Tag Archives: Cougars

Conner teaching lessons about baseball, life at Concordia University Chicago

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

Kolin Conner is doing his best to get Concordia University Chicago back to the lofty heights the Cougars baseball program had become accustomed.
From 2008-19, CUC posted an average record of 35-11 including 40-15 in 2018 and 42-10 in 2019. Conner was the Cougars head assistant (2016-19) — years in which the school won four Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference regular-season titles and made NCAA Division III World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. During the span, CUC was ranked No. 1 in the nation and Conner was named 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year.
A graduate of Indianapolis North Central High School (2009) and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2013), Conner took over as head coach at the private school in River Forest, Ill., in the summer of 2019. The Cougars went 5-5 during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 11-25 in 2021.
NCAA D-III rules allow for 19 total weeks of organized baseball activity — four in the fall and 15 in the spring. Concordia practiced four times a week during the fall.
“We did a lot of teaching. developing and evaluating where our guys are on the depth chart,” says Conner. “After last year, there was a little bit of re-establishing priorities for us.
“The work we put in now leads to success in the spring. It’s about holding everybody accountable. The overall success is much bigger than one individual.”
Conner says the most-important time comes when players are away from coaches in between fall and spring and must motivate themselves and stay on top of their academics.
“Here’s a 17-year-old freshman,” says Conner. “How’s he going to be when no one’s watching? That’s when good leaders and good people are made.”
Conner and his coaching staff of head assistant/pitching coach Matt Smith, assistant Abe Paz Agudello, assistant Connor Nelson and graduate assistant Kevin Garcia are getting players to create lifelong habits that will transfer into their lives beyond college.
“They get into the world world and (employers and co-workers) can trust these guys,” says Conner, who is currently busy recruiting, doing office work and getting ready for the return of players to practice after the Christmas break.
CUC baseball earned an ABCA all-academic team certificate, sported seven players with a 4.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale last spring while posting a 3.2 team GPA — the best among the school’s nine male sports. The Cougars typically have 10 to 12 academic all-conference selections.
The roster — currently at 36 — has 22 from the Chicagoland area plus Indiana’s Ben Collins (Chesterton), Elijah Hickman (Rensselaer Central), Brody Mariotti (Yorktown) and Westin Stutzman (Fairfield), six from Arizona (CUC recruits there each fall), two from California and one each from Colorado and Utah.
“We get a lot of good and smart kids that don’t have schools to go to,” says Conner. “(Chicago recruits) are used to cold weather and facilities and proud of the city they’re from.”
Conners says most players get some sort of aid — packages largely being dependent on grades and test scores — that takes away around half of the annual $42,000 tuition.
“It’s important that we’re getting the good character kid who wants to work and wants to win,” says Conner. “Those type of kids are usually pretty good academically.
“It’s no coincidence that are best players are usually are best students.”
A typical recruiting class is 10 players and Conner says he likes to have five or six signees around Christmas.
Conner played for Phil McIntyre at North Central, making varsity as a sophomore and representing the Panthers either as a catcher or outfielder and making long-time friendships.
He credits assistant/teacher Andy Noble for helping him in the classroom.
“He helped me find my way and who I was as a kid,” says Conner of Noble.
Conner was a catcher and first baseman in college. He played two seasons at National Community College Athletic Association member Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for Statesmen head coaches Mitch Hannahs (2010) and Kevin Bowers (2011).
Hannahs, who is now head coach at Indiana State University. was “very, very good at getting you conditioned mentally and getting the most out of people as players.”
Current LTC head coach Bowers brought Conner into the program.
“He really, really cares about the kids,” says Conner of Bowers. “He’s got a strong relationship with everybody he recruits.”
At Saint Joseph’s, Conner earned an Educational Studies degree with a Communications minor and played two seasons (2012 and 2013) for Pumas head coach Rick O’Dette.
“He’s the greatest guy ever,” says Conner of O’Dette, who became head coach at Saint Leo University in Florida when SJC closed its doors after the 2017 season. “He’s the reason I have a job in college baseball.
“He’s an unbelievable guy, a great mentor and cares about people.”
Conner played two summers of independent professional baseball after college with the 2013 Mike Braymen-managed Joliet (Ill.) Slammers and 2014 Andy McCauley-managed Evansville (Ind.) Otters — both in the Frontier League.
Kolin met future wife Lyndsey at Lincoln Trail. The Conners now have two children — son Leo (3) and daughter Layla (4 months).

Kolin Conner (Concordia University Chicago Photo)

