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Barney’s spent decade leading Vincennes U. baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Student-athletes are constantly coming and going. That’s the nature of junior college sports.

Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at one such two-year institution — Vincennes (Ind.) University.

“I enjoy the challenge,” says Barney. “I enjoy the aspect of recruiting. You’re always looking for the next best thing.”

A poor team can get better quickly with a solid recruiting class.

‘I’m often asked, what are you looking for in college baseball? Bats play. If you can swing the pole, you’re going to play at the junior college level.”

VU’s stated mission is “to provide associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of academic and occupational majors leading to entry to a four-year university or to the workforce.”

Vincennes serves more than 17,000 at its various locations with about a third of that number at the main campus.

“It’s not the typical junior college,” says Barney. “It has a mid-major collegiate feel.”

The goal of the baseball program is to place student-athletes with a place to play at a four-year college. As of last week, 96 Vincennes players had moved on during the decade that Barney’s been in charge, including 32 to NCAA Division I, many to NCAA D-II and NAIA and a few to NCAA D-III.

Barney sees players choose the junior college route for many reasons. Among them are cost, grade issues, level of play, the chance to play right away or be drafted by Major League Baseball and not have to wait to turn 21 or play three seasons like is required at four-year schools.

The Trailblazers’ core beliefs revolve around faith, family, school and baseball.

“It’s like a three-ring circus of academics, athletics and the social scene,” says Barney of Vincennes campus life. “You have to have self-discipline and time management skills. You prioritize where you want to spend your time and what you want to get accomplished out of college.

“You can obtain your full potential as a player. That’s what junior college offers guys.”

Junior college players are allowed to practice more often that those at other levels.

All the time with the team allows individuals to built work ethic, character and emotional stability and, hopefully, have a positive experience.

“It’s an opportunity to get better,” says Barney. “There’s always obstacles and challenges for guys, where it’s an injury, a class, a teammate or playing time. But they learn the fundamental game of baseball.”

School rules say Vincennes freshmen must stay in campus housing. Sophomores have the choice to live on-campus or off-campus. Barney says there’s about a 50-50 split for his current sophomore class.

Barney, who is assisted by Hank Lopez and Matt Goebel, started out with 37 players in the fall and took 31 into the spring.

Almost all of those have hometowns in Indiana.

Until a couple of years ago, Indiana was Barney’s recruiting base. Such scholarship money is based on in-state tuition.

With the favorable rates and so many Illinois junior college baseball programs as opposed to Indiana (which now has three — Vincennes, Ancilla College and Ivy Tech Northeast), plenty of Indiana players choose to play junior college baseball in Illinois.

But Illinois has been opened up so that VU can offer students there a cost similar to what they would get in-state.

“I hope to drive up the price of poker in Illinois for some of those guys,” says Barney of landing Illinois players for the VU program.

Rules allow junior colleges to play 20 games against outside competition in the fall. Vincennes also plays about 10 intrasquad games. There are 56 regular-season games in the spring.

That’s a lot of innings to cover so Barney typically carries 16 to 18 pitches, some of whom also play other positions.

“I love those guys,” says Barney. “If they can be successful at both, it’s well worth or time and energy to put the effort into that.”

The Trailblazers are in National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 24. The region is made up of nine Mid-West Athletic Conference members — Vincennes plus Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, Heartland Community College (Normal, Ill.), Illinois Central College (East Peoria, Ill.), John Wood Community College (Quincy, Ill.), Lewis & Clark Community College (Godfrey, Ill.), Lincoln Land Community College (Springfield, Ill.), Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.) and Spoon River College (Canton, Ill.).

Vincennes went into play April 3 at 15-12 overall and 4-4 in the conference.

There is a 32-game conference schedule. The top eight teams go to the MWAC tournament. The winner advances to the NJCAA D-II World Series (May 25-June 1 in Enid, Okla.).

“There’s a lot of positives in moving over to that region,” says Barney. “Before, we were independent in Region 12, which is Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Trying to find games in late March, April and part of May was a bear.”

Vincennes went to the World Series in 2010 and 2014 under the old qualifying format. Teams were required to make it through a sub-regional to get to an eight-team double-elimination tournament that sent the champion to championship series.

The Trailblazers play home games at Jeremy Blemker Field.

