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Collins keeps wins coming for Evansville Memorial Tigers

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt “Rip” Collins learned a winning system established from one of Indiana’s most successful baseball coaches and he is using many of those things to enjoy more accomplishments.

Collins played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Quentin Merkel at Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, graduating in 1990.

“I rode the coattails of those guys on the 1989 state championship team,” says Collins, referring to Tigers diamond stars like Pat Schulz who went on to play at the University of Evansville and in the Cleveland Indians organization.

Merkel racked up 941 victories, three IHSAA state championships (1978, 1989 and 1993), three state runner-up finishes (1970, 1979 and 2005) and 26 sectional titles in his 45 years at Memorial head coach.

The 1978 and 1979 squads were led by Don Mattingly, who went on to play for the New York Yankees, be inducted into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and manage the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins.

Collins, who started his teaching career at Holy Rosary School then moved to Memorial (the Western Kentucky University graduate leads classes for physical education and driver’s education) and has coached football, basketball and baseball at Memorial over the course of more than 20 years, was a Merkel assistant in 2013 and took over the program the next season.

“He’s a man I’ve looked up to,” says Collins of Merkel. “I’ve instilled a lot of things he did, like his work ethic and overall approach to the game.

“We bought into it. That’s what we’ve tried to do on our staff.”

Collins’ assistants are Chris Schaefer (pitching coach) and Dan Durchholz with the varsity on gameday, Aaron Schmitt and Ethan Sauls with the junior varsity and Eric Chamberlain and Sam Mattingly with the freshmen.

It’s about consistency for Collins and his staff.

“Baseball hasn’t changed very much,” says Collins. “We try to keep it simple.

“We have a daily routine. Our drills might be monotonous, but we think it’s important.”

This repetition has helped the Tigers.

“You’re not surprised when good things happen,” says Collins. “Mentally, we can get through the tough times.”

With the IHSAA allowing courtesy runners for pitchers and catchers the past two years, there have been more playing opportunities for reserve players.

Collins asks his athletes to embrace their chance to contribute.

“Define your role and relish in that role regardless of what it is,” says Collins.

Memorial generally has about 40 players for its three teams, which keeps the Tigers hopping since their home diamond, Stone Field, does not have lights.

The facility, located behind Holy Rosary on South Green River Road, now sports new higher bleachers on the home and visiting sides.

With Collins in charge, Memorial is coming off a 2018 campaign in which the Tigers went 23-7 overall and 9-3 in the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference. Memorial tied for the SIAC title and won city and Class 3A Evansville Bosse Sectional championships.

A 7-1 loss to eventual state runner-up Silver Creek in the Bosse Regional championship ended the Tigers’ season.

Senior Isaac Housman is committed to play baseball at the University of Southern Indiana. Branson Combs (Southern Illinois University) and Michael Lindauer (University of Cincinnati) are bound for collegiate football.

Recent Memorial graduates to are on college baseball rosters are Caleb Meeks (University of Evansville), Drew Ashley (Indiana University) and Luke Johnston (University of Southern Indiana).

Memorial (enrollment around 610) is a member of the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Castle, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville North and Evansville Reitz).

SIAC schools play each other twice in a same-week home-and-home series to determine the conference champion.

Non-conference foes for the Tigers include Boonville, Gibson Southern, Henderson (Ky.) County, Heritage Hills, Jasper, Mount Vernon (Posey), North Posey, Southridge, South Spencer, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington. The Tom Miles Invitational at Washington is slated for May 11.

The Tigers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Boonville, Bosse, Heritage Hills and Mount Vernon. Memorial has won 28 sectional titles — two with Collins as head coach (2016 and 2018).

Reitz Memorial operates under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Evansville.

A Cub baseball team for seventh and eighth graders who have committed to attend Memorial plays in the spring. There are many travel baseball organizations for junior high and high school players.

“Rip” went into education like his father. Larry “Pops” Collins coached with James “Mojo” Hollowell at Henderson (Ky.) High School and picked up the habit of giving a nickname to each of his players in 40 years as an East Side Little League coach. He carried that over to his children and grandchildren.

Larry, who died in 2009, and Donna had four kids — Laurie (aka “Pumpkin”), Lainie (“Bird”), James Patrick (“Jock”) and Matthew Ryan (“Rip”).

The latter handle is a nod to former big leaguer Rip or Ripper Collins.

