Chase Hug has a plan when he goes to the plate. “My general offensive approach is try to find a ball where I can do some damage early in the count,” says Hug, who played his first season at the University of Evansville in 2022 after a year off for Tommy John (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) surgery and rehabilitation. “Late in the count, get the job done — advance or score a runner.” Hug, a lefty-swinging first baseman/outfielder, was with the Jaxon Shirley managed-Turf Monsters in the 2022 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., before joining the Northwoods League’s Wausau (Wis.) Woodchucks. In his first 14 Northwoods League games, Hug is hitting a robust .373 (19-of-51) with six home runs (including three circuit clouts Tuesday, July 26 at Madison), 17 walks (vs. seven strikeouts), 20 runs batted in, 18 runs scored and a 1.353 OPS (.529 on-base percentage plus .824 slugging average). “I try to make sure everything feels right with my swing — day in and day out,” says Hug, a 6-foot, 190-pounder. A 2018 graduate of Pike High School in Indianapolis, Hug hit .484 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs as a senior for the Todd Webster-coached Red Devils. “He was a good guy,” says Hug of Webster. At Dennis Conley-coached Olney (Ill.) Central College, Hug played in 37 games and hit .358 with 17 extra-base hits (five homers), 35 RBIs and 30 runs for the 2019 Blue Knights. He also made five mound starts and went 2-1 with a 2.63 earned run average and 28 strikeouts in 24 innings. In the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, Hug hit .516 in 31 at-bats with nine extra-base hits (two homers), 20 RBIs and 10 runs as Olney Central went 14-1. After transferring to Evansville in the fall of 2020, Purple Aces coaches advised him to get checked out when his mound velocity began to dip. Hug learned in December 2020 that he needed Tommy John and had the procedure done Jan. 12, 2021. Hug missed the spring and summer seasons in 2021. His NCAA Division I debut came Feb. 19, 2022 at North Carolina State. He went on to play in 47 games (40 starts) and hit .238 (36-of-151) with 11 homers, 39 RBIs, 32 runs and a .906 OPS (.396/.510). “Everybody is truly a brother with one another,” says Hug of the culture fostered by Purple Aces head coach Wes Carroll. This past spring, Evansville went 32-24 and scored 7.2 runs per game. “It was pretty fun to watch and be a part of,” says Hug. Having experienced both junior college and D-I baseball, Hug has witnessed differences. “JUCO is a harder grind,” says Hug, 22. “At Evansville, we ride charter busses and have our own bed in hotel rooms. Per diem is $15 and we have trainers travel with us.” Junior college travel was done in vans. Hotels weren’t all that comfortable, per diem was much lower and no trainers made these treks. Then hitters had to face pitchers throwing near triple digits. Olney Central is in National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Region 24 with teams like John A. Logan, Lincoln Trail and Wabash Valley. Hug, who has two years of eligibility remaining, is an Exercise Science major at UE. “The last few years I’ve gotten really big into (weightlifting) to help me get better as an athlete,” says Hug. “In this major I’ve been able to learn a lot.” While job-shadowing college athletic trainers and personal trainers, he’s been able to see what it means to train for bodybuilding vs. the regular athlete. Older brother Logan Hug is a personal trainer in Atlanta. The 2011 Pike graduate played four years of collegiate baseball in Indiana — two at Ancilla College and two at Manchester University. Chase, Logan and older sister Stephanie Hug (who manages a shoe store in Evansville) are the children of Jeff and Anne Hug. Jeff Hug manages a printing firm. Anne Hug is a nurse. Born in Indianapolis, Chase Hug grew up in Pike Township. He played at Westlane-Delaware Trail Little League and then was in travel ball with the Indiana Mustangs from 10U to 17U. The summer of 2018, he played for the Lebanon (Ind.) Merchants collegiate team.
