, I like that side of it.”

Besides those traits, Bayes learned about the use of scouting reports.

Bayes joined the Barrett-led Austin coaching staff in 2012-13 and spent two campaigns as an assistant.

“I was very fortunate to inherit the program,” says Bayes. “(Barrett) laid a very solid foundation for Austin baseball. I can’t say enough of what he did for Austin.”

Since 2002, the Eagles have produced four Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series players — Shawn Barrett (2002), Matt Bayes (2008), Hunter Spencer (2014) and Tanner Craig (2017). At least one Austin player has signed or committed to play college baseball since 2014, including Craig with the University of Evansville.

“That’s pretty good for a 2A school,” says Bayes. “If guys want to play in college we want to help them get there.”

Austin (current enrollment just under 400) is a member of the Mid-South Conference (along with Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek).

Each of the 10 teams in the MSC play one another once with conference games on Mondays and Thursdays.

Bayes says there is a plan when plotting non-conference opponents.

“We’re lucky that our administration is very in-tune with what we want to do from a scheduling standpoint,” says Bayes. “We want to be a challenged, but we want to be competitive, too. We have to consider our pitching.”

The 2017 season marked the first with new IHSAA pitching rules (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).

“It definitely makes you develop a staff throughout the season,” says Bayes of the rule.

With postseason games coming so close together, Bayes says coaches must make some hard decisions when their pitchers get close to threshold.

On their way to a 2017 Austin Sectional title, right-hander Drew Buhr pitched an eight-inning perfect game in the Eagles’ tournament-opening 1-0 win against North Decatur. In so doing, he went over the 100-pitch mark and was not available the rest of the sectional.

Buhr (17 innings in 2017) is expected back for his junior season in 2018.

“We lost quite a bit from last year,” says Bayes, who had five or six seniors in the starting lineup much of the time last spring. “I like our group of guys this year. I’m confident they can have a good spring.”

Bayes is figuring out who will join him on the coaching staff. Last year was are in that Austin got to play a full junior varsity schedule.

The Eagles play on-campus on a field that includes a brick backstop with netting. A scoreboard was added a few years ago and the program has a indoor building with locker rooms, coach’s office and a concession stand. The efforts of the parents and booster club have made it possible.

“We’re pretty proud of our facility here,” says Bayes. “For a 2A school, we’re blessed with outstanding facilities.

“In our part of the state, a lot of schools have really started making an investment in their baseball facility. A lot of kids are interested in baseball.”

The baseball backers include Bayes’ family — father Gordon, mother Kathy and sister Mandy (who is married to Austin girls basketball coach Jared Petersen).

“My parents are huge supporters of me and Austin baseball,” says Bayes. “I have a vision of what I want to do and my dad makes it happen.”

Matt Bayes teaches computers to sixth, seventh and eighth graders and helps in the athletic department at Austin Junior High.

While not affiliated with the school, one of the feeder systems for Austin Eagles baseball is a program for kids in the junior high grades.

“It’s big for us to get kids playing and allowed us at the high school to see those kids,” says Bayes, who typically gets to help with development through kids camps in the summer and fall.

Junior high-aged players had been playing at Austin High School. Bayer said they may get to move to renovated city park in the spring.

Players are also involved in Scott County Little League or with various travel baseball organizations. There are more of those now than when Bayes was growing up.

He did play for the Hoosier South Eagles (based out of Seymour) and Tri-County Titans (based out of Henryville) before hooking on for two seasons each with the Indiana Bulls and USAthletic (both headquartered in the Indianapolis area) and then the Evansville Razorbacks.

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Matt Bayes is the head baseball coach at Austin High School. Bayes was a senior on the Eagles team that went 30-3 and played in the semistate in 2008.

Lost limbs, lost life put things into perspective at Silver Creek

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is important at Silver Creek High School.

The Joe Decker-coached Dragons work hard to make themselves good at the sport and they have several wins and IHSAA sectional titles (2000, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014) to show for it.

But a 2012 natural disaster and the 2017 passing of a teen athlete from a rival school have help put it all in perspective.

Silver Creek is in the southern Indiana town of Sellersburg —  10 miles from Henryville and 83 miles from Southridge High School in Huntingburg.

Tornadoes in 2012 leveled Joe and Stephanie Decker’s Henryville home and caused Stephanie to lose both of her legs.

With the help of their faith, the community and a desire to help others, the family has moved forward. The Stephanie Decker Foundation was started and she travels all around on prosthetic legs to help bring sports to children without limbs.

“She handles it really well,” says Joe Decker. “She’s a lot tougher than I am. I know that.

“We’re like everybody else at this point. We’re chasing kids around.”