“Jock” gives nicknames to his players in the same league where his dad coached baseball.

“Rip” and wife Shelby have three kids — eighth grader Leo (“Cleat”), sixth grader Clara (“Filly”) and third grader Walt (“Colt”). All are involved in sports.

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RIPCOLLINS

Matt “Rip” Collins enters his sixth season as head baseball coach at Evansville (Ind.) Reitz Memorial High School in 2019. He is a 1990 Memorial graduate.

 

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Jones uses three simple rules to steer Evansville North baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Jones thoroughly enjoyed his fifth season as head baseball coach at Evansville (Ind.) North High School in 2018.

The Huskies won 22 games — the program’s most in 13 years — and played in the IHSAA Class 4A Evansville Reitz Sectional championship game, losing to eventual Plainfield semistate runner-up Castle.

Led by a senior group featuring Payne Collins, Jon Newton, Zach Simpson and Nathan Toone, North was ranked much of the spring (winding up No. 8 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association regular-season poll) while extending the program’s record streak of winning seasons in seven.

“They’re just baseball kids,” says Jones. “It’s a group that’s jelled together.

“They do the little things.”

North batters produced a 2-to-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio and the Huskies stole 130 bases in 2018.

Right-handed pitcher Toone moved on to Vincennes University.

Returnees and incoming players have Jones seeing a bright future on the north side of the Pocket City.

“This is the most talent I’ve had freshmen through seniors,” says Jones.  “I couldn’t be more excited about the (2019) season.

“The sophomores and freshmen are a pretty good group for us.”

Returning seniors include shortstop Alex Archuleta (son of University of Southern Indiana head coach Tracy Archuleta), outfielder Seth Seniour and catcher A.J. Wheeler.

While a few may be added, Jones expects his coaching staff to include David Johnson, Zane Mauser, John Newman, Dustin Murray, Tyler Owen and Kyle Kempf.

Another thing that has Jones pumped is the IHSAA rule change which allows periods where coaches can work with the whole squad for twice a week for two hours each (rather than two athletes at a time) and that first window opens Monday, Aug. 27.

“This is going to help with coaches who are ready to invest in practices,” says Jones. “It will be a huge advantage for people who are ready to work.”

Jones says he expects to have about 45 players in his program — varsity, junior and freshman — and another 15 on the Cub (eighth grade) team.

Jones began his run with the Huskies with the 2013 season and North won 19 and and 18 contests those first two years. That ’13 team had no returning starters.

Former North players currently on the USI roster are Jayden Beshears, Ryan Gulledge, Tyler Hagedorn and Zach Pate.

A 1994 Evansville Bosse graduate and former Eugene Pate American Legion Post 265 player, Jones was a four-year starter at third base for the USI in Evansville with a redshirt year.

Mike Goedde, who had coached Jones during his junior Legion season, was his head coach at USI.

“He taught me that to get anything you have to work hard,” says Jones of Goedde, who is now head coach at Evansville Central High School. “You have to put the time and effort in to be a good baseball player.

“Coach Goedde was definitely organized and we got our reps in.”

Jones has three simple rules for his North Huskies and they are posted in the dugout — be one time; be a good teammate; always hustle.

“If our kids follow those three guidelines we’re in a pretty good place as a program,” says Jones.

Playing for Goedde is the basis of those rules.

“Coach Goedde was definitely organized and we got our reps in,” says Jones. “It’s loving the game and having the ability to work hard.

“You want to get better.”

Jones graduated from USI in 1999. He was an assistant coach at Bosse from 2001-04 and then head coach of the Bulldogs from 2005-12. In the summers, he also coached the junior team for Pate Post 265 from 1998-2003 and Pate’s senior squad from 2007-13.

Evansville North belongs to the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (along with Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Castle, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville Memorial and Evansville Reitz).

SIAC teams play one another twice in home-and-home series on Tuesday and Thursday or Friday for seventh straight weeks.

All-SIAC performers for the Huskies in 2018 were pitcher Toone and outfielder Newton on the first team and Archuleta on the second team.

Jones helps make out his non-conference schedule, which in 2018 featured Bedford North Lawrence, Boonville, Decatur Central, Gibson Southern, Indian Creek, Jasper, Martinsville and South Spencer among others. South Spencer head coach Brian Kuester coached Pate Post 265 in Jones’ senior summer.