What drives Patrick Mills as a baseball player? “My passion for the game is definitely No. 1,” says Mills, a 22-year-old outfielder/first baseman for Indiana University-Kokomo. “Every day I get up out of bed the one thing I want to do is go play some baseball. “That’s the reason I keep playing. I enjoy the game. Everything else will follow. I will do everything I can to get better and keep playing it. It comes down to passion and discipline.” Mills, a 2018 graduate of Western High School in Russiaville, Ind., spent two years at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the past two years at IUK. He plans to use his extra year of COVID-19 eligibility with the Cougars in 2022-23 while completing his Computer Science degree. A lefty thrower and batter, Mills hit .374 (65-of-174) in 2022 while helping IUK go 26-22 overall and 16-7 in the NAIA River States Conference. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder belted 15 home runs, four triples and 16 doubles while driving in 44 runs and scoring 51 — all team-leading totals. His on-base percentage was .453. “I make sure I stay balanced in my body and my mind,” says Mills of his approach at the plate. “I learn what the pitcher is throwing and try to hit the ball hard. “When you hit the ball hard good things happen.” Mills has had many mentors besides father Eric. “It’s not just one person in particular,” says Mills. “It’s a collective of everybody I’ve met in the game. “It’s little bit of advice here and there. I’ve put it together like a puzzle.” Jeremy Honaker coached Cougar outfielders and hitters in 2022. Mills credits him with helping him with the mental side of the game and bringing out his full potential during games. “There were little snippets for me to think about during (batting practice),” says Mills. “They were more mental notes than actual physical cues.” A lot was achieved during the fall and winter. “All that work built up,” says Mills. “By the time the season came around it was second nature.” Mills has head coaches at IUK with different styles. Matt Howard was intense and Drew Brantley is more laid-back. “(Howard) lent a level of excitement and discipline,” says Mills of the man who is now a Kokomo police officer. “He wanted us to compete to the best of our abilities every single day. He wanted to make his players as tough as possible and he definitely did. “(Brantley) has created an environment where we’re not afraid to fail. If we can control what we need to control, the results will follow. Follow the process and try to get better everyday. That philosophy — in my opinion — worked very well. Next spring it will be even better.” Mills was born in Kokomo and got his formal baseball start at what is now Russiaville Youth Baseball League. He played travel ball with the Westfield-based Stonecutters then went with the Indiana Eagles for his 14U to 17U summers. “(Eagles coach) Jamie Roudebush gave us a platform to work on our skills and get better everyday during those years,” says Mills. At Western, Mills played two years each for Quentin Brown then Ryan Berryman. “(Brown) was all about passion when playing the game. He once jokingly said to me, ‘you care about this game too much. If you keep your passion like that you’ll go wherever you want to go.” Mills and the Western Panthers were 2016 IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up. “Playing for (Berryman) was a different experience from Brown,” says Mills. “He brought the intensity level, but also the technicalities of baseball. He challenged me to become better fundamentally. It was the mechanics and more than just the mental side.” Mike Shirley, who at the time was a Chicago White Sox area scout and is now that organization’s director of amateur scouting, ran a fall league for high schoolers in Pendleton, Ind., in which Mills participated. “He gave us a lot of information and where we need to improve,” says Mills of Shirley. “He was challenging us mentally and physically. It was a great experience.” Mills played for Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6 the summers before and after his first year of college. “He was always supported me since I played for him,” says Mills of Andrews. “He was very similar to how Drew Brantley goes about his business. He’s calm and collected. “Back then I was very intense and wild and wanted to do everything with one swing. He taught me how to handle my emotions. It went over my head then but I eventually learned from his teachings.” At Olney Central, Mills played for veteran coach Dennis Conley. “He definitely pushed his players to the limit and got the most out of them,” said Mills of Conley, who has been in charge of the Blue Knights program for 42 years and has a record of 1,530-773. “Junior college tests your love of the game. Do you really love the game or kind of like it?” Mills was with the Portland (Ind.) Rockets during the COVID summer of 2020. One of his teammates was former Yorktown High School, Lincoln Trail College, Wright State University and independent pro player Zach Tanner. “He took me under his wing and taught me about the mental game,” says Mills of Tanner. Last summer he played for the Prospect League’s West Virginia Miners and manager Tim Epling. The summer of 2022 sees Mills with the Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks. The team is managed by Caleb Long. In 28 games with Battle Creek, Mills is hitting .360 (41-of-114) with two homers, 27 RBIs and 21 runs. Eric and Sundai Mills have three children — Jaymee (Mills) Birky (28), Hayley Mills (24) and Patrick. Jaymee is married and living in Madison, Wis. (where Battle Creek recently played the Madison Mallards), and competition in swimming, softball and track at Western. She also was part of a state championship marching band. Hayley nows teaches elementary school in Raleigh, N.C. She was in volleyball, basketball, swimming and softball during her school days.
