Tag Archives: Covenant Christian

Gongaware serving baseball community with Prospect Select, Indiana Chargers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Gongaware coached college baseball.

Now he’s serving both college coaches and players who want to get to the collegiate level.

As event coordinator for Prospect Select Baseball — a Florida-based national tournament company — Gongaware is helping to get players exposure in front of the right college coaches and scouts.

Gongaware, who is based in Fort Wayne, Ind., seeks answers to baseball questions.

“What are the greatest needs of those college coaches that are trying to identity who those players are?,” says Gongaware. “How can we utilize our events as a meeting place for that to happen?

“We want to create what we would consider the greatest value-added events for everyone that shows up — players, parents, umpires, college coaches, pro scouts. How are they getting their particular needs met?

“What are we doing as a tournament company to facilitate the greatest opportunities for them to play at the next level, which is ultimately what everybody in travel baseball in trying to do?”

Gongaware notes that not all exposure is equal exposure and the aim is to have close to a 1:1 ratio of players to college coaches and scouts at events.

Emphasizing quality over quantity, Prospect Select has 13 high school tournaments on its 2019 calendar. There are events in Florida, the Carolinas and Boston as well as the Midwest — Kansas City, St. Louis, Quincy, Ill., and Fort Wayne.

“We’re not going to oversaturate and try to do 15 different things,” says Gongaware. “We look to find a great host venue city with great baseball complexes.

“People will mark their calendars every year and say, ‘I can’t wait to come back.’”

The idea is to provide great competition and the opportunity to get better while being seen by a coach who could realistically add a player to his program.

The 2019 Fort Wayne Classic for 16U and 18U teams is July 25-29 at World Baseball Academy, a facility on the west side of town with three turf fields for high schoolers.

WBA was the site of the Great Lakes Fall Invitational in 2018.

“I’ve worked with (Director of Operations/Tournaments) Andy (McManama) and (CEO) Caleb (Kimmel) here at World Baseball (Academy) and they’re fantastic,” says Gongaware. “It’s a great partnership. They clearly care for the student-athletes at a much higher level than what they do on the baseball field.

“We believe in the same thing as a company (at Prospect Select).”

One of the fun parts of Gongaware’s job is experiencing baseball culture in other parts of the country.

“We’re all connected through this awesome game,” says Gongaware. “But it’s different everywhere. It’s just like language and dialects.”

Gongaware says a point of pride is that all full-time PS staff have played or coached at the college or professional level and have strong relationships in that area.

“We can facilitate networking,” says Gongaware. “We try to build very strong relationships with college and travel coaches so that when we make a recommendation for a college coach or travel team to attend one of our events, we have strong confidence that it’s going to meet their needs.”

After labrum tears ended his playing career at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before it began, Batavia (Ill.) High School graduate Gongaware became interested in coaching.

“At the time I was getting bigger and stronger, I got hurt,” says Gongaware. “Let’s be honest, it was from inefficient body actions and mechanics. How I could help other players not go through that?”

Recruited while Rich Benjamin (now head coach at Indiana Wesleyan University) was pitching coach, Gongaware was at ONU as Elliot Johnson moved on as head coach and Todd Reid took over.

After graduating from Olivet in 2010, he was in youth ministry for three years and then became volunteer assistant pitching coach to Andy Gossel at Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis.

The two met when Gongaware was officiating an Upward Basketball game featuring one of Gossel’s sons.

“I’m forever indebted to him with getting me involved in the game of baseball as a coach,” says Gongaware of Gossel — aka “Goose.”

Gongaware went to Quincy (Ill.) University to become a graduate assistant in baseball at the same time his wife, Steph, was a graduate assistant in women’s basketball. The former Stephanie Wagner, a graduate of Jimtown High School in Elkhart, Ind., finished her playing career at Quincy.

Josh Rabe was the head baseball coach at Quincy and the Hawks were on the cusp of becoming an NCAA Division II power.

“Coach Rabe took a huge risk on me with not having college playing experience,” says Gongaware, who earned a masters degree in Educational Leadership at QU in 2016. “There was so much knowledge he was willing to share with me.”

Matt Stembridge was then pitching coach at Quincy. He later became a Midwest tournament coordinator for Prospect Select and helped connect Gongaware as well as teaching him much about strength and conditioning.

“He’s one of my closest friends in the game of baseball,” says Gongaware of Stembridge. “He’s challenged me — not just on the baseball side — why do I believe what I believe? He’s really got me to ask a lot of questions.”

Stembridge is also general manager of the Hannibal (Mo.) Hoots and co-owner of the Normal (Ill.) CornBelters in the summer collegiate Prospect League.

Gongaware’s next stop after Quincy was as pitching coach at Hannibal-LaGrange University. Then he became pitching coach and recruitment/placement coordinator at Inspiration Academy, a high school and post-graduate institution in Bradenton, Fla.

When he got back to the Midwest, Gongaware was hired by Joel Mishler as an assistant operations director for the Indiana Chargers travel organization.

