Tag Archives: Eagles

Nunley now head coach at Guerin Catholic

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

Keith Nunley returns to a high school head coaching post with his hiring last summer at Guerin Catholic in Noblesville, Ind.
“I got a call from (Eagles director of athletics Ryan Davis),” says Nunley. “We went to breakfast. Right from the beginning I could tell he was a baseball guy.
“We want to build a championship culture and do it the right way.”
Guerin Catholic (enrollment around 720) is a member of the Circle City Conference (with Brebeuf Jesuit, Covenant Christian, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and Roncalli).
“We’re a really good conference,” says Nunley. “Every team has a superstar on their mound or in their lineup.
“I’m looking forward to getting in the mix of it.”
In 2022, CCC teams will play Tuesday-Wednesday home-and-home series.
In 2021, the Eagles were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Guerin Catholic is seeking its first sectional title.
Nunley, who previously was head coach from 2016-20 at Monroe Central Junior-Senior High School in Parker City, Ind., was an assistant to Bulldogs head coach Matt Campbell this past season at Lapel (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School.
He coached in the Indiana Bulls travel organization the past two summers and in fall ball. While in Randolph County, Nunley and best friend and former Ball State University teammate Matt Deckman (who is now Monroe Central head coach) ran the traveling Indiana Bears.
Bryce Deckman, Matt’s son, is a freshman on the Huntington (Ind.) University baseball team.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period went from Aug. 30-Oct. 16 and Nunley had 12 to 20 athletes participating two times a week while many other players were unavailable because of fall sports.
“It’s always good to have multi-sport athletes,” says Nunley. “They’re competing in other avenues working with other coaches. It’s a team of coaches – not just one guy.
“(Multi-sporters) are in the weight room or another sport and doing something with their bodies and not just sitting,” said Nunley.
The next limited contact period begins Dec. 6 and the ramping up of pitching arms will begin in earnest.
Matt Hession is dedicated to the job of tending the Eagles’ home diamond.
“Matt has done a fantastic job taking care of the field,” says Nunley.
The on-campus facility was recently laser-graded through the efforts of Hession and Blake Marschand of Marschand’s Athletic Field Services.
Nunley’s Guerin Catholic 2021-22 coaching staff includes John Becker, Cade Luker, John Magers, Lewis Diltz and volunteers Kolbe Smith and Justin Bloxom. Becker played and coached at Anderson (Ind.) University and also coached for the Indiana Bulls. Luker (who will lead the junior varsity team) and Magers (who will help with pitchers and float between varsity and JV squads) are Lapel graduates who played at Manchester University. Diltz was on the staff in 2021 and will help with the JV as weill Guerin Catholic alum Smith. Bloxom played at Kansas State University and played and scouted in the Washington Nationals organization.

Nunley, a Winchester Community High School graduate, is a territory owner and sales representative for Adrenaline Fundraising, a company which also employs Deckman and Brebeuf Jesuit head coach Jeff Scott.
Keith and wife Kate, an Exceptional Learners teacher at Fishers (Ind.) High School, have two baseball-playing sons – Guerin Catholic freshman A.J. and middle schooler Koby.

The Nunleys (from left): Koby, A.J., Keith and Kate.

