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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.”

Farr to emphasize fundamentals as new Jay County head coach

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

Todd Farr helped achieve baseball success at Jay County Junior/Senior High School in Portland, Ind., on the staff of veteran head coach Lea Selvey.
With Selvey retiring after the 2022 season, Farr is now in charge of keeping the momentum going for the Patriots.
Farr was head baseball coach at Eastbrook High School in Marion, Ind., from 2012-17 before becoming a Selvey assistant at Jay County for the 2018 season.
In 34 seasons, Selvey won 528 of the 880 games he coached with seven sectional titles, three regional crowns and six conference championships.
Selvey also made an impression on Farr.
“He brought a lot of fun to the game,” says Farr, who also coached Summit City Sluggers teams with Selvey. “Lea’s an incredible guy. He’s seen a lot.
“He’s got a real calm demeanor about him. Players feed off him. Sometimes I get real antsy and uptight at times.
“It really was a joy to coach with him the last few years.”
When Selvey let it be known that he was retiring, Farr applied for the job and received support from principal Chad Dodd (who coached at Eastbrook with Brian Abbott when Farr was a player and then was head coach at Blackford) and Patriots athletic director Steve Boozier.
“I’m greatly appreciative of those guys for believing in me,” says Farr.
Jay County (enrollment around 870) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference] (with Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan).
The Patriots were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Delta, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, New Castle and Yorktown. Jay County has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2019.
The school board will need to approve Farr’s assistants which will be some of Selvey’s former players.
Jay County varsity and junior teams play and practices on Don E. Selvey Field. Lea’s father looked after the diamond followed by Lea. Farr spent much of the summer of 2022 tending to the facility.
“I want our guys take to pride in it,” says Farr, who had spent recent summers coaching the Sluggers and the Dirt Bags in the Fort Wayne-based Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League.
Denise Selvey, Lea’s wife, has been a babysitter for Todd and Holly Farr. The couple have three children (two girls and a boy) — sixth grader Makenzi (11), fourth grader Kendall (9) and preschooler Kaysen (5).
Todd followed Holly to the Jay County district. She is a fourth grade teacher at West Jay Elementary School in Dunkirk. He teaches Special Education for Grades 7-12.
Since he is a teacher and a former assistant, Farr already knows the players. He looks forward to working with them twice weekly during the IHSAA Limited Contact Period that goes from Aug. 29-Oct. 15.
“We’ll work on fundamentals,” says Farr. “I’m big on do the small things in games that leading to bigger things.”
While there are no college commitments yet among current players, Farr says many are working toward that goal.
Recent graduates moving on to collegiate diamonds include Wyatt Geesaman (Class of 2019) who went to the University of Cincinnati and is transferring to Northern Kentucky University. There’s also Class of 2022’s Quinn Faulkner and Crosby Heniser headed to Manchester University and Sam Dunlavy bound for Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. Kess McBride (Class of 2022) had planned to try to walk-on and become a bullpen catcher at Purdue University.
Faulkner, Heniser and McBride were all part of the Muncie Post 19 Chiefs team that won the 2022 Indiana American Legion Senior Baseball Championship and competed in the Great Lakes Regional in Midland, Mich.
A school-run junior high program had tryouts in the summer so those players can also participate in fall activities and learn and develop in the Jay County way.
“The high school guys will take them under their wings,” says Farr, who expects close to 30 seventh and eighth graders. “This community is big into baseball. Numbers have never been an issue here.”
Playing and practicing at Miller-Runkle Field — home of the Portland Rockets — the junior high teams will conduct their season in the spring. Farr says opponents on the schedule will closely resemble that of the high school.
The new Jay County Baseball Club is to field 8U, 10U and 11U travel teams in 2023. Farr, who is president of the organization’s board, says there will be a fall skills clinic next month.
“It will be a bunch of development,” says Farr. “They’ll see how we warm-up and do fundamental stuff.”
The club works with recreation leagues — Portland Junior League and Redkey Junior League.
“It’s for kids who want to play some extra baseball,” says Farr. “I truly believe it’s going to lead to some good things in the history of Jay County baseball.”
Farr, a 2004 Eastbrook graduate, credits Abbott for setting an example and being a friend.
“He’s one of those guys who’s in my corner,” says Farr of Abbott.
Before he was his high school baseball coach, Abbott coached Farr in junior high basketball.
“I was raised by a single mother,” says Farr. “He picked me up for practice. Then I played for him for four years and I saw how important family is to him. He means a lot to me and my family.
“That’s why I’m into coaching baseball today. I saw the joy he had with the guys.”
Abbott is now executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and a member of the IHSBCA Hall of Fame.
Recruited for baseball and football at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., Farr opted to play football. He received a General Studies degree and later earned his teaching accreditation from Taylor online.

Todd Farr.

The Farr family (clockwise from left): Todd, Kendall, Holly and Kaysen and Makenzi.
Todd Farr (left), Holly Farr, Denise Selvey and Lea Selvey.

