Tag Archives: Fort Wayne

Brunson productive in final days as Saint Francis player

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

Alec Brunson is coming to the end of his college baseball career and he’s doing it with a flourish.
Starting in left field and hitting in the No. 2 hole in the batting order, Brunson has been productive for the University of Saint Francis (25-23 overall and 14-18 in the Crossroads League).
Going into a conference series Friday and Saturday, April 29-30 at Bethel, righty swinger Brunson is hitting .341 (57-of-167) with six home runs, two triples, 17 doubles, 36 runs batted in and 38 runs scored.
The CL tournament is scheduled for May 6-10.
He enjoys the 2-hole behind Xavier Nolan and in front of David Miller and Sam Pesa.
“I get more AB’s (hitting second),” says Brunson, 22. “If I get on, more times than not Miller and Pesa will hit me in.”
Lefty stick Miller has plated 55 and righty Pesa 38.
In 2021 — Brunson’s first season with the Cougars after transferring from Purdue Fort Wayne — he hit .272 (56-of-206) with 10 homers, four triples, nine doubles, 38 RBIs and 51 runs for 56 games (53 as a starter) and was selected all-conference honorable mention.
When deciding to change schools, Brunson went where cousin Kristian Gayday is an assistant coach.
“I’ve hit with him since I was 12,” says Brunson. “There was no better option than playing for him and I’ve had two of the better seasons I’ve had in quite some time.”
Brunson is also enjoying his time with Saint Francis head coach Dustin Butcher.
“His personality is amazing,” says Brunson. “He’s a great guy overall. He’ll do anything for any of his players.
“That’s the type of coach I always wanted to play for.”
A 2018 graduate of DeKalb High School in Auburn, Ind., Brunson was then a catcher. He would up catching and playing in the outfield and at first base at PFW. He was used at first base at Saint Francis in 2021 and third base in summer ball. An outfielder last summer with the Terre Haute (Ind.) Rex, he was named a Prospect League all-star.
“I’ll play wherever they need me,” says Brunson. “My strengths are my hitting and arm. Sometimes I don’t make the best reads in the outfield, but my arm makes up for it. Even when my swing is not perfect it’s still good enough to get a base hit.”
Commencement at USF is scheduled for May 7 and Brunson is scheduled to get a degree in Criminal Justice.
He is pondering his future.
“I’m hoping to play independent (pro) ball before I get a big boy job,” says Brunson, who is also considering considering going into law enforcement but is also feeling the tug of coaching.
“I’ve thought about coaching a lot,” says Brunson, who has helped teams at Auburn Little League and in other capacities. “I’ve helped teammates with their swings. I feel like I really understand swing types and what drills can help.
“I can’t get away from the game yet. There’s something about baseball that keeps bringing me back.”
Brunson plans to be a graduate assistant at Saint Francis in 2022-23 to his foot in the coaching door. He says he will pursue either at Masters of Business Administration (MBA) or an Athletic Administration degree.
Born and raised in Auburn, Brunson played in two stints at Auburn Little League and travel ball with the Fort Wayne Cubs (later known as the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks). As a teenager, his D-backs head coach was Javier DeJesus (now pitching coach at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne).
At DeKalb, Brunson played for Tim Murdock. The 2017 Barons won 19 games and finished as runner-up in the DeKalb Sectional.
“I loved him as a coach,” says Brunson of Murdock. “He allowed us to do us. He knew we had played with each other since we were 12.”
Brunson played in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.
Alec is the son of Jason and Jennifer Brunson and older brother of Bella Brunson.
Before selling in 2021, Jason was co-owner of Captain’s Cabin on Crooked Lake. The business was once owned by former major league outfielder “Jungle Jim” Rivera. Jennifer is in pharmaceutical sales with Bristol Myers Squibb. DeKalb senior Bella plans to attend Indiana University.

