Tag Archives: IHSAA Class 1A

Kutch heading into third season leading Westville Blackhawks

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

Brody Kutc is heading into his third season as head baseball coach at Westville (Ind.) Middle/High School with a different focus.
“A point of emphasis moving forward is that we are trying to create great men and good ball players,” says Kutch as he looks to the 2023 season. “I think in past years my competitiveness has gotten the better of me. I chose talent over heart. I chose athleticism over character. I learned the hard way that athleticism and talent do not win ball games. 
“Moving forward we will be emphasizing the type of men our players are before the type of ball player they are.”
Westville (enrollment around 300) is a member of the Porter County Conference (with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, Tri-Township, Morgan Township, South Central of Union Mills and Washington Township).
The Blackhawks are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Argos, Culver Community, Marquette Catholic, Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy, Triton and Tri-Township. Westville (which went 6-12 overall and 1-6 in the PCC in 2022) has won yet won a sectional championship.
Kutch was a Blackhawks assistant from 2017-20 before taking over leadership of the program.
In the fall of 2020, he was pitching coach at Purdue Northwest.
Kutch teaches “Blackhawk Academy” at Westville — a credit retrieval class — and is also going into his third year as an assistant for the Indiana Playmakers travel organization.
A 2013 graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School, Kutch played four years of baseball for the Slicers.
He played four years at Purdue Northwest and earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2017 and a masters degree in Psychology from Illinois State University in 2020.
Several coaches have helped shaped him.
“Mike Rosenbaum (Rosie) was a Babe Ruth coach in LaPorte for many years,” says Kutch, 27. “I never had the pleasure to play for him but my brother did. I got to be the bat boy and for many years he helped many boys fall in love with the game of baseball while also teaching them the right way to play. Even as a bat boy, he had a positive influence on me as a coach.
“I was lucky enough to be coached by my brother (Michael Kutch) and father (Bruce Kutch) for a few years as well. They were a big positive influence on me.
“Coach Scott Upp and all of my high school coaches taught me valuable fundamentals, discipline, and the importance of how you hold yourself on and off the field.  
“Coach Shane Prance coached me for four years (three as a head coach and one as an assistant). He is one of the most knowledgeable pitching coaches I have ever worked with. I also credit him with showing me how to have fun while playing this game. That may not seem like much but it is something I am extremely thankful for.
“My final year as a player I played for Dave Griffin at PNW. He was one of the best game managers I have played for. He knew how to use his roster and put guys in the right spots to be successful.  
“I learned valuable lessons from each one of these coaches.”
The IHSAA Limited Contact Period was used at Westville to do major renovations on the baseball field, which is located on-campus.
“I do not know the actual dimensions but the field plays big,” says Kutch. “The grass is in incredible shape. That has nothing to do with me. I think we just got lucky with the surface in that instance. 
“Our grass has never been unplayable. The only reason we ever have a delay or a cancelation is due to our infield dirt. Our infield dirt is mostly clay which is an awful chemical makeup for a baseball field. In the spring the rain turns it to mud and in the summer the heat dries it into bedrock. We are in the process of substituting new infield material to try and change this.” 
The middle school team — which serves as a feeder for the high school — played on the field in the fall.
“I normally coach this team but this past year I trusted one of my assistant coaches (Bryce Barton) to direct the middle school program,” says Kutch. “He is doing a great job. He really wants what is best for the kids and truly understands our philosophy here at Westville.”
Besides Barton, Kutch’s high school staff includes Mike Mikulich and Jake Pisowicz.
Cody Brooks (Class of 2022) is now playing for Oakton Community College (Des Plaines, Ill.). He is the first to go on and play college baseball since Kutch has been at Westville. 
“I have many current players that are also pursuing this dream,” says Kutch.
Brody and Elly Kutch have a son named Cooper (1 1/2).

Brody Kutch.
Brody Kutch.
Jackson Shreves (left), Brody Kutch and Brayden Qualkenbush.

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.

