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IHSBCA coaches give opinions on IHSAA class baseball, tournament format

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

Has it really been a generation since Indiana widely adopted high school class sports?
Of course there were classes in football going back to the 1970s, but check the records and you will find that 1996-97 (when Jasper outlasted Carmel 10-8 for the IHSAA baseball championship) was the last year that other sports were in the all-comers category at state tournament time.
With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away the 2020 spring season, that makes 2023 the 25th year of class baseball in the Hoosier State.
In the multi-class era, 56 different schools have won state baseball championships.
Of that number, only Jasper, LaPorte and Penn earned titles prior to 1997-98.
There are 22 schools with multiple state runner-up finishes. That accounts for 60 red ribbons — all but 12 coming from 1997-98 forward.
Noting that some schools came about in recent years because of consolidation, unification or other reasons, those that won their first sectional championship during the multi-class era include 4A’s Elkhart (2021), Evansville Harrison (1999), Fishers (2017), Fort Wayne South Side (2012) and Michigan City (2002), 3A’s Angola (1999), Charlestown (1999) and Hamilton Heights (2006), 2A’s Austin (2002), Central Noble (2009), Clinton Central (2005), Covenant Christian of Indianapolis (2008), Delphi (2008), Fairfield (1998), Hanover Central (2011), Heritage Christian (2005), Illiana Christian (2022), Lewis Cass (2000), North Decatur (2011), Parke Heritage (2021), Sheridan (2004), South Knox (2004), Southwestern of Hanover (1999), Southwood (1999), Taylor (1998), Triton Central (2003), Whitko (2017) and Woodlan (2005) and 1A’s Argos (1998), Bethesda Christian (2008), Caston (2012), Christian Academy of Indiana (2004), Cowan (2004), Daleville (1999), Edinburgh (2009), Elkhart Christian (2013), Eminence (2005), Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian (2001), Fort Wayne Canterbury (2009), Greenwood Christian (2014), Hauser (2004), Henryville (1999), Indianapolis Lutheran (2017), Kouts (1998), Marquette Catholic (2002), Milan (1999), Monroe Central (2001), Morgan Township (2004), Morristown (1998), New Washington (1998), Northeast Dubois (1998), North Miami (2019), Oldenburg Academy (2003), Park Tudor (1998), Pioneer (2016), Randolph Southern (2010), Rising Sun (2002), Seton Catholic (2011), South Central of Elizabeth (2005), Southwestern of Shelbyville (1999), Tecumseh (2000), Traders Point Christian (2021), Trinity Lutheran (2009), Triton (2000), Washington Township (1999), Union City (2012), University (2012), Waldron (2001), West Washington (2021), White River Valley (2017) and Whiting (2008).
A quarter century in, there are still plenty of opinions in the Indiana high school baseball community about the system.
These questions were posed to several coaches around Indiana:

  • Is class baseball a positive or a negative?
  • Who benefits the most from class baseball?
  • If you could change anything about class baseball what would that be?
  • Anything else you’d like to say on the subject?

Some of the responses:

BRIAN ABBOTT (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Executive Director and IHSBCA Hall of Famer)

“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has allowed schools of all sizes to be recognized and have some success at the state level while increasing fan interest in our sport. The players and the communities truly benefit the most from class baseball, in my opinion.
“The IHSAA does a great job of administering the state tournament and ending each year at Victory Field allows our sport to be showcased on a big stage! However, the tournament format itself needs to be addressed, especially at the sectional level, and we can’t continue in a ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter format. Our sport is different than others and our tournament format needs to reflect that. Seeding, success factor, and travel also need to be looked at in light of the fact(s) that class sports are here to stay and there are geographical constraints/factors based on the location of the school(s).
“Baseball in general is changing for the better in Indiana … the IHSBCA and the IHSAA need to continue to work together on formats/philosophies/participation guidelines that foster growth in our sport and develop a mutual relationship where everyone’s input is valued. We, the IHSBCA, have several ideas to share about the state tournament format/setup and how we can better grow our sport, in general. We are all stronger when we are working together and my goal as the Executive Director is to help facilitate positive changes that will grow our sport and unify our coaches at the same time.”

DAN AMBROSE (Heritage Christian head coach)

“(Class baseball) is a positive.
“I assume that smaller schools are more likely to benefit so they play teams that are more competitive. 
“I would support adding a fifth ‘super class’ of the largest schools and then balance the rest of the four classes.”

PATRICK ANTONE (Former Boone Grove and Columbus North and current Roncalli head coach)

“Class baseball is definitely a positive thing. It levels the playing field for teams when it comes to player depth and facilities. 
“For example, a school with an enrollment of 2,200 has a lot more players to work with and pull from than a school with an enrollment of 300. Both teams can be good and have good players, but the bigger school is very likely going to have more depth. The smaller school is likely to have one really good pitcher where the bigger school is likely to have two, or even three really good pitchers. As a result, the bigger school would have a big advantage in the sectional and regional.
“The other way it levels the playing field is when it comes to facilities. Bigger schools tend to have nicer facilities to train and practice in during the off-season where some schools, usually the smaller ones, don’t have anything close to the facilities of larger schools. Many schools either can’t get access to the facilities they have during the off-season because other in-season teams are using them for practice or games, or they just don’t have the facilities or space period.
“It can put teams at a big competitive disadvantage when they can’t train or practice the way they want to and need to during the off-season, and I think class baseball helps in this regard because schools that have similar enrollments tend to have similar facilities. 
“Everyone benefits from class baseball. The smaller schools obviously because of what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question, but also the larger schools. When you’re competing for anything, let alone a state championship, you want it to really mean something and be a challenge. It’s what competing is all about. It’s not going to mean as much when a school with an enrollment of 2,200 plus kids goes up against a school with an enrollment of 300 plus kids and beats them in a sectional or regional. They should be able to do that again referring back to what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question.
“Not only would they win but they wouldn’t have to throw their No. 1 pitcher to do so and would have them available for the next game, where the smaller school would likely need to throw their best pitcher in that situation. And if they did win, do they have a pitcher that could compete and win against another team with a large enrollment…not likely.
“There are two things I would change about class baseball, and one of them is being talked about right now. First, I would seed the postseason. It’s frustrating when you have teams that have done really well during the regular season and they meet in the first or second round of the sectional, and there are teams that didn’t fair as well in the regular season getting a bye in the first round and/or playing another team that didn’t do as well in the early rounds.
“It’s something I feel wouldn’t be too difficult to do or set up and it would make the postseason better and provide even more meaning to the regular season. I like that everyone makes the postseason because you can have something happen with injuries and get a player back, or a team hasn’t quite figured things out yet but later in the year they do and are still in it.
“But, there needs to be something in place for teams that do better in the regular season. I think seeding the sectional would be really good for Indiana high school baseball.
“The other thing I would change is going from four classes to five classes. Again, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned previously. Many times there’s such a large gap between the teams in 4A. I think going to five classes would help this and it’s something the IHSBCA and IHSAA are talking about and looking into.
“The success factor has worked well and is set up well. How they have it set up is good and I think it’s accomplishing what they wanted it to.”

RYAN BERRYMAN (Former Northwestern and current Western head coach)

“There’s no doubt that class sports have provided more opportunities for athletes, coaches, schools, and communities by creating a level of fairness with classified state tournaments. I understand the traditional approach of one class and experienced it as a player as we advanced to the semistate finals as a small school (at Western) in ’93 and ’94. But as a coach, the class system allows for accomplished small school teams to aspire to be state champions instead of hoping to win a sectional in a one class system.
“All stakeholders of a school’s baseball program (benefit most from class baseball). Having ranked teams and winning championships builds a greater sense of tradition within communities and raises interest amongst school children, faculty, and administration. Players and coaches benefit from the sense of accomplishment by developing a highly competitive team within a post-season setting.
“I would make the tradition factor a four-year stay in an elevated class — not just two years. Those who are state champion caliber teams seem to continue to dominate the current landscape. Also, if a team moves up in class and wins a sectional, regional, etc., a system needs to be created to keep them in that class because they are showing the ability to compete.
“We need to restructure our tournament. Six-team sectionals and format need to be uniformed. Only the sectional final should be played on Memorial Day. We’d have two-team regionals, four-team semistates and seed the tournament.
“We are the only sport that, based on pitching restrictions (pitch counts and days rest) and may not have our best lineup on the field in a championship setting. Too many sectional championships are decided by Team 1’s ace dominating vs Team 2’s bullpen because of weather, graduation or the draw. Basketball will always have their point guard.”

DAVE BISCHOFF (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and New Haven head coach)

“There have been a lot of positives (with class baseball). There have been some very good smaller schools that have gotten the chance to experience state tourney runs that might not have happened in areas where there were perennial large school programs had too much depth for the smaller schools. I think that has been a good thing for Indiana high school baseball. 
“Small schools with open enrollments and the ability to reach out from beyond what would be considered a normal attendance area have done extremely well (in class baseball). This, however, is not entirely the fault of class sports. Open enrollment and increased club and travel athletic teams have opened up a whole different experience for high school athletes today.
“High school athletes are far more likely to travel further, meet and become friends with new teammates outside of their own school in the off-season and subsequently more likely to travel further away to attend a school of their choice. In a way I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, that choice often comes with a greater financial obligation and not all athletes and their families can afford to do so. Smaller schools have benefited in some areas directly. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the class sports, it’s the trend and we aren’t going to a one-class tourney.”

RYAN BUNNELL (Westfield head coach)

“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. At times, schools being up a class or down a class will dictate how successful they can be.
“The smaller schools probably benefit most (from class baseball). Winning a sectional would be a huge feat for a small school (during the one-class era). I know it was for us (at Northwestern) when we played in the sectional with Kokomo).
“There’s talk of the IHSAA going to a five-class system. I’d probably be in favor of that. If you’re going to do class might as well break it up a little more.
“How are sectionals are being distributed and seeding of the tournament would take much more priority over how many classes there are.
“Let’s set up a season where the regular season is more meaningful and the better teams are meeting at the end (with semistate- and state-caliber games at those stages rather than at the sectional level).
“I like the way Ohio (has seeded). The way I understand it, teams have been ranked off their MaxPreps ranking. Head coaches have a meeting. If you’re ranked No. 1 you pick your sectional. If you’re No. 2 you pick your sectional and you’re probably not going to put themselves in the same sectional as the No. 1 team.”