Alec Brunson (University of Saint Francis Photo)
Alec Brunson (University of Saint Francis Photo)

Bickel making memories in first season at Purdue Fort Wayne

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

Jarrett Bickel had a decision to make after playing junior college baseball for two seasons.
The infielder from South Bend, Ind., with two years of eligibility remaining could take another year at the JUCO level allowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Head coach Kyle Forbes invited him to stay at Palm Beach State College.
“I was ready to move on to a four-year school and play at the (NCAA) Division I level,” says Bickel, who chose Purdue Fort Wayne over East Tennessee State, New Orleans, Alcorn State and Savannah State.
Why the PFW Mastodons?
“I was sold on Coach (Doug) Schreiber and his history at Purdue University,” says Bickel. “I knew he was coming here to turn the program around.
“He’s awesome. His knowledge for the game is through the roof.”
Bickel appreciates Schreiber not only for what he can do for him on the diamond, but away from it.
“He shows you how to carry yourself off the field and be a man,” says Bickel, 22.
As a player, Bickel has gone from third base to shortstop and settling in as Purdue Fort Wayne’s starting shortstop and lead-off hitter.
His double play partner is redshirt sophomore second baseman Brian Erbe.
“He has a confidence and swagger he brings everyday,” says Bickel of Erbe. “We kind of feed off that energy.”
Going into an April 27 non-conference game at Michigan State, righty swinger Bickel was hitting .259 (38-of-147) with five home runs, 12 doubles, 19 runs batted in, 18 runs scored and a .306 on-base percentage. He collected a season-best four hits April 3 against Wright State and drove in a season-high three runs April 16 at Northern Kentucky.
Bickel even pitched 2/3 of an inning Feb. 27 at Cal Baptist.
Though he was not in the middle of either, two memorable moments for Bickel came with walk-off wins March 20 against Youngstown State and April 22 vs. Northern Kentucky.
Away from the field, Bickel likes to hang out with teammates. He also likes to play golf and go fishing.
“I’m an outdoorsy person,” says Bickel. “I don’t like to be inside that much. I love to fish.”
A St. Joseph River dam near campus gives him a chance to pull in catfish and bass. In the warm climes of Florida, he liked going on the ocean and catching snook.
Bickel grew up a few minutes from Notre Dame and Bickel got to play against the Irish April 20, going 1-for-4 with an RBI.
“I’ve always been a Notre Dame fan since I was little,” says Bickel. “Going back there and playing them was pretty special.”
ND is No. 3 behind Tennessee and Dallas Bapist in the D1Baseball.com RPI.
Bickel assessed the Link Jarrett-coached Irish.
“They’re very well put-together and do all the little things,” says Bickel. “They’re well-coached. They are good at situational hitting and have very good (pitching) arms.”
Currently fifth in the Horizon League, the Mastodons are looking to finish in the top six to earn a berth in the conference tournament May 25-28 with games hosted by the top seed. The last HL series wraps May 14. The regular season is to end May 21.
Enrolled at Purdue Fort Wayne as a General Studies major, he has been taking mostly Business classes.
Bickel plans to spent the summer with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. Mastodons pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Brent McNeil managed that team a few years ago. Chris Willsey, Bickel’s head coach two years ago in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., is slated to guide the Aviators in 2022.
A 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishwawaka, Ind., Bickel played for Joe Turnock. The Knights won an IHSAA Class 3A Jimtown Sectional title in 2016.
In 2019, Bickel played 41 games for Miami Dade College. He did not play in the spring of 2020 — the COVID-19 season.
That summer, Bickel was with the Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League’s Mishawaka Brewers as well as the CSL’s Snakes and Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose, hitting .271 with a .403 OBP in 16 games. He played for the Bismarck Larks in 2021 with a OBP of .321 over 112 at-bats.
Jarrett is the middle son of Joe and Megan Bickel. Tyler Bickel (24) is working toward becoming a fireman. Xavier Bickel (18) is a Marian senior. Cousin Trey Bickel is head baseball coach at Marian University’s Ancilla College — a junior college in Donaldson, Ind.

Jarrett Bickel (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)
Jarrett Bickel (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)
Jarrett Bickel (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Even though program’s slated to fold, Ivy Tech Northeast baseball moving forward

