Tag Archives: Football

New varsity head coach Nance growing game with Western Boone Stars

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

An investment has been made in the future of baseball at Western Boone Junior/Senior High School in Thorntown, Ind., and Michael Nance is part of it.
After coaching travel ball in the community, in the junior high program that feeds the high school and helping at the high school level, Nance was hired in July 2021 to guide the Webo Stars.
The junior high team has players in Grades 6-8 and plays 12 to 14 games in the spring.
Nance reached out to Western Boone Little League and a partnership was formed. The Western Boone Baseball Club offers instruction on Sundays to players age 9 to 12 not involved in travel ball.
“It’s an opportunity to get these kids more baseball reps all year,” says Nance.
Out of that came 12U and 10U club teams that offer additional games to the Little League schedule.
Knowing his current players and what’s in the pipeline, Nance is upbeat in leading a program which produced five varsity victories in 2019 and four in 2021.
“I think we can win,” says Nance. “I’m very excited about the next six or eight years from what I can see coming.”
Western Boone’s four seniors are Casey Baird, Will Barta, Evan Hine and Mitch Miller.
Baird, who has committed to Franklin (Ind.) College for football, will be called on to play multiple positions, including shortstop, second base, catcher and relief pitcher. Barta is a designated hitter. Georgetown (Ky.) College-bound Evan Hine (.325 average with a team-best .509 on-base percentage in 2021) is a third baseman. Miller, who led the Stars with .349 average last season, is a center fielder and lead-off hitter.
There’s also junior first baseman Andrew Foster, sophomore left-handed pitcher/right fielder Jackson Grimes, sophomore right-hander/left fielder Luke Jackson, sophomore righty/shortstop Bryce Kopriva, sophomore catcher and clean-up hitter Cole Wiley and freshman second baseman Gavin Hawkins.
Nance labels Kopriva, Jackson and Grimes as 1, 1A and 1B on his pitching staff. He points out that athletic Hawkins was the No. 1 singles player in tennis and played on the junior varsity team in basketball.
Former Marian University pitcher Gabe Westerfeld is a varsity assistant coach and the program’s pitching coordinator.
“We are really, really young on the mound,” says Nance. “Gabe has our young guys believing and there have been velocity increases.”
Eric Gubera is JV coach and is also in charge of outfielders and base runners. He has coached with Nance in the summer since their sons were 8. Two years ago, they became affiliated with the Indiana Braves. This summer, they will guide the 12U Indiana Yard Goats — a squad that includes six players from Western Boone, three from Avon and one from Brownsburg player.
Nance, who was a catcher at Lebanon (Ind.) High School, Ancilla College (Donaldson, Ind.) and MacMurray College (Jacksonsonville, Ill.), handles catchers, infielders and hitters.
There are 22 players in the program and all practice together.
Western Boone (enrollment around 510) is a member of the Sagamore Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Tri-West Hendricks).
The Stars are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Clinton Prairie, Delphi (2022 host), Fountain Central and Seeger. Western Boone has won two sectional titles — 1982 and 1983.
Western Boone is scheduled to open the 2022 season with three games this weekend in Unionville, Tenn., south of Nashville. An optional part of the spring break trip is attending Sunday’s Tennessee at Vanderbilt college game.
The Stars play home contests on-campus with side-by-side varsity and JV diamonds north of the school building. This year, the Stars got new brick dust for the infield and new wind screens for the outfield as well as a Hack machine and new L screens. At the end of the season, lights will go up.
“It’s a really nice place to play,” says Nance.
A 2004 Lebanon graduate, Nance played for Tigers head coach Rick Cosgray.
“He demanded a lot but got more out kids than they knew they were capable,” says Nance. “You knew he really loved the game. He was always so upbeat and positive.
“I have nothing but admiration for Coach Cosgray. I try to run my program like him.”
Nance played for two head coaches at Ancilla — Rockie Dodds and Joe Yonto.
“(Yonto) had a profound impact on me,” says Nance. “He showed me how to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand (through eye-specific muscle training.”
In Nance’s last year at MacMurray, former high school coach Fred Curtis led the Highlanders.
“He just loved the game,” says Nance. “He said if you do the fundamentals right and not walk people, you can win ball games.”
Nance says he also appreciates the mentoring and assistance he’s received from men also leading high school programs — among them Matthew Cherry (Fishers), Troy Drosche (Avon) and Andy Dudley (Frankfort).
“There’s been such support from the coaching community,” says Nance. “They’ve been willing to help.”
Nance earned a Special Education degree at MacMurray and a masters in Criminal Justice from Xavier University in Cincinnati. This summer will mark 15 years with Boone County Community Corrections. After starting out as a probation officer, he is now executive director.
Michael and wife Emily (who played softball at Manchester University and MacMurray and now works in cancer research at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis) have a son and daughter attending Thorntown Elementary — Easton (12) and Harper (10). He enjoys tennis, baseball and duck hunting. She likes soccer and plays travel softball with the Indiana Magic.