North, which opened its current building in January 2012, has side-by-side varsity and practice baseball fields. With no trees around to speak of, it is often windy.

“We work on pop-fly communication everyday,” says Jones.

Besides the Cub program, which plays SIAC and other schools, North Husky baseball is fed by Evansville East Youth Baseball, McCutchanville Oak Hill Recreational Activities Club (MORAC) and various travel organizations.

North’s summer youth baseball camp drew 115 players.

“There is no shortage of baseball going on for kids who are in our district,” says Jones.

The educator now teaches U.S. History to North freshmen. His teaching career also includes a 13-year stint at Washington Middle School.

Jeremy and Kacy Jones have three children — Kennedy (10), Cooper (8) and Caroline (3).

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Kiwanis award winner Jon Newton (left) poses with Evansville (Ind.) North High School head baseball coach Jeremy Jones after the 2018 season.

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Head coach Jeremy Jones (far right) poses with 2018 Evansville (Ind.) North High School baseball seniors (from left) Jon Newton, Zach Simpson, Payne Collins and Nathan Toone.

Welch has Castle Knights one win away from 4A state championship game

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Curt Welch knows what it’s like to take a team to the IHSAA state baseball championship game.

He was an assistant to head coach Dave Sensenbrenner in 2001 when the Castle High School Knights finished as runners-up to Penn at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Castle, which is located in the Warrick County town of Newburgh, Ind., is one victory away from getting to go back to “The Vic” in 2018 and this time Welch is the head coach.

The Knights (22-8) play Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) in the 4A Plainfield Semistate Saturday, June 9. It’s the second game of the day, following the 1 p.m. 1A clash between University and Tecumseh.

Welch sees pitching as a strength for Castle, which won the Evansville Reitz Sectional and Evansville Reitz Regional — the 14th sectional title and eighth regional crown in program history (the first for either since 2014).

“Our pitchers have kept us in all the games during this run,” says Welch. “They did a great job of keeping hitters off-balance.

“They’ve been working ahead (in the count) and making teams earn runs.”

The Knights staff is led by 6-foot-6 senior right-hander Zach Messinger (a University of Virginia commit), junior left-hander Blake Ciuffetelli and junior right-hander Jared Nutt.

Welch says fourth-year varsity player Messinger has a fastball that reaches the upper 80s, which he can mix with his breaking ball and change-up.

Ciufetelli has the ability to change arm angles and velocity. Nutt has relieved in three of Castle’s four postseason games.

When not pitching, Messinger is usually the designated hitter or third baseman.

Offensive contributions have come up and down the lineup.

“It’s been a team effort,” says Welch. “We have guys come up at times with two-out hits.”

Among the leading producers have been senior left fielder Garron Moffett, senior center fielder Griffin Scaggs and senior shortstop Nate James. Moffett has committed to play baseball at NCAA Division I Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., while Scaggs and James are bound for Kankakee (Ill.) Community College.

According to Welch, right-hander Zach Wagner (Anderson University), DH/catcher Ben Newhouse (Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky.) right fielder Cale Mattingly (Hanover College) and cacher Noah Gilbert (Oakland City University) are also seniors who have made college baseball commitments.

Graduates who were in college baseball rosters in 2017-18 include Jonathan Blackwell and Will Randell at Vincennes University, Nick Coudret and Wyatt Daly at the University of Southern Indiana, Nick Ciufettelli at Hanover College, Sam Huff at DePauw University, Jeff Wetzler at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill., and Korbin Williams at Indiana University Southeast.

Castle had 40 players in the program this season for varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.

Welch, who is in his 15th season as head coach after 14 as an assistant to Chuck Hawkins then Sensenbrenner and two as as volunteer for Mike Metzger at alma mater Boonville, counts Hawkins, Dan Labhart and John Barisano as his varsity coaches. There’s also John Copeland, Corey Steele and Art George with the JV and Daniel Nichols and Chris Stallion with the freshmen.

Borrowing ideas and approaches from Hawkins, Sensenbrenner, Brian Kuester (who helped played American Legion baseball for in the summer) and high school coaches Metgzer and Howard Buickel, 1983 Boonville graduate Welch has melded his coaching approach. He’s even taken a thing or two from Terry Wetherald, his wrestling coach at the University of Indianapolis.