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

Ivy Tech Community College Board of Trustees voted 8-1 April 7 to discontinue athletics at the Northeast campus in Fort Wayne, Ind., after 2022-23.
Titans baseball (established in 2017-18 by Lance Hershberger) is moving forward with the 2022 season and is looking to the 2023 slate, which appears it will be the school’s last.
Ivy Tech Northeast is 15-18 heading into a doubleheader Saturday, April 30 at Indiana Tech JV. After that comes a May 3 twin bill at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College followed by a National Junior College Athletic Association Region XII sub-regional May 5 in Sandusky, Ohio. The Titans must win two games in the four-team single-elimination event featuring the Nos. 2-4 seeds from the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference to advance to regional play.
“I’m enjoying the public response and fight to keep the program,” says Ivy Tech head coach and dual-credit advisor Connor Wilkins, 29. “I’m doing my part. (The board is) pretty dead-set on not having athletics. It comes down to financials and Title IX (gender equity).”
Wilkins describes the mood of the team.
“There’s a little defiance there,” says Wilkins, a Fort Wayne native. “We’ll show you how good we are and lay everything on the line representing our college. It’s frustrating as a coach knowing what we’ve built as a program and serving the community.
“In my opinion, northeast Indiana needs a junior college program.”
The Fort Wayne campus is the only one in the statewide Ivy Tech system with sports. An Ivy Tech Northeast volleyball team folded when the coach left and players followed after the COVID-19 year.
There are currently three junior college baseball programs in the state — Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson and Vincennes (Ind.) University.
Ivy Tech’s 2022 baseball team has 38 players with 22 on-target to graduate from the two-year school this spring. Some of that number have indicated that they will come back for a third year (granted because of the pandemic).
Six players — right-handed pitcher Matt Peters (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School graduate) to NCAA Division I Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), twins outfielder Conner Beatty and catcher Alec Beatty (Augusta, Mich.) and catcher/outfielder Joel Deakins (Heritage) to provisional NAIA start-up Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, infielder Brayden Dockery (Continental, Ohio) to the NCAA D-II University of Indianapolis and Coby Griffith (Papillion, Neb.) to NAIA Huntington University — have made commitments to their next school and others are expected to make that announcement soon.
This summer, fireballer Peters is to play in the MLB Draft League. Other Ivy Tech players are bound for the Great Lakes, Jayhawk and Florida circuits plus the local Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League.
Two players whose only college offers coming out of high school were from Ivy Tech Northeast are Grant Lashure (now a starting catcher at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University) and Zach Haefer (a right-handed pitcher at NCAA Division II Davenport University in Grand Rapids).
There are also 13 recruits coming to the Titans in 2022-23.
“We still have next year,” says Wilkins. “The recruits are still coming. It’s a testimony to our staff that they wanted to develop and leave after that.
“We’re going to do right by them. It’s our job to get them on to four-year or two-year schools.”
Besides Wilkins, the 2022 coaching staff features Scott Bickel (who is heading to IUPUC as part of Crimson Pride head coach Zach McClellan’s staff), recruiting coordinator Drew Buffenbarger (a member of the “Dirty Dozen” — Ivy Tech’s first team and an assistant admissions director at the school), pitching coach Javier DeJesus and hitting coach Mark Flueckiger.
Without conference membership, the Titans schedule this spring has been on-the-fly and inclement weather has not helped. NJCAA Region XII has a rule that teams are not supposed to play when the “Real Feel” temperature dips to 35 degrees.
Ivy Tech Northeast plays home games at Shoaff Park. The diamond is owned by the city, but is maintained by coaches and players.
“We take care of it,” says Wilkins. “We mow it. We weed-and-feed. We do it as a team.”
Fundraisers and donors have made it possible to do things like laser-grading the infield.
“It was hard to get donations during the COVID year,” says Wilkins.
And if the Titans are heading into their final days, the coach wants them to go out with their heads held high, representing their institution and community.
Says Wilkins, “We’re going to finish it out and hopefully make them proud.”

Gavin Smith makes a throw at third baseball for Ivy Tech Northeast baseball.
Gavin Smith swings the bat for Ivy Tech Northeast baseball.

