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Relationships are key for Lowrey, Harrison Raiders

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Lowrey wants to know how his players can hit, pitch or field the baseball.

But he also wants to relate to them as people.

The head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., puts a priority on building relationships as he develops his Raiders on the diamond.

“Without the relationships, players aren’t going to listen to you,” says Lowrey, who enters his seventh season in charge at Harrison in 2019. “It doesn’t matter how much you know.

“Then the baseball comes.”

Lowrey’s baseball knowledge was built as a player at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette and at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Senior right-hander Lowrey was the winning pitcher for the 1999 IHSAA Class 4A state champions (McCutcheon beat Lawrence North 7-6). He recorded a called third strike with the bases loaded to end the game.

“I threw a lot of pitches that day,” says Lowrey. “It was one of those drizzling nights. Between me and my catcher (Nick McIntyre, who went on to play at Purdue University then pro ball and is now an assistant coach at the University of Toledo), we had passed balls and wild pitches. But were able to get out of the sticky situation.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Jake Burton was then the Mavericks head coach.

“He had high expectations which made us better,” says Lowrey of Burton. “He helped me as a coach know the importance of organization and discipline both as a player and a coach.”

At Ball State, Lowrey spent three seasons for Rich Maloney and one with Greg Beals. Lowrey appeared in 32 games and the Cardinals won the Mid-American Conference title in 2001 and MAC West crowns in 2000, 2001 and 2003.

“(Maloney) does such a good job of building relationships with the community and players,” says Lowrey. “He connects to so many top-end recruits. He’s one of the best recruiters nationally. He has had a lot of success in the Big Ten and the MAC.”

Teammates who went high in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft during Lowrey’s time at BSU include right-hander Bryan Bullington (No. 1 overall in 2002 to the Pittsburgh Pirates), left-hander Luke Hagerty (first round in 2002 to the Chicago Cubs), outfielder Brad Snyder (first round in 2003 to the Cleveland Indians), right-hander Paul Henry (seventh round in 2002 to the Baltimore Orioles) and right-hander Justin Weschler (fourth round in 2001 to the Arizona Diamondbacks).

Outfielder Larry Bigbie went in the first round of the 1999 draft to Baltimore. Burlington played high school ball at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated, Weschler at Pendleton Heights and Bigbie at Hobart. Hagerty and Snyder are Ohio products while Henry played in high school baseball in Tennessee.

Lowery remembers Beals (now head coach at Ohio State University) as having a high Baseball I.Q. and the ability to enjoy it.

“He really understood the game and he had a lot of fun doing it,” says Lowrey. “Baseball is a kid’s game and it’s meant to be fun.”

Lowery began his coaching career with junior varsity stints at Delta (2004) and McCutcheon (2005). He was pitching coach at Harrison in 2006 and 2007 before serving as head coach at Delphi (2008-12). He was going to be head coach at Brownsburg, but some health issues arose and he stayed in Lafayette, eventually becoming head baseball coach and a special education teacher at Harrison.

The Raiders have sent a number of players on to college baseball during Lowrey’s tenure.

“I take pride in that,” says Lowrey. “I try to help our kids reach those goals if that’s what they want.”

Outfielder/shortstop Carter Bridge has transferred from Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill., to Indiana University, where Franklin Community High School graduate Jeff Mercer is now head coach. Left-hander Matt McConnell and outfielder/left-hander Bobby Dearing are both at Western Michigan University, where New Albany graduate Billy Gernon is head coach.

Current Harrison senior Jack Ross, now recuperating from Tommy John surgery, has committed to play at Taylor University.

Lowrey says shortstop Trey Cochran and catcher/first baseman Jacob Kyle are starting the recruiting process.

The Harrison coaching staff for 2019 includes Christian Vukas, Dave Gilbert and Kerry Yoder with Lowrey and the varsity plus Jon Laird and Deryk Quakenbush as well as Shawn Louks, Leighton Mennen and Hayden Kuxhausen with the Blue and Orange units.

Lowery expects about 65 to 70 for tryouts with 45 to 50 making the three squads. There will be 14 to 20 players per team, including some used as courtesy runners and some pitcher-onlys.

“We want to develop these kids,” says Lowrey. “Especially at the two JV levels, we want to make sure we don’t miss out on the develop.”

Harrison has one on-field diamond.

“That goes back to Coach Burton and that organization,” says Lowrey. “We have to be organized and creative in how we approach practices and games.”

Harrison uses a batting practice circuit with every player on the field. The Raiders sometimes utilize the adjacent football field.

“We want to make sure kids are in small groups and constantly working,” says Lowrey.

Harrison is part of the North Central Conference (with Harrison, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport and McCutcheon in the West Division and Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond in the East Division). Teams play home-and-home series within their divisions then compete in a seeded cross-divisional tournament the two Saturdays in May.

The Raiders are in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport, McCutcheon and Zionsville. Harrison has won 11 sectional crowns — the last in 2015.

Pat and Lauren Lowrey were married in 2005. She is the former Lauren Jillson, who played three sports at Munster (Ind.) High School and volleyball at Ball State, where she met Pat. The couple have two sons — Jeremy (11) and Brady (8).

