Tag Archives: IHSAA State runner-up

Traina building team chemistry with Merrillville Pirates

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

Joe Traina has three main points of emphasis as the new head baseball coach at alma mater Merrillville (Ind.) High School — commitment, playing together and team chemistry.
“We’re making sure we’re there everyday,” says Traina, who was born in Merrillville, graduated from MHS in 2013 and has been teaching and coaching in the school system since 2017-18. “We were not weightlifting and conditioning very much. We have a strength and conditioning coach at Merrillville now (Brady Willard) so they can lift even when I’m not around.”
There is a text group chat that keeps the team communicating and Traina emphasizes staying in constant touch with parents.
Team chemistry is built through activities that require athletes coordinating to accomplish a goal.
Paul Wirtz was Pirates head coach when Traina joined the staff. Wirtz instituted “Animal Kingdom” workouts where there were stations for throwing, baserunning, conditioning etc., and teamwork was necessary.
Traina has had his athletes doing the same.
“They have to work step by step together to accomplish the goal,” says Traina. “That’s going make us a much stronger team.”
Merrillville (enrollment around 2,100) is a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference (with Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso).
The Pirates are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side, Hammond Central, Hammond Morton, Hobart, Lake Central and Munster. Merrillville has won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2001. The Pirates were state runner-up in 1996.
Traina, who has taught at Merrillville Intermediate, Clifford Pierce Middle School and now Biology for freshmen at Merrillville High, was a junior varsity assistant to Connor Buxton then a varsity assistant when Buxton became head coach at Merrillville.
When Buxton stepped away Traina became head coach over the summer.
“It’s been a career goal to be the head of a program,” says Traina, 28. “I want to turn things around.”
The Pirates went 8-15 overall and 3-9 in the DAC in 2022.
Traina’s coaching staff counts Jose Carbajol as varsity assistant, Terrance Grayson as JV head coach and Juan Maldonado as JV assistant.
Merrillville started middle school baseball workouts at Bill Metcalf Field in July and games were played in the fall with Traina as head coach. High school players helped out.
“They were like bench coaches,” says Traina.
The first game was at Hanover Central, where Wirtz was serving as middle school coach.
Traina says the plan is for middle school baseball to continue as a fall sport.
Noting that Merrillville Little League no longer exists, Traina wants to work his way down the youth baseball ladder while building a feeder system for his program.
“We want to make sure kids have the opportunity to be exposed to the sport and get better,” says Traina. “We want to put a stop to getting pushed further behind (in development).”
Traina expects to have a young squad in 2023 with freshmen on the varsity.
Among the older players with college baseball aspirations are seniors Colin Early and Robert Richardson, who played both play varsity as freshmen, and junior Josh Magallon.
Pirates moving on to the college diamond since Traina has been coaching include Class of 2018’s Max Govert (Indiana University South Bend), Class of 2019’s Maldonado (Indiana Tech), Brandon Lucero (Earlham College) and Sven Strom (Saint Xavier University) and Class of 2021’s Dylan Coty (junior college).
Traina’s summer maintenance job includes taking care of the baseball field, where recent projects have included fixing the bullpens, adding dirt to mounds, turf to plate areas and dugout racks.
Traina played at Merrillville for Mark Schellinger.
“He’s one of the my favorite teachers and coaches,” says Traina of Schellinger. “When I got this job he reached out to offer any help I need. That meant a lot coming from a guy who had my back for four years here.”
He played at Merrillville Little League then travel ball for the Dave Griffin-led Indiana Playmakers then an Indianapolis-based team called the Indiana Irish. His parents — Frank Sr., and Michele — saw that he was shuttled two hours to Indy every week so he could have a new baseball experience and meet new people.
“I can’t thank them enough,” says Joe, the youngest of three children.
Frank Traina Sr., is retired from Siemens as an electronic engineer. Michele Traina is a school nurse secretary.
Ashley (Traina) Kendera (Merrillville Class of 2006) played softball for the Pirates, graduated from Ball State and now works as a page designer for The Times of Northwest Indiana. Her husband, Jason Kendera, is a former Merrillville girls soccer coach.
Frank Traina Jr., (Merrillville Class of 2010) played soccer and was a baseball manager for the Pirates during the Schellinger era. He now works as a bank teller.
After high school, Joe Traina went to Ball State University where he was a Sport Administration major and Coaching minor.
“I always wanted to go down the athletic director route,” says Traina, who got transition to teaching credentials through Calumet College of Saint Joseph. “Once I was in the classroom I decided to stick with teaching.”
He is also the head eighth grade boys basketball coach at Clifford Pierce.

