Tag Archives: Evansville Otters

Spence brings his brand of energy to Tri-West Hendricks baseball

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nick Spence wants to bring pep to the steps of ballplayers in yet another part of Hendricks County, Ind.
Spence, who played and coached at nearby Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and coached at neighboring Avon (Ind.) High School, was hired as head baseball coach at Tri-West High School in Lizton, Ind., in August 2021 and set about spreading his enthusiasm from the youth level on up.
“I want my kids to be excited to be a part of Tri-West baseball,” says Spence. “It’s easier to get kids to play when they’re excited to come to the ballpark.
“I’ve gotten nothing but positive vibes from the community.”
The fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period was mostly about getting to know athletes and showing them what he plans to implement.
“I’m pretty fiery and I’m energetic,” says Spence. “We want competition to come through with whatever we’re doing. Baseball is an individual game played by a team.
“Baseball is a sport of failure and you have to learn from failure. Don’t let it come to your next AB or on the mound with you.”
A big believer in situational baseball, Spence prefers to devote his practices to either offense or defense.
“I’m not a big station guy,” says Spence, who looks forward to the first official IHSAA practice date of March 14.
Spence’s coaching staff includes Bryan Engelbrecht and Adam Montgomery with the varsity, Gordie Lucas and James Miller with the JV and Mike Gongwer as youth coordinator. Engelbrecht is a longtime Tri-West coach. Montgomery and Gongwer were with Spence at Avon.
He wants establish his system and spread the excitement at the youngest levels.
“In the past, we’ve had a really good community-based program at Tri-West,” says Spence, who remarried on Dec. 20, 2021 and lives with wife Allison in Pittsboro, Ind. (Nick has three children from a previous marriage all attending Brownsburg schools — junior Madyson (who turns 17 next week), eighth grader Easton (14) and fifth grader Maya (10). “I’ve been working with youth directors, trying to get that back.”
Younger players will be involved with Tri-West Little League and Bruin Heat. Spence says he can see that morphing into the Tri-West Baseball Club by 2023.
That’s when Tri-West High is scheduled to debut a four-field baseball/softball complex.
“They’re starting to push dirt,” says Spence of the project that will bring varsity and junior varsity grass fields with stadium seating, netting and more. In addition, coaches offices and a hitting tunnel will be located on the north end of the football field. “It’ll beautiful.”
Spence played for Wayne Johnson and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg High, graduating in 2001, and served as JV coach in 2006 and 2007 then helped current Bulldogs head coach Dan Roman as pitching coach in 2021.
Spence counts 2009 Brownsburg graduate Tucker Barnhart as his best friend and was the best man in Barnhart’s wedding. Tucker is now a catcher with the Detroit Tigers.
An Indiana Bulls assistant to Troy Drosche during the travel ball season, Spence was the pitching coach on Drosche’s Avon High staff for five years while the Orioles won sectional titles in 2016, 2017 and 2019 and a regional crown in 2019. Spence has also coached with the Bill Sampen-led Indiana Expos travel organization.
Spence’s college playing career included one season on the field each pitching for Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College, Tim Bunton at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and Joe Decker at Indiana University Southeast.
He went to spring training with the independent Evansville (Ind.) Otters then began focusing on helping others.
“I always wanted to coach,” says Spence. “I always wanted to be involved.”
Spence has also been an assistant to Bulldogs head coach Mike Silva (now head coach at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La.) at Clarendon (Texas) College, where Adrian Dinkel (now head coach at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.) was an assistant. He landed there after meeting Silva at a tournament in Stillwater, Okla., while working for Tom Davidson and Blake Hibler at Pastime Tournaments.
Indiana Tech head coach Kip McWilliams had Spence on his staff for one season.
Tri-West (enrollment around 630) is a member of the Sagamore Athletic Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community (coached by Pat O’Neil), Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Western Boone).
In 2021, the Bruins were part of the IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Greencastle and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter. Tri-West has won seven sectional crowns — the last in 2018.
Recent Tri-West baseball players Riley Bennett (Trine University) and Kai Ross (DePauw University football) have moved on to college sports.

Nick Spence addresses young players in the Tri-West baseball system.
New Tri-West High School head baseball coach Nick Spence wants excitement to spread throughout the community.
Nick Spence lets Tri-West youth players know how he plans to run the program as new high school head coach.
Nick Spence, a 2001 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, has twice served as an assistant coach at his alma mater.
In five seasons at the Avon (Ind.) High School baseball coaching staff, Nick Spence helped the Orioles win three sectionals and one regional.
Avon (Ind.) High School’s 2019 regional baseball champions, featuring pitching coach Nick Spence.
Allison and Nick Spence.
Nick Spence (Class of 2001) with fellow Brownsburg (Ind.) High School alum Tucker Barnhart (Class of 2009) and son Easton Spence. Nick Spence was the best man in Barnhart’s wedding.
Allison, Piper and Nick Spence.
Allison and Nick Spence at their Dec. 20, 2021 wedding with Nick’s children Madyson, Easton and Maya.
Nick and Allison Spence at their Dec. 20, 2021 wedding with Nick’s children (from left): Easton, Maya and Madyson.
Allison and Nick Spence with his children (from left): Maya, Easton and Madyson.