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Pat Lowrey, a graduate of McCutcheon High School and Ball State University, is entering his seventh season as head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., in 2019.

 

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Carr wants Mt. Vernon (Fortville) Marauders to play with ‘Dirtbag’ intensity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Carr wants his Mt. Vernon (Fortville, Ind.) High School baseball players to play with an edge.

As a reward, the Marauders head coach presented “Dirtbag” T-shirts to those athlete who exhibited this brand of baseball in 2018 and plans to do the same again in 2019.

“We’re too nice sometimes,” says Carr. “(The incentive) gave them a reason to play a little harder. I want (opponents) to know they played a game of baseball.

“Every year the team has become closer and closer to what I want. We’re a year older and a year more experienced.”

After seeing Mt. Vernon go 16-12 in 2018, Carr heads into his fifth season as head coach next spring.

“It sounds so cliche’, but I want to get good kids to play hard,” says Carr, who learned more about the profession by attending the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis in 2018. “I want to get as much out of them as I can.

“I want them to play the game right and be respectful. I tell them to give ‘100 percent, 100 percent of the time.’”

Carr came back to Mt. Vernon (he was an assistant on Dustin Glant’s staff while teaching freshmen physical education during the spring semester in 2012) after spending 2013 as an assistant at Indianapolis Arsenal Tech and 2014 as head coach at Indianapolis Manual.

At the latter stop, the baseball program had been dormant and Carr helped bring it back. It was an experience that was both difficult and rewarding.

“I was knocking on doors and creating relationships to make sure we could field a team,” says Carr. “I had no assistant coach. I did get a lot of support from athletic director and assistant principal Don Burton.”

The Redskins won one game in 2014.

When Carr took over at Mt. Vernon, he was the fifth head coach at the Hancock County school in six years. He has tried to bring a sense of stability to the program and has sent players on to college baseball each year — Zach Spears (Miami University of Ohio and now in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization) in 2015, Noah Powell (Ball State University) and Kennedy Parker (Anderson University) in 2016, Braydon Augustinovicz (Franklin College) and Ryan Beck (Indiana University Kokomo) in 2017 and Caleb Rush (Frontier Community College in Illinois) and Dino Tharp (Urbana University in Ohio) in 2018.

Carr expects three seniors to return for 2019 — left fielder Dylan Cole, catcher Sam McCarty and center fielder Thomas Obergfell. Carr sees Cole going to an Ivy League school for academics only with the other two weighing their options of playing college ball.

A 2000 Norwell High School graduate, Carr was a four-year starter for head coach Bob Mosier.

“I learned that it does not matter what grade a kid’s in, if he’s good enough, let him play varsity,” says Carr. “It’s not always a very popular decision to play young guys. But if they’re good enough, put them on the field.”

Carr was one of three freshmen seeing considerable playing time when Norwell won the 1997 Bellmont Sectional and met future Notre Dame and major league pitcher Aaron Heilman and his Logansport teammates in the first round of the Kokomo Regional.

That was the last year of the IHSAA single-class system in Indiana. Carr recalls that the focus at the time of the switch was on basketball.

“It didn’t change that much for baseball,” says Carr. “We were in a sectional before with 2A’s and 3A’s. The Bellmont Sectional was made up of Adams and Wells county schools.”

Mt. Vernon is part of a Class 4A sectional grouping with Anderson, Connersville, Greenfield-Central, Muncie Central, Pendleton Heights and Richmond.

In 2018, the tournament was hosted by Mt. Vernon. Pendleton Heights beat the Marauders in the championship game. The last Mt. Vernon sectional championship season was 2011.

Mt. Vernon is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown). The Marauders went 6-8 in HCC play in 2018, finishing tied for fifth with Pendleton Heights and Shelbyville and behind conference champion New Palestine (11-4), New Castle (9-4), Yorktown (8-6) and Greenfield-Central (7-7).

HCC games are played as Friday night doubleheaders unless New Castle (which does not have lights) is hosting and then the contests are on Saturday.

Mt. Vernon’s lighted varsity diamond is on-campus and has a short brick wall in front of the dugouts rather than a screen. There is an adjacent practice field.

Carr is still filling his 2019 coaching staff. Michael Thompson has been with him each year at the varsity level and will return. Jerry Grill will lead the junior varsity. Other coaches at the varsity, JV and C-team levels have not yet been solidified.

Typically, Carr likes to have 40 players in the program.

“Every year I get better at (explaining to players how they might fit),” says Carr. “I try to be forthright and open, telling them ‘this is the role you’re going to play.’”

Marauder Baseball Club will field 8U through 13U teams in 2019. The club’s first season was 2018.

Other feeder programs for MVHS include middle school baseball, Mt. Vernon Optimist League, Oaklandon Youth Organization and various travel organizations. The Midwest Astros are headquartered in Greenfield. Marauders also play in the summer for the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro and others.

The son of Megan Carr, Ryan grew up in Bluffton, Ind., and participated in local youth leagues and travel ball for the Fort Wayne Indians during his high school years.

He played four seasons (2001-04) at Manchester College (now Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.).

The Rick Espeset-coached Spartans won Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament titles in 2002 and 2004, an HCAC regular-season crown in 2004 and went to the 2004 NCAA Division III College World Series in Appleton, Wis.

