Tag Archives: Franklin Community

Bass has guided Greenwood Woodmen baseball since 1998 season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like many high school head coaches, Greenwood (Ind.) Community’s Andy Bass absorbed much of his baseball knowledge from his college coach.

Bass was an honorable mention all-conference catcher at Franklin (Ind.) College in 1994. Jim Handley was the Grizzlies head coach.

Handley had pitched at Auburn University and in the Chicago White Sox system in the mid-1970s.

“A lot of coaching stuff I use came from (Handley),” says Bass, who heads into his 22nd season in charge of the Greenwood Woodmen in 2019. “He taught me drills I still use. He was big on fundamentals and using the bunt and hit-and-run to generate offense. We weren’t a big power team (at Franklin).

“Year in and year out, we’re more of a small-ball team (at Greenwood). We have to execute the bunt, hit-and-run and steal.”

Handley’s pitching know-how and Bass working with pitchers helped him understand the importance of locating pitches and changing eye levels and speeds.

Bass, a 1991 graduate of Triton Central High School, where he played for one season for Kent Tresslar, two for Bruce Stone and one for Tim Smith, coached at Waldron (Ind.) High School in Shelby County his first year out of college. His first season as Greenwood head coach was 1998.

The Woodmen went 8-19 in 2018. They were led offensively by seniors T.J. Bass (.375), Brody Tisdale (.326) and Jordan Martin (.284).

Catcher/outfielder T.J. Bass, the coach’s son, is now at Taylor University. Right-handed pitcher/shortstop Tisdale went to Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Ill.  Catcher Jordan Leverett moved on to Anderson University.

Other recent Greenwood graduates going to college baseball include catcher Damon Maynard (Olney Central College in Illinois and an Illinois State University commit), second baseman Jarrett Caster (Franklin College), right-hander Jacob Cutter (Greenville in College in Illinois) and right-hander Reid Werner (University of Indianapolis).

During the Bass era, the Woodmen have produced outfielders Andrew Dimino (Virginia Commonwealth University) and Alex Krupa (MVP in the 2014 Junior College World Series while at Iowa Western Community College and then a player at Indiana University).

Bass sees it as a part of his duties to help a player if they have college baseball aspirations.

“If that’s what they want to do, we do everything we can to help them out,” says Bass. “We talk to coaches and send emails.”

Many times these days, the connection is made through the player’s summer team. But Bass knows he knows the athlete as a student and as part of a family.

“We have a relationship with the player a little better than the travel coach in some of those areas,” says Bass, who has also coached travel ball with the Indiana Astros.

Among those expected back for 2019 at Greenwood are three junior pitchers — Oliver Rau (2-6, 1 save in a team-high 13 appearances), Cameron Crick (2-1 in 10 appearances) and Ben Sobieray (0-5 in 10 appearances).

Bass has kept as many as 45 and as few as 36 players for three teams — varsity, junior varsity and freshmen.

“It depends on where the talent falls and where our needs are,” says Bass, whose teams used two on-campus fields. The higher team plays on the varsity diamond when two are in action at the same time.

A year ago, the varsity field was enclosed for the first time. In the off-season, agricultural lime was added to the warning track and the visitor’s bullpen was re-built. In recent seasons, the dugout railing was extended.

Greenwood is in a Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland) and the lone MSC team without a lighted home field.

Conference games are played as home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with Thursday as the rain date.

With this format, Bass says teams are forced develop more pitching depth if they wish to compete.

“You must have two good starting pitchers and at least two good relievers and score runs everyday,” says Bass.

The Woodmen are in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Center Grove, Franklin Central, Franklin Community, Martinsville and Whiteland.

Greenwood has won eight sectional titles — the last in 1984.

Bass will be assisted in 2019 Mario Buscemi, Ben Sutton and Christian Cruze. Connor Morris works with both the JV and varsity. Sutton leads the freshmen and Cruze is a volunteer with the freshmen.

Greenwood Little League is considered a feeder system for the high school, but many are playing travel ball at a younger age.

“When I was in school, we played summer ball for our high school against other high schools,” says Bass. “Travel ball wasn’t a big thing back then.”

Bass notes that Phil Webster had his Decatur Central team playing in travel ball tournaments in the summer of 2007 then won an IHSAA state title with that group in 2008.

Andy, a math teacher and assistant athletic director, is married to Jenni. The couple has four children — sons T.J. and Sam (a junior second baseman at Greenwood) and daughters (sixth grader Mary and third grader Claire).

ANDYBASS

Andy Bass is heading into his 22nd season as head baseball coach at Greenwood (Ind.) High School in 2019.

 

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New Martinsville Artesians coach Honaker stressing quality at-bats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Honaker is selling an offensive philosophy and the new Martinsville (Ind.) High School head baseball coach expects a buy-in from his Artesians during the 2019 season.