“All those coaches did a great job of getting me ready for where I am right now,” says Welch. “(Hawkins and Sensenbrenner) did a lot for me. Being a coach and being a player are two different things. As head coach, everything falls back on you. There’s a lot more pressure when you make decisions.

“As a head coach, you are always thinking three, four or five innings down the line and not just in the moment.”

While there are no wrestlers in the current Castle varsity mix, Welch appreciates what grapplers bring to other sports.

“Wrestlers are hard-nosed kids,” says Welch. “They are not afraid to battle for win or come from behind.

‘They know about mental toughness. You’ve got to be mentally tough to go 0-for-3 and then come in the last inning and produce.”

Welch estimates that about half the players in the Castle baseball program are multi-sport athletes at a school of about 1,900 students.

“I like multi-sport athletes,” says Welch. “You can’t get that competition in a practice or in a gym.”

Castle plays its home games on-campus in a facility that’s been totally overhauled during Welch’s time.

“It’s been a gradual process,” says Welch, which saw a new locker room go in near the field. About the only thing that was there when he joined the coaching staff was the press box. “We’re proud of what we have.”

The Knights belong to the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (along with Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville Memorial and Evansville North, Evansville Reitz).

Welch, who teaches advanced mathematics at Castle, has four children with wife Dawn. Daughter Courtney is the oldest and she has three girls. Twin sons Chad and Doug as well as Luke Welch all played baseball for their father at Castle and wrestled at Purdue University. Doug Welch is now the head wrestling coach at Zionsville High School and is assisted by Chad Welch.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

CURTWELCHCASTLE

Head coach Curt Welch and the Castle Knights won sectional and regional titles in events hosted by Evansville Reitz and will face Indianapolis Cathedral in the IHSAA Class 4A Plainfield Semistate Saturday, June 9.

Thompson-led Tecumseh Braves small but mighty in southern Indiana baseball circles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With around 300 students, Tecumseh Junior/Senior High School is among the smaller IHSAA members.

But just because the Braves compete in Class 1A in the baseball postseason, that didn’t keep them from being competitive against larger schools during the 2018 regular season.

Tecumseh, which takes a 20-9 mark into the southern Plainfield Semistate at noon CST Saturday, June 9 against University (27-6), went 4-4 as the lone 1A school in the nine-member Pocket Athletic Conference.

It’s the first time in years, the Braves have finished in the top five in the PAC, which features 3A’s Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Pike Central and 2A’s Forest Park, North Posey, Southridge, South Spencer and Tell City.

Southridge is in the 2A Jasper Semistate. North Posey bowed to Southridge in the Austin Regional championship game.

At the 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional, Gibson Southern was shaded by Washington in the championship game and Pike Central lost a one-run decision to Washington in the first round.

At the 2A Tell City Sectional, South Spencer lost to North Posey in the final. Tell City was edged by South Spencer in the semifinals. Forest Park was beaten by North Posey in the first round.

In non-conference play, the Braves topped 4A’s Castle (a Plainfield Semistate qualifier), Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison and was competitive with Evansville North and Evansville Reitz and 3A’s Evansville Bosse.

His peers named first-year Tecumseh head coach Ted Thompson an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district coach of the year.

“We really have a tough conference,” says Thompson. “It definitely improves us and makes us better for tournament time. (Games against larger schools) taught us how to be resilient, how to never give up and how to win.”

Tecumseh, located in the Warrick County town of Lynnville, Ind., counts Spencer Buse, Steven Molinet, Chase Howell, Josh Jagelewski, Aaron Beard and Gavin Oxley as its top pitchers. Beard is a senior and Howell a sophomore. The rest are juniors. Oxley is the lone left-hander.

When not pitching, Buse is usually the designated hitter, Molinet in center field, Howell at DH, Jagelewski in right field, Beard at shortstop and Oxley in left field.

Beard, Molinet, junior first baseman Woody Brucken and freshman Jalen Oxley have led the Braves on offense.

Coincidentally, their cousin — freshman Adam Oxley — is on the University team.

Tecumseh, which has 24 players in the program this year, has just three seniors — Beard, second baseman Carson White and right-hander Dalton Wesselman. Both are college baseball commits — Beard at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and White at Oakland City University.

“We are a young team,” says Thompson. “We’ve got a lot of freshmen and a lot of juniors.”

Semistate preparation will resemble the practices that got the Braves ready for the Jasper Regional, where they bested Borden 1-0 and Barr-Reeve 7-0.

