Tag Archives: Evansville

Mount Vernon graduate Mobley learns to trust his stuff as pitcher in Mariners chain

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For Cody Mobley, the key to pitching has become a matter of trust.

Rather than trying to blow hitters away, the right-hander in the Seattle Mariners organization has learned to rely on his ability to get hitters out by putting the baseball in the right part of the strike zone.

Mobley, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder who was selected in the eighth round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Mariners out of Mount Vernon (Ind.) High School, experienced a rough beginning to the 2018 season.

A starter throughout extended spring training, Mobley was used almost exclusively out of the bullpen for the Short Season Class-A Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. In his first game — a 2 1/3-inning stint on June 16 — he gave up five earned runs on three hits (one a home run) with four walks.

It got better from there and the righty wrapped the 2018 season on a high note. In his last 10 appearances, he was 2-1 with a 3.52 ERA. In 23 innings, he fanned 23 and walked 10.

“The whole year was a battle,” says Mobley, who made 16 appearances (15 in relief) and finished the season at 3-1 with a 5.09 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 20 walks in 35 1/3 innings. “I threw a whole lot better than my numbers show.

“I felt like I finished strong. I was limiting my walks more. Trusting myself was the main thing. I was trusting my stuff in the strike zone rather than trying to have people swing and miss.”

Mobley came to appreciate being a reliever.

“I would think too much between starts and that would hurt me,” says Mobley. “I could get in the bullpen, get hot and get in the game and that helped me.”

Delivering from a high three-quarter arm slot, Mobley employs a two-seam fastball, “12-6” curveball, slider and change-up.

His curve has been his best pitch going back to his amateur days. The slider developed into a put-away pitch this summer. He calls his slider a “show” pitch, which he seldom uses.

“It’s definitely the pitch that needs the most work,” says Mobley.

A 2015 Mount Vernon graduate, Mobley helped the Paul Quinzer-coached Wildcats win the IHSAA Class 3A Evansville Bosse Sectional in his senior year.

“(Quinzer) taught me how to compete,” says Mobley. “He was very winning-oriented.”

Mount Vernon, located in Posey County, lost to eventual 3A state runner-up Jasper in the finals of the 2015 Southridge Regional.

While he considered college right after high school and still has intentions of pursuing high education at some point, Mobley began his pro career in the summer of 2015 with nine appearances (three starts) for the Arizona League Mariners and went 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA, 19 strikeouts and 10 walks in 26 innings then polished things in the fall instructional league.

A partial tear in his elbow limited him to just one inning for the Arizona League Mariners in 2016. He wound up the 2017 season — also in the Arizona League — tired and with shoulder issues. He went back to instructional league and worked on becoming more consistent in the strike zone.

“I think it really paid off for me,” says Mobley, who turns 22 on Sept. 23.

In 35 minor league appearances (26 in relief), Mobley is 8-3 with a 4.81 earned run average. In 94 innings, he struck out 80 and walked 49.

His manager is Everett was Jose Moreno while Danieln Acevedo and Moises Hernandez shared pitching coach duties.

The next steps up the Mariners minor league ladder are Clinton (Low-A), Modesto (High-A), Arkansas (Double-A) and Tacoma (Triple-A).

Born in Evansville, Mobley has spent his life around Mount Vernon. He played in the summers for the Indiana Sharks and Indiana Spikes and then the Evansville Razorbacks when he reached high school.

Cody Mobley is the youngest child by 10 years in a family headed by waste water plant worker J.D. and nurse Nusha.

“I was blessed with really good parents that always supported me,” says Cody. “They’ve always had my back.”

Step-siblings are brothers Adam and Ryan and sisters Mariah and Kasey.

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Cody Mobley, a 2015 Mount Vernon (Ind.) High School graduate, pitched in 2018 with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox in the Seattle Mariners system. (Everett AquaSox Photo)

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Right-handed pitcher Cody Mobley, a Mount Vernon (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected in the eighth round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners. (Seattle Mariners Photo)

 

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Jones uses three simple rules to steer Evansville North baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

“They do the little things.”

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

Right-handed pitcher Toone moved on to Vincennes University.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing for Goedde is the basis of those rules.

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

“You want to get better.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North’s summer youth baseball camp drew 115 players.