“He’s been such an awesome influence for me,” says Gongaware. “He’s been around this game so long. It’s so easy for guys like that to get caught up in this is the way it’s always been.”

Gongaware says Mishler continues to learn and get better and promotes the same thing with his staff, including taking them to the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention.

The Chargers have training facilities in Goshen and Fort Wayne. Younger players are based closer to home while the best high school players come together for the travel tournament season. Gongaware helps coordinate the staff in in Fort Wayne while coaching younger players on a volunteer basis.

In his two roles, he enjoys getting to be on both sides of the travel ball equation.

Gongaware knows that travel baseball and college recruiting is big business so he wants to make the experience worthwhile for all parties in his role with Prospect Select.

“If kids are going to pay money to play in one of our tournaments, we need to be honest and fair with them about where they are and what level of baseball they’re playing,” says Gongaware. “We need to be very open and honest with the college coaches about who they should come see and how they watch.”

With this in mind, Prospect Select tournaments are structured so equal-level teams are playing each other in each pool.

“Typically college coaches are attending the first two or three days because there are more teams playing,” says Gongaware. “It’s pool play. Everyone’s still in the tournament. Once it gets to bracket play and there’s only five or six teams, they’re not getting as much bang for their buck.

“If my ceiling is I’m a right-handed pitcher and I throw 82 (mph), I don’t need to go against the No. 1 prospect in the country who every time he faces me is going to hit it out of the park.

“If I’m a D-III hitter I don’t need to go against Daniel Espino, the No. 1 prospect last year, throwing 100 mph. It’s not going to do me any good. It doesn’t help his coach recruit him.”

Tony and Steph Gongaware will be married six years in June. The couple have two children — Ella (3) and Abram (who turns 1 in July).

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Tony Gongaware, who resides in Fort Wayne, Ind., is an event coordinator for Prospect Select Baseball — a Florida-based national tournament company. He also works operations and coaching for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Tony Gongaware will help stage Prospect Select Baseball’s Fort Wayne Classic at World Baseball Academy July 25-29, 2019.

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Baseball Academics Midwest emphasizes the six-tool player

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing the six-tool player is the focus for Baseball Academics Midwest, an Indianapolis-based travel organization which will field 19 baseball and softball teams in 2019.

“We have the five physical skills of baseball (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average, hitting for power), but the most overlooked part is the mental skill,” says BAM president and co-founder Jake Banwart. “We maximize physical performance through mental training.

“We do classwork as well as visualization. We take what they learn mentally and implement that into physical performance (through drills, done at the Extra Innings Indy South indoor training facility).”

Off-season training is broken into two semesters — positional training (middles, corners, outfielders, pitchers, catchers and base running) and team training.

“We do it in a way that keeps their attention, keeps it interesting and keeps them engaged,” says BAM vice president and co-founder Adam Gouker. “Practice plans are designed to take what we learn in the classroom and immediately take it out in the indoor facility.

“We’re still teaching the physical and making sure they’re getting all the training they need there,” says Banwart. “We’re just adding that sixth element to it to make sure they understand.

“We’re teaching physically how to do it, but also mentally how to approach it.”

BAM players are taught the concepts of baseball philosophy, how to be a good teammate, positive body language and self talk, offensive approach to hitting defensive relays and cut-offs, pitching and pitch calling and base running.

All those areas span six or seven weeks and build on each other throughout that winter.

BAM coaches have been trained so it’s consistent language from the time they’re 8 through 17.

“When we talk hitting approach, I can talk to anyone in our organization with that same language,” says Banwart.

There’s no need to re-start each season.

“We teach each age group one year ahead of where we should be teaching them,” says Banwart. “If our expectations are higher, their expectations for themselves will match that. We teach our 9’s like 10’s and so on.

“We’ve seen good results from that.”

Gouker sees players grasping more about baseball earlier in life.

“They’re learning at a lot younger age there’s a lot going on in the game,” says Gouker. “They’re focused on where they’re supposed to be without the baseball, where they’re supposed to back up, where they go with the ball in certain situations.”

Banwart is a graduate of McHenry High School in the Chicago suburbs. He played baseball through his junior year.

“I had decent (college) offers,” says Banwart. “But I was so fed up with travel ball and coaching, I hated baseball for about five years of my life and I stopped playing.”

Banwart attended Anderson (Ind.) University and played tennis for a few seasons. That’s where he met Gouker, who went to Alexandra-Monroe High School and then played one season of baseball at AU.

The two later found themselves coaching together in travel ball. They eventually decided to start their own organization and do things their way.

After a stint as assistant to Terry Turner at Daleville (Ind.) High School (the Broncos won an IHSAA Class 1A title in 2016) and head coach at Liberty Christian School in Anderson, Ind., Banwart is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis in 2019 with a staff of Gouker, Nathan Latimer and Cortez Hague (all of whom are also BAM coaches and utilize BAM concepts with the Falcons).

“It’s a culmination of what we’ve learned from other coaches, research and data collection,” says Gouker, who have talked about mental skills training with Diamyn Hall and hitting with Ryan Fuller among others. “We’re teaching kids a language.

