Tag Archives: Hamilton

Alum, former pro Richardson now in charge of West Noble Chargers

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

Waylon Richardson, who was named this week as head baseball at West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., has had most of his baseball experiences as a player.
Born in Goshen, Richardson grew up around Ligonier, moved near Cromwell in high school (parents Franklin Jr., and Kimberly Richardson own about 220 acres of farmland) and got acquainted with the game early at Wawaka.
At West Noble, he competed four years each in baseball and basketball and two of football.
As a 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher he appeared in 11 games as a senior in 2015 and went 6-1 with one save, a 1.61 earned run average, 85 strikeouts and 30 walks in 56 2/3 innings. As a junior, he pitched in eight games and went 1-3 with a 2.18 ERA, 48 strikeouts and 20 walks in 35 1/3 innings.
Richardson scored 445 career points on the basketball court.
In his senior football season of 2014, he passed for 1,236 yards and eight touchdowns.
His head coaches were Doug Brown (baseball), Jim Best (basketball) and Monte Mawhorter (football). The trio always seemed to get their older players to take leadership roles.
“They were hard-nosed coaches and role models,” says Richardson. “They got the most out of their group of players each and every year. I still reach out to each of them. I couldn’t have asked for three better high school coaches.”
Richardson went to Kankakee (Ill.) Community College. In 2016, he made one start and experienced a shoulder separation and sat out the rest of the season.
As a redshirt freshman in 2017, he was the Cavaliers closer. In 27 games, he went 2-0 with nine saves and an 0.30 ERA, 39 strikeouts and eight walks in 30 innings. KCC went to Enid, Okla., and won the 2017 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.
Richardson was named to all-region and all-World Series teams.
That summer, he hurled for the Coastal Plain League’s High Point-Thomasville (N.C.) Hi-Toms. He made 11 appearances (10 in relief) and went 2-4 with 4.91 ERA, 18 strikeouts and 11 walks in 14 2/3 innings. He also tore the Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his right elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2017.
In 2018, a trainer for the Chicago Cubs visited Kankakee and advised head coach Todd Post and pitching coach Bryce Shafer to shut Richardson down after three appearances because he had come back from surgery too soon. The right-hander continued his rehabilitation and threw bullpens for professional scouts.
Richardson committed to play at Saint Leo (Fla.) University for head coach Rick O’Dette (who played at coached at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind.), whose pitching philosophy went hand-in-hand with Shafer.
Post congratulated Richardson when he was named as West Noble head coach.
“He’s like a second father to me,” says Richardson of the veteran field boss. “He got me into that mental mindset that led me to bigger and better things. It got me drafted.”
Post helped Richardson understand the importance of the little things in baseball. Those add up to big things.
“It was a whole new perspective on baseball (for me),” says Richardson.
When the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was held Richardson was selected in the 40th round by the Philadelphia Phillies and pitched in the minors in 2019. Various injuries limited him to three games and three innings. He was released in May 2020. The minor league season was canceled that year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Richardson, who was getting old for a Class-A ballplayer, opted to retire.
Waylon married the former Abby Richards of Churubusco in October 2020 and started working in construction as a remodeler and house flipper and flooring sub-contractor. Abby Richardson is a speech therapist and cheerleading coach at West Noble.
Waylon Richardson, 25, was a varsity assistant to brother Aaron Coy (other siblings include Brittany Richardson and former all-state, Ball State University and Grace College basketball player Haley Richardson) during the 2022 West Noble baseball season. Coy is a 2006 West Noble alum who played baseball at Goshen College.
As the man in charge of the Chargers, Richardson had from nine to 17 players participate in fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activities.
“We share to many athletes at our school,” says Richardson, who held optional open fields after football practice. “Without everyone there it’s hard to put in your philosophy.”
He was able to critique the swings of newer players, getting them to use more of their lower half. He got the older players to take the younger ones under their wins and emphasized knowing where to throw the ball on defense.
The winter Limited Contact Period is Dec. 5-Feb. 4. Richardson plans to have his twice-weekly sessions following basketball practice.
“We want to get as many kids as possible,” says Richardson.
Hitters will be asked to have an approach at the plate and not just be free swingers.
A brand new outdoor batting cage was recently installed at the Chargers’ on-campus field. Richardson’s wish list includes a new scoreboard and a new or remodeled press box.
“I’m excited,” says Richardson. “We lost eight seniors but return at least six everyday starters. We have a really good young freshman class. The ones showing up (at practices) are athletic and versatile.”
Richardson says he sees college baseball potential in Class of 2023’s Elijah Bacon and Winston Deel.
The coaching staff includes returnees Dave Shields, Mel Coyle and Jose Marmolejo.
Shields was on the staff when Richardson was a player.
“I respect his Baseball I.Q.,” says Richardson. “He’s like a father figure to the kids.”
Coyle doubles as a junior varsity coach and groundskeeper.
“He makes sure Charger baseball plays on a beautiful diamond,” says Richardson, who is also hoping to bring on two former college teammates.
Richardson seeks pitchers who get ahead in the count.
“We want to work low in the zone — inside and out,” says Richardson. “If you command two pitches, you can play around with a third and get hitters to chase.”
Looking at his 2023 season opener, Richardson is considering letting pitchers go one inning each to see what they’ve got and doing the same thing in Game 2.
“We want to figure out our rotation and relievers going into conference play and the end of the year,” says Richardson.
West Noble (enrollment around 720) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights and Westview).
The Chargers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2023 with East Noble, Fairfield, Lakeland, NorthWood and Wawasee. West Noble has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2006.
West Noble Little League (formerly Kimmel Baseball & Softball) prepares players for the high school. Greg Eash is WNLL board president for an organization which has traditionally fielded teams from T-Ball to 1/2 Pints (seventh and eighth graders).
“Greg Eash great coach for our feeder system,” says Richardson. “I’ve told my coaches we need to get down there and show our face to the youth.”