Making ‘quality young men’ priority for Woolems at Northeast Dubois

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

Luke Woolems has coached at multiple Indiana high schools and in youth baseball.
His goal is always the same.
“We try to win a lot of baseball games, but ultimately it comes down to what kind of men we’re turning out,” says Woolems, who has been head coach at Northeast Dubois Junior/Senior High School in Dubois, Ind., since the 2018 season. “We’re trying to make quality young men. We want them to become better fathers, husbands and members of the community.”
Woolems is a 1999 graduate of Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., where he played baseball for Brian Kirchoff and was later a student teacher and assistant coach for one season. He was Kirchoff’s assistant at Northeast Dubois in 2017 before taking over the Jeeps program.
Prior to that Woolems was head baseball coach at Loogootee (Ind.) High School for two seasons and head softball coach at Mitchell (Ind.) High School for five. Before his stint at Heritage Hills, he was head baseball coach at Paoli (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School right after graduating from Indiana University-Bloomington.
Woolems was a teacher for 12 years and is now human resources manager at Patoka Lake Regional Water & Sewer District in Dubois County.
Northeast Dubois (enrollment around 275) is a member of the Blue Chip Conference (with baseball-playing schools Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Knox, Shoals, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet and Wood Memorial).
BCC teams played each other one time.
The Jeeps are to be part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023. Northeast Dubois has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2017.
Tecumseh was the 2022 Class 1A state runner-up. The Braves beat Northeast Dubois 9-8 in the first round of the Cannelton Sectional.
“We’ve had some battles the last few years,” says Woolems of the Jeeps and Tecumseh.
The 2022 season saw Northeast Dubois go 10-11. There were 21 players in the program, including several seniors. One of those — Colby Pieper — moved on to Brescia University (Owensboro, Ky.).
Reece Bauer (Class of 2020) is at Wabash (Ind.) College.
One of the top returnees is Class of 2023’s Ty Kalb. A lead-off hitter, catcher, shortstop and pitcher, he paced the 2022 team in batting average (.403), doubles (11), runs scored (21), pitching victories (3) and earned run average (0.97) while tying for lead in runs batted in (17).
Like Woolems did as a high schooler, Kalb plays for Rockport American Legion Post 254 and manager Jim Haaff.
Woolems expects to gain five freshmen at Northeast Dubois in 2023.
His varsity assistant is Ian Denu, a U.S. Marines veteran who has helped Woolems coach at the youth level. Harold Bleemal is head junior varsity coach and Andrew Matheis is his assistant.
The fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period saw five or six players participate in twice-a-week activities with many others in fall sports.
“We try to make the most of it and get them as many defensive and offensive reps as possible,” says Woolems of the players that did practice. “It was very individual-based.”
Pitchers tossed bullpens and were throwing live to hitters by the end of the period.
Northeast Dubois plays on-campus on the field known as “The Hill.”
“It’s very nice and something the community is very proud of,” says Woolems. “The kids take very good care of it.”
Junior high baseball is popular in the area around Northeast Dubois.
The Jeeps field a team of seventh and eighth graders (and sometimes sixth graders). The spring schedule parallels the varsity season.
“It’s been a focus on mine,” says Woolems. “Junior high baseball is so important. It’s critical for our program.”
Players get to wear nice uniforms and get what they need to succeed.
“We want to make sure those kids are having a positive experience,” says Woolems. “We want to make them able to compete.”
The coach also serves on the board of Northeast Dubois Little League (which changed from Little League to United States Speciality Sports Association affiliation after the 2022 season) which has teams from T-ball through age 12. Eighty players participated in the fall league.
Luke and Emily Woolems have two children — son Tucker (11) and daughter Brynley (8). Tucker is a batboy for the Jeeps.

Northeast Dubois Junior/Senior High School head baseball coach Luke Woolems (21) greets Jasper’s Terry Gobert (23) and umpires at home plate.
Head coach Luke Woolems and the 2022 Northeast Dubois Jeeps baseball with the new scoreboard.
The Northeast Dubois Junior/Senior High School baseball team plays on “The Hill” in Dubois, Ind.
Colton Pieper (Northeast Dubois Class of 2022).
Reece Bauer (Northeast Dubois Class of 2020)
Ty Kalb (Northeast Dubois Class of 2023)

