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Diamond expectations high for Miller’s Greenfield-Central Cougars

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miller wants his athletes to hold each other accountable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Conwell stays positive with his Cowan Blackhawks baseballers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a game filled with moments of failure.

Even the very best players and teams will inevitably have plays or games that don’t go their way.

Ryan Conwell chooses not to dwell on the negatives.

The Cowan High School head baseball coach always looks for the silver lining.

“I’m constantly trying to stay positive — no matter what,” says Conwell, who was hired in the fall of 2014 and heads into his fourth season of leading the Blackhawks program in 2018. “Baseball is such a mental sport. Kids get down on themselves enough. They don’t need me mashing it into their heads as well.

“If you fail 7 out of 10 times at the plate, you’re doing well. We have to find something good out of every at-bat and find what we can do better the next time.”

Conwell is a 2002 graduate of Wapahani High School, where he played four baseball seasons — three on varsity — for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley. After graduation, Conwell coached junior high baseball for the Raiders for seven years.

By observing Dudley, Conwell saw the importance of fundamentals and mental toughness.

“We did a lot of reps of everything,” says Conwell. “Almost every practice there was a drill that focused on the mental part of the game, not just the physical part.”

One drill called for nine players to start in the dugout and sprint to nine different positions on the field then spring back to the dugout. Then players had to quickly figure out the next position they would take and then run there. The object was for everyone eventually being at all nine positions.

If two players ever landed at the same place, the mental toughness/communication drill would start over from the beginning.

There was always a lot of work on defensive situations.

What might happen next?

Where does the throw go if the ball is hit to me?

“(Dudley) also insisted that every player on the field needed to be moving on every play,” says Conwell.

After his time with Wapahani, Conwell moved across Delaware County to Delta High School for four seasons — two as a junior varsity coach and two as a varsity assistant on the staff of Terry Summers.

“He went a lot more into the details of the game,” says Conwell of Summers. “He wanted to make sure things were covered. It could be something as small as the wheel play or certain pick-off moves. We worked a lot on situational hitting.”

Conwell has taken what he’s learned about the game and molded it into his own style, which focuses on positivity and fundamentals.

“We do some team building exercises early in the year,” says Conwell. “We frequently stop during a practice to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“Several players play multiple positions. My whole infield can be different depending on who’s pitching that day.”

At a Class 1A school with an enrollment around 230, the Blackhawks have not fielded a JV team since Conwell has been in charge. He is hoping that might change this spring and get his younger players some more playing experience.

“I have a really good incoming freshmen class,” says Conwell. “I think I’ll have eight or nine freshmen. We could have 20-22 kids total.”

The Blackhawks had 18 players in 2015 (including Luke Miller, who is now on the Indiana University team) and 16 in both 2016 and 2017.

Feeding the program is the emergence of a junior high team in 2017. Playing on the varsity field from late May to early July, a combined squad of seventh and eighth graders is expected to play again in 2018 in the Eastern Central Indiana Junior High Baseball League. It’s a circuit that has been headed up by Wapahani’s Jason Dudley.

Cowan plays its games on-campus.

“Every year, we try to do something (to the facility),” says Conwell. “Money is always an issue.”

In Conwell’s second season, a four-foot fence was put up in front of the dugouts. It enlarges the bench area and brings players a little closer to the action.

Re-surfacing of the infield is on the wish list for after the 2018 season.

The Blackhawks play in the 10-team Mid-Eastern Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del). Eastern Hancock and Shenandoah joined the MEC in 2017-18.

Conwell also likes to get many of the traditionally-competitive 1A and 2A teams in the area on his non-conference schedule, including Seton Catholic and Union City in 1A, Burris, Centerville, Eastbrook, Hagerstown, Lapel, Northeastern and Winchester in 2A. Cowan is also slated to play 3A schools Delta and Mississinewa.

The Blackhawks are grouped in a 1A sectional with Anderson Prep Academy, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. In the future, Conwell would like to get more sectional opponents on Cowan’s regular-season schedule.

Not currently in the classroom, Conwell is taking online classes from Western Governors University toward a teaching certificate. Away from coaching, he works I work LifeTouch, a senior portraits lab in Muncie. Ryan and Katlyn Conwell have a daughter named Kinley. She was born in April of 2016 — in the midst of her daddy’s second season at Cowan.

Former Blackhawks baseball player Justin O’Conner is a minor league free agent who began his pro career right after the catcher was selected in the first round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

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Ryan Conwell, who heads into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Cowan High School in 2018, shares a moment with wife Katlyn and daughter Kinley (born in April 2016).

North All-Stars coach Turner simply enjoys teaching the game of baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Terry Turner loves to be around the people who love baseball.

That’s what draws him to the sport and to coaching — the last two seasons as head coach at Daleville High School after 29 at Anderson High School (25 as head coach).

