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McGaha emphasizes running game, commitment for Mooresville Pioneers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eric McGaha wants a team that will keep moving on the baseball field will act right on it and off.

“We put a lot of guys in motion,” McGaha, who has been the head coach at Mooresville High School in Morgan County every year but two since 2002. “We’ve got more than 100 stolen bases. Our steal steal percentage a little over 90 percent.”

McGaha grew up a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, but he really enjoyed seeing speed on display with the St. Louis Cardinals of Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Lonnie Smith and Ozzie Smith.

“I want my team to be athletic and run,” says McGaha. “That’s the first thing we do.

“I can’t watch Major League Baseball now. It’s either an extra-base hit or a strikeout. It boggles my mind. What about drag bunting, push bunting or fake bunt and slash?”

McGaha will look at a player’s batting average, but he’s really concerned with things like on-base percentage and hitting the ball hard.

“We use a Quality At-Bat chart and that’s the deciding factor on how we evaluate players from an offensive standpoint,” says McGaha. “We reward a ’sting’ hit or a ‘sting’ out.”

A player with a QAB rating of 2 is average, 3 above average and 4 outstanding.

“We have several players above 4,” says McGaha. “Off the field, it’s about being the best human being and teammate you can be. We’re here to mold young men into adults. They have be able to handle failure and success with grace and dignity.

“You want to surround yourself with kids are willing to work hard and pay the price. They buy into what you’re selling 100 percent. Those are the kids you want.”

McGaha’s Pioneers went into the week at 15-8 overall and 6-4 in the super-competitive Mid-State Conference. Whiteland and Mooresville were 1-2 in the standings in a league that also features Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville and Plainfield.

Among the Pioneers’ 2018 non-conference opponents are Avon, Beech Grove, Bloomington North, Cascade, Covenant Christian, Eastern Hancock, Edinburgh, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis North Central, Lebanon, Monrovia, Mount Vernon (Fortville), Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo and Tri-West Hendricks. Mooresville beat Eastern Hancock and lost to North Central Saturday, May 12 in Pioneers’ own John B. Howden Memorial Tournament.

“There’s no break in our schedule,” says McGaha. “All the teams we play are really respectable.

“We try to play as many quality teams as we can and try to prepare for the sectional.”

Mooresville is in the seven-team IHSAA Class 4A Avon Sectional with Avon, Brownsburg, Northview, Plainfield, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo.

Pioneers senior shortstop Tanner Haston has committed to Purdue University.

McGaha’s coaching staff features Kyle Davis (who played for McGaha), Joe Coughlan and David Rose (brother of Pete Rose) with the varsity, Toby Hennessy with the junior varsity and Dylan Johnson with the freshmen.

“It starts with good people,” says McGaha. “You surround yourself with good people that are pointed in the same direction. Those coaches are the voices of you. Make sure they’re following your philosophy.”

The program is fed by various travel programs plus the Mooresville Junior Baseball League, which serviced more than 500 kids in 2017.

With multiple teams and no room to expand, the school board voted to turf the entire baseball and softball fields at Mooresville. This spring marks the second season.

“I’d been asking for about a half dozen years,” says McGaha of his request to the school board. “They were very gracious.

“We are blessed and fortunate to have such a nice facility and we don’t every take it for granted.”

By using rakes and a LitterKat Synthetic Turf Sweeper, the team hopes to retain the life and longevity of the field.

In addition, metal spikes, sunflower seeds and chewing gum are all forbidden.

McGaha says the most expense in a turf field comes not from the turf but the drainage system.

“When it rains at our place, within 10 minutes it’s dry and you’re ready to go,” says McGaha.

The coach wants all his players ready to go and that includes seniors.

McGaha says only people who have coached a high school sport in the spring — like baseball — knows the challenges that accompany it.

Besides the diamond, players heads are filled with thoughts of spring break, prom, graduation, open houses and summer jobs. Many times, sectional games are played with players who are already out of the school building.

