Tag Archives: Drake Gongwer

Gould finds baseball players who fit Taylor Trojans program, keeps on winning

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Put a player in position to succeed and let him do it.

It’s long been a winning formula for Taylor University baseball.

“I try to look at what they do best and figure out how that can impact the game,” says Trojans head coach Kyle Gould. “I don’t care how a guy’s good. I just want to know that they are and they can play to their strengths.”

If a player can run or is exceptional on defense, how can his speed or defensive ability impact the game?

If a pitcher throws hard or a has a mean slider, how can he use those pitches to get hitters out?

“We want to get the best players we can,” says Gould. “As a coach, it’s my job to manage the talent we have.

“If a guy can really bunt for a hit, let him bunt. If he can drive a ball to the gap, let him drive the ball to the gap.”

Over the years, the Trojans have won with dominant pitching and with a deep, talented offensive lineup.

“It’s part of what makes baseball fun,” says Gould. “You can win a lot of different ways.”

Taylor (currently 24-9 overall, 4-4 in the Crossroads League and receiving votes in the NAIA national rankings) has enjoyed sustained excellence since Gould’s first season in 2005, winning just under 60 percent of its games.

In his 14th season, Gould’s career mark is 457-266-1 with 10 campaigns of 32 or more victories. The 2016 squad went 40-18-1 and set a single-season record for wins. Early in March, he surpassed Taylor Sports Hall of Famer Larry Winterholter (444 victories) to sit atop the baseball coaching win list at the school.

Gould, a 2002 Taylor graduate, has coached seven squads to league titles and produced six CL Players of the Year. Jared Adkins, who is a junior in 2018, was the honoree in 2017.

“Everything we do here is about development,” says Gould. “We’ve had a long run of success because our guys get better every year.”

Following an individualized program, Taylor players work in the weight room and on the practice field so they can contribute to the team.

When recruiting players, Gould and his assistants look for character first.

This is in line with the NAIA Champions of Character initiative, which places emphasis on respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership and sportsmanship.

“You ask our players what their No. 1 job is and they’d say, ‘be a good teammate,’” says Gould. “If you’re not a high-character person, you’re not going to value other people more than yourself.

“You’re going to be a great teammate here or you’re not going to fit in and it’s not going to work.”

Taylor coaches watch how potential recruits interact with their teammates and the way they respond to success and failure.

Gould and company often seek out the familiar.

“You want to find references who know the kid and know you and can evaluate whether it is the right fit or not,” says Gould. “Taylor is a great school. Baseball isn’t the only reason our guys are picking Taylor. They want to grow their faith. They want to get a great education. We sell all of that.”

Taylor, located in the Grant County town of Upland, Ind., has had all 18 of its intercollegiate athletic teams post grade-point averages over 3.0 in each of the past five years and led all NAIA schools in 2016-17 with 17 teams boasting GPA’s over 3.30.

Players work with advisors to get morning classes in the spring, so they’re academic life is interrupted as little as possible.

“We tell our guys that baseball is what you do, it’s not who you are,” says Gould. “We want guys who are passionate about the game. But if they are not interested in an actual education, this isn’t the right fit for them.

“We want our guys to graduate and go on and do things with their lives that matter.”

About 40 percent of the Taylor student body of around 1,900 are Indiana residents.

“We try to be open to the right kids,” says Gould. “We know what we want and we know when we find it.

“Whether that’s a kid from 10 miles down the road or 10 states away, it doesn’t matter.

“We try to do what we do as well as we can. It’s worked for us. I’m proud of the success we’ve had. I’m more proud of the people we’ve had.”

Outside of southern trips and league games, Taylor plays most of its games on the artificial turf at Winterholter Field, using the lights when necessary.

The Trojans played 32 games there in 2017 — far more home contests than any other league squad and likely more than most schools in the upper Midwest.

The 2018 Trojans are currently 17-1 on their home turf and also has three road wins against teams that were in the NAIA Top 25 when the game was played — No. 10 Keiser in West Palm Beach, Fla., No. 20 Campbellsville in Campbellsville, Ky., and No. 22 Indiana Tech in Columbia, Ky. The season opened with games in Florida against Florida Memorial, Keiser and Ave Maria.

“When we travel early, we don’t travel south to play northern teams,” says Gould. “We travel south to play southern teams. It’s one of our rules.

“We want to play good teams and we want to prepare ourselves to play well in the national tournament. We’ve never made it to the (NAIA) World Series. We’re going to continue to chip away until we make it.”