Brantley promotes total student-athlete experience at Indiana University Kokomo

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

Just over a month after being named head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo, Drew Brantley is busy laying the foundation for the Cougars system.
Classes began Aug. 23. Brantley is overseeing two weeks of open field workouts before fall practice officially begins Labor Day (Sept. 6). There will be sessions six days a week for eight weeks culminating Oct. 30. Then the NAIA member Cougars move into the weight room and begin the build-up to the spring. There will be no games against outside competition this fall. There will be three scrimmages per week at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.
“It’ll be heavy on individual development as a baseball player,” says Brantley. “We’ll compete in a game-like situations.”
As the Cougars ready themselves for the River States Conference race, they will open the 2022 season with trips to play Louisiana State University Shreveport and Truett McConnelll University (Cleveland, Ga.).
Brantley, who has been on staff the past three seasons including the last two as associate head coach, knows what he desires in an IU Kokomo player.
“I want to get good people into the program,” says Brantley, who turned 29 on Aug. 22. “We want them to have the total student-athlete experience — athletically, academically and socially.”
The idea is to achieve on the field and in the classroom and build friendships and contacts that will last long beyond the college years.
Brantley’s staff includes Jeremy Honaker, Nick Floyd and Justin Reed. Honaker, who was volunteer assistant at the University of Indianapolis in 2020-21, will serve as a positional coach and also help with hitting and baserunning. Former Ball State University and independent professional right-hander Floyd is the Cougars’ pitching coach. Former IU Kokomo player Reed is a graduate assistant and assistant pitching coach. He will work toward his Masters of Business Administration, help in athletic communications and with the baseball team.
Prior to coming to IUK to serve on head coach Matt Howard’s staff, Brantley was an assistant to head coach Rich Benjamin at Indiana Wesleyan University.
“I worked with infielders and baserunners and assisted with hitters,” says Brantley. “My time at Indiana Wesleyan was awesome. The integrity of the program is held very highly there. I learned how you hold people accountable and how things are supposed to be done.”
Brantley assisted at his alma mater Anderson (Ind.) University for five seasons with a stint as interim coach. Medical issues mean that he was only able to play his freshmen season for David Pressley before becoming a student assistant.
“He was an awesome guy and a great role model,” says Brantley of Pressley, who followed American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon as the man in charge at AU. “A large part of my coaching philosophy comes from (Anderson).”
Dustin Glant later took over a Anderson Ravens head coach and was helped by Brantley.
“I was able to learn a lot under Dustin,” says Brantley. “He showed me the ropes and what its like to conduct yourself professionally. It’s not just about baseball.
“A lot of the success I’ve had has been because of the things he’s showed me and the advice he’s given me.”
Glant is now pitching coach at Indiana University.
At 22, Brantley was named interim coach at Anderson, where he earned his Secondary Education and Teaching degree in 2015 and MBA in 2017.
Says Brantley, “Everyday I was doing the best I knew how.”
The same applies in his current position.
“It’s pretty neat being in this seat,” says Brantley, who guides a program in the town where he was born.
Brantley grew up in Russiaville, Ind., and played T-ball through age 12 at what is now Russiaville Youth Baseball League. After that came travel ball with the Central Indiana Kings then three summers with Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6.
His coach at Western High School in Russiaville was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Ty Calloway.
After becoming a coach himself, Brantley came to learn how Calloway “coached ‘em up the right way.”
“As a player, he held us to a really high standard,” says Brantley. “He was always on us in practice. Whatever we were doing that day we were going to give our best effort.”
Brantley played three seasons for the Panthers, sitting out his junior year to recuperate from cardiac arrest. In his senior year of 2011, he was an IHSBCA Class 3A first-team all-state second baseman.
“I have an incredible support system,” says Drew, who is the son of Chrysler employee Ron and dental receptionist Angie and younger brother of Alaina. Ron Brantley has been coaching baseball since he was 20 and will help out this fall at IU Kokomo.
Brantley’s first experience as a baseball coach came with a Howard County travel team called the Indiana Flyers. He was with that team from the fall of 2012 through the summer of 2015.
There was also a stint working for Chris Estep as a hitting and defensive instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind.
“He gave me an opportunity to work with younger kids and allowed me to fail a lot,” says Brantley. “Being at RoundTripper was awesome.”

Drew Brantley (Indiana University Kokomo Photo)

Miller-led Knightstown Panthers win first sectional since 2016

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Robbie Miller experienced postseason as a head baseball coach at Greenfield (Ind.)-Central High School, helping the Cougars to an IHSAA Class 4A sectional title in 2017.

Miller, who led the GC program from 2015-18 and then assisted at New Palestine for the 2019, was hired at Knightstown (Ind.) Community High School for the 2020 campaign, which was taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Knightstown won the 2021 Class 2A Heritage Christian Sectional crown, beating Triton Central 9-6 and Heritage Christian 7-4 for the right to play Saturday, June 5 in the Cascade Regional. The 17-12-1 Panthers meet Parke Heritage (15-10) in the second semifinal. The first game at 11 a.m. features University (21-9) against Centerville (23-5). 

Miller has his team focused inward.

“I don’t care who’s in the other dugout,” says Miller. “I worry about us. If we do the things we’re capable of doing, we’ll be successful.

“Just be us and we’ll be fine.”

The Knightstown-Triton Central sectional game featured former Franklin (Ind.) College teammates as head coaches — Miller with his Panthers and Justin Bergman with his Tigers.

Miller called on senior workhorse Mason Muncy to take the mound against Triton Central.

“He threw a great game and he got big hits throughout the lineup,” says Miller of the comeback win. “We scored three in the first and gave up five in the top of the second.

“But the kids never quit.”

Muncy was able to pitch again in the Heritage Christian game. The Panthers faced sophomore Andrew Wiggins (an Indiana University commit) and were down 1-0. 

Senior Ben Newby hit a two-run home run and senior 8-hole hitter Robert Porter produced two clutch hits for Knightstown.

