Tag Archives: George Phares

Mollenkopf entering 14th season of leading Caston Comets

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a big deal at a small school in Fulton County, Ind.

The Comets of Caston Junior/Senior High School (an IHSAA Class 1A member with an enrollment of about 215 in the top four grades) take pride in their facility — known as the “The Crater” — and the ball that is played there near the town of Fulton.

The man in charge of program since the 2006 season is Blake Mollenkopf.

Since he arrived on-campus, Caston has overhauled its field, adding lights and a new press box, refurbishing the dugouts and upgrading the playing surface.

“It’s one of the better fields in this part of the state,” says Mollenkopf. “Our kids, school and community are very proud of it.”

The Comets hosted sectional and regional tournaments in 2018.

Caston is part of a sectional grouping with North Miami, North White, Northfield, South Newton, Southwood and West Central. The Comets won the first sectional crown in school history when Mollenkopf’s squad hoisted the trophy at Tri-County in 2012.

Caston is a member of the Hoosier North Athletic Conference (with Culver Community, Knox, LaVille, North Judson-San Pierre, Pioneer, Triton and Winamac). Each team plays the other twice to determine the champion. LaVille won the crown in 2018.

“It’s a very balanced conference,” says Mollenkopf.

HNAC’s 14 conference games are played with home-and-home series either on Monday or Tuesday or Thursday and Friday and a Saturday doubleheader, depending on the week.

Mollenkopf says participation numbers tend  to hover from 16 to 24 at the high school for varsity and junior varsity squads.

“It’s important to have a JV, especially at the 1A level to develop kids,” says Mollenkopf. “We try to play up (in class), especially at the JV level. We want to challenge them and prepare them for varsity baseball.”

The 2019 season will be the third for the IHSAA pitch count rule. This year, the parameters will be the same for varsity and JV (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).

“We’ve always stressed arm care here,” says Mollenkopf. “We do a lot in the fall and in January and February. At the varsity level, there’s very little influence. I’ve noticed it more on the JV level, where we’ve not had strike throwers all the way through.”

Mollenkopf says a focus on throwing strikes should be able to keep pitch counts down.

Assistant coaches are Adam Goller (14th year), Nick Stuber (ninth year), Matt Gibson (second year) and Brandon Kinser (first year). Stuber will run the JV team this spring.

Caston Athletic League (for ages 5-12) and a junior high club (for grades 7-8) are feeders for the high school program.

Though not affiliated with the school, the junior high team does play its games in the spring on the high school diamond.

In the summer, some Caston players take part in the Babe Ruth League in Logansport. There are others, including Gavin Mollenkopf (Blake’s oldest of two sons), who play travel ball for the Indiana Chargers.

There are some high school summer workouts and games and a team camp at Bethel College.

Caston graduate Seth Zartman is head baseball coach at Bethel. Ethan Zartman played at Caston for Mollenkopf, and then for big brother at Bethel.

Last summer, players from Plymouth and Rochester joined the Comets. In the past, South Adams and Tri-County have participated in the camp.

Mollenkopf is a graduate of Convoy Crestview High School, where he played for Jim Wharton, a member of the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association and ACME baseball halls of fame.

“He’s a great mentor,” says Mollenkopf of Wharton. “There’s so respect for him in that community. He’s still another ear to bend. He had a big impact on my life and my love for baseball.”

Mollenkopf played four seasons (2000-03) at Huntington University for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame.

Frame was known for his attention to detail, practice preparation and communication skills.

“I remember the Friday morning devotions,” says Mollenkopf. “He met with small groups of players. He tried to make an impact as future husbands, fathers and people.

“I went there to play baseball, but came out as a better man because of him, too.”

Mollenkopf received an elementary education degree at Huntington. Before coaching at Caston, he spent two seasons as an assistant to IHSBCA Hall of Famer George Phares at Taylor High School.

“He’s a special individual,” says Mollenkopf of Phares. “I learned how to interact with players, handling parent meetings and working with the administration

driving an hour back and forth.”

At the time, Mollenkopf was making the commute from Fulton County to Kokomo.

“There were so many meals and more he and (his wife) Martha provided for me.”

Mollenkopf is married to a Caston graduate. Blake and Stephanie have four children — eighth grader Kinzie (13), fifth grader Gavin (11), third grader Logan (9) and kindergartener Remy (6). All of them attend Caston schools.

After a few years on the job, Blake Mollenkopf resigned last May as Caston athletic director. Besides coaching baseball, he is an elementary physical education teacher and is involved with youth football and eighth grade girls basketball.

CASONCOMETS

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The Mollenkopfs (clockwise from upper left): Blake, Stephanie, Kinzie, Gavin, Remy and Logan. Blake Mollenkopf is head baseball coach at Caston Junior/Senior High School in Fulton, Ind.

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Blake Mollenkopf has been head baseball coach at Caston Junior/Senior High School in Fulton, Ind., since the 2006 season.

 

 

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Weir now running show for Kokomo Wildkats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tim Weir coaches baseball with emotion.