Taylor’s 30-game varsity roster features players with hometowns in nine different states, including Indiana (18), Ohio (3), Florida (2), Kentucky (2), Georgia (1), Illinois (1), Iowa (1) and Texas (1). There are also 15 junior varsity players, representing Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota Ohio and Wisconsin.

Through team’s first 33 games, junior Nathan Targgart (.400), senior Tanner Watson (.370), junior Cody Tait (.321) and sophomore Andrew Kennedy (.319) were the leaders in batting average. Targgart (24), Kennedy (20), Watson (20) and junior Wyatt Whitman (19) were the pacesetters in runs batted in. Adkins (19) led the way in stolen bases, followed by Whitman (15) and junior Josh Lane (15).

With Monday’s two-hit, 4-0 shutout of visiting Bethel, senior right-hander Matt Patton moved to 8-2 with a 1.72 earned run average. He struck out 13 and walked none against the Pilots, sending his season totals to 76 K’s and three walks (one intentional) in 62 2/3 innings (11 starts).

Nine other Taylor pitchers — all right-handers — had appeared in at least eight games.

Senior Rob Fox (0-1, 1 save, 3.65 ERA) has been called upon 19 times, followed by Patton and sophomore Mitch Ubelhor (2-0, 1 save, 0.48) with 12 apiece.

Freshman Luke Shively (4-0, 1 save, 2.49), junior Clay Riggins (3-0, 1 save, 2.36), freshman Drake Gongwer (0-0, 1 save, 2.57), freshman Kole Barkhaus (0-1, 1 save, 9.19 and sophomore eight-game starter Tucker Waddups (3-3, 2.91) have all taken the mound on nine occasions.

Kennedy (1-1, 1 save, 5.40) and senior Trevor Booth (1-0, 1 save, 5.68) have each toed the rubber in eight games.

Targgart played high school baseball at Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian. Watson (Elkhart Christian Academy), Kennedy (Northridge), Adkins (Whiteland), Patton (East Noble), Fox (Delta), Ubelhor (Avon), Riggins (Bloomington South), Gongwer (NorthWood), Barkhaus (Blackhawk Christian) and Waddups (Logansport) are also Indiana products.

Gould, who this year works with hitters and infielder, works with a coaching staff of Devin Wilburn (third season; pitching), Chad Newhard (second season; baserunners and catchers) Rick Atkinson (15th season; outfielders) and Lincoln Reed (second season). Atkinson is in both the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Grant County halls of fame.

Before playing at Taylor, Gould was an IHSAA Class 1A all-state catcher at Triton High School, where he graduated in 1998. His high school head coach was Jim Shively, father of current Trojan freshman Luke Shively.

“He was a really good coach and we did a lot of things offensively that were a little different at the time,” says Gould of Jim Shively. “We were really aggressive. We ran a lot. We hit for some power. We scored a lot of runs. We were difficult to defend and we won a lot of games doing it.

“He was really good at using the best athletes to maximize that.”

Shively coached Triton to a 1A state championship in 2001.

Gould is in his second year as athletic director at Taylor. Jess Fankhauser, a former softball pitching standout at Taylor, is the assistant AD.

“It’s mostly about managing time,” says Gould of juggling his administrative and coaching duties. “We have great group of people in the athletic department.

“It’s a team effort.”

Kyle and Kate Gould have a daughter — Penelope (2). On the day she was born — March 17, 2016 — Taylor won a pair of games in Indianapolis against Marian University with last at-bat home runs by Watson in Game 1 and Reed in Game 2.

“It’s a cool memory,” says Gould. “It’s also a great reminder that there is not one person that makes it all go. No one person is indespensible. The assistant coaches did a great job with the guys and they played really well.

“It’s true in all areas of life. None of us are as important as we think we are.”

KYLEGOULD

Kyle Gould, who graduated from Triton High School in 1998 and Taylor University in 2002, is in his 14th season as head baseball coach at Taylor. This spring, he surpassed Larry Winterholter for the top spot on the school’s baseball coaching win list. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Plymouth’s Wolfe looks for players who are competitive, confident, comfortable

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Wolfe was fiery as a player. He got hot at the beginning of his coaching career.

The flame still flickers to the surface on occasion.

But the Plymouth High School head baseball coach has learned to control the flames a bit with time and experience.

Wolfe graduated from Hamilton High School in northeast Indiana in 2001. He was a four-year varsity player for the Marines, which won the IHSAA Class 1A Bethany Christian Sectional in 2000. He was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-star as senior.

Jim Sanxter was the coach.