Ivy Tech Northeast right-hander Peters now hitting triple digits

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

Matt Peters has not only unlocked the door to pitching velocity, the Fort Wayne, Ind., right-hander has kicked the door in and the baseball world is taking notice.
The 6-foot-4, 215- pound sophomore at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne has been clocked as high as 101 mph.
There are seven to nine pro scouts at all of Peters’ mound starts.
He nows gets mentioned among the nation’s hardest throwers, including University of Tennessee righty Ben Joyce, who has fired it at 104 mph.
Peters was on the cover of Collegiate Baseball.
The first time 101 came was March 5 against Lincoln Trail College at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Peters did that again as recently as Monday, April 11 as the Titans played the Trine University junior varsity in Angola, Ind.
A Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) commit, Peters has made a significant jump since the summer of 2021. 
“I worked a lot on my mechanics last fall with Coach Javi,” says Peters. “When I got into my legs my arm slot came up (to mid to high three-quarter overhand).”
Ivy Tech pitching coach Javier DeJesus helped Peters reorganize his mechanics to make him move more efficiently.
“Matt has confidence in how his body moves,” says DeJesus. “He can trust himself to throw the crap out of the ball and just where to put it.
“The first (bullpen) pitch out his hand in the spring was 99 mph. I thought, ‘what did I just create?’”
DeJesus gauged Peters’ deliveries last Aug. 16 and the speediest pitch came in at 93 mph.
DeJesus, who was an All-American at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, pitched professionally for 10 seasons and has instructed many young arms, put his Titans hurlers — Peters included — through a grueling training program he created 15 years ago that he calls “Hell in the Cell.”
“It is just as bad as it sounds,” says DeJesus of the routine that includes plenty of medicine ball work, long toss and sprinting to increase explosiveness.
“You get your quick-twitch muscles going,” says Peters. “Coach Javi knows how to teach. He makes me think. He’s taught me a lot about the game.”
After about six weeks of training with DeJesus, Peters attended a fall junior college showcase at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Miami pitching coach Jeff Opalewski saw Peters blaze them in at 98 mph and signed the hurler for the Danny Hayden-led RedHawks in 2022-23.
Peters follows another gas-throwing Indiana native in Sam Bachman. The Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate was selected in the first round of the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft by the Los Angeles Angels.
Bachman and Peters were on competing travel teams when they were of that age.
A general studies major, Peters says he needs summer credits to complete his associate’s degree.
Peters has been assigned to the MLB Draft League’s Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), where ex-big leaguer Homer Bush is the manager, former 14-year major league lefty Ron Mahay in the pitching coach and Craig Antush the assistant pitching coach. That season begins
Besides DeJesus, Peters is also thankful for mentoring by Ivy Tech head coach Connor Wilkins and Titans assistant Scott Bickel.
“(Coach Wilkins) is great role model,” says Peters, 21. “He’s helped me become a more mature person. He is a great example.
“(Coach Bickel) was the person I really looked to when my parents (Matt and Laurie) got divorced.
“I’ve had a lot of people who’ve helped me. My brother (David Peters) has pushed me very hard.”
Matt is the youngest of three with sister Rachel being the oldest.
Drew Buffenbarger and Mark Flueckiger are also Ivy Tech coaches. The program was established by Lance Hershberger, who was head coach from 2018-21.
Because of the savings, Peters transferred to National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Ivy Tech from NJCAA D-I Hillsborough Community College (Tampa, Fla.) where he spent the spring of 2021 after being at NJCAA D-III Oakton Community College (Des Plaines, Ill.) in the fall of 2020. It was while throwing at an indoor facility during winter break that Peters was spotted and presented with the opportunity to play in Florida.
A starter for Ivy Tech, he was a reliever for the Hillsbourgh Hawks and Oakton Owls.
Peters did not pitch during the summer of 2020 and was with the College Summer league at Grand Park’s Snapping Turtles in 2021. Robb Wicks was the head coach.
At Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School, Peters was on the baseball team as a freshman, sophomore and senior and was cut as a junior.
“My flip of the switch was when I didn’t play on my Senior Night,” says Peters.
Then he graduated in 2019, he was 5-9 and 160 when he graduated then hit my growth spurt his year of college.
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Peters played for the Indiana Prospects at 11 and 12 then for Indiana Baseball Factory from 13 to 17. The latter team was coached and organized by his father. The Prospects were started by uncle Mark Peters. The organization once included cousin Dillon Peters, who is now a left-handed pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Matt Peters’ four-seam fastball has the most giddy up.
“I get a lot of arm-side run with the two-seamer,” says Peters. “My change-up is a slower version of my two-seamer with more depth.
“My slider is good because I can throw it hard and it still has depth.”
He threw one slider at 90 mph with the rest at 87 to 89 Monday at Trine.
DeJesus showed him grips let him try to execute.
“Matt has been an absolute joy to work with,” says DeJesus. “I have not called one single pitch of Matt’s
“Pitchers and catcher have to work together. That’s how the they learn the game. They get a feel what they’re doing and give me the feedback.
“A young man has a mind and he’s got to use it.”