JAKE BURTON (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former McCutcheon, North Newton and current Twin Lakes head coach)

“(On the positive side,) class baseball provides more kids, coaches, and communities an opportunity to be a state champion. (On the negative side,) prior to class baseball we were used to minimal travel. We’ve also lost the local rivalries because of class baseball. 
“Good smaller programs who were fundamentally sound yet they usually didn’t have the pitching to advance deep into the tournament (benefit most from class baseball).
“I would place all private schools into Class 4A or 2A. The success factor has helped every two years, but you still have those schools who dominate every two years they move down.
“I’ve coached at the 4A and 3A level and even though I am at a 3A school, I would still rather compete against local rivalry teams rather than class baseball. However, we will never return to a one class system and I understand why!”

MATTHEW CHERRY (Fishers head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive and helps balance the playing field. Since I’ve been coaching, I believe all but just a few schools that have made the State Finals in 4A are in the top 32 in enrollment in the state. 
“Baseball is a game where you are not always putting your best 9 or best team on the field depending on pitching rotation and availability of arms. 
“The larger enrollment typically means there are more available players trying out, which creates a greater opportunity to development quality depth in your pitching staff. That is one advantage that bigger schools have. So, the idea of class baseball helps to control some of the variables on both sides of the field. It is not perfect, but it is a way to try and help control some of the unique variables that are different in baseball than other sports.
“I believe the top half of each class benefits the most from class baseball, especially at the 3A and 4A levels because the range of enrollment is so much bigger from the smallest school to biggest school in those classes.  The range in enrollment in 1A and 2A is much closer from top to bottom. 
“I don’t really want to go down this path, but the private schools also benefit from class baseball, especially in 1A, 2A, and often 3A. Private schools are not limited to school district lines and are able to draw from a wider range of students compared to the smaller enrollment schools in 1A and 2A.
“Not really answering the question, but if I could change anything about the IHSAA tournament, I would make the regular season matter and seed the tournament (or at least seed the teams that feed into the regionals). 
“You might not be in the same sectional each year if you are seeded from the regional level. I would also create double-elimination rounds at the different levels (sectional, regional, etc.). Similar to the thought above that you are not always putting your best team on the field depending on pitcher availability, a double-elimination tournament would help to insure the best team advances and not just the team with the best pitcher and the best blind draw.
“Classes need to be set by a specific enrollment range and not try to keep every class the same size. I would add a fifth or even a sixth class and set the range for the enrollment so that each school in the class is close to the same enrollment size. If that means that one class only has 32 teams, another class has 48, another class has 64, and another class has 96, then that is what should be done and would help make the tournament as fair as possible.”

JOE DECKER (Silver Creek head coach)

“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. It has given a lot of smaller schools a chance to be successful and show some of these coaches at smaller schools can really coach.
“Smaller schools definitely benefit the most (from class baseball). Some of the teams that have won state championships would never make it out of their sectionals if we were one class.
Nothing against them but when schools have 2,000 students to pick from they are going to have a lot more athletes and in the sports that require more players like baseball and football that makes a big difference.
“(I favor putting) private schools in their own class. I think they have such a huge advantage. Not because they recruit or anything like that, but they tend to get the players that are more apt and able to do the extra things such as lessons, travel ball, etc.
“Overall (class) been good for sports in Indiana. I know Silver Creek has won three state championships in boys and girls basketball in the past four years and made we have made some long runs in baseball. Not sure we would have been able to do that in one class. If you ask any of those kids that were on the state championship team and I am sure they could care less whether it was one class or four.”

GREG DIKOS (IHSBCA Hall of Famer at Penn head coach)

“I have no issues with class baseball. I like competing against other schools my size because they have the same issues (positive and negative) that I have.
“(Class baseball) definitely helps the smaller schools being able to compete against other schools their own size.  
“Baseball is a sport where a dominant pitcher can have a great bearing on the game. I remember playing Bremen in the semistate in ’94. (John Glenn head coach) John Naldony has had some very good teams that can compete against larger schools.
“As far as changes, a double-elimination sectional would be interesting.  I am not sure if a five-class baseball system could accommodate that.”

BRIAN DUDLEY (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and Wapahani head coach)

“Wapahani is in favor of class sports. I believe it makes sports a more even playing field. We won the state in 2014 in 2A, that would not have happened if there was one class.
“Our girls volleyball just won state, which is a big deal for small communities, they lost to Yorktown twice and HSE (Class 4A finalists) all were sweeps and not really close.
“Even though our team in 2014 and our girls last week were very good, competing against the bigger schools in the tournament would be very difficult. That being said, our State Championships are still a very big deal for our community, school, and students.
“Therefore, class sports are a positive. As little league participation in small communities keep losing kids to travel ball and other activities small school numbers are seeing less kids playing baseball and softball unless they have a successful program which is a minority. 
“Small schools at least feel like they have a chance to win in the tournament and maybe even a state championship when they are playing schools close to their same size. Very few 1A or 2A teams can compete in the tournament with the bigger schools, once they realize that kids quit playing or go to another sport where they might have a chance to win. 
“The current format is fine for the tournament. Adding additional classes or a class would benefit big schools only in my opinion.
Four classes has been a success. Can you tweak things? Maybe. But why change if it is not broken?”

DAVE GINDER (Fort Wayne Carroll head coach)

“I like the one-class system but also know that class sports are not going anywhere so we can take the positives from it and live with it.
“It is probably the small class schools and communities that benefit the most as they typically have a greater opportunity to advance when playing similar size schools.
“Class sports are here to stay so one change I’d like to see for baseball would be the tournament run in some way that has a series feel to it as baseball is not a sport that is suited for a ‘one and done’ tournament.”

TERRY GOBERT (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and Jasper head coach)

“I’m fine with class sports but concerned about the impact of some private and parochial schools that seem to put great emphasis on athletic success which can make it difficult for public schools to compete on an annual basis.
“Class sports are here to stay but this situation and the number of transfers at public schools are the next challenges for the IHSAA.”

DAVE GOODMILLER (Norwell head coach)

“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has created more excitement for more schools and their fans. 
“Probably the smaller schools feel as if they have a better chance to experience sectional and regional championships than when it was one class. 
“The only drawback (in class baseb all) I could see is you may have farther travel but in your sectional pairings than when it was one class. When I played in the single class, your sectional would be more local. It would have teams of various sizes, but we seemed have greater rivalries because many times you played against those teams in the regular season or against those players in your summer leagues. 
“As a coach today, I want to play the best schools we can (no matter the size). I want to prepare ourselves for our conference and sectional. When I was a player, we wanted to be able to compete with Logansport, Kokomo, Marion and LaPorte. Today, we want to compete with Andrean, Jasper, Brebeuf and Southridge.”

KEVIN HANNON (Knox head coach)

“(Class baseball) is a positive. I witnessed first-hand what the state tournament does in small communities. The student-athletes have a more balanced playing field.
“The benefits go to the teams that advance the furthest in the tourney.  Without class baseball a 1A could defeat a 3A or 4A school in the tournament on a given day. However, in most cases those smaller schools don’t have the depth, especially with pitchers.
“We are at the point that we need to look at the number of classes. I would be in favor of adding a fifth class. The current disparity in school sizes is extremely large in the upper class. With the growth and addition of smaller, private schools, other mid-size schools are being bumped up.  
“The biggest problem facing our tournament currently is the number of schools in the sectionals. Host schools have roughly a week to host a sectional tournament. 
“Depending on your sectional, you could have anywhere from 5-8 teams in that sectional. Huge difference between five and eight. In a five-team sectional the winning team would have to win two or at most three games, and could possibly do that with two pitchers. In an eight-team sectional, the winning team would have to win three games and would possibly need three if not four pitchers in that 5-7 day window for the games.”

ERIK HISNER (Former Whitko and current Eastern of Greentown head coach and athletic director)

“(Class baseball) is a positive. It levels the playing field for all schools, especially the ones that are not in that top quarter or so.
“The smaller schools and even the medium-sized schools benefit the most.
“The thing that football did with the Top 32 (being in the largest or super class), I’d like to see that in the other sports. There are different things you could do with the other four (in a five-class system). You could divide it up evenly. There’s been discussion of capping 1A at 128. There’s a big discrepancy right now between the bottom of 4A and the top of 4A.
“(The Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) has talked about running data and see how people would fall. There would not be (an) equal (amount of) schools in every class. We’re still in the process of gathering information. The IHSAA was at our last two athletic directors conferences and present for those discussions.”

JOHN HUEMMER (Mishawaka head coach)

“Class baseball will have a positive effect on high school baseball. I think that it levels the playing field for the state tournament. Also, having class baseball will allow more schools the opportunity to earn a state title just like with football’s six classes.   
“I believe that the smaller schools will benefit.”
“It would be fun to see all state title teams play in a small tournament to see who is the best of all of the classes.”
“Even with the change to class baseball, there are very good teams at each class level. It will still not be an easy road to get the opportunity to play at Victory Field.”

DENNIS KAS (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former Clinton Prairie and Noblesville head coach and current Lafayette Jeff assistant coach)

“Had class sports been in place (when I was at Clinton Prairie) I may have never left. One of the things class sports does is that you can achieve everything positive you want to achieve from a goals standpoint.
“Class sports kind of levels the playing field during the state tournament.
I had some terrific teams back at Prairie. In five years, we won two sectionals.
“A disadvantage for class sports is that when you get to a bigger school like Noblesville there’s no ceiling on the enrollment.
“Believe it or not once we went to class sports Noblesville had the smallest enrollment in our sectional at 1,250 (Clinton Prairie was around 300).
“If I were at Clinton Prairie I’d welcome it as a smaller school. I might have one really good pitcher that could help me compete against anybody, but in most years would have a drop-off in pitching depth.
“At Noblesville — a larger school — I have the chance to have more depth.
In baseball it always comes down to pitching. You can be good in a lot of areas of the game. If you have a question on the mound you’re going to struggle.”

