Tag Archives: Eastside

Desmonds, East Noble Knights attack game with aggressiveness

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Anticipation is growing around the baseball program at East Noble High School in Kendallville, Ind.

Knights Field is getting a new brick and net backstop and a storage building complete with restrooms. There’s also new fencing all around.

“They’re doing a lot,” says East Noble head coach Aaron Desmonds. “It’s exciting.”

Desmonds, a 2004 East Noble graduate who earned four baseball letters (Bill Cain was head coach), is going into his sixth season on the Knights coaching staff and third in charge in 2019.

As an assistant to Cory Jacquay, Desmonds promoted an offensive approach that put pressure on opposing defenses with bunts and delayed steals.

That aggressiveness has continued since Desmonds took over the program. His 2019 coaching staff features Nathan Jones (varsity), Larry Leighty (junior varsity head coach) and Jason Meade (JV assistant).

In 2018, East Noble had 40 players in the program (20 varsity, 20 JV) and Desmonds says he expects similar numbers in 2019.

There are nearly 30 freshmen vying for a spot in the program.

Seven seniors graduated last year.

“We’ll be fairly young,” says Desmonds. “There will be opportunities for kids to step up.”

While it may not happen this season, Desmonds can see the need for adding a few C-team games to the Knights schedule in the future to provide game experience for younger players.

Official IHSAA practice began Monday, March 11. During limited contact time, the Knights met and got in as much time as sharing gym time would allow.

“We did not get in two full hours,” says Desmonds. “Our basketball coach (Ryan Eakins) played baseball in college and understands we need get arms ready).”

Jones is East Noble’s pitching coach and oversees a staff that works within the IHSAA 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).

“I like it,” says Desmonds of the rule. “We haven’t had any arm issues. We’ve been able to manage their workload.

“They don’t throw a lot the day after they’ve thrown a lot of pitches.”

Recent East Noble graduates Zachary Lane (Anderson University), Zach Haefer (Ivy Tech Northeast and Davenport University) and Joe Kovets (Ivy Tech Northeast) have gone on the collegiate baseball.

Senior third baseman Rhett Norris, a Northeast Eight Conference second-teamer in 2018, is among the Knights’ top returnees.

Opponents for East Noble (enrollment around 1,200 in the NE8 are Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell.

Conference teams meet each other once with games on Tuesdays and Thursdays. An exception will be Wednesday, May 8 when East Noble meets Huntington North at Parkview Field in Fort Wayne.

Non-conference opponents include Angola, Central Noble, Eastside, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Snider, Garrett, Goshen, Lakeland, Wawasee, West Noble and Westview.

The Knights are scheduled to play a scrimmage game with NorthWood, which is coached by former Desmonds East Noble teammate A.J. Risedorph.

The Knights are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne Carroll, DeKalb, Fort Wayne Northrop and Fort Wayne Snider. East Noble has won 15 sectional crowns — the last in 1995.

Home games are played on a field located on the East Noble campus.

A feeder system includes youth leagues in Rome City, Avila and Kendallville (East Noble Youth Baseball). The latter serves ages 7 to 15 and has eight diamonds and hosts many tournaments during the summer.

There is also a Kendallville Titans travel organization.

This year, an eighth grade club team that Desmonds oversees — Knights Baseball — will play in the spring and summer.

“We wanted to get more of our kids to play together,” says Desmonds of the reason to form the eighth grade squad.

Besides coaching baseball, Desmonds is online salesmen for Antiques and More Kendallville. The company is owned by his parents, Kevin and Jennifer Sabrosky.

Desmond graduated from Purdue University with a business degree.

East Noble graduate Ben Van Ryn played in The Show.

The left-hander was selected in the first round of the 1990 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Montreal Expos and went on to pitch 26 games in the majors with the California Angels, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays.

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Purdue Fort Wayne’s Birely helps pitchers navigate a world of knowledge

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Blending various talents into a cohesive unit, helping them navigate a world of knowledge and encouraging a flow of ideas.

