Tag Archives: Franklin Central

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

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JONGRATZ2

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

JONGRATZ1

Advertisements

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

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combs also learned to curb his on-field temper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I still embrace that today.”

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

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

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

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

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

He received baseball books as gifts while growing up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JASONAMELIACOMBS

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

 

Nguyen teaching life, baseball at Lawrence Central

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Consistent message and accountability of ballplayers.

Those are concepts Harrison “Harry” Nguyen had reinforced during his assistant baseball coaching days at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and it helps form his foundation as a coach and educator at Lawrence Central High School.

“Players — teenagers — they need that,” says Nguyen of the benchmarks. “They don’t necessarily see the value in it when they’re going through that. It can really be tough in the day-to-day. It can be uncomfortable. But it’s what students need. It’s what baseball players need.”

It’s what Nguyen gained from spending 15 seasons (2002-16) on the Cathedral staff led by Rich Andriole, who goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Jan. 27 and is preparing for his first season as head coach at Guerin Catholic High School in 2018.

“Sometimes (athletes) need to be called out if they are not meeting certain standards,” says Nguyen, who speaks with Andriole on a weekly basis. “Rich is really good at that. We try to instill that in our kids here at Lawrence Central.

“We want to take care of our student-athletes. If we can teach them a little baseball along the way — great — but if we can teach them life, that’s better.”

Nguyen began his coaching career on the staff of Anthony Lowborn at his high school alma mater, Arsenal Tech. Lowhorn went on to coach at Triton Central and sent Luke Stephenson on to college baseball. The right-hander pitched in 2016 and 2017 at Indiana University.

As a youngster, Nguyen played at Lowell Little League in Warren Township and was coaching there when umpire Rick Wagner suggested he look into a coaching opportunity at Cathedral. He met Andriole in the summer of 2001 and began coaching Fighting Irish freshmen and later got to work with standout players like Tommy HunterDillon Peters and Ashe Russell.

“It was a really fun ride,” says Nguyen of his Cathedral tenure. “I coached a lot of good kids and met a lot of good people.

“The X’s and 0s get us into baseball, but what keeps us in it is the people.”

Nguyen, an Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis graduate who got his start in education with schooling at Butler University taught at Indiana Connections Academy, Cathedral and Franklin Central High School before that, is in his second year teaching math in the LC freshman academy. J.R. Shelt is his administrator. Shelt was his junior varsity baseball coach at Arsenal Tech.

After leaving Cathedral, he was not sure where he would land then got contacted by then Lawerence Central athletic director Jeff Irwin, who shared the vision of the school district.

“It all came together really, really fast,” says Nguyen.

The 2017 season was Nguyen’s first as head baseball coach at Lawrence Central. The Bears went 12-16, beating Columbus North and Zionsville and suffering five one-run losses along the way. LC lost to eventual IHSAA Class 4A state champion Cathedral in the semifinals of the Warren Central Sectional.

“We lost some heartbreakers,” says Nguyen. “But we were pretty competitive.”

The junior varsity went 16-4 in 2017 and several players from that squad are looking to make noise at the varsity level in 2018.

“We bring back a lot of seniors,” says Nguyen. “We have had a lot of spirited workouts this off-season.”

The 2017 Bears participated in the I-65 Classic at Purdue University and McCutcheon (along with host McCutcheon, Lake Central and Zionsville). This year, a similar event is planned with Lawrence Central, Brebeuf Jesuit, Hobart and Perry Meridian, perhaps at Grand Park in Westfield.

LC is also waiting to see if it qualifies for the late-season Victory Field Classic, held at the site of the IHSAA State Finals and home of the Indianapolis Indians.

Lawrence Central is a member of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (along with corporation partner Lawrence North plus Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Pike, North Central of Indianapolis and Warren Central).

The Bears were Marion County champions in 2015. LC last won a sectional title in 2004, the same year they took a state title.

