BY STEVE KRAH
Daren Hardesty played for a passionate coach in high school and looks to bring some of that intensity in his role as head baseball coach at Knightstown (Ind.) High School.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt led the program at Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, Ind., when Hardesty was there.
“He’s just a student of the game,” says Hardesty of the now-retired Stoudt. “He’s always reading and learning and passes that stuff on to former players who are coaching now.
“He just never stops. He loves the game of baseball.
“He’s a competitor to the extreme. I loved playing for Coach Stoudt. He got so fired up. Doing things the right way was so important. His passion and drive was infectious. I hope my players get that from me from time to time.”
The 2019 season will be Hardesty’s sixth as Knightstown’s head coach. An impact player expected back from a 15-11 team is senior right-hander/shortstop Jose Olivo. The athletic Olivo is currently the starting quarterback on the Panthers football squad and Hardesty says he will likely be the school’s No. 1 pitcher in the spring.
Knightstown (enrollment around 380) is an IHSAA Class 2A school which has been in a sectional pairing with Eastern Hancock, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Scecina, Irvington Preparatory and Triton Central.
Despite being a smaller school, the Panthers have been able to develop some quality pitching depth with Hardesty in-charge and he looks to beef up the non-conference schedule with bigger schools when possible.
“We’re blessed to have three of four quality starters,” says Hardesty. “We have good enough pitching to keep us competitive.
“We stress, stress long toss, arm bands and arm strengthening.”
The Panthers are members of the Tri-Eastern Conference (along with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester). Union County, Hagerstown and Knightstown placed 1-2-3 in the TEC in 2018.
“It’s competitive,” says Hardesty of the conference. “Everybody’s good.”
The Panthers have sent players on the college baseball in recent years, including Drake Peggs at Eastern Michigan University.
“He was our shortstop and difference maker,” says Hardesty of Peggs. “He has great hand-eye coordination.”
Hardesty graduated from Pendleton Heights in 2013 and played four seasons at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., where he earned his diploma in 2007 and his head baseball coach was Mark DeMichael (now IWU’s athletic director).
“He was short-staffed for a college staff,” says Hardesty of DeMichael. “He did an excellent job of organizing practices.
“He is a Godly man who valued his relationship with his players and exhibited a good, Christ-like demeanor.
“Indiana Wesleyan athletics are getting better and better and it doesn’t surprise me a bit with Mark in charge.”
Hardesty joined the Wildcats as a corner infielder and pitcher and became a set-up man on a pitching staff led by future major leaguer Brandon Beachy, who was one year behind Hardesty.
“I had to really learn how to pitch to be effective,” says Hardesty, who ate up many relief innings. “That’s why I love to be a pitching coach. Learning a good change-up was huge for me.”
Hardesty began his coaching career at Greenfield-Central High School. He served five years as pitching coach to Pendleton Heights graduate Travis Keesling then spent one season with head coach Keesling at PH before landing at Knightstown.
He has really come to appreciate what it means to be a coach and educator at that size school.
Hardesty teaches math at KHS.
“We have small class sizes and the kids all work hard,” says Hardesty. “I’ve fallen into a really good situation here.”
His baseball coaching staff includes Knightstown graduate and former Hanover College catcher Nolan Hall plus teachers Nic Murray (a former Eminence assistant) and Darren Kessler.
In 2018, the Panthers played all their home games on a new on-campus field which Hardesty had the chance to help design.
“It’s awesome,” says Hardesty of a facility which includes a net and brick backstop, open-concept dugouts and fan-friendly berms around the field. “They don’t have to look through chain link fences.
“It’s got some unique features like Pendleton Heights and Wapahani. It’s not a cookie-cutter field.”
The former varsity field is located about about two miles from campus at what is now Knightstown Intermediate School.
Hardesty says the new field should have lights installed by next fall with the hopes Knightstown, which moved into its newer high school building on U.S. 40 in 2004, will be able to become an IHSAA postseason tournament host.
Since Hardesty took over the program, the Panthers have won three of their six all-time sectionals (2014, 2015 and 2016) and two of three regional crowns (2015 and 2016).
Daren and Morgan Hardesty celebrated four years of marriage this year. The couple have two children — son Bridger (2) and daughter Elliott (6 months).
Daren Hardesty, a graduate of Pendleton Heights High School and Indiana Wesleyan University, is heading into his sixth season as head baseball coach at Knightstown (Ind.) High School in 2019. (Knightstown Photo)