Ivy Tech Northeast’s Matt Peters’ delivery in slow motion.
Matt Peters (Ivy Tech CC Northeast Photo)
Matt Peters in 2021 with the Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (CSL Photo)
Matt Peters on the front page of Collegiate Baseball.

New Snider head coach Clinkenbeard sees diamond as a place to learn about more than baseball

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

Josh Clinkenbeard knows the life lessons that can be learned through athetics.
He absorbed them as a baseball and football player at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Snider High School and continues to make it a focus as he has moved up from Panthers assistant to baseball head coach at his alma mater in 2022.
“One of the biggest messages we are trying to share with our guys is about being a good community member,” says Snider Class of 1999’s Clinkenbeard, a former outfielder, first baseman and pitcher for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Andy Owen (Marc Skelton and Bruce Meyer were assistants; Skelton became head coach after Owen and both Skelton and Meyer retired from baseball coaching after 2021) and tight end for Indiana Football Hall of Famer Russ Isaacs. “As individuals, we will always be a part of some collective group.
“We remind ourselves to be good teammates. We also try to relate our sport to real life like dealing with adversity and working with others, for example.”
Clinkenbeard recalls lessons learned from Owen and company.
“One of the biggest things I remember that still rings true with me is how to handle physical mistakes versus mental mistakes as a coach,” says Clinkenbeard. “Dealing with the mental side of sports can be taught and modeled in practice.”
Snider (enrollment around 1,900) is a member of the Summit Athletic Conference (with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead).
SAC teams play home-and-series in the same week against conference opponents.
The Panthers are in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Carroll, DeKalb (host), East Noble and Northrop. Snider has won 11 sectional titles — the last in 2017. Clinkenbeard was part of that coaching staff.
With 31 players in 2022 for varsity and junior varsity squads, Clinkenbeard is assisted by Payton Bieker, Brandon Phelps, Chase Phelps, Tim McCrady and Jimmy Cunningham.
All but Cunningham are Snider graduates. Bieker (Class of 2008) played at Purdue University, Brandon Phelps (Class of 2013) and Chase Phelps (Class of 2016) at what is now Purdue Fort Wayne. McCrady (Class of 1983) is the JV head coach. Cunningham is a first-year coach.
The Panthers play on Hawley Field (a diamond four miles east of Snider named for former athletic director Michael Hawley who helped plan and build the complex). The facility has been upgraded with irrigation and improved drainage.
“The long-term goal is to have lock rooms on-site with indoor batting cages,” says Clinkenbeard. Snider baseball once played at Carrington Field. When the original was torn down to make room for Memorial Stadium (home of the Fort Wayne Wizards), a new Carrington Field was establish across Coliseum Boulevard. When Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now PFW) purchsed the land, Snider went looking for a new home field.
“The unique part is that we are not on-site which creates many challenges, but because we are nestled among some housing additions it gives us a feeling of being part of a community.”
A 2003 graduate of Butler University with a degree in Biology with a teaching certificate, Clinkenbeard is in his 18th year as a middle school teacher.
Before a rotator cuff injury ended his career, the first baseman was a walk-on at Butler for head coach Steve Farley.
“Great coach who really showed me the details of the game,” says Clinkenbeard of Farley. “There are many drills we did in college that we incorporate in our team today.”
Jakob Byler (University of Saint Francis) and Trevor Newman (Franklin College) are college commits. Mac Hippenhammer (Class of 2017) went to Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) to play baseball and football.
Josh and wife Krisanne Clinkenbeard have three children — Olivia, Jase and Hayes.

Fort Wayne Snider High School coaches gather around the 2017 IHSAA Class 4A DeKalb Sectional championship trophy. They are (from left): First row — Payton Bieker, Marc Skelton and Tim McCrady; Second row — Rob Hale, Bruce Meyer, Josh Clinkenbeard and Bruce Dohrn.