Nick Spence wants to bring pep to the steps of ballplayers in yet another part of Hendricks County, Ind. Spence, who played and coached at nearby Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and coached at neighboring Avon (Ind.) High School, was hired as head baseball coach at Tri-West High School in Lizton, Ind., in August 2021 and set about spreading his enthusiasm from the youth level on up. “I want my kids to be excited to be a part of Tri-West baseball,” says Spence. “It’s easier to get kids to play when they’re excited to come to the ballpark. “I’ve gotten nothing but positive vibes from the community.” The fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period was mostly about getting to know athletes and showing them what he plans to implement. “I’m pretty fiery and I’m energetic,” says Spence. “We want competition to come through with whatever we’re doing. Baseball is an individual game played by a team. “Baseball is a sport of failure and you have to learn from failure. Don’t let it come to your next AB or on the mound with you.” A big believer in situational baseball, Spence prefers to devote his practices to either offense or defense. “I’m not a big station guy,” says Spence, who looks forward to the first official IHSAA practice date of March 14. Spence’s coaching staff includes Bryan Engelbrecht and Adam Montgomery with the varsity, Gordie Lucas and James Miller with the JV and Mike Gongwer as youth coordinator. Engelbrecht is a longtime Tri-West coach. Montgomery and Gongwer were with Spence at Avon. He wants establish his system and spread the excitement at the youngest levels. “In the past, we’ve had a really good community-based program at Tri-West,” says Spence, who remarried on Dec. 20, 2021 and lives with wife Allison in Pittsboro, Ind. (Nick has three children from a previous marriage all attending Brownsburg schools — junior Madyson (who turns 17 next week), eighth grader Easton (14) and fifth grader Maya (10). “I’ve been working with youth directors, trying to get that back.” Younger players will be involved with Tri-West Little League and Bruin Heat. Spence says he can see that morphing into the Tri-West Baseball Club by 2023. That’s when Tri-West High is scheduled to debut a four-field baseball/softball complex. “They’re starting to push dirt,” says Spence of the project that will bring varsity and junior varsity grass fields with stadium seating, netting and more. In addition, coaches offices and a hitting tunnel will be located on the north end of the football field. “It’ll beautiful.” Spence played for Wayne Johnson and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg High, graduating in 2001, and served as JV coach in 2006 and 2007 then helped current Bulldogs head coach Dan Roman as pitching coach in 2021. Spence counts 2009 Brownsburg graduate Tucker Barnhart as his best friend and was the best man in Barnhart’s wedding. Tucker is now a catcher with the Detroit Tigers. An Indiana Bulls assistant to Troy Drosche during the travel ball season, Spence was the pitching coach on Drosche’s Avon High staff for five years while the Orioles won sectional titles in 2016, 2017 and 2019 and a regional crown in 2019. Spence has also coached with the Bill Sampen-led Indiana Expos travel organization. Spence’s college playing career included one season on the field each pitching for Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College, Tim Bunton at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and Joe Decker at Indiana University Southeast. He went to spring training with the independent Evansville (Ind.) Otters then began focusing on helping others. “I always wanted to coach,” says Spence. “I always wanted to be involved.” Spence has also been an assistant to Bulldogs head coach Mike Silva (now head coach at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La.) at Clarendon (Texas) College, where Adrian Dinkel (now head coach at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.) was an assistant. He landed there after meeting Silva at a tournament in Stillwater, Okla., while working for Tom Davidson and Blake Hibler at Pastime Tournaments. Indiana Tech head coach Kip McWilliams had Spence on his staff for one season. Tri-West (enrollment around 630) is a member of the Sagamore Athletic Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community (coached by Pat O’Neil), Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Western Boone). In 2021, the Bruins were part of the IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Greencastle and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter. Tri-West has won seven sectional crowns — the last in 2018. Recent Tri-West baseball players Riley Bennett (Trine University) and Kai Ross (DePauw University football) have moved on to college sports.
Drew Campbell took a negative and turned it into a positive. The COVID-19 pandemic and the quarantine of 2020 took away the ability to play baseball. The Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate and former Olney (Ill.) Central and University of Louisville outfielder was heading into his second season in the Atlanta Braves organization when things came to a standstill. Major League Baseball eventually started up. Minor League Baseball did not. “It was the longest time without baseball since I was born,” says Campbell, who turns 24 on Oct. 10. “It was definitely hard on me. But I did not lose my passion for the game.” Eventually, Campbell was able to give lessons at Ellis Baseball Academy in Jeffersonville and that put things into perspective. “Young kids just wanted to play baseball,” says Campbell. “They’re not worried about contracts or who they’re going to play for. “So (the time away) was a good re-set for everybody. It’s definitely a kids’ game and sometimes we get away from that.” Another benefit from teaching hitting is that it helped him with his own offensive game by figuring out a way to explain the concepts. “It’s easy to stay sharp when I’m teaching someone to hit,” says Campbell. “The mental side means a lot more now that I’m older.” To Campbell, that means taking care of himself — mentally