Cooper, New Castle Trojans in semistate for first time since 1996

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

Josh Cooper may have been appointed as head coach one week before the start of the 2022 New Castle (Ind.) High School baseball season, but he was already quite familiar with the players.
With the help of Rodney Scott, Cooper had coached or coached against many of the Trojans since they were 7 and saw them having success coming up through the ranks.
Eli Cooper, who is 18 and Josh’s son, is one of New Castle’s seniors.
“I know them very, very well,” says Josh Cooper of the Trojans. “It’s easy to read them. I always try to be honest and upfront with them.”
Cooper tells his players about the importance of being a good teammate. A player’s performance or game situation should not dictate that.
The players are very close. Each day after practice or a game, they spend more time together at a team members’ house or at a restaurant.
So when circumstances had the Trojans looking for someone to lead the program, 1998 New Castle graduate Cooper was encouraged to apply for the job.
That was mid-March. Flash forward to the present and the Trojans are in the semistate for the second time and first since 1996 (Josh Cooper was a sophomore on that team). Uncle Dennis Bolden was on the first semistate team in 1970 and later played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
Cut from basketball in the seventh grade, Josh focused on baseball and played high school ball for New Castle alum Gary Brown.
“He was a pretty hard-nosed coach and a good guy,” says Cooper of Brown.
On Saturday, June 11, New Castle (18-5-1) takes on No. 1-ranked Andrean (29-4) in the IHSAA Class 3A Kokomo Semistate (following the 1 p.m. 2A game). New Castle will be out to win its first semistate crown.
New Castle (enrollment around 900) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).
In winning the 2022 Yorktown Sectional, New Castle topped Hamilton Heights 4-3, Jay County 6-2 and Guerin Catholic 3-2. To prevail at the Oak Hill Regional, the Trojans bested Wawasee 9-0 (Indiana University commit Aydan Decker-Petty pitched a 16-strikeout one-hitter) and held off Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger 5-4 (behind the pitching of Eli Cooper and Corbin Malott). Dwenger scored all its runs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“I put a lot of emphasis on pitching to contact and defense,” says Cooper. “But we also spend a lot of time working in hitting.”
Leading the offense is seniors Malott (.405 average, three home runs, 20 runs batted in, 18 stolen bases), Garrett Rusch (.324, 3 HR, 24 RBI), Bryce Jenkins (.296), Eli Cooper (.276, 3 HR, 23 RBI), Decker-Petty .262) and Jake Barber (.259, 22 RBI) and junior Max Upchurch (.239).
On the mound, the Trojans are guided by right-handers Decker-Petty 4-1, 2.64 earned run average, 91 strikeouts, 22 walks in 53 innings), Eli Cooper (5-1, 4.32, 66 K’s, 27 walks, 47 IP), senior Trighton Cummings 4-1, 5.32, 20 K’s, 17 walks, 25 IP) and Malott (2-2, 0.98, 34 K’s, 12 walks, 21 IP).
Josh Cooper says Decker-Petty has fastball that has touched 91 mph while Eli Cooper has gotten up to 88.
Malott is committed to Purdue University, Eli Cooper and Jenkins to Clark State College (Springfield, Ohio) and Rusch to Allen Community College (Iola, Kan.).
Nic Besecker (Class of 2020) was with Allen Community College in 2021 and Drew Barber (2019) was at Indiana University-Kokomo. The brother of Jake Barber intends to transfer to Indiana University South Bend.
Coaching New Castle’s pitchers is alum Trey Ball, who was the seventh overall selection in the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Boston Red Sox. The 6-foot-5 lefty pitcher/batter had committed to the University of Texas before going pro.
“Trey Ball has been so great,” says Cooper. “He brings a lot of great information.”
Scott, Tyler Smith, Zak Kellogg are also New Castle assistants. Scott digs in on analytics and scouting.
“He did a great job against Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger,” says Cooper.
A Parks and Recreation employee for the City of New Castle, Josh Cooper had established a junior high program last winter (there were 22 seventh graders and 16 eighth graders playing this spring) and was working hard to turn Denny Bolden Field — named for his grandfather who coached Babe Ruth ball in town for 50 years — into the home for junior varsity and junior high baseball when he was called to his current baseball post, turning his attention to the high school facility — revamped Collin McAtee Memorial Field (formerly Sunnyside Field).
Fencing, dugouts and scoreboard are all new. Turf Dawgs put down a bluegrass hybrid.
“I’m very thankful and the city is thankful for it,” says Cooper.
Because of the wet weather in the spring and the renovation project in progress, New Castle played just five games on their home field in 2022. Practices were held at Denny Bolden Field and “home” games were contested near Middletown, Ind., at Shenandoah High School, which is 15 miles from New Castle High. The Raiders are coached by Ryan Painter.
“They were unbelievable about helping us,” says Cooper. “Coach Painter was so gracious.”
As a thank you, Cooper is helping Painter with a field project at Shenandoah.

The 2022 New Castle (Ind.) High School Trojans.
Eli (left) and father Josh Cooper after New Castle won a 2022 regional baseball championship.

Nunley now head coach at Guerin Catholic

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

Keith Nunley returns to a high school head coaching post with his hiring last summer at Guerin Catholic in Noblesville, Ind.
“I got a call from (Eagles director of athletics Ryan Davis),” says Nunley. “We went to breakfast. Right from the beginning I could tell he was a baseball guy.
“We want to build a championship culture and do it the right way.”
Guerin Catholic (enrollment around 720) is a member of the Circle City Conference (with Brebeuf Jesuit, Covenant Christian, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and Roncalli).
“We’re a really good conference,” says Nunley. “Every team has a superstar on their mound or in their lineup.
“I’m looking forward to getting in the mix of it.”
In 2022, CCC teams will play Tuesday-Wednesday home-and-home series.
In 2021, the Eagles were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Guerin Catholic is seeking its first sectional title.
Nunley, who previously was head coach from 2016-20 at Monroe Central Junior-Senior High School in Parker City, Ind., was an assistant to Bulldogs head coach Matt Campbell this past season at Lapel (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School.
He coached in the Indiana Bulls travel organization the past two summers and in fall ball. While in Randolph County, Nunley and best friend and former Ball State University teammate Matt Deckman (who is now Monroe Central head coach) ran the traveling Indiana Bears.
Bryce Deckman, Matt’s son, is a freshman on the Huntington (Ind.) University baseball team.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period went from Aug. 30-Oct. 16 and Nunley had 12 to 20 athletes participating two times a week while many other players were unavailable because of fall sports.
“It’s always good to have multi-sport athletes,” says Nunley. “They’re competing in other avenues working with other coaches. It’s a team of coaches – not just one guy.
“(Multi-sporters) are in the weight room or another sport and doing something with their bodies and not just sitting,” said Nunley.
The next limited contact period begins Dec. 6 and the ramping up of pitching arms will begin in earnest.
Matt Hession is dedicated to the job of tending the Eagles’ home diamond.
“Matt has done a fantastic job taking care of the field,” says Nunley.
The on-campus facility was recently laser-graded through the efforts of Hession and Blake Marschand of Marschand’s Athletic Field Services.
Nunley’s Guerin Catholic 2021-22 coaching staff includes John Becker, Cade Luker, John Magers, Lewis Diltz and volunteers Kolbe Smith and Justin Bloxom. Becker played and coached at Anderson (Ind.) University and also coached for the Indiana Bulls. Luker (who will lead the junior varsity team) and Magers (who will help with pitchers and float between varsity and JV squads) are Lapel graduates who played at Manchester University. Diltz was on the staff in 2021 and will help with the JV as weill Guerin Catholic alum Smith. Bloxom played at Kansas State University and played and scouted in the Washington Nationals organization.

Nunley, a Winchester Community High School graduate, is a territory owner and sales representative for Adrenaline Fundraising, a company which also employs Deckman and Brebeuf Jesuit head coach Jeff Scott.
Keith and wife Kate, an Exceptional Learners teacher at Fishers (Ind.) High School, have two baseball-playing sons – Guerin Catholic freshman A.J. and middle schooler Koby.

The Nunleys (from left): Koby, A.J., Keith and Kate.