Kolks follows Behlmer as second baseball head coach in Oldenburg Academy history

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

Patrick Kolks has given more than a third of his 31 years to Oldenburg (Ind.) Academy baseball and now he’s in charge of the Twisters.
Kolks, who was athletic director at his alma mater the past three years, was recently named as head baseball coach and facilities specialist.
A 2010 OA graduate, Kolks played four years for the man who founded the program and led it for 21 years — Doug Behlmer, who won 226 games and five sectional titles as Twisters head coach (2003, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2021) after he aided Jeff Greiwe in coaching Milan to the IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up finish in 1999.
“He has had multiple players at the next level and a lot of them come back (to visit Oldenburg),” says Kolks. “We want to keep OA baseball on the map like it’s been for the last 20 years thanks to him.
“It was pretty impressive (the building the Oldenburg team that started out with no seniors). We competed every year when I played. We finally got over the hump and beat Jac-Cen-Del in the sectional.”
For two summers, Kolks played for the Behlmer-managed Batesville American Legion Post 271 team.
So far Kolks’ first baseball staff includes 2015 OA graduate Tyler Hogg as pitching coach as well as Behlmer.
“He’s not ready to give up baseball all together,” says Kolks, who joined Behlmer’s staff in 2015 after graduating from Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Ky., in 2014. He was a lefty-swinging catcher for the NAIA-member Saints.
OA alum Matt Bohman stepped away from the Twisters coaching staff to tend to his growing family.
Kolks says he hopes to have seven or eight not playing a fall sport at Oldenburg to come to activities during the IHSAA Limited Contact Period Aug. 29-Oct. 15.
“It’s great,” says Kolks. “I can start building that culture.”
Some players are involved in a fall baseball league.
Two members of the Class of 2023 — Cy Muckerheide and Jacob Stenger — have shown interest in pursuing college baseball.
Kolks notes that the 2021 senior class — which includes Hanover (Ind.) College baseball players Chris Hautman and Andrew Oesterling — never missed a beat going from sophomores in 2019, deprived of a 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic and then winning the school’s first sectional title in 11 years.
As facilities specialist, Kolks is responsible for all athletic facilities and some cleaning. There are upgrades planned or underway for the private Catholic high school’s gym as well as the softball and soccer fields. Land is being sought for expansion.
The Twisters share a baseball diamond at Liberty Park in Batesville, Ind., with Batesville High School and also practices at The Plex in Batesville. The park and training facility are about seven miles from campus.
With Behlmer working a day job in Batesville, the Twisters often did not practice until 5:30 p.m. This gave players a chance to experience a gameday routine, catch up on studies and form relationships with younger teammates by giving them rides to the field.
Oldenburg Academy (enrollment around 170) is independent for athletics.
The Twisters were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2022 with Hauser, Jac-Cen-Del, Rising Sun and Trinity Lutheran.
Born in Cincinnati, Kolks grew up in Brookville, Ind., playing in the Cal Ripken League there and representing Franklin County in all-star tournaments.
He attended St. Michael Catholic School in Brookville through eighth grade and then went to Oldenburg Academy.
Patrick and wife Emily Kolks married in July 2016 and reside in Lawrencburg, Ind., which is about 30 miles from Oldenburg Academy.
The couple met at college. She is the sister of Thomas More teammate Sam Schmeltzer (who was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-state third baseman for South Dearborn and an IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series player in 2007).
“She loves baseball,” says Patrick of Emily. “She knows what it’s going to entail.”
The Kolks are weekend season ticket holders for the Cincinnati Reds.
Patrick is also an avid University of Texas fan. He and Emily visited the campus for his 30th birthday. He appreciates the impact made on and off the field by former Longhorns head baseball coach Augie Garrido.

Patrick Kolks.
Emily and Patrick Kolks with the 2021 sectional baseball trophy earned by Oldenburg (Ind.) Academy.
Patrick and Emily Kolks at the University of Texas.
Patrick Kolks as an Oldenburg (Ind.) Academy player.
Matthew Bohman, Patrick Kolks and Trevor Stacy with the 2010 sectional baseball trophy won by Oldenburg (Ind.) Academy.

