Tag Archives: Evansville North

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.

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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.

TEDTHOMPSON2

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.

 

First-year coach Mirizzi has Indian Creek Braves setting their baseball goals high

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball expectations have risen at Indian Creek High School.

After a sectional championship drought of 43 years, the Braves earned sectional crowns in 2016 and 2017 at Danville.

Indian Creek lost to eventual state champion Northview in the finals of the 2016 Crawfordsville Regional and Tri-West Hendricks in the semifinals of the 2017 Brebeuf Regional.

With a new head coach, new sectional site and seven returning starters, the Braves are aiming high in 2018.

“We have some lofty goals we want to accomplish when the state tournament rolls around,” says Steven Mirizzi, who takes over the Indian Creek program after five seasons as a Danville assistant. “We have a deep pitching staff. If we can get it going offensively, I really like our chances.

“We’re hungry for something bigger and better.”

Top Braves arms include junior right-handers Trevor Ankney, Dustin Sprong and Wyatt Phillips and senior right-hander Jared DeHart.

Ankney is a Purdue University commit. Sprong and Phillips are receiving attention from NCAA D-I schools. DeHart is one of the Braves’ captains. Junior Devin Parr is a soft-tossing left-hander.

Senior third baseman/right-hander Dawson Read is a Kalamazoo College commit.

Indian Creek, located in the Johnson County town of Trafalgar, moves to a 2018 IHSAA Class 3A sectional hosted by Bishop Chatard and also featuring Beech Grove, Herron, Indianapolis Broad Ripple and Indianapolis Manual.

The Braves lost to the Sullivan in the 2017 Western Indiana Conference crossover championship game.

A WIC title is on the IC 2018 goals list. The rotation goes back to the East Division this year, meaning the Braves would host the conference championship game if they get there.

Besides Indian Creek, the WIC East includes Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood and Owen Valley.

The WIC West consists of Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo.

The Braves are to open the season this weekend in Evansville with games against Martinsville, Evansville North and Decatur Central either at North or historic Bosse Field.

The Indian Creek slate also features a spot in the Northview Invitational. Depending on WIC crossovers, the Braves could play as many as 12 games against Class 4A opponents.

“That will benefit us later in the season and at tournament time,” says Mirizzi.

His last season at Danville, Mirizzi served on a staff led by Pat O’Neil.

“He’s a very knowledgable coach,” says Mirzzi of O’Neil, who played for and coached with 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber at LaPorte High School. “He’s really good with pitchers and very good with situational management

“He motivates you want to be better and do your game the right way.”

Before landing at Danville, Mirizzi spent two seasons on the coaching staff at Princeton Community. Austin Rhoads, who was an assistant at Lakota West High School in West Chester, Ohio, near Cincinnati, when Mirizzi played there, was head coach of the Tigers. Rhoads has since become athletic director at Springboro (Ohio) High School.

Mirizzi was a four-year starter at Lakota West, helping the Firebirds to the regional finals in his sophomore and senior seasons (2004 and 2006).

Lakota West, coached by former Cincinnati Reds minor league catcher Bill Dreisbach, won an Ohio High School Athletic Association Division I state championship in 2007.

A district split into two high schools in 1999 also saw Lakota East win a Division I state baseball crown in 2011.

Mirizzi remembers Dreisbach for his professionalism and ability to motivate.

“He wanted his guys to buy in and commit,” says Mirzzi. “He had a good way of getting that out of us.

“He pushed us to be better than we really were.”

In that 2004 season, Lakota West lost to what Dreisbach considered a lesser opponent and conducted a post-game practice that lasted well into the night. The Firebirds went on a 15-game win streak that took them into the regional.

“He got our attention,” says Mirizzi. “He knew we were better than we were playing.”

The 2004 Lakota West team lost to eventual state champion Cincinnati Moeller, a team featuring two future big league pitchers.