This is what Grant Birely gets to do as pitching coach at NCAA Division I Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne).

Birely, 36, has been on the job since the 2009 season. The Mastodons are scheduled to open the 2019 campaign Feb. 15-17 with four games at Alabama A&M.

The Purdue Fort Wayne roster features 14 active pitchers with two who will likely be medical redshirts.

“I make an individual plan with each of them to become the best they can,” says Birely. “As they get older and go through the program, they take a lot of ownership of their own development and I become a consultant for them. With the young guys, it’s about teaching them what it takes to pitch at this level.”

Birely says the cornerstone of Mastodons pitching is throwing and learning to spin pitches.

“In some form or fashion, there is throwing each day,” says Birely. “It might be 60 feet one day just to get loose. It might be 350 feet if they’re going to long toss that day. I don’t put a distance restriction on them. We tell them to listen to their arm and see how it feels each day.”

The point is, collegiate pitchers are asked to throw a lot.

“There’s no better way to learn to throw than to throw,” says Birely. “We’re working on their craft every single day.”

Playing baseball at the college level, especially Division I, is a major commitment between school work and hours spend getting ready for and playing games.

“We spend everyday with them and they spend so much time on it, they have to love baseball and showing up everyday and working on it,” says Birely. “One thing they’ll leave with is time management when they head into the real world.”

Purdue Fort Wayne pitchers do a hybrid training program that includes band work, stretching and some weighted-ball movements.

“We don’t dive straight into a full weight-ball program because these guys are competing the minute they get on-campus,” says Birely. “They never really have that down time to solely focus on velocity or anything like that. We’re always trying to work on command (of the strike zone) and commanding a second pitch.”

When the weather keeps the Mastodons off the frozen tundra, they do their throwing in a spacious fieldhouse large enough to make tosses of up to 250 or 260 feet.

“We’re very lucky to have that,” says Birely. “It’s just high enough so they can get a little bit of air under the baseball.”

The top two pitchers from 2018 in terms of innings pitched and victories are gone. Right-hander Brandon Phelps, a Fort Wayne Snider High School graduate, pitched 83 innings and won five games as a redshirt senior. Left-hander Damian Helm worked 73 1/3 innings with four victories in his senior season.

As the Mastodons head into the only four-game series of 2019, Birely says junior right-hander Chase Phelps (Brandon’s brother and also a Fort Wayne Snider graduate), junior right-hander Cameron Boyd (Fishers) and redshirt senior right-hander Shane Odzark will get the first opportunity to be starting pitchers.

The bullpen is being built with establishing strength in the late innings as a priority.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are excited to try to go and finish games,” says Birely, who counts freshman left-hander Justin Miller (Homestead), sophomore right-hander Sean Ferguson (New Haven) and freshman right-hander Jarrett Miller in the closer mix.

Other right-handers include sophomore Trevor Armstrong (Fort Wayne Snider), sophomore Nathan Hefle, freshman Garrett Hill (University), junior Tyler Kissinger, junior Duane Miller, sophomore Brian Skelton (Westfield) and redshirt freshman Cade Willard (Eastside).

Another lefty is sophomore Spencer Strobel (Avon).

Birely says two freshmen right-hander — Grant Johnston (Hamilton Southeastern) and Drew Pyle (Hagerstown) — have had injuries that will likely make them redshirts.

The pitching coach has learned that he is dealing with players who have different ways of learning. They might be visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.

“We have some guys who like to see themselves on video and they can make adjustments based off that,” says Birely. “Some guys I have to put in a position kind of in a kinesthetic way so they can feel it.

“It’s definitely a challenge to figure out each guy.”

And figuring it out is key.

“Anyone who is teaching might be the smartest person in the world but if they can’t get that information to the players, it doesn’t really work and it doesn’t help,” says Birely. “It’s been fun finding different ways to teach and different ways to convey information that I have to them.”

Birely notes that the current generation — Generation Z — gets a bad rap for asking so many questions.

“They have all this information at their finger tips,” says Birely. “Some of it is good and some of it is not good.