Then there was senior Aaron Reagan.

“He might be one of the best baserunners I’ve ever coach,” says Miller of Reagan. “He ade a great slide that put us ahead 6-3 in the sixth. We executed a suicide squeeze on the next pitch (for a 7-3 lead).”

The Panthers fields a team with experienced seniors and a mixture of freshmen and sophomores. Junior Carson Smith is the starting shortstop.

Knightstown (enrollment around 360) is a member of the Tri-Eastern Conference (with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester).

TEC teams play each other one time in 2021 as it worked into their schedules. 

With the most-recent title, Knightstown has won seven sectionals. Three of those came back-to-back-to-back (2014, 2015 and 2016). The Panthers were regional victors in 2015 and 2016, losing to eventual state champion Providence in the Plainfield Semistate.

Miller, who resides in Greenfield with wife Allison and daughters Ella and Abbi and works for Anthem, enjoyed his time as a volunteer coach at New Palestine (he is a 1997 graduate) with Dragons head coach Shawn Lyons.

“I learned a lot from him,” says Miller. “I had been coaching against him for like 15 years.

“New Pal’s a great program. (Lyons) does things the right way. He wants to win as much as anybody and he prepares better than any coach I’ve ever been around. His other assistants are phenomenal. They made me feel wanted from Day 1.”

Miller wasn’t looking for another coaching gig when he was told about the opening at Knightstown. A basketball official in the winter, he happened to be going to Knightstown a few weeks after learning about the opportunity. He was hired in January 2020 by Panthers athletic director Matt Martin.

When the season was taken away and workouts were then allowed in July, Miller took the opportunity and had 10 or more at each session while sharing athletes with football and basketball.

“I was still trying to get to know the kids when they said baseball was done (in March),” says Miller. “The good news is a lot them played travel ball and I tried to see as many games as possible.”

Miller’s assistant coaches are John Walters, Nic Murray and Jim Kayajan.

Knightstown had 20 players in uniform this spring. The junior varsity schedule was clipped because of COVID contact tracing.

The Panthers play on a field that’s part of a complex that’s just a few years old.

“It’s a really nice facility,” says Miller.

High school baseball is fed by Knightstown Youth Sports and a middle school program. Those Knightstown Intermediate School students use the old varsity diamond.

Knightstown (Ind.) Community High School head baseball coach Robbie Miller with his wife Allison and daughters Ella and Abbi and the 2021 IHSAA Class 2A Heritage Christian Sectional trophy.
Allison and Robbie Miller with the 2021 IHSAA Class 2A Heritage Christian Sectional trophy won by Robbie’s Knightstown team.
The Miller home team: Robbie, Allison and daughters Ella and Abbi.
Knightstown won the 2021 IHSAA Heritage Christian Sectional baseball title. It was the first sectional crown for the Panthers program since 2016.

Junior college baseball route good to Kuntz

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Roman Kuntz is a different athlete since he left the high school ranks two years ago.

As a Class 3A baseball first-team all-state outfielder in the New Prairie High School Class of 2019, Kuntz carried about 165 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.

In his second and final season as a junior college in 2021 the outfielder/first baseman tips the scales at around 220 and is putting the extra muscle to use.

He is sophomore lefty swinger for the Lake Michigan College (Benton Harbor, Mich.) Red Hawks — members of National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12.

Through his first 23 games of 2021 Kuntz is hitting .493 (36-of-73) with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in and 33 runs scored. His OPS is 1.027 (.480 on-base percentage plus .547 slugging average).

On Saturday, Kuntz went 4-of-4 with five RBIs and three runs. Two of his hits against Ivy Tech Northeast cleared the fence at Shoaff Park in Fort Wayne, Ind.

During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, Kuntz hit .310 (9-of-29) with one homer, nine RBIs, 10 runs and a 1.098 OPS (.512 on-base percentage plus .586 slugging average) in 10 games.

Kuntz was supposed to play for the Ohio Valley League’s Muhlenberg (Ky.) Stallions, but the OVL did not play and he would up in the Northwoods League with the Steve Cutter-managed Great Lakes Resorters in Traverse City, Mich.

While his numbers weren’t spectacular, Kuntz credits that experience for playing a major part in his offensive jump in his second season at Lake Michigan College.

“I was seeing some of the top arms in the country,” says Kuntz, who hit .222 (18-of-81) with three homers, 13 RBIs, 15 runs and .730 OPS (.323 on-base percentage plus .407 slugging average) in 25 games. “It’s that and my approach at the plate.”

LMC head coach Zak Wasserman asks his players to “compete all the time.”

“Focus on this pitch right now and just stay locked in,” says Kuntz of Wasserman’s directive. “We can’t focus on a pitch or a swing we haven’t taken yet.

“Just focus on the moment.”

Kuntz and his teammates like to called themselves “juco bandits.”

“It’s just a joke we all have,” says Kuntz. “We don’t always have the best of everything and play on the best fields. You have to put up with what you’re given and just embrace it.

“It akes it that much sweeter when you get to a four-year school.

“The main reason I wanted to go juco with guidance from my coaches was two more years to develop academically and athletically.”