Wapahani, Ball State graduate Wilburn takes over Delta baseball program

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

The way Devin Wilburn sees it, life is about timing.
Just when he and his wife were looking to move closer to home and family for the arrival of their first child, a job opportunity opened up.
Teacher Devin and nurse Maddie Wilburn were living in Florida when the chance to come to come back to the Muncie, Ind., area came as daughter Tatum was on the way.
Tatum is now 2 months old and Devin (who turned 30 on Sept. 18) is the head baseball coach and a physical education teacher at Delta High School.
Delta (enrollment around 800) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).
In 2021, the Eagles were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Delta has won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2016.
The Wilburns reside in Selma, about 10 minutes from both sets of grandparents and in the same town where they graduated from Wapahani High School.
Devin went 24-9 and struck out 309 batters while while walking 79 in 203 1/3 innings while playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley and graduating in 2010.
“A lot of stuff fell in place,” says Devin Wilburn, who comes to the Eagles after spending the 2021 season as an assistant to head coach Kyle Gould at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., after one spring season (2020) as head coach at Countryside High School in Clearwater Fla.
Wilburn, who holds a Sport Administration degree (2014) and Masters in Sport Administration (2016) from Ball State University, was an assistant to head coach Rich Maloney at BSU in Muncie in 2019 after spending the fall of 2018 on Matt Bair’s staff at Anderson (Ind.) University. He was the pitching coach at Taylor 2015-18.
A left-handed pitcher, Wilburn played three seasons for head coaches Alex Marconi (2011 and 2012) and Maloney (2015).
At 20, Wilburn had a colon procedure and spent the better part of two years recuperating then returned to the diamond with the Cardinals.
“It was a cool ending to my career,” says Wilburn. “I working out with my best friend, Jon Keesling (who played at Wapahani then Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion).
“My ball was moving pretty good. Maybe I’ll give (a comeback) a shot.”
Wilburn made the team and in 27 mound appearances (26 in relief) went 4-2 for a 33-25 squad that played in the Mid-American Conference championship game in 2015.
“That last year I got to play changed my life in so many ways,” says Wilburn. It was through Ball State volunteer assistant Rhett Goodmiller that he was connected with Taylor.
The summer before joining the Trojans, Wilburn was the head coach of the Indiana Prospects 17U national travel team. The talented club featured future Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft first-round pick J.J. Bleday plus two others now in the minors — Gianluca Dalatri and Sean Mooney — with the help of father Bryan Wilburn.
Wilburn has formed his coaching philosophy through the men he played for and coached with — Dudley, Maloney and Gould — and more.
“Along the way you make it yours,” says Wilburn. “You learn from coaching conventions and podcasts and put your own spin on it.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some really good baseball teams and coaches.
“Coach Dudley and I have a real good relationship. He just does things the right way. He was my first mentor. I learned so much from him.
“He had such a high expectation for us. He let us shine with what we were good at.”
Devin, the only child of Bryan and Missie Wilburn, moved from Muncie to Selma in the fourth grade and his first teacher was Jason Dudley, Brian’s son and a longtime Wapahani baseball assistant.
“I was part of those good traditions that shape your life in so many ways,” says Wilburn, who counted three former Wapahani teammates in the wedding party when he married Maddie a little over three years ago. “I’m so grateful to go through that program.
“I look back fondly on my high school days.”
A youth baseball coach for several decades, Russell Wilburn had a field named in his honor in Muncie’s Chambers Park when Devin was a young boy.
Bryan Wilburn and brother Dan both played baseball at Muncie Central High School and Bryan went on to the diamond life at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and Dan to Valparaiso University.
After being recruited by Greg Beals, playing for Marconi and then Maloney, the latter hired him as an assistant.
“I wore many hats,” says Wilburn. “I got to work with catchers and some with outfielders. My end goal was to find a head coaching job at small college or high school.
“I wanted to be a well-rounded coach.”
Wilburn is appreciative of Blake Beemer, who was a Cardinals teammate and then a coaching colleague.
“I’m grateful for his mentorship,” says Wilburn of Beemer. “I also coached with Dustin Glant. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever heard talk about pitching.”
Gould gave Wilburn his first crack at college coaching.
“He is probably the best mentor in my life,” says Wilburn. “I’ve learned so much from him from the baseball and the life perspective
“He opened my eyes in so many different ways. I could not be more grateful for the time I spent over there learning from him. (Taylor) is a wonderful place.”
It was at Taylor that Wilburn also got to be on staff with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson and Justin Barber.
“Coach A forgot more about baseball than what I knew,” says Wilburn. “Justin and I had a good relationship when we recruited his players when he was with the Indiana Chargers.”
At Delta, Wilburn has hired former Ball State teammate Scott Baker as his pitching coach with other assistant hires pending school board approval.
The Eagles play on Veteran’s Field.
“We’ve got a couple of projects,” says Wilburn, whose been assessing Delta’s baseball needs since taking the job. “We’ve got a nice facility and a real supportive booster club.”
Feeders for Wilburn’s program include Delta Little League in Royerton and East Central Indiana junior high league run by Jason Dudley.
Current senior left-hander Nick Crabtree has committed to Taylor.
And Wilburn continues his love affair with the game.
Says the coach, “Baseball is what keeps me sane in life and forget the daily stress.”

Devin Wilburn (Delta High School Image)
The Wilburns (from left): Maddie, Tatum and Devin.
Devin and Maddie Wilburn with daughter Tatum.
Devin Wilburn (red pullover) with Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney (2), assistant Blake Beemer (24) and the Cardinals in 2019.
Devin Wilburn (right) coaches at Taylor University.
Devin Wilburn and the Taylor University baseball team celebrate a victory.
Devin Wilburn (second from left) with mentor and Taylor University head baseball coach Kyle Gould.

Kokomo graduate Perkins chooses Indiana University for next phase of mound career