“It’s that camaraderie that I love about the game,” says Turner. “At Daleville, the kids believe what the coaching staff is teaching. They eat it up. They have a passion for the game also.

“I just have fun with the kids.”

In his two springs leading the Broncos, those receptive young athletes have won two IHSAA sectionals (2016 at Daleville and 2017 at Anderson Prep) and the program’s first regional (at Carroll of Flora), semistate (at Plymouth) and state championship in 2016.

The Broncos carted home the 2016 1A state trophy after topping Lanesville 4-0.

In 2017, Daleville lost to eventual 1A state runner-up Rossville in the semifinals of the Carroll (Flora) Regional.

Anderson has won seven baseball sectionals — four came on Turner’s watch (1987, 1988, 1992, 2012). His Indians took a regional crown in 1995 with North Central Conference titles in 1999, 2000 and 2004.

After serving as an all-star assistant coach in 2009 when Anderson player Nolan Earley was on the roster, Turner has been named North head coach for the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series, which will stage its practice, junior showcase at banquet Friday, July 14, two games Saturday, July 15, and one game Sunday, July 16, at Ball State University in Muncie.

Turner will be joined at his alma mater (he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at BSU) by Daleville assistant Wally Winans.

“You’re never going to find a better teacher of the game of baseball than that guy,” says Turner. “I turn my infield over to him with one drill after the other. I just get out of his way.”

Fundamentals are the foundation of Turner’s coaching.

Turner and his Daleville assistants, including Winans, Tom Lyday and Terry Scheetz talk constantly to their players about every scenario they can conjure. If a weakness is found in a game, the Broncos will concentrate on that at their next practice.

Daleville, which is a member of the Mid-East Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del), tests itself by playing mostly larger schools.

Turner’s all-star staff will also include Todd Farr (Eastbrook) and John Steinhilber (Hebron).

Broncos outfielder Corbin Maddox is on the North team. Daleville’s Elliott Jackson was an all-star in 2016.

While at Anderson, Turner also sent Rod Mills (1987), Jeremy Quire (1993), Jordan Czarniecki (1999), Kurt Minnick (2000), Roy Erle (2001), Mike Earley (2006) and Zach Bucci (2011) to the all-star series.

One big difference between coaching at Anderson and Daleville is the size of the schools. Enrollment for 2016-17 was reported at 281.

As a smaller school, Daleville also shares athletes among its team. Turner says it’s not unusual for a wrestler to come from practice and take a few swings with the bat.

“The challenge is the numbers,” says Turner. “We don’t have as many pitchers as the larger schools would. The pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) has hurt the small school.”

In 2016, Lanesville’s Brenden Bube tossed 137 pitches in the semistate championship game. That would not have been allowed in 2017.

Turner, who graduated from Laurel High School (now part of the Franklin County consolidation) in 1975 and played baseball for Lynn Sheets.

After college, Turner was a junior high basketball and assistant baseball coach to Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Basil Mawbey and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tom Gable at Connersville High School. He remembers a piece of advice early in his days at Anderson, which began in 1986-87.

“I had no pitchers,” says Turner. “(Gable) told me, ‘everybody is a pitcher.’ He would say to his players, ‘you are a pitcher until you prove to me you can’t.’”

Turner had adopted similar approach.

“You can never have too many pitchers,” says Turner. “At the high school level — really, at all levels — it’s all about throwing strikes. If you don’t throw strikes, you’re in trouble.”

Throwing too many outside the zone also tends to have a negative effect on defenders.

“Infielders get back on their heels,” says Turner. “You put runners on and it puts all this pressure on your defense. Now they have to make the play.”

With a limited number of pitches to work with, Turner is not as quick to have his pitchers work around the zone when they get an 0-2 count.

“The pitch count changes the whole way you’re going to coach the game,” says Turner.

When it really comes into play is the sectional when single-elimination games are played in a short period of time and coaches may not have pitchers available for long — or at all — if those hurlers have thrown too many pitches prior to the next game.

“The (National) Federation is trying to protect young kids and their arms and I get that,” says Turner. “We’re all in the same boat. At tournament time, it’s not a fair situation. I don’t know what the answer is.”

After Connersville, Turner spent 1985-86 at Jasper, where he coached junior high basketball and was a baseball assistant to IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ray Howard.

At Anderson, Turner also was a boys basketball assistant for 14 seasons under Hall of Famer Norm Held and then Ron Heclinski.

Turner is still a teacher at Anderson. Formerly a physical science instructor, he now instructs on health and physical education.

Terry and Debbie Turner have three children — Derrick (32), Christa (27) and Jackie (23). All three were athletes at Pendleton Heights High School.

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Terry Turner just completed his second season as head baseball coach at Daleville High School after 29 seasons (25 as head coach) at Anderson High School. He is head coach for the North in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series July 14-16 in Muncie.