Michael Nance.
Michael Nance.
Emily, Easton, Michael and Harper Nance.
Michael, Emily, Easton and Harper Nance.
Harper and Michael Nance.
Easton, Michael and Harper Nance.

Caston establishing system in first year of Hammond Central Wolves

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

Hammond (Ind.) Central High School’s first baseball season in 2022 will come under the leadership of head coach Michael Caston.
The 1998 Hammond High graduate has set a path for the Wolves.
“We have a philosophy we’re going to follow,” says Caston. “You have to learn and buy into the philosophy to be successful.”
Caston, who was head coach at Hammond Gavit following stints as a Calumet College of St. Joseph assistant and assistant then head coach at Chicago State University, breaks his philosophy into offense, defense, pitching and base running.
“Early in the count we’re looking to drive fastballs in the strike zone,” says Caston of his hitting theory. “I believe in ‘back spin’ baseball.’ The ball travels father and we hit it into the gaps.
“We want to get front foot down early to create base. As the front foot gets down, you load your hands and transfer your weight to explode on the ball. We keep the barrel of the bat up and take the shortest path to the ball. That creates your launch angle.”
Knowing that there is a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) in high school, Caston expects an attack mentality.
“If you have a good fastball, throw fastballs early in the county,” says Caston. “We we’re not going to waste any pitches. Why throw curveballs when nobody has hit your fastball yet?
“We like to pound the zone with fastballs early.”
With a dozen juniors and seniors and a mix of right-handers and left-handers in a group of 26 players (varsity and junior varsity), Caston expects them to carry the load for the Wolves and that includes on the mound.
“Defensively, it’s very simple,” says Caston. “If you can catch it and throw it, you’re going to be very successful.”
He has been teaching his players backhand and glove-side techniques as well as situational defense.
He wants his defenders to know what to do with the ball when it’s put in-play and practice reflects that.
“In the game it becomes natural to them,” says Caston. “In our system everyone knows they have a job on every play.”
Caston wants his Wolves to play a “very exciting brand of baseball” and that includes aggressiveness on the base paths.
“I like to advance runners various ways,” says Caston. “We don’t move runners by bunting. I pride myself in having players reading balls in the dirt before they even hit the dirt. We like to utilize fake bunt-and-steal.
“We’re very aggressive on the base paths on hits to the outfield. We want to force the (opposing defense) to make a clean play.”
Caston has been pleased at his player’s eagerness to learn.
“It’s a total change for most of the kids I’m coaching,” says Caston. “They’re amazed at all the new things they’ve been learning. They’ve learned to change their old habits to the new philosophy.
“They’re catching on pretty quickly.”
Hammond Central assistant coaches are Albert Carpen and Erick Chavarria at the varsity level and Michael Korba with the JV. All three are graduates of Hammond Clark High School. Carpen played for Caston at Chicago State and Chavarria at MacMurray College. Carpen was among the top hitters in NCAA Division I in 2012 when he posted an average of .426 and on-base percentage of .522.
Hammond High was razed to make way for the new Hammond Central and Clark was also closed, leaving the School City of Hammond with two high schools — Central and Morton.
In 2022, Hammond Central will play baseball home games at Gavit. A new field is planned on the Central campus.
Hammond Central’s first college baseball commit is Anthony Huber to Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Ill.
Most Hammond Gavit players landed at Morton. Among those getting collegiate looks is Ryan Peppers.
The feeder system includes Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth, Hammond Optimist Youth Sports and Hessville Little League plus various travel ball organizations.
Hammond Central (enrollment around 1,950) is a member of the Great Lakes Athletic Conference (with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side and Hammond Morton).
Each GLAC team meets twice.
The Wolves are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland (2022 host), Lake Central, Merrillville and Munster.
Among opponents not in the GLAC or sectional are Bowman Academy, Calumet Christian, Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Hammond Bishop Noll, River Forest and Whiting.
Caston, a middle infielder growing up, played three seasons for George Malis and his senior year for Greg O’Donnell at Hammond High. He was a pitcher at Valparaiso (Ind.) University for head coach Paul Twenge.
“I was a young kid on a veteran team,” says Caston of his freshmen season at Hammond. “Coach Malis said ‘go out there and do your thing and focus on hitting the ball up the middle.’ I took those words to hear and executed what he told me.”
In his first year of college, famed pitching coach Tom House came in for a week and Caston adopted some of House’s ideas about mechanics.
Caston teaches Integrated Chemistry and Physics in his first year at Morton. He taught at Gavit for four.
Michael has been married to Tina Caston for five years and has three stepsons — Nathan (20), William (13) and Lukas (12). William plays football and baseball, Lukas soccer and baseball.