Family comes first for North Miami baseball’s Floor

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

Shannon Floor has been coaching baseball for more than three decades.
He began in the Wabash (Ind.) Little League and Junior/Senior League and later led travel teams with the Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers and seventh and eighth graders at North Miami Middle/High School in Denver, Ind.
He was asked to join the varsity coaching staff and 2021 was his first season as Warriors head coach.
Floor credits three men for getting him to where he’s at as a coach — Carl Pace, Mark Delagarza and Troy Hudson.
“They’ve been tremendous mentors to me,” says Floor.
Pace, who is now head softball coach at Southwood Junior-Senior High School in Wabash, led Little League teams with Floor as his assistant.
Delagarza is the founder of the Summit City Sluggers and has run the organization since 1996. He counts Floor as a 17U head coach.
Hudson, the North Miami athletic director, ran the Warriors baseball program and brought Floor on board when Hudson moved up from assistant to head coach for 2017.
The 2022 season will be Floor’s fifth at North Miami. In 2018, he guided middle schoolers in the spring and then took players into Babe Ruth ball in the summer and finished as state runner-up to New Castle and placed fourth at the Ohio Valley Regional in West Virginia.
The following spring (2019), North Miami won its first-ever IHSAA sectional championship, besting West Central, Caston and Northfield to win the Class 1A tournament at Caston.
Hudson stepped down after what would have been the 2020 season (canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and Floor was installed as head coach.
Floor holds three things dear while guiding his team.
“No. 1 is family,” says Floor, himself a married man with three ball-playing three sons. “No. 2 is team fundamentals and development. We want to rely on each other and make each other accountable. We also want to be succeeding in academics.
“Then we work on playing good ball on the field.”
North Miami had just over 20 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in 2021.
“We could have 28 to 30 (for 2022) if everything holds up,” says Floor. “(Winning) has spring-loaded our program. It’s the first time the excitement has been at that level and the numbers started growing.
“We want to keep going in that direction.”
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period went from Aug. 30-Oct. 16 and the Warriors took full advantage of it.
“We had a very good turnout,” says Floor. “We averaged 16 to 18 guys (in twice-weekly two-hour sessions) — about triple from last year.”
Since North Miami is a small school with many fall athletes, one of the sessions was held on Saturday afternoons so it did not interrupt football activities.
North Miami (enrollment around 290) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).
Based on the IHSAA Portal, Maconquah and Peru are the largest TRC schools with around 660 students reach, followed by Tippecanoe Valley (around 570), Rochester (around 510), Manchester (around 500), Wabash (around 470) and Whitko (around 450). Below North Miami are Northfield (around 275) and Southwood (around 230).
“For a 1A school it’s one of the tougher conferences,” says Floor.
In 2021, the Warriors were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North White, Northfield, Pioneer, Southwood and West Central.
Warrior Field — on the North Miami campus — has received upgrades in recent years, including new layers of soil. Last year, a nine-inning scoreboard and flagpole was installed. This year warning tracks, dugouts and bullpens are getting facelifts.
The setting includes pine trees circling much of the outfield.
“Its come a long way,” says Floor. “It is one of the most beautiful fields you can play on.”
Floor’s assistants are Peru graduate Josh Donathan and North Miami alums Pat Masters and Chad Wright. Masters is a senior at Manchester University. Wright lead the JV Warriors.
Besides the middle school teams, North Miami Youth League, a Town & Country Baseball-sanctioned organization in Denver, feeds the high school.
The diamond is in Floor’s blood.
“My entire family has been a baseball family,” says Floor, a 1988 graduate of Manchester High School in North Manchester, Ind.
While he did not play the game in high school, Shannon did suit up until 16 and began coaching at 20.
Shannon (51) is the oldest of three sons born to Gene (now deceased) and Rita (now known as Rita Slater and living in North Manchester) and is six year older than Shawn and eight older than Shane.
Shawn Floor, who coached with Shannon, has two boys who played at Wabash High School and the next level — Jordan Floor at Jackson (Mich.) College and Trevor Floor at Indiana Wesleyan University.
Shane Floor played, but has not done much coaching. He has girls who are not into sports.
For as long as he’s coached baseball, Shannon Floor has been a cattle farmer — the last 15 years with his own farm.
Shannon and wife Amy have been married of 17 years. Their sons are junior Kolton (17), eighth grader Karter (14) and fifth grader Keaton (10). Kolton Floor has been with the Summit City Sluggers since 8. The other two play baseball and other sports.