Kuntz is due to earn an Associate of Arts degree at LMC before continuing his athletic and academic career at NCAA Division I Morehead (Ky.) State University for 2021-22. Former Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki is the head coach of the Ohio Valley Conference-member Eagles.

“There’s exciting path ahead of me,” says Kuntz. “I can’t wait to get started on the next journey.”

Kuntz visited a number of schools last summer and made a connection with MSU players Joe Rotkis (a South Bend Saint Joseph graduate who he played against in baseball and hockey) and Priamo Lozado.

What will Kuntz study at Morehead State?

Psychology with an eye on the clinical side.

“I just care for people,” says Kuntz. “Everyone can use someone who can understand and listen to them.”

Roman was born in South Bend, Ind., as the second of Brett and Janel Kuntz’s three children. Brother Addison Clark — yes, the family roots for the Chicago Cubs —  is older by two years and was a New Prairie baseball teammate. 

Sister Helaina is a sophomore and No. 2 singles player on the NPHS girls tennis team.

Roman played baseball almost as soon as he could walk and hockey at age 5.

He was in the New Prairie Little League in New Carlisle, Ind., and played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers then the Tony Cruz-managed South Bend American Legion Post 151 the summer before college. 

A varsity player from sophomore through senior year at New Prairie, Kuntz learned from Cougars head coach Mark Schellinger.

“He’s all about the mental side of the game,” says Kuntz of Schellinger. “That’s so important with baseball.”

Schellinger had his players — all of them and not just captains or seniors — come to his classroom once a week for a leadership meeting.

“Everybody had the leadership responsibility,” says Kuntz. “It takes everybody to be a leader.”

Kuntz skated for the South Bend Irish Rovers travel team and was with the South Bend Riley Wildcats Hockey Club his last three years of high school. Moving from defense to left wing as a senior in 2019, he helped the Wildcats to a Class 2A Indiana state championship.

This summer, Kuntz plans to return to the Northwoods League and for manager Corey Thompson and the Wausau-based Wisconsin Woodchucks.

But first there’s work to do as a “juco bandit.”

Roman Kuntz, a 2019 graduate of New Prairie High School in New Carlisel, Ind., and due to graduate in 2021 from Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., signs to continue his academic and baseball careers beyond junior college at Morehead (Ky.) State University. (Lake Michigan College Photo)

Relationships driving force for Carroll Cougars’ Parkhurst

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For Camden Parkhurst, it’s not just about the baseball. It’s about the people.

“It’s the relationships with kids,” says Parkhurst, the head coach at Carroll Junior-Senior High School in Flora, Ind. “That’s why I do this.”

Parkhurst is in he third year since coming back to lead the program he helmed 2013-15 (Kerry Yoder was head coach in 2012). He was Carroll’s athletic director 2011-19 then became business manager for Carroll Consolidated School Corporation.

A 2002 graduate of Clinton Central Junior-Senior High School in Michigantown, Ind., where he played two years for Dan Swafford and two for Rick Helbie, Parkhurst began coaching while attending Indiana State University, where he graduated as Physical Education/Health major in 2007. 

“I had a real good relationship with (Swafford and Helbie),” says Parkhurst. “I was a catcher. I learned a lot from both of them. You pick up a lot of things you don’t realize.

“I still call Coach Helbie for advice about handling players and parents. I have a lot of respect for both of them.”

Student teaching for Parkhurst was done at Western High School in Russiaville with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ty Calloway.

Parkhurst was on Helbie’s Clinton Central staff then an assistant at Cowan (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School before serving as Blackhawks head coach for four seasons (2008-11).

At 23, Parkhurst was physical education teacher and the head coach for an IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up team.

“I’m still close with kids from Cowan,” says Parkhurst. “I get invited to their weddings.

“They say you can have an impact on the lives of kids, but you don’t realize the impact they have on yours.”

Parkhurst has particularly enjoyed working with the past couple Carroll teams.

“It’s been a great experience,” says Parkhurst, who is assisted in 2021 by former Carroll and Saint Joseph’s College player Seth Eldridge, Chris Seward (on his Cougar staff in both stints), Dan Butcher, Paul Redmon and Dave Mann.

The 2021 Carroll Cougars have 21 players to fill a varsity and junior varsity schedule. Parkhurst says some players will float between the two teams.

While no current players have made college baseball commits, junior Will Eldridge is among those being recruited. 

Feeding the high school program is Flora Youth Baseball (T-ball through junior high).

Carroll plays its home games on-campus on a lighted diamond that recently got new dugouts and backstop and, a few years ago, an overhauled infield and irrigation system. The school has been 1A regional host for the last several years.

Serving mainly students from Flora and Burlington, Carroll (enrollment around 330) is a member of the Hoosier Heartland Conference (with Clinton Central, Clinton Prairie, Eastern of Greentown, Rossville, Sheridan, Taylor and Tri-Central).

The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lewis Cass, Manchester, Rochester, Wabash (the 2021 host) and Whitko. Carroll has won six sectional titles — the last in 2015.

Besides conference and sectional foes, Carroll’s regular-season schedule includes games with Delphi, Faith Christian, Frontier, Maconaquah, North Miami, North White, South Newton, Tri-County, West Central, West Lafayette and Winamac.

