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Organization, persistence help Buckingham, South Adams Starfires enjoy baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Buckingham sweats the details.

It is not unusual for the 11th-year head baseball coach at South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., to spend an hour crafting his practice plan.

Buckingham, a 1998 South Adams graduate, played for and later coached one season under former Starfires head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dean Stahly.

Looking back, Buckingham sees how Stahly, who led South Adams from 1971-2008, had a knack for organization.

“It may sound crazy, but I want to make sure each of those players are on the move so they’re not bored and get the instruction they need so they can grow as a player,” says Buckingham. “With limited resources and limited coaches, you’ve got to be creative in that regard.”

South Adams had 33 players for varsity and junior varsity schedules this spring.

At Bluffton College (now Bluffton University) in Ohio, Buckingham played four years for Greg Brooks and gained an appreciation for persistence.

“In baseball, a lot of bad things happen and a lot of good things happen and you still keep going,” says Buckingham, who also was head coach at Frankton High School for five seasons in Madison County, Ind. The Eagles were 2A state runners-up in 2003. “You have to stay the course and keep going.”

Buckingham has taken that knowledge and applied it. This spring, it’s helped South Adams win a second straight IHSAA sectional title (the ninth in program history and second in a row) and earn a spot in the Class 2A Whiting Regional. The IHSBCA No. 2-ranked Starfires play Hammond Noll at 10 a.m. CST, followed by Eastside vs. Boone Grove. The regional final is slated for 6 p.m. CST.

At 27-2, the 2018 South Adams squad has already tied the 1982 state finalist team (27-6-1) for the school’s most single-season baseball victories ever. The school also produced a state runner-up in 1972.

The Starfires are led on the mound and at the plate by junior Grant Besser. The left-handed pitcher/shortstop has a 9-0 record with six saves to go along with a .511 batting average, six home runs, two triples and 16 doubles.

The South Adams mound staff also features sophomore left-hander Collin Shaffer (6-1), freshman right-hander Adam Besser (6-0), senior right-handers Austin Davidson (3-0, 3 saves) and Mark Cleary (3-1, 1 save).

When not pitching, Shaffer plays first base and Cleary is the team’s starting catcher.

Besides Besser, Cleary (.412) and senior second baseman Joe Stuber (.396) are the top offensive threats.

No current players have yet made college baseball commitments. South Adams graduates Collin Affolder (Bethel College) and Chandler Ingle (Goshen College) just finished their collegiate careers. Blake Fox (Bluffton University) wound up his in 2017.

Buckingham’s coaching staff includes Craig McKean (former head coach at Southern Wells for 10 years before coming back to his alma mater), Jim Buckingham (Brad’s father), Branden Alberson, Chad Mitchell and Blade Rheinhart.

South Adams belongs to the Allen County Athletic Conference (along with Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, Southern Wells and Woodlan).

South Adams plays its home games on-campus at Harry F. Anderson Field. The facility named for the school’s first athletic director and a former baseball coach just got new pro-style brick dugouts last year.

A fundraising campaign brought in around $90,000 for the project.

“They’re pretty neat,” says Buckingham. “We took a lot of measurements at Parkview Field (in Fort Wayne).”

The Starfires try to do projects each year to improve Anderson Field.

“That’s foundational in our prorgam,” says Buckingham. “We want to make it a hangout place for our players — something they want to come to. That’s something we have control over. We don’t have control over how much talent we have.”

The South Adams Youth League, which has a 12-person board that Buckingham and Starfires head softball coach Jessie O’Dell both sit on, is a feeder system for the high school.

Brad Buckingham is an eighth grade math teacher at the high school while wife Ashley Buckingham is a physical education instructor and head volleyball coach at the high school. The couple have four children (one boy and three girls) — Duke (8), Emmaline (6), Elizabeth (4) and Everly (who turns 2 next week).

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THEBUCKINGHAMS

The Buckingham family celebrates a 2018 IHSAA sectional baseball championship for South Adams. Brad and Ashley are in the back. In the front (from left): Duke, Everly, Emmaline and Elizabeth. Brad Buckingham is in his 11th season as Starfires head coach.

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Jennings sees Griffith work ethic bring championships

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Griffith High School baseball is a product of its environment.

The players come from working class families.

Consequently, the Panthers are not afraid to put forth the effort on and off the diamond to be successful.

“These are blue collar kids,” says Griffith head baseball coach Brian Jennings. “Their parents work in the (steel) mills. We just grind it out.

“I grew up in (and coached at) Whiting and my dad worked in the mills. The fit for me is perfect.”

For that labor, Griffith has won 11 sectionals in the 19 seasons Jennings has been head coach, including the last six. The Panthers topped Hammond Clark for the latest one. The last regional title came in 2001. That was the year of a 3A state runner-up finish.

The 2017 Panthers will meet South Bend St. Joseph in the first game of the Class 3A Griffith Regional Saturday, June 3. The second semifinal pits Western against Glenn with the final at night.

Jennings respects St. Joe, coached by John Gumpf. The two met years ago when Jennings was working Notre Dame baseball camps and Gumpf was an Irish assistant to Paul Mainieri.

This Griffith squad is a mix of experience and youth with four seniors and three or four sophomores in the mix.

These players understand their roles, strengths and weaknesses.

“We know what we are and what we aren’t,” says Jennings.

Griffith is a team that plays a tough schedule. The Panthers (15-14) went 7-5 in finishing third behind Andrean (11-1) and Highland (8-4) in the Northwest Crossroads Conference (which also includes Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster). Griffith split a pair of NCC games with Highland and Munster.

“We’re around .500, but we’ve lost a lot of games by one run,” says Jennings. “We play a lot of 4A schools. That prepares you for the postseason.”

Because of the IHSAA success factor, five-time state champion Andrean is playing “up” in the tournament and will be in Saturday’s Class 4A LaPorte Regional as will Griffith regular-season opponent Lake Central.

Knowing that postseason runs often come at a premium, Jennings says he expects the team that advances from the regional to be the one that has the best defense, pitching and execution.

As a 3A regional host, the Panthers will get to show off their on-campus field.

“We’re really proud of what we’ve got here,” says Jennings of a facility that had lights added a few years ago and houses a clubhouse with individual player lockers. “We do our own work.”

When Jennings says “we” he is referring to the whole Griffith baseball community.

“I’m not arrogant enough to think it’s all ‘me,’” says Jennings. “It’s been a total effort.”

A parent group — the Griffith Diamond Club — has raised the money to make the improvements.

Jennings has a long list of things he wants to upgrade. It’s an idea he got at a clinic from then-LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman.

“It makes kids proud,” says Jennings of the steady program improvements. “It makes the parents and the community proud.”

Jennings works with coaching staff carrying plenty of experience, including Drew Martin, Todd Iwema (former Griffith and Lake Central head coach) and John Novosel (former Hammond Noll assistant) at the varsity level and Jeff Kawa with the junior varsity.

“I’ve surrounded myself with baseball guys,” says Jennings. “It makes my life a lot easier.

“I’m very lucky and fortunate to be the baseball coach here at Griffith.”

Jennings represented the Panthers as North head coach in the 2012 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

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Brian Jennings has led Griffith High School to 11 sectional championships in 19 seasons as head baseball coach.

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