Right-hander Andrew Brackman was was Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft first-round selection by the New York Yankees in 2007 and left-hander Eric Surkamp a sixth-round choice of the San Francisco Giants in 2008.

Like Mirizzi — who treks daily from Avon to Trafalgar — Dreisbach way from the high school.

After high school, Mirizzi played two seasons each at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.

Mitch Hannahs, who is now head coach at Indiana State University, was leading the Lincoln Trail program when Mirizzi was there and taught the future coach about the mental side and how to manage a game.

Mirizzi has assembled a coaching staff of Curtis VanDeVenter and Craig Hoskins at the varsity level and Donovan Britt with the junior varsity. VanDeVenter, a former University of Indianapolis catcher, and Britt are Whiteland High School graduates. Hoskins went to Brown County.

There are 33 players in the program with 17 currently on the varsity roster. Mirizzi expects some to swing between varsity and JV depending upon need and performance.

Indian Creek plays its games on-campus.

While it is still in the planning stages, Mirizzi says upgrades to the athletic facilities could bring a new or renovated baseball field, new football field and a fieldhouse to the campus in the next few years.

First-year athletic director Derek Perry is in the middle of this process.

Mirizzi is very busy with baseball away from his duties at Indian Creek. He and former Danville assistant and personal trainer Nick Runiyon are partners at Hoosier Performance Factory in Indianapolis.

Based out of the facility is a travel baseball organization — the Indiana Braves. This year, they plan to field teams ages 12U through 18U.

Mirizzi and fiancee Tiffany Herr also do network marketing. The couple have two children — Jackson Mirzzi (4) and Mackenzie Mirizzi (15 months).

STEVENMIRIZZIDAILYJOURNAL1

Steven Mirizzi is in his first season as head baseball coach at Indian Creek High School. Mirizzi went to high school in Ohio and played college baseball in Illinois and Arkansas. He comes to the Indians off an assistant stint at Danville. (Daily Journal Photo)

 

Combs brings intensity, love for the game to Decatur Central baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Combs brought passion to the Decatur Central High School Hawks as a player and he’s still bringing it as he goes into his seventh season as head baseball coach in 2018.

Combs earned eight letters at DC in football, basketball and baseball. His head baseball coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Phil Webster.

“I loved him from the get-go,” says Combs of the fiery leader. “Webby is the best one I’ve been around as far as taking a player and developing him. I matched him beat for beat in intensity.

“He had this attention to detail and got me understanding the game.”

Combs was part of a 2000 squad that won Conference Indiana, sectional and Marion County championships.

Webster, who would see his Hawks win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, put Combs in center field and used the right-hander as a No. 3 pitcher behind 2001 IHSBCA All-Star John Tolson and Matt Elder.

“In all the years I played and have coached, Tolson’s still the nastiest curve ball I’ve ever seen,” says Combs.

A decade after playing for him, Combs joined Webster as his varsity assistant and followed him as DC head coach in 2012. The two still talk regularly and Combs leads his program at Phil Webster Baseball Complex — aka “The Web.”

Combs graduated from Decatur Central in 2001 and played four seasons for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University, receiving a secondary education degree in 2005.

Farley used Combs in the outfield with a few games on the mound and taught many off-field lessons.

“There’s more to being a baseball player than playing baseball,” says Combs. “There being a good human being and a good student.”

Farley pointed his players toward community service opportunities and got them to work youth camps.

Combs also learned to curb his on-field temper.

“I learned to control my emotions, which was always a problem with me,” says Combs. “If I slam down my helmet, I’ll find someone else standing at my position.

“I saw that it’s not all about me. It’s about the team.”

Not that he figured out all his coach was telling him right away.

“When I was playing for him, I was not smart enough to realize how good of a coach he was,” says Combs. “A couple years later, when I became a coach, I figured out Coach Farley was right.”

Combs and Farley stay in touch and he had his former Butler boss address his DC team last season.