Camden and Robin Parkhurst have been married since October 2007. The couple have two children — Kylie (8) and Cooper (4). 

Cooper joined dad at a recent Carroll practice.

“He enjoyed every minute of it,” says Parkhurst.

Camden Parkhurst

IU-Kokomo runs win streak to seven; Plesac fans 14

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jared Heard’s two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning helped Indiana University-Kokomo (22-16, 10-8) to a walk-off 2-1 baseball victory against Brescia Saturday, April 17 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

It was the Cougars’ seventh straight victory — the longest current streak among Indiana’s 38 collegiate programs.

By beating Brescia 8-1 in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, IUK gave head coach Matt Howard his 100th career victory.

Indiana Wesleyan (36-11, 25-3) built a three-game lead in the Crossroads League standings  with a four-game sweep of Huntington. The Wildcats have won six in a row.

Frank Plesac pitched a seven-inning complete game with 14 strikeouts as Bethel (13-30, 10-18) completed a four-game sweep of visiting Crossroads League foe Goshen and ran the Pilots’ win streak to five.

Indiana State (20-8, 7-1) finally played games at Bob Warn Field after opening the season with 24 on the road. The Sycamores swept a four-game Missouri Valley Conference series against Valparaiso.

Ellis Hanna II drove in four runs in a 12-1 win in the series finale. ISU has won five straight.

Clay Woeste collected nine hits, scored nine runs and drove in seven as Indiana University Southeast (32-13, 20-1) racked up 41 runs in a three-game River States Conference series sweep at West Virginia Tech. 

IUS also got eight hits, four runs and eight RBIs from Marco Romero, five hits, three runs and six RBIs from Derek Wagner, seven hits, four runs and five RBIs from Matt Monahan and five hits, seven runs and five RBIs from Brody Tanksley.

The Grenadiers have won four in a row.

Purdue (9-15, 9-15) ran its win streak to four by beating Michigan State twice and Illinois once during a three-team Big Ten Conference pod in Champaign, Ill.

Joe Moran smashed three homer runs as Taylor (33-12, 22-6) wrapped a four-game Crossroads League sweep of visiting Spring Arbor. Moran pushed his season homer total to 12.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through April 18

NCAA Division I

Ball State 21-11 (11-4 MAC) 

Indiana State 20-8 (7-1 MVC) 

Evansville 19-15 (4-7 MVC) 

Notre Dame 18-7 (16-7 ACC) 

Indiana 15-8 (15-8 Big Ten) 

Purdue 9-15 (9-15 Big Ten) 

Purdue Fort Wayne 9-18 (6-14 HL) 

Butler 7-15 (2-6 Big East) 

Valparaiso 5-20 (0-8 MVC) 

NCAA Division II

Southern Indiana 19-13 (15-9 GLVC) 

Indianapolis 13-13 (11-7 GLVC) 

Purdue Northwest 8-13 (2-10  GLIAC) 

NCAA Division III

Earlham 16-11 (16-11 HCAC) 

DePauw 16-12 (7-5 NCAC) 

Wabash 16-12 (7-5 NCAC) 

Hanover 16-13 (16-13 HCAC) 

Franklin 15-7 (15-7 HCAC) 

Anderson 15-10 (15-10 HCAC) 

Rose-Hulman 12-10 (12-10 HCAC) 

Manchester 12-16 (12-16 HCAC) 

Trine 5-16 (5-7 MIAA) 

NAIA

Indiana Wesleyan 36-11 (25-3 CL) 

Taylor 33-12 (22-6 CL) 

Indiana University Southeast 32-13 (20-1 RSC) 

Saint Francis 28-16 (18-10 CL) 

Huntington 24-12 (17-11 CL) 

Indiana University-Kokomo 22-16 (10-8 RSC) 

Indiana Tech 21-20 (8-4 WHAC) 

Marian 19-24 (12-16 CL) 

Indiana University South Bend 16-18 (12-7 CCAC) 

Oakland City 15-23 (8-13 RSC) 

Bethel 13-30 (10-18 CL) 

Grace 11-28 (8-20 CL) 

Calumet of Saint Joseph 4-25 (4-14 CCAC) 

Goshen 3-34 (2-26 CL) 

Junior College

Ivy Tech Northeast 18-18 

Vincennes 16-19 (4-12 MWAC) 

Ancilla 6-21 (2-10 MCCAA) 

Conferences

NCAA Division I

Big Ten

Atlantic Coast (ACC)

Big East 

Horizon (HL)

Mid-American (MAC)

Missouri Valley (MVC)

NCAA Division II

Great Lakes Valley (GLVC)

Great Lakes Intercollegiate (GLIAC)

NCAA Division III

Heartland Collegiate (HCAC)

Michigan Intercollegiate (MIAA)

NAIA

Crossroads League (CL)

Chicagoland Collegiate (CCAC)

Wolverine Hoosier (WHAC)

River States Conference (RSC)

Junior College 

Mid-West Athletic (MWAC)

Michigan Community College (MCCAA)

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)

Fessel wants North Harrison Cougars to ‘Win The Day’

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Win The Day.”

It’s a phrase that Kevin Fessel has tied to his role as head baseball coach at North Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind.