“He’s an interesting cat,” says Carr of Espeset. “He’s always thinking and changing. He tries things his players maybe don’t understand. But he’s proven himself.

“I loved playing for him.”

Carr tries to mimic Espeset calm demeanor.

“He’s not a rah-rah guy,” says Carr. “I’m more excitable, but I try to keep it cool. I don’t get in an umpire’s face.”

Carr got his history/social studies in 2006. After holding non-education positions, his first teaching job was at Indianapolis Marshall High School in the fall of 2011. That’s when he began helping Glant at Mt. Vernon.

Now a high school history and government teacher at Mt. Vernon, Carr is engaged to Joanna Sajda.

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Ryan Carr (left) and fiancee’ Joanna Sajda enjoy Turkey Run State Park in the spring of 2018. Carr is entering his fifth season at head baseball coach at Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind., in 2019.

 

Former Delta, Indiana State, Louisville hurler Conway begins pro career in White Sox system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gaining confidence and maturity have gone a long way in helping Austin Conway along his baseball journey, which has taken him into professional baseball as a right-handed pitcher in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Conway played for head coach Terry Summers at Delta High School near Muncie, Ind., where he graduated in 2013.

“He taught you how to carry yourself on the field and have a lot of composure,” says Conway of Summers. “I was very immature as a freshman. I had a lot of growing up to do. Having him around really helped.”

From Delta, where current Cowan High School head coach Ryan Conwell was an assistant, Conway took his talents to Terre Haute to play for Indiana State University. That’s where he got to work with Sycamores head coach Mitch Hannahs and pitching coach Jordan Tiegs.

“I was very raw coming out of high school,” says Conway. “I lacked at knowing the game. (Hannahs) was hard on me. But he wanted to get the most out of me.

“He helped me with the mental side. He made me grow up and become a much better baseball player.

Conway learned that college baseball moves at a faster clip than high school.

“(Hannahs) would take me to the side and slow me down,” says Conway. “He gave me tough love when I needed that, too.”

Conway figured out how to understand and control situations. He would figure out what was working for him that day and what was not.

He found out that sometimes the situation calls for finesse.

“You can’t blow it by everybody,” says Conway, 23.

Tiegs came on board for Conway’s sophomore season.

“He helped me on the confidence side,” says Conway of Tiegs. “The first bullpen he saw, I threw was really good. He was very relatable, easy to trust and get close to.

“He was really big on the health and mechanics side of pitching.”

Tiegs, who pitched at Sauk Valley Community College and the College of Charleston, implemented a weighted ball program/velocity program that helped develop mechanics and velocity.

Conway took to it and saw results.

“I started pounding the zone more,” says Conway, who played four seasons for ISU (2014-17) with the 2016 season shortened to six appearances and 15 2/3 innings because of a shoulder injury. He received a medical redshirt for the year.

The righty came back in 2017 and was named second team all-Missouri Valley Conference after going 2-1 with 12 saves, a 2.97 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and 11 walks over 33 1/3 innings and 28 appearances (all in relief). When he was done at ISU, he ranked No. 2 on the career saves list with 20.

When Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft offers did not meet Conway’s standards, he though he was done with baseball.

But his coach with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod Baseball League — Harvey Shapiro — made a call to friend Dan McDonnell, head coach at the University of Louisville.

McDonnell extended an invitation to Conway, who was approved for a fifth year of eligibility.

He also enrolled in Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law.

Juggling law school and baseball, Conway posted a 3-1 record with two saves, a 2.21 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 17 walks in 24 innings and 20 appearances (all out of the bullpen) in 2018.

“It was incredible,” says Conway of his U of L experience. “It’s one of the best programs with one of the best head coaches in the country.

“(McDonnell) expects so much from his players and coaches. He’s very demanding.

“But he’ll respect you, if you respect him.”

Louisville pitching coach Roger Williams did not try to change much about the well-established Conway.

“He was more hands off with me as a fifth-year guy,” says Conway. “It was cool to see how he operated with the young guys.

“(With all pitchers,) he made sure the confidence was there.”

Conway was getting his four-seam fastball up to 95 mph with the Cardinals and regularly sat at 91 to 95. In pro ball, he was at 90 to 93. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, he also employs a “circle” change-up and “spiked” curveball (which looks more like a slurve).

The White Sox selected Conway in the 31st round of the 2018 draft and split his first pro campaign between the Arizona League White Sox and Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers.

Two other Indiana products — Logan Sowers and Michael McCormick — also played for Great Falls in 2018.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder was a combined 8-6 with two saves and a 3.00 ERA. In 46 games (all in relief) and 71 1/3 innings, he struck out 64 and walked 28.

Comparing NCAA Division I to rookie-level pro baseball, Conway saw parallels in talent. Though the minors is sprinkled with raw Latin players with loads of potential.

A double major in criminal justice and political science/legal studies at ISU, Conway completed his first year of law school at the U of L. He says his law studies will be on hold while he is pursuing his baseball career.

Born in Muncie, Conway played his early baseball around Albany, Ind., and Middletown, Ind. He was on the Shenandoah all-star team.