Waylon Richardson (West Noble High School Photo)
Waylon and Abby Richardson (West Noble High School Photo)
Waylon Richardson pitches for West Noble High School.
Waylon Richardson helped Kankakee (Ill.) Community College win the 2017 NJCAA Division II World Series.
Waylon Richardson was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies and pitched briefly in the minors. (Four Seam Images)

Willard follows father as Eastside Blazers head coach

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

Eastside Junior/Senior High School athletics has been a big part of Cade Willard’s world all of his 23 years.
His parents — Aaron and Kerri Willard — have both been employed by DeKalb Eastern Community School District.
Cade played baseball and basketball for the Butler, Ind.-based Eastside Blazers — Jason Pierce for the first two years (2014 and 2015) and his father for the last two (2016 and 2017) on the diamond and Ryan Abbott on the hardwood.
A right-handed pitcher, Willard played three seasons at Purdue Fort Wayne (2019-21). He redshirted in 2018. He appeared in 92 games (all in relief) for the Mastodons. His head coach the last two seasons was Doug Schreiber.
“Throughout my career I’ve been blessed with good coaches,” says Willard.
Graduating in 2021 as a Business Management major and Marketing minor, Willard went to work at Eastside teaching Business and Computer Science and joined his father’s baseball coaching staff.
After an IHSAA Class 2A state runner-up finish in 2021, Eastside won another sectional title in 2022. The Kelly Green & White went 26-7 in ’21 and 21-8 in ’22.
Eastside (enrollment around 380) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview).
The Blazers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Central Noble, Churubusco, Prairie Heights, Westview and Whitko. Eastside has won seven sectional titles.
Aaron Willard was a North coach and Owen Willard — little brother of former volleyball/softball athlete Madison (Willard) Shelter (Class of 2014) and Cade — was the MVP at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.
At the end of the season, Aaron Willard kept his athletic director tag but passed the head coaching baton to Cade.
His decision to pursue business or education and coaching was made during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I grew up around Eastside my whole life,” says Cade. “It seemed right.
“It makes it more special being in your hometown.”
Aaron and elementary P.E. teacher Kerri now have more time to see right-hander Owen pitch at PFW.
Cade is also an assistant to Ed Bentley on the Blazers varsity boys basketball staff. Willard found time to lead IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activities (two days a week for two hours) in the fall and will do so again in the winter, beginning Dec. 5. He will roll right from basketball to baseball on some days.
“In the fall, we got better, got in a routine and got our hitting philosophies down,” says Willard, who had eight to 10 high schoolers at each session along with a handful of junior high players. “On paper, we had our starting infield out there.
“It’s important to get kids in before the holidays. We can see what numbers we have.”
Cade wants the ones who are able to attend to get used to his practice structure.
“The past few years we’ve been successful,” says Willard. “It’s about keeping the tradition alive.
““We’re always a scrappy team. I want to get our guys ready to compete. We have a few spots to fill. We were super senior-heavy last year.
“For some it will be the first time playing varsity baseball. Toward the end of the season we’ll be alright.”
Besides Owen Willard, Class of 2022’s Nick Snyder moved on to college baseball at Indiana University Southeast.
Willard has a mixture of seasoned and younger assistant coaches.
“I think it’s important to bring on experienced guys who know what to do in different situations,” says Willard.
Eastern graduate Tony Emenhiser — who coached with Pierce and Aaron Willard — is back. Alum Gary Kaiser was also on Pierce’s staff.
Conner Dove is junior varsity head coach and is assisted by Mike Gustin. Dove was an Eastside classmate of Willard. He was a teammate of Prairie Heights graduate Gustin at Trine University (Angola, Ind.).
Willard expects to have around two dozen players for varsity and JV squads. Among returnees is Class of 2024’s Loden Johnson and Ryder Reed and Class of 2025’s Jace Mayberry.
Pitchers will be asked to throw strikes and keep the ball low and away from he middle of the plate.
“Free bases hurt,” says Willard. “You can throw two pitches for strikes and get away with it and be effective with three.
“In our non-conference games we’ll see who can throw and who cannot throw. It’ll get us ready for rather get ready for conference in the later weeks.
There will be a lot of juggling (of positions) this year for sure. We want to put the best lineup out there for conference.”
Eastside plays home contests on-campus at Michael D. Fieldler Field. The diamond played host to a fall league and has had its dugouts upgraded with other projects in the works.
Bobcat Youth League locations at Butler and Riverdale-St. Joe develop players that end up at Eastside. Fifth and sixth graders travel to play area teams, including in Hicksville, Ohio. Butler is about four miles from the Indiana-Ohio line.
The non-conference high school season tends to include Ohio opponents like Archbold, Edgerton and Fairview.
A youth camp is planned at Eastside for the spring.
“It is important to get youth kids enjoying and playing baseball
doing it the right way,” says Willard. “Dad — being AD — says that’s an area you could blossom in with time over the long run.”

Cade Willard.
Cade Willard.
Aaron Willard (left) and Cade Willard.
Owen Willard (left) and Cade Willard.
Cade (left), Owen, Kerri and Aaron Willard.