DARIN KAUFFMAN (Fairfield head coach)

There’s positives and negatives for everything, but it’s good for baseball to have class.
“If we expand to another class it’s going to be even better. It makes everyone feel like they have a chance. If you’ve got the right group of guys you can win.
“At the State Finals you see a difference between the 1A game and 4A game. The lineups are deeper at the bigger level. The 4A game is little more of a college game than a high school game.
“The smaller schools probably benefit more (in class baseball) than the bigger schools).
“In baseball, it’s how the pitching lines up.
“I like how Iowa does it. They don’t start baseball until the end of April and their tournament’s in July. I don’t know if that will ever happen here.”

JUSTIN KEEVER (Noblesville head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive (but classification should be addressed) … The number of schools in each class doesn’t need to be the same.
“Breakdown of each class needs to be more than an arbitrary enrollment number. There needs to be thought into why the lines of demarcation are made (spread, standard deviations, range). Athletic department size (percentage of the student body participating in each sport should be used for classes) could be used to determine classes.
“Many large schools have very small baseball programs. Some small schools have very large baseball programs in terms of numbers. The class system should be used to place a school into its appropriate level of competition, not just for the number of students that attend a school. There are many other variables to consider.”

KEVIN KINNISON (Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian head coach)

“I don’t know if (class baseball) is a positive or a negative per say. I played when there wasn’t any classes and I think the class system has taken away for the local rivalries. Now depending on your class and the location of your sectional, you may have to travel up to an hour to play in sectionals, although more teams have the opportunity to win a state championship, a win over a neighborhood rival might mean more, bragging rights.
“There are eight teams every year who have the opportunity to play in a state championship game so that’s a benefit (to class baseball). More players, coaches, and schools who have a chance to experience a state championship game.
“I’m not sure that I agree with the success factor movement (for all schools), aside from private schools you may be punishing kids who aren’t even in high school because current classes are winning. In small towns you may have a group of kids who all hit at once and then the next year they have nothing, those young men, in the current format are being punished for the success of prior classes.
“For me it comes down to the local excitement, the rivalries, the competition between kids who know each other, who’ve grown up playing each other since little league. That’s what’s I believe is missing with the class system. Coming from a coach at a small school I know that if there wasn’t a class system the likelihood of us winning a sectional would go down dramatically, but just think if we would ever knock off one of the local big boys, it would be remembered forever.”

BRIAN KIRCHOFF (Former Northeast Dubois head coach and current Jasper assistant coach)

“Overall you can’t make a real argument that (class baseball) is a negative. You’re putting more kids and more schools in successful situations. I get that part.
“We were fortunate enough to win eight sectionals (at Northeast Dubois) which wouldn’t have happened in single-class.
“That being said, I’m not sure its been a positive for small-school athletes as far as recognition goes (for all-star consideration or scholarships).
“The smaller schools were the target when this all started 25 years ago.”
“There are private schools that have it better than other private schools (some have thrived and others have had a hard time fielding a team).”

KYLE KRAEMER (Terre Haute South Vigo head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive for the most part. The obvious plus is that there are more ‘winners.’ The big negative in my opinion is that schools lose local rivalries. Pre-class era, we had great rivalries with all the local schools because you were going to potentially play one of them at the sectional or regional level. Those teams and games are now just another game on the schedule unfortunately, especially in my neck of the woods. 
“Terre Haute South and Terre Haute North are on a ‘big school island.’  We have to travel at least 50 miles to play another 4A baseball team.  It was much easier to have a rivalry with say a West Vigo, South Vermillion, Sullivan, etc. before class baseball because we would most likely see them in the state tournament. It is difficult to have a rivalry with a school that is located in or around the Indianapolis area.  
“The IHSAA can expand to five classes for baseball — that’s fine. But, in my opinion, the private schools need to have their own class/classes.”

BRIAN KUESTER (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and South Spencer head coach)

“I think class baseball has been positive even though I was a little skeptical when it first started.
“Class baseball probably benefits the smaller schools the most because it gives them a realistic chance in the tournament.
“The biggest thing that I think that could help class baseball would be looking at creating a separate parochial school class.”

DEAN LEHRMAN (Heritage head coach)

“Having been a high school football coach for 40 years and a head high school baseball coach for 45 years, I have seen the ‘evolution’ of class sports here. My connection to friends and relatives in neighboring Ohio and Michigan has also allowed me to ‘watch’ the evolution of class sports there. In my early years (1981), I was part of Leland Etzler’s Woodlan football staff that went to the Class A state championship game vs. Hamilton Southeastern. There were three classes of football at that time compared with the six we have now. The game was played outdoors in a blizzard on November 20, 1981 (the night before my wife and I were married). It was an awesome experience for everyone connected to the small town communities of Woodburn and Harlan, Indiana. That puts my vote on the positive side of class sports in general and class baseball in particular.
“In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Class 2A baseball championship game at Victory Field with my Heritage Patriots. We came up short to a powerhouse from South Spencer, but once again it was a tremendous experience for the communities of Monroeville and Hoagland.  Players, parents and fans were the biggest beneficiaries in both cases.
“I have seen point systems both here and in Ohio. I have seen other limited entry systems where not everyone gets to participate. I have seen ‘seeded’ systems (currently in Ohio) where top seeds are given regional choice and early round home games. Later rounds are played at ‘neutral’ sites. There are good and bad characteristics to all of these hybrid systems — depending on where you fall in the ‘rankings.’ I feel that things continue to evolve and therefore should only get better in the future — as long as we keep all kids in mind.”

PAT LOWREY (Lafayette Harrison head coach)

“I believe it to be positive for the student-athletes throughout the state as class baseball has provided opportunities for schools of all sizes to compete with more of a level playing field. Being at a smaller school for five years (Delphi) and now at a bigger school for the last 11 (Harrison), I have been lucky enough to see several outstanding programs and coaches at all levels. 
“While at Delphi, we were fortunate enough to advance to the 2010 2A state championship game. While I would like to say we’d compete well in a one-class system, the truth of the matter is, we would have struggled to compete against bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional) due to the differences in depth of our roster in comparison to bigger schools. 
“At Harrison, we have been lucky enough to have several arms that we could run out in an elimination game. At Delphi, that number is quite smaller, which would have really hurt us if we were to play vs. bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional). That is a huge competitive advantage for the larger schools and something that is beyond the control of smaller schools. When class baseball started, it provided schools of all sizes the ability to compete on a level playing field in each of the four classes.

CHRIS MAY (Gibson Southern head coach)

“I really see (class baseball) as a positive for the lower classes. Class A and AA have the opportunity to get a State Championship and not have to butt heads with the larger schools. In Class AAA and AAAA, there’s not as big a difference in talent.”

ANDY MCCLAIN (Former Brebeuf Jesuit, Norwell and Lawrence Central and current Indianapolis North Central head coach)

“Class baseball is both positive and negative in my mind. You lose some of the regional rivalries although you could still play local/smaller and larger teams on your regular season schedule. We certainly have more sectional champions and more kids are able to enjoy success playing baseball so that is a huge plus. It leaves more kids with positive experiences while in high school and playing our great game.
“I would have to think that the smaller schools benefit the most from class baseball with all respect to them. Our state has tremendous coaches and programs at all levels. Again the opportunity for kids at those schools to be able to compete in the state tournament and enjoy success is a great benefit.
“I’m not sure there is much to change for the better — possibly a Champions Tournament but on the flip side it may be rough to win a title and then turn around and possibly get beat. Basketball got away from it, obviously. Some schools have to travel quite a bit for sectional play, but again not sure if there is a way around that.
“Baseball at the 3A level on a whole rivals the baseball being played at 4A. Jasper and Andrean’s success when they bumped up is a testament.”

MARCUS MCCORMICK (Speedway head coach)

“As in other sports, classification was created to level the playing field keeping schools with similar enrollment sizes within the same bracket and to also create more winners per sport. 
Classification has added hope to teams who may otherwise not have it if they are put into a sectional with bigger schools.  To be perfectly honest most of the time the bigger schools just have access to more choices, such as players, facilities and money.  
“The smaller schools benefit the most from classification. It has allowed talent to grow and flourish, as having an opportunity to win a sectional breeds hope, which makes it easier to get kids out to play. 
“I would create a separate class for private schools, the advantage that they have can not be matched by the public school. I will say open enrollment has helped, but the private schools have distanced themselves a lot especially in baseball.  
“I like where we are at with baseball in the state of Indiana. The training facilities and opportunities that our kids have after high school has grown since I have been in the game the last 20 years.”

JEFF MCKEON (Former Plainfield and South Putnam head coach)

“I am somewhat of a traditionalist, so a single class had a little soft spot in my heart. That said, there are some benefits to a class system. The class system allows for: 1. More state winners, 2. A chance for smaller schools to compete at a high level, 3. It helps promote the game of baseball in the state.
“I would say the smaller schools and the schools that fall just under the class limits (benefit the most from class baseball). What I mean by that is if the top 101 enrollments go to 4A, school number 102 has an advantage because they are playing in 3A. The private schools also benefit from the class system.
“If we are to stay in the class system (which we will), I would say that for baseball there needs to be five classes instead of four.
“Another change I would enact would be to not separate by an equal number. If there are 400 schools, it doesn’t need to be 100 in each class of four. 
“A final change would be the success factor rule. The requirements need to be adjusted, mainly the length at which they must stay up a class should be longer.
“One thing that class baseball hurt (along with class basketball) was the community sectionals. I graduated in ’93 when it was still one class and I remember that all the sectionals in every sport were heavily-attended. The attendance has gone down in terms of sectionals.”

BLAKE MOLLENKOPF (Caston head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive thing, especially for schools with lower enrollment. It helps create a somewhat even playing field for tournament play. Class sports have allowed for multiple smaller enrollment schools to have teams thrive and have success that may not happen if class sports didn’t exist.
“Class baseball has allowed our kids to compete against schools of like enrollment. It has allowed our school to enjoy tournament success.  It has allowed our school and community to host sectional and regional tournaments, whereas without class sports, we may have not had these opportunities.   
“I understand the log jam in class sports that occurs at the 4A level, especially in larger city schools. Oftentimes top teams match up early in a tournament, which I am sure is frustrating for those programs.  
“Overall, class baseball has been a positive thing, especially from the Caston baseball programs perspective. We feel as though it provides parity for our kids, and it gives them a chance to be successful in tournament play. Like in any system, there are pros and cons, but our feel is this has more pros than cons for our student athletes.”