“We’re pushing the academic portion a lot. We feel like we know the physical side as well as anybody.”

The idea is for players to understand the game. This is especially valuable for players who are being recruited by colleges. BAM had its first season in 2015 and has had 23 college commitments in two groups of graduating classes, including 2019.

“Coaches will get your 60 time, exit veto, throwing velocity and all those pieces but the one thing they don’t get to see very often is your baseball smarts or I.Q,” says Banwart. “If they’re there for one game, they might not see you make a play.

“If we’re able to win the 50/50 recruiting by providing opportunities for players to actually show off their mental skills and training, we’re giving those players an opportunity to be more successful or get to the highest level they’re capable of (attaining).”

There’s another piece to the puzzle.

“If you’re in a game and you’re over-prepared mentally then you’re able to transition what you’re doing to subconscious thought versus conscious action,” says Banwart. “We want players to know something well enough to feel like they’re just reacting.

“They’re not having to process and consciously think through those actions. It’s subconscious action that takes over.”

BAM, which operates with the help of several key partners, uses many of the same drills as high-level coaches.

“When we go into those we make sure players are aware of what the intent of that drill is,” says Banwart. “We’re not focused solely on result training. We break it down with intent so the mind can connect to the body.”

Banwart notes that professional athletes seem to rise to the occasion late in a game while some players sink to the level of their training.

“The better trained they are, the better they’re going to perform late in games or in tough situations which will give that visual appearance that they’re rising when, in reality, they’re playing with the same level they were earlier in the game,” says Banwart.

High school level players take into consideration things like the score, inning, number of outs, speed and direction of the ball and speed and position of the runners.

Banwart notes that the average time between pitches in Major League Baseball is 21.5 seconds.

“In those 21 1/2 seconds players are going to be thinking no matter what,” says Banwart. “They’re going to be thinking something. We just want to change their thinking and point it to what they should be thinking about.

“When they step in the (batter’s) box, they’re proactive with a plan instead reactive to a pitcher. We want to give our guys the feeling they’re in control of that at-bat versus they’re at the mercy of what the pitcher does.”

BAM players are encouraged to win the games within the game and things like swing count, average distance in the zone, max hand speed, max barrel speed and more are tracked on single-season and career leaderboards. Hits, stolen bases, saves etc. are also tracked.

BAM coaches are in the process of gathering baseline data and developing a Baseball Academics Rating (BAR) that can be used to show a player’s knowledge.

“It’s not catered to our program,” says Gouker. “It’s things anyone playing baseball or softball anywhere should know if  they want to be as successful as possible.

“We’re finding some pro guys are missing some things they should know.”

They have also developed a metric — WIN (Worth In Numbers) — to valuate players.

WIN takes out everything out of a players control and counts how many runs they create total or average per game. Each base is treated like a quarter of a run.

“Players with a third of a run per game or more are typically high level players,” says Banwart.

By running the numbers for the last three seasons, the MVP winners and Cy Young Award winners in the American League and National League were the ones that should have won based on WIN.

BAM coaches talk about metrics and more on their YouTube Channel.

Latimer, who played at Perry Meridian and one season at the University of Indianapolis and coached with Andy Gossel at Covenant Christian before joining the staff at his alma mater, has totally bought into the BAM way.

“We can’t have academic in our name if we don’t teach it,” says Latimer. “We want you to be baseball smart.

“If you have the sixth tool that makes you a more complete player.”

Banwart and Gouker says BAM teachings have spread across the Indianapolis area and the organization is exploring expansion possibilities.

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Representing Baseball Academic Midwest are (from left): vice president and co-founder Adam Gouker, president and co-founder Jake Banwart and Nathan Latimer. Banwart is also head coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis and Gouker and Latimer are among his assistants. (Steve Krah Photo)

It’s about more than baseball for Gossel, Covenant Christian Warriors

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Covenant Christian High School baseball players hoisted a sectional trophy in 2018.

The Warriors reigned at the IHSAA Class 2A event at Speedway.

That was only part of what veteran head coach Andy Gossel wants his players to achieve.

“Our two team core covenants are to be relentless to be selfless,” says Gossel. “We emblazon them on everything. This is what we’re about.”

Gossel wants his athletes to see how this looks in the class room, weight room, on game days and in dealing with their parents — in all aspects of their lives.

“We want to win games and championships,” says Gossel. “But we’re passionate about helping kids develop and grow as men of God.

“We want to impact kids’ lives far above and beyond the baseball field. They’re going to spend a much greater amount of being fathers, husbands, employees and employers than baseball players.”

Each year, Gossel and his team pick a book or topic to focus on besides baseball. They have done Bible studies and delved into John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.

Gossel goes to the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention when its within driving distance.

“It’’s so phenomenal,” says Gossel. “Coaches at so many levels share what they do.

“They are so approachable.”

In attending the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis in January 2018, Gossel noticed that the subject of relational coaching kept coming up.

