Tag Archives: Cougars

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)

Driven Mills takes advice from many baseball mentors

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

What drives Patrick Mills as a baseball player?
“My passion for the game is definitely No. 1,” says Mills, a 22-year-old outfielder/first baseman for Indiana University-Kokomo. “Every day I get up out of bed the one thing I want to do is go play some baseball.
“That’s the reason I keep playing. I enjoy the game. Everything else will follow. I will do everything I can to get better and keep playing it. It comes down to passion and discipline.”
Mills, a 2018 graduate of Western High School in Russiaville, Ind., spent two years at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the past two years at IUK. He plans to use his extra year of COVID-19 eligibility with the Cougars in 2022-23 while completing his Computer Science degree.
A lefty thrower and batter, Mills hit .374 (65-of-174) in 2022 while helping IUK go 26-22 overall and 16-7 in the NAIA River States Conference. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder belted 15 home runs, four triples and 16 doubles while driving in 44 runs and scoring 51 — all team-leading totals. His on-base percentage was .453.
“I make sure I stay balanced in my body and my mind,” says Mills of his approach at the plate. “I learn what the pitcher is throwing and try to hit the ball hard.
“When you hit the ball hard good things happen.”
Mills has had many mentors besides father Eric.
“It’s not just one person in particular,” says Mills. “It’s a collective of everybody I’ve met in the game.
“It’s little bit of advice here and there. I’ve put it together like a puzzle.”
Jeremy Honaker coached Cougar outfielders and hitters in 2022.
Mills credits him with helping him with the mental side of the game and bringing out his full potential during games.
“There were little snippets for me to think about during (batting practice),” says Mills. “They were more mental notes than actual physical cues.”
A lot was achieved during the fall and winter.
“All that work built up,” says Mills. “By the time the season came around it was second nature.”
Mills has head coaches at IUK with different styles. Matt Howard was intense and Drew Brantley is more laid-back.
“(Howard) lent a level of excitement and discipline,” says Mills of the man who is now a Kokomo police officer. “He wanted us to compete to the best of our abilities every single day. He wanted to make his players as tough as possible and he definitely did.
“(Brantley) has created an environment where we’re not afraid to fail. If we can control what we need to control, the results will follow. Follow the process and try to get better everyday. That philosophy — in my opinion — worked very well. Next spring it will be even better.”
Mills was born in Kokomo and got his formal baseball start at what is now Russiaville Youth Baseball League.
He played travel ball with the Westfield-based Stonecutters then went with the Indiana Eagles for his 14U to 17U summers.
“(Eagles coach) Jamie Roudebush gave us a platform to work on our skills and get better everyday during those years,” says Mills.
At Western, Mills played two years each for Quentin Brown then Ryan Berryman.
“(Brown) was all about passion when playing the game. He once jokingly said to me, ‘you care about this game too much. If you keep your passion like that you’ll go wherever you want to go.”
Mills and the Western Panthers were 2016 IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up.
“Playing for (Berryman) was a different experience from Brown,” says Mills. “He brought the intensity level, but also the technicalities of baseball. He challenged me to become better fundamentally. It was the mechanics and more than just the mental side.”
Mike Shirley, who at the time was a Chicago White Sox area scout and is now that organization’s director of amateur scouting, ran a fall league for high schoolers in Pendleton, Ind., in which Mills participated.
“He gave us a lot of information and where we need to improve,” says Mills of Shirley. “He was challenging us mentally and physically. It was a great experience.”
Mills played for Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6 the summers before and after his first year of college.
“He was always supported me since I played for him,” says Mills of Andrews. “He was very similar to how Drew Brantley goes about his business. He’s calm and collected.
“Back then I was very intense and wild and wanted to do everything with one swing. He taught me how to handle my emotions. It went over my head then but I eventually learned from his teachings.”
At Olney Central, Mills played for veteran coach Dennis Conley.
“He definitely pushed his players to the limit and got the most out of them,” said Mills of Conley, who has been in charge of the Blue Knights program for 42 years and has a record of 1,530-773. “Junior college tests your love of the game. Do you really love the game or kind of like it?”
Mills was with the Portland (Ind.) Rockets during the COVID summer of 2020. One of his teammates was former Yorktown High School, Lincoln Trail College, Wright State University and independent pro player Zach Tanner.
“He took me under his wing and taught me about the mental game,” says Mills of Tanner.
Last summer he played for the Prospect League’s West Virginia Miners and manager Tim Epling.
The summer of 2022 sees Mills with the Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks. The team is managed by Caleb Long.
In 28 games with Battle Creek, Mills is hitting .360 (41-of-114) with two homers, 27 RBIs and 21 runs.
Eric and Sundai Mills have three children — Jaymee (Mills) Birky (28), Hayley Mills (24) and Patrick.
Jaymee is married and living in Madison, Wis. (where Battle Creek recently played the Madison Mallards), and competition in swimming, softball and track at Western. She also was part of a state championship marching band. Hayley nows teaches elementary school in Raleigh, N.C. She was in volleyball, basketball, swimming and softball during her school days.

Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (15) (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)

Righty Gaff pursuing baseball dreams with Minnesota Twins organization

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

Tanner Gaff grew up in Whitley County, Ind., as a middle infielder who moved to the corners as he got older.
The right-hander doubled as a pitcher.
A 2016 graduate of Whitko Junior/Senior High School in South Whitley, Gaff went to the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and was a two-way player until his last season — the extra year granted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had a pretty good year,” says Gaff, who employed Driveline Baseball training methods and increased his velocity going into 2021.
As a pitcher-only in ’21, the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder made 14 mound appearances and went 8-2 with a 4.15 earned run average and 92 strikeouts in 92 1/3 innings. USF went 34-22, setting a school record for single-season victories.
Gaff, who earned a degree in Business Management with a Sports concentration in 2020, still wanted to see how far pitching could take him.
“I had heard nothing but good things about Tread (Athletics),” says Gaff of the business specializing in online performance coaching. He began training remotely with Tread in the summer of 2021.
When Connor Lawhead left the Saint Francis coaching staff and went back to his native Washington, the Cougars were in need of a pitching coach. Gaff filled that role and was part of a staff featuring head coach Dustin Butcher and assistant Kristian Gayday while still honing his own skills.
Then came the time to go to Charlotte, N.C., and train with Tread in-house, which he did from February to May of 2022.
“Butch was happy for me,” says Gaff of Butcher’s willingness to let him pursue his dreams. “He was all for me furthering my baseball career.”
With the help of Tread, Gaff posted videos of him pitching to social media and got the attention of the Minnesota Twins. On May 20, he signed with that organization and is now in Fort Myers gearing up for the Florida Complex League season which opens June 6. The next two steps up the minor league ladder are with the Low-A Florida State League’s Fort Myers Mighty Mussels and High-A Midwest League’s Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels.
Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Gaff possesses a four-seam fastball, slider/cutter, curve and splitter (split-finger fastball).
“My four-seamer has ‘plus’ carry and sits at 91 to 94,” says Gaff, 24. “I’m always looking to gain mph.
When it’s right, his slider is delivered about 80 mph.
“My splitter is one of my most promising pitches,” says Gaff. “I get good swing-and-miss with it.
“I threw it in middle school though I didn’t know it was called a splitter at the time. I’ve always had it in my back pocket. The movement patterns are always consistent. Sometimes it’s left. Sometimes right.”
At Tread, Gaff used TrackMan cameras to learned how to manipulate his splitter and other pitches.
Born in Columbia City to James and Debra Gaff, Tanner spent his youth on a 40-acre farm (20 acres of farmland and 20 acres of wetlands) about 10 minutes from Columbia City, Larwill and South Whitley.
He played in the South Whitley youth league until about sixth grade then travel ball with a homegrown team later the Ken Jones-coached Flippin’ Frogs and Cam Brannock-coached Summit City Sluggers.
As a middle schooler, Gaff was on a Pony League travel team that was coached by then-Whitko head coach Erik Hisner (now at Eastern of Greentown).
“That helped us with high school,” says Gaff, who had some teammates go on to win the Wildcats’ first sectional title in 2017. “We kept our core together.”
Gaff played two years at USF for head coach Greg Roberts and then assistant Butcher took over the program.
“(Roberts) was a really nice guy,” says Gaff. “He cared about his players. Butch is a great coach, but an even better person.
“He changed the culture. Saint Francis wasn’t always typically known as a good baseball school.”
Tanner has two older married sisters — Starr Kane and Isis Ivy.