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

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

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

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

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

Bellak looking for more than just ballplayers as Hanover College head coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Grant Bellak jumped into his job as head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College with both feet.

Hired to his first head-coaching position on June 1, a few days later the former Franklin (Ind.) College assistant was already recruiting at an event in Cincinnati and spent the next few weeks looking for student-athletes.

Bellak says he expects to have 32 players in the fall and have recruiting classes of 10 to 12 players the next few seasons.

“I felt comfortable with the recruiting area,” says Bellak, who was the recruiting coordinator at Franklin. “Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college program.

“I want athletes who are big and strong. Power bats and power arms play. Power bats can change the game with one swing. Power arms give you more room for error. You don’t have to be perfect.”

Bella, 32, prides himself in finding value where others miss it.

“I plan on bringing that to Hanover and developing that over four years,” says Bellak. “We want mid-major Division I’s calling asking us to play.”

With the Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville and Evansville areas as a base, Bellak already has contacts he developed at Franklin that he can use at Hanover. Both are members of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference — an NCAA Division III circuit.

As a D-III school, Hanover (enrollment 1,100) does not give athletic scholarships. The liberal arts institution places a premium on academics.

“The thing I’ve been preaching on the recruiting trail is that fit matters,” says Bellak. “This is not for you if you are not 100 percent Panthers. You have to fit the academic profile, campus profile and athletic profile.”

Almost all of the seniors in his last three recruiting classes at Franklin had job offers prior to graduation.

Bellak is looking for young men coming to Hanover who want to be more than ballplayers. They have aspirations of pursuing careers as CEOs, lawyers, politicians etc.

“Here at Hanover, our focus is wanting guys who want more,” says Bellak. “What is your ‘why’?’

“We want difference makers.”

The Shayne Stock-coached Hanover Panthers went 8-25 overall and 5-12 in the HCAC.

“You can win a lot here,” says Bellak. “The rest of athletic department, that’s what they’re doing.

“It’s one of those opportunities I felt I couldn’t pass up.”

Hanover got Bellak’s attention the first time he arrived on the southern Indiana campus as a Franklin assistant.

“It’s got that ‘wow factor,’” says Bellak. “It’s the way it is back in the woods overlooking the Ohio River and the architecture. There’s lots of green space.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Dick Naylor Field at K.T. Young Ballpark, with its natural grass surface and old trees surrounding the outfield, is also picturesque.

At Franklin, Bellak served on a staff with veteran head coach Lance Marshall.

He saw the behind-the-scenes things that it takes to be a head coach — being an administrator and mentor.

“It’s a different mindset,” says Bellak. “Hours are not just devoted to player development, but developing a program as a whole.

“It’s more than just hitting fungoes and throwing BP. You’re engaging the alumni base and fundraising. It’s all the extras, things the outside world doesn’t see.”

Before Franklin, Bellak was a volunteer assistant at Concordia University Chicago in River Forest, Ill., in 2010 and 2011.

A 2004 graduate of Aurora (Ill.) Christian High School, the Big Rock, Ill., native played two seasons at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Ill., and two at Webster University in St. Louis, Mo.

Bellak was sixth in the National Junior College Athletic Association in stolen bases in 2006 at Waubonsee.

Webster, coached by Bill Kurich, came within six outs of going to the 2008 NCAA D-III World Series.

In 2009, Bellak worked as a student assistant to Kurich.

“Bill knows what it takes to win,” says Bellak of Kurich. “He has the unique ability to get the most out of you.”

Bellak coached three summers with the Prospect League’s Dubois County Bombers in Huntingburg, Ind., in 2009-11 — the last as field manager. One of his players was future major league pitcher Sean Manaea.

In 2009, Bellak graduated from Webster with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. He earned a masters degree in leadership and management from Liberty University’s online program in 2013. The latter is a precursor to a Masters of Business Administration.

“(The leadership and management masters) helped me take a different perspective to coaching,” says Bellak. “The business world isn’t that different than a team.

“The way a CEO motivates someone in the office is not much different than how a coach motivates someone on the field.”

Grant and wife Natasha Bellak have a daughter — Bexley (2).

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Grant Bellak is now the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College after seven seasons as an assistant at Franklin (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)

 

With emphasis on fundamentals, Gratz has Columbus East Olympians in the regional

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Placing a premium on fundamentals, Columbus East finds itself playing in an IHSAA baseball regional in 2018.