“I don’t know if it’s a bigger emphasis or more people are willing to talk about it, but it was like an ad hoc theme for the weekend,” says Gossel, who saw Sam Houston State University head coach Matt Deggs do a presentation on the big stage about going from a transactional to a transformational coach.

“When it gets down to the nitty gritty, kids are going to remember the relationship so much more,” says Gossel, a Buffalo, N.Y., native who played at and graduated from Bible Baptist College (now Clarks Summit University in Pennsylvania) in 1997, and is heading into his 22nd season as a head baseball coach in 2019.

Following six seasons at Arlington Baptist School in Baltimore, this will be his 16th at Covenant Christian on the west side of Indianapolis (the school is at 21st Street and Girls School Road just over a mile from Ben Davis High School).

Kingsway Christian in Avon, Ind., and Mooresville (Ind.) Christian Academy in Mooresville are considered feeder schools. But students come from all over to attend the school for grades 9-12.

Covenant Christian has played on-campus at Warrior Park since 2003. The school started its baseball program in 2000 with no facility to call their own. A fund was established to built a field in honor of long-time player and Covenant parent Scott Dobbs after he lost his battle with cancer in the fall of 2002.

Gossel, who is also the school’s athletic director, says Covenant is constantly looking to improve the field.

So far, Denis Schinderle returning to his varsity coaching staff. He has been with Gossel for most of his Covenant tenure and both his sons played for Gossel. Chris Stevenson is back to lead the junior varsity. A search is on for other coaches.

Covenant Christian (enrollment of about 365) is a member of the Circle City Conference (with Brebeuf Jesuit, Guerin Catholic, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and Roncalli).

The CCC plays a home-and-home series, usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays to determine the regular-season conference champion. A year-end tournament is slated for May 17-18 at Roncalli.

“There’s no easy games in that conference,” says Gossel. “It’s really going to be a challenge for us.

“It prepared us for the state tournament. Every play was important. Every inning was important.”

The 2018 season in the Circle City was probationary for new member Covenant though the Warriors played all league teams twice but Roncalli.

The Warriors are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Indianapolis Shortridge, Indianapolis Washington, Park Tudor, Speedway and Cascade. Covenant Christian won its fourth sectional title in 2018, reigning at the Speedway Sectional.

“We can be very competitive at the sectional level,” says Gossel. “We’ve never gotten out of the regional.”

Covenant currently has graduate Eric Murphy (Wabash College) playing baseball at the next level.

Andy and Laura Gossel met at college. They have been married more than 21 years and have three children. Ty Gossel (16) is a sophomore football and baseball player at Covenant. Jacob Gossel (14) is a freshman basketball and baseball athlete at Covenant. The youngest is daughter Elyssa Gossel (11).

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Andy Gossel is the athletic director and head baseball coach at Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis. (Covenant Christian Photo)

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Andy Gossel is heading into his 16th season as the head baseball coach at Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis in 2019. (Covenant Christian Photo)

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As head baseball coach at Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis, Andy Gossel and his Warriors constantly talk about the covenants of being relentless and selfless. (Covenant Christian Photo)

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Andy Gossel came to Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis in the fall of 2003 to be head baseball coach and athletic director. The Warriors won the IHSAA Class 2A Speedway Sectional in 2018. (Covenant Christian Photo)

Building a winning culture a priority for Ambrose, Heritage Christian Eagles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In more than two decades guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Ambrose has learned that the X’s and O’s are important.

But in the last decade of so, Ambrose has begun to place his emphasis on building and maintaining a winning culture. He wants opponents to notice the way his Eagles go about warming up, how they hustle on and off the field and how they treat each other.

“That’s a big part of my coaching now,” says Ambrose. “I want to have a culture that is strong and healthy.”

The 2019 season will mark Ambrose’s 23rd at Heritage Christian School on the northeast side Indianapolis. He spent his first two seasons as junior varsity coach. Before that, the Cleveland, Ohio, native spent three seasons at Heritage Christian in Milwaukee.

Ambrose’s Indy-based program has won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) while always being competitive in the Circle City Conference (which along includes 3A Brebeuf Jesuit, 2A Covenant Christian, 3A Guerin Catholic, 3A Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and 4A Roncalli).

Heritage Christian (a pre-kindergarten through senior school with a current enrollment about 460 in the top four grades) has appeared in the last three city championship games against Indianapolis Cathedral, winning once.

Ambrose, who also teaches social studies at the high school level, has used different key words over the years and currently centers his team philosophy around the acronym E-A-G-L-E-S.

E — Each other.

A — Attitude.

G — God first.

L — Little things are Big things.

E — Effort.

S — Service to others.

The idea is to be both competitive between the while lines while still embracing and displaying Christian values.

“If you don’t care about winning, it’s easy,” says Ambrose. “But can i hold onto to my Christian character traits in the midst of an intense competitive situation?”

Ambrose had this in twins David and Ryan Ledbetter, who helped Heritage Christian to a football state title in the fall of 2008 and baseball state championships in the spring of 2009 and 2010.

First acquainted with the Lebetter boys as junior high youth group members at church, Ambrose later got to coach them when they transferred from Hamilton Southeastern to Heritage Christian after their sophomore year.