A pitcher, Wolfe went on to Manchester College (now Manchester University) and played three seasons for Rick Espeset. The Spartans placed seventh in the 2004 NCAA Division III World Series.

“They had two totally different styles of coaching and both were effective,” says Wolfe of Sanxter and Espeset. “(Sanxter) had a huge influence on me. He was tough. He definitely didn’t go for excuses. He would challenge you and push you and he was very sincere. The more I coach, the more I understand some of the things he did.”

Wolfe came to see in Sanxter a passion and purpose for coaching. Not a teacher, the it was a selflessness that drove the man who coached 30 years, including 18 with Hamilton baseball and passed away in 2014.

“It was how he said things, when he said things and how he reacted to things,” says Wolfe. “I’m humbled to realize I learned from somebody like that.”

A calm demeanor is what Wolfe saw when he observed Espeset, who has led the Manchester program since the 1997 season.

“He had a way of staying even-keeled,” says Wolfe. “I never saw Coach Espeset really get upset.

“You knew he meant business, but he didn’t say it in a brash way. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”

Espeset helped his players understand the intricacies of the game and also gave them freedom.

“He let us learn from failure,” says Wolfe. “That’s what I try to do here. We’re not going to win every ball game.”

Wolfe’s post-game remarks after a Pilgrims loss is very minimal. He doesn’t want to harp on the negative.

“We want to get the kids to understand that baseball is much bigger than wins and losses,” says Wolfe, whose first season at Plymouth was 2013 (he was an assistant to Brian Hooker at Rochester High School in 2012 and head coach at West Central High School 2006-11). “We want competitors.”

Even Pilgrims practices — which generally include all 35 to 40 players in the program — have a competitive component. Players must earn a chance to take batting practice on Bill Nixon Field.

“It’s been phenomenal,” says Wolfe, who began combining squads for practice in 2015. “It brings a sense of unity. Our whole purpose is the same — to develop great young men through the game of baseball.”

Practices are broken into stations and one is devoted to work on routines. That’s how important it is to the Pilgrims.

Taking the teaches of mental conditioning and sports psychology expert Brian Cain, Wolfe and his assistant coaches (Brent Corbett, Kevin Garrity, Brian Schuler and Mitch Bowers) tell the players to “get back to green.”

There are green dots on the bats — a visual device that helps them relax and focus.

“We talk about breathing a lot and keeping our heart rate down,” says Wolfe. “We’re constantly talking about confidence.

“We want them to know their routine because a routine breeds confidence because it makes you comfortable.”

While his assistants hone in on hitting, pitching and fielding skills, Wolfe sees his role to develop his players’ mental sides.

“It’s an aspect of the game that’s left out,” says Wolfe. “We take time out of our day and do that.”

“It’s taken awhile for our kids to understand it’s a part of baseball. They’re high school kids. They don’t know how to handle failure. Are we perfect at it? No way.”

Wolfe and his staff are not trying to cram every player into the same mold.

“We are not cookie cutter,” says Wolfe. “We don’t have every kid hit the same or pitch the same. It’s about learning who you are as a player and what works for you.

“We’re trying to get the kids to take ownership.”

Like many coaches, Wolfe has taken concepts he has learned at clinics and American Baseball Coaches Association conventions and adopted them to the needs of his program.

Justin Dehmer has won multiple state titles in Iowa and has shared his knowledge through his line of 1 Pitch Warrior materials. Plymouth tracks B.A.S.E.2 (Big Inning, Answer Back, Score First, Extend the Lead, Score with 2 Outs, Quality At-Bat System). Wolfe knows that doing three of the five things on the chart often leads to victory.

The Pilgrims are looking for a K.O. — knocking the starting pitcher out by the fourth inning.

Other incentives are the Hit Stick (one each for varsity and junior varsity) and MVP jersey, which players can earn from game to game following a victory. Get the jersey the most times during the season — as voted on by the team — and that player is the season MVP.

“We’ve got to win to get anything,” says Wofle. “There’s nothing if we lose.”

Wolfe and his staff have crunched the numbers and witness enough success to be believers in their methods.

“This stuff does work,” says Wolfe.

Plymouth plays a double round robin in the Northern Lakes Conference (which also includes Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Warsaw and Wawasee) with games played Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

NorthWood went 14-0 in 2017, taking a pair of 1-0 wins against the Pilgrims. The game at Plymouth pitted NWHS senior Drake Gongwer against PHS sophomore Cam Dennie and was a classic.

“That’s one of the best high school baseball games I’ve ever seen,” says Wofle. “(The NLC) is very competitive. I like the format. In my five years, I have not seem the same pitcher start both games very often.”