Nguyen expects Bryan Peters and Greg White to return to his LC coaching staff in 2018. A year ago, the Bears had three teams — varsity, JV and freshmen. It’s not likely the numbers will be high enough for a freshmen team this spring.

“Though I have no scientific evidence, it seems that 13 is where the numbers are getting lost,” says Nguyen. “That’s when many kids go from 46/60 fields to full-size diamonds. In New Palestine, where my son (Ryan) plays in an 11-12 league, it’s 50/70.

“Travel teams start a lot younger these days. It’s harder to know where your home Little League is. There are so many boundaries and choices for parents. Travel ball has become an arms race.”

Besides travel organizations, talent is fed to the high school through Belzer Middle School, where Orion Ogg, is the coach, as well as Lawrence Township youth leagues — Skiles Test, Fall Creek, Oaklandon and Lawrence Lions.

Lawrence Central plays on-campus at Challis-Pauszek Field. In recent years, the facility has added bleachers stretching from dugout to dugout, put in a new press box and did work on the sod. Plans for the spring include new bullpens.

The LC high school program does quite a bit of fundraising to keep participation prices reasonable (it was $73 in 2017 and much of that is township-mandated transportation).

“We have not had kids who could not play baseball here because of cost,” says Nguyen.

Former Lawrence Central players currently in college baseball include J.J. Montgomery (University of Central Florida), Kenny Ogg (Ohio University) and Matt Burleton (Marian University).

LC graduate Jared Ruxer pitched at the University of Louisville and is now in the Kansas City Royals organization.

Current Bears senior Allan Augustus has committed to play baseball and football at Marian. Others who hope to play on a college diamond include senior catcher Drew Prather, 6-foot-7 pitcher Zach McGee and sophomore outfielder Anthony Steinhart.

Besides Ryan, Harry and wife Heather have three other children. Morgan (17) and Tanner (16) are at Franklin Central High School and Hannah (14) is as Franklin Township Middle School-East.

ZACHROGERSHARRYNGUYENROCKETPHOTOGRAPHYLLC

Lawrence Central head baseball coach Harry Nguyen (right) talks with Zach Rogers during the 2017 season — Nguyen’s first leading the Bears. (Black Rocket Photography, LLC Photo)

Hatfield asks Center Grove hitters to ‘know your zone’

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With Keith Hatfield calling the shots, the Center Grove Trojans are looking to force the issue on the baseball field.

“I’m really aggressive,” says Hatfield of his coaching style. “That goes for hitting, pitching and base running.

“We don’t work a whole lot of counts (as hitters). We have a philosophy: the first fastball we see in the strike zone, we’re going to be swinging.”

Hatfield, who led CG to IHSAA Class 4A sectional crowns in 2015 and 2016 and is heading into his fifth season at the Johnson County school in 2018, spends a good deal of practice time talking with his players about “knowing your zone.”

“It’s knowing where you have the greatest chance to get a hit,” says Hatfield. “For some guys that might be the shins. For some guys that might be at the belt.”

Approach is dictated by game situation. What’s the score? What’s the count? How many outs? How many runners? What’s the inning?

“Our approach in the second inning a lot different than in the sixth inning (with two outs and a man on base),” says Hatfield. “Early, we’re swinging to drive the guy in. Later, we want to make a productive out if we’re going to make an out.”

Trojan moundsmen are encouraged to go after hitters.

“I’m not a fan of waste pitches,” says Hatfield. “Especially with the whole pitch count thing, a waste pitch is just a notch on the counter.”

Talented Center Grove pitchers have gotten a lot of swings and misses and strikeouts the past two seasons, but the intent is to get the hitter out in two pitches and not rack up a lot of K’s.

“When the defense knows we’re trying to make something happen in two pitches, they are not going fall back on their heels,” says Hatfield.

With runners on base, Hatfield looks to make things happen. While errorless games are not unusual at the professional and college levels, they are in high school.