Doing his student teaching at Westfield High School, Combs was invited by Shamrocks head baseball coach Ryan Bunnell to join his staff and he wound up serving three seasons as junior varsity head coach and two as varsity assistant. He was there when Westfield, featuring current MLB catcher Kevin Plawecki, finished as 2009 IHSAA state runners-up.

“(Bunnell) taught me the ins and outs and logistics of being a head coach,” says Combs.

If it were possible, Combs would like to see every player get a chance to be a coach. By explaining the game to others, it will help their own understanding of baseball.

Jason’s baseball passion was first stoked by his father, Steve Combs. The retired fireman was a fixture at Carnine Little League in Rhodius Park on the near west side of Indianapolis and did everything from coaching to cutting grass.

It’s in that atmosphere that Combs developed into a fierce competitor.

“We had people who taught us how to compete,” says Combs. “It was grown-men baseball at 10 and 11 years old. You had to fight and not give up no matter what.

“I still embrace that today.”

Donna Combs was also supportive of Jason’s athletic exploits.

“She was a loving, caring, awesome woman,” says Jason of the mother who passed away in February 2017.

Jason’s older brother Josh graduated from Washington High School in Indianapolis in 1995. When Jason was in the eighth grade, the family moved into the Decatur Central district.

Along the way, the youngest Combs gained an affinity for the history of the game.

“You respect what happened before you,” says Combs, who teaches social studies at DCHS. “You know it, learn it and love it.”

He received baseball books as gifts while growing up.

He came home from school and watched Chicago Cubs games on TV and heard famed announcer Harry Caray telling stories about the game’s past.

Combs has watched Ken Burn’s Baseball documentary series numerous times.

His favorite player was a tall shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr.

Decatur Central is part of the Mid-State Conference (along with Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland). Next year, Perry Meridian is to join the circuit.

“It’s a really good baseball conference,” says Combs. “It’s always been pretty even. It’s competitive and it will be again this year.”

MSC games are played in a Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series.

“You’ve got to prove it,” says Combs. “You can’t have one guy who can (pitch every conference game). You’ve got to have a team.”

There has been discussion in going to Friday night doubleheaders like the Hoosier Heritage Conference.

“I like the way we do it,” says Combs.

There are 35 players in the program this spring for varsity and junior varsity games. The coaching staff features Alan Curry (pitching coach), Ben Ferrell and Jeff McKeon with the varsity and Brandon Curry (Alan’s son) and Brayton Lake with the JV. Curry joined Combs in his second season as DC head coach and Ferrell in his third. McKeon was head coach at Plainfield High School and head coach of the South squad at the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars in Muncie last summer.

Recent Decatur Central graduate Jack Wohlert is a pitcher for Indiana University Southeast. Current seniors Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and Alex Mitchell (Indiana Tech) have made commitments and Austin Mitchell (twin brother of Alex) and Devin Gross are among those Combs expects to play college baseball.

The Hawks are scheduled to open the season with three games at historic Bosse Field in Evansville against Evansville Reitz, Evansville North and Indian Creek. Other 2018 non-conference opponents include Beech Grove, Ben Davis, Franklin Central, Homestead, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport, Speedway and Warren Central.

Decatur Central plays in a Class 4A sectional group with Ben Davis, Perry Meridian, Pike, Roncalli and Southport. The host rotation lands on Ben Davis this year.

Phil Webster is helping son and Pike head coach Todd Webster  this spring.

The Hawks last won the sectional in 2015 and the games were played at Decatur Central.

“I like to play a tough schedule,” says Combs. “You’ve got to get ready (for the IHSAA tournament) somehow. You’ve got to see what you’ve got.”

Located less than 10 miles apart, Decatur Central and Mooresville are backyard rivals.

Thanks to Webster and current Pioneers head coach Eric McGaha, the two baseball programs play each spring for the “Battle of 67” trophy.