and physically. He’s doing more reading and journaling and getting a handle on his nutrition and workout routine. “I’m staying positive,” says Campbell, who doesn’t want to take negative thoughts onto the field. At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, he has put 10 to 15 pounds on his frame in the last year and plans to add about 15 more in the off-season whether working out in Jeffersonville or Louisville. He eats six meals a day, lifts weights thee times a week and gets in hitting when he can. “My nutrition is where I’ve really got to step up my game,” says Campbell. “I’m on the path to being the guy (the Braves) want me to be. “That’s someone who hits for more power with more doubles and triples.” While he missed two months while dealing with a pulled hamstring, Campbell played at three levels in 2021 — rookie-level (Florida Complex League Braves), Low Class-A (Augusta, Ga., GreenJackets) and High Class-A (Rome, Ga., Braves) — and hit .308 (32-of-104) with five home runs, three triples, seven doubles, 20 runs batted in and 32 runs scored in 27 games. “I finished strong for the year,” says Campbell, who concluded the year with Rome. “I put myself in a good position for next year.” Campbell, a lefty batter and thrower, played mostly in right field. “That’s where I feel the most comfortable,” says Campbell. “But I’m an outfielder. “I can go get the ball no matter where I’m at.” Selected in the 23rd round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, Campbell hit .224 (24-of-107) with one homer, one triple, four doubles, seven RBIs and eight runs in 28 games that summer for Rome — then a Low Class-A club. After that first pro season, he completed his course work at Louisville as a Sport Administration major and Criminal Justice minor. Campbell logged three collegiate seasons — one at National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Olney Central (2017) and two at NCAA Division I Louisville (2018 and 2019). He batted .294 (53-of-180) with seven homers, three triples, six doubles, 31 RBIs and 35 runs in 50 games at Olney Central for Blue Knights head coach Dennis Conley. “It was an awesome experience,” says Campbell. “(Conley) is an all-time great coach. That’s Dennis Conley’s town. Everybody knows Dennis Conley. He parks where he wants. “He really pushed me. Helped me through everything. He definitely cares about his players.” At U of L, playing for Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell, Campbell hit .310 (108-of-348) with four homers, three triples, 23 doubles, 70 RBIs and 52 runs in 121 games (97 as a starter). “To have the chance to play for (McDonnell) was awesome,” says Campbell. “I’m excited to see what he does with the Cardinals (in 2022).” Louisville went 51-18 and played in 2019 College World Series. Campbell became the first U of L player to be named to the all-CWS team, hitting .462 (6-for-13) with three RBIs. Batting seventh and playing right field, he went 3-for-4 including a walk-off base hit in an elimination game against Mississippi State. At Jim Patterson Stadium, there is a locker room dedicated to professionals that have played at Louisville. There Campbell is likely to run into people like Jeffersonville’s Drew Ellis (Arizona Diamondbacks), New Albany’s Josh Rogers (Washington Nationals), 2021 No. 1 overall draft pick Henry Davis (Pittsburgh Pirates system) and San Francisco Giants minor leaguers Tyler Fitzgerald and Logan Wyatt. Born in Jeffersonville, Campbell played T-ball at the YMCA in Clarksville and attended grade school and middle school there. He was at Jeff/GRC Little League, where he first played for Derek Ellis (who was later his head coach at Jeffersonville High and runs Ellis Baseball Academy) and then with the Louisville Longhorns and Ironmen travel teams as well as the Ricky Romans-managed Floyds Knobs American Legion Post 42 team. Drew is the second of Tony and Keri Campbell’s four children. Nick Campbell was a senior at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville when Drew was a freshman. “It was only time I got to play with my older brother,” says Drew of Nick, who is now 27. Kyle Campbell (16) is a sophomore and Andrea Campbell (15) a freshman — both at Jeffersonville. Drew played his last three prep seasons at Jeffersonville and graduated in 2016. With the Red Devils, he was reunited with Derek Ellis. “He teaches baseball the right way,” says Campbell, who counts Derek’s son, Drew Ellis, as one of his buddies. Campbell was an all-state selection at Jeffersonville. In 2016, he slugged eight home runs, drove in 27 and scored 30 in 25 games and was named Southern Indiana Player of the Year in by the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Braden Scott enjoyed the best outing of his young professional baseball pitching career in his most-recent start for the Evansville (Ind.) Otters. On July 24 at Gateway, the left-hander went 7 2/3 shutout innings, fanning seven, walking two and giving up three hits in 29 batters faced and was selected as independent Frontier League Pitcher of the Week. Through six starts and 34 innings, Scott is 3-2 with a 2.91 earned run average. “It’s been a really good experience,” says Scott, who finished his collegiate career in the spring at Indiana University. Scott signed with the Otters on June 21. In his first appearance June 24 at Joliet, he tossed seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and two walks. He faced 26 batters and gave up two hits. Scott, 23, moved to 2-0 as he won again on July 1 in the first game of a home doubleheader against against Florence. He fanned five and walked one while yielding six hits in the game’s first six innings. He faced 23 hitters. On July 6, Scott (2-1) took the loss in a game at historic Bosse Field against Joliet. He pitched six innings with seven strikeouts and no walks. He allowed six hits and four runs in 24 batters faced. Scott went just four innings and took the loss in the second game of a July 11 doubleheader against visiting Schaumburg. He struck out four, walked one and gave up six runs and seven hits while facing 21 batters. In a no-decision July 17 against