Being ‘Rock Solid’ aim of Boles, Lakewood Park Christian Panthers

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

“Rock Solid.”
It’s the motto adopted by Lakewood Park Christian School baseball for the way the Panthers want to be — on and off the diamond.
It’s a reference to Matthew 7:24: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
It’s about a firm foundation — a subject that comes up during gameday chapel sessions.
Lakewood Park Christian (a K-12 school with an enrollment around 170 in the top four grades) is an athletic independent.
The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont and Hamilton. Lakewood Park has not yet won a sectional title.
After coaching in area youth leagues, Scott Boles came to Lakewood Park Christian in Auburn, Ind., in 2017 as a volunteer.
“I started volunteering to serve God and do more with my life,” says Boles, who became Panthers head coach for the 2018 season.
In 2022, Lakewood Park Christian went 7-10, tying the single-season school record for victories.
That was accomplished with a roster of 10 aka “The Dirty Diez.”
Three of the players had not played baseball since age 12. One suffered a burst appendix during the season.
“It’s a small Christian school,” says Boles. “It’s all bout hard work and effort.
“We’re relentless. We don’t quit. We want to win. But we also want kids to have a good experience and bring guys up the right way to be men. That’s what we’re all about.”
For 2023, Boles expects to have as many as 18 players with seven at travel ball level.
“The next two years we should break every record that exists,” says Boles, who watched last spring as Corbin White (Class of 2024) set the batting average mark at .469 and pitcher Gabriel Dager (Class of 2024) established the earned run average mark at 1.94.
Also in the mix is Carson Boles (Class of 2024). The 17-year-old is the youngest of Scott and Rachel’s two children. The couple — married in 1999 — also has Makenna (19), a 2020 graduate of Carroll High School where she played tennis.
Boles had Carsten White (Corbin’s older brother and 2018 graduate) and Brian Johnson as assistant coaches in 2022 and hopes to have them both back in 2023.
Carsten White and Andrew Carpenter (Class of 2017) both played for Lance Hershberger at Ivy Tech Northeast Community College in Fort Wayne. Carpenter was killed by a drunk driver in 2019.
“The next three years we should have 3-5 kids play college baseball,” says Boles.
Lakewood Park Christian plays on an on-campus field players dubbed “The Lake.”
The field recently got a new mound thanks to the help of Fort Wayne TinCaps groundskeepers.
A warning track has also been installed that goes all around the field. New fencing in front of the dugouts is on the way.
“We’ve had a lot of upgrades the last six years,” says Boles. “We’ve had $15,000 to $18,000 in donations.”
Bill Jones, who coached at DeKalb High School and is an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, helped put the field in place decades ago.
Scott Boles is a 1995 graduate of Columbia City (Ind.) High School, where he played baseball for four years and earned three letters as a left-handed pitcher and first baseman.
The Eagles’ head coach was Tom Wood.
“He was just a good man,” says Boles of Wood. “He treated the kids right.”
Boles was at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) for a year.
Working in a family business, he is now a distributor for Mission Foods Products.
He opened a 1,500-square foot training facility in Fort Wayne called the Upper Room Baseball Club and has his own travel ball organization.

The 2022 Lakewood Park Christian School baseball team. Head coach Scott Boles is in the middle in the second row. Assistants are Carsten White (far left) and Brian Johnson (far right)
With 10 players, the Lakewood Park Christian Panthers tied the single-season school record with seven victories.
Scott and Carson Boles.
Carson Boles.
Lakewood Park Christian mound meeting with Panthers head coach Scott Boles.
Carson, Rachel and Makenna Boles.
With the help of Fort Wayne TinCaps groundskeepers, Lakewood Park Christian School in Auburn, Ind., gets a new mound.
With the help of Fort Wayne TinCaps groundskeepers, Lakewood Park Christian School in Auburn, Ind., gets a new mound.
With the help of Fort Wayne TinCaps groundskeepers, Lakewood Park Christian School in Auburn, Ind., gets a new mound.
With the help of Fort Wayne TinCaps groundskeepers, Lakewood Park Christian School in Auburn, Ind., gets a new mound.
With the help of Fort Wayne TinCaps groundskeepers, Lakewood Park Christian School in Auburn, Ind., gets a new mound.

Guthrie, Prairie Heights baseball embrace technology for training

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

“Kids just love playing video games. They’re playing video games at practice and they love it.” — T.J. Guthrie, head baseball coach at Prairie Heights High School