Tanner Gaff, a graduate of Whitko Junior/Senior High School and the University of Saint Francis (Ind.), signs with the Minnesota Twins. (Minnesota Twins Photo)
Former University of Saint Francis pitcher has signed to play professional baseball with the Minnesota Twins. He trained remotely and on-site with Tread Athletics of Charlotte, N.C. (Tread Athletics Image)

Numbers important to Bloomington North’s Hurt in classroom, on diamond

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

Richard Hurt teaches math in the classroom and baseball on the field.
At Bloomington (Ind.) High School North, Hurt leads second-Algebra students. He has taught the Indiana University Finite Math class for about 15 years.
“I’m not the kind of teacher that there’s only one way to do things,” says Hurt. “The kids I’ve had in class kind of make fun of me because I say, ‘how do you get from Bloomington North to the mall on the east side? Is there only one road that gets you there? No. There’s all sorts of roads.’ But you’ve got to show me your work. You’ve got to show me how you’re going.
“There’s all sorts of ways to solve math problems. But you need to show your work. You’ve got to prove what you’re doing. There’s that logical step-by-step approach to mathematics. I like that.
“Everybody talks about the book in baseball. I haven’t seen it yet. But there are certain things you tend to do in certain situations. If you can find a better way to do it, absolutely. If it works, that’s right. Baseball is a numbers game. I like dealing with numbers.”
Hurt was one of the first in his area to adopt arm band signals when went to them almost a decade ago.
“It opens up a lot more things because everything is on paper,” says Hurt of the numbers-based shorthand system. “It allows you to do more things with your signals.”
A 1977 graduate of Bloomington High School South, Hurt was double major in economics and mathematics at IU and earned a baseball letter for the Bob Lawrence-coached Hoosiers in 1980.
Hurt was an assistant baseball coach at both South and North and was head coach at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis for three seasons (1986-88). He led Bloomington North 1989-2002, stepped away for six years and came back to the Cougars as head coach in 2009. He has compiled close to 500 victories.
“I don’t live on wins and losses,” says Hurt. “They’re still important. You keep score.
“At the same time it’s working with kids trying to get them better. You see how they progress.”
Hurt has taught his player how to care for and maintain a field (that has changed a little since Bloomington North went to a turf diamond in 2021) and believes in the importance of fundamentals.
“My dad was very much that way,” says Hurt.
Warren Hurt, a graduate of Winslow High School (part of the Pike Central consolidation), played basketball with all-stater and future member of Branch McCracken’s Hurryin’ Hoosiers, Dick Farley. Hurt was a teacher and high school basketball coach (he guided Smithville High School for a time and later taught at Bloomington South) and also led youth baseball teams.
The same lessons that his father taught Richard were also absorbed by brother Mark Hurt who exhibits those traits as head girls basketball coach at Mooresville (Ind.) High School.
Hurt’s coaching has changed over the years. He saw the running at the end of practice was not vital and he no longer does that with his teams.
“Do we condition?,” says Hurt. “Yeah. Whenever we go from drill to drill, you better run. But that fits into baseball. You hit the ball. You run 90 feet. If you’re out you back to the dugout and rest for 10 or 15 minutes.
“You may get a double. You take a short break there.”
Not that running is completely out of the equation.
Recently, the Cougars had been striking out too much of Hurt’s liking so he came up with the “30 to 350” batting practice drill.
“I’m 30 feet away,” says Hurt. “I’m throwing the ball as hard as my 63-year-old arm will allow me which is probably about average for high school
“They have two strikes and if you strike out, you got to go to the 350 sign and back. The whole team does. You’ve got to dig in. You’ve got to battle. If you foul it off or put it in-play you’re good.”
Hurt has also noticed a change in his players on the artificial surface.
“Your fielders are much more confident now,” says Hurt. “They stay down on the ball and get true hops.”
Bloomington North (enrollment around 1,600) is a member of the Conference Indiana (with Bloomington South, Columbus North, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).
There are five conference games.
The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bloomington South (2022 host), Columbus East, Columbus North, East Central and Shelbyville. Bloomington North has won 17 sectional titles — the last in 2013.
Several of Hurt’s players have gone on to college and pro baseball. Will Klein (Class of 2017) is a pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization. Gant Elmore (Class of 2007) was a second baseman in the Milwaukee Brewers system. Sam Klein (Class of 2020) is the closer at Ball State University.
Hurt’s assistants are Erik Pearson, Clay Keltner, Dr. Terry Greene, Drake Smith (JV head coach), A.J. Willis (JV assistant), Gary Stratten (freshmen head coach) and Eizlee Nixon (freshmen assistant). Pearson, Willis and Nixon played for Hurt.
The Cougars have about three dozen players for varsity, junior varsity and freshman/C-team squads.
Two of Hurt’s sons — Jim (Class of 2009) and Tyler (Class of 2012) — played for him at Bloomington North. Jim Hurt played baseball at the University of Dayton and Tyler Hurt at Cedarville (Ohio) University. Hurt’s stepson is Abe Carney.
Richard and Cinder Hurt have been married since 1988. She is a dental hygienist and a Bloomington native.