A football player, the only summer he really played travel baseball was with Muncie American League Post 19 Chiefs going into his senior year at Delta.

Austin’s father (Steve Conway) lives in Albany. His mother and stepfather (Brooke and James Runyon) are in Rockford, Ill. He has two stepbrothers (Jeff Dobbs and Josh Dunsmore) a half-brother (Dustin Runyon) and half-sister (Caitlin Runyon).

Using some of the exercises he learned from Tiegs at Indiana State, Austin plans to split time between Illinois and Indiana while working out and getting his arm ready to go to spring training in Arizona in early March.

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Austin Conway pitched at Indiana State University from 2014-17. (Indiana State University Photo)

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Austin Conway pitched at the University of Louisville in 2018. (University of Louisville Photo)

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Juggling law school and baseball, Delta High School graduate Austin Conway posted a 3-1 record with two saves, a 2.21 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 17 walks in 24 innings and 20 appearances (all out of the bullpen) in 2018. (University of Louisville Photo)

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Austin Conway, a graduate of Delta High School near Muncie, Ind., and Indiana State University in Terre Haute, played one season at the University of Louisville and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2018. (Great Falls Voyagers Photo)

 

Delta, Ball State alum Nichols nearing baseball broadcast milestone with Dayton Dragons

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana native is about to reach a baseball broadcasting milestone with an Ohio-based team in Michigan.

Tom Nichols, a Muncie native, will work his 4,000th minor league game (radio and television combined) on Wednesday, Aug. 8, if the Dayton (Ohio) Dragons of the Low Class-A Midwest League are not rained out between now and then.

All Dragons games (140 during the regular season) are broadcast on WONE 980 AM and http://www.daytondragons.com.

In his 31st season as a baseball play-by-play announcer and his 11th in Dayton, Nichols is in some rare company.

Jim Weber (Toledo Mud Hens) and Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians) have been at the mike for more than 40 years and have done upwards of 6,000 games apiece.

Larry Ward (Chattanooga Lookouts) has been on the call for more than 35 years.

By his calculations, Nichols trails Curt Bloom (Birmingham Barons) by a few games. He counts Bloom as his longest friendship in the business. Though Bloom is a year older than Nichols, they share the same birthday — Feb. 9. They first crossed paths in the Carolina League and then for years in the Southern League.

“I’m sure I’m in the top 10, but not sure if I’m in the top five,” says Nichols of the longest current radio voices in the minors.

Nichols, 54, was born in Muncie, Ind. At age 7, he became a fan of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”

Al Michaels was the Reds play-by-play from 1971-73 and young Tom only missed games when he was playing himself.

Marty Brenneman took over Michaels’ role in 1974 and is still the No. 1 man in the Reds booth. For years, he was paired with former Cincy pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

“You used to be able to your ride bike through neighborhood and listen to the game because someone would have Marty and Joe on there porch,” says Nichols. “In those days, only 10 or 15 games were televised.”

Another way to keep up with the Reds — and baseball — in the ‘70s was by subscribing to The Sporting News. The publication came in the mail each Friday and Nichols devoured the box scores and stories after getting home on the school bus.

He played baseball at Delta High School in Muncie, where he graduated in 1982.

While at Ball State University, where he got his diploma in telecommunications in 1986, Nichols called high school football, basketball and baseball for WWHC in Hartford City and one season of Ball State baseball for WERK in Muncie.

He was the news director WLBC in Muncie for almost three years after college when he got his professional baseball broadcasting break.

Getting up the nerve to call Kellman for some advice, he was presented with the opportunity to be a No. 2 voice when musician duties took away.

Nichols did that during the 1988 and 1989 seasons.

“I’m eternally grateful to Howard Kellman for giving me that opportunity,” says Nichols, who has taken the opportunity to pay it forward mentoring young broadcasters as they serve as his second during Dayton home radio broadcasts, take the whole game when Nichols is on the TV side and work extensively in media relations.

“I do that because somebody did it for me,” says Nichols. “We’ve had one every year. Many have gone on to be No. 1’s.”

Owen Serey was in Dayton in 2008 and went on to be the voice of the Midwest League’s South Bend Silver Hawks.

Jason Kempf was with Nichols and the Dragons in 2017 and 2018 and is now the No. 1 for the MWL’s Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa.

Others who assisted Nichols in Dayton and moved on to lead play-by-play roles include Mike Couzens (Fort Wayne and now with ESPN), Brendan Gulick (Delmarva and now in Cleveland area radio), Keith Raad (Staten Island) and Alex Vispoli (Winston-Salem, Frisco and then the Ivy League).

Bill Spaulding has carved his niche in the broadcasting world by calling Olympic sports for NBC.

While Nichols is with the Dayton all-year and does many things including speaking engagements and has come to thoroughly enjoy audience Q&A’s, the Dragons No. 2 position is seasonal — March-to-September.

Nichols’ first No. 1 gig was with the Kinston (N.C.) Indians of the Carolina League, where he worked for the 1990 season. Jim Thome (just inducted into the Ball Hall of Fame) led the future big leaguers on the Cleveland Indians-affiliated team. A couple others of note were Curtis Leskanic and Robert Person.