Always looking for ways to develop his players, Guthrie added Virtual Reality to the Panthers’ practice regimen by bringing in a WIN Reality system which helps hitters with things like pitch recognition.
Athletes don a headset and get a fully-immersive experience, seeing realistic pitches in what looks like a professional stadium.
“I’m constantly scouring the Internet and social media to see what is out there to better our kids,” says Guthrie, who introduced WIN Reality when players returned from winter break in January. “I like to mix up our training routines.
“Some days we don’t get the gym with the batting cage and we can still get in live work. We’re getting that cognitive intuition we need on a much better scale.”
With the WIN Reality, players go through graduated sequence of eight drills. The first is basic, recognizing fastball, curveball and change-up. They are also tracking the pitch. This is done by asking the hitter to point the controller to where the ball ended up in the strike zone.
Later comes the “disappearing pitch” drill where the pitch might go away at 50 feet or less and hitters are still asked to recognize it.
“It really starts to challenge guys,” says Guthrie. “They see their averages at the end (of drills) and the begin competing against each other.”
Guthrie notes that the technology is not new and is used by numerous pro and college teams. Now it has come to Brushy Prairie, Ind.
Using the VR trainer offers an efficient way to see more pitches in less time than would be possible with the traditional methods alone.
“We’re certainly not taking away from the live BP,” says Guthrie. “We’re adding to it in a risk-free environment.”
While identifying these WIN Reality pitches, no swings are taken. Hitters pull the trigger on the controller. The system tells them when they made that decision and if it was in the optimum window of when they could hit the pitch.
“You’re not training your body,” says Guthrie of the VR work. “We’re using this to train the brain.
“We’re using cage to train the body on the proper fundamentals.”
WIN Reality does include an optional bat attachment and collects data on swings.
Guthrie, a 2011 Fremont (Ind.) High School graduate who had his college career ended by injury, embraces tech.
He uses smart baseballs that track spin rates, velocity and movement. There are Blast Motion sensors on his players’ bats to give feedback.
“We’re getting video of guys all the time,” says Guthrie, who likes to shoot 4K at 60 frames-per-second. “We go frame-by-frame and make sure we’re not missing anything.”
A phone app called Coach’s Eye allows for comparative side-by-side videos. It’s helpful for pitchers trying to make all their pitches look the same coming out of their hand.
Guthrie says that pitch recognition training when he was a player involved a VCR.
“We’d see a one-second clip of a ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand,” says Guthrie. “But it did not mix it up like the real pitcher does.”
Guthrie has used YouTube videos for this purpose. There is also a phone app called GameSense Pitch-IQ.
With Guthrie and varsity assistants Mike Gustin (pitching coach), Tyler Christman and Ryan Fulton, junior varsity coaches Gene Smith (head coach), Dave Priestley (pitching coach), Shane Richards and JV statistician Reese Smith, Prairie Heights is preparing to compete in the Northeast Corner Conference (which also includes Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, West Noble and Westview) and IHSAA Class 2A in 2022.
“The NECC seems to be going in a high-velocity direction,” says Guthrie. “We’ve got a lot of great pitchers in this conference. It was bound to happen because of the push for travel ball. The kids want to get better day in and day out.
“We need to know how we improve at the plate. You’ve got to score runs to win games. The velocity is one thing. It’s the curve balls, sliders and change-ups that are beating us.
“Recognizing the pitch is half the battle.”

Prairie Heights High School baseball uses Virtual Reality technology with a WIN Reality system.
A WIN Reality Screenshot.
A WIN Reality Screenshot.
A WIN Reality Screenshot.

IU Southeast gearing up for first NAIA World Series trip

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University Southeast has been oh-so close to punching its ticket to the NAIA Baseball World Series in recent years.

In 2021, the Grenadiers finally made it and will be in Lewiston, Idaho for the 10-team event, which begins May 28 and runs through June 4.

“We’ve been moving vertically over the last decade,” says Ben Reel, IU Southeast’s 13th-year head coach. “We’ve learned what wins and what doesn’t to win the big game you’ve got to have a lot of resiliency, chemistry and poise.

“That’s what we’re looking at from a recruiting standpoint — those intangibles.”

The Grenadiers have a roster with 20 players from Indiana high schools. In the final game of NAIA Opening Round Kingsport Bracket, there were five of them in the starting lineup.

In that contest against No. 1-ranked Tennessee Wesleyan, this was Reel’s batting order: Lawrenceburg’s Clay Woeste (.371, 7 home runs, 50 runs batted in, 35 stolen bases) at second base, Drew Hensley (Bedford North Lawrence) .402, 0, 15) at first base, Brody Tanksley (Bedford North Lawrence) .355, 18, 69) at catcher, Marco Romero (Caracas, Venezuela) .370, 6, 55) in right field, Derek Wagner (Tri-West Hendricks) .314, 4, 25) in left field, John Ullom (Louisville, Ky.) .361, 5, 42) in center field), Ben Berenda (Lafayette Central Catholic) .247, 0, 32) at designated hitter, Jacob Scott (Huntington Beach, Calif.) .316, 5, 53) at third base and Daunte Decello (Hamilton, Ohio) .366, 1 29) at shortstop.

“I love homegrown players,” says Reel, a native of Dillsboro, Ind., and South Dearborn High School graduate. “There’s something to be said about development.

“This is a program.”

IU Southeast prides itself in having a team full of battlers at the dish.

“We’re definitely going to grind it out at the plate,” says Reel. “We’re tough to strikeout and fast on the bases.”

As a team, the Grenadiers are hitting .332, 62 homers and  526 runs (8.4 per game) with a .949 OPS (.434 on-base percentage plus .515 slugging average).

At 48-14 (including 26 in the River States Conference), the 2021 IU Southeast team has tied the school record for single-season victories set in 2017.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. 

Including being swept in a four-game home series Feb. 26-27 against Huntington (which wound up 33-16), the Grenadiers got off to a 5-10 start.

Since March 3, IU Southeast is 43-4 with win streaks of 18, 14 and six games (current).

After going 26-1 during the River States Conference regular season, the Grenadiers beat Point Park (40-16) to win the RSC tournament title.

The Kingsport (Tenn.) NAIA Opening Round saw IUS win one-run games against Warner (33-23) and No. 1-ranked Tennessee Wesleyan before another World Series berth-clinching win against the Bulldogs (53-6).

Along the way, IU Southeast has had to deal with injuries (RSC Player of the Year and New Lenox, Ill., native Matt Monahan, who hit 428 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs, went out with a season-ending ailment late) and then there’s been all the COVID-19 testing, virtual classes and other issues.

“We’ve been through a lot of trials and tribulations,” says Reel. “But it’s not about what people think you’re supposed to do, it’s about what you’re actually going to do. 