Under the direction of seventh-year head coach Jon Gratz, the Olympians beat Columbus North 7-6 Monday, May 28 to win the Class 4A Shelbyville Sectional and are headed to the Evansville Reitz Regional at Bosse Field on Saturday, June 2.

Columbus East (20-7) plays Castle at 10 a.m. CST, followed by Franklin Central vs. Jeffersonville. The regional final is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST.

Gratz, who was a junior varsity and freshman coach for the Olympians for five years before taking over the program, is a 2001 Manchester High School graduate.

At Manchester, he gained an affinity for “playing the game the right way” from Squires head coach Jack Rupley.

“He believed in playing hard and taking care of the little things,” says Gratz. “We’ve had great pitching all year long and very good defense. We’re not necessarily the fastest team, but we run the bases well.

“We had a dry spell early in the season, but we’re starting to hit the ball really well.”

Gratz, who teaches math at Columbus East, played his college baseball at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.

The Olympians’ top pitchers are junior left-hander Julian Greenwell, sophomore right-hander Cole Gilley, and senior right-handers Alec Burnett and Drew Hasson. When not pitching, Greenwell plays in right field, Gilley at third base, Burnett in left field and Hasson at first base.

The leading hitters are sophomore catcher Dalton Back, Gilley, Greenwell, Hasson and junior shortstop/lead-off man Jonah Wichman.

Greenwell and Gilley have committed to Indiana University, Hasson to Northern Illinois University and Wichman to Murray State University.

The Class of 2017 sent Jon Crawford to the University of Indianapolis, Jonathan Foster to Taylor University and Luke Hostetler to Jackson College in Jackson County, Mich.

Gratz, who teaches math at Columbus East, is assisted by John Major, Andrew Golinvaux (pitching coach), Jerry Schoen and Chris Fox at the varsity level with Levi Pollert and Nathen Swafford guiding the junior varsity.

Columbus East won its 18th all-time sectional this spring and first since 1999.

“We don’t really talk about that here,” says Gratz. “We’re concerned with this team, this year.”

For the record the other sectional titles came in 1973, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1997.

The Olympians will have a chance at the program’s 10th regional title Saturday, having won at that stage in 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1993 with semistate crowns earned in 1979, 1987 and 1989.

Columbus East has also won three semistates and appeared in the State Finals, bowing in the semifinals all three times (1979, 1987 and 1989).

The Olympians belong to the Hoosier Hills Conference. They finished as runner-up in 2018 to Jeffersonville. Other HHC members are Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated, New Albany and Seymour.

Columbus East plays its games on-campus. Gratz says he is hopeful that the facility will get a new scoreboard this summer.

Jon and Kathleen Gratz have two children — daughter Morgan (5) and son Michael (2).

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Columbus East High School head baseball coach Jon Gratz celebrates a 2018 sectional title with his family. Above is the seventh-year Olympians leader with daughter Morgan and son Michael. Below, Jon and wife Kathleen and kids mug with the trophy.

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‘Walking medical phenomenon’ Barrett on quest to return to Nationals staff

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Barrett still has a hard time believing that he broke his humerus — that long bone in the arm that runs from the shoulder to the elbow — while pitching a baseball.

Barrett, an Evansville native and Washington Nationals reliever, was on his way back from Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his elbow (Sept. 3, 2015 by Dr. James Andrews). Things seemed to be progressing well 11 months after the procedure.

The power right-hander was one week from being sent on a rehab assignment in 2016 when snap! — his arm broke on the 11th pitch of a 20-toss simulated game.

“I went into shock,” says Barrett of the painful moment. “It’s crazy the amount of force and torque I used to break that major bone.

“I must’ve thrown that one pitch very hard.”

Doctors told Barrett that he is the first to break the humerus after Tommy John surgery.

“I’m a walking medical phenomenon,” says Barrett, who debuted in the big leagues with Washington in 2014 and made his last MLB appearance in 2015.

And now he’s working to make a comeback.

Turned from a starter to a reliever in his first professional season (2010), Barrett made the big league team out of 2014 spring training and appeared in 50 games and was 3-0 with a 2.66 earned run average, 49 strikeouts and 20 walks in 40 2/3 innings while also pitching in 10 games and 10 innings at Triple-A Syracuse.