He came the Midwest League to lead airings of Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs games in 1991-92. There, he got frequently have former Harry Caray sideman Jimmy Piersall as his analyst.

“He had a tremendous knowledge of the game and was very colorful person,” says Nichols of Piersall. A Chicago Cubs farm team at the time, Nichols followed the exploits of future MLB players Brant Brown, Mike Harkey and Amaury Telemaco.

Moving over to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Minnesota Twins), Nichols surveyed action from since-razed Memorial Stadium — aka “The Castle” — and saw future big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins (who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January), Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Matt Lawton and A.J. Pierzysnki come through town from 1993-96.

Nichols’ career path took him south to present diamond descriptions to fans of the Mobile (Ala.) BayBears (San Diego Padres) from 1997-2004. Matt Clement, Doug Dascenzo, Brian Lawrence and Jake Peavy were among those on their way to the majors. Lawrence is now the pitching coach for the Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs.

During much of the time Nichols was in Mobile, he was also an executive director for a franchise management company — Victory Sports Group.

From 2005-07, Nichols was director of broadcasting of the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent Northern League. Jermaine Allensworth, an Anderson, Ind., product who had played in the bigs, was with Gary in 2006-07.

Nichols took his current position — Director of Media Relations & Broadcasting at Dayton Dragons Professional Baseball — prior to the 2008 campaign. Dayton’s affiliation with the Reds was one of the things that attracted him about the job.

Over the years, he has got to have former Reds sit in with him. That list features Todd Benzinger, Tommy Helms, Lee May, Ron OesterJim O’Toole and many more.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was on the TV broadcast with Nichols this season.

“That was a thrill for me,” says Nichols, who was also pleased when he got to regularly interact with one of his boyhood idols — Ken Griffey Sr., when the former Red was Dayton’s hitting coach in 2010.

Indiana’s own Tucker Barnhart (who was with Brenneman and others for the 2018 Reds Caravan stop in Muncie) plus Zach Cozart, Didi Gregorius, Billy Hamilton and many others have been Dragons and later big leaguers during Nichols’ tenure.

When a Cincinnati player makes a rehabilitation appearance with Dayton and the Reds don’t play at the same time, flagship WLW often picks up the Dragons broadcast.

In his one game on the Reds Radio Network, Nichols worked the 2017 Reds Futures Game with color man Jeff Brantley and former Cincy broadcaster Jim Kelch.

“Put this one in the win column” is the phrase Nichols uses to cap every Dayton victory.

He says he may have subconsciously picked up descriptive phrases from all those years of listening to Reds broadcasts and recordings of them on his parent’s living room stereo.

But other than the win-capper, Nichols makes it a point not to have signal calls.

He had the belief reinforced by Ernie Harwell when they spent the day and worked side-by-side with the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the 1994 Midwest League All-Star Game in Fort Wayne.

“He told me, ‘People tune in for the game, not for you,” says Nichols of Harwell. “When you put yourself ahead of the game, you’re cheating your listeners.”

Nichols does not cheat on his homework either.

“Preparation is key,” says Nichols. “I believe in that strongly.

“That’s the most important thing. The more experience you get, the better you get at preparing.”

Nichols gathers plenty of facts and has them at the ready to use during the game. He knows that he has a three-hour broadcast to fill. On the road, that’s solo. He familiarizes himself with players and coaches and any pertinent storylines around the Dragons or the opponent.

He has at his ready a sheet full of the “last time” nuggets. Who was the last Dayton player to go 4-for-4 or hit three home runs in a game? His list tells him.

For the past two decades, Nichols has been using a ledger-sized scorebook that he devised with the help of veteran Adams, Blackford and Wells County radio man Bill Morris. It gives him room to right in facts about each player, including key statistics. For opponents, he will list things like their college and draft round.

“This way you’re not looking through a media guide,” says Nichols. “Without wasted time, you can quickly mention how many homers has if he just hit another one.

“It is time-consuming. But if you’re willing to put in the time, there will be rewards.”

The most rewarding thing to Nichols is spending time with family.

His parents — Tom Sr. and Fran Nichols — are retired and live in a country house outside Muncie during the summer months and in Marco Island, Fla., other parts of the year. He was a firefighter in Muncie and she an accountant.

Tom Jr. is the oldest of three. There’s also brother David Nichols and sister Kelli (Nichols) Dulaney.

David Nichols is a former Delta basketball player who was one year ahead of Matt Painter (now the Purdue head men’s basketball coach) and played hoops at Huntington University. He works in claims resolution in Indianapolis.

“David is the better athlete,” says Tom Jr., who was inducted into the Delaware County Athletic Hall of Fame in the coaches, contributors, media, officials category in 2009. “I was very average.”

Uncle Tom is close with David’s two children — Kaylee Nichols (a volleyball player at DePauw University in Greencastle) and Matthew Nichols (a former Delta basketball player).

Kelli is employed by Delaware County 911.