“Are they with you or have they mentally already checked out?,” says McGaha. “Unless you’ve experienced that you have no idea what it’s like. There are all these balls in the air and it’s a distraction.

“We try to play our best baseball at the end of the year. There have been years we haven’t done that. How committed are your seniors? We always say we have to have guys with two feet in. When a baseball player has senioritis it can kill the chemistry of a ball club.”

McGaha, who now teaches physical education at Northwood Elementary in Mooresville in addition to his coaching duties, is a 1991 graduate of Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, where he played for Indiana Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Foreman.

“Besides my stepfather, he had the biggest impact on my life,” says McGaha of the man who played at Indiana University for IHSBCA and Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Ernie Andres and then led the Warren Central program for 31 seasons.

McGaha played one season at Tri-State University (now Trine University) in Angola, Ind., then transferred to Purdue University North Central (now Purdue Northwest) in Westville, Ind.

“I knew I wanted to coach,” says McGaha, who was a relief pitcher who got a chance to lead and be a role model for coach Larry Blake. He earned his degree and began teaching and coaching in Mooresville around 2000.

Eric and Jan McGaha have been married close to 21 years and have three children — Brenna (13), Hanna (11) and Brody (9).

When Brody was very young, Jan went through a bout with cancer. She had her thyroid removed and went through radiation treatment.

“Thank the good Lord,” says Eric. “She’s been cancer free — knock on wood — for quite awhile.”

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Eric McGaha and wife Jan gather with their children (from left) Brenna, Brody and Hanna. Eric is the head baseball coach at Mooresville High School.

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Mercer makes relationships, mental skills priority for Wright State Baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Embracing the importance of personal relationships and the process, Indiana native Jeff Mercer continues to enjoy baseball accomplishment in Ohio.

Mercer, a 2004 Franklin County High School graduate, is in his second season as head coach at NCAA Division I Wright State University in Dayton.

After leading WSU to a 38-21 mark in 2017, Mercer had the Raiders at 29-13 heading into a May 4-6 Horizon League series against the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Mercer served as an assistant to Rich Maloney at the University of Michigan (2011), Matt Myers at Western Kentucky University (2012-13) and Greg Lovelady at Wright State (2014-16) before taking over the reigns of the RaiderGang when Lovelady took the heading coaching job at the University of Central Florida.

As a power-hitting first baseman, Mercer played two seasons at the University of Dayton (2005, 2007) for head coach Tony Vittorio then two at Wright State (2008-09) for head coach Rob Cooper.

While playing for WSU, Mercer was a two-time all-Horizon League first-team selection at first base. In 2009, he was HL Player of the Year and a Collegiate Baseball Newspaper third-team All-American as he hit .357 with 26 doubles and 74 runs batted in.

As a Franklin Community Grizzly Cub, he learned from three coaches — Mark Pieper, father Jeff Mercer and Brian Luse.

Mercer, 32, credits Pieper for instilling an appreciation for relationships.

“That’s one thing I’ve tried to make a core value and staple of my coaching staff,” says Mercer, who counts Nate Metzger, Matt Talarico, Alex Sogard, mental skills development coordinator Diamyn Hall, director of operations Denton Sagerman and volunteer Jacob Burk among his Wright State assistants. “We have to have personal relationships with our players.

“If you want to bring out the best in them — physically, emotionally, academically and all those things — the core of that is the relationship where you can help them build and grow.”

Mercer, who earned an organizational leadership degree from Wright State in 2009, does not buy into the generation gap excuse.

“I am young — one of the younger (D-I) head coaches in the country,” says Mercer. “I take it a little bit personally when people talk about ‘kids these days.’ You take the time to develop a relationship, the generation of the kid you’re dealing with is no different.

“They need to know that you care. They need to know you’re invested.”

This trust allows Mercer and his staff to drive the Raiders.

“We’re hard on players,” says Mercer. “We push them. We have really high expectation levels.

“But if they knew you have their best interests at heart then they have no problem with that kind of tough love.”

The elder Jeff Mercer, who helped start the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization and is now assistant superintendent of Franklin Community Schools, passed along his affinity for structure and discipline to his son.