Huntingburg, Ind., native Blemker coached for 38 years, including 26 at Vincennes (1980-2006) and amassed a NJCAA-record 1,037 victories. He sent more than 180 players on to play at universities around the country and 27 signed professional contracts.

Blemker, who died in 2012, was an inductee of the NJCAA and Greater Evansville Baseball halls of fame.

The original Blemker Field was on the VU campus. It was razed to make room for Updike Hall Scienc Earth and Mathematics Learning Center and the Trailblazers moved to a new baseball complex on Old Terre Haute Road five years ago.

Barney says the university has continued to provide the team with the means to maintain the facility.

Before landing at VU, Orlando, Fla., native Barney has made several baseball coaching stops. He was assistant coach and recruiting director for 13 years at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

Barney, a graduate of Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, Tenn., has also served as head coach of the Quincy Gems and Springfield Rifles in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (summer) and was an assistant at Tennessee Wesleyan, Tusculum University (Greeneville, Tenn.) and St. John’s River State College (Palatka, Fla.) as well as serving on the summer staffs for the Frontier League’s Midwest Sliders (Ypsilanti, Mich.) and New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Vermont Mountaineers (Montpelier, Vt.).

Barney counts Mike Policastro, Tom Griffin, Mike Goedde and Mike Robins among his baseball mentors.

Barney played for Policastro (now head coach at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee) at Tenessee Weselyan and was a teammate and coached alongside Griffin (now head coach at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.) at that same school. Goedde (now head coach at Evansville Central High School) was USI head coach when Barney was on the staff. Robins led the squad at St. John’s River.

“You take a little bit from everybody,” says Barney. “You put your own personality on the program, too.

“It’s fun. The kids keep you young and always bring something new to the table.”

VINCENNESUBLAZERS

CHRISBARNEY

Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at Vincennes (Ind.) University in 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Hershberger’s Ivy Tech Titans fight way to 25-18 in inaugural season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nobody said it would be easy — particularly Lance Hershberger — but Ivy Tech Community College Northeast completed its inaugural season in 2018 at 25-18.

For various reasons, the Fort Wayne-based Titans wound up the season with a roster of 14 — Alec Agler (Fort Wayne Northrop), Nick Bradley (Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran), Trey Bruce (East Noble), Drew Buffenbarger (Churubusco), Andrew Carpenter (Lakewood Park Christian), Drew Dobbels (Bellmont), Turner Gentry (Lexington, Ky.), Zack Haefer (East Noble), Deven Hill (Richmond, Mich.), Brandon Jencks (Churubusco), Zach Orn (Eastside), Noah Parish (Fort Wayne Concordia), Tyler Rickert (Leo) and Alex Vela (Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter) — and 12 able bodies.

There were no backups for position players. Rickert caught 18 straight games.

Head coach Hershberger, whose passion was captured by IndianaRBI.com last summer, calls them “The Dirty Dozen.”

“We fought tooth and nail and I give them all kinds of credit.,” says Hershberger. “They never made an excuse for it. I’d like to think that reflected the demands of their coaches. We didn’t cut them any slack.

“We were trying to get them to withstand all the things it was going to take to be successful with that few people.”

Ivy Tech, a two-year school, took the field as independents without conference affiliation.

Because of less-than-ideal meteorlogical conditions, Ivy Tech cobbled together a schedule that only slightly resembled the original 54-game sale.

“It wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on part way through the season because of the weather,” says Hershberger. “It got to the point that we’d play whoever. We had to go find people to play.”

The Titans wound up sending his squad against Kellogg (Battle Creek, Mich.) and Sinclair (Dayton, Ohio) — ranked Nos. 2 and 17, respectively, in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association Division II polls — a combined 10 times. “As the season went along, it got even tougher (to find games) because they found out we weren’t an easy win.”

Asked many times why they would choose to pick up games against the two toughest teams in Region 12, Hershberger had a ready answer.

“It was kind of house money because we can’t participate in the regional the first year,” says Hershberger. “But you can look across the diamond and see where you need to get to.

“When I was at Indiana Tech (1991-2002), we played as many (NCAA) D-I’s as would play us. That’s how you get better.”

It was a fun weekend for Hershberger. All but two of the players from the 1998 NAIA World Series runners-up came from all over the country to Fort Wayne for the Indiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame induction of the squad. The coach had the honor of introducing each of the Warriors.