Michael Caston.

Shelbyville alum Lux producing for Duke Blue Devils

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

Damon Lux has made his way to everyday player in his senior season at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
A 2018 graduate of Shelbyville (Ind.) High School, Lux has been starting for the Blue Devils baseball team in center field and batting anywhere from No. 4 to No. 6 in the batting order through the first eight games of the 2022 season.
Heading into a March 4-6 home series against Bucknell, Lux has driven in seven runs in 30 at-bats with five coming in a Feb. 19 game against Virginia Military Institute (the righty swinger went 2-of-3 with three-run home run).
“I like that I get a lot of chances to score some guys,” says Lux of hitting in the middle of the order for the Atlantic Coast Conference squad. “I consider myself to be an RBI hitter.”
Lux, a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder, finds himself really bearing down in those situations.
“It’s made me focus to be a much tougher out and putting the ball in play whenever there’s guys in scoring position,” says Lux. “It’s having great plate discipline, not swinging on pitches out of the zone and fouling off pitches.
“I still have a lot of work to do.”
Coming into this season, Lux had played in 42 games with his lone start coming as a designated hitter in a 2021 game against Liberty.
Lux was a center fielder for much of his time in high school and travel ball. He prefers the middle of the outfield to the corners.
“I like playing center,” says Lux. “I have a lot of room to roam and move. It makes it easier to get good reads on balls. (In in left field or right field) you have to worry about the wall.
“Some of the farthest throws on the baseball field (come from center field). I’d like to think I have a pretty solid arm.”
Lux has spent his whole Duke career with head coach Chris Pollard, associate head coach Josh Jordan and assistant/hitting coach Jason Stein.
“I really enjoy playing for Coach Pollard,” says Lux. “We’ve developed a really good relationship the last four years. We can trust each other. We can lay it out on the table. We can talk about anything.
“Coach Jordan and I have built a relationship over the last four years as well. He was tough starting out. When I was a freshman, he picked on me and gave me some tougher skin.
“I like how Coach Stein is kind of a players’ coach. He lets players have the freedom to personalize their swings and approach at the plate. He doesn’t micro-manage.”
Lux spent the past three summer in collegiate wood bat leagues. He was with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers of the Northwoods League in 2021, the Local Legends of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2020 and the Bismarck (N.D.) Larks of the Northwoods League in 2019.
Duke has been feeding players to the Growlers, including Lux’s roommate Jake Topolski.
“I enjoyed (Kalamazoo) Coach (Cody) Piechocki,” says Lux. “He knows a lot about the game.”
Lux is a Sociology major who is also working toward a certificate in Markets and Management Studies and is due to graduate from Duke in May.
“What I enjoy most about Sociology is the broadness of topics we discuss in class — from from how we interact in society to the medical field to anything in-between,” says Lux. “It’s to be determined if I will go for a fifth year. I would definitely love the opportunity (to play pro ball).”
Unless that chance comes this summer, Lux expects to pursue an internship while preparing for “the real world.”
Lux came into the world in Indianapolis and grew up in Shelbyville with a brief move to Illinois and back. He played in the Shelby County Babe Ruth League then travel ball with the Indiana Bandits, Indiana Travelers and then the Indiana Bulls from 14U to 17U. His 17U head coach was Sean Laird.
“He was extremely energetic and passionate about the game,” says Lux of Laird.
Lux was a four-year varsity player at Shelbyville High. Scott Hughes led the Golden Bears his first three years and Royce Carlton was head coach his senior year.
Hughes was Lux’s Biology teacher in eighth grade.
“He’s an overall great guy and easy person to talk to,” says Lux of Hughes. “He’s a mentor who helped me with anything I needed.
“Coach Carlton was very passionate about the team and winning, which I admired. I loved his energy.”
On the football field — in a program led by Patrick Parks — Lux was a wide receiver for three seasons then a running back as a senior. Combined receiving and rushing, he had more than 4,000 yards 2014 to 2017.
“(Parks) was very knowledgeable about the game of football and how to make guys stronger and better athletes,” says Lux. “He was a game. He knew what he was doing.
“He helped me hit the ground running when I got into high school and started playing football. I’ll be grateful for that the rest of my life.”
Lux played basketball as a freshman and sophomore then decided to focus more time on developing in baseball.
Damon (22) is the middle child of Jared and Leigh Lux between sisters Anastasia (24) and Alex (19).