“Everything was always very methodical,” says Mercer. “There was always an organizational plan. I took from that the confidence you have in preparation.

“We recruit a very confident kind of kid. First and foremost that comes from him. There’s only so much confidence we can give somebody. The confidence that comes from preparation can only be earned. It can’t be bought. You can’t pay for it.

“It just comes with time. It made me more confident as a player and as a coach knowing how much time and work we put into it.”

Mercer notes that Wright State has enjoyed much success against highly-ranked opponents and in hostile environments.

“Guys are confident because they know they are prepared to play at that level,” says Mercer, whose team earned two 2018 road wins against No. 20 Louisiana and one triumph against vote-getter Sam Houston State. The Raiders play at No. 29 Louisville Tuesday, May 8.

Mercer says Luse blend qualities from Pieper and his father.

“We played loose and free for him,” says Mercer. “But he also had a feel for the structure and discipline of it. Consequently, we had a lot of success. We were a very good team.

“You learn something from everybody you come in contact with and I certainly learned a lot during my high school time.”

Vittorio, who grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from Southport High School in 1984, brought toughness and discipline to his coaching.

“I knew that he cared,” says Mercer, who was a walk-on for the Flyers. “The relationship that I have with him now is really nice. He’s around a lot.”

While Mercer was at Dayton, another coach had a lasting impact on him.

“My relationship with hitting coach Cory Allen really shaped the way I view hitting from a mechanical aspect that I’ve carried forth to this day,” says Mercer. “It was the first time that anyone had discussed biomechanics, centrifugal force and different movements.

“It was an eye-opening experience and it drove me to be a much better player. I wasn’t a very talented player. Understanding a lot of those basics allowed me to have an advantage.”

After transferring to Wright State he formed a personal relationship with Cooper.

“At that point, there was nobody better in my career at making us all feel valued,” says Mercer. “I learned so much about that from him.

“He was the first person that introduced me to the mental game aspect.”

In the years since he played, Mercer has seen the field of mental skills training take off.

“It’s become an industry in and of itself,” says Mercer. “At the time, there was nobody talking about ‘don’t worry about the outcome, it’s the quality of the at-bat. It’s the process over the outcome.’ At the time it was very cutting edge and it was new information for me.

“I was a much better baseball player at Wright State than I was at Dayton

“It was directly attributed to the mental game and understanding that I couldn’t just play with reckless abandon when it came to my emotions. Physically, I could play very hard. But emotionally, there has to be some constraint.”

One of the keys is to know where place the emphasis.

“If I go through the process the right way and I work on things I’m supposed to work on and invest in things I’m supposed to invest in and I have the at-bat I’m supposed to have and putting a good swing on a good pitch, whatever happens from there is completely out of my hands,” says Mercer. “Once I did that I became a much better player.”

Mercer recruits plenty of football and wrestling athletes.

“Their mentality is I can work harder and harder,” says Mercer. “That’s not always effective in baseball.”

In his first season as head coach, he found the mental game to be a bit lacking and he thinks he knows the reason.

“When it comes from the head coach it can become a bit stale because I’m always talking and communicating with players,” says Mercer. “My voice is always heard.

“I like having a big coaching staff and having them deal with each player individually because it keeps things fresh. We need to have multi-faceted relationships.”

Then opportunity knocked.

Hall, who is from nearby Centerville, Ohio, had just ended his collegiate playing career and was looking to find his way in the mental skills field.

The decision was made to bring him on-board as the very first full-time mental skills coordinator in D-I baseball.

“We had a mutual need,” says Mercer of Hall. “He needed a place to begin his career. We needed someone who was a fresh face and had an ability to communicate with young people in an electric way, in an impassioned way. He has a magnetic personality.

“It’s been a beautiful union.”

Hall meets with players as a group and one-on-one, providing his knowledge and helping athletes reach their potential.

“We’re providing the players with the resources to be the best they can,” says Mercer. “It’s really about knowing yourself and what you need to be successful.”