Craig provides punch for Evansville Purple Aces

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

Tanner Craig has provided a productive bat for the University of Evansville baseball team since the 2018 season.
The righty swinger sports a batting average of .294 (128-of-435) with 18 home runs, 28 doubles, 76 runs batted in, 60 runs scored and an .859 OPS (.372 on-base percentage plus 487 slugging average) in 116 games.
In 2021, the 6-foot, 220-pound first baseman played in 54 contests (all starts) and hit .299 (60-of-201) with 12 homers, 14 doubles, 47 RBIs, 31 runs and a .929 OPS (.382/.547).
Thanks to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility when the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 season — one in which he was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Week and Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week after slugging four homers in a season-openojvng series at Tennessee Tech — Craig is back for a fifth season with the Purple Aces in 2022.
What title best fits Craig as an offensive player?
“I would say I’m a power hitter,” says Craig, 22. “It’s role I’ve played at Evansville and other teams I’ve been on.”
Aces head coach Wes Carroll tabbed Craig as his regular No. 3 hole hitter in 2021.
“I just try to hit the ball hard every time,” says Craig. “I look for a pitch in the part of the (strike) zone I know I can hit it well and swing hard.”
While Craig has seen some exit velocity data, it’s not how he and other UE players often gauge their swings.
“With turf we can get on the field anytime we want,” says Craig of German American Bank Field at Charles H. Braun Stadium. “Ball flight — that tells you a lot about your swing.
“We played one game on (home) turf in the COVID year (then 34 in 2021). We’re very lucky to have it. That’s for sure.”
Craig appreciates Carroll for the way he tailors his approach to each player.
“He really cares for all of us as individuals,” says Craig. “He takes the time to learn how to coach us individually. He knows the best way to get to people.”
Carroll can be firmer with Craig because he knows he can hand it. Another player may need to be cajoled.”
Fall practice began Aug. 30, about a week after the first day of class. Individual work is about to wrap up. That will be followed by team practices and scrimmages. While there has been nothing formal, players have been keeping track of which color teams wins most.
The Aces are also slated to play exhibition games Oct, 9 against Western Kentucky University and Oct. 23 against Wabash Valley College — both at Evansville.
Last spring, Craig earned an Accounting degree and is now working toward a Masters of Leadership. He expects to finish the 18-month course in December 2022.
This summer, Craig played for the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. In 26 games, he hit .386 (34-of-88) with 10 homers, seven doubles, 36 RBIs and 19 runs for a team managed by Michael Keeran. The team went a league-best 41-18 during the regular season and lost to the Cape Catfish in the best-of-three championship series.
“It was a great experience,” says Craig. “It’s a beautiful stadium (the new-look Loeb Stadium).
“It was really fun, my time up there.”
Craig was born in Florence, Ky., and grew up in Scottsburg, Ind., where he played Coach Pitch at what is now Scott County Youth League. He played travel ball for the Smithville (Ind.) Gators, Mark Peters-coached Ironmen (13U to 17U) and Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks (18U).
He began attending schools in Austin, Ind., in sixth grade and graduate from Austin High School in 2017. Craig was a shortstop, third baseman and pitcher for Eagles coach Matt Bayes.
“He’s just a good coach,” says Craig of Bayes. “He’s really good at teaching a lot of aspects of the game.”
One of Craig’s teammates was right-handed pitcher Drew Buhr (Austin Class of 2019), who went to Saint Louis University then transferred to Bellarmine University.
Tanner, who turns 23 in December, is the youngest of Samtec production supervisor Todd and Morgan Foods senior buyer Jennifer Craig.
“They’ve been a huge support for me since I’ve started,” says Tanner of his parents. “They’ve always found ways to get me whatever I need. I can count on one hand the number of games my dad has missed in my college career.
“It’s always nice to see a familiar face in the stands.”
Morgan Dillard, Tanner’s older sister lives in Indianapolis and is in management with CVS Health. She is married with a daughter.
Quintin Craig, Tanner’s older brother, is a project manager of Crown Castle and lives in Louisville with his wife and daughter.
Peyton Craig, Tanner’s younger brother, is a Scottsburg freshman involved in Future Farmers of America.

Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)
Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)
Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)
Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)