KEITH NUNLEY (Former Monroe Central and current Guerin Catholic head coach)

“(Class baseball) is positive overall
“Smaller schools who make runs (benefit most from class baseball). 
“Sectional and maybe even regional could be seeded.”

PAT O’NEIL (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former Brownsburg and current Danville Community head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive thing. Teams get a chance to play vs comparable sized teams, better chance for success in state tourney.
“The lower classes (benefit most from class baseball) as they all have a legitimate chance for tourney success.
“My thoughts about change, which I presented to LaPorte AD, Ed Gilliland, over five years ago is this: All classes play their sectionals. Winners would then meet up in a demographic regional competing with those winners meeting in a four-team semi and finally in a final four State Championship tournament. I actually broke it down statewide with who goes where potentially each stage. This give each class a chance for a sectional title and a tourney overall state champion. I also put this idea for basketball as well.
“IHSBCA has done a tremendous job in supporting high school baseball. Baseball and basketball are sports where small schools can compete vs. larger schools. My format would appease all schools with a chance for a sectional trophy, but let’s see one overall state champion.”

JASON RAHN (Westview head coach)

“(Class baseball) is a positive.
“Smaller public schools definitely benefit the most from class ball.
“I don’t feel there is anything wrong with our classification system. There will always be some argument that private schools should perhaps have their own division.”

JOEL REINEBOLD (Former Bremen, South Bend Adams and current South Bend Clay head coach)

“I am from the group that favors the one-class system when it comes to the tournament. I think in baseball you can still be competitive with bigger schools if you are a smaller school.
“If you have four or five classes then you really don’t have a ‘state champion.’ You have four or five ‘state champions.’
“If you want a true state champion then, let the class winners compete against each other a week later and really come up with a ‘state champion.’ Until then, you just have ‘class champions.’”
“If you are going to have class state champions, why are big schools and little schools playing during the regular season?”

A.J. RISEDORPH (NorthWood head coach and dean of athletics)

“Class baseball is a positive thing. I would say I grew up as a traditionalist and loved the single-class basketball era; however, I’ve grown to appreciate the advantages/disadvantages that come with the size of schools.
“Classifying baseball is something that benefits all programs, schools and communities. At the end of the season, eight communities get to compete for the state title at an amazing stadium. Maybe that will soon expand to 10!
“I am excited to see the potential of a fifth class built into the state tournament. This would help create more balance among the classes once it is all said and done. It would be interesting to see how things would shake up if multipliers were given to various things like private/public schools, free/reduced percentages, etc. I’ve heard arguments for the success factor to be implemented differently as well. I am not sure it’s entirely fair that the success of graduated juniors and seniors determines the fate of the rising freshman and sophomores who were not directly a part of that success.
“I would love to see consistent sectional/regional alignments across as many team sports as possible. I feel this would enhance the rivalry aspect of the state tournament from a sectional/regional standpoint.”

RANDY ROBERTS (Washington Township head coach)

“For us, class baseball has certainly been a positive. Realistically we don’t have the manpower to compete in a tournament with the larger schools. It gives us something to shoot for, and a legitimate chance to win tournament championships. 
“All small schools benefit from class baseball. Even at the state tournament there is a very noticeable difference in the talent level between the class A game, and the Class AA game. Larger schools have 4-5 times more kids try out for their team. Valpo has over a hundred, we typically get 20 boys out per season.”

GARY ROGERS (Former Fort Wayne Bishop Luers and current Leo head coach)

“(Class baseball) has been a real positive for high school baseball. Although every once in awhile you have a team you feel can compete in any class, the class system gives teams a level playing field on a more consistent basis.
“The kids and community benefit most (from class baseball). At the end of the day when you are a state champion, none of those kids or community identify as a class state champ, they identify as a state champion and the memories from that success.
“Baseball should be a double-elimination tournament in order to get a true team champion. A team can eliminate a really good team in a single-elimination tournament with a dominant pitcher.
“In 2008 we had Tyler Watts and Kevin Kiermaier get seen by the Parkland College coach because we had the opportunity to advance in the state tournament in Class 2A. They both went to Parkland and Kevin is having a pretty good major league career.”

SCOTT ROST (Former Elkhart Memorial and current Elkhart head coach)

“In our area, the vast majority of schools are 3A and 4A. I’m not sure it makes a ton of difference one way of the other. I’m sure for many small schools, (class baseball) provides some positive benefits.
“(Class baseball) is beneficial for some of the smaller schools that may not have a chance for success against bigger schools. 
“There should be other factors involved in the equation when classifying schools. You’re not always comparing apples to apples when you look at enrollment numbers. You can compare similar-sized schools and athletes in one district that do not necessarily have the same opportunities and resources that athletes in another district do.”

MARK SCHELLINGER (New Prairie head coach)

“(Class baseball is a) very positive thing. Enrollment is definitely not the only factor, but it does make a big difference. It’s not realistic to think that small schools can compete consistently with the higher enrollment schools. The depth that the larger schools have because of numbers and the in-team competition that brings gives them a major advantage. Larger schools often have more resources — including indoor facilities and more coaches that is also advantageous for them.
“The benefits from class baseball can be seen throughout all classes.  The idea is that schools are competing against similar schools is good for all.  
“I would actually like to see five classes. The descepancy between the biggest schools in 4A and the smaller schools in 4A is very large. We have schools with over 3,500 students competing against schools that have less than 1,500 students. That is a major difference that brings some big advantages for the larger schools.”

BRAD SCOTT (Rossville head coach)

“At Rossville, we benefit from class baseball. I cannot speak for any other coaches or programs but my guess is most would say that smaller schools and/or private schools benefit from the most. With that said, sectionals are generally aligned by geographical location so my guess is a 4A Sectional in the Indianapolis area might not see significant change if we had one class. I could be wrong though. 
“I would love to see baseball do something like basketball did for a short time with the Tournament of Champions. Baseball — unlike basketball or football — has what I consider to be an equalizer with pitching. It would be neat to see it played out. 
“I am a fan of the old school single-class system as well. I don’t know what it feels like winning a sectional in a single-class system and I do not want to undermine how special winning a sectional championship is. It is a great accomplishment and there is a great amount of pride felt from the program, school and community.
“With that said, I would think winning one in a single-class system would feel different for small schools because of the enrollment differences with the teams you would have to beat.”

CORY STONER (Jimtown head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive. It creates an opportunity for more competition across the board.
“Smaller schools with fewer arms benefit the most from class baseball. Larger schools with more pitchers only are at a great advantage over the smaller schools whose best position players are typically also their best arms and usually have far fewer pitcher-only type players.
“I would love to play three-game series in the postseason rather than the one-and-done model. I’m not sure it is even possible and have no idea how they could arrange it but I think it better fits baseball. You would get the better TEAMs winning sectionals as opposed to the team with the best arm or two winning them.”

STEVE STRAYER (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and Crown Point head coach)
 

“(Class baseball) is mostly positive. It gives hope for many of the smaller schools to earn a sectional, regional, semi-state ,and state championships. “The negative would be private schools seem to be earning most of these championships.
“Private schools (benefit most from class baseball). In the lower classes, private schools have been piling up the state championships. “I would like to have three classes of public schools and one or two classes of private schools.”

TIM TERRY (South Vermillion head coach and athletic director)

“I am old-fashioned, I began coaching when it was a one-class system. I liked the rivalries and going to the local areas to play the sectional games (playing at home or in Terre Haute or Brazil against Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo or West Vigo).
“The reason I bring it up, I felt that it was some Hoosier Hysteria in baseball. It was the local teams playing in a sectional and no one had to travel a great distance.


“It is a benefit for a smaller school to advance farther in the (class baseball) tournament. It takes away the big upsets, but more have a chance to reach the state.”

TED THOMPSON (Tecumseh head coach)

“Class sports has worked out to be a good thing for everyone involved.  The competitive nature of each class is relative and that gives everyone the opportunity to see different teams in different years be successful. 
“The smaller schools most definitely benefit the most due to the shear numbers that are limited they have to choose from. This allows them to compete against like size schools and provide a great experience for the athlete.

“I think the way the IHSAA has it set up is good and there’s not really much to change.”

CRAIG TROUT (Northview head coach)

“Overall class baseball is a positive. It allows for a more-even level of competition. If we look at the schools with larger enrollment it is more common (especially now with pitch count rules) for them to compete with schools their size who have a similar pitching staffs. 

“(Who benefits the most from class baseball is a two-pronged answer. On one hand you have smaller schools 1A, 2A, even 3A who have had more of a chance to compete and have success against schools their size. Again, looking at depth of pitching on those levels it creates a more even playing field. Second answer would be the private/parochial/preparatory schools. They have had more success than most public schools in the tournament, yes they fluctuate in classes because of success factor, but also they have the advantage of being able to set an enrollment where public schools do not.

“Maybe add one more class, I’d like to see just what that would look like. Northview is at the top of the 3A scale so that may move us to the bottom of 4A. I don’t know how that would effect everyone. Also maybe look at a multiplier for the private/parochial/preparatory schools in sports like other states have done. Other states have done it and I think it does create a more even system.

“Overall I think class baseball is great. I think however we could all look back to the days of the David vs. Goliath matchups which brought in huge crowds. I would also like to say that I’m not trying to bring anyone down in this because right now I would argue the state of Indiana has as much baseball talent as any state in the Midwest. The coaching in our state has been really great. I enjoy competing against these coaches from all the different classes and I think baseball in Indiana is as good as it has ever been and I think with the classes we’ve seen some great tournaments and will continue to do so in the future.”

TONY UGGEN (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former Northfield and current Blackford head coach)

“I think (class baseball) is a positive. I was fortunate to have some teams make deep runs in the tournament during my career that likely would not have happened under a one-class system. In fact, one of my best teams at Northfield was during the one-class era and we were beaten by what is now a 4A school. Had that been a class season, we may have had a chance to win state, minimally, made a deeper run. It provides a few more teams the chance to finish as champions thanks to a more level playing field. 
“More communities (benefit from class baseball). When we came back into town after our first championship years ago, there were thousands of people in the Kmart parking lot waiting for us. Then we took the fire engine ride through town and spent the next week getting treated like royalty … That was a great experience for the community of Wabash and the players and their families. All have a memory that will last a lifetime. In the one-class era, very few small communities got to experience the state level.
“(Class baseball) is pretty good overall, but I would like to see a more consistent schedule set at the sectional level for all sites as much as possible. That is hard to do since some sectionals have lights, others don’t, and trying to work around graduations. But host schools have the slight advantage of setting a schedule that best suits their pitching staff. Of course, weather can play havoc to the best of schedules and no matter how the schedule is set, someone will still likely be unhappy. 
“There’s some talk about a slight revamp of the class system to help break down the large enrollment gap between the top and bottom 4A schools. Like most, those at the bottom of 4A just want to have a more balanced system. I appreciate the IHSBCA and IHSAA exploring possible options.”