“I’d rather have them ask me a question or to try to figure something out than to just go and do it on their own.”

Group chats are a way that information is exchanged.

A pitcher will see a video in social media and ask, “what do you think of this, Coach?.”

Birely asks his hurlers to identify their favorite major league pitcher.

“That gives me some insight of who they’re going to watch,” says Birely. “My favorite pitcher to watch growing up was Greg Maddux. I was never the big velocity guy. Watching him throw a baseball looked like watching a wiffleball.”

He also followed the fortunes of another future Hall of Famer. Roy Halladay went to high school just a few years before Birely in nearby Denver suburb of Arvada.

Birley is a graduate of Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, Colo. He played for current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Bobby Pierce at Central Arizona College (the Vaqueros won the 2002 National Junior College Division I World Series) then finished his collegiate career at the University of New Orleans. That’s where he met his future wife, Bonnie. The two were living in the Big Easy when Hurricane Katrina hit and they moved closer to Grant’s family in Denver.

Retired as a player after one season of independent baseball with the Mesa Miners, Birley went into the business world when a friend asked him to help with freshmen tryouts at Regis Jesuit High School, figuring it would just be for a few hours on a Saturday.

“From the moment I walked out there, I was hooked,” says Birely, who spent two seasons at Regis Jesuit in Aurora, Colo. When Pierce became head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver, he invited Birely to become Roadrunners pitching coach. When Pierce moved to Indiana to lead the IPFW Mastodons, he asked Birely to come with him.

“I wouldn’t have this opportunity without him,” says Birely of Pierce. “He’s been a mentor and a great person to learn from.

“The best thing about him is that he lets everybody in the organization from players to staff go do their job

he gives them the freedom and creativity to make the program better.”

Pierce promotes a spirit of working together for a common goal.

“He’s very positive,” says Birley. “He’s great to work for. He’s awesome to play for. He allows the players the freedom to exchange ideas.

“Let’s figure it out together.”

Grant and Bonnie Birely have figured out how to balance baseball and family life. The couple has two children — Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School senior Tyler (who is active in theater and show choir) and sixth grader Kaylee.

“Like everyday says you’ve got to have a very understand wife,” says Grant. “She’s on this journey with me. Otherwise, I couldn’t do this.

“She keeps the fort going at home.”

Purdue Fort Wayne plays in the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). That makes for a good deal of travel. When the Mastodons go to the Dakotas, they often leave campus on Wednesday night and return at noon Monday.

“(Players) do a great job of doing their schoolwork on the road,” says Birely. “It’s not uncommon to walk through a hotel lobby and there’s 25 or 30 guys doing their homework.

It’s not uncommon for players to ask for the movies to be turned off on the bus to study for an upcoming test.

“We’ve had guys who understand what it means to be a true student-athlete,” says Birely. “It goes back to time management. They have to rely on themselves a lot to make sure they’re getting their work done.”

Coaches will proctor tests for professors, who email the exam and set the time limit and have the coaches sent it back. Other take online classes to allow flexibility and no requirement to be in a classroom.

Christine Kuznar is Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics and meets with players each semester to them on-track toward getting their degree as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“She’s the rock star behind the whole thing,” says Birely.

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Purdue Fort Wayne was formerly known as Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. In its new branding, the Mastodons have adopted black and gold as school colors with a hint of blue as homage to the IPFW brand. (Purdue Fort Wayne Image)

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Grant Birely, the baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne, is a native of Colorado who played and coached for Mastodons head coach Bobby Pierce before following him to Indiana. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

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Grant Birely has been baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) since the 2009 season. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

 

 

Bock, Fremont Eagles eager to add to their baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fremont (Ind.) High School chased down an elusive sectional baseball championship in 2018.

Head coach Justin Bock saw the Eagles grab the program’s first sectional title since 2005, beating Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian 5-4 in the final of the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional.

Fremont (15-16) went on to lose 3-2 to Northfield in the championship game of the Caston Regional.