“It was a great time,” says Hershberger.

He was back at Indiana Tech a few days later when Ivy Tech had a makeup game against Edison State (Piqua, Ohio) and Shoaff Park was occupied by Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School.

After the contest, Hershberger was admiring the championship banners his Indiana Tech teams had earned.

Then one of his Ivy Tech players came to the outfield to join him.

“He says, ‘Coach. Hey, I just want to tell you thanks for everything. I’d probably be dead if I wasn’t here playing for you.’ … He meant it. I could see it in his eyes. We started hugging and I started balling.

“I haven’t hugged and been told ‘I love you’ and said ‘I love you’ with so many grown men since the last couple of days.”

Full of emotion, Hershberger was so wound up after the final game that he and faithful dog Ryno just drove around town.

Hershberger had been coaching in high school and travel baseball with the Summit City Sluggers  the last few years, but had not coached college players since leaving Indiana Tech.

In his postgame remarks, Hershberger told his Titans, “I want to thank you for allowing me to get back into college baseball. That’s how I’m going to remember this group.

“I told (assistants Dru Sebastian and Benny Clark) that they’re young coaches and may coach another 30 years,” says Hershberger. But they may never get so much out of a team. We finished with 12 players.”

Connor Wilkins is also an assistant coach. Part-time help comes from Jim Cahill and Tony Georgi, mostly in the area of community outreach in the Urban Initiative Program that Hershberger and company run through Community Impact Zone/Strike Zone Training.

Hershberger had let those that were there at the beginning of the year know that the standards were set high.

Players reported three days at week at 6 a.m. for workouts at Optimum Performance Sports. There was practice every day after school and three nights of study table each week.

It was too much of a commitment for some and they didn’t stay.

“They said, wait a second. This isn’t LSU, it’s Ivy Tech,” says Hershberger. “But you’ve got to start the expectations.”

A history buff, Hershberger borrowed a page from Sam Houston and the line in the sand during the fight for Texas independence in the 1830’s.

Wielding a sword from the school mascot, Hershberger came to practice and drew his own line.

“Step across if you’re buying into this. If you’re not, get out of here,” says Hershberger of what he told his players that day. “We’re going to move forward with this.”

Hershberger knows that he can be polarizing and is unapologetically old school. He frequently quotes former University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler: “Those who stay will be champions.”

“Difficult. Hard. Demanding. Being in good physical shape. No excuses,” says Hershberger. “Those aren’t bad words in our program.

“That’s not for everybody. I don’t think it’s antiquated either.

“I tell recruits that there isn’t a whole lot of gray area. It’s black-and-white. You either buy in or you don’t.

“The worst thing you can say about a coach is, ‘Oh, he’s OK.’ There are too many kids sleepwalking though life. You need to be passionate about what you’re doing. If they say ‘he’s a horse’s patoot’ at least he’s passionate about it.”

Hershberger tells recruits and our players that the goal is to get to Enid, Okla., and win a national championship .

“That’s not hot air,” says Hershberger. “That’s what we want to do and that’s extremely difficult.

“The standard that they’re held to is the perfect game. You seek perfection and settle for greatness. The less mistakes you make, the better chance you have of winning a national championship.

“There’s going to be demands put upon you. You’re going to be challenged. That’s where we’re coming from.”

Hershberger doesn’t expect his teams to win every game, but he insists they play the game the right way.

“The selling point to me about junior college baseball is that you get to teach the game,” says Hershberger.

Looking to 2018-19, Ivy Tech has signed 17 new recruits to put with the 14 who intend to come back for their second and final season.

Ivy Tech could be independent again or find a home in the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference.

Fundraising efforts are needed to bring an on-campus stadium that would be shared with Dwenger. Hershberger says the Titans could go back to Shoaff Park or find a home at the Ash Centre.

Whatever happens with Ivy Tech with Hershberger in charge, one thing is certain:  It won’t be easy.

IVYTECHPLAYERS

Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne finished its inaugural baseball season in 2018 with 14 on the roster and wound up 25-18. (Ivy Tech Photo)

IVYTECHCOACHES

Ivy Tech baseball coaches from left: Head coach Lance Hershberger and assistants Benny Clark, Dru Sebastian and Connor Wilkins. The Fort Wayne-based Titans just concluded their first season with a 25-18 record. (Steve Krah Photo)