Pierce wants Bluffton Tigers to play with ‘controlled aggression’

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

Jason Pierce knows what kind of identity he wants for his Bluffton (Ind.) High School baseball team.
“Our motto is to control what we can control,” says Pierce, who asks his Tigers not to dwell on mistakes and to rally together. “We’re very much a family here. This sport has a lot of ups and down. We want our players to have controlled aggression and do the little things the best they possibly can.”
Pierce stresses life lessons, high academics and building maturity in young men.
“We want to productive members of society,” says Pierce, who took over the program before the 2020 season taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic after seven seasons as head coach at Eastside Junior/Senior High School (Butler, Ind.) and two campaigns leading the Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School program. “You learn that through team sports.”
Bluffton went 14-16-1 in 2021 with five on-run losses and a pair of one-run victories with a team featuring just one senior starter.
“We’re young on paper, but we’ve got a lot of experience on the field,” says Pierce in looking ahead to 2022. “We’ve got a lot of athletes. We’re in a really good spot with guys who can move around the field.
“As long as we can keep our heads I think we’re going to be a pretty dangerous baseball team.”
The 14 players on Bluffton’s MaxPreps.com roster (as of March 28) include six seniors — middle infielder/pitcher Brock Drayer, outfielder/catcher Lukas Hunt, outfielder/pitcher/first baseman Dylan King, outfielder/pitcher/shortstop Kyler Rolston, pitcher/first baseman Grant Thompson and pitcher/outfielder Kayden Vineyard plus four juniors in corner infielder/pitcher Curtis Ellis, catcher/outfielder Kayden King, pitcher/infielder/outfielder, outfielder/pitcher Austin Lewis, Andrew Onuegbu and outfielder/pitcher Drew Pressler and three sophomores in pitcher/first baseman/outfielder Braxton Betancourt, middle infielder/pitcher Eli Garrett and catcher/pitcher Brody Lewis.
Left-hander Betancourt (5-5, 1.43 earned run average, 97 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings) was the Tigers’ No. 1 pitcher in 2021 and Pierce expects him to have the same role in 2022. Bluffton is to open the season Tuesday, April 5 at New Haven.
On a team with as many as 10 players can be effective pitchers, Pierce looks at right-hander Ellis as his probable No. 2.
Kaleb Riley (Class of 2021) is now on the baseball team at Indiana University South Bend.
Bluffton (enrollment around 470) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan).
The Tigers is scheduled play Adams Central and Southern Wells twice with the second game counting toward the ACAC standings. Bluffton is slated to meet Heritage, Jay County, South Adams and Woodlan one time each.
In 2021, the Tigers were runner-up in a IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Adams Central, Eastside (host and champion), Churubusco, South Adams and Woodlan. Bluffton has won five sectional crowns — the last in 2019.
Bluffton plays home games on Everett Scott Field. The facility on the north side of the campus is named after the Indiana Hall of Famer who played in a then-record 1,307 consecutive games for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees 1916-25.
Providing early diamond opportunities is Bluffton Youth Baseball (T-ball to age 15). Most high school players are with travel organizations, including the Indiana Bandits, Midwest Aces and Summit City Sluggers.
Pierce’s 2022 coaching staff features Tim Garrett, Marco Betancourt (pitching coach) and Doug Pressler with the varsity and Trae Jojola and Cody Harris with the junior varsity.
A 1993 graduate of St. Marys (Ohio) High School, Pierce played one season at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio, and then transferred to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. He got hurt in the fall and did not get to play for Lance Hershberger’s Warriors.
Pierce, who teaches seventh grade at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School, has two daughters — Leo sophomore Lillian (16) and Heritage grade schooler Harper (8).

Bluffton (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Pierce (left) and Cameron Nestleroad (Greenbear Photography Photo).
Bluffton (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Pierce (Greenbear Photography Photo).