“We worked really hard to get that sectional trophy,” says Fremont head coach Justin Bock, who heads into his 22nd season in the program and 11th in charge in 2019.

Four-year starter Rhett Evans has moved on to Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich.

Bock expects the 2019 Eagles to be young and talented. The coach anticipates he will have one senior, but four returning starters. A couple of freshmen could find their way into the lineup. There could be as many as 30 players in the program, including 12 ninth graders.

It’s anticipated that senior center fielder Ethan Marten will be back for his third season as a Fremont starter.

Junior left-hander Mick Laisure (0.99 earned run average in 36 1/3 innings in 2008) and right-hander/right fielder Connor Kreis are supposed to return in 2019 as is sophomore lead-off man and second baseman Kameron Colclasure. As a pitcher, he was 5-0 with a 0.88 ERA in more than 24 varsity innings in 2018. He hurled a shutout against Fairfield and earned a relief victory against DeKalb.

“He throws three pitches with great control,” says Bock of Colclasure, who was awarded varsity letters in three sports as a freshman (football, basketball and baseball). He is expected to move over to shortstop in 2019.

Fremont, located in Steuben County in northeast Indiana, is a member of the 12-team Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview).

Each team plays the other once. There is also a blind-draw conference tournament in the middle of the season.

“It gives the kids a taste of what sectional is like,” says Bock. “It has a one-and-done tournament feel.”

The Eagles are in an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. Fremont is on the 1A/2A border and could go back up with the next realignment in 2019-20.

Bock has Fremont in the early-season Coldwater (Mich.) Invitational, an event that has the Eagles playing three games in one day.

“Our hitters get to see great pitching early in the year,” says Bock. “It gets us ready to see conference pitching.”

It also means Fremont could use as many as nine pitchers. This puts an emphasis on building pitching depth.

“It has become routine for us,” says Bock. “If we have you going through workouts, you will be on the mound.

“We can win by pitching to contact and playing good defense.”

The 2019 season will be the third of the IHSAA 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). Before that, pitchers were allowed 10 innings every three days.

“(The pitch count rule) has emphasized what we really believe,” says Bock, who used 11 different arms in varsity competition in 2018 with Evans has the most innings going into sectional play at 28, keeping him fresh. “We’re not afraid to throw guys.

“We have to work more on mixing pitches and pitching to contact. We can’t afford to walk people.”

This kind of approach to pitching has helped Bock and his coaching staff find some hidden gems over the years.

Bock’s 2019 assistants are Ron Colclasure, Dave Smith, Jim Burkhart and Chad Baker at the varsity level and Ian Burkhart with the junior varsity. Baker splits his time between Fremont and Glen Oaks, where his son Braxton Baker (the step-brother of Rhett Evans) went after Fremont.

Being a 1A school with about 300 students, Fremont is full of multi-sport athletes. This meant that many were busy during the fall practice window.

Bock says practice will begin in earnest in early January when pitchers and catchers report for pre-season workouts.

The high school program is fed by Fremont Youth League and a number of travel baseball organizations, including Hitters Edge, Kalamazoo Maroons, Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Sting. In the past, there have been players go with Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers.

“A lot of our kids go north because of how close we are to Michigan,” says Bock.

Fremont graduate and current Indiana Tech baseball standout Glen McClain played travel ball for the Kalamazoo Maroons.

A 1993 Fremont graduate after moving in from the Ann Arbor, Mich., area as a sophomore, Bock earned an English degree at Taylor University and master’s in education at Indiana Wesleyan University.

He spent 19 years at Fremont and is in his third year as an assistant professor and placement coordinator at Trine University in Angola, Ind.

Bock’s baseball coach at Fremont was Roger Probst, who led the Eagles on the diamond 1985-2007 and is now the school’s athletic director.

“He’s the most organized person I’ve ever been around,” says Bock of Probst. “He’s the best athletic director in the state and a clear communicator.”

Bock served as a Probst assistant for 11 seasons before taking over the baseball reins 2008.

A junior high football coach and varsity boys basketball assistant to Eagles head coach Craig Helfrich (as is Ron Colclasure), Bock says it makes sense for him to be a head coach in the spring.