Conner teaching lessons about baseball, life at Concordia University Chicago

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kolin Conner is doing his best to get Concordia University Chicago back to the lofty heights the Cougars baseball program had become accustomed.
From 2008-19, CUC posted an average record of 35-11 including 40-15 in 2018 and 42-10 in 2019. Conner was the Cougars head assistant (2016-19) — years in which the school won four Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference regular-season titles and made NCAA Division III World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. During the span, CUC was ranked No. 1 in the nation and Conner was named 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year.
A graduate of Indianapolis North Central High School (2009) and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2013), Conner took over as head coach at the private school in River Forest, Ill., in the summer of 2019. The Cougars went 5-5 during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 11-25 in 2021.
NCAA D-III rules allow for 19 total weeks of organized baseball activity — four in the fall and 15 in the spring. Concordia practiced four times a week during the fall.
“We did a lot of teaching. developing and evaluating where our guys are on the depth chart,” says Conner. “After last year, there was a little bit of re-establishing priorities for us.
“The work we put in now leads to success in the spring. It’s about holding everybody accountable. The overall success is much bigger than one individual.”
Conner says the most-important time comes when players are away from coaches in between fall and spring and must motivate themselves and stay on top of their academics.
“Here’s a 17-year-old freshman,” says Conner. “How’s he going to be when no one’s watching? That’s when good leaders and good people are made.”
Conner and his coaching staff of head assistant/pitching coach Matt Smith, assistant Abe Paz Agudello, assistant Connor Nelson and graduate assistant Kevin Garcia are getting players to create lifelong habits that will transfer into their lives beyond college.
“They get into the world world and (employers and co-workers) can trust these guys,” says Conner, who is currently busy recruiting, doing office work and getting ready for the return of players to practice after the Christmas break.
CUC baseball earned an ABCA all-academic team certificate, sported seven players with a 4.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale last spring while posting a 3.2 team GPA — the best among the school’s nine male sports. The Cougars typically have 10 to 12 academic all-conference selections.
The roster — currently at 36 — has 22 from the Chicagoland area plus Indiana’s Ben Collins (Chesterton), Elijah Hickman (Rensselaer Central), Brody Mariotti (Yorktown) and Westin Stutzman (Fairfield), six from Arizona (CUC recruits there each fall), two from California and one each from Colorado and Utah.
“We get a lot of good and smart kids that don’t have schools to go to,” says Conner. “(Chicago recruits) are used to cold weather and facilities and proud of the city they’re from.”
Conners says most players get some sort of aid — packages largely being dependent on grades and test scores — that takes away around half of the annual $42,000 tuition.
“It’s important that we’re getting the good character kid who wants to work and wants to win,” says Conner. “Those type of kids are usually pretty good academically.
“It’s no coincidence that are best players are usually are best students.”
A typical recruiting class is 10 players and Conner says he likes to have five or six signees around Christmas.
Conner played for Phil McIntyre at North Central, making varsity as a sophomore and representing the Panthers either as a catcher or outfielder and making long-time friendships.
He credits assistant/teacher Andy Noble for helping him in the classroom.
“He helped me find my way and who I was as a kid,” says Conner of Noble.
Conner was a catcher and first baseman in college. He played two seasons at National Community College Athletic Association member Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for Statesmen head coaches Mitch Hannahs (2010) and Kevin Bowers (2011).
Hannahs, who is now head coach at Indiana State University. was “very, very good at getting you conditioned mentally and getting the most out of people as players.”
Current LTC head coach Bowers brought Conner into the program.
“He really, really cares about the kids,” says Conner of Bowers. “He’s got a strong relationship with everybody he recruits.”
At Saint Joseph’s, Conner earned an Educational Studies degree with a Communications minor and played two seasons (2012 and 2013) for Pumas head coach Rick O’Dette.
“He’s the greatest guy ever,” says Conner of O’Dette, who became head coach at Saint Leo University in Florida when SJC closed its doors after the 2017 season. “He’s the reason I have a job in college baseball.
“He’s an unbelievable guy, a great mentor and cares about people.”
Conner played two summers of independent professional baseball after college with the 2013 Mike Braymen-managed Joliet (Ill.) Slammers and 2014 Andy McCauley-managed Evansville (Ind.) Otters — both in the Frontier League.
Kolin met future wife Lyndsey at Lincoln Trail. The Conners now have two children — son Leo (3) and daughter Layla (4 months).

Kolin Conner (Concordia University Chicago Photo)

Shakamak, Indiana U. alum Scott learning pro ropes with Evansville Otters

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Braden Scott enjoyed the best outing of his young professional baseball pitching career in his most-recent start for the Evansville (Ind.) Otters.
On July 24 at Gateway, the left-hander went 7 2/3 shutout innings, fanning seven, walking two and giving up three hits in 29 batters faced and was selected as independent Frontier League Pitcher of the Week.
Through six starts and 34 innings, Scott is 3-2 with a 2.91 earned run average.
“It’s been a really good experience,” says Scott, who finished his collegiate career in the spring at Indiana University.
Scott signed with the Otters on June 21. In his first appearance June 24 at Joliet, he tossed seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and two walks. He faced 26 batters and gave up two hits.
Scott, 23, moved to 2-0 as he won again on July 1 in the first game of a home doubleheader against against Florence. He fanned five and walked one while yielding six hits in the game’s first six innings. He faced 23 hitters.
On July 6, Scott (2-1) took the loss in a game at historic Bosse Field against Joliet. He pitched six innings with seven strikeouts and no walks. He allowed six hits and four runs in 24 batters faced.
Scott went just four innings and took the loss in the second game of a July 11 doubleheader against visiting Schaumburg. He struck out four, walked one and gave up six runs and seven hits while facing 21 batters.
In a no-decision July 17 against visiting Southern Illinois, Scott hurled 3 1/3 innings with two strikeouts, five walks and gave up three hits and one run in facing 18 batters.
Scott’s first pro team is guided by Andy McCauley, who recorded his 1,000th career managerial victory July 2 at Gateway.
“He’s been around the game a long time and he knows what he’s doing,” says Scott of McCauley. “I like the way he treats us — like professionals.
“You come in and get your stuff done.”
Evansville pitching coach Max Peterson has also aided the 6-foot-3, 215-pound southpaw with approach and execution.
“He’s helped me mentally on the mound and with how I have to carry myself,” says Scott. “I’ve thrown a cutter for two years, but I never threw it consistently.
“Now it’s a big go-to pitch. I’m able to use it for my game now.”
When thrown correctly, the cutter has more horizontal than vertical break and goes into a right-handed batter and away from a lefty.
Throwing from the left side has always been an advantage for Scott.
“I’ve never thrown a ball that’s been exactly straight,” says Scott. “I’ve been able to miss a lot of barrels and not give up a lot of hard hits.”
Scott has five pitches — four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, change-up and cutter.
His four-seam sits at 88 to 90 mph. The slider is more a hybrid between a slider and curve.
“In my last start I was almost solely throwing fastballs and sliders,” says Scott. “I threw maybe four cutters.”
Scott employs a “circle” change.
As part of the Otters’ five-man starting rotation, Scott competes every fifth or sixth day. His next start is scheduled Friday, July 30 against Southern Illinois at Bosse Field.
On the day after a start, Scott does some throwing and gets in an aggressive cardio session to get the blood flow going. He is also charting that night’s pitchers.
He throws a bullpen two days before his next start.
A day before a start, the lefty gets in a workout with movement and stretching and some light long toss — maybe 150 feet. He then sits in the bullpen and watches how pitchers attack hitters and looks for batter tendencies.
A 2016 graduate of Shakamak Junior-Senior High School in Jasonville, Ind., Scott played two seasons at Olney (Ill.) Central College (2017-18) and three at Indiana (2019-21).
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chip Sweet and Todd Gambill were his head coaches at Shakamak. Scott was on varsity for three years.
“He was awesome,” says Scott of Sweet. “I grew up with his daughter (Mariah). We won (an IHSAA Class 1A) state championship in his final year of coaching (2014).
“He taught me how to carry myself on and off the baseball field.”
Gambill took the Lakers back to the state title game in 2015 (finishing as runner-up) — this time at the 2A level.
“He did an awesome job,” says Scott of Gambill. Scott was a pinch hitter in the 2014 1A title game and started at first base in the 2015 2A final.
Scott played for Blue Knights head coach Dennis Conley and assistants Andy Lasher and Bryce Labhart at Olney Central.
Conley doubled as head coach and pitching coach.
“Conley made a pretty big impact on my baseball career,” says Scott. “He still helps me.
“He’s the reason I’ve got this position at Evansville. He’s been around the game long enough that he knows just about everybody out there.”
Jeff Mercer is the Hoosiers head coach and Justin Parker was the pitching coach at IU until taking that role at the University of South Carolina in recent weeks.
“(Mercer) is a phenomenal coach,” says Scott. “His main goal is player development. (Parker) is very good job of player development as well.
“I wish (Mercer) all the best and hope the program keeps trending in the right direction.”
Scott made 39 appearances (all in relief) for the Hoosiers, going 4-0 with one save and 3.25 earned run average. He produced 81 strikeouts and 21 walks in 55 1/3 innings. In 2021, he got into 15 games and was 2-0 with a 4.08 ERA. He whiffed 28 and walked eight in 17 2/3 innings.
He also earned his Sports Marketing & Management degree.
A starter at Olney Central, Scott was used mostly in relief during his last years of summer ball.
Scott played for the M.I.N.K. Collegiate Baseball League’s Ozark Generals (Springfield, Mo.) and the Prospect League’s Tyler Wampler-coached Terre Haute (Ind.) Rex in the summer of 2017.
He was with the Northwoods League’s Willmar (Minn.) Stingers then the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association National Team that placed second at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan., in 2018.
Scott played for the Coastal Plain League’s Morehead City (N.C.) Marlins in 2019 and CPL’s Macon (Ga.) Bacon in 2020. Among his Bacon teammates were fellow IU pitchers Connor Manous, Ty Bothwell, Matt Litwicki and Brayden Tucker.
Before landing with the Otters, Scott pitched for the 2021 Rex, coached by A.J. Reed.
Braden is the son of Jimmie Scott and Andee Mullins. Younger siblings include Bailey Scott (21) and Kaleb Gadberry (18).
Both parents were athletes at Sullivan (Ind.) High School. Bailey Scott was involved in volleyball, cheerleading and track at Shakamak and is now a nursing student at Ivy Tech in Terre Haute. Caleb Gadberry played golf at Shakamak, where he graduated in 2021.