The Eagles go on a Dominican Republic mission trip every other year and the Ledbetters went that first year and bonded with their new teammates.

“We were a good team without them,” says Ambrose. “We were a great team with them.

“They were the icing on the cake.”

Both twins went to Cedarville (Ohio) University — Ambrose’s alma mater — and then pitched in the Texas Rangers organization. Ryan pitched through 2016, David through 2018.

“They were high energy, which can drive a coach crazy,” says Ambrose of the Ledbetter twins. “But I’d much rather pull back on a thoroughbred than kick a mule.

“They added that winning edge. Their teammates loved them.”

Team building is also done through a World Series party (scheduled for Friday, Oct. 26) and a leadership retreat for juniors and seniors and other events.

Looking ahead to the 2019 season, Ambrose sees a young team with plenty of freshmen and sophomores in the mix. The Eagles will field two high school teams — varsity and junior varsity.

With Rob Barber going to part-time status, he is looking for another top varsity assistant to pair with Nick Hibner, who is also head JV coach. Gary Vaughan is a JV assistant. Bryan Baker heads up the middle school program (Grades 7-8) with help from Jonathan Baker and Travis Willman.

Ambrose does have a veteran returning in Cooper Williams. The senior right-hander has already verbally committed to Xavier University in Cincinnati.

In order to get him used to being a college closer, Ambrose is thinking of using Williams in short starting stints of about 35 to 50 pitches, where he can use all his arsenal in the first inning if he so chooses.

Circle City Conference games are played at Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series. CCC coaches have been talking about adding an end-of-season conference tournament.

With the help of director of athletics Michelle York, Ambrose builds a non-conference schedule that includes as many sectional opponents as possible (HC is grouped with Eastern Hancock, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Irvington Prep Academy, Knightstown and Triton Central) plus neighboring rival Park Tudor as well as Faith Christian, Liberty Christian and Traders Point Christian.

Dan Ambrose graduated from Parma (Ohio) Senior High School in 1989, where he played for varsity coach Conrad Pokorski and JV coach Tim Tomc (who later took over the Redmen varsity).

Ambrose credits Tomc for teaching him the importance of an organized, focused practice.

“Baseball wasn’t just taking BP while people stood in the outfield,” says Ambrose. “(Tomc) was very structured.”

A full-squad Heritage Christian practice usually features multiple stations with players doing something different at each one.

“Every minute, every kid is doing something,” says Ambrose. “(Baseball coaches) gained a lot from football coaches. With so many kids in football, you have to be organized.”

During the fall, Ambrose had about eight or 10 players two hours two days a week to get in individual skill work while others were occupied with a fall sport. The same will be true in the winter, when the IHSAA practice window re-opens the first week of December.

“I encourage guys to play another sport,” says Ambrose.

Heritage Christian plays its game on-campus. A few years ago, a clubhouse was built near the baseball field and the net backstop — higher than the previous fence — was added last year.

“We lose a lot of foul balls in the neighborhood,” says Ambrose, who raises money for the upgrades through donations, the sale of hats and the Heritage Christian Youth Baseball League.

Started about a dozen years ago, the league for pre-K through fourth grade meets twice a week in the summer on the HC softball field. It is coach-pitch and score is not kept.

“My main goal is to allow kids to get a taste of baseball and realize how fun it can be,” says Ambrose. “If I’ve them them well and they keep playing, I hope they’ll come back to me in the seventh grade.”

Most seasons, the majority of Heritage Christian’s high school players take part in summer travel baseball.

“There’s a big difference when a kid plays the game all summer long,” says Ambrose. “His instincts are better.”

Dan and Amy Ambrose (a Brownsburg, Ind., native who went to Bethesda Christian) have three baseball-playing sons.

Jadon Ambrose is a freshman at Cedarville. Seth Ambrose is a 6-foot-6 sophomore first baseman. Will Ambrose is in the sixth grade.

Coaching for USAthletic (a travel organization started by Barber), Ambrose began coaching Jadon in the summers when he was in junior high and plans to do the same with Will’s 12U team next summer.

Ambrose’s rule of thumb with travel ball is one out-of-town tournament per season.

Heritage Christian graduate Joey Butz is also joined the college baseball world with Huntington (Ind.) University.

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Dan Ambrose is the head baseball coach at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis. His Eagles have won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) during his tenure. (Heritage Christian School Photo)

 

Accountability, camaraderie important to Wells and his Greencastle Tiger Cubs

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Wells received a baseball foundation that he now uses as head coach at Greencastle (Ind.) High School.

Wells played four seasons at Owen Valley High School in Spencer, Ind., and two at the University of Indianapolis and applies what he learned in guiding the Greencastle Tiger Cubs.

As a third baseman and pitcher, Wells started on varsity as a freshman for head coach John Heckman at Owen Valley. It wasn’t a common practice at the school at that time.

“Age doesn’t really matter,” says Wells of the message being sent by his coach. “You put your best nine out there and go with it.”

After the spring of 1999, John Heckman turned the Patriots program after that season to his son, Trent Heckman.