“Baseball really suits my personality,” says Bock. “I enjoy the pace of the game and the time to reflect on how we want to respond to a situation.

“It’s much healthier for me to be a baseball coach.”

Justin and April Bock have two children — freshman Ethan and sixth grader Delaney. After 12 years at Angola Middle School, April Bock teaches sixth grade at Fremont Middle School, where Delaney Bock is a student. Ethan Bock is a tennis, basketball and baseball athlete at Fremont High School.

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Fremont (Ind.) High School baseball coaches celebrate with the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional trophy. They are (from left) Chad Baker, Jim Burkhart, Ian Burkhart, Ryan Allman, head coach Justin Bock, Ron Colclasure and Dave Smith.

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Fremont (Ind.) High School baseball seniors and head coach pose with the 2018 IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional trophy. They are (from left) Zack Peele, Rhett Evans, head coach Justin Bock, Joe Molter, Seth McDowell and Evan Trusty.

 

Alum Murdock makes sure DeKalb Barons respect the game

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tim Murdock grew up in a baseball-loving family and played for some demanding coaches.

Murdock brings those qualities to his position as head baseball coach at DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind. He just finished his fourth season as the leader of the program after six seasons as an assistant.

Tim is the youngest of three sons belonging to Jim and Carolyn Murdock.

“Dad was born and raised in Philadelphia and taught me the love of the game,” says Tim Murdock of his late father. “It was a great upbringing.”

Oldest son Mark Murdock is newspaper reporter, second son Matt  Murdock a college professor and Tim Murdock teaches English and Social Studies at DeKalb in addition to his baseball coaching duties.

A 1987 DeKalb graduate, Tim played for head coach Bill Jones, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association founder and Hall of Famer.

What was it like playing for Coach Jones?

“At the time, it was demanding,” says Murdock. “In hindsight, it was a very rewarding experience.

“He wanted us performing well under pressure and physical demands and playing with respect for the game.

“He’s major influence on the way I coach today.”

A few years ago, DeKalb retired the No. 24 worn for decades by Jones and is posted at Baron Field.

Steve Harp was a longtime Jones assistant and also made an impact on Murdock.

“He taught us about playing the game the right way and held kids accountable,” says Murdock, who also helped Harp coach the Barons junior varsity. “He had the communication skills and could relate to the players. His strategies and X’s and O’s were impeccable.”

Murdock coached with then replaced Chris Rhodes as the fifth head coach in Barons history.

“He was good at developing the whole player,” says Murdock of Rhodes, who is now DeKalb athletic director. “He believed in off-season weight room training and being mentally tough.

“He was always putting (players) in pressure situations in practice and not lowering any types of expectations.

“The players had to meet his expectations.”

Murdock does the same things with his DeKalb teams.

The Barons compete in the Northeast Eight Conference (along with Bellmont, Columbia City, East Noble, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell). Conference teams play each other once during the regular season on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

DeKalb played in the IHSAA Class 4A Fort Wayne Carroll Sectional in 2018. Others in the five-team field were Carroll, East Noble, Fort Wayne Northrop and Fort Wayne Snider.

The Barons have won 19 sectional all-time — the last in 2002. DeKalb last took a regional crown in 1998. There were semistate trophies earned in 1977 and 1980. The 1977 team was a state finalist and the 1980 squad state champions.

Alec Brunson, a catcher on the 2018 team bound for Purdue Fort Wayne, played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.

Jimmy Long, who was an IHSBCA All-Star in 1998, is one of Murdock’s assistant coaches.

Two others from the DeKalb Class of 2018 — Dane Mettert (Bluffton University in Ohio) and Jackson Pyck-Hontz (North Central College in Illinois) — are also headed for college baseball. Other recent grads to go that route are Collin Bice (2015) and Quinton Rumsey (2016) at Manchester University.

Murdock gets involved in the recruiting process by pointing interested players toward websites like FieldLevel as well as showcases and camps.