Richard Hurt (Steve Krah Photo)

Brunson productive in final days as Saint Francis player

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

Alec Brunson is coming to the end of his college baseball career and he’s doing it with a flourish.
Starting in left field and hitting in the No. 2 hole in the batting order, Brunson has been productive for the University of Saint Francis (25-23 overall and 14-18 in the Crossroads League).
Going into a conference series Friday and Saturday, April 29-30 at Bethel, righty swinger Brunson is hitting .341 (57-of-167) with six home runs, two triples, 17 doubles, 36 runs batted in and 38 runs scored.
The CL tournament is scheduled for May 6-10.
He enjoys the 2-hole behind Xavier Nolan and in front of David Miller and Sam Pesa.
“I get more AB’s (hitting second),” says Brunson, 22. “If I get on, more times than not Miller and Pesa will hit me in.”
Lefty stick Miller has plated 55 and righty Pesa 38.
In 2021 — Brunson’s first season with the Cougars after transferring from Purdue Fort Wayne — he hit .272 (56-of-206) with 10 homers, four triples, nine doubles, 38 RBIs and 51 runs for 56 games (53 as a starter) and was selected all-conference honorable mention.
When deciding to change schools, Brunson went where cousin Kristian Gayday is an assistant coach.
“I’ve hit with him since I was 12,” says Brunson. “There was no better option than playing for him and I’ve had two of the better seasons I’ve had in quite some time.”
Brunson is also enjoying his time with Saint Francis head coach Dustin Butcher.
“His personality is amazing,” says Brunson. “He’s a great guy overall. He’ll do anything for any of his players.
“That’s the type of coach I always wanted to play for.”
A 2018 graduate of DeKalb High School in Auburn, Ind., Brunson was then a catcher. He would up catching and playing in the outfield and at first base at PFW. He was used at first base at Saint Francis in 2021 and third base in summer ball. An outfielder last summer with the Terre Haute (Ind.) Rex, he was named a Prospect League all-star.
“I’ll play wherever they need me,” says Brunson. “My strengths are my hitting and arm. Sometimes I don’t make the best reads in the outfield, but my arm makes up for it. Even when my swing is not perfect it’s still good enough to get a base hit.”
Commencement at USF is scheduled for May 7 and Brunson is scheduled to get a degree in Criminal Justice.
He is pondering his future.
“I’m hoping to play independent (pro) ball before I get a big boy job,” says Brunson, who is also considering considering going into law enforcement but is also feeling the tug of coaching.
“I’ve thought about coaching a lot,” says Brunson, who has helped teams at Auburn Little League and in other capacities. “I’ve helped teammates with their swings. I feel like I really understand swing types and what drills can help.
“I can’t get away from the game yet. There’s something about baseball that keeps bringing me back.”
Brunson plans to be a graduate assistant at Saint Francis in 2022-23 to his foot in the coaching door. He says he will pursue either at Masters of Business Administration (MBA) or an Athletic Administration degree.
Born and raised in Auburn, Brunson played in two stints at Auburn Little League and travel ball with the Fort Wayne Cubs (later known as the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks). As a teenager, his D-backs head coach was Javier DeJesus (now pitching coach at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne).
At DeKalb, Brunson played for Tim Murdock. The 2017 Barons won 19 games and finished as runner-up in the DeKalb Sectional.
“I loved him as a coach,” says Brunson of Murdock. “He allowed us to do us. He knew we had played with each other since we were 12.”
Brunson played in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.
Alec is the son of Jason and Jennifer Brunson and older brother of Bella Brunson.
Before selling in 2021, Jason was co-owner of Captain’s Cabin on Crooked Lake. The business was once owned by former major league outfielder “Jungle Jim” Rivera. Jennifer is in pharmaceutical sales with Bristol Myers Squibb. DeKalb senior Bella plans to attend Indiana University.