“We want to win in baseball, but we also want to be good people,” says Fessel, a 1996 North Harrison graduate. “I’m coaching young men to be husbands and fathers.

“Do what’s right even when no one’s watching.”

An assistant to Cody Johnson for three seasons, Fessel took over the Cougars program for the 2019 season. 

Of course, the 2020 schedule was taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was kind of heart-breaking,” says Fessel. “I contacted schools in Harrison and Crawford counties to see if they wanted to put together a Senior Day. We had a date set. Then there were more stipulations and no visitors were allowed on-campus.

“It was even more of a gut punch.”

A member of the North Harrison Class of 2020 — Dawson Howell — did go to Vincennes University to play baseball. Colin Higdon (Class of 2021) has committed to Franklin (Ind.) College.

Other Cougars to move on to college ball include 2019 grads Justin Deatrick (Central Methodist University in Fayette, Mo.) and Jake Harley (Kentucky Wesleyan College) and 2018 grad Max Flock (Vincennes U.).

During fall and winter workouts, North Harrison players have worked on their glove work — back hands, forehands etc. There’s been plyo-ball and core work. They’ve also gotten into the school’s hitting facility to polish their mechanics. 

“We got outside as much as we could,” says Fessel. “We did long toss and get our arm strength.

“With missing last year, I feel we got put behind the 8-ball.”

Once things opened up again in the summer, a few of Fessel’s players got to play travel ball. But the majority of them did not see game action on the diamond though there was some practice in July.

“It was just fun to be outside more than anything,” says Fessel. “We were getting re-connected. It felt like we couldn’t see them for the longest time.”

During the shutdown, Fessel and his players stayed in-touch through group chats. To keep the boys’ minds sharp, he coach offered scenarios from the baseball case book. He’d ask, “What’s the call on this?”

“I was testing their I.Q. and keeping them baseball-minded,” says Fessel. “We were trying to keep upbeat and stay ready during that COVID time. Then they shut it all down. 

“A lot of (players) shut down themselves and I really worried about them.”

North Harrison (enrollment around 700) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek).

The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, Madison Consolidated, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek. North Harrison has won nine sectional championships — the last in 2015.

Fessel’s 2021 assistant coaches include Tony Waynescott (varsity), John Miller (junior varsity) and volunteers Chris Koutsoubos and Micah Napper.

North Harrison plays its games on campus on a field that’s dimensions are larger than many high school facilities — 320 feet down the foul lines, 365 in gaps and 390 to dead center field. 

“We don’t see a lot of home runs,” says Fessel, who says baseballs used in 2021 will need to be approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE).

Fessel says the Cougars’ field is expected to see a new wind screen this spring.

A middle school club baseball team is part of North Harrison’s feeder program. Ideally, there are enough players for separate seventh and eighth grade teams who play in a league filled with Hoosier Hills Conference feeder schools.

Since the middle school shares the same field with the high school, there is a movement to get a Pony League diamond built at the North Harrison Cal Ripken complex. The youth league for Grades K-6 tends to have about 220 participants.

Fessel played baseball for Danny Schmidt and football for Chuck Walker — both still North Harrison teachers.

Both men set an example about work ethic.

“Danny was one of those guys who were there all the time,” says Fessel. “He worked hard. That stuck with me.

“He did it for the players.”

Walker saw Fessel go on to play football at the next level at Franklin College, where he played two seasons for Mike McClure and two for Bill Unsworth.

It was at Franklin that Fessel met Michelle Knoll. The couple will celebrate 20 years of marriage in July and have three children — Brody (16), Bryce (13) and Abigail (9). 

North Harrison sophomore Brody Fessel is likely to be the Cougars’ starting catcher in 2021. He is also a varsity basketball player and football manager. Seventh grader Bryce Fessel plays football, basketball and is on the middle school baseball team. Third grader Abigail Fessel plays softball.

At LaPorte (Ind.) High School, Michelle was a batgirl for Hall of Fame coach Ken Schreiber

Since earning his History degree from Franklin and teaching certification at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Kevin has been an educator and football coach. 

He taught for nine years at Highland Hills Middle Schools (part of the Floyd Central system) and is in his sixth year at North Harrison Middle School, where he teaches eighth grade U.S. History. 

Fessel was on the varsity football staff at North Harrison 2000-08 — the last five assisting Jason Mullis. The 2009 season was spent with Brian Glesing at Floyd Central for coaching at Floyd Central Middle School 2010-14. In 2015, he returned to North Harrison. His primary responsibility on Mark Williamson’s staff is defensive line.

Kevin Fessel is the head baseball coach at Northern Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind.

Motz wants to keep the ball rolling for Crawfordsville Athenians

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Motz was part of the baseball legacy at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School as a player and an assistant coach.

And now he’s laying the groundwork for his first season as the Athenians head coach.

Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville graduate who helped win 105 games during Motz’s four varsity seasons (1992-95) with a Sheridan Regional title in 1995, follows John Froedge as the man in charge. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer let Motz know that the 2020 season — which did not happen because of COVID-19 — would be his last after 39 years.

Baseball at Crawfordsville is now led by Motz, long-time pitching coach Rhett Welliever, varsity/junior varsity assistant Kurt Schlicher and JV coach Tony Bean.