“I do a lot of networking at the (IHSBCA) State Clinic in January,” says Murdock.

Prior to DeKalb, Murdock spent five years teaching and coaching baseball at Eastside High School in Butler, Ind. — the last four as head coach. He did not play baseball in college and went to both Indiana State University and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne).

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted a 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).

Murdock says he rarely had a pitcher approach the top of the limit, but the rest requirements has sometimes caused “unintended consequences” for his team and for others.

When possible, teams are more likely to try to win by 10 runs in five innings to save pitches.

“Coaches who would normally go station-to-station will try to score as many rules as possible,” says Murdock. “In the old days that would be considered disrespecting the game.

“If you have a stretch of six games in seven days, to save pitching is a big deal.”

Auburn (Ind.) Little League develops future and current DeKalb players as well as a number of travel baseball organizations.

“Kids see quality competition and they’re playing a lot of games,” says Murdock of travel ball. “They’re showcase their talents as individuals.”

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DeKalb High School head baseball Tim Murdock (right) meets with Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian assistant after the Barons played the Braves.

 

Success follows Eastside’s Willard from softball to baseball diamonds

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Willard enjoyed plenty of success in his time as head softball coach at Eastside High School in Butler, Ind.

In 23 seasons, he Blazers softballers won 13 sectional titles (three in the IHSAA single-class era and five each in Class 1A and 2A).

When Jason Pierce left the head baseball post at Eastside and Aaron’s oldest son, Cade Willard, was a junior, he decided to take over the program.

In his second season (2017), the Blazers won the 2A Westview Sectional. Eastside did it again in 2018, besting Westview in the title game and earning a berth in the 2A Whiting Regional.

The Blazers (18-8) face Boone Grove in the second semifinal around noon CST (Hammond Bishop Noll plays South Adams at 10 a.m. CST) at Oil City Stadium. The championship is slated for 6 p.m. CST.

“Last year, we were built around pitching,” says Willard, who sent right-handers Cade Willard (redshirt at Fort Wayne), Conner Dove (Trine University), Jackson White (Franklin College) and middle infielder/closer Zach Orn (Ivy Tech Northeast) on to college baseball. They were among nine seniors. “A lot of those guys had played a lot of baseball.”

This year, the Blazers are not as experienced on the mound but have gotten the job done.

The staff is led by senior Chris Ballentine and also features juniors McGuire Jacobs, Nick Shewman, Chase Franz and Joe White and freshman Wade Miller. All but lefty Miller, who plays center field, are right-handers.

White is the team’s No. 1 catcher and joins Ballentine and Franz among Eastside’s most-productive hitters. The squad’s only other senior is first baseman Riley Thompson.

“Our guys have done a great job on the mound,” says Willard. “We’ve been solid defensively for the most part. The top of our order has been pretty good and we’ve now got some guys hitting in the bottom part.”

Eastside is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference. The NECC was led in 2018 by Angola (9-2) and Lakeland (9-2), followed by Fairfield (8-3), Westview (7-4), Eastside (7-4), Garrett (6-5), Fremont (5-6), Churubusco (5-6), West Noble (4-7), Prairie Heights (3-8), Central Noble (3-8) and Hamilton (0-11).

Willard’s assistant coaches are Tony Emenhiser, Garth Fiedler, John Gravante and Bryce Yoder.

The Blazers play their home games on-campus. The field has a wooden outfield fence and a few years ago, a net backstop was installed for clearer viewing by spectators.

A 1984 Eastside graduate, Willard went on to play baseball for four seasons at Huntington College (now Huntington University). His freshmen year was also the first in charge for head coach Mike Frame.

After receiving a physical education degree in 1989, Willard returned to Eastside and began teaching. He became athletic director and assistant principal in 1999 — positions he has held ever since.

Aaron and Terri Willard have three children — Madison, Cade and Owen. Madison Willard graduated this spring from Ball State University and is to marry Dalton Shetler in June. Owen Willard is an eighth grader.