After four seasons at Spalding U., righty Parisi transfers to Indiana State

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

Tell Jack Parisi he can’t do something and that’s just the motivation he needs.
“My whole baseball career — starting in high school, people said I’m never going to play college baseball and I’m never going to throw 90 mph,” says Parisi, a right-handed pitcher who four seasons at NCAA Division III Spalding University in Louisville, Ky. (2018-21), and is now at NCAA Division I Indiana State University for a graduate transfer year in 2022. “I bundled it all up, threw it aside and went to prove all these people wrong.
“Once somebody tells me a goal of mine can’t be achieved I know they’re wrong and I go to work to make it possible.”
Parisi, a 2017 graduate of Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., made 41 appearances (38 starts) for Spalding, going 21-8 with four complete games and a 2.97 earned run average. He produced 269 strikeouts and 107 walks in 218 innings while holding opponents to a .215 batting average.
In 2021, the 22-year-old righty made 12 starts for Eagles head coach Matt Downs and pitching coach Tayler Sheriff and was 8-3 with two complete games and a 1.67 ERA. He racked up 96 K’s and 29 walks in 75 2/3 innings and foes hit .200.
“He is definitely baseball-driven and has a positive mindset,” says Parisi of Downs. “He’s a great friend who I can have trust in.”
“One of my best best qualities as an athlete is I’m goal-driven and willing to put in the work to get better,” says Parisi. “I have a strong mindset — on and off the field. I’m very in-tune with everything happening around me.
“I’m a pretty focused athlete.”
Parisi, a 6-foot, 210-pounder, decided to take his extra year of eligibility granted because the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 season, began getting calls and texts just minutes after entering the transfer portal.
“I let it all come to me,” says Parisi. “Indiana State was one of the first teams to reach out to me.
“They were very interested in me. This is a chance to play for a great coaching staff and great team. I want to prove that I can pitch against the best out there and get my (Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft) stock up and keep my name out there.”
ISU head coach Mitch Hannahs indicated that he wanted Parisi to make a visit to the Terre Haute school’s campus as soon as possible. As a Sycamore, he gets to work with a staff of Hannahs, associate head coach Brian Smiley, assistant Brad Vanderglas and volunteer Justin Hancock while continuing to develop as a pitcher.
Parisi moved to Terre Haute last week — about two weeks before the start of fall classes — to familiar himself with the ISU weight room and athletic trainers.
He earned a Business Administration degree with a focus in Marketing and a minor in Communication at Spalding and plans to pursue a masters in Sport Management at Indiana State.
Throwing from a low to middle three-quarter overhand arm slot, Parisi throws a four-seam cutter, sinker, change-up and two kinds of sliders.
“My junior year of high school someone noticed that the ball was cutting out of my hand,” says Parisi. “I began calling my fastball a cutter.”
His fastest pitch is the sinker, which has been clocked as high as 95 mph and sits at 90 to 93.
He uses a “circle” change. His hard slider has a sharp bite at the end a tops out around 85 mpg. His soft slider is more of a “gyro” ball that moves across the plate like a frisbee and maxes out near 79 mph.
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Jack played from 4 until 12 at Don Ayres Little League then had travel ball stints with the Mark DeLaGarza-led Summit City Sluggers, AWP and the Javier DeJesus-coached Fort Wayne Diamondbacks.
At Homestead, Parisi played for two Spartans head coaches — Steve Sotir as a freshman and Nick Byall the last three seasons.
“I learned a lot from both of them,” says Parisi. “(Byall’s) a great guy and a great coach. He’s there for his players. He’s one of those teachers you can reach out to.
“He’s looking out for your best interests.”
During his college summers, Parisi has been with the Manatees of the Port Lucie-based Central Florida Collegiate League in 2018, Casey Harms-coached Waterloo (Iowa) Bucks of the Northwoods League in 2019 and trained with Greg Vogt at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., in 2020 and 2021.
He credits his time at PRP last summer with developing his sinker and hard slider.
Casa Restaurants director of operations Tom Parisi and wife Kathy Parisi have two sons — J.T. (28) and Jack. J.T. Parisi played baseball at Homestead then graduated from Indiana University and law school at Vandberbilt University. He is now a lawyer in Chicago.

Jack Parisi (Spalding University Photo)
Jack Parisi (Spalding University Photo)
Jack Parisi (Spalding University Photo)
Jack Parisi (Spalding University Photo)