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With his trusty ledger-sized scorebook in front of him, Tom Nichols broadcasts a Dayton (Ohio) Dragons baseball game. He is in his 31st season as a play-by-play man — 11th with Dayton — and is nearing his 4,000th game broadcast, most of those on radio and about 200 for Dayton on television. (Dayton Dragons Photo)

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Tom Nichols, a graduate of Delta High School and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., does a stand-up during a Dayton Dragons telecast. Nichols has been doing minor league baseball play-by-play since 1988 and has been a No. 1 voice since 1990. He started in Dayton 2008. (Dayton Dragons)

New Palestine’s Lyons to be head coach in 2018 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Shawn Lyons took a recent call that added a little extra excitement to his summer.

Lyons, the head baseball coach at New Palestine High School, got the news from Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive director Brian Abbott telling he was named to the South coaching staff for the 2018 series July 20-22 Four Winds Field in South Bend.

Not only that, Lyons will be the head coach of that staff. He will be assisted by Decatur Central’s Jason Combs, Lanesville’s Zach Payne and Castle’s Curt Welch.

“It’s an honor,” says Lyons. “Now I’m learning more about it everyday. I’ve had (New Palestine) kids play in the games. But I didn’t know the behind-the-scenes stuff.

“I’ve called other coaches to know what to expect, the routine and the regimen.”

Among others, Lyons has been getting advice from IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rich Andriole, who has coached in the all-star series twice.

Like any coach, there’s making out the lineups. But other all-star considerations include fairly distributing playing time and figuring out who can pitch that weekend and how much. With guidance from the IHSBCA leadership, Lyons expects those duties to be divided between the four coaches.

Shawn, who can be seen each January organizing the college tables at the IHSBCA State Clinic, grew up learning things like respect for the game, playing hard and being accountable from his father — Joe Lyons — and at Community Little League in Indianapolis.

“My dad wasn’t one of those helicopter parents that was always hovering around,” says Lyons. “He let me sink or swim on my own.”

As a coach, Lyons has an open door policy with parents with the exception of playing time. That is not up for discussion.

“We don’t have too many issues,” says Lyons. “I had two kids that played for me and they didn’t always play. It wasn’t easy when I got home. I had to do what was best for the program.”

Shawn and Holly Lyons (a family law attorney in Greenfield) have three adult children — Katie, Nick and Corey. All were athletes at New Palestine — Katie Lyons in volleyball and basketball (and played basketball at UIndy), Nick Lyons in baseball (with one diamond season at Franklin College) and Corey Lyons in baseball and football.

A 1979 graduate of Indianapolis Scecina Memorial High School, Shawn’s head coach with the Crusaders was Larry Neidlinger. He played two seasons for coach Bob Tremain at Indiana Central University (now the University of Indianapolis) and one for coach Craig Moore at the Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis.

The president of Indiana Appraisal Service, Inc., Lyons joined the New Palestine coaching staff as pitching coach nearly 20 years ago and became head coach for the 2012 season. The Dragons have had three head baseball coaches since 1965 — Marvin Shepler, Al Cooper and Shawn Lyons.

“I’m pretty passionate about high school baseball and I’m lucky enough to be able to make my own (work) schedule,” says Lyons.

New Palestine has done very well on the IHSAA tournament stage, winning the sectional 16 times, regional on six occasions and semistate once.

“We have talented kids that work hard,” says Lyons. “We have a good culture.”

Cooper’s Dragons were in the 3A state championship game in back-to-back seasons, finishing as runner-up to Norwell in 2003 and besting Andrean for the state title in 2004.

In his seven seasons at the helm, Lyons’ New Palestine teams are 145-64 with three Hoosier Heritage Conference titles (2012, 2016 and 2018), three sectional crowns (20-12, 2014 and 2015) and two regional championships (2012 in 4A and 2014 in 3A). The 2018 squad went 22-7 overall and 11-2 in the HHC and lost to eventual 4A state runner-up Indianapolis Cathedral in the final of the Warren Central Sectional.

The Dragons were briefly No. 1 in the IHSBCA poll and wound up No. 7 in the final rankings.

Besides New Palestine, the Hoosier Heritage Conference (which also features Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown) plays varsity doubleheaders on Friday nights with junior varsity twinbills on Saturdays.

Five seniors from 2018 —  Jake Garrison (Olney Central College), Nick Rusche (Taylor University), Cameron Pitzer (Huntington University), Kyle Gardner (Anderson University) and Myles Kost (Trine University) — have committed to play baseball at the next level. The best two players were juniors — catcher Colby Jenkins and left-hander Jack Walker (an Indiana University verbal commit).

The 2017 team sent outfielder/catcher/right-hander Jake Smith to Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Mich., and right-hander/outfielder Keegan Watson to the University of Nebraska.

“If they want to play (in college), I’ll help them out anyway I can,” says Lyons. “But when they call me I tell them the truth (about the player’s abilities and character). I let the players and the parents know that.”

Lyons credits development, administrative and community support as factors that have kept Dragons baseball vital for decades. Players come out of the New Palestine Youth League, where the high school teams conducts clinics and workshops.

“We want to keep the foundation strong,” says Lyons.

Numerous travel organizations also contribute to the progress of players.

With the help of Community School Corporation of Southern Hancock County and the New Palestine Baseball Backers, the Dragons have been able to raise funds to buy equipment and stay competitive while fluctuating between 3A and 4A.