Dennie is already verbally committed to Arizona State University, something he did before the 2017 season after showing well in Prep Baseball Report underclassmen games.

Wolfe sees it as his responsibility to engage in the recruiting process.

“I try to make as many connections as I can with college coaches around the area,” says Wolfe. “But I’m going to be honest with (players, parents and college coaches).

“I teach kids there’s a lot of levels of college baseball. You’ve got to show initiative and work hard in the class room also.”

Indiana alone has 38 programs — nine in NCAA Division I, three in NCAA Division II, nine in NCAA Division III, 14 in NAIA and three in junior college.

Wolfe, who also teaches social studies at PHS, lets his players and coaches know what is being sought by college coaches. He wants them to closely assess their situation and pay attention to the intangibles. On-base percentage and pitching velocity are easy to gauge.

But can they handle the grind of college baseball?

What kind if student are they?

What kind of teammate are they?

“These are the kinds of things we want here,” says Wolfe. “I have some of the longest parent meetings of all-time. But I try to be upfront.

“I don’t want to discourage kids from having those aspirations. I want them to reach their own potential and not compare themselves to other kids. You are who you are. It goes back to taking ownership of what you can do to reach that potential.”

Money has been raised to upgrade the playing surface at Bill Nixon Field, a facility named for the IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach. Wolfe says that project is to go forward after the 2018 season.

Tyler Wolfe — Ryan’s brother — really excelled at D-III Manchester and holds school pitching records for career wins, strikeouts, innings pitched and complete games.

Ryan and wife Tara Wolfe have two boys — fifth grader Preston and fourth grader Parker.

RYANWOLFE

Ryan Wolfe, a graduate of Hamilton High School and Manchester University, is entering his sixth season as head baseball coach at Plymouth High School.

 

Sheets credits community support with role in NorthWood baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wa-Nee sports fans have a reputation for backing their teams.

The latest example comes with NorthWood High School winning its fifth straight baseball sectional championship.

The folks of Wakarusa and Nappanee would really have turned out in force if the weather had cooperated and the event was held at NorthWood as scheduled.

But rains forced all but a few innings of the first game to be played at Wawasee.

Plenty of Panthers fans went to Syracuse to see NorthWood top Wawasee and Lakeland for a berth in the Class 3A Bellmont Regional on Saturday, June 3. Yorktown meets Norwell in Game 1, followed by NorthWood against Fort Wayne Concordia with the championship that night.

It’s nearly 90 miles to Decatur. But that’s not likely to stop NorthWood fans.

“It’s like we’re a big family,” says Panthers third-year head coach Jay Sheets, who was part of a sectional baseball championship team and an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star as a NorthWood senior in 2007 before playing at Manchester University for coach Rick Espeset. “People rally together. “Parents want to see all the kids do well. On Memorial Day — with other things going on — we had a big crowd (at the sectional championship game).”

NorthWood (24-1) lost 1-0 in its season opener against Westview and have won 19 times by allowing three runs or less.

“Our pitching and defense does not give up a lot of runs,” says Sheets. “Our hitting is coming around at the right time.”

The workhorse has been senior Drake Gongwer (a Taylor University commit), but the Panthers have a half dozen capable arms.

Sheets, 29, credits the Class of ’17 for leading the way this spring.

“We have five phenomenal seniors,” says Sheets of a group that includes Gongwer, Drew Minnich, Vincent Herschberger, Jaron Mullet and Travis Stephenson. “They’ve instilled work ethic in our younger guys.”

Gongwer, Minnich, Herschberger and Moore were all regulars as sophomores in Sheets’ first season as head coach after a few leading the junior varsity. “They’re all battle-tested. They know what (regional) is going to be like with the crowd sizes. They can tell the younger guys.”

Even so, the Panthers might have a few butterflies. That does not bother their head coach.

“Nerves are a good thing in my mind,” says Sheets. “They keep you on your toes.”

Sheets, a third grade teacher at Wakarusa Elementary, is helped in the dugout by Todd Cleveland (pitching coach), Matt Cox (hitting and outfielders coach), Greg Estepp (junior varsity head coach) and Aaron Arnold (JV assistant).

Success is a tradition for NorthWood baseball. With the latest hardware, the Panthers have won 11 sectionals.

The 2017 Panthers won the Northern Lakes Conference. Other NLC members are Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee.

JAYSHEETS

Jay Sheets, a 2007 NorthWood High School graduate, is in his third season as head baseball coach at his alma mater. The Bellmont Regional-bound Panthers won their fifth straight sectional in 2017.