Alec Brunson (University of Saint Francis Photo)
Alec Brunson (University of Saint Francis Photo)

Former pitcher Floyd seeing things from coaching side with IU-Kokomo

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

Nick Floyd played baseball at Ball State University for four years.
The 2015 graduate of Jimtown High School in Elkhart, Ind., pitched for the Cardinals from 2016-19 then experienced independent professional ball with the American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, The Battle of the Bourbon Trail’s Florence (Ky.) Y’alls (part of a COVID-19 pop-up circuit) and Pioneer League’s Idaho Falls Chukars.
Now he’s seeing the college game from a coach’s perspective.
Floyd, 24, leads pitchers for Indiana University-Kokomo. The Cougars are in the River States Conference (NAIA). He earned his Finance degree at Ball State in 2019, but was offered the opportunity to play pro ball then to coach when Drew Brantley was building his IUK staff and says it suits his temperament.
“All the philosophies are still the same,” says Floyd, comparing his time as a college player and coach. “But now I better understand the little things that my college coaches tried to convey to us.”
Floyd says he now appreciates those team rules set in place by Ball State head coach Rich Maloney.
“Now I step back and look at the program as a whole and value the little things — like going about things the right way, being early to practice and everyone wearing the same thing on the road,” says Floyd. “Every player is supposed to get water only. Pop is not good for them. Everyone wearing the same color (at practice) is important for team unity. We want to be one cohesive unit instead of a bunch of individuals.
“Not everyone’s the same. A little bit of individuality is totally fine. But it also needs to be structured and adding value to the group as a whole.”
Maloney believes in building team culture.
“That’s something he stresses a ton,” says Floyd. “He showed through his actions how I wanted to be as a coach.”
As IUK pitching coach, Floyd reflects the two men who were his pitching coaches at BSU — Chris Fetter (now Detroit Tigers pitching coach) and Dustin Glant (now Indiana University pitching coach). Glant was head coach at Anderson (Ind.) University when Brantley was an assistant.
“The No. 1 thing is attack,” says Floyd, who made 34 mound appearances (14 starts) for the Cardinals. “We want to pitch with the mentality of being the aggressor. I’m going to beat you on this pitch. It starts from the mental side of things. You have to have confidence in your own ability.”
Floyd wants his pitchers to get ahead in ball-strike counts. He would rather they give up a bomb pounding the zone then walking the bases loaded and giving up a squib hit to score multiple runs.
“We always go down in attack mode,” says Floyd. “Coach Glant taught me that.”
Drey Jameson fanned a Ball State and Mid-American Conference-record 146 batters — 14.66 per nine innings — and was named MAC Pitcher of the Year before being selected in first round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“Drey definitely attacked,” says Floyd. “He knew he was better than you and he was going to go out and show it.
“That kind of mentality filtered through everyone (on the Ball State pitching staff).”
As IUK prepares for a non-conference doubleaheader against Shawnee State today (March 1) and a three-game RSC series against Ohio Christian, Floyd and graduate assistant Justin Reed (a former IUK player who is also Cougars catchers coach) are working with about 20 pitchers including a few two-way players.
“Right now we’ve built up about four starters,” says Floyd. “Other guys in longer relief could potentially starts.
“One mid-week starter could come out of the pen on the weekend.”
Jeremy Honaker (a Connersville High School graduate who has coached at Zionsville and Martinsville high schools, the University of Indianapolis and in the Indiana Bulls and Canes travel baseball organizations) and student assistant Nate James (a Castle High alum who played at Kankakee Community College before transferring to IUK) are the team’s other coaches.
The Cougars play home games at Kokomo Municipal Stadium — a downtown park it shares with the summer collegiate Kokomo Jackrabbits and Kokomo High School.
“Not many NAIA teams have access to a facility like that,” says Floyd. “We try to get outside any time it is remotely close to being good weather.
“Last week we were shoveling snow for two hours just to get outside.”
When getting outside is not possible, the team can use Cougar Gym, located downtown. The weight room is at the on-campus Student Activities and Events Center.
Floyd accepted the job last summer while he was pitching for Idaho Falls and learning from Chukars field staff of manager Billy Gardner Jr. (a pro manager since 1995), pitching coach Bob Milacki (who pitched in the big leagues) and hitting coach Billy Butler (who was also a major leaguer). A few days after the season, he was in Kokomo.
A former NCAA Division I player, Floyd compares that level to NAIA.
“There isn’t a huge difference,” says Floyd. “The top-end guys on each are pretty comparable.
“Most D-I lineups and pitching staffs are deeper talent-wise.”