Braden Scott on the Otters Digital Network
Braden Scott (Indiana University Photo)
Braden Scott (Evansville Otters Image)

Dubois County Bombers make commitment to community

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For the Dubois County Bombers of Huntingburg, Ind., it’s about serving the community and providing opportunities for college baseball players in the summer.
A member of the summer collegiate wood bat Ohio Valley League, the Bombers play at League Stadium, where the movies “A League Of Their Own” (1992) and “Soul Of The Game” (1996) were filmed and where Southridge High School plays its home games in the spring.
For the first film, the stadium was expanded from a capacity of 800 to 2,783 and given an antique look (the original grandstand dates back to 1894).
In 2019, the Bombers drew 998 fans per game — among the highest attendance figures in the team OVL, which had nine teams at the time and now sports 10 (besides Dubois County, there’s Kentucky’s Hoptown Hoppers, Owensboro RiverDawgs, Madisonville Miners, Fulton Railroaders, Paducah Chiefs, Muhlenberg County Stallions, Henderson Flash, Franklin Duelers and Full County Rhythm).
“We’re fortunate because Columbia Pictures left us a stadium that we can put that many fans into it,” says Mike Uebelhor, a Huntingburg native who is a principal owner and managing partner for a group that purchased the team in 2012. “We just wanted to make sure that the team stayed here in Dubois County.”
The Bluff City Bombers of the Central Illinois Collegiate League moved to Huntingburg in 2005 and were renamed the Dubois County Bombers. The CICL then merged with the Prospect League. As the Prospect League has a larger geographical footprint, the Bombers moved to the Ohio Valley League as of the 2013 season.
According to Uebelhor, the previous owner was planning on moving the team to another venue.
“We just wanted to make sure this this stadium was not going to sit here and rot,” says Uebelhor. “And so that’s why we kept it here.”
There are 33 season employees. Mike’s wife and daughter — Mary and Ashley — put the whole package together. Mick Uebelhor, a sophomore on Southridge’s IHSAA Class 3A state champions in 2021 is Mike and Mary’s son and a Bombers intern.
“We all have our second separate job opportunities and job descriptions and it all works,” says Mike Uebelhor.
There’s both an electronic and manual scoreboard.
Bombers players where throwback-style uniforms and Peaches — a nod to the All-American Girls Baseball League’s Rockford Peaches — greet fans, help run on-field contests. There are “Musical Chairs” for kids and adults. The opposing teams participates in the “Dizzy Bat Spin.”
Peaches and fans dance to “Cotton-Eyed Joe” in the fifth inning.
Many little girls at the park don the same pink outfits as the Peaches. Girls can get eye pink and boys eye black.
One youngster was heard to say after his blacking, “I’m a professional baseball player.”
There’s a vintage bus parked in front of the stadium with Rockford Peaches on one side and Bombers on the other.
Promotional dates include ’60s Night, Shark Night and Faith & Family Night. The regular season of fun began began June 4 and runs through July 24.
“We’ve always promoted this as 50 percent baseball and 50 percent entertainment,” says Uebelhor. “Most folks would not remember tomorrow what the score was, but they remember they had a good time and they come back. And that’s how we grew up being able to grow our attendance along with a lot of corporate sponsors.”
There is an outfield sign for set designer Harold Collins, who customarily destroys sets after use but agreed with Connie Kay Nass (Huntingburg mayor 1988-96) to keep the improvements to League Stadium.
According to Uebelhor, Budweiser paid $1 million for its permanent sign. Coca-Cola paid $500,000.

Eight former major league players have played at League Stadium — Buddy Blemker, Jim Rushford, Bob Coleman, Steve Cishek, Mitch Stetter, Scott Rolen, Alex Graman, Sean Manaea and Daniel Johnson.
Blemker, a 1955 Huntingburg High School graduate, Huntingburg native Coleman and Rolen (Jasper Class of 1993) are in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
A pitcher, Blemker played for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Coleman played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians and managed the Detroit Tigers and Boston Braves.
Third baseman Rolen played for the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds.
Catcher Rushford played for the Dubois County Dragons in 1996 and later with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Pitcher Cishek was with the Bombers in 2006. He has played for the Florida/Miami Marlins, Cardinals, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels.
Southridge graduates Stetter (Brewers) and Graman (New York Yankees) pitched in the bigs.
Oakland Athletics hurler Manaea was with the Bombers in 2011.
An outfield with DC in 2015, Johnson was drafted by the Washington Nationals and has played for the MLB Indians.
The 2021 Bombers roster features seven local players — pitcher Weston Allen (Asbury University), first baseman Connor Oxley (Oakland City University), outfielder/second baseman Tucker Schank (Indiana University) and catcher Chase Taylor (University of Evansville commit) of Huntingburg, outfielder Jared Sermersheim (West Virginia Tech) and pitcher Carter Stamm (University of Southern Indiana) of Jasper and infielder Simon Scherry (Heritage Hills High School of U. of Evansville) of Santa Claus — and the rest reside with 17 host families.
There’s usually a waiting list to host players. Many in town have taken players in — Bombers or the independent Dubois County Dragons (1996-2002) — for years.
Taylor, who helped Southridge to the 3A state title on Tuesday, June 22 (the same night that Jasper gave the county a second champion by reigning in Class 4A), was the starting catcher for the Bombers on June 24.
In his debut, Taylor caught former Southridge teammate Allen and stroked a double and scored a run in his first at-bat. He threw out a would-be Franklin base-stealer in the fourth inning.
Travis LaMar, an assistant coach for Southridge who played for the Bombers in 2007-09, has been on the DC coaching staff since 2017 and head coach since 2019.
“It’s great for the community,” says LaMar of the Bombers experience. “The community really gets involved and really supports us.
“You bring in these college kids and it gives them an opportunity to develop their skills and play the game every day and have a little bit of fun while they’re doing it.”
LaMar is an Evansville Harrison High School graduate who was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 44th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander opted to pitch for Olney (Ill.) Central College and then Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He then played independent pro ball for the Lake Erie Crushers and Evansville Otters and was an assistant coach at Harrison.
Travis and Kate LaMar have been married since 2018 and have nine-month old son named Drake. The LaMars reside in Holland, Ind. Travis also teaches physical education at Caze Elementary in Evansville.
LaMar pulled double-duty during Southridge’s state run, going with the Raiders at practices and games and letting his Bombers assistants run the show when there was an overlap.
“I was stretched pretty thin but, you know, it kind of all worked out and it just kind of goes back to the kind of the family atmosphere that we have,” says LaMar. “A lot of these players are from around here and they they understand the league or they’ve been in the league before.
“So you know I can kind of put a lot of trust in that I can put the trust to my coaches.”
Willie Poe, who played for the Bombers’ 2015 and 2017 OVL championship teams, is in his first season on the DC coaching staff.
The Lexington, Ky., native pitched at Bellarmine University. He coached at Iowa Wesleyan University and Indian Hills Community College before joining former Bombers head coach Andy Lasher’s staff at Oakland City U.
Bryce Wilz returns as a DC assistant after pitching for the Bombers in 2013. He played at Southeastern Illinois College and Brescia University. He is currently the pitching coach at SIC. He has coached in the OVL with Muhlenberg County (2018) and was to be with Madisonville in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic took the season away.
Mark Peters is in charge of player recruitment for the Bombers. The Huntingburg native has been connected to high school and college baseball for more than two decades as both a coach and recruiter.
Bombers home games air of WITZ 104.7 FM with Hall of Famer Walt Ferber on play-by-play and Roger Stuckey on color commentary.