Benedictine’s Castillo enjoying summer opportunity in Illinois Valley

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

Playing with and against players from bigger schools, Damen Castillo enjoys showing what he can do on a baseball diamond.
Castillo, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound righty-swinging/throwing first baseman, plays during the spring at NCAA Division III Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. This summer, the Highland (Ind.) High School graduate is with the Prospect League’s Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp in the team’s first season in Peru, Ill.
“It’s the competition level,” says Castillo, 21. “The pace of play is faster than what I come from.
“It’s fun being around guys from different schools like that.”
Of the 31 players listed on the team’s online roster, 18 are from Illinois with eight from California and one each from Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Castillo is one of six players from NCAA D-III schools (the others are pitchers Jake Dahl of Rockford University, Chandler Kerr of Concordia University Chicago and Justin Rios and Jason Shanner of North Central College and infielder Garry Maynard of Concordia University Chicago).
There are 20 from NCAA D-I, two from NCAA D-II and three from National Junior College Athletic Association institutions.
Teams on Illinois Valley’s schedule, which consists of squads from the Wabash River, Great River, Prairie Land divisions, boasts no less than 105 D-I players.
The Pistol Shrimp are owned and managed by John Jakiemiec, who co-owns a player development academy in Naperville, Ill., Evolution Athletics.
“He’s been great,” says Castillo of Jakiemiec. “When we play, it’s real serious.
“You get your work in and still try to win at the same time.
“It’s been a fun summer.”
Jakiemiec, who played baseball at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., uses his Ivy League education to throw out random facts during bus trips.
“We don’t always know what he’s talking about,” says Castillo. “But we laugh.”
Through 25 games with the Pistol Shrimp, Castillo was hitting .280 (23-of-82) with five home runs, four doubles, 14 runs batted in and 10 runs scored.
“One of my best qualities as a hitter is the ability to drive the ball to the right side of the field,” says Castillo. “I get pitched away and I get a lot of off-speed. Over the years I’ve gotten good at hitting the outside pitch.”
Adam Smith is the head coach at Benedictine.
“He’s been real supportive,” says Castillo of Smith. “He come to me with things he think I can change.”
Castillo appreciates how Smith keeps practices loose and competitive.
“Our team tends to do better when things are like that,” says Castillo, who helped the Eagles go 29-13 overall and 15-5 in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference in 2021. “We do competition things in practice. It’s better than taking mass ground balls or BP.
“It makes it fun.”
In 42 games (all as a starter), Castillo hit .347 (61-of-176) with nine homers, one triple, 18 doubles, 51 RBIs, 35 runs and a 1.009 OPS (.395 on-base percentage plus .614 slugging average).
The 2021 season was his third at Benedictine. In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he started all seven games and hit .217 (5-of-23) with one extra-base hit (a double), four RBIs, three runs and a .557 OPS (.296/.261).
As a freshman in 2019, Castillo played a little bit of third base before becoming a full-time first baseman. In 28 games (24 as a starter), he hit .323 (32-of-99) with four homers, six doubles, 21 RBIs, 16 runs and a .885 OPS (.380/.505).
With two years of eligibility left, Castillo is a year away from earning a degree in Management of Organizational Behavior through the Goodwin College of Business.
Castillo and his Eagles teammates are to report back to campus in late August and will get right to work for about eight weeks of workouts before “captain’s practice” where NCAA D-III rules limit contact by the coaching staff.
Born and raised in Highland to Damen and Jodee Castillo with little sister Angelica (a volleyball and softball athlete entering her senior year at Highland High in 2021-22), “D” played travel ball around his hometown until 12 and then went with the Dave Griffiin-coached Indiana Playmakers, Morris (coached by Jim Tucker), Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
When the Midwest Collegiate League shut down and Castillo was not able to play for the Southland Vikings in 2020, he assisted Brogan with the Irish.
“He has been the closest coach to me,” says Castillo of Brogan. The two talk every other day.
This year, Castillo helps Brogan out in practice when his schedule allows.
John Bogner was Castillo’s coach at Highland and had the third baseman on the varsity since early in his freshmen year with the Trojans.
“He was a great high school coach and I learned a lot from him,” says Castillo, who stays in touch with Bogner and dropped by practice during the end of 2021 season to hit with the Highland team.

Damen Castillo (Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Photo)
Damen Castillo (Benedictine University Photo)
Damen Castillo (Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Photo)

Saint Joseph grad, Morehead State righty Rotkis knows confidence is key

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

Joe Rotkis got just eight outs in his first season as a college baseball pitcher.
Taking the mound for Morehead (Ky.) State University in 2020, the right-hander from South Bend (Ind.) Saint Joseph High School hurled 2 1/3 innings.
“It was the worst 2 1/3 innings I pitched in my entire life,” says Rotkis, who gave up 16 earned runs and 14 hits as an MSU freshman. “It was frustrating in the moment. I knew what I was capable of and I didn’t show it.”
That became the driving force for Rotkis through the rest of the COVID-19 spring and summer and into the 2021 season.
After the 2020 shutdown, Rotkis played for the Midwest Collegiate League’s Whiting-based Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
“That was awesome,” says Rotkis, who pitched well enough in his first two relief stints that he landed a spot in the Oilmen’s starting rotation.”
He also got to work with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko. He took to approach espoused by the former pro moundsman.
“He said I was just over-thinking things and to go out and do what I know I can do,” says Rotkis, 20. “I gained confidence last summer.
“Confidence is the best tool.”
Playing this spring at Morehead State, where Mik Aoki is the head coach and Brady Ward the pitching coach, Rotkis made 13 appearances (all out of the bullpen) and was 2-0 with a 4.05 earned run average. In 26 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked 10.
Rotkis uses four pitches — a two-seam sinking fastball, a four-seam fastball, a “circle” change-up and a slider.
“It plays off the sinker and the same tunnel, working different sides of the plate,” says Rotkis, who throws from a mid-three-quarter overhand arm slot which helps with his sinker and touched 92 mph a few times in the spring while sitting in the high 80s. “I like to throw anything to anybody.
“I just throw what I think’s going to beat them at that point.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Rotkis went for an assessment at the P3 (Premier Pitching Performance) lab in St. Louis and is working this summer with Director of Remote Pitching Mitch Plassmeyer while following a structuring throwing and weightlifting plan near home in Granger, Ind.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” says Rotkis of Plassmeyer. “He filled my head with knowledge.”
In the third week of the program, Rotkis lifts four times a week — two upper body and two lower body. He does mobility moves before lifting and throwing.
Working out with former high school teammate Patrick Farrissee (now on the Clemson University club baseball team) on the practice football fields at Notre Dame, Rotkis long tosses 100 yards or more.
As a sophomore, Farrissee was the starting left fielder when Saint Joseph won the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A state championship.
Rotkis is a 2019 graduate of Saint Joseph, where he and buddies Farrissee, Mitchell Coleman, Nick Dolniak, Surf Sadowey, Michael Schroeder and Brady Gumpf (now at Notre Dame) played for former Indians head coach John Gumpf and former assistant and current bench boss John Smolinski.
“They made practice enjoyable to come to each day,” says Rotkis, who began to get some NCAA Division I offers through the Area Code Games trials at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
He was recruited by Morehead State when Mike McGuire was head coach and Kane Sweeney the pitching coach and then they both left for the University of South Carolina Upstate.
Aoki and Ward convinced Rotkis to still come play for the Eagles.
Born in Elkhart, Ind., Rotkis moved from Bristol, Ind., to Granger around age 5 with parents Mike and Jill and younger brother Andrew (a 2021 St. Joseph graduate bound for Purdue University).
Joe played at what is now Harris Baseball Softball and then Chet Waggoner Little League in South Bend which led to the Michiana Baseball Club travel team. As a high school, he was with the South Bend Cubs travel organization, spending two summers with South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley as coach.
“Mark Haley is one of the smartest and one of the most caring baseball guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to,” says Rotkis. “He’s awesome.
“We were learning the game, the ins and out and the little things.”

Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)
Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)

Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)

Cass enjoying success with South Bend John Adams Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

John Adams High School in South Bend, Ind., is enjoying quite a baseball season so far in 2021.

Under the direction of seventh-year head coach Mike Cass, the Eagles go into a Thursday, May 20 contest at Penn at 15-3 overall and 6-3 in Northern Indiana Conference games.

“It’s the best season we’ve had in years,” says Cass, who has witnessed steady pitching and defense and has shuffled his lineup to produce some offense. Of the three losses, two came down to the seventh inning.

“We’ve gotten lucky,” says Eagles pitching coach Taylor Neville. “We’ve got pretty good depth at the pitching spot. 

“We always try to develop (the young arms) and give them time at the JV level or in a intrasquad game or a doubleheader where we’re trying to get guys playing time. We see how they perform and what we can fix. We come up with a plan for them. 

“We’ve really had a lot of guys develop. It know it just doesn’t happen here but in summer ball.”

Neville cites Adams senior Bryce Martens as someone who has gotten better as his prep career has progressed.

“In his freshman came up with us (to varsity),” says Neville. “His first game pitching was against Jimtown and he was really struggling with the curve ball. We worked on that and got a very nice curve ball out of it.

“He’s just continued to develop.”

Neville is a graduate of Gahanna (Ohio) Lincoln High School.

C.J. Schwartz, another Adams assistant, graduate from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School and played baseball at Grace College in Winona, Lake, Ind.

What does Cass stress with his Adams players?

“Leadership, sportsmanship and fundamentals,” says Cass. “We want to do the little things in baseball like bunt coverage and being where you’re supposed to be (at your position) and those sorts of things.”

Prior to taking over the Adams program, Cass was an assistant to former South Bend St. Joseph head coach John Gumpf and before that an assistant to Scott Sherry at John Adams. 

He credits Gumpf for much about what he knows about coaching the game.

Cass coached at South Bend East Side Little League before his first stint at Adams.

Cass came to Indiana from Pennsbury Township, Pa. — west of Philadelphia where he rooted for the Philadelphia Phillies and his favorite player, Mike Schmidt.

Further educated at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Ind., and Indiana University South Bend, Cass has been a bookkeeper in the South Bend Community School Corporation for the past 20 years — mostly at John Adams.

Adams (enrollment around 1,950) is a member of the NIC (with Bremen, Elkhart, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington).

“We’ve got some good coaches in this conference,” says Cass. “You can tell they’re good coaches because they’re always there building a program.”

The Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka, Plymouth (the 2021 host) and Riley. Adams has won six sectional titles — the last in 2009.

Adams plays its home games at School Field, which is located about a mile off-campus next to the football field of the same name and Jefferson Traditional School.

Mike Cass (South Bend John Adams High School Photo)

Junior college baseball route good to Kuntz

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just focus on the moment.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will Kuntz study at Morehead State?

Psychology with an eye on the clinical side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baker, Flemm guiding Elkhart Christian Academy Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A 30-something from Indiana and a 20-something from New Jersey have come together to lead the baseball program at Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy.

Shawn Baker, 34, and Matthew Flemm, 24, are co-head coaches for the Eagles. 