Nick Floyd (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)

Now at St. Charles CC, Foster familiar with many levels of college baseball

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

Ryne Foster has first-hand knowledge of many forms of college baseball.
The 2004 graduate of Danville (Ind.) Community High School played for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dr. Don Brandon at NCAA Division III Anderson (Ind.) University.
Coaching stops have taken Foster to N’s Concordia University (Ann Arbor, Mich.), NCAA D-II’s Georgia Southwestern University (Americus, Ga.), National Junior College Athletic Association’s Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College, NCAA D-I’s Bowling Green (Ohio) State University and NJCAA’s St. Charles Community College (Cottleville, Mo.).
“It’s helped in the recruiting process,” says Foster of his familiarity with all those levels. “I kind of know what everybody’s talking about.”
The son of former Danville head baseball coach Rick Foster (and wife Alice) and older brother of current Cascade High School head coach Ty Foster (a 2007 Danville graduate who played four years at Manchester University for Spartans head coach Rick Espeset), Ryne Foster has been the St. Charles Cougars staff since 2018-19. He serves as associate head coach/hitting coach for head coach Jeff Bolen.
Foster, who was an assistant at Madison-Grant High School in Fairmount, Ind., before going into college coaching, was a volunteer/catchers coach for Danny Schmitz at Bowling Green, assistant/catchers coach for Mike Policastro at Cleveland State, assistant/outfielders for Bryan McLain at Georgia Southwestern and graduate assistant for Kyle Rayl at Concordia. Rayl is a former assistant at Anderson U.
NCAA D-I rules do not allow volunteers to recruit off-campus. Foster has participated in the process at all the other places he’s been.
“(Recruiting) is the most important part off the field in college baseball,” says Foster. “If you can get some good players you can do some good stuff.”
Junior college is generally a two-year experience. With the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Charles currently has 18 third-year players — 13 of which started their college careers with the Cougars.
With added years of eligibility in the NCAA and NAIA, it has many players staying in college baseball longer than anticipated. This — in turn — has trickled down to high schoolers looking for a place to play.
“There’s really quite a back log and then you put the transfer portal on top of that,” says Foster. “The talent is phenomenal at a lot of places. It seems all arms throw 90 mph or above.
“The thing that hurt the high school kids is an offer you would have gotten four or five years ago might not be there now.”
St. Charles, which is in NJCAA Division I Region 16, gets players kicking back from all levels, including NCAA D-I.
When Foster was in high school, he was aware of just one junior college baseball program in Indiana — NCJAA Division II Region 24’s Vincennes University. In 2022, there’s also NJC AA Division II Region 12’s Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson and Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne.
Missouri has 11 junior college programs (eight in NJCAA Division I and three in NJCAA Division II). Illinois sports 35 (10 in NCJAA Division I, four in NJCAA Division II and 21 in NJCAA Division III).
“Knowing what I know now I would have done everything I could to find a junior college out of high school,” says Foster, noting that there are fewer restrictions on the number of hours a week an athlete can practice or play, tuition is cheaper and there is a chance in two years to go to a school they may not have been able to attend out of high school.
“As coaches we’re able to be part of everything — academic monitoring, the weight lifting program and practice everyday with them,” says Foster. “There’s never a time other than family time I can’t work with you because you’re out of hours this week.”
“Juco Bandit” appears on many Twitter profiles. What does it mean?
“After being around it, it’s a term of pride for a lot of our guys,” says Foster. “It means a different level of toughness. Nothing handed to these guys and if it was, it was then taken away. It’s not the (NCAA) Division I life. There’s 2 and 3 a.m. leave times for a doubleheader.
“It’s a different mindset. The guys come out to play ball. That’s why they’re here.”
Foster and other St. Charles coaches do what they can to develop players for the next level.
“We move them on to good Division I and Division II programs when they’re done here,” says Foster. “We’re always making connections with coaches at that level and they’re helping us out.
“They know what kind of kids they’re getting out of junior college. They’re getting kids who are tough. It’s a big ask to come out of high school in play in the Big Ten, Big 12 or the SEC. There’s no substitute for experience.”
St. Charles plays 25 to 30 scrimmages in the fall with 56 regular-season games plus the postseason in the spring.
“We the fall for our sophomores to get exposure,” says Foster. “(Four-year school) come out and scout. We also get to see our freshmen and prepare for the spring.”
Besides his baseball duties, Foster is also in charge of the St. Charles athletic fields (baseball, softball and soccer). They are all grass.
“I starting learning with my dad being a high school coach,” says Foster. “It’s second nature. Many a spring break as a kid was spent out there getting the field ready.”
Rick Foster is head boys tennis coach and boys basketball assistant at Danville. He coached Warriors baseball almost 40 years and now helps Ty on the diamond at Cascade.
Ryne sees going into the profession as a natural.
“I couldn’t think of myself doing anything else,” says Foster. “I grew up with it. My dad was old school. You do things the right way and play hard. It’s the same way he grew up playing. Nothing too fancy.”
After playing tennis, basketball and baseball in high school (brother Ty played football, basketball and baseball), Ryne played both basketball and baseball his first two years at Anderson. In his fifth year, he came back to the Ravens basketball program.
“I love guys who play different sports (in high school),” says Foster. “They can develop so much when they can focus in one area. They have all kinds of potential.”
Foster relishes the chance to grow his baseball know-how and his network while attending the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, which meets each January (the 2022 version was in Chicago).
“You meet up with people from all over the country,” says Foster. “It’s a big fraternity. It’s pretty cool to be part of it.”
Baseball brought Ryne together with the woman he now calls his wife. He was working for Pastime Tournaments at an event in Nashville and met Nikki, who was attending down from Minnesota for a bachelorette party. Ryne and Nikki Foster were wed June 22, 2021 in a Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.
“She’s been with me through the coaching run in two different places,” says Foster. “She knows it’s not your normal 9-to-5 job.
“It’s hard to find someone who understands the work.”