New head coach Murray emphasizing athletic development for Mount Vernon Wildcats

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

Dustin Murray was hired this summer as the new head baseball coach at Mt. Vernon (Ind.) High School.
His focus for the Wildcats this fall and winter is adding muscle and being in-shape.
“The biggest thing that I’m going to bring is off-season expectations in the weight room,” says Murray, who is a certified strength and conditioning coach and a first-year Physical Education and Health teacher at Mt. Vernon Junior High School. “This is the part of the year where we’re going to get stronger.
“We want to have accountability when it comes to athletic development.”
Lifting at 6:15 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays have been drawing 25 athletes per session.
“What we’re doing is baseball-specific,” says Murray. “But it’s helpful for all sports.”
Murray has been facility director for 13 years at Athletic Republic Evansville, a sports performance training center.
A few years ago, Murray did some volunteer work for Mt. Vernon head coach Paul Quinzer and takes over after Quinzer retired following the 2022 season after leading the program since 2002.
Mt. Vernon (enrollment around 625) is a member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (with Boonville, Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, Princeton, Southridge, South Spencer, Tecumseh, Tell City and Washington).
The Wildcats were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Boonville, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Memorial and Heritage Hills. Mt. Vernon has won 17 sectional titles — the last in 2015.
Murray’s coaching staff includes Luke Harris and Derek Foncannon. Another assistant may be added.
A exciting addition at Mt. Vernon is an indoor training facility near the football field. There will be batting cages that will benefit both baseball and softball.
Construction on the building began a few weeks ago and could be available in late spring or early summer of 2023.
Murray says there has also been discussion of adding a turf infield on the Athletic Park diamond.
Mt. Vernon Cub Baseball offers playing time for eight graders and seventh graders in the spring.
Murray was an assistant to Steve Ricketts at Evansville Mater Dei in 2019 and 2020.
In 2018, he coached for Norris City-Omaha-Enfield in Illinois. He lives in Carmi, Ill., with wife Brittany, daughter Taytem (7) and son Jagger (1).
Prior to his Norris City-Omaha-Enfield stint, he was involved strength and conditioning at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville from 2010-18 after coaching baseball 2006-10. He landed with the Screaming Eagles when following Tracy Archuleta.
A native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Murray graduated from Bishop James Mahoney High School in 2000. He attended Prairie Baseball Academy while going to Lethbridge Community College. After two years, he transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside where Archeluta was the coach. An “international” rule allowed him to play five years of college baseball, including three at UWP. He also helped coach the Rangers after his playing days.
“I’ve never seen him have an ‘off’ day,” says Murray of Archuleta, who has won three NCAA Division II national titles at USI and is leading the Screaming Eagles into NCAA Division I status. “Every time he stepped on the field in was with intent.
“He is always looking to better his program. He’s always high energy and ready to go in everything he does.”
As the part of honored teams, Murray is in athletic halls of fame at both the University of Wisconsin-Parkside (2016) and the University of Southern Indiana (2020).

Dustin Murray.
The Murrays (left from): Jagger, Brittany, Jagger and Dustin.

Princeton’s Barrett coaches where grandfather, Gil Hodges used to play

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Barrett was born and raised in Evansville, Ind.

But before he knew about hometown baseball hero Don Mattingly, he heard stories about Gil Hodges.

That’s because his grandparents — Don and Bonnie Barrett — lived in Princeton, Ind., and Don played American Legion ball with Hodges — who went on to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers — in the early 1940’s. When Gil joined the team Don moved from shortstop to third base.

Zach Barrett is now the head baseball coach at Princeton Community High School. The Tigers play on Gil Hodges Field. It’s the same diamond where its namesake and his grandfather once played the game.

“He always had something for me to work on,” says Zach of his grandpa. “He knew the game really well.”

One of Zach’s cousin is Aaron Barrett. Before Don Barrett died he got to see Aaron pitch in the big leagues.

“He was super-proud of Aaron,” says Zach. “He would be super-proud to know I was hired at Princeton — his alma mater.”

Gil Hodges Field has a different look these days, including turf in the infield. Barrett’s players got a chance to get on the carpet for the first time just this week.

“The school corporation put a ton of money into it,” says Barrett. “There are all sorts of upgrades.”

Jason Engelbrecht was the head coach at Evansville Central High School when Zach’s cousins Aaron Barrett (who has come back from multiple injuries as a pro), Drew Barrett (a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and two at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky.) and Ryan Barrett were playing for the Bears.

Jason Barrett (Zach’s older brother who played at Ball State University) was a hitting star at Central for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Gries. The Central facility is now known as Paul Gries Field.

Engelbrecht was later head coach at Princeton Community and is now Tigers athletic director. He brought Zach on as an assistant. With the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is to be Barrett’s first one with games.

Princeton Community went 10-16 in 2019. A number of regulars remain from that team.

“We have a pretty good nucleus,” says Barrett.

The Tigers go in with a group that includes senior left-handed pitcher/outfielder Rhett Thompson, senior shortstop Lance Stuckey, senior corner infielder/right-handed pitcher Briar Christy and junior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Sean Stone.

The 6-foot-7 Thompson was the mound starter in the 2019 IHSAA Class 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional championship game against the host Alices.

Stone is already getting looks from college baseball programs.

Gerit Bock, a 2020 Princeton graduate, is now on the roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.

With Barrett serving as an assistant on Princeton Community head football coach Jared Maners’ staff, there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity in the fall. Players began to get rolling in January.

Princeton (enrollment around 610) is a member of the reconfigured 13-member Pocket Athletic Conference (with Boonville, Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Mount Vernon of Posey, North Posey, Pike Central, Southridge, South Spencer, Tecumseh, Tell City and Washington).

Conference games are played on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This format promotes the development of pitching depth if teams want to be competitive.

The Tigers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Gibson Southern, Pike Central, Southridge, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington. Princeton has won six sectional crowns — the last in 1991.

Barrett’s 2021 assistants are Brad Stone, Alec Sandefur, Reed Farmer, Brandon Winschief and Lane Rumple.

The expectation is that there will be 22 to 24 players to fill out varsity and junior varsity teams with some swinging between the two.

Princeton Youth Baseball, which plays at Jack Bishop Park, helps feed the high school Tigers as does the middle school Cub program.

Made up primarily of seventh and eighth graders with some sixth graders, that squad plays from March to May.

“We have good coaches at that level that understand the game,” says Barrett. “It’s not about wins and losses at that level. Are the kids having fun? Are they getting better? Are they part of the team?”

Barrett, who splits his work day between teaching high school Health and middle school Physical Education, will walk the halls to find athletes. 

Thorough his own experience and observation, he realizes that what they are at 13 and 17 may be vastly different.

“I’ve played with kids absolute studs in middle school and barely played as seniors,” says Barrett. “On the other side, there are those (smallish or uncoordinated kids) who stick with it and become very good varsity players.

“You just never know. Kids mature differently.”

The Cub team practices and plays on Gil Hodges Field, which features lights. 

“I want those kids to feel like they’re a part of us,” says Barrett. “In years past, they’ve worked out with our varsity guys.”

That’s given the older ones a chance to mentor the younger ones.

“They understand that they are the future,” says Barrett. “They put Princeton first.

“They’re not selfish.”

Barrett is a 2004 graduate of Reitz High School in Evansville, where the 6-foot-5 athlete was a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He played receiver and safety for John Hart on the gridiron, power forward or center for Michael Adams on the hardwood and pitcher, shortstop and center fielder for Steve Johnston on the diamond.

Hart, a member of the Reitz and Greater Evansville Football halls of fame, impressed Barrett with the way he went about his business and the relationships he built with his players. Unlike some coaches, Hart was not intimidating but approachable.

“He was like a second dad,” says Barrett. “I was able to talk with him.

“He was good about taking care of the small things and being disciplined. He was a very smart coach.”

Nick Hart, John’s son and head football coach at Gibson Southern, is a good friend of Barrett’s.

Barrett was all-city, all-SIAC and Indiana Football Coaches Association All-State as junior and senior, AP All-State and an Indiana Mr. Football Finalist as senior.

Adams, who is still on the bench at Reitz, got Barrett’s attention when he as attending basketball camps as an elementary school student.

“His attention to detail was apparent at that age,” says Barrett, who saw varsity minutes as a freshman and became a starter as a sophomore. “He was very strict but he knew how to relate to players. 

“He was about as good an X’s and O’s coach as you’ll ever see. He would get you ready and prepared mentally and physically.

“I’m glad to see all the success he’s had lately.”

Barrett won four basketball letters at Reitz and paced the team in rebounding three times. He was all-SIAC as a junior and senior and honorable mention All-State as a senior.

Johnston gave Barrett the chance to experience varsity ball as a freshman and made him a starter the next spring.

“Everybody enjoy playing for him,” says Barrett of Johnston. “He had a good baseball mind.”

Barrett completed his Reitz baseball career second all-time in both hits (95) and slugging percentage (.576). He was named all-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference as a junior and Associated Press All-State as a senior when he was also selected in the 38th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins and chosen to play in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.

College baseball for Barrett included two years under coach Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College (2005 and 2006) and two under coach Steve Peterson at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (2007 and 2008).

“DC — we called him the ‘Mayor of Olney,’” says Barrett of veteran skipper Conley. “He was a mentor and taught you about doing things right. He wasn’t messing around. But he could flip the stitch and be able to relate to us.

“He obviously knew the game very well. He was tough to play for. He put a lot of pressure on you. You needed to come up big and handle situations. I had my share of butt-chewings. He got max effort out of all of us and we respected the heck out of him.”

Similar to Conley, Peterson was Old School in his approach. He believed in fundamentals and discipline.

“He was not afraid to run you and do things like that when he didn’t get the most of us,” says Barrett. “I learned a lot of life lessons from my high school and college coaches.”