“A lot of things have to go right in order for a baserunner to be thrown out (by the defense),” says Hatfield. “More times than not we’re going to make the defense make a play.

“We’re not going to wait to have three hits in a row. We’re going to push the envelope and put pressure on the defense.”

Hatfield came to Center Grove after four seasons at Roncalli, where he led the Rebels to an IHSAA Class 4A runner-up finish in 2012 with a 1-0 loss to Lake Central.

A 2003 Roncalli graduate, Hatfield played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer and top-notch in-game strategist John Wirtz.

“He was really good at pulling all the strings,” says Hatfield. “He was also good at relating to the kids. We loved him. He was really fun to be around. He’s a legend on the south side of Indianapolis.”

Hatfield was a pitcher at the University of Indianapolis, making a record 66 mound appearances, and gained wisdom from Greyhounds head coach Gary Vaught.

“He was really good at bringing everybody together,” says Hatfield of Vaught. “He’s a really good motivator. He was good at getting 100 percent out of the guys.”

Hatfield, who graduated from UIndy in 2007, spent two seasons as the Hounds pitching coach prior to going to Roncalli.

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted a new 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).

Hatfield sees a need to adjust the numbers.

“The quantities and days of rest are wrong,” says Hatfield. “They need to talk to a lot more people about it and something needs to be done for the tournament.”

During the regular season, Hatfield uses his starting pitchers once a week and gears the rotation toward home-and-home Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Where the pitch count has more of an impact on his squad and other Class 4A teams is with the relievers and whether they hit the thresholds that require one or two days of rest.

Then comes the postseason with the possibility of three sectional games in five days.

“Many of these guys will be playing their last game,” says Hatfield. “If rain pushes sectional championship to Tuesday, you are now making decisions that affect the regional. That’s crazy.”

Hatfield notes that when Roncalli made the run to the state championship game in 2012, Colin Hawk pitched is every single game of the tournament.

Hatfield would also like to see seeding at the sectional level in order to keep the two best teams out of the same side of the bracket.

“But it’s a lot harder than it sounds,” says Hatfield. “There’s not a Sagarin ratings system for high school baseball. There would have to be a central rating system. Prep Baseball Report would have to be involved. They have scouts seeing games all over the state.

“I’m not smart enough to have all the answers, but I know it’s wrong to have the two best teams playing each other in the first round of the tournament. I don’t like the blind draw. It makes non-conference, regular-season games a lot less important than they could be.”

Besides Center Grove, the MIC features Ben Davis, Carmel, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis, Pike and Warren Central.

The Trojans are grouped in a 4A sectional with Franklin Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville and Whiteland Community.

Hatfield goes into 2018 with a coaching staff that includes John Carpenter, Mike Grant and Joe Mack at the varsity level, Jordan Reeser and Jason Simpkins with the junior varsity and Jeff Montfort and Drew Garrison with the freshmen.

Player totals fluctuate with the number of pitcher-onlys in the program.

“This year is probably the biggest (total),” says Hatfield. “It could be 55 to 58). We’ll have nine or 10 pitcher-only.”

Hatfield, who also works for BSN Sports, has noticed a trend toward specialization in athletics and that includes pitching. But he will not pass up someone when he sees potential.

“If you have a good arm, you have to prove to me they can’t pitch,” says Hatfield.

Center Grove is well-represented in the college baseball world.

According to online rosters, there’s Ethan Brooks (Grace College), Jacob Cantleberry (San Jacinto North College in Texas and transferring to the University of Missouri), Joey Drury (Olney Central College in Illinois), Devon Hensley and Will Smithey (both at the University of Indianapolis), Eathan Stephen (Marian University) and Tye Thixton (Danville Community College in Illinois).

Current Trojans who have made college commitments are seniors Jacob Gilcrest (Wright State University in Ohio), Shawn Grider (Cincinnati Christian University) and Michael Wyman (Saint Leo University in Florida) and sophomore Bryce Eblin (Purdue University).