Travis LaMar
League Stadium, Huntingburg, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
League Stadium, movie site (Steve Krah Photo).
“A League Of Their Own” was filmed at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
“Soul Of The Game” was filmed at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
League Stadium is in Dubois County, Ind., home to two 2021 IHSAA state champions — the Southridge Raiders and Jasper Wildcats. (Steve Krah Photo)
The Dubois County Bombers won the 2018 Bluegrass World Series. (Steve Krah Photo)
On-field contests are a staple at Dubois County Bombers games. (Steve Krah Photo)
League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., was updated and dedicated in 1991. (Steve Krah Photo)
A Dubois County Bombers “Peach” applies eye pink to a little fan. (Steve Krah Photo)
Many little girls at Dubois County Bombers games dress like the Rockford Peaches as seen in “A League Of Their Own,” a movie filmed at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
A vintage bus in front of League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. It’s the home of the Ohio Valley League’s Dubois County Bombers. (Steve Krah Photo)
A vintage bus in front of League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., serves to remind folks that “A League Of Their Own” was filmed there. The movie about the All-American Girl Baseball League came out in 1992. (Steve Krah Photo)
A famous line from the 1992 movie, “A League Of Their Own.” It was filmed at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

Saint Francis assistant Lawhead wants his pitches to be relentless

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Lawhead was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

Thanks to baseball, Fort Wayne, Ind., became his Midwest home in the fall of 2012.

Born in Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle, Lawhead graduated from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., in 2010 and pitched for two seasons at Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College.

The right-hander played for Warriors head coach Dave Meliah and pitching coach C.J. Biagi and was named a first-team all-East Region relief pitcher and second-team all-Northwest Athletic Conference relief pitcher in 2012 while garnering six saves.

“Coach Meliah taught me a lot of physical and mental toughness and how to prepare at a higher level,” says Lawhead. “I learned how to attack and compete relentlessly and not have any fear.

“I played on two of the grittiest and most-competitive teams I’ve ever been a part of.”

Lawhead describes the juco experience.

“The days are long in junior college, but it helps you develop an appreciation of how much better you can get by working,” says Lawhead. “There’s a natural progression. You can speed up and expedite that process a little bit.”

Through an online recruiting database — FieldLevel — he caught the attention of Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and wound up signing with the Mastodons weeks before his junior year at IPFW. 

“Lucky for me, they needed arms,” says Lawhead. “I wanted to play at the (NCAA) Division I level as well. That’s the reason I went to junior college in the first place.”

The right-handed hurler two seasons (2013 and 2014) for head coach Bobby Pierce and pitching coach Grant Birely and made 41 appearances out of the bullpen with seven wins and nine saves.

“It was a great experience with Coach Pirece and Coach Birely,” says Lawhead. “They helped me see things in detail and that 90 percent of game can be controlled by that pitcher-hitter confrontation.

“They gave us a lot of freedom. There was no micromanaging. We took ownership of our own development.”

Many of Lawhead’s former teammates from the Fort Wayne area have remained very good friends.

“They are my Midwest family if you will,” say Lawhead, 29.

After his playing career, he served as a graduate assistant and then as paid assistant in the Mastodons program from 2015-19. 

Lawhead coached three All-Americans at IPFW — Evan Miller (who was selected in the 22nd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres and pitched for the Low Single-A Fort Wayne TinCaps 2016-18 and in Triple-A in 2019) and all-Summit League performers Greg Kaiser and Brandon Soat (who played for the 2017 independent pro Evansville Otters). 

All three are Indiana prep products — Miller from LaPorte, Kaiser from Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Soat from Homestead.

Along the way, Lawhead earned undergraduate degrees in General Studies and Public Policy and a masters in Organizational Leadership from IPFW/Purdue Fort Wayne.

In the summers of 2014 and 2015, Lawhead was head coach for 13U and 14U teams for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization, working alongside founder/general manager Joel Mishler and director of operations Justin Barber.

“Joel was another big influence in my life as a coach,” say Lawhead. “(The Chargers) are  youth organization so devoted to developing players and men.”

Barber is now the pitching coach at Taylor University.

Zac Mishler, Joel’s youngest son, was Lawhead’s teammate at IPFW.

Former Mastodons infielder and assistant coach Kristian Gayday was offered an opportunity to stay in Fort Wayne and join the coaching staff at the University of Saint Francis by Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher

Gayday was later joined at the NAIA and Crossroads League member school by Lawhead, who left IPFW (now known as Purdue Fort Wayne) when Pierce left to take to take an athletic administration job in Arizona.

“Coach Butcher is great to coach under,” says Lawhead. “Before I even got here, he had established a culture with good athletes and good human beings. There’s also that (relentless) mentality I spoke about earlier. It makes my job a lot easier.

“We can focus on the things that can help us win games in the heat of competition. (Butcher) gives his assistant coaches full autonomy. He does not micromanage. We have a really good relationship.”

At IPFW, Lawhead worked primarily with position players on defense and collaborated with Pierce on hitting.

As a Saint Francis assistant, he throws batting practice and helps out with defense whenever he can but Lawhead’s primarily responsibility is with the Cougars pitching staff.

He covers a variety of areas, but a competitive mentality is a key.

“We talked about body language, self talk and all the thing we can control,” says Lawhead. “We want to compete relentlessly with no fear.

“We want to get to that fight or flight response. We like our guys competing at everything they do and doing it to the highest of their abilities.”

Lawhead has his pitchers using their arms often to build up their tolerance. 

“We throw just about everyday, but not as hard as they can,” says Lawhead. “We want to be able to expose hitters’ weaknesses and get them out.”

COVID-19 restrictions did not allow Saint Francis to have any games with other schools during the six weeks of fall practice, but there was plenty of intrasquad action.