Ryne and Nikki Foster (Crockette’s Images)
Ryne and Nikki Foster
Ryne, Rick and Ty Foster (Crockette’s Images)

Saint Francis slugger Brunson collects six hits in season-opening sweep

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

More Indiana college baseball teams got into the 2022 act this past week.
Saint Francis won 8-4 and 9-3 at Bethel (Tenn.) Sunday, Feb. 6.
Alec Brunson went 6-of-7 with a home run and four runs batted in on the day. Kaden Sullivan, David Miller and Tyler Prince also went deep for the Cougars.
Grace went 3-1 Feb. 4-5 against Trinity International in Hoover, Ala., winning 22-1, 5-1 and 17-2 and losing 3-0.
Chris Griffin (7-of-13 with three RBIs), Alex Rich (6-of-13 with five RBIs), Austin Carr (6-of-15 with a homer and six RBIs), Patrick Danforth (4-of-12 with four RBIs) and Sam Newkirk (4-of-12 with a homer and six RBIs) were among the hitting leaders for the Lancers.
Indiana University-Kokomo opened its season by going 1-3 Feb. 5-6 in Shreveport, La., splitting two games with LSU Shreveport and dropping a pair to Loyola New Orleans.
Oakland City edged Johnson University 11-10 Feb. 6 in Knoxville, Tenn.
Bailey Falkenstien (2-for-5 with a homer and a double) and Treven Madden (1-fo-2 with a double) both knocked in three runs for the Mighty Oaks.
Marian went 1-2 Feb, 4-5 against Truest-Mcconnell in Emerson, Ga. The Knights lost 5-2 and 9-4 and won 4-1. Bryce Davenport went 2-for-3 with a solo homer and two runs scored for Marian in the victory.
Bethel’s games at Champion Christian in Hot Springs, Ark., and Vincennes U.’s contests at Motlow State (Tenn.), were canceled.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL
Records Through Feb. 6

NCAA D-I
Ball State 0-0
Butler 0-0
Evansville 0-0
Indiana 0-0
Indiana State 0-0
Notre Dame 0-0
Purdue 0-0
Purdue Fort Wayne 0-0
Valparaiso 0-0

NCAA D-II
Oakland City 1-0
Indianapolis 0-0
Southern Indiana 0-0

NCAA D-III
Anderson 0-0
DePauw 0-0
Hanover 0-0
Manchester 0-0
Earlham 0-0
Franklin 0-0
Trine 0-0
Wabash 0-0
Rose-Hulman 0-0

NAIA
Grace 3-1
Saint Francis 2-0
Taylor 2-2
Huntington 1-3
Indiana University-Kokomo 1-3
Bethel 0-0
Calumet of Saint Joseph 0-0
Goshen 0-0
Indiana Tech 0-0
Indiana University South Bend 0-0
Indiana University Southeast 0-0
Indiana Wesleyan 0-0
Purdue Northwest 0-0

Junior College
Ivy Tech Northeast 0-0
Marian’s Ancilla 0-0
Vincennes 0-0

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)