“I I learned a lot about quality of practice and to work hard at all times,” says Wells of the Heckamans. Wells graduated from OV in 2002.

Gary Vaught, who retired after the 2018 season with 808 career victories and a pair of trips to the NCAA Division II World Series, passed on the importance of discipline to Wells in his two campaigns with the Greyhounds (2003 and 2004).

Vaught held his players accountable. They knew where they needed to be and when. If they failed to do so, there was a price. It could involve playing time or, perhaps, extra running or conditioning.

“Kids don’t understand that being a college athlete is a full-time job,” says Wells, who found that out first-hand. “I also picked up valuable techniques and skills I try to instill in my players today.”

Finishing his history eduction degree at UIndy in 2006, Wells had an idea that he would like to be a baseball coach. He is heading into his third season as Greencastle head coach in 2019 after four campaigns as an assistant.

Wells was junior varsity coach at Owen Valley in 2007 and an assistant at North Putnam High School in 2009 and 2010.

Greencastle belongs to the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo in the West Division and Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley in the East Division.

“We have one of the best 3A conferences in the state,” says Wells, noting that Northview was moved up to 4A via the IHSAA tournament success factor. “Our conference is pretty loaded.”

WIC games are played back-to-back weeknights. Only the first game counts toward conference standings.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” says Wells, who has indicated that prefers both games count.

After the intradivisional games, crossover games are played between the divisions (West No. 1 vs. East No. 1 and so on).

Non-conference foes include Cascade, Covenant Christian, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Monrovia and Tri-West Hendricks.

With about 550 students, Greencastle is the fourth-smallest 3A school in Indiana. The Tiger Cubs are in an IHSAA sectional with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Northwest and Tri-West Hendricks.

The schedule includes some varsity/junior varsity doubleheaders.

The one-day Putnam County tournament brings Greencastle, Cloverdale, North Putnam and South Putnam together for competition. The Tigers Cubs won the event in 2018.

What about the 2019 team?

“We have a pretty talented sophomore group,” says Wells, who expects to have number of players who played varsity as freshmen in last spring. Among those are Bryce Barger, Ethan Maier, Jordan Meyer, Nick Sutherlin and Brody Whitaker.

Seniors Alex Costin, Tanner Sanders and Trey Wood are also in the mix.

The Tigers Cubs have not yet had any college baseball commitments. Wood plans to attend Taylor University in Upland, Ind., to play football. Recent graduate Tanner Nicholson is on the baseball team at Franklin (Ind.) College.

Wellls’ assistant coaches are Greencastle head boys basketball coach Bryce Rector (who is also head JV baseball coach) and boys basketball assistant Craig Whitaker.

The Tiger Cubs play on-campus on a field that was recently added new infield dirt, clay mixture around home plate and upgrades for drainage.

“There’s still a lot more we want to do,” says Wells.

A seventh grade social studies teacher at Greencastle Middle School, Wells has the opportunity to get to know future players before they get to high school.

“It’s an interesting dynamic,” says Wells. “I get a head start building relationships with those players.”

GMS, which serves Grades 6-8, has a baseball team. It is a club sport and not affiliated with Greencastle Community School Corporation.

“What we’ve lacked in the past is a feeder program,” says Wells. “When I grew up, Babe Ruth was the big thing. When we got to high school, we had known each other and played together since we were young.”

Such a system would build camaraderie and Wells would know what he had coming at the high school level.

“It’s something I’m trying to build,” says Wells. “We have not been able to get it pulled off yet.”

Greencastle is coming to the end of its fall baseball workouts. A new IHSAA rule allows coaches to practice with their teams for two hours two days a week during a certain period of time. The window closes after Oct. 12 and opens against the first week of December.

“I kind of like it,” says Wells. “I puts us all on a similar playing field. We’re a smaller school and have to share a lot of our athletes. (The rule) allows us to get as many guys together at once to throw and get in their cuts. It keep us in baseball shape throughout the year.

“It also helps us not burn out students on one thing.”

Ben and Kristen Wells have been married 11 years and have three children — 5-year-old son Lincoln and 3-year-old twin daughters Britain and Brooklyn.

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Greencastle (Ind.) High School won the 2018 Putnam County baseball tournament. Tiger Cubs with the hardware are (from left): assistant coach Bryce Rector, Gus Manion, assistant coach Craig Whitaker, Abe Wade, head coach Ben Wells and Jacob Harris.

In a family of coaches, Foster showing the way for Cascade Cadets

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ty Foster’s father taught him much about baseball.

Rick Foster coached baseball at Danville (Ind.) Community High School for more than 35 years and passed along what he knew about the game to sons Ryne (Danville Class of 2004) and Ty (Class of 2007).

“He knows so much,” says Ty of his father, who he now counts as an assistant as he heads into his fourth season as head coach at Cascade High School in Clayton, Ind., in 2019. “He dives into the rules and the minor details of coaching.”

“He also makes it enjoyable. You can have a good time (playing baseball). It’s great having him around everyday.”