These players have various travel baseball affiliations in the summer.

“(Travel ball) is very important for a couple reasons,” says Hatfield. “There not going to get the exposure they need for recruiting during the high school season. It’s hard for college coaches to get out to see you because they’e playing as well.

“It’s good for guys to play for different people. Watch other people and how they do things — good, bad and indifferent. (Travel organizations) play at places the high school team couldn’t take them.”

Those are the pros. The Hatfield also sees a few cons.

“There’s a lack of competition in terms of winning and losing,” says Hatfield. “It’s very individually-driven. Teams are happy if they go 3-2 on the weekend. I don’t think that mentality if good for the kids.”

Hatfield says there are still instances of overuse of pitching arms.

“A lot of travel coaches think a kid can start on Thursday and come back and start on Sunday,” says Hatfield. “I don’t think that’s right at all.”

Center Grove plays on-campus. Behind the plate at the facility, there is an indoor facility with three cages, locker rooms, coach’s office and meeting room. Last fall, the infield was re-done. A few years ago, a new building housing concessions, storage and restrooms was added to a place often referred to as Trojan Park.

CENTERGROVETROJANS

Alum Kluesner leading Bloomington South on diamond

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s be said that people are the sum of their added experiences and influences.

Phil Kluesner picked up some things from his high school coach and others from his college coach and others along the way and it has brought him to where he is — heading into his 10th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater, Bloomington High School South.

Kluesner, a 1990 Bloomington South graduate, was an outfielder and left-handed pitcher in a Panthers program led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Grier Werner and later spent three seasons (1998-2000) on Werner’s coaching staff.

“I learned a lot from him,” says Kluesner of Werner. “He was very demanding but also very caring.”

From Werner, Kluesner saw a consistency of work ethic and the importance of building relationships.

He uses the latter not only as a coach but as an educator. He is currently a U.S. History teacher at BHSS.

Kluesner’s college baseball experience was a couple of seasons at the University of Southern Indiana, where Mike Goedde (now head coach at Evansville Central High School) was leading the Screaming Eagles.

Listing the qualities instilled by Goedde, Kluesner lists intensity, work ethic and competitive drive.

“We had a lot of talent on that team,” says Kluesner, who was with the baseball team for two years. He would earn a mass communications degree from USI and a secondary education degree from Indiana University-Bloomington.

Kluesner’s first coaching go-round came in Babe Ruth League baseball in Bloomington.

“I really liked it,” says Kluesner. “Rex Grossman was on my team. He was a phenomenal baseball player. He was just a better football player.”

Grossman would later be Indiana’s Mr. Football and quarterback at the University of Florida and in the National Football League.

After Kluesner’s stint as a South assistant, he served two seasons as a Shelbyville High School assistant to Mike Hobbs and Scott Hughes and then was head coach at Columbus North High School 2003-08 before coming back to wear the purple and white.

Kluesner coached a travel team made up mostly of South players known as the Bloomington Wizards and is considering bringing it back just to keep his players together.

“We’ve got some pretty good young talent coming through,” says Kluesner. “Travel teams are like mushrooms when you get too much rain. So many of them pop up. It’s almost overwhelming.

“The big thing I’ve noticed chemistry is difficult with them playing all over the place. They don’t know each other. It makes it difficult with our high school team. Chemistry is the thing teams are lacking. It’s become highly individualistic. It’s a team sport.”

With control of his own high school players, Kluesner will have a say in development.

“In the summer, it’s about showcasing yourself,” says Kluesner. “You get your hacks and sit down. I’m not going to discourage all kids from doing that. Some need (higher-profile travel baseball). But we could offer that with our Wizards and do it for less money. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just my opinion.”

Kluesner has produced Class 4A sectional championship teams in 2010, 2015 and 2016 and sent a number of players on to NCAA Division I college baseball.