The Deckers make sure youngest son Dominic gets to travel baseball and daughter Reese to travel softball. Nolan is 19 and living in Columbus.

“Five years ago my family learned it’s just a game,” says Decker. “(Baseball) will teach them a lot, but at the end of the day it’s just a baseball game.”

Joe makes sure his high school players count their blessings.

“We tell them ‘be glad you get to do this everyday because a lot kids don’t,” says Decker. “Even for them to live where they live. They live in rural Indiana. Their problems are nothing. Compared to a lot of other kids, they are extremely lucky. They are just really good kids and they care about other people.”

Evidence of that came a few weeks ago. Southridge assistant baseball coach Gene Mattingly’s daughter, Lexi, had experienced cardiac arrest at tennis practice and was hospitalized in Louisville before Silver Creek visited the Raiders for a non-conference baseball game.

Joe knew Gene a little bit. Both have coached for the Ironmen  a Christian-based travel baseball organization. Joe did not know Lexi. Feeling compassion, the Dragons presented Gene with a signed baseball and Dragons T-shirt for his daughter before the Silver Creek-Southridge game.

After being in critical condition, Lexi seemed to be recovering when Joe got a call on gameday against South Central last week. She was being flown back to Louisville.

Around the fifth inning of the contest, he got a call that Lexi Mattingly had passed. He shared the news with his assistant coaches, including Ryan Wheeler, but not his players.

Sophomore Tyler Wheeler noticed a look on his father’s face and asked “Dad, are you alright?”

He told him the sad news just before Tyler’s next turn at bat.

Tyler, who had been struggling at the plate, draws a little “L” in the batter’s box and socks the second pitch for his first high school home run.

“He comes around third base and he’s almost in tears,” says Decker. “It’s pretty amazing.”

That same week practice, Decker shared the baseball and faith story of John Scolinos and “Staying at 17 Inches.” It’s the reason the Dragons wear a 17 on their practice shirts.

Decker, 47, is in his second stint of teaching baseball and life lessons at his alma mater. Beginning at 22, he was head coach for five seasons at Brown County High School (1992-96). The Eagles won the school’s first sectional in any sport in 16 years in 1992. He led the program at Silver Creek 1997-2003, served as head coach for three seasons at Indiana University Southeast in nearby New Albany (2004-06), took two seasons off and came back to the Dragons head coaching post in 2009.

Decker and his assistants want Silver Creek baseball to a be a family for current and former players. It’s not unusual to see alums from the past five years in the dugout during games.

“It’s really important to us that our kids like being here and they like coming back,” says Decker. “They feel it’s there program.”

The Dragons are drilled on the fundamentals and on Mental Toughness Training through Dan Thurston of Long Toss Indiana. After winning four straight Class 3A sectionals, Silver Creek lost 2-1 against host North Harrison in 2015. Decker chalks that up to strong opposing pitching.

The 6-3 loss to Brownstone Central in the 2016 North Harrison Sectional title game — even with three freshmen and two sophomores in the SC lineup did not sit well with Decker.

“Last year it was more like we played not to lose,” says Decker. “From my aspect that was a mental thing. As a coach, I’ll take the blame for it.

“We were not mentally tough from a competitive standpoint. (Most players) never faced adversity … Eyes were wide and they kind of tightened up.”

The idea is to stop the feature of failure.

“We talk about making aggressive mistakes,” says Decker.

Actions in practice — like not getting a bunt down, making the throw to the right base or an unexcused absence — have consequences for the Dragons like extra running.

“We play the process and not the score,” says Decker. “We’re teaching them baseball, but we really focus on work ethic. We tell them the one thing you can control is how hard you work. We’ve tried to keep that workmanlike mentality. That helps them keep a chip on their shoulder a little bit.

“We spend a lot of time just talking about the mental side of the game. It goes back to playing the process. If you can get them to not think about winning and losing and just playing the right way, winning takes care of itself.”

Besides pitching coach Ryan Wheeler, the coaching staff includes Ritchie Ware, Scott Jennings and Brent Falcone. It is Falcone that runs the arm care program for the Dragons.

Silver Creek plays in the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern-Pekin, North Harrison, Salem and Scottsburg). All MSC teams play one another, often on Mondays and Thursdays. Decker would like to see the conference go to a tournament and free up other regular-season dates for strong non-conference competition.

The Dragons finish the season at the Jasper tournament and also play New Albany and Jeffersonville heading toward the IHSAA state tournament series.

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Joe Decker is the head baseball coach at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg. His wife Stephanie lost both legs in the Henryville tornado of 2012. This season, his team experienced the loss of a teenage athlete at rival Southridge.