Baker graduated from Northridge High School (Middlebury, Ind.) in 2005 and Manchester University (North Manchester, Ind.) in 2009 as a Grades 5-12 Social Studies major.

He played at Northridge for two head coaches — Mike Logan and Troy Carson. Rick Espeset was his coach for four seasons at Manchester.

Northridge was very competitive in Baker’s junior and senior seasons and the friendships started off the field carried on to it.

“We’d have our backs there, too,” says Baker.

“Both Mike and Troy instilled the hard-nosed baseball philosophy in us as players,” says Baker of Logan and Carson. “It’s working hard in practice and seeing the transfer over in games.

“I learned a lot from Coach Espeset about the ‘why’ and the philosophy of the game of baseball.”

As an educator, Baker was at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy and Westview High School in Topeka, Ind., and has been at Northridge Middle School for the past eight years, teaching eighth grade Social Studies and coaching seventh grade boys basketball.

He has served an assistant baseball coach at Dowagiac (Mich.) Union High School and Westview for Warriors head coach Jason Rahn.

“I had been getting the itch to coach baseball again,” says Baker, who applied at ECA and was hired in mid-February. The first official day of practice was March 15.

Baker has been married for eight years. Shawn and Heather have a girl and two boys — Aleah (6), Colson (4) and Bennett (2).

Shawn’s younger brother, Shannon Baker, played at Northridge and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and is now an assistant to A.J. Risedorph at NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind.

Flemm is an alum of Veritas Christian Academy in Sparta, N.J., where he pitched for the Lions baseball team and graduated in 2015. He finished his course work at Cedarville (Ohio) University as a History major and double minor in International Studies and Bible in December and is planning to attend May 1 commencement. 

He was contacted by former Veritas Christian administrator and current Elkhart Christian secondary principal Sean Bevier who informed him of the baseball coach opening. Flemm was working with the Sussex County Miners Travel Baseball 13U team. Besides coaching, he is substitute and study hall teacher at ECA.

Baker and Flemm, who are assisted by former Elkhart Christian players Mark Stevens and T.J. Tice, guide a group of 12 players that includes one senior (Matt Elmerick), no juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.

Some have played travel ball. Others have little baseball experience.

“It sounds cliche’, but we’re working on getting better each day,” says Baker. “We want them listening to what we tell them and trying to apply it on the field.”

Three — Elmerick and sophomores Jude Reynolds and Luke Schramm — split their time between baseball and the Eagles track and field team coached by Allen Lollis. With the help of athletic director Richelle Viront, game and practice schedules are coordinated to accommodate both spring programs.

Elkhart Christian Academy (enrollment around 160) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with IHSAA Class 1A schools Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Only ECA, Argos, Bethany have baseball teams this spring.

The Eagles are part of an 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont (the 2021 host), Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. ECA won a sectional title in 2013. 

Besides conference and sectional foes, ECA’s regular-season schedule includes games with 4A’s Concord, Mishawaka and South Bend Riley, 3A’s Culver Academy, John Glenn, Lakeland and NorthWood, 2A’s Bremen and LaVille and 1A’s Culver Community and Oregon-Davis.

“We play a lot of these really big school,” says Flemm. “That’s going to set us up for success in the conference and a state tournament time.”

The Eagles are trying to develop pitchers and catchers on the fly. Many will get a turn on the mound.

“Everybody’s a pitcher until we figure out that’s not your forte’,” says Baker. 

Something that was ingrained during Flemm’s travel and high school pitching career was the importance of control.

“Throwing strikes is the only way you’re going to succeed,” says Flemm. “Our second game (against LaVille) we had more strikes and that was awesome to see.

“It’ll just take a lot of refinement and more experience for the guys on the bump.”

Baker looks for ECA pitchers to develop a fastball and change-up and be able to hit their spots with it.

Flemm is upbeat about the future.

“We see a lot of potential,” says Flemm. “It’s been a blessing working with this group of guys.

“I’m excited for what’s coming and how we can develop these guys even more.”

As a private K-12 school, ECA does not always know who will be attending from year to year.

Flemm says there has been talk of starting a junior high baseball program. He has noticed interest in the game among students in those grades.

“It’s something, hopefully, Coach Baker and I can start.” says Flemm, who notes that he and Baker will lead a youth baseball camp ECA in early June. “We’ll get a chance to see what kind of talent we have coming in.”

The Elkhart Christian campus is located in an open area behind the school and next to the U.S. 20 By-Pass. A breeze seemingly never stops.

“We’re almost in a wind tunnel,” says Baker. “It can be difficult to hear (talk between players and coaches and players and other players). 