visiting Southern Illinois, Scott hurled 3 1/3 innings with two strikeouts, five walks and gave up three hits and one run in facing 18 batters. Scott’s first pro team is guided by Andy McCauley, who recorded his 1,000th career managerial victory July 2 at Gateway. “He’s been around the game a long time and he knows what he’s doing,” says Scott of McCauley. “I like the way he treats us — like professionals. “You come in and get your stuff done.” Evansville pitching coach Max Peterson has also aided the 6-foot-3, 215-pound southpaw with approach and execution. “He’s helped me mentally on the mound and with how I have to carry myself,” says Scott. “I’ve thrown a cutter for two years, but I never threw it consistently. “Now it’s a big go-to pitch. I’m able to use it for my game now.” When thrown correctly, the cutter has more horizontal than vertical break and goes into a right-handed batter and away from a lefty. Throwing from the left side has always been an advantage for Scott. “I’ve never thrown a ball that’s been exactly straight,” says Scott. “I’ve been able to miss a lot of barrels and not give up a lot of hard hits.” Scott has five pitches — four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, change-up and cutter. His four-seam sits at 88 to 90 mph. The slider is more a hybrid between a slider and curve. “In my last start I was almost solely throwing fastballs and sliders,” says Scott. “I threw maybe four cutters.” Scott employs a “circle” change. As part of the Otters’ five-man starting rotation, Scott competes every fifth or sixth day. His next start is scheduled Friday, July 30 against Southern Illinois at Bosse Field. On the day after a start, Scott does some throwing and gets in an aggressive cardio session to get the blood flow going. He is also charting that night’s pitchers. He throws a bullpen two days before his next start. A day before a start, the lefty gets in a workout with movement and stretching and some light long toss — maybe 150 feet. He then sits in the bullpen and watches how pitchers attack hitters and looks for batter tendencies. A 2016 graduate of Shakamak Junior-Senior High School in Jasonville, Ind., Scott played two seasons at Olney (Ill.) Central College (2017-18) and three at Indiana (2019-21). Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chip Sweet and Todd Gambill were his head coaches at Shakamak. Scott was on varsity for three years. “He was awesome,” says Scott of Sweet. “I grew up with his daughter (Mariah). We won (an IHSAA Class 1A) state championship in his final year of coaching (2014). “He taught me how to carry myself on and off the baseball field.” Gambill took the Lakers back to the state title game in 2015 (finishing as runner-up) — this time at the 2A level. “He did an awesome job,” says Scott of Gambill. Scott was a pinch hitter in the 2014 1A title game and started at first base in the 2015 2A final. Scott played for Blue Knights head coach Dennis Conley and assistants Andy Lasher and Bryce Labhart at Olney Central. Conley doubled as head coach and pitching coach. “Conley made a pretty big impact on my baseball career,” says Scott. “He still helps me. “He’s the reason I’ve got this position at Evansville. He’s been around the game long enough that he knows just about everybody out there.” Jeff Mercer is the Hoosiers head coach and Justin Parker was the pitching coach at IU until taking that role at the University of South Carolina in recent weeks. “(Mercer) is a phenomenal coach,” says Scott. “His main goal is player development. (Parker) is very good job of player development as well. “I wish (Mercer) all the best and hope the program keeps trending in the right direction.” Scott made 39 appearances (all in relief) for the Hoosiers, going 4-0 with one save and 3.25 earned run average. He produced 81 strikeouts and 21 walks in 55 1/3 innings. In 2021, he got into 15 games and was 2-0 with a 4.08 ERA. He whiffed 28 and walked eight in 17 2/3 innings. He also earned his Sports Marketing & Management degree. A starter at Olney Central, Scott was used mostly in relief during his last years of summer ball. Scott played for the M.I.N.K. Collegiate Baseball League’s Ozark Generals (Springfield, Mo.) and the Prospect League’s Tyler Wampler-coached Terre Haute (Ind.) Rex in the summer of 2017. He was with the Northwoods League’s Willmar (Minn.) Stingers then the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association National Team that placed second at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan., in 2018. Scott played for the Coastal Plain League’s Morehead City (N.C.) Marlins in 2019 and CPL’s Macon (Ga.) Bacon in 2020. Among his Bacon teammates were fellow IU pitchers Connor Manous, Ty Bothwell, Matt Litwicki and Brayden Tucker. Before landing with the Otters, Scott pitched for the 2021 Rex, coached by A.J. Reed. Braden is the son of Jimmie Scott and Andee Mullins. Younger siblings include Bailey Scott (21) and Kaleb Gadberry (18). Both parents were athletes at Sullivan (Ind.) High School. Bailey Scott was involved in volleyball, cheerleading and track at Shakamak and is now a nursing student at Ivy Tech in Terre Haute. Caleb Gadberry played golf at Shakamak, where he graduated in 2021.
Philip Archer plays baseball with the words of his father — Leslie Archer — ringing in his ears.
Granted an extra year of college eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Archer has had hits ringing off his bat in 2021 as a powerful puncher in the Southern Illinois University lineup.
“It’s certainly a blessing to extend your career one more year,” says Archer, a 2016 graduate of Floyd Central High School in Floyds Knobs, Ind., in his fifth college diamond season. “I need to play until I can’t play no more because one day I’m going to be done and enter the real world.
“I will not be a kid anymore.”
As Archer and the Salukis (33-15) enter a Missouri Valley Conference series at Indiana State May 14-16, the lefty-swinging first baseman is hitting .324 (60-of-185) with nine home runs, 16 doubles, 49 runs batted in, 40 runs scored and .965 OPS (.408 on-base percentage plus .557 slugging average).