“It’ll be the same routine,” says Thompson. “We’ll work on fundamentals. We’re not going to change a thing.”

Thompson’s Tecumseh coaching staff includes Kennan Barnett (pitching coach) and Seth Gorman.

Home games have been played on-campus at Braves Ballpark. A new stadium, with Bermuda grass and other amenities, is expected to be ready for the 2019 season.

To make a connection with youngsters that feed into Tecumseh, Thompson has been planning camps and working with Elberfeld Baseball League and Lynnville Ballpark.

Thompson is a 1991 graduate of Princeton Community High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tim Nonte.

After two seasons at Vincennes University, Thompson played two more for coach Les Hall at Florida Tech.

Thompson calls Hall “a class act.”

“He was always quietly telling you,” says Thompson of the man who died in 2016 at 80. “You knew where he stood. He expected excellence.”

It was at the Melbourne, Fla., school that Thompson got to catch knuckleball of alum Tim Wakefield in pre-spring training bullpen sessions and meet former Philadelphia Phillies “Whiz Kids” catcher Andy Seminick. Florida Tech plays on Andy Seminick-Les Hall Field.

Thompson was an assistant coach to Curt Welch for nine seasons at Castle High School and then served three years as assistant and recruiting coordinator to John Adams at Vincennes U.

“Coach Welch is an honorable individual,” says Thompson. “He had that ability to always work and challenge the kids. He always led by example with his hard work.”

Thompson is employed as a traveling health insurance salesman. He works out his schedule so he can coach baseball.

Ted and Sheri Thompson have four children — son Dillon (23), daughters Megan (22) and Payton (17) and son Drake (16). Payton is heading into her senior year at Castle while Drake will be a junior.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

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Tecumseh baseball coach Ted Thompson meets with his Braves players during a 2018 mound conference. Tecumseh is in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate.

TEDTHOMPSON1

In his first season as head baseball coach in 2018, Ted Thompson has the Tecumseh Braves in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate.

 

Kuester adding to rich baseball tradition at South Spencer

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Down on the Ohio River sits the town of Rockport, Ind.

They love their baseball there.

South Spencer High School and Rockport American Legion Post 254 have been making them proud for years.

The South Spencer Rebels have won four IHSAA state titles in five State Finals appearances and won sectional crowns in 2015, 2016 and 2017, pushing the program’s total to 23.

South Spencer holds outright or share several 2A State Finals team records, including most hit (16 vs. Heritage in 2007), most runs batted in (12 in 2007) and most at-bats (38 in 2007). Todd Marn drove in a record five runs in 2007.

Rockport Post 254 has piled up all kinds of hardware at the state level and the 2016 team played in the American Legion Baseball World Series in Shelby, N.C.

Brian Kuester, who is also a social studies teacher, is entering his 22nd season as head baseball coach at South Spencer. He and his assistants also guide Post 254’s 17U Junior Legion team in the summer.

Kuester is just the third South Spencer head coach in more than 50 years. He took over for Jim Haaff (who is still the manager of Rockport’s Senior Legion squad). Haaff followed Bill Evans.

All three men are enshrined in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“I take a lot of pride in following two guys like that,” says Kuester, who took the Rebels to Class 2A state championships in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015.

Among active coaches with state championships, Tim Bordenet (Lafayette Central Catholic) ranks first with seven, followed by Terry Gobert (Jasper) and Dave Pishkur (Andrean) with five each and Kuester and Greg Dikos (Penn) with four apiece.

South Spencer was in the State Finals in the IHSAA’s third state tournament in 1969. “You’re expected to have a good program. Some years are going to be better than others. Like at any small school (South Spencer has around 400 students), it’s going to be that way.

“We know we have a target on our backs almost every time we go out there to play, which is a great thing. It’s better being on that end than on the other end. We see a lot of people’s 1’s and 2’s. That only makes us better.

“The kids expect it, know it and kind of relish that.”

Seven starters from the 2017 South Spencer Sectional champions graduated and Kuester expects maybe three or four seniors in 2018. This just means other players will now get their chance to shine.

“We’re a very small school and we have a lot of blue-collar type kids,” says Kuester. “We don’t get the big Division I players very often. But we’ve had a share of nice talent.”

After leaving South Spencer, left-hander Blake Monar pitched three seasons at Indiana University and was selected in the 12th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Nationals. He played two seasons in the Nationals systems and then with the independent Evansville Otters.