There’s Joe Forney (Class of 2011) to Xavier (and is now director of baseball operations at Miami of Ohio), John Robertson (Class of 2011) to Miami of Ohio, Jake Kelzer (Class of 2012) to Indiana (and is now in the Philadelphia Phillies organization), Nolan Rogers (Class of 2013) to Vanderbilt, Gage Rogers (Class of 2014) to High Point in North Carolina (and is now at Indiana University Southeast) and Tyler Van Pelt (2017) to Indiana.

Alex Franklin (Class of 2018) made a verbal commit to Indiana as a sophomore and signed in early November.

Franklin has been a shortstop and a center fielder. With his BHSS head coach valuing versatility, he’s also in the pitching mix.

“The more pitchers the better,” says Kluesner. “I don’t have a lot of pitcher-onlys.”

While on the subject of pitching, what about the pitch count rules (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) adopted in 2017?

“I’m a pitching guy and I think it’s too lenient,” says Kluesner. “The pitch count should be a little more stringent. I’ve never pitched a guy 120 pitches in my life. We try to set our schedules week to week basis. My big arm will only throw once a week.”

It’s all about a lack of effectiveness.

“We need to teach kids to be efficient and not be so erratic,” says Kluesner, who has had hurlers throw complete games in 70 or fewer tosses. That’s the reason they pitch so many pitches.

“Kids are out of control. They’re over throwing. There’s so much emphasis on velocity nowadays. Kids can be effective if they’re competitive.”

Catchers are expected to rely on their own knowledge to help guide the pitcher.

“I’m big on teaching kids to call their own game behind the plate,” says Kluesner. “You know they get it when they cut you off and say, “I know, Coach. I know what to call.’

“Catchers are better ballplayers if they learn.”

Besides letting the players take ownership of the game, there’s a third dimension by being behind the dish that coaches don’t see clearly from the dugout. Catchers know if the pitch is in or out, up or down and can adjust the pitch selection accordingly.

Another teaching point for all players is not to argue with or complain to the umpire.

“It’s their job to adapt to the umpire,” says Kluesner. “They’re all different.”

Kluesner’s assistants for 2018 are Trevor McConnell (varsity), Eric Dodds (varsity), Mike Vaughn (junior varsity), A.J. Hartman (JV and freshmen) and Kevin Gross (freshmen).

South typically keeps 45 to 50 players for its three teams.

“We always seem to have some large freshmen classes,” says Kluesner. “The year we went to semistate (2015), we had 11 seniors. On average, we have six or seven.

“It’s hard to keep all those kids anymore,” says Kluesner. “The mentality has changed. It’s hard to teach them roles. Everyone wants to be the star.”

Kluesner says the ideal number of players for a single week-night game is around 14 or 15. That way he can get his bench players into the game as courtesy/pinch runners, defensive replacements, pinch-hitters or relief pitchers.

The varsity roster might swell near 20 for the weekend doubleheader as Kluesner and his assistants bring JV players to reward them for their performance.

The Panthers belong to Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

Panthers home games are played at Groh Memorial Field, which dates back to 1965.

“It’s the original field,” says Kluesner, referring to the split of Bloomington High School into South and North for the 1972-73 school year. “It’s hollowed ground to us.

“When you think you’re playing the same place as thousands of other players, it gives you goosebumps. I make sure the players know that and respect that.”

Kluesner is expecting a major overhaul of the facility soon and South could welcome lights for the 2018 season.

The Panthers belong to Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

In a format change for 2018, all conference teams will play each other once to determine the champion. Before, there were divisions with an end-of-season tournament.

PHILKLUESNER

Phil Kluesner, a 1990 Bloomington High School South graduate, is entering his 10th season as Panthers head baseball coach in 2018.

Columbus North’s McDaniel speaks out about travel baseball, recruiting

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Travel baseball continues to grow in Indiana.

Player are increasingly aligning with organizations for the chance to play more games.