“In my opinion we accomplished our goal of pitchers learning their strengths and how they are going to attack hitters,” says Lawhead. “During week, (pitches) prepared to perform on the weekend. We had a plan in place to recover so we can do that again and again.”

Lawhead says its likely that the Cougars will not have mid-week games during the 2021 season with four-game weekend series in the conference (7- and 9-inning doubleheaders on Fridays and Saturdays).

Saint Francis finished the fall semester before Thanksgiving. Students, including ballplayers, are due back on-campus in January.

While the student-athletes are away, the coaching staff is recruiting and planning for the season.

“We’re working on how we’re going to attack practice as efficiently as possible when the guys get back,” says Lawhead.

Connor and Victoria Lawhead have a daughter who turns 1 on Dec. 31 — Avery. While Victoria is teaching sixth grade English at Woodside Middle School (a Homestead High School feeder), he is at home with the baby then often heads to the office.

Connor Lawhead, who played two collegiate baseball seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and holds three degrees from the school, is now an assistant coach at Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. (IPFW Photo)

IU Kokomo’s Cheek emphasizes competition, classroom, community

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Cheek spent the summer collegiate baseball season of 2015 playing for the Kokomo Jackrabbits.

Coming off his first season as a pitcher at Indiana State University, Cheek played for manager Matt Howard.

The two maintained a relationship and Cheek came back to town as an assistant to head coach Howard at Indiana University Kokomo. The 2021 season will be his third with the Cougars.

“I love it,” says Cheek of working with the energetic Howard. “He will push you day in and day out to be a better leader on or off the field.

“What I enjoy most about him is he gives freedom (to his assistants) as if we were in-charge. I can make the pitching program my own. There is trust my abilities.”

Cheek, 26, is not only IUK’s pitching coach but he leads the program’s academic supervision and community service and helps with camps.

At pitching coach, he looks for aggressiveness and competitiveness. 

“What we strive to do is attack hitters,” says Cheek. “We recruit a lot of guys who are athletes that go out and compete. They piece it together inning by inning and put up zeros.”

Cheek wants his hurlers to trust their defense.

“We have plenty of gold glovers on the field so pound the zone,” says Cheek. “Execution is big for us.”

Knowing that not all pitchers are the same, Cheek looks to get each one to identify what makes them successful.

“Every guy is going to have different pitches and different sequences that they throw,” says Cheek, who knows some will around 90 mph with their fastball while others will have to pitch backwards, starting with a breaking ball and spotting their fastball.

“It’s about letting them know their success and know what they have to bring to the table,” says Cheek. “When they take pride int he role they have that’s where you start to see success.”

About half way through fall practice, IUK pitchers (a group that includes Ryan’s brother, Kacey Cheek) are currently in COVID-19 quarantine.

“It’s been a tough fall,” says Cheek. “It make guys see the picture of how they approach each day with an appreciation and a full passion for the game.”

That can be said of the whole squad, which includes returning college players who had their spring season cut short and incoming freshmen who had their senior high school seasons canceled.

Cheek and the other IUK coaches encourage them to respect the game but also have passion.

“Show up with a chip on their shoulder,” says Cheek. “Keep a goal in mind each day and don’t let a day pass.”

Because of the pandemic, the NAIA has granted an extra year of eligibility to those who want to use it.

Among those back to lead the Cougars are right-handed pitcher Renton Poole (at Bloomington High School South graduate who was selected in the 28th round of the 2018 Major League First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers but opted to stay in college) and infielder Austin Weiler.

While being aware of contact tracing, IUK baseball coaches work to separate players on the field and in the weight room. With pitchers away, there are a number of machine scrimmages. 

“We’ll have developmental work and one-on-one work when pitchers come back,” says Cheek.

As an academic supervisor, Cheek makes sure players are keeping up their grades up. He stays in-touch with professors and sets study table hours.

“They’re coming to IUK to get an IU degree and play baseball,” says Cheek. “The goal is to get these guys to where they want to go in life.

“My goal is to make sure they’re reaching their goals in the classroom.”

IUK students are currently taking a hybrid of in-person and online classes. After Thanksgiving to the end of the semester that will be all online.

While COVID-19 regulations and protocols has limited what players can do at the moment, there was plenty of community service with local groups last fall. Cheek says that each team member did up to 25 hours in the fall while meeting Kokomo know they care.

Cougars associate head coach Drew Brantley heads up camps and is helped by Cheek and Howard.

Cheek took his current job after serving as varsity boys basketball and varsity baseball coach at his alma mater Oblong (Ill.) High School. In 2018 and 2019, he coached Britton’s Bullpen 16U travel team.

As a player, Cheek was in spring training with the independent professional Evansville (Ind.) Otters in 2017.

Cheek pitched two seasons at Indiana State University (2015 and 2016) and two at Vincennes (Ind.) University (2013 and 2014).

As a right-handed collegiate pitcher, Cheek went 10-5 in 32 mound appearances (16 starts) at VU and 2-0 in 11 games (all in relief) at ISU.

Cheek was the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12 MVP in 2014 and helped Vincennes make the NJCAA D-II World Series (placing seventh).

He earned Management and Marketing degree from Indiana State in 2016.

Mitch Hannahs was the head coach and Jordan Tiegs the pitching coach at ISU.

Cheek went to youth camps run by Hannahs when the latter was coaching at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

“He’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever played under,” says Cheek of Hannahs. “He understands the game and knows how to compete.

“He helped me grow as a player and a person.”

Tiegs, who is now a coach in the Rangers organization, had an impact on Cheek.

“He was really smart and knew how to develop guys,” says Cheek of Tiegs. “He really sparked my interest about what a routine meant and entailed — throwing everyday, arm health, your body moving correctly and competing at a high level.”

Cheek appreciates his time with Vincennes head coach Chris Barney.

“He knew the game,” says Cheek of Barney. “He was a little Old School, but I loved it.”

The term “JUCO bandit” is used in baseball circles these days. Cheek tells what it means to him.

“They are guys who are hard-nosed and a little blue collar,” says Cheek. “It was a really good fit for myself to go junior college route. I learned a lot about myself — who I am as a person and player.”

Without the time restrictions of the NCAA and NAIA, junior college players have the chance to spend plenty of time working on their craft.

“We had a fall and spring season and a lot of competition,” says Cheek. “You’d get out of class and then be at the field for six hours at a time.

“We learned what ‘no off days’ meant,” says Cheek. “You didn’t get many.”

Cheek grew up in Oblong, which is Crawford County about 20 miles from the Indiana line and Sullivan County, Indiana. 

The 2012 OHS graduate played golf for coach Jason Hartke, basketball for coach Brent Harper and baseball for coach Dave Miller.

Richard and Kelly Cheek have three children — Ryan, Kacey (20) and Lincoln Trail College freshman Katie (18). 

Ryan Cheek, a graduate of Oblong (Ill.) High School, Vincennes (Ind.) University and Indiana State University, is heading into his third season as a baseball assistant coach at Indiana University Kokomo in 2020-21. (IU Kokomo Photo)

Learning mentality drives baseball coaching vet Bell

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a running debate in baseball coaching about the Old School vs. the New School.

The Old School represents the long-used methods.

The New School includes emerging technology and its application to the game.