Honaker, a varsity assistant and hitting coach the past seven seasons at Zionsville (Ind.) High School, is confident that Martinsville hitters can increase their production by following his keys.

“We want to focus on quality at-bats, put pressure on the defense and compete every pitch,” says Honker, who helped Zionsville win more than 130 games the past five seasons while competing in the strong Hoosier Crossroads Conference with 2018 IHSAA Class 4A state champion Fishers plus Avon, Brownsburg, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Westfield. “strikeouts don’t pressure the defense. I want line drives to all parts of the field.

“I’ll never talk about launch angle or exit velocity. I’ll talk about having great at-bats and approach.”

Honaker, who was hired in September, wants his hitters to concentrate on hitting the ball back up the middle or to the opposite field and values doubles.

Some call 0-2 a pitcher’s count.

Honaker has a different label.

“I call it a team count,” says Honker. “What are you going to do to help your team when you get two strikes?.”

From 2014-18 — with Jered Moore as Zionsville head coach and Honaker leading the hitters — the Eagles earned a Class 4A state runner-up finish (2016), three sectional crowns (2016, 2017 and 2018), two regional titles (2017 and 2018) and one semistate championship (2016).

Honaker notes that the Artesians (15-14) played a number of one- and two-run games in 2018. He says if the team sprinkled in some more quality at-bats, it might have won the Mid-State Conference (Whiteland finished atop the MSC which also features Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood, Mooresville and Plainfield).

“Martinsville needs some offensive improvement — big time,” says Honaker. “We’ve got to score more runs.”

The Artesians are in a 4A sectional grouping with Center Grove, Franklin Central, Greenwood and Whiteland. Martinsville last won a sectional title in 2017.

Honaker expects have 40 to 45 players for varsity, junior and freshmen teams in the spring.

So far, his coaching staff includes Jerry Koller and Jarrett Johnson at the varsity level with Reid Fawcett leading the JV and Kenny Geiresbach heading up the freshmen.

Koller is a former Martinsville assistant and will serve as pitching coach. Johnson comes from the Zionsville staff.

Fawcett, a Huntington North High School graduate, returns and is expected to have an assistant as will Geiresbach.

Honaker was born and raised in Connersville, Ind. He played football, basketball and baseball at Connersville High School, graduating in 1996.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tom Gable mentored Honker the Spartans on the diamond.

“He was — hands down — my favorite coach,” says Honaker. “I didn’t realize at the time, but he taught me how to communicate with kids and how a proper organized practice should go.

“But the biggest thing he taught is that you have to build and earn respect if you want the kids to play for you.

“You must have an open line of communication if you kids to give it their all. They will trust you when they know you have their back. You need to show them you care about them.”

Honaker’s high school summers were spent with the Connersville American Legion Post 1 baseball team.

After one season at the University of Southern Indiana, the third baseman and corner outfielder transferred to Indiana University East in Richmond, where he did not play baseball. He also spent a season as a volunteer assistant to Gable.

Honaker was an assistant to John Zangrilli (now assistant at Carmel High School) for two seasons at Zionsville before Moore took over as head coach.

For the past seven summers, Honaker has coached with the Indiana Bulls travel organization, mostly with the 15U Black squad.

He is also providing hitting and infield instruction for Pro X Athlete in Westfield, Ind.

The Honakers — Jeremy and Misha — live in Noblesville. When Misha’s job took her to the East Coast, Jeremy played for the Philadelphia Comets and was team MVP and Greater Philadelphia Men’s Adult Baseball League batting champion in 2008.

Jeremy’s parents are Ted Kalkhoff Sr. and Cindy Williams (married to Butch). He is the second-oldest of four brothers — behind Danny Honaker and before Ted Kalkhoff Jr. and Tim Kalkhoff.

JEREMYHONAKER

Jeremy Honaker is the new head baseball coach at Martinsville (Ind.) High School. He was an assistant at Zionsville (Ind.) High School the past seven seasons.

Individual development key as Mercer builds Indiana Hoosiers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer was once in their shoes.

That’s why he takes the approach he does as a head coach in college baseball.

Mercer, who was hired last summer to run the program at Indiana University, wants to give his players their best chance to showcase what they can do.

With that in mind, Mercer and his staff (Dan Held, Justin Parker, Casey Dykes, Scott Rolen and Denton Sagerman) design their fall practice schedule with individual work first before intrasquad and exhibition games.

“Development has always been the core foundational piece of our coaching philosophy,” says Mercer, who came to the Hoosiers after successful two-season run as head coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. “You really need to take the time to coach the players. We want to make sure we put guys in position to maximize their strengths.

“You only get to find those strengths through building the relationships and focusing on the individual development of the players.”

Rolen, director of player development, brings his expertise from 17 Major League Baseball seasons and helped the staff lay out the whole 12-week fall plan. Former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and manager Mike Matheny was consulted on coaching and catching. New York Yankees infield coordinator Miguel Cairo was asked for his guidance.