Carroll graduate Kuhns honing catching chops in Texas

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

Sebastian Kuhns is growing as a baseball catcher and the northeast Indiana native is doing it in northeast Texas.
The 2020 graduate of Carroll High School in Fort Wayne is a “COVID” freshman at Paris (Texas) Junior College, which is about 100 miles from Dallas.
Through the Dragons’ first 17 games of 2022, Kuhns was hitting .400 (10-of-25) with five doubles and nine runs batted in over eight games while splitting playing time with freshman Zach Munton.
Kuhns, who missed his senior season at Carroll because of the pandemic, Kuhns split his time in the summer of 2020 between the Chad Hines-coached Indiana Prospects travel team (he played for the Prospects in 2019, too) and the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He ended up with the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers.
Kuhns was at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for the 2021 season and hit .268 (11-of-41) with one home run and 13 RBIs in 18 games.
He did not play in the summer of 2021, but trained at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind. He did overall and throwing with Greg Vogt, Anthony Gomez and Justin Hancock, hitting with Quentin Brown and Noah Niswonger and strength workouts with Michael Hammerstand, Christian Sullivan and Bram Wood.
Kuhns is considering another summer of training at PRP Baseball while possibly playing in the CSL.
When Kuhns made it known that he would be transferring from Lincoln Trail, a couple of schools reached out. Among them was Paris, which had three catchers moving on.
“I shot Coach (Clay) Cox a message,” says Kuhns. “He responded and now I’m here. I really enjoyed my phone call with him. I could tell everything he said was genuine.
“I can’t not say enough about Coach Cox. He’s one of the top motivational coaches I’ve had. He knows what to say to get us fired up. He made it clear what the expectations are. Last year (Paris) had like 3.8 team GPA. They do things right here.”
Kuhns signed at Paris — a National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Region 14 member — in mid-June. He he arrived Paris in the fall he was given No. 47.
Any significance to to those digits?
“Not really. Most of our class had already signed,” says Kuhns. “Maybe my arm’s like an AK-47?”
Kuhns is on pace to earn an Associate Degree in Business Management while he hones his skills behind the plate.
“There’s so many games within the game that I love,” says Kuhns, who moved from first base to catcher around age 12. “I take pride in picking up mannerisms of all my pitchers. It’s different for every guy.”
Kuhns appreciates the engagement of the position.
“You’re part of every pitch,” says Kuhns. “My arm is one of the tools that helped me getting into college. I was good at blocking, but my receiving wasn’t great.
“(Receiving) is one of the biggest adjustments for me moving from high school to college, where there is a smaller strike zone. You try to steal strikes for your pitcher and keeps strikes as strikes. I’m working on that art. The strike zone in Texas is even smaller.”
Kuhns talks about the junior college baseball life.
“People throw around JUCO like an adjective,” says Kuhns. “Guys really embrace that. We’re just some gritty guys working hard. That’s one aspect I really like. It really is good baseball. Down here (in Texas) it really is no joke.”
Kuhns played at Carroll for head coach Dave Ginder, who stressed all the situational things like first-and-third and bunt coverages.
“I didn’t fully appreciate everything he did until I got into college,” says Kuhns. “He knows the game really well and he’s really good at passing it on to his players.”
“I see similarities with Coach Cox and Coach Ginder. (Cox) let’s us do our thing. He’s not going to fix it if it ain’t broke.”
As a Chargers sophomore, Kuhns was a third-stringer on a catching corps led by Hayden Jones (who is now in the Cincinnati Reds organization).
“I can’t say enough about Hayden and what he helped me with in high school,” says Kuhns. “He helped me grow up and mature and with baseball in general.
“He comes from a great family. I worked with his dad for a long time.”
Kuhns went to Ken Jones (now assistant at Purdue Fort Wayne) at World Baseball Academy for catching and hitting lessons. The player was also at Wallen Baseball Softball and with the Fort Wayne Cubs/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks.
Born in Auburn, Ind., Kuhns grew up in the Fort Wayne/Huntertown area. His parents are Brian Kuhns (stepmother Sherri Foster) and Kimberly Kuhns. His siblings are Josh Kuhns, Olivia Kuhns, Kesley Foster, Eric Foster, Chris Kiger, Cassandra Kiger and Kyle Kiger.

Sebastian Kuhns (Paris Junior College Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns (Lincoln Trail College Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns catches for Paris (Texas) Junior College. (PJC Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns catches for Paris (Texas) Junior College. (PJC Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns throws for Paris (Texas) Junior College. (PJC 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)

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.

Huff helping Purdue Fort Wayne in different ways in second year with baseball program