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

Jack Perkins has decided to continue his college baseball career a little closer to home.
The 2018 Kokomo (Ind.) High School graduate pitched for the University of Louisville in 2019, missed 2020 while rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery and competed again for the Dan McDonnell-coached Cardinals in 2021.
Right-hander Perkins was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 39th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but chose instead to go to college.
As a U of L freshman, right-hander Perkins made 16 mound appearances (four as a starter) and went 3-0 with one save and a 4.18 earned run average for a pitching staff coached by Roger Williams. In 32 1/3 innings, he struck out 37 and walked 18. One of his starts was May 14, 2019 at Indiana University. He tossed three shutout innings then faced five batters with recording an out in the fourth.
Nine days later in a relief stint against Clemson, Perkins felt a tear in his elbow. Within a week, he had his operation and began his journey back.
Suiting up for the Snapping Turtles, Perkins started a few times during the 2020 season of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
The righty went back to Louisville, where he completed a double major in Finance and Marketing in three years (he came out of high school with several college credits) and got into 11 games (10 as a reliever) in 2021. Perkins was 1-1 with one save and a 7.31 ERA. He fanned 15 and walked 22 in 16 innings.
Perkins, a 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, competed for the CSL’s Turf Monsters at the beginning of this summer then waited to see if he was chosen in the 2021 MLB Draft (he was not).
He also opted to change schools. His final three choices coming out of high school were Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana.
This week, Perkins announced that he is transferring to IU where he will work with Hoosiers head coach Jeff Mercer, pitching coach Justin Parker and will be reunited with assistant and former Indiana Bulls coach Dan Held.
Jack visited Indiana and the pitcher came away impressed with Mercer and Parker.
“I made a great connection right away,” says Perkins, 21. “They’re great people as well as great coaches. My dad (Scott) came with me on the visit and thought the same thing.”
Perkins was with the Bulls n his 13U to 17U summer, including 16U with Held as head coach and Alex Graman as pitching coach.
“Dan Held is great guy,” says Perkins. “I loved playing for Dan. I’ve been close with him since high school.
“I’m very grateful for the Bulls organization and all they’ve done for me.”
Perkins, whose family moved to Westfield after he left high school, has been working with former big league pitcher Graman and Dr. Jamey Gordon at Pro-X Athlete Development at Grand Park the past couple of years.
It also helped Perkins in his decision to transfer to Indiana that already knew many Hoosiers players from competing with or against them in travel ball or in the College Summer League.
Perkins and Parker have already had conversations about “tunneling” each delivery from his high three-quarter overhand arm slot so the batter can’t tell the difference between his four-seamer, two-seamer, change-up, curveball or cutter coming out of his hand.
“We want to get all my pitches coming out of the same spot to create a little more deception and swing and miss,” says Perkins. “We’re feeding everything off the fastball.”
Perkins’ four-seam fastball sits at 94 to 97 mph and hit 99 in the spring.
At its best, Perkins’ change-up has been recorded on Trackman with 20 inches of vertical break and 14 inches of horizontal.
He describes his curve as having slurve action.
“It’s pretty hard and steep with a lot of late break,” says Perkins of a pitch he tends to throw in the 82 to 86 mph range.
The cutter is a pitch that Perkins has used to get out of jams with ground balls and quick outs. It has been clocked at up to 95 mph and can break in on left-handed hitters for weak contact or even broken bats.
Since his undergraduate work is complete, Perkins has the option of pursuing a masters or a graduate certificate.
While he secures an apartment in Bloomington, registers for classes and waits for his transfer to process so he can go on campus, Perkins is honing in Westfield.
“My goal to stay in shape, have a clean slate in the fall and get to work,” says Perkins, who has two years of remaining college eligibility.
Perkins was born and raised in Kokomo. He played T-ball through age 12 at what is now UCT Baseball.
At Kokomo High, Perkins played football for Wildcats head coach Brett Colby and baseball for Kats bench boss Sean Swan.
“They are the favorite coaches I’ve ever played for,” says Perkins of Colby and Swan. “They invested in you as a person and a player. They took the
invest in you as a person and a player. They took the extra effort to show why they care about you.
“There were tons of life lessons.”
Scott Perkins was a football player at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. His wife, Carrie, studied nursing at DePauw University.
Scott and Carrie have three children — Caitie, Jack and Brooklyn. Caitie started at IU-Bloomington, transferred to IU-Kokomo is on a path to being a nurse practitioner. Guatemala-born Brooklyn was adopted at a young age. She is entering her freshman year at Guerin Catholic High School in Carmel, Ind.

Jack Perkins
Jack Perkins (University of Louisville Photo)
Jack Perkins (University of Louisville Photo)
Jack Perkins (University of Louisville Photo)

Scott, Brebeuf Jesuit Braves bound for semistate

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

When the baseball team at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis took the field in 2019, the Braves had many freshmen in the lineup.
Two years later, junior-rich Brebeuf has qualified for the program’s fourth semistate appearance and the first since 2012 when the Maroon and Gold went on to be IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up.
The current Braves (20-11) take on Southridge (24-7) in the one-game Jasper Semistate at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 12. The Brebeuf-Southridge winner moves on to the State Finals to play Hanover Central (28-3-1) or Norwell (20-9) either Monday or Tuesday, June 21 or 22 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
“We’re a talented ball club in a lot of ways,” says Jeff Scott, who has been the Braves head coach in two on-field seasons sandwiched around the 2020 campaign lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s not just Andrew Dutkanych.”
Dutkanych, a junior right-hander with a fastball that sometimes touches 95 and 96 mph, verbally committed to Vanderbilt University as a freshman. In 2021, he has made 10 mound appearances and is 6-3 with an 0.88 earned run average. He has 108 strikeouts in 56 innings, including 18 in the Marion County championship game against Lawrence North on May 17 at Victory Field.
Add junior left-hander Sam Reed (6-4, 1.74 ERA, 12 appearances, 72 K’s, 52 1/3 innings) and Brebeuf has a strong 1-2 punch at the top of its pitching staff.
Junior righty A.J. Rinebold (4-1, 3.42 ERA, nine appearances, 28 K’s, 30 2/3 innings) established himself as the Braves’ No. 3 arm in his first varsity season.
Two of Brebeuf’s four seniors are NCAA Division I commits — Butler University-bound third baseman Jack Moroknek (.359, 11 home runs, 38 runs batted in) and shortstop Nate Bingman (.358, 2 HR, 21 RBI), a Virginia Military Institute recruit.
The Braves have stolen 90 bases in 31 games.
“We’ve got a lot of team speed which is very nice,” says Scott. “A lot of those stolen base comes from our outfield.”
Junior center fielder Anthony Annee is hitting .347 with 11 RBI, 20 steals and plenty of good glove work.
“The kid’s an unbelievable athlete,” says Scott.
Annee is flanked by sophomores Jayden Ohmer (.340, 1 HR, 20 RBI, 18 SB) in right and Michael Finelli (.296, 8 SB) in left.
There’s also junior catcher Luke Bauer (.341, 0 HR, 16 RBI, 16 SB).
Running a gauntlet of tough teams, Brebeuf was 4-5 in its first nine games of 2021 and 2-3 in the five games leading into the Brebeuf Sectional.
“We have played a very difficult schedule,” says Scott. “We’ve done that for a reason — to prepare us for the postseason.
“Preparation putting us where we’re at.”
Scott points out that six teams — Center Grove, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Indianapolis Cathedral, Jasper and Mt. Vernon (Fortville)— playing in 4A regionals June 5 were on the Braves’ slate this spring.
Brebeuf is part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Danville, Greencastle, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and Tri-West Hendricks. In running their all-time sectional title total to 15, the Braves beat Danville 5-0 and Tri-West 15-1.
Regional crown No. 4 and a berth in the 3A Final Four came by besting Indianapolis Bishop Chatard 10-0 and Northview 17-2.
A member of the Circle City Conference (with Covenant Christian, Guerin Catholic, Heritage Christian, Chatard and Roncalli), Brebeuf has enrollment around 815.
CCC schools meet in home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The Braves play home game on-campus at Father O’Brien Field.
“We have one of the nicer fields around,” says Scott. “I love our (natural) surface.”
Since former Martinsville head coach Scott has taken over at Brebeuf, the program has sent five players into the college baseball ranks — 2019 graduate Sean Swenson (Akron) and Shane Bauer (Dartmouth), Karl Meyer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Andrew Pickett (Hope College) and Gabe Wright (South Florida State College after a year at IMG Academy in Florida) from the Class of 2020. Shane is the brother of Luke Bauer.
Scott’s 2021 assistants are Greencastle High School graduate Wes Neese, Indianapolis North Central alum Joe Perkins, Brebeuf grad Joey Perkins and Staten Island native Eric Hartung. Joey Perkins — son of Joe — played for Scott at Brebeuf and a DePauw University.