“We’re always learning,” says Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, who has decades of experience as a professional hitting instructor — most recently working in affiliated baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers organization 2018 and 2019. “Technology is very important. That’s where we are today.

“We are not Old School or New School, We’re In School. If we don’t continue to be In School, we’re going to hurt these kids. Period.”

As Bell teaches lessons and clinics across the country as well as in Noblesville, Ind., at Jason Taulman’s Indy Sharks training facility and will soon in Lafayette at Jeff Isom’s new On Deck Training building, he looks to share he’s learned and shares it with his pupils.

“There’s all this information,” says Bell. “I’m not saying its detrimental. It’s confusing. (Technology) can be a great thing.”

Bell, 56, is adaptinhg to the new tools so he can understand and get players to understand.

“I’ve learned it my way instead of some guy telling me how I must learn it,” says Bell, who has worked with Blast Motion sensors and looks forward to using Rapsodo motion detection.

“Humans see in 2D,” says Bell. “Technology sees in 4D. It’s another set of eyes. It can be a great thing.

“You will see great strides in that kid’s progression if it’s utilized the right way.

“You can’t quantify the movement from the left to the right hemisphere You have to combine (technology) with what he’s thinking, how he’s thinking and why he’s thinking. I understand the importance of it all coming together. I really do.”

Knowing that each player is different, Bell does not expect everyone to have the same movement patterns and to reach them you’ve got to get to know them.

“The individual needs to be an individual,” says Bell. “We want them to be short and direct to the ball. We don’t worry about things we don’t control. We control the (strike) zone and get a good pitch to hit. It sounds like a cliche, but you’re only as good as the pitch you hit.

“We try to keep it as simple as possible. Pitching is too good. They throw so hard.”

Bell wants to relate to his hitters on a personal basis.

“I want to establish a relationship with that player,” says Bell. “That’s the key. This guy’s there for him whenever he needs them.”

Bell is a 1981 graduate of Lafayette Jefferson High School. His head baseball coach was Mark Strader, who had been a Bronchos standout for and assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul “Spider” Fields.

“(Strader) was one of the best baseball players to come out of Tippecanoe County,” says Bell.

Concepts he associates with Strader are intensity, tenacity, competitiveness, work ethic and doing the little things right.

In the summers, Bell played for Lafayette American Legion Post 11. Manager Eric Harmon became his mentor at a young age.

“He did a lot of things for me,” says Bell, who credits Harmon for getting his a place on Team USA in the 1982 World’s Fair Games in Knoxville, Tenn., and a place in college baseball. “He is a phenomenal man.”

Bell played two seasons at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., where his head coach was Rich Alday and Jim Fleming directed Aztecs hitters.

“(Fleming) was one of the best hitting teachers in the country,” says Bell, who would meet up with him again years later.

From Pima, Bell played two seasons at Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) for head coach Byron Wiehe. Jamie Hamilton was an assistant coach for the Mavericks.

Bell signed as a minor league free agent with the California Angels and played three seasons in the Halos’ system 1986-88, primarily as a righty-swinging catcher with Palm Springs or Quad Cities.

Sometime after his playing career ended, Bell moved back to Lafayette. Isom asked him if he wanted to get back into baseball.

“Absolutely not” was Bell’s reply. But Isom asked again later and got Bell to be his hitting coach with the Joliet Jackhammers in the independent Northern League.

Bell went to be hitting coach in the Northern League with the Andy McCauley-managed Schaumburg Flyers in the independent Frontier League with the Jason Verdugo-managed Evansville Otters.

Then comes a call from John Mallee, then hitting coordinator for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins that leads to another call from then vice president of the Marlins Jim Fleming — the same man who was Bell’s hitting coach back in college.

“I actually hung up,” says Bell. “I didn’t think it was Coach Flem.”

Mallee called Bell back and set him straight and Bell was hired by the Marlins and was hitting coach for Greensboro Grasshoppers (2009), Jupiter Hammerheads (2010) and Gulf Coast League Marlins (2011-14).

He was out of organized baseball for a few years and still offering instruction including at Kiwanis International baseball camps for troubled teens in Alaska at the invitation of David Hall.

By this time Mallee was with the Phillies. He called to say that the Brewers were in dire need of a hitting coach. There was one week left in spring training.

But Bell took the gig and spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon, N.C. Coincidently, the Mudcats vice president/general manager is Lafayette native Joe Kremer. Bell and Kremer had never met until Bell arrived with the club.

The past five years, Bell has been traveling up from Florida to share his knowledge with Taulman and the Indy Sharks.

“I love everything he does for all those kids,” says Bell. “They’ve progressed extremely.”

Bell has been spending more time in Indiana to be closer to daughter Bobbi, a junior at Purdue University. Bell also has four sons — Brandon and Keaton in Colorado, Zion in California and Kai in North Dakota.

BOBBYBELLMARLINS

Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, was a hitting coach in the Florida/Miami Marlins system for six years.

BOBBYBELLBREWERS

Bobby Bell, a 1981 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, has been instructing baseball hitters for decades. In 2018 and 2019, he was a coach in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He works regularly with the Indy Sharks travel organization.

 

Brownlee jumping into challenge of new role with ABCA

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Brownlee has always enjoyed a challenge.

As a baseball player, he appreciated being pushed.

The new assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association played for hard-nosed coaches. There was Quentin Merkel at Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, Ind., then his father and brother, Jim Brownlee and Tim Brownlee, at the University of Evansville.

“They were not the easiest people in the world to play for,” says Ryan Brownlee, 45. “But they would keep you accountable.

“I’m in a way better position because of the way I was handled in youth sports.”

Memorial lost in the first round of the 1992 IHSAA State Finals to finish 29-1 and sent many players on to college baseball. That was Ryan Brownlee’s junior year.

“I owe (Merkel) a lot,” says Brownlee. “Over the summer, I read a book on the mental aspects of baseball and that changed my playing career.

“I looked at myself in the mirror. Coach Merkel didn’t need to change. I was the one who needed to change.”

In 1993, Memorial went 36-2 and reigned as state champions (Tim Brownlee was part of a state championship team as a Memorial senior in 1989) with team leaders John Ambrose and John Sartore trading duties on the mound and at third base.

“Quentin was very organized (using the same signs at each level from freshmen to varsity),” says Brownlee. “He doesn’t get the credit, but he was very forward-thinking.

“We were doing breathing techniques back then. He saw it as a way to change mentally.”

In 2017, Brownlee wrote a blog post entitled, “Just Breath.”

Playing for Jim and Tim, Ryan was motivated to be a four-year starter for the Purple Aces and twice earned all-conference honors and was an ABCA All-Region selection.

“You just never got a break,” says Brownlee. “I needed someone to push me.

“There’s always things you needed to improve on. I didn’t need to get complacent.”

Brownlee moved to Evansville in 1979 when his dad went from a teacher and coach at Princeton (Ill.) High School and manager for five summers of the Galesburg Pioneers of the old Central Illinois Collegiate League to head coach at UE. Young Ryan got to see the Evansville Triplets, managed by Jim Leyland, and spend lots of time at one of the country’s historic ballparks.

“I fell in love with the game at Bosse Field,” says Brownlee, who played there as Memorial Tiger, Evansville Purple Ace and then for one summer (1997) as a professional with the Greg Taggert-managed Evansville Otters.