The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder has produced 13 multi-hit games, including four against Mercer Feb. 26, Southeast Missouri March 24 and Austin Peay April 6.
In three seasons at SIU-Carbondale covering 114 games (112 starts), Archer is hitting .302 (127-of-421) with 16 homers, 26 doubles, 94 RBIs, 84 runs and an .869 OPS (.382 on-base percentage plus .487 slugging average).
He was at Olney (Ill.) Central College in 2017 and 2018 and hit .341 (120-of-351) with 15 homers, 29 doubles, 102 RBIs and 82 runs and an .950 OPS (.397 on-base percentage plus .553 slugging percentage).
What’s Archer’s secret sauce?
“Discipline, hard work and having good coaches and people around me,” says Archer. “With our lineup this whole year, we’ve got a lot of guys swinging it well.”
Archer often bats in the No. 5 or No. 6 hole in SIU head coach Lance Rhodes’ batting order.
Besides input from Rhodes, Archer also works closely with staffers Brett Peel (hitting coach), Ben Brewer (volunteer) and Kirby McGuire (director of player development).
“Power hitter — that’s my main role on the team,” says Archer. “I’m there to knock in some RBI’s and make some things happen.”
Saluki hitters receive a detailed scouting report before every game.
It tells them the pitches and tendencies of opposing pitchers.
“If lefty is busting me in, it’s different than a righty living on the outer half,” says Archer.
Archer, who turns 23 on May 28, was born in Indianapolis but grew up in Greenville, Ind.
At Floyd Central, Archer played for Highlanders head coach Casey LaDuke.
Casey is a great guy and a great coach,” says Archer. “He’s done a great job with the program and the facilities.
“Learning from him at a young age was huge for me with his elite-level practices.”
At Olney Central, Archer played for veteran Blue Knights head coach Dennis Conley.
With Conley’s success and demeanor, Archer likens him to Hall of Famer Augie Garrido.
“You can’t beat knowledge and experience of Dennis Conley,” says Archer. “He’s got it all.
“He’s calm when he needs to calm, but he’s got a fire.”
During his time at Olney, Archer was a Great Rivers Athletic Conference and National Junior College Athletic Association District 24 Player of the Year. The Blue Knights went 41-16 in 2017 and 42-16 in 2018.
That’s because his grandparents — Don and Bonnie Barrett — lived in Princeton, Ind., and Don played American Legion ball with Hodges — who went on to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers — in the early 1940’s. When Gil joined the team Don moved from shortstop to third base.
“He always had something for me to work on,” says Zach of his grandpa. “He knew the game really well.”
One of Zach’s cousin is Aaron Barrett. Before Don Barrett died he got to see Aaron pitch in the big leagues.
“He was super-proud of Aaron,” says Zach. “He would be super-proud to know I was hired at Princeton — his alma mater.”
Gil Hodges Field has a different look these days, including turf in the infield. Barrett’s players got a chance to get on the carpet for the first time just this week.
“The school corporation put a ton of money into it,” says Barrett. “There are all sorts of upgrades.”
Jason Engelbrecht was the head coach at Evansville Central High School when Zach’s cousins Aaron Barrett (who has come back from multiple injuries as a pro), Drew Barrett (a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and two at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky.) and Ryan Barrett were playing for the Bears.
Jason Barrett (Zach’s older brother who played at Ball State University) was a hitting star at Central for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Gries. The Central facility is now known as Paul Gries Field.
Engelbrecht was later head coach at Princeton Community and is now Tigers athletic director. He brought Zach on as an assistant. With the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is to be Barrett’s first one with games.
Princeton Community went 10-16 in 2019. A number of regulars remain from that team.
“We have a pretty good nucleus,” says Barrett.
The Tigers go in with a group that includes senior left-handed pitcher/outfielder Rhett Thompson, senior shortstop Lance Stuckey, senior corner infielder/right-handed pitcher Briar Christy and junior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Sean Stone.
The 6-foot-7 Thompson was the mound starter in the 2019 IHSAA Class 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional championship game against the host Alices.
Stone is already getting looks from college baseball programs.
Gerit Bock, a 2020 Princeton graduate, is now on the roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.
With Barrett serving as an assistant on Princeton Community head football coach Jared Maners’ staff, there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity in the fall. Players began to get rolling in January.
Made up primarily of seventh and eighth graders with some sixth graders, that squad plays from March to May.
“We have good coaches at that level that understand the game,” says Barrett. “It’s not about wins and losses at that level. Are the kids having fun? Are they getting better? Are they part of the team?”
Barrett, who splits his work day between teaching high school Health and middle school Physical Education, will walk the halls to find athletes.
Thorough his own experience and observation, he realizes that what they are at 13 and 17 may be vastly different.
“I’ve played with kids absolute studs in middle school and barely played as seniors,” says Barrett. “On the other side, there are those (smallish or uncoordinated kids) who stick with it and become very good varsity players.
“You just never know. Kids mature differently.”
The Cub team practices and plays on Gil Hodges Field, which features lights.