Brebeuf won the 2021 Marion County championship May 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. The Braves hope to return to that facility for the IHSAA State Finals by winning a Class 3A Jasper Semistate game against Southridge.

VanOeveren, Hamilton Heights Huskies ready to go

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A former all-Big Ten Conference and professional infielder was hired in the fall of 2019 as head coach of the baseball program at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind., and was getting the Huskies ready when the 2020 season was placed on hold and — eventually — canceled because of the pandemic.

Ryan VanOeveren, who was a standout at the University of Michigan and was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 26th round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, is now leading some Hamilton Heights players through twice-a-week IHSAA Limited Contact paces and is optimistic to really get rolling in 2021.

The Huskies have also been conditioning for the spring.

“It’s been pretty good,” says VanOeveren. “There’s been a good turnout. The kids have good attitudes and are hungry to get back on the field.

“We met Monday and the intensity level went up.”

VanOeveren, who was an assistant at Otsego (Mich.) High School after his playing career and more recently a coach in the Indiana Primetime Baseball travel organization, places an emphasis on fundamentals. Defense and pitching will be important to the Huskies.

“Making the routine plays on defense is absolutely critical to playing successful baseball,” says VanOeveren. “It’s about executing the fundamentals of the game.

“We’re building guys on the mound — Knowing when to push the envelope and when to back off. They’ve responded really well.”

Hamilton Heights (enrollment around 750) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western).

The Huskies are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Guerin Catholic, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Hamilton Heights has won two sectional titles — 2006 and 2012.

Recent Hamilton Heights graduates playing college baseball include Sam Fulton (Chattanooga, Tenn., State Community College), Alex Hewitt (Butler University in Indianapolis), Ike Peterson (Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.) and Reese Wills (Marian University in Indianapolis. VanOeveren says some current players are weighting their options.

“Recruiting is challenging for everybody because of COVID,” says VanOeveren. “I was recruited to numerous schools all over the Midwest. My advice: Don’t select the school just based upon baseball.

“Baseball comes to an end at some point for all of us.”

A 1991 graduated of Grandville (Mich.) High School near Grand Rapids, VanOeveren was initially recruited by Michigan assistant Ted Mahan (who went on to be head coach at Michigan State University) and Wolverines head coach Bill Freehan got involved near the end of the process. VanOeveren committed in May of his senior year.

VanOeveren knew about Freehan’s catching with the Detroit Tigers, but was at school in Ann Arbor when he learned about his exploits in baseball and football at Michigan.

“Coach Freehan was a genuinely caring person,” says VanOeveren. “He’d give you the shirt off his back.”

In his first fall, shortstop VanOeveren got to take infield instruction from volunteer assistant Moby Benedict

“Moby made me such a better infielder,” says VanOeveren.

Other U-M assistants during his career included Ace Adams and Steve Merriman.

“Ace was great to be around,” says VanOeveren. “He would not hesitate to get on you, but we were better for it.”

VanOeveren counted Merriman, who is expected to return to Michigan as pitching coach for 2021, as a friend back then and today.

“He’s a quality human being,” says VanOeveren of Merriman. “He shows that he cares about you if you work hard for him. 

“The baseball stuff falls into place after that.”

VanOeveren went to Michigan as an undersized player and continued to work.

“I was fortunate to have coaches that were patient for me growing up,” says VanOeveren.

After a strong junior season in 1994, teammates voted outfielder Rodney Goble and infielder VanOeveren as co-captains for 1995.

“It lead by example,” says VanOeveren. “I was not that verbal.”

As an Expos minor leaguer, VanOeveren played 49 games for the 1995 Class-A Albany (Ga.) Polecats. Several future big leaguers were on the team — among them Vladimir Guerrero, Brad Fullmer and Javier Vazquez.

VanOeveren was invited to spring training in 1996. At the end of camp, he was not assigned to a team as an infielder but was given the option of transitioning to a pitcher.

“I had a little too much pride back then,” says VanOeveren. “I asked for my release.”

VanOeveren went back to finish his college degree and moved on.

He was at Otsego for two seasons then did not coach again until the late 2010’s. By this time he had moved to central Indiana.

As an Indiana Primetime coach, VanOeveren gets to work with Quentin Brown and Ryan Cole and his players get to train at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.

“(Indiana Primetime) is good to the kids at Hamilton Heights, giving them the opportunity to play really competitive baseball,” says VanOeveren.  “I love Finch Creek. We’re spoiled getting access to that place.

“We’re very fortunate to live in this area and have those opportunities.”

Besides VanOeveren, the 2021 Husky coaching staff features varsity assistants Brian Clancy and Brad Pitts, junior varsity head coach Adam Hughes and JV assistant Cole Meyer. Clancy, who played at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., was on the 2000 staff. Pitts, who had coached at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, is a newcomer to Hamilton Heights.

Husky Ballpark has received laser-leveling and upgrades to the irrigation system from Marschand’s Athletic Field Service and a new backstop is going up. VanOeveren says new dugouts and other improvements could come this summer.

Ryan VanOeveren is head baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Brad Pitts is an assistant bseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Cole Meyer is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.
Brian Clancy is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.
Adams Hughes is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Communication key for Bullpen Tournaments VP Tucker

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Growing up playing sports in Zionsville, Ind., Michael Tucker knew what it was to be a teammate.

A center in basketball and catcher in baseball, Tulsa, Okla.-born Tucker played at Zionsville Community High School and graduated in 2008. Some of his closest friends to this day played on those squads.