“We’ve focused on the little things. We’ve always tried to put our team in the best situation. You have to plan ahead or you’re going to plan to fail.”

The Grenadiers’ pitching strength comes from its depth. It’s not an insult to say “Johnny Wholestaff” is pitching today.

“Johnny’s alive and well down here,” says Reel. “That’s given us a lot of confidence.”

Left-hander Hunter Kloke (Henderson, Ky.) is 9-1 with a 3.01 earned run average and has made 17 mound appearances (14 starts).

Right-hander Cade Reynolds (Greensburg) is 5-2 with a 3.45 ERA with 15 appearances (13 starts).

Besides his first base duties, right-hander Hensley is 8-3 with a 5.21 ERA on the bump with 16 appearances (12 starts).

Lefty Trevor Reynolds (Greensburg) is 9-1 with a 2.81 ERA. All but three of his 22 games are in relief.

There are eight other pitches with at least 10 appearances.

The saves leaders are right-hander Jacob Frankel (Louisville, Ky.) with four at a 1-1 record, righty Brenden Bube (Lanesville) with three at 4-3 mark and right-hander Lane Oesterling (Batestville) with two and a 5-1 ledger.

“The moment has not too big for (our pitchers),” says Reel. “We’ve made some great plays defensively.

“When we need to make a play we’ve found a way to make it.”

While the NAIA World Series will be a first-time experience for Reel and his program, he will be among friends Idaho.

LSU Shreveport (La.) coach Brad Neffendorf is probably Reel’s best friend in baseball. They were groomsmen in each other’s weddings and Reel is the godfather to Kash Neffendorf.

Jeremy Sheetinger will have his Georgia Gwinett team there. Reel knows Sheets from his days at Brescia. 

Reel also counts Southeastern (Fla.) coach Adrian Dinkel as a buddy and he met Central Methodist (Mo.) coach Nate Breland this past year.

The field will also feature Concordia (Neb.), Faulkner (Ala.), Keiser (Fla.), Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) and Oklahoma Wesleyan.

Reel and his team are learning about all the travel details that goes with playing across the country.

Then there’s the fact that he came home to wife Morgan and newborn son Beckham (born April 24 and in NICU for the first seven days) and water issues at the house.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” says Reel. “I guess (my son) is my lucky charm.”

Ben Reel (Indiana University Southeast Photo)

Baker, Flemm guiding Elkhart Christian Academy Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A 30-something from Indiana and a 20-something from New Jersey have come together to lead the baseball program at Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy.

Shawn Baker, 34, and Matthew Flemm, 24, are co-head coaches for the Eagles. 

Baker graduated from Northridge High School (Middlebury, Ind.) in 2005 and Manchester University (North Manchester, Ind.) in 2009 as a Grades 5-12 Social Studies major.

He played at Northridge for two head coaches — Mike Logan and Troy Carson. Rick Espeset was his coach for four seasons at Manchester.

Northridge was very competitive in Baker’s junior and senior seasons and the friendships started off the field carried on to it.

“We’d have our backs there, too,” says Baker.

“Both Mike and Troy instilled the hard-nosed baseball philosophy in us as players,” says Baker of Logan and Carson. “It’s working hard in practice and seeing the transfer over in games.

“I learned a lot from Coach Espeset about the ‘why’ and the philosophy of the game of baseball.”

As an educator, Baker was at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy and Westview High School in Topeka, Ind., and has been at Northridge Middle School for the past eight years, teaching eighth grade Social Studies and coaching seventh grade boys basketball.

He has served an assistant baseball coach at Dowagiac (Mich.) Union High School and Westview for Warriors head coach Jason Rahn.

“I had been getting the itch to coach baseball again,” says Baker, who applied at ECA and was hired in mid-February. The first official day of practice was March 15.

Baker has been married for eight years. Shawn and Heather have a girl and two boys — Aleah (6), Colson (4) and Bennett (2).

Shawn’s younger brother, Shannon Baker, played at Northridge and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and is now an assistant to A.J. Risedorph at NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind.

Flemm is an alum of Veritas Christian Academy in Sparta, N.J., where he pitched for the Lions baseball team and graduated in 2015. He finished his course work at Cedarville (Ohio) University as a History major and double minor in International Studies and Bible in December and is planning to attend May 1 commencement. 

He was contacted by former Veritas Christian administrator and current Elkhart Christian secondary principal Sean Bevier who informed him of the baseball coach opening. Flemm was working with the Sussex County Miners Travel Baseball 13U team. Besides coaching, he is substitute and study hall teacher at ECA.

Baker and Flemm, who are assisted by former Elkhart Christian players Mark Stevens and T.J. Tice, guide a group of 12 players that includes one senior (Matt Elmerick), no juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.

Some have played travel ball. Others have little baseball experience.

“It sounds cliche’, but we’re working on getting better each day,” says Baker. “We want them listening to what we tell them and trying to apply it on the field.”

Three — Elmerick and sophomores Jude Reynolds and Luke Schramm — split their time between baseball and the Eagles track and field team coached by Allen Lollis. With the help of athletic director Richelle Viront, game and practice schedules are coordinated to accommodate both spring programs.

Elkhart Christian Academy (enrollment around 160) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with IHSAA Class 1A schools Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Only ECA, Argos, Bethany have baseball teams this spring.

The Eagles are part of an 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont (the 2021 host), Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. ECA won a sectional title in 2013. 