“The first half we were terrible,” says Brownlee. “Our bus broke down in Johnstown (Pa.) and we bonded as a team.”

The Otters got hot in the second half and ended up losing in the independent Frontier League finals to the Canton (Ohio) Crocodiles.

Brownlee’s resume includes 22 seasons as college baseball coach — seven as head coach at Western Illinois University (2013-19) plus assistant gigs of nine at the University of Iowa (2004-12), four at James Madison University (2000-03) and two at the University of Evansville (1998-99).

Brownlee worked on the staffs of Jack Dahm at Iowa, Spanky McFarland at James Madison and his father at Evansville.

The UE staff included Tim Brownlee (now owner/president of Diamond Sports Promotions), Jeff Leystra (a student assistant who played with Ryan Brownlee on the Otters) and Ryan Barrett (who played with Ryan from age 9 through college).

After 18 years in the Pocket City, Ryan moved nine hours to Harrisonburg, Va., to join McFarland at James Madison.

“(McFarland) was at complete opposite end of the spectrum (from Quentin Merkel, Jim Brownlee and Tim Brownlee),” says Ryan Brownlee. “He had a low pulse and was very laid-back with a dry sense of humor. You could be yourself.

“Spanky is one of the best pitching minds in the world (he’s coached future big league pitchers Kevin Brown, Dan Meyer, Ryan Reid and Brian Schmack, the current Valparaiso University head coach, among others during his career).”

Brownlee also learned much from James Madison assistant Chuck Bartlett. He had batted No. 4 in a Mississippi State University lineup surrounded by Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro and is now a New York Yankees scout.

Being in a new area also challenged Brownlee to get out of his comfort zone. While at JMU, he earned his masters degree in athletic administration. The Dukes were good enough during Brownlee’s time there (averaging 36 wins per game) that he got his foot in the door at Iowa.

Brownlee helped Dahm stabilize a program that had fallen on hard times. He saw Dahm’s personality somewhere between his father’s and McFarland’s.

“He’s just a really good person,” says Brownlee of Dahm, who later hired Jim Brownlee as Hawkeyes pitching coach after the elder Brownlee was head coach at Illinois State University. “We had to do some heavy lifting in nine years to get that thing built up. I wouldn’t be in the position I am now if not for him.”

In 2012, Brownlee addressed the ABCA Convention in Anaheim, Calif., on the “10 Rules of Recovery.”

It was a time management planner that he continued while at Western Illinois and plans to share his values on personal development during speaking engagements with the ABCA.

“If you can manage yourself away from your working environment that carries into your working environment,” says Brownlee. “Hopefully, that makes you productive. The most successful people can handle a lot more. They can balance things. They don’t seem as rushed.

“I guarantee those people are taking some times for themselves, too. It can’t be all work and it can’t be all free time. You have to have that mix.”

While leading the Western Illinois Leathernecks program presented its challenges because of facilities and school size, Brownlee thoroughly enjoyed his time there because of the people he met.

“For me it was about the relationships with the guys,” says Brownlee, who slept in his office his first year at WIU. “That needed to be our niche. That was an enjoyable experience for me. The coaches were great and the kids were great.

“The opportunity with the ABCA was going to be great.”

Brownlee arrived in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday (Oct. 23) and his first full day at the office was Thursday (Oct. 24).

“It’s similar to coaching,” says Brownlee of his ABCA role. “You wear a lot of different hats.”

This fall, he helped host ABCA Barnstormers Regional Coaches Clinics across the country (he took 10 and Jim Richardson took 10). He also lines up the youth speakers and helps with the hot stoves at the national convention (which is Jan. 2-5, 2020 in Nashville). He assists the ABCA’s youth and travel baseball committees and is a liaison for NCAA Division II. After the New Year, he will be part of the ABCA podcast.

“My dad was an ABCA member. I’ve been an ABCA member for 22 years. This is an opportunity. It’s a great company. It’s been around since 1945. The ABCA has always been there to help coaches. Hopefully, that helps players.”

Ryan has been married to Henderson, Ky., native Aimee for 17 years. The Brownlees have two children — Jackson (16) and Norah (14). Ryan says the plans plan is to have the rest of the family move to North Carolina at the end of the school year.

NORARYANBROWNLEERyan Brownlee (right) shares a moment with daughter Norah. Ryan Brownlee, who played high school, college and pro baseball in Evansville, Ind., and was a college coach for 22 (the last seven at Western Illinois University) has become an assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association.

 

Benningfield has Tell City Marksmen baseball on target for improvement

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Participation numbers have been on the rise and so has the enthusiasm for baseball at Tell City (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School.

The Marksmen had 20 players in the program in 2017, which was Trent Benningfield’s first season as head coach. There were 24 participants in 2018 and 32 have signed up for tryouts for 2019.

Tell City, which is located near the Ohio River in Perry County, has scheduled 22 varsity games and about 15 junior varsity contests this spring.

“I feel like things are going in the right direction,” says Benningfield, a 2011 Tell City graduate and fourth grade teacher at William Tell Elementary. “The boys are putting in a lot more work. They’re seeing what it takes to get to the next level.”

Benningfield lists his goals for the program as developing young men, getting them ready for college or the work force and another thing.

“I’m trying to win as many games as possible every single year,” says Benningfield.

The head coach lives three blocks from Frank Clemens Field, the city-owned diamond where the Marksmen play their home games. There is a hitting building at the facility and the coach has been known to get texts from his players to meet him there for extra swings.

Official practice begins March 11 and the first contest is slated for March 26. Spring break begins March 15 and Benningfield welcomes the opportunity to have some longer workouts.

Since the IHSAA requires 10 practices to participate, Benningfield expects to have his players at those practices.

“If they want to play in first two or three games, they can’t afford to go anywhere,” says Benningfield, who is getting help preparing his players from assistants and TC grads Trent Gunn and Seth Ward.

Gunn, who played for the University of Southern Indiana’s NCAA Division II national championship team in 2014, is in charge of hitting and infield play. Ward also helps with the JV. Benningfield says he is hoping to add one more coach to his staff.

Tell City (enrollment around 430) is a member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (with Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, South Spencer, Southridge and Tecumseh).

The Marksmen are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, North Posey, Perry Central and South Spencer.

“It’s one of the toughest 2A sectionals if not the toughest in Indiana,” says Benningfield. “It seems like every year whoever wins our sectional is going to the state championship.

“It’s like a dogfight to win that thing every single year.”

Southridge was 2A state runners-up in 2018. South Spencer was 2A state champions in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Mater Dei was 2A state runners-up in 2012 and 2014. North Posey was state champions in 2005 and 2006.

Tell City’s most-recent sectional crown came in 1997 – the last season of single-class sports.

Benningfield played at Oakland City (Ind.) University for Mighty Oaks head coach T-Ray Fletcher and counted two future high school head coaches as teammates — Eric Barnes (Boonville), Isaac Bowles (Crawford County) and Cody Johnson (North Harrison).

His first two seasons at OCU, Benningfield was a relief pitcher. That meant he got to spend time in the dugout with Fletcher has he made strategic moves.

“That’s what helped me the most,” says Benningfield. “I learned what other teams were thinking.”