Speakers just might not see or hear it.

“I look laid back,” says Weir. “I’m pretty intense. I don’t scream and yell.

“I’m what you would call quietly competitive. I’m definitely there to win. I’m definitely there to compete. I just don’t get too loud.”

Weir was recently named head baseball coach at Kokomo (Ind.) High School after serving the past two seasons as Wildkats pitching coach.

Kokomo, with Sean Swan as head coach, went 41-14 combined in 2017 and 2018. The Kats won the North Central Conference title in 2018.

Weir, a 1982 Kokomo graduate who played for coaches Carl McNulty and Mike Smith, saw eight players graduate last spring. Among those were several four-year varsity players.

The Kats sent pitchers Jack Perkins (Louisville), Kyle Wade (Purdue) and Bayden Root (Ohio State) on to NCAA Division baseball. Noah Hurlock (Indiana University Kokomo) and Nate Hemmerich (Earlham) also went on to college diamonds.

The past two springs, Weir worked with pitchers that already had plenty of talent and applied what he knows from working with his son T.J. (a 2010 Kokomo graduate who pitches in the San Diego Padres organization).

“We got those guys to understand the mental side of it and how to prepare,” says Weir, who will continue to handle pitching coach duties.

Junior right-hander Charez Butcher and sophomore catcher Jayden Armfield are experienced Kokomo returnees.

The 6-foot-5 Butcher has a fastball in the mid-90s and has gotten plenty of attention from big-time college programs.

Many of the other Kats are talented, but have not been tested at the varsity level.

“We’ve been focusing on fundamentals,” says Weir. “We’re trying to get them up to speed as quickly as possible.”

A new IHSAA rule allowed coaches to practice with their teams for two hours a day two days a week for a a window in the fall. That window closed Oct. 12.

Weir was hired during that time.

“We got a lot done in three weeks,” says Weir, who has a number of two-sport athletes in his baseball program (football, soccer and tennis players in the fall and basketball players and wrestlers in the winter).

He looks forward to the practice window opening again the first week of December.

Weir’s staff includes returning coaches Nick Shanks, Isaac Turner, Matt Turner and George Phares. John Curl comes aboard a hitting coach.

Shanks has coached the Kats for more than a decade. Isaac Turner played at Kokomo and then Anderson University. He is the son of Matt Turner. Phares, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, looks to be Weir’s bench coach.

Curl was a three-time all-state player at Logansport High School, helping the Berries to a state title in 1991 while earning the L.V. Phillips Mental Atttitude Award. He was an All-American and College World Series participant at Texas A&M and played seven seasons of professional baseball.

Weir began coaching when T.J. started playing youth baseball and coached him all the way through high school at the travel ball level. Tim took time off when T.J. was in high school and college (Ball State University).

Father and son have been conducting lessons for teams and individuals during the fall and winter the past five years.

Kokomo is in the West Division of the North Central Conference along with Harrison, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport and McCutcheon. The East Division features Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond.

Teams play home-and-home series on weekdays within their divisions. A seeded tournament comes at the end of the season.

While the 2019 schedule has not yet been posted, the Kats have played non-conference games against Marion and Muncie Central as well as Howard County foes Northwestern and Western. There were also games against Brebeuf Jesuit, Huntington North, Norwell, Warsaw, Westfield and Zionsville and games against out-of-state competition in the Prep Baseball Report Classic at Grand Park in Westfield in 2018.

Kokomo plans to field three teams again next spring — varsity and two junior varsity squads (Blue and Red).

Home games and practices are conducted on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

“You can’t beat the facility,” says Weir. “I don’t recall us getting rained out last year.”

Youth baseball in and around town is alive and well, especially for younger players.

The ever-popular “city” tournament typically draws a big crowd at the finals.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” says Weir, noting that T.J. was on the winning team at age 11.

The eight teams feeding into the tournament are Kokomo’s Eastside, Northside, Southside and UCT with county parks Greentown, Northwestern, Russiaville and Taylor also sending teams.

Also feeding the Kokomo Wildkats are the combined seventh and eighth grade squads that play in the spring.

Weir has noticed a substantial drop-off in participation for players in the middle school years.

“That’s one of the challenges I have,” says Weir. “The majority of our kids don’t play travel ball.

“They get into high school and don’t know the fundamentals like they would know in some of the better travel programs.”

Since 2017, Indiana has had a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“It hasn’t impacted us in the last two years,” says Weir. “We had a lot of arms. The maximum pitch count has never come into play for us.

“When T.J. played, pitchers routinely pitched the whole game. Kids aren’t programmed to do that anymore.”

To get his pitchers more innings, Weir can see times when he may use multiple arms in a game.

He’s also observed something from watching T.J. — a reliever in all but 22 of his 173 pro appearances.

“It’s whole lot easier to throw one good inning than three,” says Weir.

A software developer for the last 32 years, Weir is employed by DXC Technology. Working from home, he has the flexibility to start his work day early to accommodate baseball.