“I want those kids to feel like they’re a part of us,” says Barrett. “In years past, they’ve worked out with our varsity guys.”
That’s given the older ones a chance to mentor the younger ones.
“They understand that they are the future,” says Barrett. “They put Princeton first.
“They’re not selfish.”
Barrett is a 2004 graduate of Reitz High School in Evansville, where the 6-foot-5 athlete was a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He played receiver and safety for John Hart on the gridiron, power forward or center for Michael Adams on the hardwood and pitcher, shortstop and center fielder for Steve Johnston on the diamond.
Hart, a member of the Reitz and Greater Evansville Football halls of fame, impressed Barrett with the way he went about his business and the relationships he built with his players. Unlike some coaches, Hart was not intimidating but approachable.
“He was like a second dad,” says Barrett. “I was able to talk with him.
“He was good about taking care of the small things and being disciplined. He was a very smart coach.”
Nick Hart, John’s son and head football coach at Gibson Southern, is a good friend of Barrett’s.
Barrett was all-city, all-SIAC and Indiana Football Coaches Association All-State as junior and senior, AP All-State and an Indiana Mr. Football Finalist as senior.
Adams, who is still on the bench at Reitz, got Barrett’s attention when he as attending basketball camps as an elementary school student.
“His attention to detail was apparent at that age,” says Barrett, who saw varsity minutes as a freshman and became a starter as a sophomore. “He was very strict but he knew how to relate to players.
“He was about as good an X’s and O’s coach as you’ll ever see. He would get you ready and prepared mentally and physically.
“I’m glad to see all the success he’s had lately.”
Barrett won four basketball letters at Reitz and paced the team in rebounding three times. He was all-SIAC as a junior and senior and honorable mention All-State as a senior.
Johnston gave Barrett the chance to experience varsity ball as a freshman and made him a starter the next spring.
“Everybody enjoy playing for him,” says Barrett of Johnston. “He had a good baseball mind.”
Barrett completed his Reitz baseball career second all-time in both hits (95) and slugging percentage (.576). He was named all-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference as a junior and Associated Press All-State as a senior when he was also selected in the 38th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins and chosen to play in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
“DC — we called him the ‘Mayor of Olney,’” says Barrett of veteran skipper Conley. “He was a mentor and taught you about doing things right. He wasn’t messing around. But he could flip the stitch and be able to relate to us.
“He obviously knew the game very well. He was tough to play for. He put a lot of pressure on you. You needed to come up big and handle situations. I had my share of butt-chewings. He got max effort out of all of us and we respected the heck out of him.”
Similar to Conley, Peterson was Old School in his approach. He believed in fundamentals and discipline.
“He was not afraid to run you and do things like that when he didn’t get the most of us,” says Barrett. “I learned a lot of life lessons from my high school and college coaches.”
Barrett uses drills in his high school practices that he learned from Conley and Peterson.
Barrett played in 116 games as a third baseman for the MTSU Blue Raiders. He hit .329 with 12 doubles and 32 runs batted in as a junior and . 383 with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBI’s in as a senior.
But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.
Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.
As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.
“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”
Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.
Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.
Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.
Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.
At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.
Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.
In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.
Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.
Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.
MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.
“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.
Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.
The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.
Jeff Mault affirms that the body’s lower half is the foundation of baseball.
When instructing pitchers or hitters at Extra Mile Baseball in a pole barn next to his rural home near Kimmel, Ind., the former college and professional player talks a lot about the important part played by biggest muscle groups.
“I’m a mechanics guy,” says Mault, who had close to 20 lessons on his schedule this week and counts third baseman/second baseman and Wright State University commit Jake Shirk (Fort Wayne Carroll High School Class of 2020) and left-handed pitcher/first baseman and University of Kentucky commit Carter Gilbert (Northridge Class of 2022). “Hips is where it’s at with pitchers. I don’t care about the arm slot. If you can do what I want you to do, your arm will not hurt. Period.
“I had one of the very first ones,” says Mault. “It’s awesome.
“I wish I had it when I was playing.”
A right-handed pitcher and right fielder in high school then pitcher-only after that, Mault played for Tim Schemerhorn at West Noble (the Chargers won the IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional in 1998 then lost 7-5 to Northridge in the first round of the Wawasee Sectional with smoke-throwing Mault and Doug McDonald as the top two pitchers).
Mault got the ball up to 92 mph in high school.
“I didn’t have anything else,” says Mault. “I had a curve that curved when it wanted to. I couldn’t throw a change-up.
“My theory was throw hard in case they missed it. That’s how I pitched.”
“It seemed like home,” says Mault. “It’s out in the middle of nowhere with cornfields.”
Mault grew up on a farm and still tends to chores at his in-law’s place in Wawaka, Ind., besides a full work week as parts/service advisor at Burnworth & Zollars Auto Group in Ligonier and having a half dozen lawns to mow.
Mault was a medical redshirt his freshmen year at Olney Central after a hairline tear was found in his ulnar collateral ligament, which is similar to the injury that leads to Tommy John surgery.