Damon Lux homers for Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers.
Damon Lux (Duke University Photo)
Damon Lux (Duke University Photo)
Damon Lux (Duke University Photo)
Damon Lux (Duke University Photo)
Damon Lux (Duke University Photo)
Damon Lux (Duke University Photo)
Damon Lux (Duke University Photo)

Now at St. Charles CC, Foster familiar with many levels of college baseball

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

Ryne Foster has first-hand knowledge of many forms of college baseball.
The 2004 graduate of Danville (Ind.) Community High School played for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dr. Don Brandon at NCAA Division III Anderson (Ind.) University.
Coaching stops have taken Foster to N’s Concordia University (Ann Arbor, Mich.), NCAA D-II’s Georgia Southwestern University (Americus, Ga.), National Junior College Athletic Association’s Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College, NCAA D-I’s Bowling Green (Ohio) State University and NJCAA’s St. Charles Community College (Cottleville, Mo.).
“It’s helped in the recruiting process,” says Foster of his familiarity with all those levels. “I kind of know what everybody’s talking about.”
The son of former Danville head baseball coach Rick Foster (and wife Alice) and older brother of current Cascade High School head coach Ty Foster (a 2007 Danville graduate who played four years at Manchester University for Spartans head coach Rick Espeset), Ryne Foster has been the St. Charles Cougars staff since 2018-19. He serves as associate head coach/hitting coach for head coach Jeff Bolen.
Foster, who was an assistant at Madison-Grant High School in Fairmount, Ind., before going into college coaching, was a volunteer/catchers coach for Danny Schmitz at Bowling Green, assistant/catchers coach for Mike Policastro at Cleveland State, assistant/outfielders for Bryan McLain at Georgia Southwestern and graduate assistant for Kyle Rayl at Concordia. Rayl is a former assistant at Anderson U.
NCAA D-I rules do not allow volunteers to recruit off-campus. Foster has participated in the process at all the other places he’s been.
“(Recruiting) is the most important part off the field in college baseball,” says Foster. “If you can get some good players you can do some good stuff.”
Junior college is generally a two-year experience. With the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Charles currently has 18 third-year players — 13 of which started their college careers with the Cougars.
With added years of eligibility in the NCAA and NAIA, it has many players staying in college baseball longer than anticipated. This — in turn — has trickled down to high schoolers looking for a place to play.
“There’s really quite a back log and then you put the transfer portal on top of that,” says Foster. “The talent is phenomenal at a lot of places. It seems all arms throw 90 mph or above.
“The thing that hurt the high school kids is an offer you would have gotten four or five years ago might not be there now.”
St. Charles, which is in NJCAA Division I Region 16, gets players kicking back from all levels, including NCAA D-I.
When Foster was in high school, he was aware of just one junior college baseball program in Indiana — NCJAA Division II Region 24’s Vincennes University. In 2022, there’s also NJC AA Division II Region 12’s Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson and Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne.
Missouri has 11 junior college programs (eight in NJCAA Division I and three in NJCAA Division II). Illinois sports 35 (10 in NCJAA Division I, four in NJCAA Division II and 21 in NJCAA Division III).
“Knowing what I know now I would have done everything I could to find a junior college out of high school,” says Foster, noting that there are fewer restrictions on the number of hours a week an athlete can practice or play, tuition is cheaper and there is a chance in two years to go to a school they may not have been able to attend out of high school.
“As coaches we’re able to be part of everything — academic monitoring, the weight lifting program and practice everyday with them,” says Foster. “There’s never a time other than family time I can’t work with you because you’re out of hours this week.”
“Juco Bandit” appears on many Twitter profiles. What does it mean?
“After being around it, it’s a term of pride for a lot of our guys,” says Foster. “It means a different level of toughness. Nothing handed to these guys and if it was, it was then taken away. It’s not the (NCAA) Division I life. There’s 2 and 3 a.m. leave times for a doubleheader.
“It’s a different mindset. The guys come out to play ball. That’s why they’re here.”
Foster and other St. Charles coaches do what they can to develop players for the next level.
“We move them on to good Division I and Division II programs when they’re done here,” says Foster. “We’re always making connections with coaches at that level and they’re helping us out.
“They know what kind of kids they’re getting out of junior college. They’re getting kids who are tough. It’s a big ask to come out of high school in play in the Big Ten, Big 12 or the SEC. There’s no substitute for experience.”
St. Charles plays 25 to 30 scrimmages in the fall with 56 regular-season games plus the postseason in the spring.
“We the fall for our sophomores to get exposure,” says Foster. “(Four-year school) come out and scout. We also get to see our freshmen and prepare for the spring.”
Besides his baseball duties, Foster is also in charge of the St. Charles athletic fields (baseball, softball and soccer). They are all grass.
“I starting learning with my dad being a high school coach,” says Foster. “It’s second nature. Many a spring break as a kid was spent out there getting the field ready.”
Rick Foster is head boys tennis coach and boys basketball assistant at Danville. He coached Warriors baseball almost 40 years and now helps Ty on the diamond at Cascade.
Ryne sees going into the profession as a natural.
“I couldn’t think of myself doing anything else,” says Foster. “I grew up with it. My dad was old school. You do things the right way and play hard. It’s the same way he grew up playing. Nothing too fancy.”
After playing tennis, basketball and baseball in high school (brother Ty played football, basketball and baseball), Ryne played both basketball and baseball his first two years at Anderson. In his fifth year, he came back to the Ravens basketball program.
“I love guys who play different sports (in high school),” says Foster. “They can develop so much when they can focus in one area. They have all kinds of potential.”
Foster relishes the chance to grow his baseball know-how and his network while attending the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, which meets each January (the 2022 version was in Chicago).
“You meet up with people from all over the country,” says Foster. “It’s a big fraternity. It’s pretty cool to be part of it.”
Baseball brought Ryne together with the woman he now calls his wife. He was working for Pastime Tournaments at an event in Nashville and met Nikki, who was attending down from Minnesota for a bachelorette party. Ryne and Nikki Foster were wed June 22, 2021 in a Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.
“She’s been with me through the coaching run in two different places,” says Foster. “She knows it’s not your normal 9-to-5 job.
“It’s hard to find someone who understands the work.”

