By STEVE KRAH
Josh Keister is entering his fifth season as head baseball coach at his alma mater — Goshen High School.
The 2000 GHS graduate has led the program to more victories in each season. The 2017 RedHawks went 21-9 overall and 9-5 in the Northern Lakes Conference.
Keister credits the success to a culture that insists players be engaged and intense and understand the thought process behind things.
“We want you to understand what you’re doing and why,” says Keister. “When guys engage and understand it, they are more likely to get it right and get it right for the right reasons as they encounter it again.
“It’s amazing to see the results you get from approaching things that way.”
Keister and his coaching staff want players to have positive energy.
“We look at things that take no talent — attitude, energy and hustle — and evaluate how we are with those before we do anything situational or mechanical,” says Keister.
The Elkhart County Sports Hall of Famer who earned eight varsity letters at GHS in soccer, basketball and baseball while receiving team MVP honors in each, says high school athletes don’t necessarily know all the different ways to play hard.
With that in mind, Goshen players must always run hard through first base every time; run hard all the way to second base on a fly ball to the outfield; sprint to the deepest part of their defensive position; have their stuff and be ready to get out of the dugout at the end of an inning; once the third out is made on defense, every player is to be across the foul line within eight seconds.
“The reason we do that is to maintain momentum or get it back when we don’t have it,” says Keister.
Goshen varsity assistant coaches are Clay Norris, Aaron Keister, Chad Collins and Tracy Farmwald. All have been with the program since Josh Keister took over and Farmwald was on GHS staffs before that.
Second-year assistant J.J. DuBois and first-year assistant Troy Pickard are coaching Goshen’s junior varsity.
“We are very fortunate to have an excellent staff,” says Josh Keister. “Continuity has been a key to our success. We have grown and gotten better together.”
GHS will field two teams in 2018 — varsity and JV.
Staff and players have worked hard to improve the playing surface at Phend Field, which turns 50 this spring.
RedHawks coaches want players to have a purpose and focus. That includes a great game of catch.
“We want you to hit a target every time you throw the baseball,” says Keister. “It’s not just pitchers. You should sell out to catch it. Not every throw is going to be a great throw and it’s not all on the thrower. Treat every throw as if the game-winning run is on third base and you can’t let it get past you.
“There’s so much cool stuff in baseball with all the analytics, it’s easy to lose sight of those easy, basic things. You do those things and it leads to success with everything else.”
Keister was a left-handed hitter who excelled in both high school and at Goshen College and later was head coach of the Maple Leafs (2006-10; 68-196).
In 2000, he hit .432 with just three strikeouts in 105 plate appearances and socked a walk-off home run to win the Elkhart Sectional.
At GC, Keister was a two-time all-Mid-Central Conference (now Crossroads League) selection and an honorable mention All-American. He established single-season records in batting average (.479), hits (65), runs batted in (50) and runs scored (42) and career marks for average (.412), runs (133) and doubles (44) and most of these GC marks still stand.
GHS coaches are very individualized in how they instruct hitters.
“We want them to all know their strengths and weaknesses and the role they need to excel at for us to be successful as a team,” says Keister. “What are you trying to do up there? We’re doing everything with a purpose.”
Much work has been put into players knowing their roles. One example from 2017 was Trenton Scott, who was often asked to be a pinch-hitter.
“We let him know how hard it is to mentally prepare yourself (for that role),” says Keister. “Against East Noble, he saw one pitch and hit a home run that helped us win the game.
“Everybody on our roster knew what their role was, knew it was important and embraced it. This led to an engaged dugout and team all year. Prior to last year, I took that for granted as a coach. I’m understanding the importance of that more and more.”
Keister says all the coaches he had in his prep and college days have helped him in some way. He played his first three GHS baseball seasons for Brian Eldridge (1989-99; 181-168-3) and the last for Matt Chupp (2000-05; 89-84). One of Chupp’s assistants was DeVon Hoffman (head coach at GHS 1972-87; 310-213; head coach at GC 1988-98; 189-215-1).
Keister’s college coach was Brent Hoober. Keister and Hoober now work for Yoder Insurance. Keister is a business risk advisor.
Feeding the GHS baseball program are Goshen Little League and various travel organizations, including the Indiana Chargers and Elkhart Titans.
“We encourage our kids to play somewhere (in the summer),” says Keister. “We don’t have anything here at Goshen High School. Our focus in the off-season is individual skill development. Once the season starts, we get into the team aspect of things.”
Besides Goshen, the Northern Lakes Conference includes Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee. Teams play a 14-game double round robin schedule with games on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until the last week.
“I like it like that,” says Keister. “That’s the way it was when I played. I like the idea of seeing a team early and late (instead of twice in the same week as some conferences do).”
Goshen has reigned as NLC champions four times (1986, 1987, 1988, 1998).
The RedHawks (Goshen teams were known as the Redskins from 1922 to 2015) are grouped at IHSAA Class 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Northridge, Penn and Warsaw.
Goshen has won 17 sectionals (1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2008) and two regionals (1969, 1981).
Coach Ken Mirer, who led the program 1966-71, had a career 14-0 record in sectional games with five sectional titles.
With a minimum of 120 at-bats, 1988 graduate Steve Cripe (.397) ranks No. 1 in career batting. Tied for second at .392 at 1989 graduate Rick Mirer and 2007 graduate Heath Taylor. The next two spots belong to 2006 graduate Jon Rolon (.391) and the Class of 2000’s Josh Keister (.383).
With 34, 1980 graduate Ed Swoveland tops the career pitching victory list.
Goshen graduates currently with college teams are Deric Haynes and Michael Pinarski at Manchester University. Current GHS seniors with college baseball commitments are Joey Peebles and Philip Wertz at Grace College and Tyler Colpitts at Manchester.
Josh Keister, a 2000 Goshen High School graduate, is in his fifth season as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2018. The 2017 RedHawks went 21-9.