Barrett uses drills in his high school practices that he learned from Conley and Peterson.

Barrett played in 116 games as a third baseman for the MTSU Blue Raiders. He hit .329 with 12 doubles and 32 runs batted in as a junior and . 383 with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBI’s in as a senior.

In 2008 and 2009, Barrett was the manager of the Dubois County Bombers’ summer collegiate wood bat team.

He began his teaching career and was a football assistant at Evansville Harrison High School on the staffs of Cory Brunson and Lane Oxley prior to Princeton Community.

Barrett and fiancee Kim live on the north side of Evansville and are to be married in July. Kim’s daughter from a previous relationship is Charley (5). Ellie was born to Zach and Kim in May 2019.

Zach Barrett is the head baseball coach at Princeton (Ind.) Community High School.

‘Eye’ on the prize for Fischer’s Heritage Hills Patriots

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Fischer has a simple formula for baseball success as head coach at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind.

“We we try to be as fundamentally-sound as possible,” says Fischer. “We spend a lot of times on those techniques.

“We keep it as simple as possible. We try to minimize (the game) to 21 outs.”

A 1998 Heritage Hills graduate, Fischer was a Patriots assistant for nine years before taking the program’s reins. The 2021 season will be his fourth in that role.

The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 slate statewide. It hit hard at Heritage Hills where expectations were high.

“It’s pretty aggravating,” says Fischer. “We were going to have eight seniors. We were going to have a very experienced pitching staff coming back and a handful of three-year starters.

“It was disappointing not being able to see what they were going to do.”

In 2019, the Patriots won 22 games and were runners-up in the Pocket Athletic Conference and IHSAA Class 3A Evansville Bosse Sectional.

The PAC has expanded from eight to 12 schools in 2020-21. Boonville, Mount Vernon (Posey), Princeton and Washington have joined Heritage Hills, Forest Park, Gibson Southern, North Posey, Pike Central, South Spencer, Tecumseh and Tell City. Each team will meet each other once during the conference season.

Heritage Hills (enrollment around 600) is part of a 3A sectional grouping with Boonville, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Memorial, Gibson Southern and Mount Vernon (Posey). The Patriots last won a sectional crown in 2011. 

Fischer, who counts Mike Guth and Brad Fella as assistant coaches and is looking to fill a couple vacancies, expects to have around 25 in the program next spring to fill varsity and junior varsity rosters.

Simon Scherry, a member of the Heritage Hills Class of 2020, is now a freshman infielder at the NCAA Division I University of Evansville. Other recent graduates in the collegiate baseball ranks include sophomore infielder Mitchel Becher (NCAA Division II University of Missouri-St. Louis) and junior infielder Sam Pinckert (NCAA Division III Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio).

Heritage Hill’s home field is on its campus. About a decade ago, the infield was changed to have cut-out areas around home plate and the bases with grass in the other areas.

“It helps with drainage,” says Fischer. “We very rarely have rain-out games now.

“It plays just like a turf field.”

Another unique feature is a batter’s eye 375 feet from the plate in center field.

“It’s the only one I know of in southern Indiana,” says Fischer of the structure made of green barn metal that is 60 feet wide and 24 feet tall and topped by the same yellow capping as the rest of the fence. 

Much of the outfield is surrounded by woods. 

“Before leaves are on the trees it’s really hard to pick up a baseball,” says Fischer, who built the batter’s eye based on a design created by his Heritage Hills engineering students.

Fischer earned an Elementary Education degree with a Mathematics minor at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, where he briefly played baseball. 

He earned a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Oakland City (Ind.) University and an Engineering Accreditation for teaching at the University of Kentucky.

Besides teaching and coaching baseball, Fischer is the head girls soccer coach at Heritage Hills. The Patriots won the 2020 2A Bosse Sectional then fell in the Jasper Regional championship match. The team was without senior Haley Osborne during the tournament because of COVID-19 quarantine.

With most baseball players in football, soccer and cross county in the fall and Fischer coaching girls soccer, Heritage Hills did not meet during the fall Limited Contact Period for baseball.

When the next window opens in December, plans call for station work in the school’s fieldhouse.

“We’ll do a lot of hitting and arm exercises to get our pitchers ready,” says Fischer.

Feeder systems for Patriots include the various parks in the North Spencer Little League (T-ball through age 12) and the Heritage Hills Cub program (seventh and eighth graders with varsity and JV teams).

Andy and wife Rachael have three children ages 12, 9 and 6.

Heritage Hills High School’s baseball field with its distinctive batter’s eye.
Andy Fischer, a 1998 graduate of Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., is heading into his fourth season as the Patriots head baseball coach in 2021.

Former long-time assistant Hutchins now in charge of Providence Pioneers

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott Hutchins has spent 27 years in a Our Lady of Providence High School baseball uniform — four as a player for then-head coach Ben Hornung and the past 23 as an assistant coach to Scott Hornung (Ben’s cousin). In 25 seasons, Scott Hornung went 473-233 with 13 sectional title, six regional crowns, one semistate championship and one state title.

Now 1991 Providence graduate Hutchins is in charge of the Clarksville, Ind.-based Pioneers program and carries things he learned from the Hornungs and ideas he’s formed on his own.

Hutchins recalls how prepared Ben Hornung was for each day’s practice.

“He was very organized,” says Hutchins. “He made every single person feel like they were an important part of the team and that they were a big contributor.

“(Scott Hornung) had the ability to cultivate relationships with all the players. He had a lot of respect for all those guys. He listened to his assistants and would take your advice.

“I hope to take a little bit of all those things when I get started.”

Hutchins has already put Providence players through fall Limited Contact Period baseball workouts (two hours, twice-a-week for seven weeks).

“We had good weather and got all 14 practices in,” says Hutchins. “We really focused on individual player development. We did a little bit of team stuff.

“I like the Limited Contact rule because we are allowed to instruct.”

There was individual defensive work and time spent in the batting cage.

“We had a super productive fall,” says Hutchins. “In December, we’ll do conditioning and lifting. I doubt we’ll even pick up a baseball in December.

“In January, we’ll focus on getting our pitchers ready for the season.”

Ideally, Hutchins would like his players to be able to throw a little during conditioning times, but the rules do not currently allow that though the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association is working with the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association on proposals, including one that would extend the period of arm care.

Hutchins says he would like to stretch out his starters and have his bullpen pitchers throw a lesser number of pitches two or three days a week to get used to doing that during the season.

“Right now, it’s hard to get their arms ready,” says Hutchins.

His assistants include Providence alums Jacob Julius (2004), Tre Watson (2016) and Colin Rauck (2015) plus former Indiana University Southeast pitcher Elliott Fuller and Jennings County graduate and former IUS player Brian Jackson.

Associate head coach Julius played and coached at the University of Arkansas and played in the Baltimore Orioles organization. Watson was on the Pioneers’ state title team in 2016 and is now the hitting coach. Fuller works with pitcher and is the head junior varsity coach. Jackson works with catchers. Rauck is a JV assistant.

Providence (enrollment around 360) is an athletic independent with no conference affiliation.

Among 2019 opponents were Austin, Brownstown Central, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, Gibson Southern, Jeffersonville, Lanesville, New Albany, North Harrison, Salem, Silver Creek, South Central of Elizabeth and Washington in Indiana plus Glenbrook South and Metamora in Illinois and Trinity in Kentucky.

The Pioneers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Austin, Clarksville, Crawford County, Eastern of Pekin and Henryville. Providence has won 18 sectional titles — the last in 2017. The Pioneers were 2A state champions in 2016.

Several recent Providence graduates have gone on to college baseball, including Joe Wilkinson (Indiana University), Christian Graf (Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.) and Adam Uhl (Franklin College), Timmy Borden (University of Louisville), Reece Davis (Bellarmine University in Louisville), Jake Lewis (Eastern Kentucky University) and Jay Lorenz (Hanover College).

No current Pioneers have made college baseball commitments.

Hutchins has a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Indiana University Southeast. He teaches Chemistry and is Dean of Students at Providence.

Scott and Traci Hutchins have two baseball-playing sons — senior Bryce Hutchins and freshman Logan Hutchins. Both are second basemen.

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The Hutchins family (from left): Bryce, Logan, Traci and Scott. After 23 seasons as an assistant, alum Scott Hutchins is now the head baseball coach at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, Ind.

 

Collins keeps wins coming for Evansville Memorial Tigers

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt “Rip” Collins learned a winning system established from one of Indiana’s most successful baseball coaches and he is using many of those things to enjoy more accomplishments.

Collins played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Quentin Merkel at Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, graduating in 1990.

“I rode the coattails of those guys on the 1989 state championship team,” says Collins, referring to Tigers diamond stars like Pat Schulz who went on to play at the University of Evansville and in the Cleveland Indians organization.

Merkel racked up 941 victories, three IHSAA state championships (1978, 1989 and 1993), three state runner-up finishes (1970, 1979 and 2005) and 26 sectional titles in his 45 years at Memorial head coach.

The 1978 and 1979 squads were led by Don Mattingly, who went on to play for the New York Yankees, be inducted into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and manage the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins.

Collins, who started his teaching career at Holy Rosary School then moved to Memorial (the Western Kentucky University graduate leads classes for physical education and driver’s education) and has coached football, basketball and baseball at Memorial over the course of more than 20 years, was a Merkel assistant in 2013 and took over the program the next season.

“He’s a man I’ve looked up to,” says Collins of Merkel. “I’ve instilled a lot of things he did, like his work ethic and overall approach to the game.

“We bought into it. That’s what we’ve tried to do on our staff.”

Collins’ assistants are Chris Schaefer (pitching coach) and Dan Durchholz with the varsity on gameday, Aaron Schmitt and Ethan Sauls with the junior varsity and Eric Chamberlain and Sam Mattingly with the freshmen.

It’s about consistency for Collins and his staff.

“Baseball hasn’t changed very much,” says Collins. “We try to keep it simple.

“We have a daily routine. Our drills might be monotonous, but we think it’s important.”

This repetition has helped the Tigers.

“You’re not surprised when good things happen,” says Collins. “Mentally, we can get through the tough times.”

With the IHSAA allowing courtesy runners for pitchers and catchers the past two years, there have been more playing opportunities for reserve players.