Talking with players, coaches get to see what the goals and the prism through which they view life and baseball.

“It helps a ton to know where they’re coming from when you’re trying to coach them,” says Mercer.

This is not a new concept with Mercer, who played NCAA Division I baseball at the University of Dayton and Wright State before beginning his coaching career.

“We’ve always done individuals first,” says Mercer, 33. “A lot of programs will do the team portion first. That’s their prerogative. I understand that.

“For us, if I look at it from a young man’s perspective. I want to come in and settle in. I want to get in the weight room, get my body right. I want to learn what your expectations of me are as a player.”

The athletes want to know what is expected of them from mechanical, workload and style/brand of baseball standpoints.

“All of those take a lot of time for a player to understand,” says Mercer. “The player will do whatever the expectation is. They always rise to the occasion.

“So if you take five or six weeks and you give them time and structure and coach them like crazy.”

“If I’m a young man, I want to be at my best when I’m competing and showcasing myself in the fall and earning an opportunity to play in the spring.”

By putting the individual work first in the fall, players can figure out where their classes is and make the necessary physical and mechanical adjustments.

Mercer says fear of failure is taken away through this approach.

“Fear of failure is what holds back the most successful people,” says Mercer. “If I remove the fear of failure, I can just go grow and compete.

“All the lessons we’ve been taught can be applied much more readily into the game.

“At the end of the day, these players have one career. It’s our job to help them maximize their opportunity to play this game.”

Mercer says that’s what he wants for his son if he grows up to play college baseball. Jeff and Stephanie Mercer welcome Grady into the world in June.

What brand of baseball will the Hoosiers play in 2019?

“This team is more offensive and can just flat drive the baseball as opposed to a small-ball style,” says Mercer. “Let’s not take a guy who may hit 15 home runs and try to convince him to bunt for 30 hits.

Let’s let him get into good counts. I want to run the bases, but let’s make sure when we have a guy at the plate who can drive the ball, we don’t take the bat out of his hands. We play in a more offensive ballpark (Bart Kaufman Field’s dimensions are 330 feet down the left field line, 400 to center and 340 to right).”

Based on the fall roster, some of the Hoosiers’ top returning hitters  are juniors Matt Gorski (.356 average, 8 home runs, 40 runs batted in for 2018) and Scotty Bradley (.326/7/19) and seniors Ryan Fineman (.309/7/37), Matt Lloyd (.275/9/41) and Logan Kaletha (.261/8/31).

Outfielder Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate) catcher Fineman (California) and outfielder Kaletha (Michigan City) swing from the right side while infielder/catcher Bradley (New Jersey) and utility player Lloyd (Alberta, Canada) are lefties.

There’s also might in the relief core and not just in the late innings.

“We’ve got more bullpen arms,” says Mercer. “We need to make sure we really use our bullpen to accentuate our starters.

“We have mid-relief guys who are good so let’s make sure we utilize that strength.”

With Mercer being new at IU, he came in with no preconceived ideas about players.

“I don’t know how successful or unsuccessful we were,” says Mercer. “I purposely did not look at any of the stats or video from last year.

“I came in with a blank slate for everybody.”

Mercer has never appointed captains, but lets leadership reveal itself.

“Those personalities step forward on their own and you try to empower them,” says Mercer.

When he transferred from the Dayton to Wright State as a player, the coaching staff did not tell him he could not be a leader because he was the new kid on the block.

“I was very empowered to lead early in my time at Wright State and I felt comfortable in that role,” says Mercer. “A big part of my success was me getting to be myself.

“I hope the guys here feel the freedom to be whoever they want to be now and moving forward.”

Mental skills was important at Wright State where Mercer brought in Diamyn Hall as the first full-time coach in D-I baseball devoted to that side of the game. At IU, mental skills are talked about on a regular basis and Mercer leads most of the discussions.

Mercer, a Franklin Community High School graduate, grew up around the Indiana program. His father, Jeff Mercer Sr., was an assistant for the Hoosiers in 1988 and 1989 and helped found the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.

Once the surreal idea of leading a team he cared so much about growing up wore off, Mercer began to focus on the day-to-day task.

“You have an ultimate responsibility to the young men and their families and the coaches that entrusted Indiana University to provide them a great experience,” says Mercer. “It’s an awesome responsibility, but it’s one we don’t ever take lightly.

“You can’t get caught being a fan. You’ve got go to work.”

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Jeff Mercer is the head baseball coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)

 

BLOOMINGTON, IN - 2018.08.23 - Headshot

New Indiana University head baseball coach Jeff Mercer has been spending the time to develop individuals this fall.  (Indiana University Photo)

 

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.”

ERICMCGAHA&FAMILY

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.

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.

12725 Matt Zircher, Baseball Portraits 11-26-13

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.

JEREMYMCKINNEYHAGERSTOWN

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

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.