Ty says his coaching approach is a mix of his former coaches.

Besides his father, there’s Danville basketball coach Brian Barber, Manchester College (now Manchester University) baseball coach Rick Espeset and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter baseball coach Dave Scott.

Barber has won 375 career games, including 336 in 19 seasons at Danville.

Espeset has led the Manchester Spartans for than two decades and a couple of NCAA Division III World Series appearances.

“He was not a big yeller,” says Foster of Espeset. “He would use charisma. There were little tics that you’ll never forget.”

Foster was a first baseman and designated hitter during his college days and was invited to spring training with the independent Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums.

Scott took Ritter to an IHSAA Class 2A state title in 2017. Foster was on his Raiders staff for two seasons before taking over the reins at Cascade.

Besides Rick Foster, Ty’s Cadets coaching staff includes Aaron Clark, Tim Horning, Corey Clark, Todd Blackburn, Mitch Duncan and Griffin Miller.

Aaron Clark is a former Danville coach. Horning works with Cascade’s pitchers. Corey Clark is Aaron’s son. Duncan played shortstop for Ty Foster at Cascade. Miller played for him at Ritter.

Rick Foster is still an industrial technology teacher and a head boys tennis coach and a boys basketball assistant at Danville.

Ty has watched older brother Ryne “fill up his resume” as a coach. He recently became an assistant at St. Charles Community College in Cottleville, Mo., after serving as a volunteer assistant at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.

Ryne Foster has also been an assistant at Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College, Georgia Southwestern State University and Concordia Colllege in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was head coach of the Boonville, N.Y.-based Adirondack Trail Blazers in the New York Collegiate Baseball League and Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

Cousin Reed Foxworthy is the head baseball coach at Seeger High School in West Lebanon, Ind. He is one of three triplets and is a son to a brother of Ty’s mother, Alice Foster.

Ty is grateful for the support of his mother.

“My mom is my biggest fan and has always been there,” says Ty Foster. “She never missed a game through high school and taking me to watch my dad coach after Little :eague games.

“She’s traveled far and wide when I was in college to see me play whenever she could. She’s helped me with my hitting when my dad wasn’t available and always been her kids’ biggest supporter. I wouldn’t of got to where I am with her being there.”

There is extra excitement around Cascade because a new turf baseball field is nearing completion.

The school will become the first in Hendricks County to put turf on the entire baseball field this fall (Danville has a turf infield and grass outfield). Cadet softball will also play on the carpet.

“We’ll be able to get in more games and practices,” says Ty Foster of the advantages of turf. “We can get out there and long toss instead of going to the auxiliary gym.”

Turf also means a smoother surface.

No more “The Cade claimed another victim today” or “The Cade’s not happy today.”

Ty, who spends his days doing housing inspections for a company in Carmel, Ind., is married to a kindergarten teacher. Katie (Hall) Foster teaches at Mill Creek East Elementary in Clayton. She played softball at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., and was head softball coach at Cascade.

Ty and Katie celebrated their second wedding anniversary in September.

Though plans call for a move to the Indiana Crossroads Conference in 2019-20, Cascade is now in the Western Indiana Conference.

The WIC is separated into divisions — Cascade, Brown County, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley in the East and Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo in the West.

WIC teams play within their division then play crossover playoff games (No. 1 in the East takes on No. 1 in the West etc.).

An IHSAA Class 2A school of about 450, Cascade is in a sectional grouping with Covenant Christian, Indianapolis Arlington, Indianapolis Washington, Indianapolis Shortridge, Park Tudor and Speedway.

The Cadets last won a sectional crown in 2005.

Cascade is on a balanced school calendar, meaning the Cadets get two weeks of spring break. Baseball games are not played until after the break.

By district rule, student-athletes can’t be be forced to miss vacation trips the first week, though Foster holds practices for those who don’t leave town.

Typically, the Cadets have a couple of weeks of preseason baseball practice.

The new IHSAA rule that allows coaches to work with their teams for two hours two days a week during a fall window, which closes Oct. 12 and re-opens the first week of December.

“The spirit of the rule is great,” says Foster. “We can actually get kids going and learn things.”

Cascade Middle School and Cascade Youth League (located in Amo) are feeders for the high school baseball program.

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Former long-time Danville (Ind.) Community High School baseball coach Rick Foster (left) is now on the Cascade High School coaching staff led by youngest son Ty Foster (left). Rick and Alice Foster’s oldest son, Ryne, coaches in college.

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Cascade High School head baseball coach Ty Foster (left) celebrates with Cadet Dylan Kottkamp during the 2018 season. The 2019 campaign will be Foster’s fourth leading the program.

 

McGaha emphasizes running game, commitment for Mooresville Pioneers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eric McGaha wants a team that will keep moving on the baseball field will act right on it and off.

“We put a lot of guys in motion,” McGaha, who has been the head coach at Mooresville High School in Morgan County every year but two since 2002. “We’ve got more than 100 stolen bases. Our steal steal percentage a little over 90 percent.”