Besides conference and sectional foes, ECA’s regular-season schedule includes games with 4A’s Concord, Mishawaka and South Bend Riley, 3A’s Culver Academy, John Glenn, Lakeland and NorthWood, 2A’s Bremen and LaVille and 1A’s Culver Community and Oregon-Davis.

“We play a lot of these really big school,” says Flemm. “That’s going to set us up for success in the conference and a state tournament time.”

The Eagles are trying to develop pitchers and catchers on the fly. Many will get a turn on the mound.

“Everybody’s a pitcher until we figure out that’s not your forte’,” says Baker. 

Something that was ingrained during Flemm’s travel and high school pitching career was the importance of control.

“Throwing strikes is the only way you’re going to succeed,” says Flemm. “Our second game (against LaVille) we had more strikes and that was awesome to see.

“It’ll just take a lot of refinement and more experience for the guys on the bump.”

Baker looks for ECA pitchers to develop a fastball and change-up and be able to hit their spots with it.

Flemm is upbeat about the future.

“We see a lot of potential,” says Flemm. “It’s been a blessing working with this group of guys.

“I’m excited for what’s coming and how we can develop these guys even more.”

As a private K-12 school, ECA does not always know who will be attending from year to year.

Flemm says there has been talk of starting a junior high baseball program. He has noticed interest in the game among students in those grades.

“It’s something, hopefully, Coach Baker and I can start.” says Flemm, who notes that he and Baker will lead a youth baseball camp ECA in early June. “We’ll get a chance to see what kind of talent we have coming in.”

The Elkhart Christian campus is located in an open area behind the school and next to the U.S. 20 By-Pass. A breeze seemingly never stops.

“We’re almost in a wind tunnel,” says Baker. “It can be difficult to hear (talk between players and coaches and players and other players). 

“We need to work on communication and use our big-boy voices so people can hear.”

Shawn Baker
Matthew Flemm

NEIBA looking for Dick Crumback HS Player of the Year nominees

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com 

The Northeast Indiana Baseball Association has been recognizing local baseball players, personnel and ambassadors through a Hall of Fame and honors program since 1961.

Each year, these honorees are saluted at a banquet. In 2018, South Adams’ Grant Besser was the Dick Crumback Player of the Year. The COVID-19 pandemic took away the award and banquet in 2020.

Baseball coaches from Adams (Adams Central, Bellmont, South Adams), Allen (Bishop Dwenger, Bishop Luers, Blackhawk Christian, Canterbury, Carroll, Concordia Lutheran, Heritage, Homestead, Leo, New Haven, North Side, Northrop, Smith Academy for Excellence, Snider, South Side, Wayne, Woodlan), DeKalb (DeKalb, Eastside, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakewood Park Christian), Noble (Central Noble, East Noble, West Noble), Huntington (Huntington North), Wells (Bluffton, Norwell, Southern Wells) and Whitley (Churubusco, Columbia City, Whitko) counties were emailed and asked to nominate any player(s) that he feels could be in the running for the 2021 Dick Crumback/NEIBA Player of the Year Award. The deadline for submitting players is on 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 12.

On Sunday, March 14, the NEIBA will be sending out the list of players that are on the “watch list” for this year’s award. 

First off, the award is named after longtime amateur baseball supporter Dick Crumback. The Crumback family has also given a $500 annual scholarship to the high school baseball program recipient. 

The Fort Wayne Baseball Federation, which has run high school and adult leagues in the Summit City since 1931, has also announced a donation of $500 to bring the overall total to $1,000.  

For more information, contact Gary Rogers at grogers@eacs.k12.in.us or Brett Windmiller at brett.windmiller@nacs.k12.in.us. 

Hard work, fun mix for Richards, Garrett Railroaders

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Diligence and amusement don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Not the way Garrett (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Richards sees it.

“I do demand a lot from my players,” says Richards, who spent a decade of coaching in the Railroaders softball program then took over the baseball post prior to the 2020 season which was taken away by COVID-19. “At the same time, baseball has to still be fun for everybody.

“We want to still work hard for our goals.”

Richards was a softball assistant to Scott Bishop for eight seasons before leading the Garrett team in 2018 and 2019.

“(Bishop) demands perfection,” says Richards. “You’re only going to get that through hard work.”

Prior to Garrett, Richards was a baseball assistant at Central Noble for head coach Jim Sickafoose and baseball assistant Eastside for head coach Jason Pierce.

Richards says Sickafoose has an “old school” way of doing things.

“We had a good team,” says Richards, who helped the Cougars win an IHSAA Class 2A LaVille Sectional title and compete in the Whiting Regional in 2012. “(Coach Sickafoose) wanted to get the most out of everything you can do each day.

“(Coach Pierce) brought a fire for the game. He kept the kids on their toes, letting them know they can’t just go through the motions.”

A 1996 Churubusuco (Ind.) High School graduate, Richards played for Mark Grove.

“(Coach Grove) demanded perfection and hard work,” says Richards. “He was no-nonsense.”

Before class baseball, ‘Busco won Warsaw Sectional and Plymouth Regional crowns and competed in the Fort Wayne Semistate championship against eventual state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran at Fort Wayne’s Memorial Stadium in 1995. 

Richards went on to be a student at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, where he earned a Education degree with a focus on middle school Social Studies and Science and later gained a School Counseling masters from the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.

An attendee of several coaching clinics, Richards likes to run an organized practice. 

Everyday players show up they know everything is thought out and in a certain order.

“Anything after 2 1/2 hours and you start to see bad habits,” says Richards. “In 1 1/2 hours, we can get in there, word hard, get good habits formed and have fun.”