“We had some great teams,” says Tucker, who played for head coaches Dave Ferrell and Shaun Busick in basketball and Darrell Osborne and Adam Metzler in baseball and counted Matt Miller as a mate on the court and the diamond. Miller went on to pitch at the University of Michigan and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Eric Charles went on to play baseball at Purdue University.

Ryan Price’s father Tom Price played baseball for Dr. Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) University and that’s one of the reasons Tucker ended up at the NCAA Division III school.

Tucker was a standout hitter while playing catcher and first base for the Ravens and the Hall of Famer they called “Bama” for his first two college seasons followed by two with David Pressley.

Brandon impressed Tucker with his memory.

“He can tell you the situation — who was on the mound and the count — (from most any game),” says Tucker. “He was really fun to learn from.”

Pressley was a first-time head coach at Anderson. Tucker credits him with lessons on and off the field.

“I learned how to be a man,” says Tucker. “(Pressley) is a huge man of faith.

“He taught a tremendous amount of life lessons.”

Tucker also gained knowledge from Brad Lantz, who was an AU senior receiver when he was a freshman and went on to be a high school head coach at Guerin Catholic and Lapel and is now coaching in the Indy Sharks travel organization.

“I learned so much about catching, counts and what to look for,” says Tucker. “I learned more from (Lantz) than anyone else.”

Tucker was named to D3baseball.com’s 2010s All-Decade Team.  During his career, Tucket hit .361 with 52 home runs, 50 doubles, 193 runs batted in and a .730 slugging percentage. He was a first-team All-America selection and the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference MVP in 2011.

Franklin (Ind.) College has long been a big HCAC rival for Anderson. Tucker recalls how Grizzlies head coach Lance Marshall sometimes used to bring in a fifth infielder when Tucker was at the plate. 

Not a Marshall fan at the time, Tucker has come to see the veteran coach as one of his favorites.

Tucker received a Management degree with a minor in Entrepreneurship from Anderson U. in 2012. 

His “internship” time was spent coaching (coaching with Cesar Barrientos and the Indiana Baseball Academy Storm while injured in 2009) or playing summer collegiate ball (Fort Mill, S.C., Stingers of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League in 2010 and Hannibal, Mo., Cavemen of the Prospect League in 2011 — a team owned at the time by former big leaguers Ryan Klesko and Woody Williams) and he saw a future related to the diamond. 

“I wanted to make baseball my job whether that was with an indoor facility, coaching, training or tournaments,” says Tucker. “I didn’t know what avenue.”

Tucker was a director at the Incrediplex on the northeast side of Indianapolis 2013-15 and coached for the Indiana Bulls travel organization 2012-16.

Since April 2015, Tucker has been part of a different team as vice president for Bullpen Tournaments, Prep Baseball Report Tournaments (with Rhett Goodmiller as director of tournaments) and Pro X Athlete Development (with former big league pitcher Joe Thatcher as co-founder and president) are tenants at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Bullpen, with Tucker as the director of day-to-day operations, is involved with Pro X and works with PBR Indiana and consults with PBR national, which operates LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga., and Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo.

Ground was recently broken for Championship Park in Kokomo, Ind., and that complex will also be used by Bullpen and PBR.

The 2021 summer will mark Tucker’s seventh with Bullpen Tournaments. 

Hired by BT president Blake Hibler, whom he knew from working Prep Baseball Report showcases, Tucker started at Bullpen in time to experience Grand Park’s first full summer.

“I did everything,” says Tucker. “I tried to be a sponge. Being in baseball your whole life is completely different from the tournament industry.

“There’s learning the business side and scheduling.”

While at the Incrediplex near Lawrence, Tucker had done scheduling on a smaller scale and had become comfortable with software.

Tucker appreciates that Hibler lets him seek out processes.

“If I can find a better mousetrap, he lets me run with it,” says Tucker.

Bullpen is a very large operation.

“We’re a different beast in a lot of ways,” says Tucker, who notes that on any given weekend the company may have as many as 45 fields under its control, including those on and off the Grand Park campus.

Tucker says the key is getting the word out to teams, families and recruiters.

“You have to be able to communicate,” says Tucker. “Half of scheduling is the communicating of the schedule.”

With Hibler having a large part in brainstorming and development, Bullpen first used the Tourney Machine app and now works with Playbook 365 while also helping develop PitchAware and ScoreHQ. 

Bullpen hires scorekeepers for every high school tournament game (15U to 18U) at Grand Park. In 2020, there was also video on six fields.

“It’s huge to have accurate data,” says Tucker. “We can overlay video with stats.

“(A college) coach can recruit from his office.”

But even though Bullpen is dealing with many moving parts, there are only a half dozen full-time employees.

“Guys are tasked to learn a lot of different things,” says Tucker. “But we never feel like this is something I can’t do. Our mentality is we’re going bust our butts and how do we solve this problem?

“Our guys do a tremendous job of being flexible.”

An example of teamwork and flexibility is the creation of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which came about when so many other leagues were canceling the 2020 summer season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team that made it happen include Hibler, Tucker, Thatcher, Phil Wade, Luke Dietz, Mark Walther, Matt Bowles, Logan Weins, Cam Eveland and Kevin Ricks. Thatcher and Walther are at Pro X. Weins splits his time between Bullpen Tournaments and PBR Tournaments.

With many players reaching out, Bullpen saw the need and went to work to put together what became a 12-team league with most games played at Grand Park with a few at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

The league was constructed with safety, NCAA and recruiting regulations in mind. Players were placed, umpires were lined up and jerseys were distributed in a very short time frame.

“We had about seven days to do it,” says Tucker. “We’re excited for it to come back (in 2021).”

As a D-III alum, Tucker was especially pleased that the CSL allowed top-flight players like Joe Moran (who pitched for Anderson and has transferred to Taylor University) was able to compete against D-I talent.

While the pandemic slowed the start of the 2020 Bullpen season, Tucker estimates that there were upwards of 80 percent in games played as compared to a normal year.

The fall included more contests than ever.

“Teams couldn’t play in the spring and that baseball hunger was still there,” says Tucker. “They wanted to play a little longer.

“We had a great fall.”

Weather plays a part, but the first games each year at Grand Park with all its turf fields are collegiate in February. 

“If we get a warm-weather day our phone blows up,” says Tucker. 

Activity starts to ramp up in March with the first 8U to 14U contests the last weekend of that month.

Of course, the pandemic will have a say in what happens in 2021.

“With all the uncertainty it’s tough,” says Tucker. “It’s going to be an interesting spring.”

A perk of Tucker’s position and location is the relationships he gets to build with high school coaches. 

He sees the unique dynamic between between Noblesville’s Justin Keever, Westfield’s Ryan Bunnell, Zionsville’s Jered Moore and Fishers’ Matt Cherry of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference.