“Coach Froedge and Coach Welliever have equal respect from me,” says Motz. “I want to make sure we still emphasize the important pieces that created this program and use up-to-date relevant stuff that kids will buy into.

“It’s different leadership, but we want to keep this train moving along.”

Motz, 44, held an organizational meeting last weekend that brought together all the coaches in the system from Crawfordsville Youth Baseball for ages 5-12 (an organization Motz led for almost a decade) to a Crawfordsville-only travel team to junior high to high school and got feedback about what has led to successful baseball in the Montgomery County community.

“I wanted them to know I appreciate all that they do,” says Motz. “You have to have a large group of people around me to continue this baseball program.

“Make sure the kids that get the most out of their years playing youth, middle school and high school baseball.”

Motz has been working on an outline that can be used at the lower levels.

“I want to make sure the kids are hearing the right words and that we’re emphasizing the right things when kids are swinging the bat or swinging the bat.”

Motz is also Crawfordsville’s strength & conditioning coach — teaching four classes at the high school and two at the middle school while working with athletes in all sports. He lays down a foundation and adds sports-specific elements.

As an Athenians assistant to Froedge 2007-10, Motz was able to implement functional training exercises and monitor nutrition for a baseball team which produced an IHSAA Class 3A state champion in 2008.

“Those are the things I’m passionate about,” says Motz. “Those kids were strong and 100 healthy when that (2008) postseason began.”

Motz says its easier to develop one-on-one relationships in the weight room than the classroom. 

“You see the true character,” says Motz. “When the going gets tough, who’s going to bear down?

“You share all that information with other coaches.”

Motz, a 2001 Crawfordsville Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, finished his prep days with a .457 batting average, 25 home runs and 164 runs batted in. The IHSBCA Record Book shows th righty swinger third in career hits (187) and tied for sixth in career runs scored (163).

He batted in slots 5-7 in the batting order as a freshman. No. 3 as a sophomore and junior and lead-off — to get more at-bats — as a senior. Depending on the situation, he played second base, shortstop or third base and also pitched. He was selected for the 1995 IHSCA North-South All-Star Series.

His 16U and 17U summers, Motz was with the Indiana Bulls travel organization with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Dennis Kas as head coach and Tom Linkmeyer, Kevin Stephenson and Brent Mewhinney as assistants.

Motz went to the University of Evansville, where he spent five years with U of E Athletics Hall of Famer Jim Brownlee in charge of Purple Aces baseball.

“He truly loved his players,” says Motz of Brownlee. “I learned a lot about myself through those five years about being committed to a program and coach that saw something in me.

“I gave it all I had.”

The Aces coaching staff also featured Tim Brownlee — assistant to Jim Brownlee. Jim’s younger son and Tim’s younger brother — Ryan Brownlee — was a teammate to Motz.

Missing most of the 1997 season with as a medical redshirt (he wound up having Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery), Motz was with Evansville 1996-2000 and tallied 160 career runs.

He was the Opening Day third baseman and a relief pitcher in 1996. He spent most of his time at first base in 1998 and was the starting left fielder in 1999 and 2000.

Motz tied for the team lead in home runs with eight in 1999. He was named CoSIDA All-District V and to the Missouri Valley Conference Academic First Team in 2000 and Honorable Mention MVC Academic in 1998. He earned his degree from Evansville in Physical and Health Education.

Summers during and just after college were spent with the Quincy (Ill.) Gems, Springfield (Ill.) Rifles and Crawfordsville Eagles.

Teammates on the Matt Walker-coached Eagles include Matt McCarty (a Crawfordsville graduate who played in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization) and B.J. Schlicher (a North Montgomery High School graduate who played in the Philadelphia Phillies system).

Motz was given a chance to coach by Doug Schreiber as a Purdue University volunteer assistant in 2001 and 2002 while he was working toward his masters degree in Sport Pedagogy. Todd Murphy was also on that coaching staff. Motz also coached for the Indiana Bulls during his summers.

Brett married Jennifer, whom he knew from high school, about this time and decided not to take the nomadic path of a college coach while starting a family. 

Sons Austin and Wyatt played Crawfordsville Youth Baseball. Now a CHS junior, Austin Motz plays tennis and baseball. Eighth grader Wyatt Motz plays tennis, basketball and baseball. Jennifer Motz is currently on hiatus from her teaching job.

Brett Motz became an assistant to Brent Harmon at North Putnam High School in Rochdale, Ind., for the 2004 season then was Cougars head coach in 2005 and 2006. He still maintains contact with many of his former North Putnam players and looks forward to forming bonds at Crawfordsvlle where many of his former CYB players are now high schoolers.

“I like that emotional leadership you get with a team as a head coach,” says Motz.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge (left) has handed over the head baseball reins of the Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School program to 1995 CHS graduate Brett Motz (right). (Susan Ehrlich Photo)
Brett Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. (Susan Ehrlich Photo)

Saint Francis assistant Lawhead wants his pitches to be relentless

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Lawhead was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

Thanks to baseball, Fort Wayne, Ind., became his Midwest home in the fall of 2012.

Born in Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle, Lawhead graduated from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., in 2010 and pitched for two seasons at Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College.