“We need to work on communication and use our big-boy voices so people can hear.”

Shawn Baker
Matthew Flemm

Atwood back as baseball coach for North Newton Spartans

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Atwood knows about athletic toughness.

The 1981 graduate of Frankton (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School competed in football for Bob Sharnowski, wrestling for Otis Cress and baseball for Tom Urban — Atwood followed Dave Hicks as the Eagles starting catcher — before playing football for Pete Compise and baseball for Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College and baseball for another multi-time Hall of Famer in Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University). Brent Brandon, Don’s son, was a Ravens teammate.

“(Sharnowski) taught us to just be tough,” says Atwood, who is now in his second stint as head baseball coach at North Newton Junior-Senior High School in Morocco, Ind., where he was an assistant then a head coach in the mid-1980’s to the late-1990’s and is now also athletic director and dean of students. “You have to be mentally tough in baseball. You’ve got to be ready at all times.”

Atwood calls Urban “a heckuva a baseball guy.”

“Basics were key to everything,” says Atwood, who experienced an intense coach in Naylor.

“He was a pretty hard-nosed little character,” says Atwood. “(Brandon) was all of the kids.”

Between coaching assignments at North Newton, Atwood was an assistant baseball coach on the staff of Mike Moyzis at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Current Hebron (Ind.) High School head coach and athletic director John Steinhilber was also on the Pumas staff.

Rick O’Dette, who would be Saint Joseph’s head coach for 17 seasons until the school closed at the end of the 2017 season, was an SJC player at the time.

Atwood’s 1997 North Newton baseball club won a Kankakee Valley Sectional title in the last year of the IHSAA single-class era before bowing to Chesterton in the semifinals of the LaPorte Regional.

He then went to Delphi (Ind.) Community High School and was the Oracles head coach for baseball and wrestling.

The 2020-21 school year is Atwood’s second back at North Newton, where he is now athletic director. The COVID-19 pandemic kept him from coaching the Spartans in the spring 2020. If the weather cooperates, North Newton could open the season Thursday, April 1 against Hebron. The team is slated to visit Harrison in West Lafayette Saturday, April 3.

With 24 players in the program, the Spartans will field varsity and junior varsity teams, playing home games on the campus located at the school.

Serving students in the towns of Lake Village, Mount Ayr, Roselawn, Sumava Resorts, Thayer and Morocco, North Newton (enrollment around 350) is a member of the Midwest Athletic Conference (with Frontier, North White, South Newton, Tri-County and West Central).

MAC teams meet twice, typically on Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Boone Grove, Hebron (the 2021 host), North Judson-San Pierre, Rensselaer Central and Winamac. North Newton has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2019.

Other teams on the Spartans’ schedule include Andrean, Calumet New Tech, Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, Kankakee Valley, Lake Station Edison, Lowell, Morgan Township, Twin Lakes and Washington Township.

The high school program is fed by youth baseball in Morocco and Roselawn

Atwood’s 2021 assistants are Doug Belt (varsity) and Eric Jones (JV). 

Kyler Rainford, a 2020 North Newton graduate, is on the baseball team at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Morocco has ties to Cooperstown. Native son Sam Rice played in the majors 1915-33 and collected 2,987 hits as a .322 lifetime hitter. He was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963. A roadside historical marker was placed in town in 2019.

Mike Atwood has three adult children — Michael (32), Brittney (30) and Braden (29).

Michael is in the U.S. Army serving in Kuwait. Britney works as a technician at a Lafayette, Ind., hospital. 

Braden Atwood was a three-time placer at the IHSAA State Finals (fourth as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and second as a senior) at Delphi and went on to a be a four-time placer and NCAA Championship qualifier as well as a three-time team champion at Purdue University. He took part in the U.S. Team Trials and was later a volunteer assistant coach at West Point (Army). He is married and living in Connecticut and has a daughter.

Mike Atwood and his son’s dog Bella.

Cushenberry creating hard-nosed culture at Traders Point Christian

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jaylen Cushenberry was hired as head baseball coach at Traders Point Christian School in Whitestown, Ind., in January 2021.

Since then the enthusiastic 23-year-old, his assistants and players have been establishing the culture for the Knights.

“We’re going to work hard. We’re going to honor God. We’re going to play as one,” says Cushenberry of qualities he learned while being coached as a youngster by his grandfather. 

Robert Cushenberry, 78, is one of Jaylen’s Traders Point assistants.

“He likes to dance at practice,” says Jaylen of his grandfather. “He’s an energy source for us.”