The school that holds the trophy — currently Decatur Central — must be beaten on their own field to have it taken away. That means the “trophy” game in 2018 will come when Mooresville visits DC.

Mooresville is heading into its second season with artificial turf, causing many in the Decatur Central community to ask, “Are we next?”

Combs knows of no immediate plans for that kind of investment.

The coach is thankful for the assistance of Hawks athletic director and close friend Justin Dixson. They went to Decatur Central and Butler together and were in each other’s weddings.

“Within reason, he does just about anything I want,” says Combs.

Helping to feed the high school program are seventh grade and eighth grade teams at Decatur Middle School.

“I’m going to do that as long as we can,” says Combs. “There’s something to playing middle school baseball. We try to teach them our system. Plus they have to act right in school and stay eligible.”

Add Decatur Central Little League at Southeastway Park and travel baseball and some seventh graders are playing games with 60 feet between bases then 70 then 90 — sometimes in the same week.

“But the more you play, the more chances you have to get better,” says Combs. “We let the kids play where they feel comfortable.”

Jason and Jamie Combs reside in Decatur Township with daughters Amelia (5) and Josie (2).

JASONAMELIACOMBS

Decatur Central High School head baseball coach Jason Combs (left) embraces with oldest daughter Amelia following a game against Whiteland in 2017. DC graduate Combs heads into his seventh season as Hawks head coach in 2018.

 

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)

 

McIntyre guiding baseball program at tradition-rich New Albany

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Albany High School is proud of its past and looking forward to its future.

Founded in 1853, New Albany is oldest public high school in Indiana and one of the oldest west of the Alleghenies.

There are many proud alums sending their children to the school where they attended.

It’s at this place that Chris McIntyre heads into his 24th season as head baseball coach in 2018.

“We have a lot of tradition,” says McIntyre, who has led the Bulldogs to a 487-206 mark with 10 sectional championships — the most-recent in 2016 — and five Hoosier Hills Conference titles and 12 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participants in his first 23 seasons. “Our kids take a lot of pride in wearing the uniform. They really put New Albany first as to where their priorities lie.”

While some of his top players go with travel baseball organizations, McIntyre, the former IHSBCA president and an all-star series coach in 2000 and 2016, still coaches a summer high school team through a schedule of about 25 games in an urban school district that has 50 percent of its students on a free-or-reduced-lunch program.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to find high school teams to schedule games,” says McIntyre. “But there are some players who would never get a chance to play the next season without it. It’s an important part of our program. If we ever lose that, it’s going to hurt us.”

While the Bulldogs don’t have an indoor hitting facility, they do have Mt. Tabor Field.

Located on the Mt. Tabor Elementary School grounds about four miles from the high school campus, the field sports a Bermuda grass playing surface that was recently laser-graded. To save on maintenance, there is turf around home plate and baselines have been sodded.

Since the facility is land-locked by a road and a drainage ditch, high fences — 12 feet in right and left fields and 18 feet from gap to gap — were installed a few years ago.

“We’ve taken away some of the cheap home runs,” says McIntyre.

More improvements are on the way following the 2018 season, including new dugouts, bleachers, press box and concession stand.

The land adjacent to the field has been the home of New Albany Little League. That organization has moved and the school corporation-owned land will go to the construction of the junior varsity field.

“It’s going to look a whole lot different than it does now,” says McIntyre. “We’re really spoiled.”

While there are bound to be exceptions, McIntyre does not expect the scoreboard to get a workout.

“We pride ourselves in always having good defensive teams and pitchers who throw strikes,” says McIntyre. “If the other team doesn’t score any runs, you have a pretty good record.

“We don’t tend to have too many high-scoring games. We don’t beat too many people 10-9.”

McIntyre says the ability to run can play a major role in a high school baseball team’s strategy.

“You can change the game with your overall team speed,” says McIntyre. “But that comes and goes. Sometimes you have those guys and sometimes you don’t. It’s the luck of the draw.