“They’re buddies,” says Tucker. “They go out to eat after the game.”

Michael and wife Dani Tucker live in Noblesville, Ind., with son Cole (5) and Cali (3).

The Tucker family (from left): Cali, Dani, Michael and Cole. Michael Tucker is vice president of Bullpen Tournaments is a tenant at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Indiana baseball teams coping with COVID-19 separation

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

UPDATE: Since this story was published, the spring sports season has been canceled by the Indiana High School Athletic Association. The announcement came shortly after Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced that there would be no more in-person classes for the 2019-20 school year.

This was supposed to be the first week of the 2020 Indiana high school baseball regular season.

But the game is on hold while the world deals with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic through social distancing.

In a landscape that is ever-changing, many states have already closed down for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has ruled that all Indiana schools be closed until May 1.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association has stated that there is hope for shortened regular season beginning with five required practices — rather than the usual 10 — after schools are allowed to re-open. The state tournament series would follow.

Right now, sectionals are slated for May 27-June 1 with regionals June 6, semistates June 13 and the State Finals June 19-20 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Futures Game and North/South All-Star Series is to be the next week in Evansville.

Time will tell if any of that happens.

How are some coaches and teams dealing with the quarantine?

Crawfordsville coach John Froedge has his Athenians working together though they are physically apart.

“Our players have been strongly encouraged to follow all local, state and federal guidelines in helping to not spread the virus,” says Froedge, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “We are beginning to ramp back up this week with anticipation of a May 4 start.”

The Athenians, ranked No. 3 in the IHSBCA Class 3A preseason poll, have been communicating via calls, texts and Zoom video conferences and had a meeting scheduled to share team and position workouts through Google Sheets that includes links to instructional and motivational videos, articles etc.

“The workouts are all the things they can do by themselves or with a brother or dad,” says Froedge. “The idea is that we’re all working in the same things remotely. They then long each day what they’ve done and share with teammates in various ways, short videos included.

“Our hope for the players — especially seniors in all spring sports — is that they will get some kind of season, however brief it might be. But even if we don’t have a season, we still have a team and are creating memories and imparting life lessons.”

Jon Gratz coached Columbus East to a 4A state runner-up finish in 2019.

He has communicated with his Olympians, ranked No. 3 IHSBCA 4A preseason poll, through texting. He suggests things players can do as individuals since school and other facilities are now off limits.

“It’s about getting creative,” says Gratz. “It’s tough to know what guys are doing.

The biggest concern is that if we have five days of practice and play games to know that guys are in shape to throw and do all that stuff.”

A math teacher, Gratz has been using a platform called It’s Learning three days a week to lead AP and lower level classes. He has made some videos and shared them with his students.

Remind is a platform that is used for group messages.

Gratz says he is taking advantage of the extra time at home to spend with his family and learn things about baseball that he normally would not have time to learn.

At 4A Lake Central, fourth-year head coach Mike Swartzentruber was a few days from beginning tryouts at a school of 3,300 when the shutdown came.

The Indians were return seven starters from regional finalist squad and is ranked No. 2 in the preseason 4A poll.

“You feel for the kids, especially the seniors who have put in so much time and done what you’ve asked them to do for four years,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s hard trying to find the words to say to kids.

“But, in the grand scheme of things, people’s health is greater than playing a game. The trend is not very good right now. But we’re trying to stay positive.”

Swartzentruber has shared workouts that players can do in their basement, garage or driveway. He asks them all to find regular cardiovascular exercise.

“It’s all up to them,” says Swartzentruber. “We say whatever you do, make sure you do don’t put yourself in jeopardy from a health standpoint.”

Swartzentruber teaches seven classes and is now doing that from home since Lake Central adopted eLearning. Assignments are given through the Canvas platform.

“Its a little tricky,” says Swartzentruber. “I know there’s going to be some things lost in translation when you’re not face-to-face.”

Shane Edwards, head coach at 3A Oak Hill and a member of the IHSBCA executive council, has kept plenty busy fielding questions from other coaches from around the state.

“Coaches are nervous,” says Edwards. “They’re concerned and want to be informed.

“We’re kind of in the dark about where this is going.”

Edwards has stayed connected to his players with weekly emails to suggest workouts they can do on their own or with a parent or sibling. The Golden Eagles coaching staff uses group texts to stay on the same page.

“We still hold out hope that we’re going to play,” says Edwards.

With a late start and an abbreviated season, Edwards says many teams will be doing in May what they normally do in March and April.

“Usually by May, you feel comfortable with your lineup and pitching staff,” says Edwards. “So now do you try to get a lot of games in or make progress for when the tournament comes? It’s a delicate balance we’re all going to have to play.”

Oak Hill typically has in-season hitting sessions a couple of times a week during the season. Edwards says that time might be used to bring his young players up to speed on varsity baseball.

“You can’t replace game situations,” says Edwards. “I would want as much coaching time as I could have in those practice situations.”

Also an assistant high school principal, Edwards says Oak Hill is looking to supply some district students with laptops will begin online learning next week.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph is just three career wins shy of 800.

When he’s not home tending to projects ordering puzzles or watching TV with his wife, Gandolph has been going to Indianapolis Scecina Memorial High School two or three times a week to work on the Crusaders’ facility.

“I’m just by my lonesome,” says Gandolph, who has mowed grass and done work on Scecina’s new hitting building in the block house where the old weight room was located.

March 16 was supposed to be the first official day of IHSAA practice. During the Limited Contact Period, the Crusaders got a chance to work out on the grass.

2A No. 3-ranked Scecina’s first game was slated for this Saturday at the end of spring break.

Should the season begin in early May, Gandolph foresees his team hosting a Saturday doubleheader against Providence and then getting in one round of Indiana Crossroads Conference games before the postseason.

“I don’t get too hung up on planning,” says Gandolph. “It’s a day-by-day type thing anyway.”

He takes that same attitude about the milestone victory in his future.

“(No. 800) will come whenever it comes,” says Gandolph, who has been a his alma mater since the 2014 season after years at Center Grove, where he also taught for 40 years.

Gandolph says he has kept in-touch with players through texts and Twitter posts.

“I give suggestions to keep them busy and healthy and, hopefully, keep them positive,” says Gandolph.

While the team has not yet done any Zoom conferences, the Gandolph family has used the technology and is planning to do so this week to celebrate the seventh birthday of one of Dave’s grandsons.

Washington Township was 1A state runner-ups in 2019 with Randy Roberts as coach. The Senators are No. 1 in the IHSBCA preseason rankings.

Like many, Roberts has seen the levels of coronavirus restriction increase. Until the latest constraints were put in place, some players were going to the homes of teammates with batting cages at their homes and conducting their own practices.