“(Surgery) was not even suggested,” says Mault. “Tommy John doesn’t make you throw harder. It’s the rehab (which for Mault took about nine months).
“The next year was a mental block. I just didn’t feel comfortable throwing hard.”
In his third year at OCC, Mault was back to normal and the Blue Knights won 39 games.
Olney played in a fall tournament at Austin Peay State. Governors head coach Gary McClure was looking for a closer so Conley used starter Mault to finish two games.
Once at Austin Peay State, Mault set the single-season school record with 10 saves in 2003. In his senior year (2004), he alternated closing and starting until he accumulated the three saves he needed for what made him at the time the Governors’ career saves leader.
Springfield/Ozark Ducks manager Greg Tagert offered Mault a chance to play with that independent professional team. He instead went for what turned out to be a very brief stint with the Gateway Grizzlies.
“I pitched in one game and they let me go,” says Mault. “When there’s money involved, it’s cut-throat.
“But if not for that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. Everything works out.”
Mault was released the following year in spring training.
“I worked out with Triple-A,” says Mault. “I was on the field for two hours and got called back in and they let me go. That was rough.
“But I was still going to play.”
He came back to Noble County and worked on the farm then finished college in fall of 2004.
In 2006, Tagert was in his second season as manager of the Gary SouthShore RailCats and brought Mault aboard. The righty went 0-2 in eight games (six in relief) with five strikeouts and five walks in 18 1/3 innings with a 4.91 ERA.
Mault was reunited with former Olney Central assistant Andy Haines in 2007. At that point he was manager of the Windy City ThunderBolts in Crestwood, Ill., and is now hitting coach with the Milwaukee Brewers. The pitcher went 3-0 in 11 contests (eight in relief) with 21 K’s and 17 walks in 24 1/3 innings and a 3.70 ERA before his pro career came to a close at 26.
Jeff and Abbey Mault have two children — daughter Cora (9) and son Casyn (6). Abbey is an Arts teacher at Central Noble Junior/Senior High School in Albion, Ind.
Jeff Mault, who pitched at West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., Olney (Ill.) Central College and Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn., was signed by the Seattle Mariners and pitched in Everett, Wash., in 2005. (Everett AquaSox Photo)
Jeff Mault, a former college and professional pitcher, offers instruction at Extra Mile Baseball in Kimmel, Ind.
“There are some kids you can tell they have it at a young age,” says Stout, who is anxious to show off the talents on a roster made up of athletes from multiple states.
That includes University of Kentucky commit Caden Dana, a right-handed pitcher/lefty-swinging third baseman from Montgomery, N.Y.
“(Dana) has tremendous feel on the mound,” says Stout.
Among the uncommitted on the 2022 Prospects are lefty-batting catcher/third baseman George Baker from Waldorf, Md., and 6-foot-5, 270-pound right-handed pitcher/first baseman Hunter Pudlo of Antioch, Ill.
“We have kids who will be committed at a high level,” says Stout. “The 16-year-old summer is most important summer for recruiting.”
While they can’t sign until the fall of their senior year, many players are expected to make a verbal commitment in the summer or fall.
“The 17-year-old season is still recruited,” says Stout. “But in this day and age scholarship money is pretty much gone at that point.
“We educate kids as much as possible and prepare them for the next step. You don’t want them to enjoy (the commitment) so long you don’t improve. (College) coaches have walked away from a kid (even after a commitment has been made).
“College coaches get paid to win.”
That’s why Stout stresses that a player should go where he is comfortable and he must produce once he gets there.
“It’s all about relationships and how you treat people,” says Stout. “Baseball is a small world. You never want to burn bridges You don’t lie about kids. It’s all about finding right fit for the kid.
“It is cool as an organization to commit to a high-level school. But we don’t want to kids to get on campus and transfer out. That doesn’t make us think we did our job.”
“My dad is passionate about what he does,” says Austin. “I’ve seen some cool moments.”
Austin saw his father weep when former Prospects player J.J. Bleday was selected in the first round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Vanderbilt University by the Miami Marlins as a lefty-swinging outfielder.
Bleday, a 2019 Golden Spikes Award finalist, was going to visit with current Prospects via a Zoom video conference this weekend.
“It’s important for the kids to hear about different types of recruitments,” says Stout, who recently brought on lefty-batting shortstop Clay Dungan to share his story. Dungan played for the Prospects and was a sophomore at Yorktown (Ind.) High School when Stout was a senior then was a mainstay at Indiana State University. He was drafted in the ninth round by the Kansas City Royals in 2019.
Dungan was undersized coming out of high school.
“He committed as a roster spot guy,” says Stout. “He started 90 percent of the games for (Sycamores head coach) Mitch Hannahs.
Austin Stout, a graduate of Yorktown (Ind.) High School and Northern Illinois University, is an assistant baseball coach at his alma mater and Director of Player Development for the Indiana Prospects travel baseball organization.