“At the 4A level, you face such good pitching, you’re not going to score a lot of runs.”

That’s where it comes back to making the plays on defense and pitchers holding the other team in-check.

McIntyre talks to his players about being mentally strong and disciplined and controlling the controlable.

“You can’t control the umpire or the other team’s pitching,” says McIntyre. “You can control where you are on defense, where you throw the ball, how you running bases, getting signals correct and all those things.”

Besides New Albany, the Hoosier Hills Conference (along with Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated and Seymour).

The HHC does not play a regular-season conference schedule. The conference champion is determined during a tournament in early May. Games are pre-drawn and played Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

HCC teams are spread out. New Albany is about 75 miles from Bedford North Lawrence and 55 from Columbus East and does not see the Stars or Olympians unless it’s in the tournament.

The weekends are when the Bulldogs may travel to or host teams in Evansville like Mater Dei, North or Reitz. Jasper and South Dearborn are regulars on the schedule as is Fort Wayne Carroll, which comes to New Albany early in the season.

Lowell (Mich.) stops in town for a split doubleheader involving Seymour on the Red Arrows’ way back from spring break in Pensacola, Fla.

The Bulldogs are scheduled to play games in northern Kentucky near Cincinnati.

IHSAA travel rules restrict teams from going more than 300 miles from the state line.

“We try to play a couple teams every year we’ve never played,” says McIntyre. “We can get into northern Alabama and the northern tip of Mississippi. Nashville (Tenn.) is as far as we’ve gone.”

New Albany, an IHSAA Class 4A school, is coming off a 17-10 season in 2017. The Bulldogs played six freshman and sophomores at various times.

First-team all-state first baseman Ryan Robison (who has not yet made a college commitment) and Chase Rudy (a Purdue commit) are already three-year varsity players expected back for their senior seasons in New Albany colors.

Graduates currently with college programs include Austin Dickey at the University of Louisville, Timmie Redford at Kaskaskia College in Illinois and Jack Shine at Hanover College.

Josh Rogers pitched for Louisville and is now in the New York Yankees organization. The 6-foot-3 left-hander appeared in seven games at Double-A in 2017. In three pro seasons, he is a combined 22-11.

McIntyre is a 1986 graduate of Jeffersonville, where he played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Poole.

“He was a super guy,” says McIntyre of Poole. “You don’t realize it at the time, but look back on it and realize how little he ever raised his voice. You just respected him. When he raised his voice, he meant business. He wanted it done and he wanted it done now.”

Even years after his retirement, Poole amazes McIntyre with his baseball mind.

“He remembers every pitch from every game,” says McIntyre. “He knows the game inside and out.”

McIntyre did not play at but did study at Indiana University Southeast. He spent one season as an assistant to IHSBCA Hall of Famer Wayne Stock at Clarksville and three as an Evansville North assistant before taking the reigns at New Albany.

McIntyre recalls Stock’s prowess as an offensive instructor.

“He was an old school baseball guy and he was awesome at teaching hitting,” says McIntyre. “He never bunted. He was a true ‘Earl Weaver’ kind of manager, playing for the three-run home run.”

He also remembers Stock as a generous man that often went into his own pocket to help where he saw a need.

“There wasn’t a thing he wouldn’t do for a kid,” says McIntyre.

Looking to coach his own personality, McIntyre wants his players enjoy the time spend with him.

“You just hope you leave a good impression with your players,” says McIntyre.

A math teacher at New Albany, McIntyre is married to biology teacher Shannon. The couple have two boys. Tyler (15) is a sophomore baseball player. Kevin (11) is a competitive swimmer.

CHRISMCINTYRE

Chris McIntyre is going into his 24th season as head baseball coach at New Albany High School in 2018. The 1986 Jeffersonville High School graduate is 13 wins shy of 500 for his career. (Tom Little 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.

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.