His “amazing” 2018 coaching staff included Landon McBride, Andy Swain, Andrew Armour, Tim Zellers and Brad Rusche at the varsity level with Mike Zeilinga leading the JV and Jeremy Meredith the freshmen.

McBride played for Tremain at Indianapolis Marshall High School and then at nearby Marian College (now Marian University). Swain is a New Palestine graduate who played at Purdue University. Armour played for the Dragons and then at UIndy. He shares hitting coach duties with retired Carmel police officer Zellers. Zeilinga is valuable to Lyons as an organizer. Meredith was formerly a varsity assistant at Logansport and Warren Central.

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New Palestine (Ind.) High School head coach Shawn Lyons will be the South head coach for the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series July 20-22 in South Bend. (New Palestine High School)

 

Diamond expectations high for Miller’s Greenfield-Central Cougars

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greenfield-Central stood toe-to-toe with the team that went on to go undefeated and hoist the 2017 IHSAA Class 4A state championship trophy.

A 1-0 eight-inning loss to Indianapolis Cathedral in last season’s Decatur Central Regional semifinals is enough for the toes of GC players to hit the floor early while preparing for 2018.

“I’ve got 30 kids coming in at 5:45 in the morning,” says Greenfield-Central head coach Robbie Miller. “It’s the only time we can get the gym. That shows how dedicated they are.

“I demand a lot of them. After last year, they see the rewards when we put the time in.

“We can’t just be happy getting there. We’ve got to expect to be there every year. We’ve got to be able to compete at that level to get to the ultimate prize.”

Cougars right-hander Drey Jameson did not allow a hit while striking out 14 over the first seven innings against Cathedral. But the ace bound for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and a spot on the Ball State University roster hit the new pitch limit of 120 and had to leave the mound.

The Irish plated the winning run on a Jake Andriole single with two outs in the top of the eighth. Cathedral went on top Roncalli, Columbus North and Penn on the way to a 29-0 record and a 4A state crown.

“Baseball is a game of inches,” says Miller of the narrow loss to Cathedral. “We had a guy on third base and one out in the bottom of the sixth and our guy hit a one-hop shot to the shortstop. If it’s an inch one way or another we win the ball game in seven innings.”

Miller, who enters his fourth season as GC head coach in 2018, is always talking to his players about high expectations.

Miller’s message: “Everyday you walk on the field it’s a battle. You’ve got to expect to win every time you take the field. You can’t just show up and win. You’ve got to expect and play to win the game.”

A 1997 New Palestine High School graduate who played baseball for coach Lance Marshall at Franklin College, Miller joined the GC coaching staff in 2001. He took two years off just before taking over as head coach.

Miller’s first stint as a varsity assistant at Greenfield-Central came with C.J. Glander. He was a straight shooter with his players and Miller operates the same way.

“You have to be honest with kids and call a spade a spade,” says Miller. “That’s how I look at. It seems that the kids respect that.”

Before and after each season, Miller meets one-on-one with all the players in the program and talks to them about their roles for the coming season or how the just-completed season went.

“Sometimes they like what they hear. Sometimes they don’t like what they hear,” says Miller. “But I’m not going to be one of those that’s going sugarcoat anything with them.”

The 2017 team was filled with players who understood and accepted their roles.

Miller embraces “small ball” and and “quality at-bats” and wants his players to buy into the team concept. The 2017 Cougars went 18-11 while hitting just .245 as squad.

“When we get a sacrifice bunt down, I want everyone in the dugout to go and give him ‘five,’’ says Miller. “He just gave away his at-bat for his team to help us move a runner.

“You should be happy going 0-for-4 and winning vs. going 4-for-4 and losing. That’s about being a team.”

An eight-pitch at-bat that results in a strikeout is still considered a quality at-bat. So is moving the runner with a grounder to the right side of the infield.

Miller also spent one summer coaching with the Indiana Bulls travel organization and a staff that included Glander and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dennis Kas.

“(Kas) used to say that baseball is a game of when. When do you get the hit? When do you make the error?

“People have got to understand that. It’s OK not to have the .500 batting average. I’d rather they hit .280 with 40 RBIs.”

Miller wants his athletes to hold each other accountable.

“If a person next to you is taking a play off, you need to yell at them,” says Miller. “You can do it in a respectful way. But you need to tell them to get their act together.

“Some of the best teams I played on, we were ready to fight. When practice or the game was over, we were best friends.”

While Jameson has moved on and the 2018 Cougars will have plenty of underclassmen with pitching talent, the expectations have not been lowered. Besides that, GC will be defending sectional champions (GC reigned at Pendleton Heights in 2017) and a target to the teams on their schedule.

“It comes with the territory,” says Miller. “I’m trying to get the program from ‘Yay, we played Greenfield!’ to ‘Oh no, we play Greenfield!’”

The Class of 2018 is small but Miller appreciates the leadership. Catcher Braxton Turner is drawing collegiate interest.

Miller’s 2018 assistants will include Mark Vail (former Eastern Hancock head coach), Harold Gibson (father of Minnesota Twins pitcher and 2006 GC graduate Kyle Gibson), Brent Turner and Brandon Plavka. Others are expected to join the staff. Miller says the Cougars could field varsity, junior varsity and freshman/C-teams this spring.