The scoreboard and flagpole at scenic Warrior Field at North Miami Middle/High School in Denver, Ind.
Assistant coach Pat Masters, senior Tyler Bauer, head coach Shannon Floor, senior Alex Masters and assistant coach Josh Donathan at the 2021 North Miami Middle/High School baseball awards program.

Smith makes throwing strikes a priority for ’22 Edinburgh Lancers

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

Dennis Smith has been head baseball coach at Edinburgh (Ind.) High School since the 2019.
He already knows a point of emphasis for 2022.
“Pitching,” says Smith. “Last year we won one game. In 17 gams, we had 148 walks.
“Throwing strikes will be crucial this (coming) year.”
Three pitchers — seniors Ian Buchanan and Riley Palmer and sophomore Gabe Bennett — return. Senior Travis Jones and junior Max Blanford are also expected to get a turn on the mound.
The 2021-22 school year is the first where Edinburgh athletes are allowed to participate in two sports during the game season. Smith says Blanford will split his time between golf and baseball.
Smith, who teaches eighth grade math at Edinburgh, was a Lancers assistant on the staff of Cole Zook in 2013-14 and helped Jason Burke one season prior to taking over the program.
A 2003 Edinburgh graduate, middle infielder Smith played for head coach Todd Tatlock as a senior and was a teammate of current Southwestern of Shelbyville coach Chris Ingels (Edinburgh Class of 2002).
“I still pick his brain,” says Smith of Tatlock, an Edinburgh alum who was an All-American at Indiana State University. “I still call him or get with him when I can.”
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. Smith says Edinburgh does not plan to start baseball activities until January.
“I can’t (practice in the fall),” says Smith, who works at a school with an enrollment around 235 and plenty of baseball players involved in fall sports. “We’ve got to share your kids as much as possible.”
Smith says he expects a few players to find the time to play in a Sunday fall baseball league in Columbus.
A feeder for the high school program is the Edinburgh Park and Recreation/Babe Ruth League.
Edinburgh is a member of the Mid-Hoosier Conference (with Hauser, Morristown, North Decatur, South Decatur, Southwestern of Shelbyville and Waldron).
In 2021, the Lancers were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Lutheran, Morristown, Southwestern of Shelbyville and Waldron. Edinburgh has won four sectional titles — the last in 2017.
Lancer Field at Steve Hollenbeck Sports Complex is the home diamond for Edinburgh baseball.
Plans call for a new mound to be installed next week.
“We hope to put in four new loads of dirt in the infield,” says Smith.
Chris Hoffman and Coltan Henderson are assistant coaches. Smith says another may be added to the staff.
Dennis and wife Hannah have three children — daughters Reese (9) and Reagan (6) and son Ryan (who turns 2 in November).
When he’s not teaching or coaching, Dennis likes to compete in bass fishing tournaments.

Dennis Smith and the Edinburgh (Ind.) High School Lancers.
The Smith family (clockwise from upper left): Hannah, Ryan, Dennis, Reese and Reagan.

Dowler sees first Union City team win sectional title

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Dowler may be a “rookie” as first-year head coach of the Union City (Ind.) Community Junior-Senior High School baseball team.

But his relationship with many Union City players goes back to when they were little boys.

Freshmen Owen Dowler (Jason’s son), Zack Fulk and Corbin Richards and sophomore Jude Connor all played together on Dylan’s Dawgs — a team named in honor of Dylan Williams who was killed during an 8U all-star practice in 2013. Owen Dowler was Dylan’s rec ball teammate.

Dylan Williams would have been a sophomore in 2021.

Having coached and observed them for years, Jason Dowler knew those younger players very well.

“My job was to figure everybody else out,” says Dowler, who saw the Indians win the IHSAA Class 1A Seton Catholic Sectional and punch their ticket to the Carroll (Flora) Regional on Saturday, June 5.

In winning the program’s third sectional title — and first since 2018 — Union City bested Tri, Seton Catholic and Blue River Valley by a combined 27-0 at Don McBride Stadium in Richmond.

Senior Hunter Reagan started on the mound and Owen Dowler finished against Tri. The Seton Catholic game began Friday and was postponed to Saturday because of rain. Sophomore Camden LaFuze started it Friday and Reagan finished it Saturday.