Tim’s wife, Shelly, is a fourth grade teacher in Kokomo. Daughter Whitney, a twin to T.J., was a cheerleader, volleyball player and track athlete at Kokomo and is now a software developer for Liberty Mutual and lives near Carmel, Ind.

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TIMWEIR

Tim Weir, a 1982 Kokomo High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. He served the past two seasons at Wildkats pitching coach.

Keeping Kokomo Wildkats on even-keel duty of Swan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Not every hop is true.

Not every line drive off your bat finds grass before it finds an opponent’s glove.

Not letting those moments keep you down is key to long-term success.

These are the kinds of things Kokomo High School head baseball coach Sean Swan is teaching his Wildkats.

Swan was a Kokomo assistant for four seasons before taking over leadership of the program for the 2015 season. That year, he had six freshmen in the starting lineup. The young Kats had the talent to compete, but were not always equipped for baseball’s inevitable rough patches.

“We prepare these young men to go out and do great things whether it’s in baseball or just life,” says Swan. “We use the game to teach those lessons. We talk about failure a lot. Failure is something you have to work through and how you can learn from it.

“We’ve made great strides in dealing with failure and adversity. We’re not perfect yet and I tell the kids we’re not going to be. Baseball is like that. You’re going to have games where things don’t go your way and you don’t play your best.”

Swan talks to his players about being mental toughness and playing a hard-nosed brand of baseball.

That approach got Kokomo off to a 14-0 start in 2017 even though it found itself down by 13 runs in one of those victories. The Kats fell behind 14-1 in the second game of a North Central Conference doubleheader against Lafayette Harrison only to win 21-18 with the decisive run coming at the end of the game.

“I was pleased we stuck with the process and kept fighting,” says Swan. “I want our guys to be very even-keeled. We talk about playing with emotion but not emotionally. We tell them to focus on playing the game the right way and not so much on who they’re playing against.”

When Kokomo took its first loss of the season — 12-1 to Zionsville — the Kats responded with a 2-1 NCC tournament quarterfinal win against Harrison in eight innings.

The ’17 Kats have 43 players on three squads — varsity and two junior varsity teams (Blue and Red).

Swan’s varsity coaching staff includes Tim Weir (pitching), Eric Dill (infield and hitting), Nick Shanks (outfield and statistics), Shawn Mayfield (hitting) and George Phares (quality control). There’s also Eli Grimes (JV Blue head coach), Andy Dicken (JV Blue assistant), Matt Turner (JV Red head coach) and Chris Beane (JV Red assistant).

Weir is the father of T.J. Weir, a Kokomo graduate and a pitcher in the San Diego Padres organization.

Phares, a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Howard County Sports halls of fame who won an IHSAA Class 2A state championship at Taylor in 2000, serves as an extra set of eyes. He scouts the Kats and gives Swan an honest evaluation on areas that need improvement.

“Sometimes as a head coach, you have blinders and get focused on what you’re trying to accomplish and you miss some things,” says Swan of Phares. “He challenges me in some areas.

“The guys on my staff are great baseball men, but great men in general. I want quality individuals that are high-character people.”

Kokomo once played at historic Highland Park Stadium and practice and play on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium, home to the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the summer collegiate Prospect League.

“We are blessed,” says Swan. “It’s one of the best fields in the state.”

With its fast surface, playing not the carpet has been an adjustment. Even softly-struck balls sometimes get through the infield and outfielders are asked to play deeper in an attempt to keep balls out of the gaps.

At all games — but especially at Municipal — the Kats look to put pressure on the defense by putting the ball in play.

“We try to be aggressive and get pitches we can drive,” says Swan. “Early in counts we want them to be sitting on fastballs. After the count gets deeper or they fall behind in the count, their (strike) zone expands a little bit. They shorten up their swing and then it’s about putting balls in play.”

Swan looks at the new pitch count rule and says it has more of an effect at the JV level than the varsity.

“We build up (varsity) players so they can throw 80 to 100 pitches and we’re comfortable with that,” says Swan. With varsity depth, starters generally pitch just once a week. “But the rule makes us be forward-thinking with our younger guys. We have two junior varsity teams and they’re not efficient with their pitches.

“Bigger schools it won’t effect quite as much, but I really see it effect JV programs, especially at small schools. They just don’t have that depth. They don’t have the arms to eat up innings.”

Swan, a Muncie Central graduate, began his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater while still in college.

His first head coaching job came at Lapel. The Bulldogs won just one game the year before he arrived and a few years later won a sectional.

Swan then served five years as assistant to Ryan Bunnell at Westfield and considers him a mentor.

“I learned a great deal from him,” says Swan. “He’s a great baseball guy.

“I tend to be more emotional and he’s very steady. He’s great with X’s and O’s and I watched how he drew up a practice plan.”

Swan was head coach at Tri-Central for three seasons before joining Tim Weeks’ staff at Kokomo, where Swan also now serves as assistant principal.

SEANSWAN

Sean Swan is in his third season as head baseball coach at Kokomo High School. He was an assistant for the Wildkats for four seasons before that. He is also an assistant principal at KHS.