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Eastside celebrates its second straight IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional baseball championship in 2018. Assistant coach Tony Emenhiser, seniors Caleb Ballentine and Riley Thompson and head coach Aaron Willard pose with the trophy.

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Eastside High School head baseball coach Aaron Willard (25) gets the bucket treatment from his team after they won the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional.

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The Eastside High School Blazers hoist the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional baseball trophy as head coach Aaron Willard (right) takes in the moment.

Organization, persistence help Buckingham, South Adams Starfires enjoy baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Buckingham sweats the details.

It is not unusual for the 11th-year head baseball coach at South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., to spend an hour crafting his practice plan.

Buckingham, a 1998 South Adams graduate, played for and later coached one season under former Starfires head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dean Stahly.

Looking back, Buckingham sees how Stahly, who led South Adams from 1971-2008, had a knack for organization.

“It may sound crazy, but I want to make sure each of those players are on the move so they’re not bored and get the instruction they need so they can grow as a player,” says Buckingham. “With limited resources and limited coaches, you’ve got to be creative in that regard.”

South Adams had 33 players for varsity and junior varsity schedules this spring.

At Bluffton College (now Bluffton University) in Ohio, Buckingham played four years for Greg Brooks and gained an appreciation for persistence.

“In baseball, a lot of bad things happen and a lot of good things happen and you still keep going,” says Buckingham, who also was head coach at Frankton High School for five seasons in Madison County, Ind. The Eagles were 2A state runners-up in 2003. “You have to stay the course and keep going.”

Buckingham has taken that knowledge and applied it. This spring, it’s helped South Adams win a second straight IHSAA sectional title (the ninth in program history and second in a row) and earn a spot in the Class 2A Whiting Regional. The IHSBCA No. 2-ranked Starfires play Hammond Noll at 10 a.m. CST, followed by Eastside vs. Boone Grove. The regional final is slated for 6 p.m. CST.

At 27-2, the 2018 South Adams squad has already tied the 1982 state finalist team (27-6-1) for the school’s most single-season baseball victories ever. The school also produced a state runner-up in 1972.

The Starfires are led on the mound and at the plate by junior Grant Besser. The left-handed pitcher/shortstop has a 9-0 record with six saves to go along with a .511 batting average, six home runs, two triples and 16 doubles.

The South Adams mound staff also features sophomore left-hander Collin Shaffer (6-1), freshman right-hander Adam Besser (6-0), senior right-handers Austin Davidson (3-0, 3 saves) and Mark Cleary (3-1, 1 save).

When not pitching, Shaffer plays first base and Cleary is the team’s starting catcher.

Besides Besser, Cleary (.412) and senior second baseman Joe Stuber (.396) are the top offensive threats.

No current players have yet made college baseball commitments. South Adams graduates Collin Affolder (Bethel College) and Chandler Ingle (Goshen College) just finished their collegiate careers. Blake Fox (Bluffton University) wound up his in 2017.

Buckingham’s coaching staff includes Craig McKean (former head coach at Southern Wells for 10 years before coming back to his alma mater), Jim Buckingham (Brad’s father), Branden Alberson, Chad Mitchell and Blade Rheinhart.

South Adams belongs to the Allen County Athletic Conference (along with Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, Southern Wells and Woodlan).

South Adams plays its home games on-campus at Harry F. Anderson Field. The facility named for the school’s first athletic director and a former baseball coach just got new pro-style brick dugouts last year.

A fundraising campaign brought in around $90,000 for the project.

“They’re pretty neat,” says Buckingham. “We took a lot of measurements at Parkview Field (in Fort Wayne).”

The Starfires try to do projects each year to improve Anderson Field.

“That’s foundational in our prorgam,” says Buckingham. “We want to make it a hangout place for our players — something they want to come to. That’s something we have control over. We don’t have control over how much talent we have.”

The South Adams Youth League, which has a 12-person board that Buckingham and Starfires head softball coach Jessie O’Dell both sit on, is a feeder system for the high school.