One of the reasons many high school-aged players go with travel teams is to get seen by college coaches who attend showcase tournaments during the college off-season.

As a long-time travel ball coach and head coach at Columbus North High School, Ben McDaniel knows both worlds.

Heading into his fifth season of leading the Columbus North Bull Dogs, McDaniel has been with the Indiana Outlaws and now it’s the Evoshield Canes Midwest. The Indianapolis-based Canes draw players from around Indiana plus Ohio and Kentucky.

One Canes player from the Class of 2021 — catcher Austin Bode — has already verbally committed to the University of Louisville.

“And he hasn’t even played an inning of high school baseball,” says McDaniel of North freshman Bode. “Kids are worried about (playing in college) at earlier ages. More and more, there are coaches at every game. It used to be that I didn’t used to have a roster with me (with contact information and grade-point). Now if you’re going to coach these players, you have got to play the game.”

If McDaniel has his way, the IHSAA rule of allowing coaches to work with just two players at a time three days a week out-of-season would be lifted.

“If the kids going to put the time in, it would be nice to provide the instruction,” says McDaniel, a member of the Indiana High School Coaches Association executive committee. “I think more high school coaches would coach summer baseball if it wasn’t so strict during the summer. The game could go completely to travel and that’s not good for high school baseball.”

McDaniel says the trend now is for recruiting to be handled more by travel coaches — who have more exposure college coaches — than leaders of high school programs.

“I’m very involved (with recruiting) as a high school coach,” says McDaniel. “I know all the (travel) coaches my (Columbus North) kids are player for. You have to work in-tandem. I believe it’s a high school coach’s job to build that relationship with the college coach.”

It’s also important to not over-sell a player. That’s a good way to burn a bridge.

“You come into this world with a few things — your last name and your word,” says McDaniel. “My kids know that if a coach calls me, they’re going to get an honest assessment.”

McDaniel says his No. 1 priority as a coach is getting players who want to play college baseball, the opportunity to do so.

Since becoming North head coach for the 2014 season and winning an IHSAA East Central Sectional title (he was Brian Muckerheide’s assistant in 2013), McDaniel has watched several players sign on with colleges, including ’14 graduate Christian Glass at Xavier University, ’15 graduates Cody Burton at Indiana State University, Evan Finke at Snead State Community College and Devin Mann at Louisville, ’16 graduates Collin Lollar at Ohio State University (he’s now at Wabash Valley College) and son Brice McDaniel at Purdue University (he’s now at Walters State Community College) and ’17 graduates Cooper Trinkle at the University of Evansville, Wade Rankin at Kankakee Community College, Kevin Thompson at Olney Central College and Nolan Wetherald at Marietta College.

Mann represented North as an all-state shortstop and IHSBCA North/South All-Star in 2015. Trinkle was an all-state shortstop as a junior and all-state second baseman as a senior. He and teammate Thompson were both IHSBCA South All-Stars.

Current senior Tyler Finke is to follow brother Evan’s foot steps to Snead State.

Parker Maddox (Class of 2019) and Casper Clark (Class of 2020) have both committed to Indiana University.

Jake Petrusky (Class of 2018) and Jakob Meyer (Class of 2019) have not yet made their college commitments.

McDaniel graduated from Westerville (Ohio) South High School in 1992. His job with Honda brought him to Indiana and it became home. He still works in the automotive industry with Faurecia.

As a baseball coach, he has come to put a lot of stock in mental toughness training.

“I’m firm believer in the mental aspect of the game,” says McDaniel. “It’s an area that is under-taught and underdeveloped.”

Especially on bad weather days when the Bull Dogs can’t get outside, they will spend time doing visualization exercises.

Brian Cain, Justin Dehmer and Indiana’s Dan Thurston (confidenceinbaseball.com) are some of McDaniel’s favorite mental conditioning professionals.