In 2015, Barrett made 40 MLB appearances and was 3-3 with a 4.60 ERA. He fanned 35 and walked seven in 29 innings, but landed on the 15-day disabled list with a right biceps strain in both June and August.

“I was pitching nearly everyday and I was in pain for two or three weeks before I went on the DL,” says Barrett, who was soon transferred to the 60-day list. “Being a reliever, throwing everyday is part of the grind.”

Along the way, it was discovered that Barrett had a 90-percent tear in his Ulnar Collateral Ligament and so he underwent the reconstruction then he had his next setback.

But Barrett, signed to a two-year contract by the Nationals to rehab, began throwing again last summer and has worked hard at the club’s training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla.

He now finds himself close to getting closer to the road back to the majors.

Barrett and other players rehabbing injuries have been competing in extended spring training camp games against other organizations along the Space Coast.

“I’m building arm strength and knocking the rust off,” says Barrett. “I hope to go north on a rehab assignment the next few weeks.”

Washington has full-season affiliates in Hagerstown (Low Single-A), Potomac (High Single-A), Harrisburg (Double-A) and Syracuse (Triple-A) and Barrett expects that his assignments will come as a progression.

Barrett — aka “The Bear” — has stayed connected to his buddies in the big leagues and watches the broadcast of nearly every Nationals game.

“I still have many close friends on the team, guys I came up in the farm system with,” says Barrett.

The 6-foot-4 righty holds the distinction of being selected four times in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — in the 44th round in 2006 by the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the 20th round in 2008 by the Minnesota Twins, in the 27th round in 2009 by the Texas Rangers and in the ninth round in 2010 by the Nationals.

Barrett explains why he kept going back into the draft.

“The money was not enough for me to turn away from college,” says Barrett. “I wanted to finish my (liberal arts) degree (three minors — history, sociology and park and recreational management — equals a major). “I  was a ninth-round senior. That’s pretty good. It all worked out.”

Barrett is a 2006 graduate of Evansville Central High School, where he played for coach Jason Engelbrecht. He played two seasons at Wabash Valley College (2007, 2008) in Mount Carmel, Ill., for coach Rob Fournier and two seasons at the University of Mississippi (2009, 2010) for coach Mike Bianco.

Using Barrett some out of the bullpen, Bianco discovered that his stuff played up and he was able to let it go in shorter mound stints.

After turning pro, Barrett developed the mindset of throwing several times a week.

“With the intensity of the later innings, I thrived,” says Barrett.

In 2012, he broke out while pitching in Low-A, High-A and the Arizona Fall League. He was in Double-A and in 2013 and then got the call from Triple-A to the majors in 2014.

The middle son of Dave and Jackie Barrett, Aaron played at Golfmoor Little League on Evansville’s west side before his family moved to the north side where he took to the diamonds of the Highland Baseball Club.

As a 13-year-old, Barrett was on a team that went to Nebraska and won a national championship. Among his teammates was Preston Mattingly, son of Don Mattingly and still one of Aaron’s best friends, and Adam Champion.

Preston Mattingly was a first-round MLB draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006 and played in the minor until 2011.

Champion played four years at the University Arkansas-Little Rock and then two years in the minors and two in independent baseball.

Ryan Barrett, Aaron’s older brother, graduated form Evansville Central in 2003 and played shortstop for four years at the University of Evansville.

Younger brother Drew Barrett was a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley and two at Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Ky.).

Two cousins — Evansville Central graduate Jason Barrett and Evansville Reitz Memorial graduate Zach Barrett — also went on college baseball — Jason at Ball State and Zach at Olney (Ill.) Central College and Middle Tennessee State University.

“Evansville is such a good baseball town,” says Barrett. “The state of Indiana doesn’t give it enough credit for how good of a baseball town it is.”

While working on the baseball field to make his hometown proud, Aaron is also spending quality time with wife Kendyl and 7-month-old daughter Kollyns.

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Aaron Barrett, an Evansville native, is working to get back to the big leagues with the Washington Nationals after breaking his humerus while rehabbing from Tommy John elbow surgery. (Washington Nationals Photo)

 

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).

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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.