Jeff and is one four boys born to Jeff and Pam Mercer. His mother teaches math at Whiteland Community High School.

Stephanie Mercer, Jeff’s wife, teaches sixth grade at Ankeney Middle School. The former Ohio Northern University athlete is also an assistant boys volleyball coach at Beavercreek (Ohio) High School.

Jeff and Stephanie are expecting their first child — a boy — in the fall.

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Jeff Mercer, a 2004 Franklin Community High School graduate, is in his second season as head baseball coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. At 32, he is one of the youngest head coaches in NCAA Division I baseball. (Wright State Photo)

 

Franklin Community graduate McKinney getting rush as reliever in Nationals system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy McKinney gets a charge out of stepping on the pitching mound.

Especially when he is in a relief role and gets to just let loose.

“Being a starter, I had to take up a lot of innings,” says McKinney. “I had to have stamina with my pitching. Being a closer, I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to hold back.”

That has been the experience of the right-hander who formerly pitched at Franklin Community High School (2010-13), Northwest Florida State College (2014) and Indiana State University (2015-17) and is now in his second season in the Washington Nationals organization.

“I love the closing and relieving role,” says McKinney, who has been coming out of the bullpen for the Hagerstown Suns of the Class-A South Atlantic League in 2018 and has made 62 mound appearances since college (48 in relief). “It’s more of an adrenalin rush for me to go in there and do what I like.”

McKinney, who was selected in the 31st round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of ISU by the Nationals, estimates he uses his four-seam fastball 80 percent of the time.

“In certain situations, I have to mix in off-speed,” says McKinney, who also throws a slider and change-up while working with Hagerstown pitching coach Tim Redding and manager Patrick Anderson.

At Franklin, McKinney played his first two seasons for the elder Jeff Mercer and his last two for Paul Strack. His senior year of 2013, he was chosen for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

“(Mercer) taught me how to be a player,” says McKinney, 23. “My freshman year, he gave me the opportunity to be a starting (varsity) pitcher. (Strack) taught me to keep working and don’t ever give up.”

McKinney typically played in right field when he was not pitching.

After playing Franklin Grizzly Cubs travel ball leading into high school, McKinney was a four-year player in his prep summers for the Indiana Bulls. With that organization, he gathered pitching wisdom from coach Emmitt Carney.

It was at Northwest Florida State, where Doug Martin was head coach and Craig Rodriguez the pitching coach, that McKinney put the two-seam fastball aside in favor of the four-seamer.

“They helped me to develop better,” says McKinney of Martin and Rodriguez.

That process continued in Terre Haute for ISU head coach Mitch Hannahs and pitching coach Jordan Tiegs, especially on the mental side of things.

“I learned a lot from them,” says McKinney, a closer for his first two years and a starter for his final season with the Sycamores while bouncing back from a 2015 shoulder injury. “They really developed me as a pitcher. “They helped me handle stressful situations and just go with it.

“They’d put me in my place and tell me what to do and I’d do my best to do it.”

The biggest difference between college and pro baseball to McKinney?

“Having to keep the ball down,” says McKinney. “I could get away with a lot in college.

“If you (elevate it) in pro ball, they’ll definitely know you made a mistake.”

Jeremy is the middle child of Doug and Cindy McKinney. Older brother Brett McKinney works in clinical research in the Indiana University School of Medicine. Younger sister Olivia McKinney is a Franklin Community junior.

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Jeremy McKinney, a 2013 Franklin Community High School graduate and former Northwest Florida State College and Indiana State University player, is now a relief pitcher in the Washington Nationals system. (Hagerstown Suns Photo)

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

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combs also learned to curb his on-field temper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I still embrace that today.”

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

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

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

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

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

He received baseball books as gifts while growing up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

Hall helping dial in players as mental game development coordinator at Wright State

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Without your mind, your body’s nothing. You can have the best swing in the world. But if your mental game is not on-point — a 0 out of 10 — that swing goes to waste. Without the confidence. Without the positive self talk. Without the mental toughness, it’s hard to be able to unlock your physical potential” — Diamyn Hall, Mental Game Development Coordinator for Wright State University baseball

Through his own experiences and continued study, Hall is helping develop the mental side for not only his NCAA Division I program in Dayton, Ohio, but his many followers on social media.