Right-hander Josh Garrett was a first-round pick in 1996 by the Boston Red Sox and pitched six professional seasons.

Kevin Davis, also a right-hander, pitched four season at Middle Tennessee State University and was a 55th round selection of the California Angels in 1996, but no record could be found of him playing in the minors.

Recent IHSCA North/South All-Star Series players have been Nathan Hall (2011), Jared Lauer (2012), Nathan Kuester (2014), Jon Stallings (2015) and Sammy Rowan (2017).

Brice Stuteville (Frontier Community College in Illinois) is among recent graduates playing college baseball.

South Spencer baseball is built on concepts like hard work, dedication and being disciplined in behavior and performance.

Multi-sport participation is the rule rather than the exception.

“We like them to be involved in other sports and have that competitiveness in them and we want them putting priorities straight,” says Kuester. “Baseball is obviously not more important than other things in life. But when we’re on the field, it’s got to be the most important thing.

“We try to instill dedication.”

Brian Kuester, the son of former professional player, manager and scout Ivan Kuester and younger brother of former Clemson University player Steve Kuester, is a 1976 Evansville Central High School graduate. For the Bears, he played for Bud Steiler and Ted Niemeier.

Brian calls his father and brother his biggest influences in baseball.

“My brother told me that as a catcher, you’re the only one who can see everybody else on the field,” says Kuester. “You have to be the leader. You have to know every position and what they need to be doing in every situation. You have to be able to basically teach pitching as a catcher and be a psychologist, trying to get the most out of your pitcher.

“Being a catcher definitely has a major impact in being a head coach.”

Like his brother, Brian was a catcher and went on to play at Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) from 1977-80. His coach was former minor league pitcher Larry Shown.

Kuester was a graduate assistant at Southeastern Louisiana University and served as coach for Boonville and Evansville Pate American Legion and Oakland City University teams and five seasons at Tecumseh High School. He was associate head coach at Southern Indiana and an assistant for one season of Haaff’s South Spencer staff.

The 2018 Rebels coaching staff features Shawn Kuester, Mike Ogilvie and Mitch Rust at the varsity level and Chris Bartlett leading the junior varsity.

South Spencer is a member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (along with Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City).

Games are not played in a set pattern.

“Some weeks we might have two or three conference games,” says Kuester. “Some weeks we have no conference games.

“Our schedule is very, very tough. But that’s the way we want it.”

Non-conference dates in Indiana include Boonville, Castle, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz, Floyd Central, Jasper, Martinsvillle, Perry Central, Washington plus the Jasper Invitational.

Kentucky include Apollo, Daviess County, Hancock County and Henderson County and Owensboro Catholic.

Brian and Debbie Kuester have four children — Jeremy, Shawn, Nathan and Katie. All the boys played at South Spencer for their father. In college, Jeremy Kuester played two seasons at the University of Evansville and two at Kentucky Wesleyan College and is now University of Southern Indiana pitching coach.

Shawn Kuester at Evansville and Nathan Kuester is a senior at Southern Indiana. Katie Kuester is a softball player at Olney (Ill.) Central College.

Ivan Kuester, Brian, Kuester, Jeremy Kuester, Bill Evans and Jim Haaff) are members of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame — a group that inducted its first class in 2016.

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).

Kuester said it has had zero effect on his teams and he only had one pitcher — son Jeremy — ever go above 120 pitches in a game. The main reason is that his pitchers also play other positions.

“I’m not always going to save my best for conference,” says Kuester. “If he’s available, we’re going to do it. Last year, we only threw our No. 1 in a couple of conference games. That’s just how it fell.

“We want to win the conference, but that’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is the (state) tournament.

The Rebels are all in it together.

“We stay away from he ‘me, me, me’ that our society seems to be in right now,” says Kuester. “We try to concentrate on what’s best for the team.

“Our players have bought into the concept. They learned if they play together, it will make you better as a team.”

BRIANKUESTER

Brian Kuester is entering his 22nd season as head baseball coach at South Spencer High School in Rockport, Ind., in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Barnes taking on first head-coaching challenge at Boonville

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eric Barnes is getting his first opportunity to coach high school baseball players at the varsity level.

The 28-year-old is excited for the challenge and the chance to teach the game and impact young lives at Boonville High School.