Oppel welcomes opportunity with Lanesville Swingin’ Eagles

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

Greg Oppel, who was hired as head baseball coach at Lanesville (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School in the fall of 2021, has long been part of the bat-and-ball scene in the southeast part of the state.
A 1987 graduate of North Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind., where he earned Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association honorable mention all-state and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series status as a senior for Cougars coach Danny Smith, left-handed pitcher Oppel went on to play at the Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) for Screaming Eagles coach Gary Redman. Rotator cuff surgery limited his college playing career to 2 1/2 years.
Darren Oppel, Greg’s cousin, graduated from North Harrison in 1989 and was a first-team all-state shortstop and played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series. He went on to play at the University of Louisville and was a Colorado Rockies scout.
As a baseball coach, Greg Oppel has been an assistant (2008) to Rick Parr and head coach (2009-11) at North Harrison (Cody Johnson was the IHSBCA North/South Series MVP in 2008) and assistant to Grenadiers head coach Ben Reel at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany (2012-15) and assistant to Lions head coach Jason Pepmeier at Salem (Ind.) High School.
It was when Reel was new at IUS and Oppel was on the North Harrison Babe Ruth League board that the new formed a friendship.
The idea of building an indoor hitting facility was explored and the process really took off when Oppel became North Harrison head coach. It happened through private donations and matching funds from the Harrison County Community Foundation.
Reel inquired about using the hitting building for his IU Southeast team in winter months.
“I said heck yeah — with one stipulation,” says Oppel. “I want your players and your staff to work our kids out with your knowledge.”
When Oppel joined Reel’s staff he got even more access to his know-how.
“Coach Reel is one of the top baseball minds in the country,” says Oppel. “Sitting in a session and listening to him talk and picking his brain was such a great opportunity for me and still is today.”
Having traveled all over the country following daughter Kyia’s softball exploits, Oppel became head softball coach at North Harrison in her senior year (2017). A torn patellar tendon limited her season and ended her hopes of playing in college.
“She’s handled adversity very well with her knee over a period of time,” says Oppel. “I think it hurt me more than it did her.”
Greg Oppel and joined Kyia Oppel when the middle school special education teacher became head coach at Crawford County High School in Marengo.
“We had a blast,” says Oppel of his time with his daughter and the Wolfpack, which went 8-14 in 2021.
With Christopher Broughton and Jason Sturgeon leading the charge, an indoor facility push was made at Crawford County.
Then came Greg Oppel’s chance to lead Lanesville Swingin’ Eagles baseball. He met four times with athletic director and former baseball head coach Zach Payne before taking the position.
“I wanted to made sure it was the right thing for Lanesville and the right thing for me,” says Oppel. “It’s tight-knit community. It’s almost like a throwback to years ago. It sounds like a cliche’ but they welcomed me with open arms.”
It’s a community that likes its sports and has enjoyed — and has come to expect — baseball success. Lanesville has won five sectionals, including those in 2010, 2016, 2017 and 2019. Regional and semistate titles came in 2016 and 2017. The Eagles were Class 1A state runners-up in 2016 and 1A state champions in 2017.
The Harrison County school with an enrollment around 240 is a member of the Southern Athletic Conference (with Borden, Crothersville, Henryville, New Washington and South Central of Elizabeth).
In 2021, the Eagles were part of an 1A sectional grouping with Borden, Christian Academy of Indiana, Orleans and South Central (Elizabeth).
Oppel’s assistants for 2022 include Jeff Cockerham, Tyler Cockerham and Aaron Lockman. Jeff Cockerham played at Jeffersonville High School. Tyler Cockerham played for Oppel at North Harrison then at Hanover (Ind.) College. Lockman is 2020 Lanesville graduate.
A campaign to bring an indoor facility to Lanesville is now in the works.
“This will be a win-win for the Lanesville community,” says Oppel. “We are fortunate to have such a backing at Lanesville. The following for baseball alone at Lanesville is astronomical.
“I’m very blessed to have this opportunity.”
Oppel, who is also a 29 1/2-year employee of Ford Motor Company in Louisville, where he builds the Escape and Lincoln Corsair, served 12 years on the North Harrison Babe Ruth League board. He began coaching at the 10U and 12U level.
Says Oppel, “At 14U we had tremendous success because we did everything fundamentally sound with lots of drills and going things at game speed.”

Greg Oppel
Kyia Oppel and Greg Oppel.
Chad Eveslage (left) and Greg Oppel at North Harrison High School.