Tag Archives: Cougar Field

Butcher, Saint Francis gets attention of NAIA baseball world

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

When Dustin Butcher took over as head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., following the 2018 season, the former Cougar player and assistant coach (2008-17) had high hopes.
“Committed to make history” was the motto.
USF went 13-40 in his first season in charge (2019). The was followed by 10-11 in a campaign shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic (2020).
Then came the 2021 season and a mark of 34-22 overall (a school record for single-season victories) and a 23-13 ledger in the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League.
“We’ve opened some eyes about Saint Francis baseball,” says Butcher, who an attendee at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “We’ve increased our talent pool a lot (from the best player on down). We’ve taken off and narrowed the gap.
“There’s competition across the board. I believe competition is vital.”
Butcher likes it when his No. 1 and No. 2 player at any given position are challenging each other at practice.
“Every rep matters,” says Butcher. “A guy doesn’t go get to a ball and the guy competing against you got that ball. You’re not in the weight room as much as you should be. The guy that’s beating you is in the weight room consistently.
“It’s fun to watch these guys compete their rear end off. We are going to put the guy out there that performs and we back up what we say.”
Butcher has also watched his players achieve as students.
“We had a GPA of 3.4 (as a team) this past semester and it’s consistently gone up,” says Butcher, who earned a psychology degree from USF and Masters in Psychology from Ball State University. “What’s crazy is that when you get smart kids you throw things at them a little bit different and can challenge them a little more about the game.”
Butcher has not only seen the talent pool gap shrink, but another facet has improved.
“We’ve increased our athleticism tenfold,” says Butcher. “Athletes just find ways. They move their body in different ways.”
Many Cougars were multi-sport athletes in high school.
“When they come to us and they’re just focusing on baseball and lifting like a baseball player their talent ceiling gets pushed higher and higher because it’s like they’re only focusing on one thing,” says Butcher. “I think that’s helped. I really do.”
In 2021, Butcher had Connor Lawhead and Kristian Gayday as assistant coaches and Dylan Farwell (a scout school graduate) as a student assistant who helps with strength and conditioning.
Lawhead has since gone Whitman College in Walla, Walla, Wash., and Tanner Gaff has taken his place on the staff.
“Coach Lawhead helped out tremendously with the culture as had KG,” says Butcher. “I trust them coaching my son (Nolan) and that’s the highest compliment you can pay any coach.”
Gaff has made the transition from a Saint Francis pitcher in 2021 to leading USF pitchers.
“I love the energy he has,” says Butcher. “He has done as well as I’ve ever seen to going from a player relationship with his buddies to now being their coach and there is no gray area.
“He is Coach Gaff. He does a great job of relating with the guys, but also having a plan like Coach Lawhead had.”
Other former Cougar players helping out including Kyle Baker with catcher, Brady Harris with infielders and Noah Freimuth with outfielders.
Butcher also credits the impact of assistant athletic trainer Lindsey Foust.
“She does a really good job in terms of flexibility, movement patterns and being effiicent,” says Foust. “It’s about keeping them healthy and getting them back on the field (after an injury) as soon as possible.”
Saint Francis — with 17 freshmen — is scheduled to open the 2022 season Feb. 4 at Bethel (Tenn.). The first game at Cougar Field is slated for March 4 against Crossroads League rival Huntington.

University of Saint Francis (Ind.) baseball coach Dustin Butcher at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

McCowin makes himself at home with Saint Francis Cougars

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mikhail McCowin chose the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., for college and as he comes to the end of his senior year as a student-athlete he reflects on the experience.

McCowin, a corner outfielder on the USF baseball team, has found comfort, community, culture and camaraderie as a Cougar.

As an Exercise Science major with a Psychology minor due to participate in May 1 commencement, McCowin sees in Saint Francis the academics he sought and it helped that he was already in Fort Wayne as a 2017 graduate of Bishop Luers High School

McCowin likes that USF has a relatively small campus and student body (about 2,300 students), compared to larger schools that he explored.

“It’s close-knit here,” says McCowin. “Everybody has a familiarity with everybody. I’m more comfortable with smaller campus and interaction between teachers and students.”

With plenty of sweat and toil, players and coaches have gotten Cougar Field back into shape so home games can be staged on-campus rather than at the ASH Centre/World Baseball Academy.

“It looks amazing,” says McCowin of the diamond located on the west side of town. “We have high reverence and respect for our field.