Benningfield played four summers for Rockport American Legion Post 254 and manager Jim Haaff, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

“He ran a very disciplined team,” says Benningfield of Haaff. “He treated every single person the same. Everybody was supposed to do their job. We came together as a team because of that. I’m hoping to do that with my (Tell City) team as well.”

Recent TC graduate Preston Hendershot is on the baseball team at Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky.

Shane Weedman, who was a 2011 classmate of Benningfield at Tell City and an assistant coach in 2018, played at Vincennes University and Indiana University Southeast and pitched a no-hitter for the independent Evansville Otters in 2017.

Rick Wilgus, who was Benningfield’s Babe Ruth League coach, runs Tell City’s Cub baseball program. It’s a club that includes sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

“It’s for any kids too old to play (Tell City) Little League and too young for high school,” says Benningfield of a squad that plays many schools in the PAC in the spring and has home games and practices at the former Babe Ruth park — Hughes Owen Field.

Trent and Josalyn Benningfield were married in June 2018. She is  Tell City graduate and fifth grade teacher at William Tell. The former Josalyn Ress was on a sectional softball championship team in 2009 and pitched for four years at Kentucky Wesleyan College.

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JOSALYNTRENTBENNINGFIELD

Josalyn and Trent Benningfield enjoy a Cincinnati Reds game. Both are teachers at William Tell Elementary in Tell City, Ind. Trent is the head baseball coach at Tell City Junior-Senior High School.

McCrary makes baseball strides at tiny Vincennes Rivet

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian McCrary does not have a deep roster or abundant resources, but the head coach is working to make his athletes better at Rivet Middle/High School in Vincennes, Ind.

McCrary enters his third season in charge of the Patriots in 2019 after years in the travel baseball world.

In each of his first two seasons at the Catholic school, McCrary has had to find enough players to field a team. With just two seniors on a team made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores, Rivet won two games in 2017.

“We took some lumps,” says McCrary. “Working on mentality alone was a challenge.

“We got run-ruled left and right.”

The win total tripled in 2018.

“We were improving with basically the same team,” says McCrary. “It is a process at Rivet. You get a leadership class of two or three kids then what do you have after that?

“If you have numbers, you have options. We don’t have numbers. We get the most out of them. We’ve made tremendous strides.”

Ten players — three are seniors, three juniors, four sophomores — are back for 2019 on a roster of 11. All but two play basketball.

The seniors are McCaine Claycomb, Colton Mouzin and Austin Thomas. Claycomb was the Vincennes Sun-Commercial Player of the Year. Mouzin is an all-area baseball and soccer player. The Patriots were impacted last year when catcher Thomas got hurt and left the lineup.

Rivet (enrollment around 80 for Grades 9-12 with less than 30 boys) is a member of the Blue Chip Athletic Conference (with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Knox, Northeast Dubois, Shoals, South Knox, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial).

Non-conference opponents include Dugger, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Memorial, Jasper, Lawrenceville (Ill.), Linton-Stockton, Mount Carmel (Ill.), North Central (Farmersburg), Olney (Ill.) and Princeton. In the past, the Patriots have played Lincoln and Sullivan.

Rivet is part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Daviess and Shoals. The Patriots have won nine sectional titles — the last two in 2013 and 2014. The Patriots were 1A state runners-up to Lafayette Central Catholic in both 2009 and 2013.

McCrary constantly educates himself about the game by attending clinics and talking with experts.

“I’ve learned a lot,” says McCrary. “Expanding my knowledge to pass on to these kids is my job.” He was at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January. He has also learned from Mike Rodgers, who pitched for the University of Mississippi, the independent Evansville Otters and runs the The Inside Korner training facility in Olney, Ill., which is about 30 miles west of Vincennes.

McCrary met Rodgers at a travel ball clinic. McCrary and his two oldest sons — Colton (a senior at Vincennes Lincoln High School) and Cayden (a seventh grader at Clark Middle School) — have been affiliated with the Vincennes Green Monsters. Brian and Chelsea McCrary’s other two children are first-grade son Ryker and and 2-year-old daughter Oakley.

Rivet players get attention from a coaching staff that includes assistants Conner Eck, Curt Hunkler, Mike Mayles, Curt McCrary and Landon Robbins. Eck, Hunkler and Robbins all played at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. Hunker, Mayles and Robbins are Rivet graduates. Curt McCrary is Brian’s cousin.

“We have classroom work — chalkboard and video — and turn it over to drills,” says McCrary, who has figured out that his team is made up of individuals with differing outlooks and ways of learning.

“Not every kid’s the same,” says McCrary. “Kids today are nowhere near kids of old. Kids’ styles and demeanors have changed completely.

“You have to be willing to change with these kids a little bit to make it work.”

Like other coaches of spring sports, McCrary has to contend with the fact that athletes are sometimes ready for a break by the time their season roles around.

“Baseball suffers because it’s at the end of the school year,” says McCrary. He notes that spring break this year coincides with the beginning of preseason practice (March 11).

The Rivet campus is located on Barnett Street. The school plays its home baseball games on a field about three miles away near Lincoln High and St. Vincent Rectory on Hart Street. The grounds also has an indoor facility known as “The Butch” in honor of late supporter Butch Thomas.

Chad Thomas had the building built in his father’s honor and also helps attend to the maintenance of the diamond.

The team is responsible for the upkeep of the field and the funding of the program.

“We buy our baseballs, uniforms, dirt and chalk,” says McCrary. “Our kids respect what they have.”

Established in 1958, Vincennes Cub League offers baseball for kids as young as 4. The organization hosted the 10U Cal Ripken World Series in 2018. Also last year, a Babe Ruth League was added for ages 13-15.

McCrary says he would like to see more of an emphasis on fundamentals at the Cub level.

A 1996 Vincennes Lincoln graduate, McCrary played baseball for the Alices until his junior year then put all of his energy into another sport as a senior.

“I fell in love with wrestling,” says McCrary, who went on to start the Vincennes Grapplers Club.

It was on the mat in high school that he had an experience that he shares with his young athletes today.

McCrary was competing in the semistate needing to win his second aka “ticket” round match to qualify for the IHSAA State Finals. He was ahead 5-1 in the final period when his opponent rallied to beat him 6-5.

“Just because you’re supposed to be there doesn’t mean you’re going to get there,” says McCrary. “It takes work.”

With a renewed interest in baseball, McCrary attend a 1998 Cincinnati Reds tryout camp at Bosse Field in Evansville. He made the first two day of cuts then decided not to attend the third day. His wife, Chelsea, was closer to completing her degree at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne then he was at Vincennes University and they had a son on the way so Brian went into the work world. He is now employed by Vincennes Water Utilities.

“I regret everyday not going back to that third day of tryouts,” says McCrary. “But life is full of what if’s.

“I try to coach with a little bit of life lessons. Challenge yourself to win for the team today. Ask yourself, ‘did you cheat your team?’”

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Brian McCrary (center) poses with two of his sons — Xxx (left) and Xxx (right) — during a Vincennes Green Monsters travel baseball tournament.

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The 2019 baseball season will be the third for Brian McCrary at head coach at Rivet Midde/High School in Vincennes, Ind.

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Vincennes Rivet baseball coach Brian McCrary visits at the mound with Colton Mouzin, McCaine Claycomb and Austin Thomas. All three players return for their senior year with the Patriots in 2019.