Other Knights coaches in the Traders Point program are Nolan Nihiser, Conner Madding, James Gilbert and Ernie Mudis.

Cushenberry expects to have 17 or 18 players play a varsity-only schedule of more than 20 games. Participation and contest numbers are higher than usual at the school with an enrollment of about 130.

The 2021 opener is slated for March 30 against Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter. It’s the first time the Knights will meet the Raiders on the baseball field.

The Traders Point slate also features Providence Cristo Rey, Bethesda Christian, Tindley, Faith Christian, Lafayette Central Catholic, Heritage Christian, Purdue Polytechnic, Liberty Christian, Attica, Sheridan, North Vermillion, Irvington Preparatory Academy, Elwood, Wes-Del, Western Boone, Indianapolis Washington, Speedway, Horizon Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge and Muncie Burris.

“We want to play hard and fast,” says Cushenberrry. “It’s cool to see kids come out and want to be part of something special.”

The Knights are in an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethesda Christian (the 2021 host site), Indiana School for the Deaf, Irvington Prep, Providence Cristo Rey and Tindley. Traders Point’s first year in the state tournament series was 2019.

Home baseball games this spring will be at Roundtripper Sports Academy or Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Cushenberry says a new turf field on the TPCS campus is expected by the end of this year.

“It’s going to be a very special time,” says Cushenberry. “The good Lord has blessed us with the opportunity to be part of something special.”

Traders Point added a high school program in 2008 and had its first graduating class in 2012. A junior high building was opened in 2020. 

As a feeder for high school baseball, Grades 5-8 play on “A” and “B” junior high teams.

Jayden Cushenberry played recreational baseball at Warren Township Little League then travel ball from 10 to 13 with the Oaklandon Bombers and 14 to 17 with the Tom Caster-coached Irvington Rattlers.

Cushenberry, a former left fielder on the baseball diamond and safety on the football field, began his high school career at Warren Central in Indianapolis and graduated from Avon (Ind.) High School in 2015 before earning a Physical Education degree at Marian University in Indianapolis in 2020. He was a student coach with MU’s perennial NAIA football powerhouse steered by head coach Mark Henninger.

Last fall was his first as defensive ends coach at Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School, where he currently works as a study hall supervisor. With Scott Turnquist as head coach, the Eagles finished as 2020 IHSAA Class 5A football state runners-up to Indianapolis Cathedral.

“I coach exactly how I played,” says Cushenberry. “We’re going to be tough. We’re going to be gritty. 

“We’re going to go after you every single inning.”

It’s all about hard work and dedication and reaping what you sew.

Cushenberry knows he’s one of the younger coaches on the scene. But he sees that as an advantage.

“I’ve always been called wise beyond my years,” says Cushenberry. “We’re in a time now where the young coaches do a better job of relating to their players.

“Everybody wants to know why. I can let them know why and still coach them hard. I believe they respond better to hard-nosed coaching. We’re preparing them for life and creating a family atmosphere.”

Jaylen comes from a large extended family. His mother, Donnice Cushenberry, is a former cheer and dance coach who instilled competitiveness and the willingness to understand people in her oldest son.

“I truly want to thank my family for engraving some core values that I live by,” says Cushenberrry, who is a brother to Jordan Cushenberry and stepson to Michael Howe.

When he’s not working at Zionsville or coaching at Traders Point, Cushenberry gives lessons at Roundtripper. He is heading into his fourth summer as a coach for the Indiana Mustangs. He leads a 17U squad.

“I want to thank (Roundtripper and Mustangs founder) Chris Estep,” says Cushenberry. “He believed in me when other people wouldn’t.

“He’s treated me like a son.”

Reid Andrews is Director of Baseball Operations at Roundtripper and coaches with the Mustangs and University.

“I’ve learned so much from him,” says Cushenberry of Andrews. “He’s a good source of information.

“I’m thankful to be colleagues with Reid.”

Cushenberrry was an assistant to Estep for two seasons at University, helping the Trailblazers win an IHSAA Class 1A state crown in 2019.

Before that, Cushenberry assisted Shane Abrel at Plainfield (Ind.) High School for two seasons and Troy Drosche at Avon for one.

“Shane taught me a lot about staying on top of things, being very organized and always getting the most out of players,” says Cushenberry of Abrel. 

Injury prevented Cushenberry from playing for Drosche, but he did play for David Seibel at Warren Central.

“I learned mostly about the fellowship of the game and to treat this game with respect,” says Cushenberry. “We always came to play and played very hard.

“I utilize that in my coaching today.”

Jaylen Cushenberry is head baseball coach at Traders Point Christian School in Whitestown, Ind.