“It’s sweet when fans can come straight from their dorms to the field and we can closely connect to the Saint Francis community. That plays a huge role in how we play.”

It’s common for USF teams to show up to cheer on other Cougar athletes (the school has 18 varsity sports).

An added bonus of the small campus is that the baseball team spends up to seven hours a day with each other, forming strong bonds.

“We get foster that relationship everyday,” says McCowin.

When he was recruiting McCowin through a contact at Athletes With Purpose (AWP) in Fort Wayne, Dustin Butcher (who was a Saint Francis assistant and became head coach following the 2018 season when Greg Roberts retired) emphasized culture at the NAIA member institution.

“He said it will definitely challenge my character and make me a better person,” says McCowin. “We keep ourselves accountable. We pick our brothers up. 

“If they need it, we get them help. We lean on each other.”

McCowin says the team GPA has increased considerably in the last few seasons.

“We take care of our bodies,” says McCowin. “We take care of our schoolwork.”

If there are opportunities — like a job opening or the chance to play for a summer team — the Cougars pass that information along.

There are several local players on the Saint Francis roster and this has allowed families to get involved with coordinating postgame meals — one broke out the grill as the Cougars celectrateb  recent victory — and cheering on the players.

As a student of exercise and psychology, McCowin knows the physical and mental side as a ballplayer.

“I live what I’ve learned everyday,” says McCowin. “I’m always seeking ways to be better at my craft and persevering through hard times.

“I’m making sure my body’s right and healthy.”

Early this season, McCowin tweaked his back and was out of the lineup.

“It was an inflammation of the SI joint at the hip,” says McCowin. “I got back though (physical therapy) and with the trainer. 

“I used every resource to get myself healthy.”

After being discharged, he still goes to the training room — as do many of his teammates — for maintenance.

McCowin follows several physical therapists on social media, including MoveU on Instagram, and seeks out mentors to learn such as AWP co-founder and Sports Performance Chief Performance Officer Bryan Bourcier.

He also has Butcher, who teaches a Sports Psychology class.

Heading into a home series Friday and Saturday, April 16-17 with Mount Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis is riding a six-game win streak and is 27-13 overall and 17-7 in the Crossroads League.

McCowin is hitting .328 (21-of-64) with four home runs, one triple, three doubles, 22 runs batted in, 14 runs scored and 4-of-5 in stolen bases in 26 games. His OPS is 1.004 (.410 on-base percentage plus .594 slugging average).

The righty swinger belted two homers in an April 6 win against visiting Indiana University South Bend.

For his career, McCowin is hitting .267 with nine homers, six triples, 22 doubles, 75 RBIs. 77 runs and is 20-of-25 in stolen bases in 133 games. His OPS is .824 (.384 on-base percentage plus .440 slugging).

McCowin was born in Marietta, Ga., then moved to Atlanta. He came to Fort Wayne while in grade school when the family came to take care of his ailing grandfather. 

Mikhail attended Irwin Elementary and Memorial Park Middle School. Having started baseball at age 4 in Georgia, he continued it at Elmhurst Little League in Fort Wayne and played travel ball for AWP.

At Luers, he was led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary Rogers.

“He definitely taught me resilience,” says McCowin of Rogers. “He brought out a lot of my competitive energy. I was always fighting against myself to be better being a sponge and asking questions.”

There was also plenty of repetition.

McCowin, 21 (he turns 22 on May 20), lives with his mother Kimberly, father Michael and sister Alexis (19). Older siblings Makesha, Sudedra and Michael are out-of-state — Sudedra in Ohio and the others in Texas.

Mikhail McCowin (University of Saint Francis Photo)

Huttie impacting Fort Wayne baseball community in multiple ways

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

From a young age, Zach Huttie knew baseball was about more than just balls and strikes, safe and out.

It could be used to help teach important concepts.

When he was wrapping up his college studies, he felt the call of the diamond.

“I realized I didn’t ever want to leave baseball. I wanted baseball to be part of my life — some way, some how,” says Huttie. “What better way to teach life lessons than through the game of baseball?

“You do fail a ton of times, but it’s how you overcome that failure.”

Huttie is getting the chance to have an impact on the Fort Wayne area community in multiple capacities — all tied to the game he loves.