McGaha grew up a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, but he really enjoyed seeing speed on display with the St. Louis Cardinals of Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Lonnie Smith and Ozzie Smith.

“I want my team to be athletic and run,” says McGaha. “That’s the first thing we do.

“I can’t watch Major League Baseball now. It’s either an extra-base hit or a strikeout. It boggles my mind. What about drag bunting, push bunting or fake bunt and slash?”

McGaha will look at a player’s batting average, but he’s really concerned with things like on-base percentage and hitting the ball hard.

“We use a Quality At-Bat chart and that’s the deciding factor on how we evaluate players from an offensive standpoint,” says McGaha. “We reward a ’sting’ hit or a ‘sting’ out.”

A player with a QAB rating of 2 is average, 3 above average and 4 outstanding.

“We have several players above 4,” says McGaha. “Off the field, it’s about being the best human being and teammate you can be. We’re here to mold young men into adults. They have be able to handle failure and success with grace and dignity.

“You want to surround yourself with kids are willing to work hard and pay the price. They buy into what you’re selling 100 percent. Those are the kids you want.”

McGaha’s Pioneers went into the week at 15-8 overall and 6-4 in the super-competitive Mid-State Conference. Whiteland and Mooresville were 1-2 in the standings in a league that also features Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville and Plainfield.

Among the Pioneers’ 2018 non-conference opponents are Avon, Beech Grove, Bloomington North, Cascade, Covenant Christian, Eastern Hancock, Edinburgh, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis North Central, Lebanon, Monrovia, Mount Vernon (Fortville), Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo and Tri-West Hendricks. Mooresville beat Eastern Hancock and lost to North Central Saturday, May 12 in Pioneers’ own John B. Howden Memorial Tournament.

“There’s no break in our schedule,” says McGaha. “All the teams we play are really respectable.

“We try to play as many quality teams as we can and try to prepare for the sectional.”

Mooresville is in the seven-team IHSAA Class 4A Avon Sectional with Avon, Brownsburg, Northview, Plainfield, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo.

Pioneers senior shortstop Tanner Haston has committed to Purdue University.

McGaha’s coaching staff features Kyle Davis (who played for McGaha), Joe Coughlan and David Rose (brother of Pete Rose) with the varsity, Toby Hennessy with the junior varsity and Dylan Johnson with the freshmen.

“It starts with good people,” says McGaha. “You surround yourself with good people that are pointed in the same direction. Those coaches are the voices of you. Make sure they’re following your philosophy.”

The program is fed by various travel programs plus the Mooresville Junior Baseball League, which serviced more than 500 kids in 2017.

With multiple teams and no room to expand, the school board voted to turf the entire baseball and softball fields at Mooresville. This spring marks the second season.

“I’d been asking for about a half dozen years,” says McGaha of his request to the school board. “They were very gracious.

“We are blessed and fortunate to have such a nice facility and we don’t every take it for granted.”

By using rakes and a LitterKat Synthetic Turf Sweeper, the team hopes to retain the life and longevity of the field.

In addition, metal spikes, sunflower seeds and chewing gum are all forbidden.

McGaha says the most expense in a turf field comes not from the turf but the drainage system.

“When it rains at our place, within 10 minutes it’s dry and you’re ready to go,” says McGaha.

The coach wants all his players ready to go and that includes seniors.

McGaha says only people who have coached a high school sport in the spring — like baseball — knows the challenges that accompany it.

Besides the diamond, players heads are filled with thoughts of spring break, prom, graduation, open houses and summer jobs. Many times, sectional games are played with players who are already out of the school building.

“Are they with you or have they mentally already checked out?,” says McGaha. “Unless you’ve experienced that you have no idea what it’s like. There are all these balls in the air and it’s a distraction.

“We try to play our best baseball at the end of the year. There have been years we haven’t done that. How committed are your seniors? We always say we have to have guys with two feet in. When a baseball player has senioritis it can kill the chemistry of a ball club.”

McGaha, who now teaches physical education at Northwood Elementary in Mooresville in addition to his coaching duties, is a 1991 graduate of Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, where he played for Indiana Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Foreman.

“Besides my stepfather, he had the biggest impact on my life,” says McGaha of the man who played at Indiana University for IHSBCA and Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Ernie Andres and then led the Warren Central program for 31 seasons.

McGaha played one season at Tri-State University (now Trine University) in Angola, Ind., then transferred to Purdue University North Central (now Purdue Northwest) in Westville, Ind.

“I knew I wanted to coach,” says McGaha, who was a relief pitcher who got a chance to lead and be a role model for coach Larry Blake. He earned his degree and began teaching and coaching in Mooresville around 2000.

Eric and Jan McGaha have been married close to 21 years and have three children — Brenna (13), Hanna (11) and Brody (9).

When Brody was very young, Jan went through a bout with cancer. She had her thyroid removed and went through radiation treatment.

“Thank the good Lord,” says Eric. “She’s been cancer free — knock on wood — for quite awhile.”

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Eric McGaha and wife Jan gather with their children (from left) Brenna, Brody and Hanna. Eric is the head baseball coach at Mooresville High School.