Greenfield-Central belongs to the Hoosier Heritage Conference (along with Delta, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).

The Cougars are grouped in a 4A sectional with Anderson, Connersville, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, Muncie Central, Pendleton Heights and Richmond.

All-time, GC has won 13 sectionals and one regional (2006) and are looking for their first semistate and state titles.

Fenway Park in Boston has it’s “Green Monster.” Molinder Field at Greenfield-Central has a smaller version. The 22-foot high barrier which is about 305 feet from home plate down the left field line was recently re-furbished.

Because of a road down the left field line, the dimensions of the field can’t be expanded to any great extent.

“Anyone who comes there is going to try to hit it over the wall,” says Miller. “We’re trying to get them change their approach at the plate. It just puts a different touch on it. Before, it was just a chain link fence.”

Feeder programs for the high school include Greenfield Youth Baseball Association and travel organizations including two with operations in town — the Indiana Bandits (started by Harold Gibson in 1996) and the Midwest Astros Academy (which established a training facility in Greenfield last fall).

There are also seventh and eighth grade baseball teams at Greenfield-Central Junior High School.

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Robbie Miller enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at Greenfield-Central High School in 2018. The 2017 Cougars won the IHSAA Class 4A Decatur Central Sectional. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Fauquher running the baseball show at alma mater Yorktown

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

P.J. Fauquher remembers fondly playing baseball at Yorktown High School.

His grandparents lived right across the center field fence and did not have to travel far to check out the action on Tiger Field.

P.J. graduated from Yorktown in 1989 and brother Gabe in 1994. Both played baseball for the green and white.

Decades later, P.J. is back at that same field as Tigers head coach. He was preceded by Mike Larrabee.

After head coaching stops at two other Delaware Country school (IHSAA 1A Wes-Del from 1998-2001 and 4A/3A Muncie Southside from 2004-11) and plenty of travel baseball experience, the 2017 season was his first leading the program at his alma mater.

Fauquher coached Wes-Del to a sectional championship in his first season leading the Warriors.

When he arrived at Southside, the once-strong Rebels (future big league pitcher Richie Lewis went to Southside in the 1980’s) had fallen on hard times and went 1-28 the season in 2003.

“We took a lot of work to try to re-build that program,” says Fauquher of a school which closed its doors at the end of the 2013-14 school year. “But the feeder system dried up. Players did not have much experience before high school. We did not have great numbers.”

Thanks to his involvement with the Yorktown Junior Athletic Association League (ages 8-13) travel team, Yorktown Middle School program and future and current YHS players on his Indiana Prospects travel team, this is far from the case at Yorktown High.

“I coached almost every kid in our program when I got there,” says Fauquher, who followed Mike Larrabee as Top Tiger and credits his job as senior consultant at Ontario Systems for his coaching flexibility and availability. “I didn’t know any of the players going into Wes-Del and Muncie South. We were stockpiled good talent at the high school level.

“We have two goals: win championships and develop young players as well,” says Fauquher. “It’s about being a great teammate.”

His 2017 Yorktown squad sported 10 seniors and 10 juniors and a large freshmen class while the Tigers won the school’s second baseball sectional crown in three seasons. Some of the players are sons of people that were in school at the same time as Fauquher.

The 2018 Tigers feature two of P.J.’s sons — senior catcher Quin Fauquher and sophomore shortstop Evan Fauquher.

Quin has committed to play at Trine University. Classmates Luke Hill (Kaskaskia College in Illinois) and Sullivan Swingley (Bethel College) are also collegiate diamond commits.

Several other Yorktown graduates went on to college baseball, including Clay Dungan (Indiana State University), Cole Barr (Indiana University), Jordan Coleman (Manchester University), Brady Horine (Indiana Wesleyan University), Brody Mariotti (Concordia University in Illinois). Though they are not now playing there, Jake Preston went to Purdue University and Jake Clawson to Ball State University.

P.J.’s parents — Terry and Connie — are Yorktown graduates. So is sister Cherish and wife Lori (Class of 1990). P.J. and Lori also have an 11-year-old daughter — Addie.

Fauquher played for Chris Goodwin at Yorktown and learned the importance of working hard and not getting too high or too low.

“He got us to play through the ups and downs of the game and was always supportive,” says Fauquher, who saw his old coach at a Tigers game in 2017.

P.J. played at Manchester College (now Manchester University). Jeff Hood was the Spartans head coach his freshmen season and Rob Hammond the last three.

Greg Miller and Nick Hollowell are expected back as Yorktown baseball assistants in 2018.

The Tigers play in the Hoosier Heritage Conference (along with Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights and Shelbyville).

The HHC plays Friday night varsity doubleheaders with JV doubleheaders on Saturday.

As for beloved Tiger Field, where the county tournament and sectional has been held for a long time, there are plans to re-build the mound and upgrade the batting cage area in right field. In recent seasons, netting and a block wall replaced the chain-link backstop.

“It’s been a nice field for so long,” says Fauquher. “We’ve had to take care of it.”

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Fauqhers after Yorktown High School’s 2017 sectional baseball championship (from left): Quin, P.J. and Evan.