The postponement also meant that Seton, which beat Randolph Southern with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District H Player of the Year and Miami (Ohio) University commit Luke Leverton, was able to go back to the hard-throwing right-hander at the beginning of Saturday’s game. 

As Leverton left the mound after three innings, Union City was up 1-0. When Leverton came to the plate in a key spot late in the game, Dowler had him intentionally walked and UC went on to a 5-0 triumph and the sectional championship game on Monday, which was pitched by LaFuze. The Indians blanked Blue River Valley 6-0.

“We’ve been dominant on the mound and our defense is playing very well right now,” says Dowler. “A lot of games we lost we beat ourselves (with errors and too many walks by the pitching staff).”

The Indians were 2-7 in the nine games heading into the tournament.

Dowler says there was a team meeting that turned things around.

“We said we can beat ourselves or start playing some good Indian baseball,” says Dowler. “It’s a very simple sport. We as players and coaches overthink it.

“We can make it difficult or we can make it easy on ourselves. We’ve tried to work smarter and not harder.”

Union City has operated by a motto: “Just compete, man.”

“If we lose, we lose,” says Dowler. “But we’re not going to beat ourselves.

“Go out there and compete and have fun.”

Dowler insists that his pitchers throw strikes and let their defense have the opportunity to get outs. 

Above all, he wants them to be bold.

“You are going to make errors and you are going to strike out,” says Dowler. “Baseball is a mindset. You have to be confident.”

There are 10 active players on the youthful Union City team. The starting lineup features freshmen Owen Dowler (first base), Fulk (second base) and Richards (catcher) and sophomores Connor (third base) and LaFuze (pitcher).

“It’s challenging mentally for these kids to walk up to a baseball field and other team is sporting 17 to 19 kids and we walk up with just enough to play,” says Dowler. “But we have a different mindset. We don’t let that effect us. It’s not your dream, but you deal with what you’ve got.”

Union City (10-13) takes on Cowan (13-13) at 10 a.m. Saturday. A win sends them into the 8 p.m. championship game against the winner of Riverton Parke (21-9) vs. Clinton Central (16-11). 

A wrinkle for the Indians is that graduation is at 3 p.m., so they would make the 2 1/2-hour trip each way from Flora to Union City and back — something that happened in 2018.

Union City (located on the Indiana-Ohio line with an enrollment around 240) is a member of the Tri-Eastern Conference (with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union County and Winchester).

With the latest trophy-taking, Union City has won three sectional titles. The previous championships came in 2012 and 2018.

Home games are played on the Union City campus. This year the team sold soap to raise funds to upgrade the facility.

Dowler says he wants to get the local Pony League thriving again.

“To be successful you have to have a feeder program,” says Dowler.

His assistant coaches at the high school are Rick Lacy, Kevin Lehman and Jacob Fulk. Lacy has been around Union City for about four decades in various capacities. Lehman keeps the scorebook for the Indians and was on South Adams’ state runner-up team in 1972. Fulk, the older brother of Zack, was on the 2018 sectional championship team and played one season and the University of Northwestern Ohio. He is Dowler’s pitching coach.

Dowler played soccer at Union City and graduated in 1998. He owns his own heating and cooling business in town — Comfort Systems.

Jason and wife Amy Dowler have two children — Kahlee and Owen. Jason coached daughter Kahlee in softball and transitioned to baseball with son Owen. Kahlee Dowler, who will be a senior at Ball State University in the fall, was a three-sport athlete at Union City — cross country, basketball and softball. She was a junior on the Class 1A state runner-up girls basketball squad in 2017.

Union City won the 2021 IHSAA Class 1A Seton Catholic Sectional baseball title. At far right in the back row is first-year coach Jason Dowler.
Head coach Jason Dowler (far right in back row) and his Union City (Ind.) Indians. The team is 10-13 as it heads to the June 5 IHSAA Class 1A Carroll (Flora) Regional.
The Union City (Ind.) Indians gather around the IHSAA Class 1A Seton Catholic Sectional baseball trophy they earned in 2021.

Conwell stays positive with his Cowan Blackhawks baseballers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a game filled with moments of failure.

Even the very best players and teams will inevitably have plays or games that don’t go their way.

Ryan Conwell chooses not to dwell on the negatives.

The Cowan High School head baseball coach always looks for the silver lining.