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

Justin Huff has a new role in his second year on the Purdue Fort Wayne baseball coaching staff.
His family came to Fort Wayne when wife Jenna Huff — who hails from Tecumseh, Mich. — was hired as news director at WANE-TV (Ch. 15) and he reached out to Mastodons coach Doug Schreiber.
A director of player development position was created for Huff for 2020-21 with the idea that something else might open up in the future. In that job, he was restricted from actual coaching so he kept charts, gave analytics insights and helped in the dugout during games.
In 2021-22, Huff is in the volunteer coach post with all its responsibilities.
“Coach Schreiber has empowered me to do a lot of the practice scheduling,” says Huff. “I would make sure transitions were efficient.”
On a staff that also features Brent McNeil and Ken Jones, Huff also helps with hitters and infielders, leads outfielders and is expected to coach first base when PFW — a member of the NCAA Division I Horizon League — opens its 2022 season Feb. 18 at Georgia State.
“The challenge is we’re not on the field,” says Huff, noting that the Mastodons last practiced outdoors in November.
At the beginning of the fall, the team took advantage of warmer temperatures and put in 20 hours per week of team practice.
“(Hitters) got 50 to 60 (at-bats) and (pitchers) 20 to 22 innings,” says Huff. “You got to figure out exactly what you have. This year we’ve got 19 new guys so we saw how they fit with the returnees.
“There were intrasquad games in the weekends and got the players accustomed to our system and our routines.”
Then came a four hours-a-week phase where coaches could break down player’s mechanics and make adjustments if necessary.
“It’s not like going 0-of-4 in scrimmage,” says Huff. “There’s no failure.
“They’re getting their bodies ready to go and getting their timing down.”
Hitters were going to face live pitching for the first time Thursday (Jan. 20) with 20 hours-a-week workouts starting back up Jan. 28.
Huff came to Indiana from Gordon State College in Barnesville, Ga., where he was interim head coach during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season. With just one assistant, he was charged with all positions except infielders.
A shortstop as a player, Huff is a 2003 graduate of Westover High School in Albany, Ga.
Huff also played five years of American Legion ball for Albany Post 30 and manager Larry Cook. Albany went to the Legion World Series in 2001 — the year Brooklawn (N.J.) Post 72 beat Lewiston (Idaho) Post 13 for the title in Yakima, Wash.
“He was a very strategic guy and super-competitive,” says Huff of Cook. “He never stopped coaching me. He challenged me and made me better.”
Huff made collegiate stops of two years at Darton College in Albany (now merged with Albany State University) and one each at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., and Valdosta (Ga.) State University. His head coaches were Glenn Eames (with assistant Jamie Corr) at Darton, American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary Gilmore (with assistant Kevin Schnall) at Coastal Carolina and National College Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Thomas at Valdosta State.
Huff credits Eames for showing him how to care for fields and Corr for his organization, practice plan and how to run a program.
At Darton, Huff played against Young Harris (Ga.) College featuring his cousin Charlie Blackmon. After playing for the Mountain Lions in 2005 and 2006, lefty-swinging outfielder Blackmon was selected in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Georgia Tech and made his MLB debut for the Colorado Rockies in 2011.
Gilmore led the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers to the 2016 College World Series title.
“(Gilmore and Schnall) are two of the best coaches in the country,” says Huff. “I sat and watched how they were planning out the game and their style of offense that really helped me down the road.”
An offensive-minded coach, Huff prefers aggressiveness and small ball tactics.
When Huff was on the team at Coastal Carolina, he was a teammate of Andy DeLaGarza, a product of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind. His father — Mark DeLaGarza — runs the Summit City Sluggers travel organization in Fort Wayne.
From Thomas, Huff says he learned how to care about players and build relationships.
Former big leaguer Phil Plantier was Huff’s manager with the independent South Coast League’s Macon (Ga.) Music in 2007 and witnessed the differences between the pro and college style.
“I worked with him on hitting stuff,” says Huff. “I wanted to pick his brain as much as I could.”
When he was done as a player, Huff went into the banking industry while completing his undergraduate and Masters of Business Administration degrees.
He helped coach at Deerfield-Windsor Academy in Albany and with Leesburg American Legion Post 182 before spending five years at Darton with head coach Scot Hemmings. The Cavaliers won their first Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association title in 2015.
“He had ways to motivate players and was very organized,” says Huff of Hemmings. “The development of players was incredible there.”
When Jenna took a job at station in Macon, Justin helped coach the varsity and was middle school head coach at Tattnall Square Academy. The Trojans won the 2016 Georgia High School Athletic Association Class A state championship.
Travis McClanahan was head coach when Huff joined the staff at Gordon State. The Highlanders went 50-9 and lost to Walters State in the National Junior College Athletic Association East-Central District in 2019.
Justin and Jenna Huff have been married for 10 years and have four daughters — Devon (8), Canon (6), Fallon (4) and Lennon (2).

Justin Huff (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)