“We used (Thurston) last year and we’ll probably use him again,” says McDaniel. “He worked one-on-one with a pitcher of mine. I saw some of the results first-hand.”

Columbus North advanced to the Class 4A Plainfield Semistate. Before bowing 6-0 to eventual state champion Indianapolis Cathedral, the Dogs won the Bloomington North Sectional (topping East Central 4-3, Columbus East 7-6 and Bloomington South 11-1) and Evansville Reitz Regional (besting Martinsville 3-0 and Evansville Central 7-1).

The Dogs are members of the Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

In a format change for 2018, all conference teams will play each other once to determine the champion. Before, there were divisions with an end-of-season tournament.

McDaniel works closely with the school administration on North’s non-conference slate.

“I’m constantly trying to improve our strength of schedule,” says McDaniel, who typically sends his teams against the powerhouses around central and southern Indiana and will again take the Dogs to the early-April Super Prep Tournament hosted by Louisville Ballard. The annual event brings some of the best from multiple states.

“It’s a very good measuring stick for us at the start of the season,” says McDaniel, whose team is to play twice Friday and twice Saturday. “We get the toughest schedule I can get to prepare the guys for the postseason.”

Also helping to prepare the team is a staff featuring three pitching coaches — Jason Maddox (third season), Hunter McIntosh (second season) and Daniel Ayers (second season). Ayers pitched in the Baltimore Orioles organization and McIntosh pitched at Alabama State.

McDaniel leaves strength training, professions etc. up to his pitching experts. With their input, he sets the starting rotation and relief assignments.

North has mound depth and the new pitch count rules (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) adopted in 2017 really meant they now had something to track and report (to the athletic director) and they developed a third starter in order to deal with the sectional.

“We always kept our guys around the 120 number anyway,” says McDaniel. “Before (the new rule), we did it more based on performance. We didn’t keep our guys on a pitch count. It was what they were conditioned to do.

“We pride ourselves that we’ve never had any arm injury.”

The varsity coaching staff also features Chris Gerth (sixth season), Will Nelson (second season) and speed and agility instructor Nathan Frasier.

Junior varsity coaches are Mike Bodart (fifth season) and Alex Engelbert (second season). North typically plays 24 to 28 JV games per spring.

The Bull Dogs play their games at Southside Elementary School near the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds — about five miles from the high school campus. The five-year facility features a locker room that’s equipped with a sound system and a TV to watch instructional videos plus ping pong and air hockey tables.

“The community gave us a pretty nice complex,” says McDaniel. “We take pride in the facility. Having a place to call their own is something special.”

Players and coaching tend to field maintenance.

“It instills a little discipline and appreciation into the kids,” says McDaniel.

BENMCDANIEL

Ben McDaniel is head baseball coach at Columbus North High School and also coaches for the Evoshield Canes Midwest travel organization. He also serves on the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive committee.

 

Bunnell has Westfield playing with character, commitment

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Bunnell might change the words of his mantra from time to time to stay fresh.

But the head baseball coach at Westfield High School in Hamilton County, Indiana, continues to run a program based on character, commitment, hard work and extra effort.

“Everyone has influence,” says Bunnell. “How they use that influence is up to them.”

Bunnell has been in charge of the Shamrocks since the 2003 season, meaning 2017-18 is his 16th as coach and 15th as a WHS teacher.

The Rocks have won well over 200 games to go with three sectional (2008, 2009, 2011), one regional (2009), one semistate (2009) and one state runner-up finish (2009) plus four Hoosier Crossroads Conference titles (2009, 2010, 2013, 2015) on Bunnell’s watch.

Kevin Plawecki, who is now a catcher with the New York Mets, was a senior and batted No. 3 for Westfield in the 2009 IHSAA Class 4A State Finals then played at Purdue University before beginning his professional baseball career. Plawecki still stays in contact with Bunnell.