Collins asks his athletes to embrace their chance to contribute.

“Define your role and relish in that role regardless of what it is,” says Collins.

Memorial generally has about 40 players for its three teams, which keeps the Tigers hopping since their home diamond, Stone Field, does not have lights.

The facility, located behind Holy Rosary on South Green River Road, now sports new higher bleachers on the home and visiting sides.

With Collins in charge, Memorial is coming off a 2018 campaign in which the Tigers went 23-7 overall and 9-3 in the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference. Memorial tied for the SIAC title and won city and Class 3A Evansville Bosse Sectional championships.

A 7-1 loss to eventual state runner-up Silver Creek in the Bosse Regional championship ended the Tigers’ season.

Senior Isaac Housman is committed to play baseball at the University of Southern Indiana. Branson Combs (Southern Illinois University) and Michael Lindauer (University of Cincinnati) are bound for collegiate football.

Recent Memorial graduates to are on college baseball rosters are Caleb Meeks (University of Evansville), Drew Ashley (Indiana University) and Luke Johnston (University of Southern Indiana).

Memorial (enrollment around 610) is a member of the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Castle, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville North and Evansville Reitz).

SIAC schools play each other twice in a same-week home-and-home series to determine the conference champion.

Non-conference foes for the Tigers include Boonville, Gibson Southern, Henderson (Ky.) County, Heritage Hills, Jasper, Mount Vernon (Posey), North Posey, Southridge, South Spencer, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington. The Tom Miles Invitational at Washington is slated for May 11.

The Tigers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Boonville, Bosse, Heritage Hills and Mount Vernon. Memorial has won 28 sectional titles — two with Collins as head coach (2016 and 2018).

Reitz Memorial operates under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Evansville.

A Cub baseball team for seventh and eighth graders who have committed to attend Memorial plays in the spring. There are many travel baseball organizations for junior high and high school players.

“Rip” went into education like his father. Larry “Pops” Collins coached with James “Mojo” Hollowell at Henderson (Ky.) High School and picked up the habit of giving a nickname to each of his players in 40 years as an East Side Little League coach. He carried that over to his children and grandchildren.

Larry, who died in 2009, and Donna had four kids — Laurie (aka “Pumpkin”), Lainie (“Bird”), James Patrick (“Jock”) and Matthew Ryan (“Rip”).

The latter handle is a nod to former big leaguer Rip or Ripper Collins.

“Jock” gives nicknames to his players in the same league where his dad coached baseball.

“Rip” and wife Shelby have three kids — eighth grader Leo (“Cleat”), sixth grader Clara (“Filly”) and third grader Walt (“Colt”). All are involved in sports.

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Matt “Rip” Collins enters his sixth season as head baseball coach at Evansville (Ind.) Reitz Memorial High School in 2019. He is a 1990 Memorial graduate.

 

Quinzer pushes work ethic for Mount Vernon Wildcats baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Paul Quinzer instructs students about rocks and athletes about playing hard.

Quinzer is a teacher of earth space science, integrated chemistry and physics at Mount Vernon (Ind.) High School.

He is also the head baseball coach at the Posey County school, a position he has held since the 2002 season.

“My philosophy is to work hard and play hard,” says Quinzer. “When we practice I’m always on them about working hard. If they work hard, we’ll have fun.

“We set goals and we try to achieve those goals. I want to get the boys into some kind of work ethic, not only for baseball but later in life.”

Quinzer is a 1982 graduate of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., where he was a four-sport athlete (baseball, track, basketball and football).

His baseball coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Al Rabe.

“He believed in what I could do,” says Quinzer of Rabe. “He allowed let me try new things. He did the best he could to help me learn how to pitch.”

Quinzer played in the 1986 College World Series with Indiana State University and graduated that year with a geology degree.

ISU Hall of Famer Bob Warn was the Sycamores head coach when Quinzer was playing in Terre Haute.

“He really recruited me hard,” says Quinzer of Warn. “He made me feel like he really wanted me.”

Right-hander Quinzer was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — 1982 by the Montreal Expos (12th round) and 1986 by the San Diego Padres (10th round). His professional playing career went until 1990 when he played at Triple-A Las Vegas.

When he was done playing, Quinzer looked for a job in geology, wound up getting his teaching license and began at Mount Vernon in the fall of 1993. The first of eight seasons as an assistant to Dave Bell came in the spring of 1994. Bell led the Wildcats for 22 years for his retirement.

Mount Vernon (enrollment around 610) is a member of the Big Eight Conference (with Boonville, Jasper, Mount Carmel of Illinois, Princeton Community, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington).

Each team plays one another once to determine the conference champion.

“We are spread out big time,” says Quinzer. “The closest conference team — Boonville or Princeton — is an hour drive.

“We drive a lot at our school.”

The Wildcats have won the Big Eight seven times since Quinzer has been head coach.

Non-conference opponents include Carmi White County (Ill.), Castle, Evansville Central, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Henderson County (Ky.), Linton-Stockton, North Posey, Tecumseh and Webster County (Ky.).

This year will mark the first in a dozen that Mount Vernon does not play in the Braves Bash at Terre Haute South Vigo. The Wildcats will go to Webster County during spring break. Quinzer says he hopes the team can go to Nashville, Tenn., during break in the future.

The Wildcats are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Boonville, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Memorial and Heritage Hills. Mount Vernon has won 17 sectional crowns (five with Quinzer on the MV coaching staff and four with him as head coach) — the last in 2015.

Quinzer has his largest coaching staff to date with Nathan Groeninger, John Schelhorn, Mark Wezet and Ron Upshaw. Wezet is the pitching coach.

Former assistant Kevin Krizan, who played at the University of Evansville, was with Quinzer for 15 years.

Krizan stepped away a few years ago to follow his sons — senior right-hander Austin Krizan and sophomore center fielder Bryce Krizan — on the diamond at the University of Southern Indiana.

Other recent Mount Vernon graduates that moved on to college baseball are Drake McNamara (USI), Clay Ford (Oakland City University), Troy Paris (Kentucky Wesleyan College) and Walker Paris (Vincennes University).

Two other alums — Cody Mobley and catcher Logan Brown — are playing pro ball. Mobley was selected in the eighth round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners and Brown was chosen in the 35th round of the 2018 draft by the Atlanta Braves.

MV graduates also taken in the draft include catcher Ryan Spilman (Cleveland Indians, 15th round in 2003), left-hander Bryan Rueger (New York Yankees, 20th round in 2005) and right-hander Matt Huff (San Diego Padres, 27th round in 2006).

Mount Vernon plans to field three teams in 2019 —  varsity, junior varsity and freshmen/C-team.

“We want to get as many games as possible for those younger kids,” says Quinzer. “The more games they can play, the better they’re going to be.”

A year ago, there were 38 players in the program. There are 30 this year, including 12 freshmen. Half that number are expected to play for the varsity.

The Wildcats play at Athletic Park. The on-campus field features a center field fence that is 417 feet from home plate.

“Since we went to the BBCORs, we don’t hit too many home runs,” says Quinzer.

Over the years, the facility has added new backstop — netting with bricks at the bottom. The next project is batting cages with turf.

“It’s a a little of this and little of that,” says Quinzer.

Paul and Cindy Quinzer have three children. Alexandria Quinzer is a senior nursing student at USI. Savannah Quinzer is a sophomore education major at USI. Bronson Quinzer is a junior shortstop at Mount Vernon. He hit .405 as a sophomore.

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Paul Quinzer is head baseball coach at Mount Vernon (Ind.) High School.

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Paul Quinzer is a teacher of earth space science, integrated chemistry and physics and head baseball coach at Mount Vernon (Ind.) High School.

Benningfield has Tell City Marksmen baseball on target for improvement

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Participation numbers have been on the rise and so has the enthusiasm for baseball at Tell City (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School.

The Marksmen had 20 players in the program in 2017, which was Trent Benningfield’s first season as head coach. There were 24 participants in 2018 and 32 have signed up for tryouts for 2019.

Tell City, which is located near the Ohio River in Perry County, has scheduled 22 varsity games and about 15 junior varsity contests this spring.

“I feel like things are going in the right direction,” says Benningfield, a 2011 Tell City graduate and fourth grade teacher at William Tell Elementary. “The boys are putting in a lot more work. They’re seeing what it takes to get to the next level.”

Benningfield lists his goals for the program as developing young men, getting them ready for college or the work force and another thing.

“I’m trying to win as many games as possible every single year,” says Benningfield.

The head coach lives three blocks from Frank Clemens Field, the city-owned diamond where the Marksmen play their home games. There is a hitting building at the facility and the coach has been known to get texts from his players to meet him there for extra swings.

Official practice begins March 11 and the first contest is slated for March 26. Spring break begins March 15 and Benningfield welcomes the opportunity to have some longer workouts.

Since the IHSAA requires 10 practices to participate, Benningfield expects to have his players at those practices.

“If they want to play in first two or three games, they can’t afford to go anywhere,” says Benningfield, who is getting help preparing his players from assistants and TC grads Trent Gunn and Seth Ward.

Gunn, who played for the University of Southern Indiana’s NCAA Division II national championship team in 2014, is in charge of hitting and infield play. Ward also helps with the JV. Benningfield says he is hoping to add one more coach to his staff.

Tell City (enrollment around 430) is a member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (with Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, South Spencer, Southridge and Tecumseh).

The Marksmen are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, North Posey, Perry Central and South Spencer.

“It’s one of the toughest 2A sectionals if not the toughest in Indiana,” says Benningfield. “It seems like every year whoever wins our sectional is going to the state championship.

“It’s like a dogfight to win that thing every single year.”

Southridge was 2A state runners-up in 2018. South Spencer was 2A state champions in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Mater Dei was 2A state runners-up in 2012 and 2014. North Posey was state champions in 2005 and 2006.

Tell City’s most-recent sectional crown came in 1997 – the last season of single-class sports.

Benningfield played at Oakland City (Ind.) University for Mighty Oaks head coach T-Ray Fletcher and counted two future high school head coaches as teammates — Eric Barnes (Boonville), Isaac Bowles (Crawford County) and Cody Johnson (North Harrison).

His first two seasons at OCU, Benningfield was a relief pitcher. That meant he got to spend time in the dugout with Fletcher has he made strategic moves.