Hall, a Centerville, Ohio, resident, played on the diamond at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Grambling (La.) State University and Georgia Southwestern State University and was brought on-board last summer at Wright State as a full-time mental coach — a groundbreaking move in college baseball.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” says Hall, who joined a coaching staff of “go-getters” led by Jeff Mercer (a graduate of Franklin Community High School in Indiana) and also features assistants Matt Talarico (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger graduate), Nate Metzger, Alex Sogard, director of operations Denton Sagerman, volunteer Jacob Burk and athletic trainer Brad Muse. “I’m coming on to a staff where they already believed in the mental game. It’s not a situation where I had to convince them that this is something important. They had already bought-in 100 percent.”

Halls says Mercer — and former Wright State head coach Greg Lovelady (now head coach at the University of Central Florida) — have always been advocates of the mental game.

“Hopefully, this can add a few extra wins to the column,” says Hall, an attendee at the American Baseball Coaches Association national convention, which drew more than 6,100 of all levels to Indianapolis Jan. 4-7. “Now, it’s a matter of executing this role in the best way possible.

“There’s no clear-cut way to do anything regarding the mental game. I’m individualizing for each player as best as I can with the resources that we have.

“I’m feeling my way around and figuring out how to balance efficiency and effectiveness in every situation possible,” says Hall. “It’s a matter of being able to manage the mental game with each of our guys. We don’t want them thinking too much, but we want them to have the tools to succeed.”

As soon as he was hired, Hall began building relationships with WSU players.

He meets with them one-on-one, as a team and in small groups (ie. pitchers or hitters). By using examples that players can relate to most, Hall sees the biggest potential for really driving the message home.

As the Raiders get ready to open the 2018 season Feb. 16 at Tulane University, Hall is loading the players’ tool boxes and setting their foundations. Once the season begins and the Raiders start playing games, he will be in the dugout as a quick fix.

It’s going to be more ‘observe and serve.’ If everything’s good, I’m not going to have to do too much. At the end of the day, you want to give them all of the tools so if you drop off the face of the planet, they’ll be able to use the things you’ve taught them and they’ll know what works for them and what doesn’t. I believe that Awareness Activates Ability.”

Hall counts it as extremely important, that players are competing one pitch at a time, controlling what they can control, staying in the present moment and keeping their confidence level and their teammates’ confidence as high as possible at all times.

Many baseball coaches are emphasizing the mental side and don’t realize it.

“If they talk about discipline, leadership, competing one pitch at a time and keeping your confidence high, they sound like a mental game coach,” says Hall, who says the mental game works best when it is ingrained in hitting, pitching, base-running and fielding and not looked at as a  separate entity.

To foster growth of the mental game, Hall suggests implementing as many competitions in practice as possible and making practice feel more game-like for the players.

“Now you’re bringing up the competitive nature,” says Hall. “It plays a big role in the culture, in which Coach Mercer has created.”

Hall filled up notebooks with his observations during his playing days and learned the importance of keeping the body relaxed under pressure.

“The higher the stakes, the more calm, relaxed and confident you must become,” says Hall, who wants players to get to the point where treat those moments not as high-pressure situations but as tests to see how well they have been working on the things that really matter.

Some baseball people call it “Backyard Loose.”

“You want to be in that state at all times or at least as much as possible,” says Hall. “You need to practice those things in order to be able to implement those things during the game.”

Among Hall’s mentors is Dr. Charlie Maher (Sport and Performance Psychologist for the Cleveland Indians).

Hall, who holds a bachelor’s degrees in Psychology from Grambling State and Sociology from Georgia Southwestern State and is pursuing a masters and doctorate in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, is constantly educating himself.