A 1991 graduate of Northwestern High School in Kokomo, where he played for coach Kent LeBeau, Bunnell put in one season at Huntington College (now Huntington University) for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame and finished his college studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Bunnell likes his Shamrocks to “stay in the present” and “control the controllable.”

Knowing when the make the right play and quality at-bats are valued highly by Westfield baseball. QAB points can come from hard-hit balls, walks, hit-by-pitch, stolen bases, dirt-ball reads and other things.

The Rocks look to “win the freebie war” — meaning they give up fewer walks, errors, etc., and seeks have more big innings (defined by three runs or more) than the opponents. They have crunched the numbers at Westfield and know the win percentage is high when the Rocks have more big innings than their foes.

It’s a philosophy Bunnell picked up at a clinic from former Mississippi State University coach John Cohen and it’s kind of thing that happened frequently in successful Westfield seasons like 2009.

Bunnell says the program usually sees up to 70 kids try out for about 50 spots on three teams — varsity and two junior varsity squads (Green and White). Having two JV units allows for flexibility and playing time. For instance, the Rocks had five catchers in the freshmen class in 2017 and just one among the sophomores.

Westfield’s 2018 coaching staff is to include John Oestreich (pitching coach), Mike Hansen (third base/catchers coach), Bill Lindsey (hitting/corner infielders coach), Kevin Entwistle (JV Green/outfielders coach) and Evan Kosmoski (JV White/pitching coach).

All JV home games are played at Grand Park with some varsity games being moved there if wet weather means the Rocks can’t play on-campus. With this relationship, Bullpen Tournaments is allowed to use the Westfield varsity field for some of its summer tournaments.

Feeding the program are recreation and 12U to 15U travel teams (Westfield Rocks) from Westfield Youth Sports, Inc., plus middle school squads that play at Shamrock Springs Elementary.

“Baseball is strong here for sure,” says Bunnell.

A portion of Bunnell’s summers is spent with wife Michell and four children (Kaylie, A.J., Cooper and Beau) and coaching with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.

“They have been very good to me,” says Bunnell. “We don’t practice a whole lot in the summer. The crispness of the game gets away. We need that repetition in practice.”

The coach approves of the pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA in 2017 (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).

“These are young kids and they are still developing and kids are throwing harder than ever,” says Bunnell, who had tended to use his starters once a week during the regular season with a non-conference game on Tuesday and conference contests on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The past few seasons the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (which has featured Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Zionsville and will add Franklin Central in 2018-19) has employed a three-game series for baseball and Bunnell has been a fan of the format.

“You get a true conference champion,” says Bunnell. “I’ll be sad to see it go (if it goes away with the growth of the conference or reduction in the number of games allowed by the IHSAA).”

Currently, the association allows 28 games plus a tournament prior to the state tournament series.

If he had his way, the season would actually expand, state tournament stages would be seeded and championships would be determined by a series or at least through double-elimination.

“It would create excitement and it would be great to see it showcased that way,” says Bunnell. “We have to stop with the one-size-fits-all approach. Each sport has its uniqueness.”

With the HCC format, the Friday game under the lights has often drawn big crowds and taken on the atmosphere of prep football.

Of course more games would necessitate more time to get postseason games in and there are already issues now where sectional games have to be played from Wednesday through Monday and still adhere to pitch count rules.

Bunnell said this narrow window, the draw and variables like weather and graduation ceremonies can put teams on one side of the bracket at a serious disadvantage.

How would seeding work?

Bunnell notes that it is done in Ohio and rankings such as those produced by MaxPreps could be used.

“There are a lot of options,” says Bunnell.

To concentrate on mental toughness, Westfield athletes take part annually in Shamrock Advantage Week. In brief after-school sessions, speakers cover various topics like mindfulness, trust building and becoming an elite competitor. Bunnell has been one of those SAW presenters.

RYANBUNNELL1

Ryan Bunnell is going into his 16th season as head baseball coach at Westfield High School in 2017-18.

RYANBUNNELL2