“That’s what helped me the most,” says Benningfield. “I learned what other teams were thinking.”

Benningfield played four summers for Rockport American Legion Post 254 and manager Jim Haaff, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

“He ran a very disciplined team,” says Benningfield of Haaff. “He treated every single person the same. Everybody was supposed to do their job. We came together as a team because of that. I’m hoping to do that with my (Tell City) team as well.”

Recent TC graduate Preston Hendershot is on the baseball team at Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky.

Shane Weedman, who was a 2011 classmate of Benningfield at Tell City and an assistant coach in 2018, played at Vincennes University and Indiana University Southeast and pitched a no-hitter for the independent Evansville Otters in 2017.

Rick Wilgus, who was Benningfield’s Babe Ruth League coach, runs Tell City’s Cub baseball program. It’s a club that includes sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

“It’s for any kids too old to play (Tell City) Little League and too young for high school,” says Benningfield of a squad that plays many schools in the PAC in the spring and has home games and practices at the former Babe Ruth park — Hughes Owen Field.

Trent and Josalyn Benningfield were married in June 2018. She is  Tell City graduate and fifth grade teacher at William Tell. The former Josalyn Ress was on a sectional softball championship team in 2009 and pitched for four years at Kentucky Wesleyan College.

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Josalyn and Trent Benningfield enjoy a Cincinnati Reds game. Both are teachers at William Tell Elementary in Tell City, Ind. Trent is the head baseball coach at Tell City Junior-Senior High School.

Simmons seizes hardware in first season leading North Posey Vikings

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

North Posey High School’s baseball team got to hoist the sectional trophy again in 2018.

The last time the Vikings had earned the hardware was in 2006 when the program went on to the second of back-to-back IHSAA Class 2A state championships with Mike Swartzentruber as head coach.

North Posey went 22-10 last spring, won the 2A Tell City Sectional and saw the season end in the Austin Regional final with a loss to eventual state runner-up Southridge.

Pitcher Shane Harris and outfielder Jarrett Motz made the all-Pocket Athletic Conference as juniors while infielder Camden Bender received honorable mention as a sophomore.

The Vikings finished 5-3 and tied for third place in the PAC (which also includes Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Pike Central, South Spencer, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City).

The first season as North Posey head coach was a special one for Jesse Simmons.

After eight seasons in charge at Princeton (Ind.) Community High School, Simmons came to North Posey, where he also works in the guidance department as coordinator for student programs, testing and scholarships.

During his time at Princeton Community, he spent part of his summers managing Princeton American Legion Post 25.

Simmons, a graduate of Gibson Southern High School in Fort Branch, Ind., played for an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jim Reid) in high school and a National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jerry Blemker at Vincennes University) his first two years of college.

He played two more seasons at Oakland City (Ind.) University for head coach T-Ray Fletcher. Toss in the lessons he gained from playing football at Gibson Southern for head coach John Obermeier and that has formed Simmons as a coach.

“You pick stuff from everybody,” says Simmons. “(Reid) was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He was always upfront. That’s what I try to do. To a fault, I’m almost too truthful.

“(Reid) was also big on the little things.”

A third baseman in high school, Simmons was moved to shortstop at Vincennes when the starter got hurt.

Blemker was known for his passion.

“Everyday he expected things,” says Simmons of Blemker. “This is how it’s going to be.”

The fiery Blemker, who died in 2012, won 1,178 games during a storied career. At the time of his retirement in 2006, that was the most coaching wins in NJCAA Division II history.

Simmons recalls how Obermeier wanted his athletes to “take care of business” and also had a good working relationship with coaches of other sports. They shared athletes at Gibson Southern.

“(Fletcher) is still a big part of my life,” says Simmons, who not only played for T-Ray’s Mighty Oaks but helped coach them during his fifth year of college while pursuing his master’s degree. “That’s when I got the bug for coaching.”

Heading into his second season at North Posey, Simmons’ coaching staff includes Lennie “Peanut” Titzer, James Hensley, Lance Fleener, Dustin May and Jeremy Lavanchy. Titzer was Simmons’ Babe Ruth League coach and an assistant at Gibson Southern.

The Vikings are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, Perry Central, South Spencer and Tell City. North Posey has an enrollment of about 500.

North Posey plays on a field behind the school that it shares with Cub (seventh and eighth graders playing 15 to 20 games in the spring) and Poseyville Babe Ruth programs (Red and Black teams are part of an eight-team league with biggest part being from Gibson County).

Simmons says he hopes to have an American Legion team — Poseyville Post 278 /New Harmony Post 370 — playing their next summer. The plan is to play weekday games to accommodate the weekend travel ball schedules of his players.

Jesse and Courtney Simmons reside in Haubstadt, Ind. with their five children — sons Jeter (9) and Jensen (8) and daughters Albany (7), Vera (6) and Savannah (1).

The oldest of three children, Jesse’s parents are Jim and Diane Hornby. His siblings are Amber and Quentin.

A New York Yankees fan, Jesse Simmons’ favorite players are Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly.

“(Jeter) thrived under pressure,” says Simmons. “He was a good leader. He was never afraid of the moment and the spotlight is a tough place to play.”

Mattingly, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer, is from nearby Darmstadt, Ind., and played high school baseball at Evansville Memorial.

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Jesse Simmons, the head baseball coach at North Posey High School in Poseyville, Ind., poses with his family. Front row (from left) Jeter Simmons, Vera Simmons, Albany Simmons and Jensen Simmons. Back row (from left) Jesse Simmons, Savannah Simmons and Courtney Simmons.

Jones uses three simple rules to steer Evansville North baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Jones thoroughly enjoyed his fifth season as head baseball coach at Evansville (Ind.) North High School in 2018.

The Huskies won 22 games — the program’s most in 13 years — and played in the IHSAA Class 4A Evansville Reitz Sectional championship game, losing to eventual Plainfield semistate runner-up Castle.

Led by a senior group featuring Payne Collins, Jon Newton, Zach Simpson and Nathan Toone, North was ranked much of the spring (winding up No. 8 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association regular-season poll) while extending the program’s record streak of winning seasons in seven.

“They’re just baseball kids,” says Jones. “It’s a group that’s jelled together.

“They do the little things.”

North batters produced a 2-to-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio and the Huskies stole 130 bases in 2018.

Right-handed pitcher Toone moved on to Vincennes University.

Returnees and incoming players have Jones seeing a bright future on the north side of the Pocket City.

“This is the most talent I’ve had freshmen through seniors,” says Jones.  “I couldn’t be more excited about the (2019) season.

“The sophomores and freshmen are a pretty good group for us.”

Returning seniors include shortstop Alex Archuleta (son of University of Southern Indiana head coach Tracy Archuleta), outfielder Seth Seniour and catcher A.J. Wheeler.

While a few may be added, Jones expects his coaching staff to include David Johnson, Zane Mauser, John Newman, Dustin Murray, Tyler Owen and Kyle Kempf.

Another thing that has Jones pumped is the IHSAA rule change which allows periods where coaches can work with the whole squad for twice a week for two hours each (rather than two athletes at a time) and that first window opens Monday, Aug. 27.

“This is going to help with coaches who are ready to invest in practices,” says Jones. “It will be a huge advantage for people who are ready to work.”

Jones says he expects to have about 45 players in his program — varsity, junior and freshman — and another 15 on the Cub (eighth grade) team.

Jones began his run with the Huskies with the 2013 season and North won 19 and and 18 contests those first two years. That ’13 team had no returning starters.

Former North players currently on the USI roster are Jayden Beshears, Ryan Gulledge, Tyler Hagedorn and Zach Pate.

A 1994 Evansville Bosse graduate and former Eugene Pate American Legion Post 265 player, Jones was a four-year starter at third base for the USI in Evansville with a redshirt year.

Mike Goedde, who had coached Jones during his junior Legion season, was his head coach at USI.

“He taught me that to get anything you have to work hard,” says Jones of Goedde, who is now head coach at Evansville Central High School. “You have to put the time and effort in to be a good baseball player.

“Coach Goedde was definitely organized and we got our reps in.”

Jones has three simple rules for his North Huskies and they are posted in the dugout — be one time; be a good teammate; always hustle.

“If our kids follow those three guidelines we’re in a pretty good place as a program,” says Jones.

Playing for Goedde is the basis of those rules.

“Coach Goedde was definitely organized and we got our reps in,” says Jones. “It’s loving the game and having the ability to work hard.

“You want to get better.”

Jones graduated from USI in 1999. He was an assistant coach at Bosse from 2001-04 and then head coach of the Bulldogs from 2005-12. In the summers, he also coached the junior team for Pate Post 265 from 1998-2003 and Pate’s senior squad from 2007-13.

Evansville North belongs to the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (along with Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Castle, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville Memorial and Evansville Reitz).

SIAC teams play one another twice in home-and-home series on Tuesday and Thursday or Friday for seventh straight weeks.

All-SIAC performers for the Huskies in 2018 were pitcher Toone and outfielder Newton on the first team and Archuleta on the second team.

Jones helps make out his non-conference schedule, which in 2018 featured Bedford North Lawrence, Boonville, Decatur Central, Gibson Southern, Indian Creek, Jasper, Martinsville and South Spencer among others. South Spencer head coach Brian Kuester coached Pate Post 265 in Jones’ senior summer.

North, which opened its current building in January 2012, has side-by-side varsity and practice baseball fields. With no trees around to speak of, it is often windy.

“We work on pop-fly communication everyday,” says Jones.

Besides the Cub program, which plays SIAC and other schools, North Husky baseball is fed by Evansville East Youth Baseball, McCutchanville Oak Hill Recreational Activities Club (MORAC) and various travel organizations.

North’s summer youth baseball camp drew 115 players.

“There is no shortage of baseball going on for kids who are in our district,” says Jones.

The educator now teaches U.S. History to North freshmen. His teaching career also includes a 13-year stint at Washington Middle School.

Jeremy and Kacy Jones have three children — Kennedy (10), Cooper (8) and Caroline (3).

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Kiwanis award winner Jon Newton (left) poses with Evansville (Ind.) North High School head baseball coach Jeremy Jones after the 2018 season.

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Head coach Jeremy Jones (far right) poses with 2018 Evansville (Ind.) North High School baseball seniors (from left) Jon Newton, Zach Simpson, Payne Collins and Nathan Toone.