Ryne and Nikki Foster (Crockette’s Images)
Ryne and Nikki Foster
Ryne, Rick and Ty Foster (Crockette’s Images)

Holley teaching life lessons with Wabash Apaches

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

Jack Holley Jr. played baseball at Wabash (Ind.) High School and was on the state championship team coached by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chris Rood.
Holley was a sophomore when the Apaches won the title in 1986. Tom Dempsey struck out 12 as Wabash beat Marion 2-1. Jeff Wagner and Brent Johnson (game-winning double) drove in one run each in the top of the seventh inning. The first run was scored by future big leaguer Keith Shepherd and the decisive tally by pinch-runner Holley.
Years later, Holley talks about the life lessons he learned from Rood and about leading the program today.
“(Coach Rood) taught you so much baseball and more things outside the game than most people realize,” says Holley, who joined the baseball staff at his alma mater in the early 2000’s and has been head coach since the 2015 season. “It’s the discipline he instilled in me and his expectations of your as a player, student and a man. These are the things I try to utilize.
“When you’re 16, 17, 18 years old you don’t realize the lessons you’re learning from any high school sport. Winning games is nice. I want effect men in a positive way and that’s probably more important.”
Wabash (enrollment around 470) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko).
TRC play each other once and games on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
In 2021, the Apaches was host of IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Carroll (Flora), Lewis Cass, Manchester, Rochester and Whitko. Wabash has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2019 when the team went 18-7.
Holley says the Apaches would have had 11 seniors for the 2020 season lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two members of that class — outfielder/right-handed pitcher Jared Holley (Manchester University after transferring from Kankakee Community College) and catcher/outfielder Kallen Kelsheimer (Huntington University) — are on college baseball teams.
Holley says three current Wabash players — seniors middle infielder/outfielder Jared Brooks and first baseman/right-hander Chayden Beeks and junior right-hander/catcher Andrew Dillon — have been drawing collegiate interest.
Brooks is all the school’s all-time leader in wrestling victories. Holley sees Dillon as his probable No. 1 mound starter in 2022. Other seniors include Colten Learned and Blake Smith.
The Apaches went 15-14 in 2021, making Holley’s career mark 87-76-1.
The 2022 coaching staff includes Kyle Kelsheimer (Kallen’s brother) as varsity assistant, Luke Helton as pitching coach, Nick Hentgen as junior varsity head coach and Andy Castro, Jordan Holley, Chandler Jones, Kent Montgomery and Shane Smith.
Kelsheimer and Helton are teacher at Wabash. Helton is a Tippecanoe Valley graduate who played at Manchester U. All the rest are played for the Apaches.
Justin Holley coaches the Wabash Middle School team. Started when Matt Stone was varsity head coach, the feeder team helps with the gap between Wabash Little League (T-ball through age 12) and high school.
“It’s an awesome addition to our baseball program,” says Holley. “(Junior high players) get accustomed to what we teach. It’s a way to retain those kids and keep them interested in (baseball).
“We were losing some of those kids. They’d go out for track and we’d never get them back.”
There are typically 20 to 25 players — Grades 6-8 — who play 12 to 16 games in the spring. Middle school practices and games are at Chris Rood Field.
“They usually practice before or after (the high school),” says Holley. “Someone from the varsity or JV staff can help them. They get to know us.”
There is a junior/senior league serving all of Wabash County. Middle schoolers used to practice and play on that field.
“There was a disconnect with middle school teams to our program,” says Holley.
Jack Holley Jr. is in his 21st year as a Welding Technology teacher at Heartland Career Center in Wabash. He and wife of 29 years on Feb. 20, Misti, have four sons — Jack III (29), Justin (27), Jordan (24) and Jared (20). All four boys played baseball at Wabash. Jack and Jordan are U.S. Army veterans. Jack III has two boys with a girl on the way.
Chris Rood Field is located on the Wabash campus and sits in a natural bowl. Spectators sit on a side of a hill looking down at the diamond. Trees were removed to place the field. A few years ago — needing a community service project — Holley’s students created the landscaped seating area around the press box.
An outfielder and pitcher as a player, Holley graduated from Wabash in 1988 and went on to play for Paul Twenge at Valparaiso (Ind.) University.
An ACL injury suffered on the football field as a freshman kept Holley off the diamond in 1989. He played for Twenge’s Crusaders 1990-93 — the first two years in right field and the last two in center. He was also a closer on the mound.
In 1992, Holley hit .285 (41-of-144) with two home runs, eight doubles and 16 runs batted in and five stolen bases.
Holley began coaching football at Wabash right out of college and was the Apaches head coach 2003-07.