“Parents are now following the guidelines that have been set down and keeping their kids at home,” says Roberts. “They’re in that better safe-than-sorry mode.”

Roberts says he has witnessed two extremes on social media regarding COVID-19.

“It’s not that big a deal and no more than flu and older people with prior health issues (are at risk) or on the other side, it’s serious, don’t mess with it,” says Roberts. “We’re expecting the worse and hoping for the best.”

Roberts says many of his players put in plenty of off-season work before the interruption.

“I keep hoping that this thing will level off and we can get back to school,” says Roberts. “Our boys and their parents were pretty devastated when they got sent home from school.

“If theres a glimmer of hope, the boys will start hooking up and getting in their time before I can be with them.”

Roberts has been home with two baseball-playing sons. Max Roberts is a pitcher in the Seattle Mariners organization. William Roberts is a 2019 Washington Township graduate who sat out a year while getting ready to go the junior college route.

Randy and William went to see Max, who was attending a Mariners “gas” camp in Arizona, when they began to shut things down and send players home as minor league spring training was about to start.

Roberts says some in his area have talked about playing two or three games a week prior to the sectional. If possible, he can see the Senators playing just about everyday leading into the postseason.

A teacher at Washington Township Elementary, Roberts has been instructing via laptop.

Having taken online classes himself, he is convinced of one thing: “Kids need to be in school.”

“You find yourself doing assignments just to get them done,” says Roberts. “Without the interaction, I never thought there was a whole lot of learning getting done.”

Daleville, with Terry Turner at the helm, is ranked No. 2 in the IHSBCA 1A poll.

“My heart goes out to all these high school seniors in all spring sports if they don’t have an opportunity to participate,” says Turner. “It’s just an awful feeling.

“I guess I’m being selfish here, but in the last four years I’ve won two (1A) state titles (in 2016 and 2018). We have the possibility of a third one (with six players, including five starters, from the 2018 team). I was really excited about it. We have right group of kids with the right mentality.

“I have my doubts we’ll even get to see what would happen.”

Turner has had little contact with his players since the lockdown began and has been doing his best to teach online to his pupils at Anderson High School.

“I’m bored out of mind,” says Turner. “I can’t get out to talk to these kids. That’s the worst part.

“Some of the kids have texted me. I have great senior leadership. They’ve gotten together a few times to go throw and stuff. I tell them to do the best they can to stay in baseball shape.”

Daleville was fundraising to pay for its overnight trip to Jasper, but for safety-sake, Turner put an end to that.

Turner had beefed up the Broncos schedule to get them ready for the state tournament.

“I wouldn’t have done that unless I felt like I had a team that could compete,” says Turner. “I said, ‘let’s have a challenge.’”

Regardless of what happens this year, Turner says he has decided that 2021 is going to be his last spring as a coach and teacher.

“I have grandkids I want to spend some time with,” says Turner. “I have a bucket list I want to do.”

At 4A Terre Haute South Vigo, the Braves were hoping to dedicate a full season to Brian Pickens, a 25-year assistant coach who died of throat cancer Jan. 28.

“I still think about him everyday,” says South Vigo head coach Kyle Kraemer. “It’s all perspective.

“The biggest thing is the fear of the unknown. There are so many what-ifs and unknowns. It’s just crazy.

“We are living through history. You’re talking about fighting something you can’t see.”

The Braves spent to winter building up a library of Hudl videos of themselves hitting and pitching that can now be used as references for at-home workouts.

“I’m trying to be prepared,” says Kraemer, who is hopeful that South Vigo might be able to play Conference Indiana opponents and some others prior to the postseason — if there is one.

When the IHSAA ruled this past winter that teams can have 10 summer practices with four contest dates, Kraemer says he didn’t think much about it.

“Now I think a lot of coaches are going to take advantage of that if possible,” says Kraemer.

Also a teacher, Kraemer says eLearning is to kick in Vigo County on April 6. This is spring break. There were eight waiver days prior to that.

Mark Schellinger, head coach at 3A New Prairie, has spent part of his days tending to eLearning — either from home or at the school — and has joined with his assistants in working on Harry “Bear” Tolmen Field.

“It was weird, knowing (players) could not be out there with us,” says Schellinger, whose Cougars are No. 10 in the 3A preseason rankings. (It’s tough for everybody, but it’s really tough for the kids.

“But we have to take a step back and see there is a bigger picture.”

Schellinger says safety and health are the first priority for players, followed by staying on top of their eLearning and then staying in shape, especially with throwing.

“We’re hoping to be proactive so we have a plan in place,” says Schellinger. “But it’s hard to make those decisions or make those plans.

“There’s just so much unknown right now.”

Should the season get started in early May, Schellinger says he favors playing as many regular-season games as possible.

“The kids want to play, especially in a short time span,” says Schellinger. “Hopefully our pitchers are ready for that.”

New Prairie does have pitching depth, though Schellinger hardly expects 100 from anyone out of the gate.

IHSBCA RANKINGS

(2020 Preseason)

4A

1. Penn

2. Lake Central

3. Columbus East

4. Crown Point

5. Hamilton Southeastern

6. Andrean

7. Columbus North

8. Center Grove

9. Carmel

10. Noblesville

Receiving votes: Avon, Carroll (Fort Wayne), Fishers, Homestead, Jasper, Jeffersonville, Munster, New Albany, Northridge, Westfield.

3A

1. Edgewood

2. South Bend St. Joseph

3. Crawfordsville

4. Western

5. Silver Creek

6. Brebeuf Jesuit

7. West Vigo

7. Yorktown

9. Lebanon

10. New Prairie

Receiving votes: Danville, Evansville Memorial, Griffith, Guerin Catholic, Hanover Central, Heritage Hills, Indian Creek, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, Kankakee Valley, NorthWood, Norwell, Providence, South Dearborn, South Vermillion, Southridge.

2A

1. Alexandria-Monroe

2. Lafayette Central Catholic

3. Indianapolis Scecina Memorial

4. Lewis Cass

4. North Posey

4. Speedway

7. Wapahani

8. Delphi

9. University

10. Linton-Stockton

Receiving votes: Blackford, Boone Grove, Covenant Christian, LaVille, Monroe Central, South Adams, Wheeler.

1A

1. Washington Township

2. Daleville

3. Tecumseh

4. Lanesville

5. North Miami

6. Shakamak

7. Rossville

8. Riverton Parke

9. Barr-Reeve

10. Kouts

Receiving votes: Clinton Central, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fremont, Hauser, Loogootee, North Daviesss, North White, Rising Sun, South Central (Union Mills), Trinity Lutheran, Wes-Del.

IHSAABASEBALL