“I’m constantly trying to stay positive — no matter what,” says Conwell, who was hired in the fall of 2014 and heads into his fourth season of leading the Blackhawks program in 2018. “Baseball is such a mental sport. Kids get down on themselves enough. They don’t need me mashing it into their heads as well.

“If you fail 7 out of 10 times at the plate, you’re doing well. We have to find something good out of every at-bat and find what we can do better the next time.”

Conwell is a 2002 graduate of Wapahani High School, where he played four baseball seasons — three on varsity — for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley. After graduation, Conwell coached junior high baseball for the Raiders for seven years.

By observing Dudley, Conwell saw the importance of fundamentals and mental toughness.

“We did a lot of reps of everything,” says Conwell. “Almost every practice there was a drill that focused on the mental part of the game, not just the physical part.”

One drill called for nine players to start in the dugout and sprint to nine different positions on the field then spring back to the dugout. Then players had to quickly figure out the next position they would take and then run there. The object was for everyone eventually being at all nine positions.

If two players ever landed at the same place, the mental toughness/communication drill would start over from the beginning.

There was always a lot of work on defensive situations.

What might happen next?

Where does the throw go if the ball is hit to me?

“(Dudley) also insisted that every player on the field needed to be moving on every play,” says Conwell.

After his time with Wapahani, Conwell moved across Delaware County to Delta High School for four seasons — two as a junior varsity coach and two as a varsity assistant on the staff of Terry Summers.

“He went a lot more into the details of the game,” says Conwell of Summers. “He wanted to make sure things were covered. It could be something as small as the wheel play or certain pick-off moves. We worked a lot on situational hitting.”

Conwell has taken what he’s learned about the game and molded it into his own style, which focuses on positivity and fundamentals.

“We do some team building exercises early in the year,” says Conwell. “We frequently stop during a practice to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“Several players play multiple positions. My whole infield can be different depending on who’s pitching that day.”

At a Class 1A school with an enrollment around 230, the Blackhawks have not fielded a JV team since Conwell has been in charge. He is hoping that might change this spring and get his younger players some more playing experience.

“I have a really good incoming freshmen class,” says Conwell. “I think I’ll have eight or nine freshmen. We could have 20-22 kids total.”

The Blackhawks had 18 players in 2015 (including Luke Miller, who is now on the Indiana University team) and 16 in both 2016 and 2017.

Feeding the program is the emergence of a junior high team in 2017. Playing on the varsity field from late May to early July, a combined squad of seventh and eighth graders is expected to play again in 2018 in the Eastern Central Indiana Junior High Baseball League. It’s a circuit that has been headed up by Wapahani’s Jason Dudley.

Cowan plays its games on-campus.

“Every year, we try to do something (to the facility),” says Conwell. “Money is always an issue.”

In Conwell’s second season, a four-foot fence was put up in front of the dugouts. It enlarges the bench area and brings players a little closer to the action.

Re-surfacing of the infield is on the wish list for after the 2018 season.

The Blackhawks play in the 10-team Mid-Eastern Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del). Eastern Hancock and Shenandoah joined the MEC in 2017-18.

Conwell also likes to get many of the traditionally-competitive 1A and 2A teams in the area on his non-conference schedule, including Seton Catholic and Union City in 1A, Burris, Centerville, Eastbrook, Hagerstown, Lapel, Northeastern and Winchester in 2A. Cowan is also slated to play 3A schools Delta and Mississinewa.

The Blackhawks are grouped in a 1A sectional with Anderson Prep Academy, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. In the future, Conwell would like to get more sectional opponents on Cowan’s regular-season schedule.

Not currently in the classroom, Conwell is taking online classes from Western Governors University toward a teaching certificate. Away from coaching, he works I work LifeTouch, a senior portraits lab in Muncie. Ryan and Katlyn Conwell have a daughter named Kinley. She was born in April of 2016 — in the midst of her daddy’s second season at Cowan.

Former Blackhawks baseball player Justin O’Conner is a minor league free agent who began his pro career right after the catcher was selected in the first round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

COWANBLACKHAWKS

RYANCONWELL

Ryan Conwell, who heads into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Cowan High School in 2018, shares a moment with wife Katlyn and daughter Kinley (born in April 2016).