Wabash Apaches Baseball. Hall of Famer Chris Rood wore No. 37.
Jack Holley.
Chayden Beeks.
Jared Brooks.
Colten Learned.
Shane Smith.
Wabash (Ind.) High School’s Ashton Smith at first base and Izaak Wright at second at Parkview Field in Fort Wayne.

Auburn Sports Park to bring baseball, so much more to northeast Indiana

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

Northeast Indiana is moving toward a large sports facility and baseball will be part of the mix.
Auburn Sports Group is bringing Auburn Sports Park — a $42 million 170-acre multi-sport complex plus 90 more acres for retail (restaurants, gas stations, hotels) — to land adjacent once owned by RM Auctions/RM Sotheby’s on the east side of I-69 .1 of a mile off Exit 11A.
Auburn Sports Park will be located about 30 miles south of the Indiana-Michigan line on I-69; about 20 miles to the heart of Fort Wayne, Ind.; about 60 miles west of Napoleon, Ohio; about 50 miles northeast of Warsaw, Ind.; about 120 miles southwest of Lansing, Mich.; about 100 miles southeast of Kalamazoo, Mich.; about 130 miles northeast of Grand Park in Westfield, Ind
Auburn Sports Group’s leadership team features co-owner Joe Fisher, president/co-order Rod Sinn, vice president/director of basketball Grant Sinn and director of operations/director of outdoor fields Cole Walker.
Brett Ratcliffe, assistant baseball coach at Trine University in Angola, Ind., and former head coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School, is the director of baseball/softball. Auburn Sports Park is to have eight turf fields suitable for high school/college baseball and softball.
“A multi-sport complete in northeast Indiana is something that’s needed,” says Ratcliffe of the place which has already had commitments to bring events to serve athletes from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and beyond. “This is another venue they can go to.”
Existing buildings will be used and there will be construction and renovation to bring indoor basketball and volleyball courts and a multi-purpose field for football, soccer and lacrosse. One building will house seven batting cages.
In addition, a 2-mile walking trail around the campus is planned as well as a splash pad.
“We want to make sure it’s a great experience for kids and a good memory for people who come here,” says Ratcliffe, who expects some of the facility to be ready for events by late summer.
Auburn Sports Park will be home to Prospect Select and Crossroads Baseball Series and the site of national championships.
Eric Blakeley, who played baseball at Indiana University and in the Seattle Mariners organization, is Crossroads Baseball Series CEO.
Jeremy Plexico, former pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Ball State University, is Prospect Select president.
Travis Keesling, who played and coached at Pendleton Heights High School, is Crossroads Baseball Series executive vice president.
Ratcliffe says entities like the DeKalb County Visitors Bureau have been supportive and other partnerships have been discussed with the World Baseball Academy, Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League and Empowered Sports Club —all based in Fort Wayne — plus the YMCA of DeKalb County in Auburn and Team Pineapple Volleyball Club/Ball Sports Academy of Angola.
With its location, Ratcliffe says Auburn Sports Park will be a great place for teams from NCAA D-I, D-II and D-III to NAIA and National Junior College Athletic Association schools to recruit.