The right-hander played for Warriors head coach Dave Meliah and pitching coach C.J. Biagi and was named a first-team all-East Region relief pitcher and second-team all-Northwest Athletic Conference relief pitcher in 2012 while garnering six saves.

“Coach Meliah taught me a lot of physical and mental toughness and how to prepare at a higher level,” says Lawhead. “I learned how to attack and compete relentlessly and not have any fear.

“I played on two of the grittiest and most-competitive teams I’ve ever been a part of.”

Lawhead describes the juco experience.

“The days are long in junior college, but it helps you develop an appreciation of how much better you can get by working,” says Lawhead. “There’s a natural progression. You can speed up and expedite that process a little bit.”

Through an online recruiting database — FieldLevel — he caught the attention of Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and wound up signing with the Mastodons weeks before his junior year at IPFW. 

“Lucky for me, they needed arms,” says Lawhead. “I wanted to play at the (NCAA) Division I level as well. That’s the reason I went to junior college in the first place.”

The right-handed hurler two seasons (2013 and 2014) for head coach Bobby Pierce and pitching coach Grant Birely and made 41 appearances out of the bullpen with seven wins and nine saves.

“It was a great experience with Coach Pirece and Coach Birely,” says Lawhead. “They helped me see things in detail and that 90 percent of game can be controlled by that pitcher-hitter confrontation.

“They gave us a lot of freedom. There was no micromanaging. We took ownership of our own development.”

Many of Lawhead’s former teammates from the Fort Wayne area have remained very good friends.

“They are my Midwest family if you will,” say Lawhead, 29.

After his playing career, he served as a graduate assistant and then as paid assistant in the Mastodons program from 2015-19. 

Lawhead coached three All-Americans at IPFW — Evan Miller (who was selected in the 22nd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres and pitched for the Low Single-A Fort Wayne TinCaps 2016-18 and in Triple-A in 2019) and all-Summit League performers Greg Kaiser and Brandon Soat (who played for the 2017 independent pro Evansville Otters). 

All three are Indiana prep products — Miller from LaPorte, Kaiser from Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Soat from Homestead.

Along the way, Lawhead earned undergraduate degrees in General Studies and Public Policy and a masters in Organizational Leadership from IPFW/Purdue Fort Wayne.

In the summers of 2014 and 2015, Lawhead was head coach for 13U and 14U teams for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization, working alongside founder/general manager Joel Mishler and director of operations Justin Barber.

“Joel was another big influence in my life as a coach,” say Lawhead. “(The Chargers) are  youth organization so devoted to developing players and men.”

Barber is now the pitching coach at Taylor University.

Zac Mishler, Joel’s youngest son, was Lawhead’s teammate at IPFW.

Former Mastodons infielder and assistant coach Kristian Gayday was offered an opportunity to stay in Fort Wayne and join the coaching staff at the University of Saint Francis by Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher

Gayday was later joined at the NAIA and Crossroads League member school by Lawhead, who left IPFW (now known as Purdue Fort Wayne) when Pierce left to take to take an athletic administration job in Arizona.

“Coach Butcher is great to coach under,” says Lawhead. “Before I even got here, he had established a culture with good athletes and good human beings. There’s also that (relentless) mentality I spoke about earlier. It makes my job a lot easier.

“We can focus on the things that can help us win games in the heat of competition. (Butcher) gives his assistant coaches full autonomy. He does not micromanage. We have a really good relationship.”

At IPFW, Lawhead worked primarily with position players on defense and collaborated with Pierce on hitting.

As a Saint Francis assistant, he throws batting practice and helps out with defense whenever he can but Lawhead’s primarily responsibility is with the Cougars pitching staff.

He covers a variety of areas, but a competitive mentality is a key.

“We talked about body language, self talk and all the thing we can control,” says Lawhead. “We want to compete relentlessly with no fear.

“We want to get to that fight or flight response. We like our guys competing at everything they do and doing it to the highest of their abilities.”

Lawhead has his pitchers using their arms often to build up their tolerance. 

“We throw just about everyday, but not as hard as they can,” says Lawhead. “We want to be able to expose hitters’ weaknesses and get them out.”

COVID-19 restrictions did not allow Saint Francis to have any games with other schools during the six weeks of fall practice, but there was plenty of intrasquad action.

“In my opinion we accomplished our goal of pitchers learning their strengths and how they are going to attack hitters,” says Lawhead. “During week, (pitches) prepared to perform on the weekend. We had a plan in place to recover so we can do that again and again.”

Lawhead says its likely that the Cougars will not have mid-week games during the 2021 season with four-game weekend series in the conference (7- and 9-inning doubleheaders on Fridays and Saturdays).

Saint Francis finished the fall semester before Thanksgiving. Students, including ballplayers, are due back on-campus in January.

While the student-athletes are away, the coaching staff is recruiting and planning for the season.

“We’re working on how we’re going to attack practice as efficiently as possible when the guys get back,” says Lawhead.

Connor and Victoria Lawhead have a daughter who turns 1 on Dec. 31 — Avery. While Victoria is teaching sixth grade English at Woodside Middle School (a Homestead High School feeder), he is at home with the baby then often heads to the office.

Connor Lawhead, who played two collegiate baseball seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and holds three degrees from the school, is now an assistant coach at Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. (IPFW Photo)