Garrett (enrollment around 580) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (along with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview). NECC teams play each other once apiece plus there’s a conference tournament.

“I hope we have a season,” says Richards. “I think we have a lot to look forward to.

“We should be competitive in a really competitive NECC.”

The Railroaders are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Angola, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Leo and New Haven. Garrett has won three sectional titles — the last in 1973. In recent years, the Railroaders have been rotating as a sectional and regional host.

At its size, the multi-sport athlete is the norm at Garrett. Many baseball players are on the football team and Richards is an assistant in program led by Chris DePew. That means Garrett had just a few participate in practices during fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period for baseball.

Winter workouts — bat and ball activities plus speed and agility and weight work — have regularly been drawing about 17 with the others involved in winter sports. Richards expects to have around 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams.

Last March, Garrett was two days away from its first official day of practice when the pandemic caused a shutdown and loss of the 2020 season.

“What a crazy year,” says Richards. “We had like four kids play travel ball last year and no (Garrett Youth Baseball for ages 5-16). 

“COVID can really hurt a small program.”

A third year as a guidance counselor at Garrett Middle School (he was a science teacher prior to that), Richards gets to see student-athletes grow and mature for six years — grades 7-12.

“I build a relationship with them in middle school and earn that trust,” says Richards. “In high school, we get them what they need.”

Richards counts Rudy Fuentes as a varsity assistant coach for 2021. Other assistants are Clay Evans, Steve Orth, Bobby York and Cody Camp. Joe Fuentes (Rudy’s son) is GYB president.

The youth league will base its draft on performance at camps held at the high school in February.

“We work really well together,” says Richards of the accord between GHS and GYB.

Garrett graduate Tristan Taylor is a freshman on the baseball roster at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. Current Railroaders senior Gage Smith is expected to make a college baseball commitment and a number of juniors also have college diamond aspirations.

Jason and wife Emily Richards have three children — Kierra (19), Trey (16) and Brady (8). Kierra Richards is a softball player and Exercise Science major at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. Trey Richards is a junior football and baseball players at Garrett. Third grader Brady Richards, who tuns 9 next week, is involved in football, wrestling and baseball.

Jason Richards is head baseball coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School. He is also a guidance counselor at Garrett Middle School.

VanArsdale builds Elkhart Christian culture of humility, hard work

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Tyler VanArsdale was asked to be the varsity baseball coach at Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy, the invitation came with a request.

Athletic director Richelle Viront wanted him to establish culture with the Eagles.

VanArsdale, a 2013 ECA graduate who had played baseball, golf and basketball at his alma mater, was a baseball assistant in 2017 and came back to lead the program in 2019.

“I’ve been preaching to the guys to stay humble and work hard,” says VanArsdale. “Humility is so valuable in a team sport.”

VanArsdale, who had also coached many of these same athletes as junior high basketball players, does not put the emphasis on personal statistics but the team.

“We talked about distractions,” says VanArsdale. “One huge one is pride.”

VanArsdale wants his players to know that “everyone matters” and that seniors with experience respect freshmen with little to none.

“When I see someone who is toxic to that culture, we’re addressing it head-on right away,” says VanArsdale. “At the end of the day, ECA baseball is about life development.”

VanArsdale saw the Eagles go from 1-11 in 2018 — a year he stayed out of coaching with the birth of his daughter (Bethel College graduates Tyler and Brittany welcomed Clara on their wedding anniversary of May 10, 2018 at 10:18 p.m.) — to 8-8 in 2019 with him in charge.

“It’s a mindset thing — a change in thinking,” says VanArsdale. “That’s a great turnaround.”

Elkhart Christian lost 4-0 to Fremont in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional.

“It was intense and competitive,” says VanArsdale. “I was proud of the guys.”

Two seniors — Bailey Petty and Mark Stevens — were on that squad. Many players return for 2020. Stevens has joined a coaching staff that also includes Tony Tice and Chad Viront.

VanArsdale started his high school athletic career at nearby Penn.

As a sophomore, he transferred to ECA. He was allowed to play junior varsity basketball. The Eagles did not have a JV baseball team, but an arm injury ended his travel season early.

VanArsdale played basketball as a junior and season for squads that won 13 and 14 games.

His senior spring saw ECA go 21-8 and win the school’s first baseball sectional title, reigning at Hamilton and advancing to the finals of the 1A Caston Regional.

That team featured Caleb Stayton (who went on to a standout career at Ball State University) and Tanner Watson (who excelled at Taylor University) and VanArsdale keeps in-touch with many of his former teammates.

A former golf mate of Alec Dutkowski, VanArdale was also able to juggle the links and the diamond in the spring at ECA. He anticipates that he will have some baseball players also competing in track and field this spring.

During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, the Eagles have been practicing on Tuesdays and Saturdays with weight workouts on other days.

Players and coaches are communication via group chat and VanArsdale, who is also account manager for Legacy Fire Protection, has lunch with his seniors — a group that will have at least six.

“I’m excited,” says VanArsale. “1 through 9, we’ll be stronger at the plate.

“With pitching, we lost Bailey Petty. But we’ll be more diverse and may use three pitchers in a game.”

To keep his pitchers healthy, VanArsdale has them using J-Bands, lifting weights and stretching in the off-season.

For those players who have their sights on the next level, the coach has advice.

“If you have a goal to play college ball, I preach prospect camps,” says VanArsdale. “You don’t want to get worn out on travel ball.”

While ECA (enrollment around 170) is an independent in all sports but soccer now, the school will be part of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn), beginning in 2020-21. It will come with a double robin schedule and end-of-season recognition.