Brad Buckingham is an eighth grade math teacher at the high school while wife Ashley Buckingham is a physical education instructor and head volleyball coach at the high school. The couple have four children (one boy and three girls) — Duke (8), Emmaline (6), Elizabeth (4) and Everly (who turns 2 next week).

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The Buckingham family celebrates a 2018 IHSAA sectional baseball championship for South Adams. Brad and Ashley are in the back. In the front (from left): Duke, Everly, Emmaline and Elizabeth. Brad Buckingham is in his 11th season as Starfires head coach.

Lawler seeing that success breeds success with LaVille Lancers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Buying into the multi-sport athlete idea and feeding off the success of other sports, the LaVille Lancers is enjoying a stellar 2018 season under fourth-year head coach Brian Lawler.

Heading into a home game Friday, May 18 against John Glenn, the Lancers are 20-2.

LaVille ran the table in the Hoosier North Athletic Conference, going 14-0. Pioneer (10-4) was second, followed by Knox (8-6), Winamac (7-6), North Judson (7-7), Triton (5-9), Caston (4-9) and Culver Community (0-14). Winamac is to visit Caston in the final HNAC game Friday, May 18.

“We’re a small school,” says Lawler, who coaches and teaches physical education in a LaVille Junior/Senior High building with around 350 students in the top four grades. “We believe in sharing athletes and providing opportunities for kids all year-round.

“We want to give them the best experience they can.”

Athletic director/head football coach Will Hostrawser leads a staff which coordinates their summer workouts so athletes can attend sessions in multiple sports.

Hostrawser has a baseball coaching background.

“He lets all his coaches coach,” says Lawler of Hostrawser. “But he’s always there if we want to pick his brain about something.”

As for success breeding success, two examples come in football and boys basketball. The Lancers went 8-5 on the gridiron last fall and 23-1 on the hardwood last winter.

The past four years, LaVille is 35-14 in football and 76-24 in boys basketball under head coach Michael Edison. Corey Duncan’s girls basketball squad was 16-8 in 2017-18.

Before playing baseball at Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University and earning his teaching degree at Bethel College, Lawler was a football and baseball athlete at South Bend St. Joseph High School. He graduated in 1999.

Before coming to LaVille, Lawler was a St. Joseph assistant for eight seasons on the staff of John Gumpf.

What does being a multi-sport athlete mean to him?

“Competing throughout the year and learning lessons from different coaches,” says Lawler. “It’s about being coachable and that translates into whatever sport that kid is doing at the time.”

The HNAC plays home-and-home two-game series with some doubleheaders, making it extra important to develop pitching depth.

“It forces you not the see that No. 1 twice,” says Lawler, who is assisted by Mark Elliot, Scott Wierczorek and Bryce Bustamante. “And with the pitch count rules (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) and our small roster (there’s 15 players in the program for a varsity and junior varsity schedule), we need to get as many pitchers as we can.”

The 2017 Lancers went 20-7 and graduated some quality senior pitchers. The current team has just one senior — first baseman Tyler Hollon. There is also a good mix of juniors, sophomores and a few freshmen.

Lawler counts catcher Reese Gallup and left-handed pitcher/outfielder Devon Schoff among the junior standouts and third baseman Jimmy Fischer, first baseman Isaiah Herbster, right-hander/outfielder Nick Moore and shortstop/right-hander Connor Wieczorek as some of the top sophomores.

LaVille plays its home games on its campus near Lakeville though it does have access to nearby Newton Park should field conditions call for a change of venue.

The Lancers’ non-conference schedule includes Argos, Bethany Christian, Bremen, Culver Military, Jimtown, John Glenn, Oregon-Davis, Rochester, South Bend Adams and South Central.

LaVille is in the IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional along with Bremen, Central Noble, Eastside, Prairie Heights and Westview. The Lancers have won three sectional baseball titles (1968, 1974, 1991).

Lawler and wife Sara reside in South Bend.

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LaVille Junior/Senior High School baseball coach Brian Lawler (right) poses with lone 2018 senior Tyler Hollon. The Lancers have reached the 20-win plateau again this spring.