“I make sure I’m always learning the newest things through self-education,” says Hall. “When I’m driving, I don’t listen to music anymore. I usually listen to a podcast or an audio book. To some, music is what moves the soul. For me, constantly and serving, is what what moves my soul. It keeps me going.

“If I have a 13-hour trip to Louisiana for a speaking engagement that can be time for me to learn. I make sure I’m getting all the best information so that I’ll be able to use with our guys

“I want to be able to practice what I preach and maximize on every single moment and execute things one step at a time.”

Hall uses the analogy of a dresser. Pull all the drawers out at the same time and it tips over. Or pull out one drawer at a time; putting all of your focus and energy in that drawer, closing it, and then moving on to the next drawer.

“That’s what it means to compete one pitch at a time,” says Hall. “For me, it’s learning one thing at a time. The language is all the same, it’s just a matter of where we’re applying it.”

Hall shares his gained wisdom with more than 15,000 Twitter followers at @DiamynHall and upwards of 6,200 Instagram followers at diamynhall can be contacted through his website — DiamynPerformance.com. His girlfriend — Grambling State volleyball player Diemend Richardson — is expected to join the business soon.

“I do it for the players and coaches that want to get better,” says Hall. “It’s just kind of taken off.”

Hall began his baseball-playing career as a high school sophomore. He played at football powerhouse Kettering Archbishop Alter (the Knights won Ohio High School Athletic Association Division IV state champions in 2008 and 2009) and sustained a neck injury. Doctors found that he had congenital spinal stenosis (a narrowing of fluid in the spine) and would not clear him to play football again.

He turned to baseball.

“When I first started playing a lot of coaches told me, ‘you’re not going to be able to play at the next level,” says Hall, a 2012 graduate of Centerville High School. “‘You’re not good enough. You’re not skilled enough. It’s too late to pick this up.’

“Of course — in my mind — I believed otherwise. I worked my tail off day after day and was getting a decent amount of results. I was a 5-tool player, but I wasn’t get the results I thought I should be getting with the athletic ability that I had so I turned to the mental side of the game.

“I wanted to find an edge to be able to separate myself from everybody else — not only catch up to my peers, but pass them.”

The first mental game book Hall read was “Heads-Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time (by Tom Hanson and Ken Ravizza)” and it gave him the foundation that led to his role as a mental game coordinator.

Drs. Hanson and Ravizza, who have come out with “HeadsUp Baseball 2.0,” were clinic speakers at the ABCA convention in Indianapolis.

DIAMYNHALLSTEVEKRAHABCA2018

Diamyn Hall (left) speaks to IndianaRBI.com’s Steve Krah at the 2018 Indiana Baseball Coaches Association convention in Indianapolis. Hall is the Mental Game Development Coordinator for Wright State University baseball.

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

Indiana State’s Hannahs mixes old school with new

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mitch Hannahs has been involved in sports for most of his 50 years and he’s learned from wise men.

The former Ohio schoolboy and All-American second baseman for Indiana State University who became an ISU Athletics Hall of Famer is now heading into his fifth season as the school’s head baseball coach.

His style is a reflection of playing for Hall of Famers — Mark Huffman in high school and Bob Warn in college.

At Skyvue High School (since consolidated with Woodsfield into Monroe Central in southeastern Ohio), he witnessed the patient of Huffman as he ran basketball and baseball teams. Huffman is in the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“A lot of young guys are impatient,” says Hannahs. “(Huffman) had a very calming hand. That really helped me.”

Hannahs says patience “gives you the rope and the time to develop a young player.”

Positive results are not always going to be instant and both coach and player need to realize that.

Hannahs not only played for American Baseball Coaches Association and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Warn, helping ISU to 172 victories and three NCAA Tournament appearances 1986-89, he came back to Terre Haute to be a Sycamores assistant.

“There’s old school. He’s double old school if there’s such a thing,” says Hannahs of Warn, who guided Hannahs and company to the 1986 College World Series. “His camps were tremendously tough. He taught us to be tough between the lines then carry ourselves like a young man should off the field. It’s something that’s carried with me for a lot of years now.”