“It’s going to be really good,” says VanArsdale. “It’ll give each school something to shoot for.”

The Eagles are part of a 1A sectional grouping in 2020 and 2021 with Bethany Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian.

BAILEYPETTYTYLERVANARSDALEMARKSTEVENS

Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy head baseball coach Tyler VanArsdale (center) appears with Bailey Petty (left) and Mark Stevens on Senior Day 2019.

Guthrie eager to get going with Prairie Heights Panthers

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

T.J. Guthrie was just hired as the head baseball coach at Prairie Heights Community High School near LaGrange, Ind.

Guthrie and his coaching staff are young and eager to work with the Panthers.

“There’s not a staff out there more excited to get going,” says Guthrie, who at 26 is the oldest in a group that also includes Prairie Heights alums Tanner Perkins (who played at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne), Mike Gustin (who played at Trine University in Angola, Ind.) and Zach Smith. “We’re young and connected to the community.

“We have to have the youngest aggregate age in the state.”

Guthrie’s hiring was approved by the school board too late for the fall Limited Contact Period. The next window for baseball activities opens in a little over a month.

“I’m counting down the days until Dec. 9, I know that,” says Guthrie. That’s when teams can have two-hour blocks twice-a-week for baseball activity. He plans to precede that with an hour of weight lifting and conditioning, putting  as baseball practice at 7:30 p.m. after winter sports practices.

“I want to give everybody an opportunity to get on board early,” says Guthrie.

Why conditioning before practice and not after?

“I want to see them perform when their legs are not fresh,” says Guthrie. This equates to being able to make plays late in games when they’re worn out.

Perkins pitched at Indiana Tech, where head coach Kip McWilliams ran practices with a fast tempo. Guthrie plans to adopt that style for his Panthers.

“I want to see how they (perform) in bottom of seventh when they’re worn out,” says Guthrie. “When you practice at a high pace, once you get in a game everything seems to slow down.”

Building Heights up from the bottom will be a priority.

“We’re going to make sure we focus on the little things a lot,” says Guthrie. “As part of part of our warm-up routine, infielders will be working on their hands and footwork every single day. Outfielders will be doing drop steps and sprinting to the baseball.

“We want to start from the ground up and make sure everything fundamental is correct. We want to make sure we play the game the right way.”

Guthrie also intends to use plenty of technology and metrics, using Blast Motion to measure launch angle and exit velocity.

“We’re top of the cage enthusiasts,” says Guthrie. “We’ll do a lot of weighted-bat training. We’ll work on our hit path and getting the barrel on a plane. It’s rotational hitting.

“We want to lead the conference and, ideally, the state in doubles and home runs.”

This is Guthrie’s second stint on the Panthers staff. He wound up a run after the 2017 working with Nick Pfafman, who left to join head coach Greg Perschke at Trine.

A 2011 Fremont (Ind.) High School graduate who played for Eagles head coach Justin Bock, Guthrie went to Trine to be a pitcher and first baseman. He blew out his elbow in the first couple of practices and opted to focus on his studies and earn an accounting degree which he now puts to use with marketing and sales for his parents’ business, Casey’s Cove Marina on Crooked Lake in Angola.

Guthrie got his coaching start in the Sandy Koufax League in Fremont and coached in travel ball with the Indiana Elite and Sturgis, Mich.-based Hitters Edge.

Prairie Heights plays on-campus at Kellett Field, a facility that has been recently edged and is going through infield work. There are now double-barrel bullpens on both sides of the field. A year ago, the field got new fencing. The playing surface and irrigation system went in five years ago. There are no lights.

“The field is going to play very nice,” says Guthrie. “We have maintenance staff ready to help us out.”

While he has a young squad and no current college baseball commitments, Guthrie has players with those aspirations.

“I’ll put a big emphasis on trying to get guys to the next level,” says Guthrie. “I’m working hard to develop relationships with a lot of these area junior colleges (including Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., and Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne).”

Recent Prairie Heights graduate Jacob Heller also played baseball at Trine.

Four communities with their own youth leagues — Stroh, South Milford, Ashley-Hudson and Orland — feed into Prairie Heights and Guthrie intends to become a familiar face to those players and coaches.

“A number of players are in travel baseball,” says Guthrie. “I want wake sure I’m getting involved with the guys that are staying local and get them ready for high school.”

Prairie Heights (enrollment around 410) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, West Noble and Westview).

Each team plays each other once with the home team alternating from year to year. There’s also an in-season tournament. Teams are guaranteed two games. Most weekday games are played at 5:30 p.m.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Bremen, Central Noble, Fairfield, LaVille and Westivew. Prairie Heights has won two sectional titles — 1977 and 1984.

T.J. and Cheyene Guthrie were high school sweethearts. The couple, which resides in Angola, celebrated four years of marriage in September.

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T.J. Guthrie is the new head baseball coach at Prairie Heights Community High School near LaGrange, Ind. He has recently been coaching travel ball for Hitters Edge.

TJGUTHRIEHITTERSEDGE

T.J. Guthrie (right) stands with a trophy he won in a coaches home run derby at a Gameday USA travel tournament with Hitters Edge. Celebrating with him are former player T.J. Vanderkuyl and assistant coach Jacob Summers. Guthrie is a 2011 Fremont (Ind.) High School graduate who recently became head baseball coach at Prairie Heights Community High School near LaGrange, Ind.

TJCHEYENEGUTHRIET.J. and Cheyene Guthrie take in a baseball game. T.J. Guthrie is now head baseball coach at Prairie Heights Community High School near LaGrange, Ind.