Auburn Sports Group runs Auburn Sports Park in Auburn, Ind.

Kutch, North Central Thunderbirds enjoy competition

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

Joe Kutch has long taken a leadership role in youth sports in and around Sullivan County, Ind.
Kutch (pronounced Kootch) is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at North Central Junior/Senior High School in Farmersburg.
He was junior high coach for about five years before taking over the varsity Thunderbirds.
After years as an assistant, Kutch became North Central’s head football coach midway through the 2021 season. The Thunderbirds won their two sectional football titles with Kutch on the staff — 2018 as defensive coordinator and 2021 as head coach/offensive coordinator.
COVID-19 hit Kutch the first week of September and he was in the Intensive Care Unit for nine days and missed three football games. He is still on oxygen. But he still coaches, teaches Automotive classes at North Central (through a co-op with Ivy Tech in Terre Haute) and works for Sullivan Auto Group.
The Nashville (Tenn.) Auto-Diesel College graduate got his teacher’s license through Ball State University and began teaching eight years ago.
Kutch is an alum of Terre Haute North Vigo High School (Class of 1988). While still in high school he started organizing non-high school athletics.
As an adult, Kutch once ran the Northeast Youth League, Tri-Towers Softball League (which once had 500 players and was a pilot site for Major League Baseball’s Pitch, Hit & Run contest) and is still on the board of the Southwest Youth Football League (formerly Quad County).
Joe and Dianna Kutch have been married 28 years and have two sons — Austin Kutch (North Central Class of 2014) and Brayden Kutch (Class of 2017). Both played football and baseball for the Thunderbirds and graduated from college (Austin from Indiana State University and Brayden from Indiana University).
North Central (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eastern Greene, Linton-Stockton, North Daviess, Shakamak and White River Valley) for baseball and basketball.
Eastern Greene and Linton-Stockton have been IHSAA Class 2A schools on the diamond. Shakamak was a 1A state runner-up in 2021.
“I like the competition,” says Kutch, 52. “We take our sports serious. We compete every year in every sport.”
In 2021, the Thunderbirds were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eminence, Shakamak and White River Valley (the 2021 host). North Central has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2011.
During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, North Central has 26 athletes who have indicated that they plan to play baseball in the spring.
“Most of my key players are playing basketball, like six of the starting nine,” says Kutch. “(Our numbers) will will drop when we get to mandatory practice (March 14).”
Kutch, pitching coach Andy Fuson and hitting coach Brian Raber make up the current Thunderbirds staff. A few volunteers when official preseason practice begins.
The Thunderbirds play home games on-campus. A ball over the right field fence could reach U.S. 41.
A few years ago, infield dirt was upgraded. The facility has a grass infield with brick dust running lanes. About a decade, a brick press box was installed.
The high school shares the field with the independent junior high program.
“You need junior high baseball,” says Kutch. “You need a feeder system to keep your program going.”
Connor Strain, a 2012 North Central graduate, pitched at the University of Evansville and in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system.

North Central Thunderbirds.
Head coach Joe Kutch (left) and the North Central Thunderbirds.
Joe and Dianna Kutch.
Joe Kutch (foreground) with wife Dianna and sons Austin and Brayden.

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.