It’s a transfer that not every athlete can master but Hannahs wants ballplayers who can be hard on the field and soft off it.

“An edge is required,” says Hannahs. “We have to have it and develop it.

“You have to be tough and resilient as you possibly can between the lines. You have to become very comfortable being uncomfortable. That comes with playing athletics at the very highest level. Then you walk out the gate and become the humble contributor to society.”

Another thing that Huffman did with his players was challenge them. He was famous for his overloads in basketball practice, sending five men against seven or eight.

“He was always creating ways to challenge us,” says Hannahs of Huffman. “I was telling my guys the other day about winning a court in the summer. If you didn’t win, you didn’t play. My guys had no clue what I was talking about.”

That being said, Hannahs news himself as a mix of the old and new.

“I like to think that I apply a lot of older tactics into a more modern approach,” says Hannahs. “It’s good to connect and have a rapport with your players.”

Hannahs has produced winning teams and players that have gone on to professional baseball.

In his four seasons to date, the Sycamores have won 127 games, made an NCAA Tournament and had three top-3 finishes in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Hannahs is the sixth coach in program history to record 100 or more wins. ISU rewarded him with a contract extension through 2020.

Following a 29-26 season (12-9 in The Valley which also includes Bradley, Dallas Baptist, Drake, Evansville, Illinois State, Loyola, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and Valparaiso), four Sycamores were selected in the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — right-handed pitcher Will Kincanon by the Chicago White Sox (ninth round), second baseman Tyler Friis by the Cleveland Indians (21st round), right-hander and Franklin Community High School product Jeremy McKinney by the Washington Nationals (31st round) and righty submariner and former Terre Haute South Vigo standout Damon Olds by the Kansas City Royals (33rd round).

Keeping the talent coming to the ISU campus requires recruiting the right players.

“We want to get the best players we can find,” says Hannahs. “If we can pull them out of your back yard, that’s great.”

But don’t expect Indiana State to get commitments from players who are barely out of junior high — which is a big trend in major college baseball these days.

“When that early commitment stuff began to maintain some integrity, we said we can’t jump in quite so early,” says Hannahs.

The coach notes that North American players can’t be signed until late in their high school careers and yet high-profile college programs are getting verbal commitments from 15-year-olds.

“It’s an arms race so to say,” says Hannahs. “They are getting their (recruiting) classes organized earlier.”

Why is this happening?

“Because they can,” says Hannahs. There is no rule against it. Players can’t sign that early, but they can say they are going to School X at anytime.

“It creates a storm,” says Hannahs.

Plus, signing is one thing and actually making an impact is another.

“No one has researched number of kids who stay and contribute at these schools,” says Hannahs.

The coach notes that the very best players are easy for anyone to identify and project. It’s in the second and third tiers that the waters become murky.

ISU has gotten more involved in recruiting junior college players and has no less than 13 former JUCO athletes on the 2018 online roster.

“It allows us to watch them another year after high school before we make that decision,” says Hannahs.

The world of travel baseball closely relates to recruiting.

“Travel baseball has been very good in terms of exposing young players to potential recruiters,” says Hannahs. “It’s led to early signing and committing for a lot of kids.

“Those two coupled together have negatively impacted high school baseball. Some kids — after they commit — shut down on their high school team. That’s not to knock travel. It’s accomplished what people set our for it to do. I wish we didn’t have the negative impact on the other side.”

The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A player can be loyal to his high school program and participate and thrive in travel baseball.

“We all have priorities whether we put it on a list or not,” says Hannahs. “Travel ball has been placed higher than high school in the minds of many.”

Hannahs says he wants players who are concerned more about helping the team win than their own accomplishments.

“It can be a tough adjustment period for guys who spend their younger years trying to be seen,” says Hannahs. “If you try to produce for your team and are motivated to help them win, colleges are going to beat your door down.”

MITCHHANNAHS

Mitch Hannahs, who played at Indiana State University 1986-89 and is in the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame, is entering his fifth season as Sycamores head  baseball coach in 2018. (Indiana State University Photo)