He came to the Summit City to be an assistant baseball at Indiana Institute of Technology — aka Indiana Tech — and has since added roles at Hoosier Classic Baseball Tournaments director/instructor for the World Baseball Academy and commissioner of the Indiana Summer Collegiate Baseball League.

“I like being able to change lives,” says Huttie, who is changed with Indiana Tech’s defense. “I like being able to see the kids overcome the adversity.”

Huttie also witnesses a growth in maturity.

“They come in as young men and see them become better men as they leave,” says Huttie. “One thing we preach at Indiana Tech is high character.”

Glen McClain, a redshirt junior first baseman and catcher for the Warriors in 2018, stands as an example of that growth.

“I’ve seen Glen blossom not only on the field but off and become a leader and help to mentor the young guys coming in as freshmen,” says Huttie. “It’s a team-first culture. It’s not just a ‘you’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing. It’s something we’ve installed.”

During the recruiting process, the Tech staff — led by head coach Kip McWilliams — does research on the player’s personality by talking with people like coaches, umpires and guidance counselors.

“We want to get a feel on who are those men of high school character who will help impact our program at Indiana Tech,” says Huttie.

Growing up in Raleigh, N.C., the son of Joe and Lonnie Huttie, Zach identified Denison University in Granville, Ohio, as the college for him as a sophomore at Athens Drive High School.

Before and after getting his diploma at ADHS in 2006, Huttie gained much from mentors like hitting instructor Brian Ward (who played for the Fort Wayne Wizards in 2000 and was later on the North Carolina State University coaching staff) and the Baseball Factory’s Kelly Kulina then played four years for the Big Red.

He earned a bachelor’s degrees in Environmental Studies and Communication from Denison and then a master’s degree in Sports and Recreation Sciences with a concentration in Coaching Education from Ohio University. He was a graduate assistant coach for the Bobcats.

It was a recommendation from OU head coach Rob Smith that helped Huttie land at Indiana Tech.

Smith, who played at Vincennes University and Indiana University Southeast, graduated at Indiana University and was an assistant coach at Purdue University, knew McWilliams was looking for an infield coach and sent Huttie his way. He was offered and accepted the job right after the interview.

“You never know who you know and that’s how I got the position up here,” says Huttie.

At the WBA, headquartered in the ASH Centre, Huttie gets to teach the game and also help young people.

“The World Baseball Academy uses baseball as a platform to develop young leaders,” says Huttie. “We work with at-risk youths in the community.”

The ASH Centre has three diamonds with artificial turf infields and natural grass outfields used by players 9U through college and there is plans for more. Huttie organizes and runs the tournaments played there and other area venues.

He works with a WBA leadership group that includes CEO/instructor Caleb Kimmel, director of baseball operations/instructor Andy McManama, senior lead instructor Ken Jones, scholarshipo baseball instructor Tim Petersen, scholarship director Linda Petersen, director of development Linda Buskirk and marketing director Kristen Kimmel, outdoor campus maintenance man Bud Wolf and Dominican Republic trip coordinator Jamie Frazier.

“We’re blessed as a non-profit to do a lot of good for the community,” says Huttie.

The ISCBL was organized a few years ago by McWilliams, Mark DeLaGarza and others to give area collegians a place to play and develop in the summer.

The 2018 season opens Saturday, June 2 and there are three league teams — Fort Wayne Panthers, Northeast Kekiongas and Summit City Sluggers.

The Panthers, with University of Saint Francis assistant Miguel Tucker, will be based on at Cougar Field on the USF campus. The Kekiongas, with head coach Indiana Tech assistant Pat Collins-Bride, will call Indiana Tech’s Warrior Field home. The Sluggers, with Jay County High School assistant Todd Farr as head coach, will be a rover.

In addition to Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders and weekday games with league and area men’s teams, Huttie says the ISCBL will conduct mid-week practices as a large group.

“It’s a developmental league,” says Huttie. Rosters tend to be filled with younger players — freshmen and sophomores.

Through all his baseball involvement in Fort Wayne, Huttie remains very close to his folks.

“My mom and dad our my world,” says Huttie. “They’re my bread and butter.

“I’m an only child. I talk to my parents every single night.”

ZACHHUTTIE

Zach Huttie is involved in the Fort Wayne baseball community in multiple ways. He is an assistant coach at Indiana Tech, Hoosier Classic Baseball Tournaments director/instructor at the World Baseball Academy and commissioner of the Indiana Summer Collegiate Baseball League. (Steve Krah Photo)