Barnes played at Evansville Bosse High School, graduating in 2007 Evansville Courier & Press All-Metro Player of the Year with a .429 and 40 runs batted in that senior season.

Bosse coach Jeremy Jones (who later moved on to Evansville North) imparted a sense of excitement and selflessness.

“Nothing is done without enthusiasm,” says Barnes in echoing Jones’ message. “Putting team first should always be the goal no matter what the sport is and what happens. What is best for the team is not always what is best for yourself.”

“I took that with me as a player and as a coach.”

Barnes was at the University of Southern Indiana briefly and played his final collegiate seasons as a utility infielder at Oakland City University. He hit .365 with six home runs and 33 RBIs as a junior in 2011 and .326 with four homers as a senior 2012 for the Mighty Oaks and coach T-Ray Fletcher.

“One of the main things I learned from (Fletcher) is every player is different,” says Barnes, who was also an assistant at OCU after his playing days. “What is going to work for one player is not going to work for the other.

“I also learned to be patient and the importance of relationships.

I’m not just a coach. I’m someone that can help (my players) in life. I want to be more than the person giving the signs down at third.”

When Barnes completed his schooling, he started teaching fifth grade at Castle Elementary School and is still in that position. He was an assistant baseball coach at Castle High School in 2016 and 2017 and was named as Cory Julian’s successor at Boonville in September when Julian left to become assistant principal and athletic director at Loogootee High School.

“I know the city of Boonville is very passionate about its sports and wants to get a baseball tradition back,” says Barnes, who met with players, coaches and parents soon after his hiring for a field clean-up day following the Boonville American Legion Post 200 season and to lay out his expectations — athletically and acacdemically.

The plate and mound on the Pioneers’ on-campus diamond has been re-done. The field has been seeded and sod has been cut. There has been power washing and dugout painting.

“In the spring, look forward to edging the field, spraying for weeds a final time and painting the back stop,” says Barnes. “There’s a certain pride factor to have your field looking pristine and having people make nice comments. You want to make sure your field is top notch.”

Early indications have Barnes expecting around 35 to try out in the spring. He plans to keep somewhere around 30 for varsity and junior varsity squads.

Center fielder Evan Garrison is the line senior returnees.

“We have a wealth of youth and first-time varsity players,” says Barnes.

Fall open barn workouts have been focused on conditioning and fundamentals.

Barnes has a the Cub feeder program of seventh and eighth graders doing the same things as high school players.

“We’ve got a little momentum going toward the spring,” says Barnes. “It’s been exiting.”

Boonville assistants for 2018 are to include Chad Overton, Matt Fuhs, Jay Hachmiester at the varsity level with Trent Creek helping the JV. Barnes expects a few more additions.

The Pioneers play in the Big Eight Conference (along with Jasper, Mount Carmel, Ill., Mount Vernon of Posey, Princeton Community, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington).

Most of the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference is on the Pioneers’ schedule with dates against Castle, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North and Evansville Reitz.

There’s also clashes with Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Loogootee, North Posey, Perry Central, Pike Central, Southridge, South Spencer, Tecumseh, Tell City and Wood Memorial.

“It’s a pretty intense 3A schedule,” says Barnes. “(In 2019), I look forward to upping the ante a little bit and scheduling some potential regional opponents.”

Boonville reigned as sectional champions for the first time in 18 years in 2017. The Pioneers beat Gibson Southern in the championship of the 3A Bosse Sectional then lost to Lawrenceburg in the semifinals of the North Harrison Regional.

Barnes’ early baseball days were spent at Evansville South Little League, Evansville East Pony League and West Side Nut Club. After college, he had a short professional stint with the Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers of the independent Frontier League.

“It was a fantastic experience,” says Barnes. “My favorite team is Chicago Cubs. It was a train ride away from the city.

“I learned so many tips from guys who have been at Double-A and Triple-A. There were a lot of those guys were D-I players and high draft picks falling back to the Frontier League. At Oakland City, you don’t see talent like that very often.”

Eric is the youngest of George and Mary Barnes’s two sons. Mario is the oldest. Like his parents, Eric and wife Katy reside in Evansville.

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ERICBARNES

Eric Barnes, a 2007 Evansville Bosse High School graduate, is now the head baseball coach at Boonville High School. The 28-year-old was mostly recently an assistant at Castle High School.

 

Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

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TRAYFLETCHER

T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)