McClendon would like another chance to manage, coach in the bigs

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

Lloyd McClendon first burst onto the baseball consciousness of America 50 years ago and he’s been involved in pro ball for four decades.
At 63, McClendon says he would like another shot as a manager or bench coach at the big league level.
“Hopefully an opportunity comes my way one more time,” says McClendon, who lives in Valparaiso, Ind. “I’m at a point in my career where I’ve paid my dues and earned the opportunity to do it again.
“I’m enjoying life.”
McClendon became known as “Legendary Lloyd” when he smacked five home runs in five swings at the 1971 Little League World Series. He played in Willamsport, Pa., on the first LLWS team comprised completely of black players.
“Over five or 10 years, I’ve really started to realize what a tremendous impact we had on this country,” says McClendon. “I’ve come to realize you did do something kind of special.”
Speaking to IndiandRBI on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 17, 2022), McClendon talked about the civil rights icon.
“Dr. King was not only a tremendous leader, motivator and speaker, but he lived his life in such a manor that it’s hard not to admire,” says McClendon, who was also a guest of MLB Network Monday. “The moment that we stop giving and caring for others is the moment we start to die.
“It just lets you know what your life should be all about.”
McClendon also recalls the famous quote by Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
McClendon grew up in Gary, Ind. — a town that has also produced big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins and Wallace Johnson — and played football, basketball and baseball at Roosevelt High School, graduating in 1977 and playing three seasons at Valparaiso University. His head coaches were Walt Taliaferro (football), Ron Heflin (basketball) and Benny Dorsey (Roosevelt baseball) and Emory Bauer (Valpo baseball).
“These guys were so influential in my life,” says McClendon. “It’s hard to imagine where I’d be with without them.”
From Taliaferro, McClendon learned about responsibility and being a teammate. A passion for competition was imparted by Heflin. Dorsey showed how to win and how to lose, humility, respect and compassion.
“(Bauer) took me over the top and taught me about being a professional and how to go about my business,” says McClendon, who hit .330 with 18 homers, 73 runs batted in and twice received all-conference honors for the Crusaders before being selected in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets. The righty-swinging catcher, outfielder and first baseman made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 1987. He hit a combined .244 with 35 homers and 154 RBIs for the Reds (1987-88), Chicago Cubs (1989-90) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1990-94).
McClendon, who is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Valparaiso University Athletics Hall of Fame and due to go into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame (May 13-14, 2022 in Evansville), was manager of the Pirates (2001-05) and Seattle Mariners (2014-15 and served as the interim manager for the Detroit Tigers (2020).
A Detroit player won the American League batting title in four of McClendon’s seven seasons as the team’s hitting coach — Magglio Ordonez (2007) and Miguel Cabrera (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015).
McClendon marvels at the .363 posted by Ordonez.
“This guy was just phenomenal,” says McClendon. “He did not have one infield hit. Running the bases was not his forte.’”
What did McClendon do to help Cabrera?
“I just made sure they had a cab to get the ball park,” says McClendon. “The coach is only as good as the talent he has not he field.
“I did try to instill was good work ethic and knowing how to grind things out.”
Cabrera became the majors’ first Triple Crown winner (leader in average, homers, RBIs) since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 when he hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs in 2012.
The next season, Miggy went .348/44/137 — and was nine homers and one RBI of shy of a second straight Triple Crown (Baltimore’s Chris Davis bashed 53 homers and knocked in 138).
As a hitter himself and a hitting coach, McClendon saw the worth in studying opposing pitchers.
“Do your homework,” says McClendon. “Knowledge is power. I was a grinder. I wanted to know my opponents and what they were going to do in big situations. I hit to all fields. If (the pitcher) made a mistake I hit it out of the ball park.
“Cabrera has a memory like an elephant. He would just keep it simple. He had that consistency and ability to grind it out. He wasn’t going to get much. He saw so few pitches (where he could do damage) per game and was tremendous.”
What McClendon enjoys most about managing in the leadership factor. That bug first bit him as a 9-year-old Little Leaguer.
“I enjoy working with young men and seeing talent come to life,” says McClendon, who also manager the Triple-A Toledo Mudhens in the Tigers system in 2016 and 2017. “Adrenaline flows at the head of the ship and moving through tough waters at times. It was a lot of fun.”
If McClendon got the call to manage again who would he call to be on his staff? He declines to name specific names.
“Baseball is so dynamic especially with analytics,” says McClendon. “You have to make sure you have the right people in place.”
In 2021, the San Francisco Giants won 107 regular-season games with an on-field coaching staff of 14 led by manager Gabe Kapler.
“It’s nice to have that many people and that type of budget,” says McClendon. “It’s hard to argue with success.
“They did something right.”
For the past decade, McClendon has been teaching hitting to youngsters — most age 12 to 18. He works at Triple Crown Valparaiso Baseball & Softball Training Center as does son Bo, who instructs the younger ages.
Bo McClendon, 34, played at Merrillville High School, where he set stolen base records, and Valparaiso U., as well as in the Tigers organization.
Married for 40 years to Ingrid (the couple met at Valpo U.), they also have a daughter — Schenell — living with her husband and their granddaughter — Bryn (2 1/2) — near Washington D.C.
Say McClendon of the little one, “She’s got Grandpa wrapped around her finger.”

Lloyd McClendon hit five home runs in five swings at the 1971 Little League World Series.
Lloyd McClendon went to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.
Lloyd McClendon went to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.
Lloyd McClendon (Detroit Tigers Photo)