Joe Traina. (Merrillville High School Photo)

Weybright sees Hall of Fame honor as reflection of Norwell community

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

Kelby Weybright is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The organization voted Weybright in as part of the 2023 class (players Drew Storen and Jeff Samardzija and veterans committee selections Lenny “Lefty” Johnston and Wayne Johnson are the others) and he will be recognized at a banquet held during the IHSBCA State Clinic. The dinner is slated for 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13 at the Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis.
Weybright coached baseball at Norwell High School near Ossian, Ind., for 17 seasons — the last 11 as head coach. On his watch, the Knights went 243-93 with two conference, seven sectional, four regional and two semistate titles to go with two IHSAA Class 3A state championships (2003 and 2007) and one 3A state runner-up finish (2006). The 2007 team went 35-0.
“It’s an award that truly represents the commitment and efforts of a lot of people in our community who gave of their time and talents to give kids an opportunity to learn and play the game of baseball and to play it at a high level,” says Weybright. “(It reflects) the kids who worked their tails off, coaches who gave of their time and talents, our community who supported those teams and our school who stood behind us.
“I was fortunate enough to be the person who had the title of head coach.”
Fundamental soundness was a priority for Weybright.
“There were fundamental drills we did every single day. I’m sure kids got tired of seeing it.
“Our practices were detailed down to the minute with what we were doing.”
Success could be achieved if Norwell had strong pitching, made the “everyday” play and won as many innings as possible.
“Whatever we were doing it was nine guys working as one as much as possible,” says Weybright. “I loved to look out at the baseball diamond and see a play happen and all nine guys moving in rhythm and going where they’re supposed to be.
“It’s like a symphony playing.”
Bunting and running were major parts of the Knights’ game.
So was hustle.
Many were the times when players went first to third or two players scored on a suicide squeeze bunt.
“We tried to play like our rear ends were on fire,” says Weybright. “I wanted guys who played the game hard. I wanted guys who competed. When we went on the field or came off the field it was at a dead run.
“We want to come out and have a great pregame. We wanted to be fast and crisp. We wanted the people in the other dugout to go, ‘Mmm, dang, we’re going to struggle today.’
“Those are the kinds of things our kids bought into. When you see team play that hard it carries over to different aspects of the game.”
His teams were well-conditioned, frequently coming in for 6 a.m. Saturday workouts during the winter.
But beyond baseball it was about getting teenagers ready to be fathers and productive members of the community.
“We’re proud of watching these guys grow and become the men they are,” says Weybright.
After the 2012 Norwell season, Weybright stepped away from his head coach post to guide his sons in travel ball and tend to his school responsibilities. After years as assistant principal and dean of students, Kelby was named Norwell’s athletic director in 2017. Those duties keep him busy though he does help out with the baseball program when time allows.
When the Knights advanced to semistate a couple of years ago he found time to work with the infielders.
He trades videos and ideas with current Norwell head coach Dave Goodmiller.
“I still try to stay involved,” says Weybright, 52.
Kelby and wife of 25 years, Lisa, have three children — Garrett (23), Jacob (21) and Maria (19).
Garrett Weybright (Norwell Class of 2018) and Jacob Weybright (Class of 2020) both played baseball in high school. Maria Weybright (Class of 2021) was a four-year varsity cheerleader at Norwell.
Kelby was born in Wooster, Mass., to Garry and Linda Weybright (who now live in Elkhart County) and moved to Indiana around age 5. Brother Teague Weybright is one year younger than Kelby.
A 1988 graduate of North White Middle/High School in Monon, Ind., Before graduating from Indiana University, Kelby played three baseball seasons at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill.
“It’s about an hour from Busch Stadium (in St. Louis),” says Weybright. “When I was in college you could actually buy outfield seats for five bucks.”
Growing up as a big Gary Carter fan, Weybright cheered for the Montreal Expos or New York Mets. Listening to Jack Buck on the radio or attending game changed his favorite team in college.
“I’m a diehard (St. Louis Cardinals) fan,” says Weybright. “I live and die by the Redbirds right now.”
For questions about Hall of Fame banquet reservations, program advertisements or events leading up to the ceremony, contact Hall of Fame chairman Jeff McKeon at 317-445-9899.
Banquet tickets can be purchased at https://www.cognitoforms.com/Baseball3%20_2023IHSBCAStateClinic and can be picked up from Jeff on the night of the banquet at the registration table. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

Kelby Weybright. (Norwell High School Photo)

IHSBCA Hall of Fame to induct Weybright, Storen, Samardzija, Johnston, Johnson in ’23

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

Coach Kelby Weybright, players Drew Storen and Jeff Samarzija and veterans committee selections Lenny “Lefty” Johnston and Wayne Johnson make up the 2023 induction class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Weybright is a graduate of North White High School. Following graduation, he attended and played baseball for three years at Blackburn College before earning his bachelor degree from Indiana University.
Following one season as an assistant at North White, Weybright spent six seasons as an assistant and 11 seasons as the head coach at Norwell High School where he compiled a record of 243-93 with two NHC, seven sectional, four regional and two semistate titles with an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2006 and 3A state championships in 2003 and 2007 before retiring in 2012 to coach his sons in travel baseball.
The 2007 team went 35-0 and finished ranked 10th nationally (Collegiate Baseball/Easton Sports). The 2006 and 2007 squads went a combined 64-2.
Weybright coached 22 players that played collegiately with six IHSBCA North All-Stars and four Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections.
Two NHC Coach of the Year honors (2006 and 2007) came Weybright’s way as well as two IHSBCA Coach of the Year awards (2003 and 2007).
He was recognized as a National High School Baseball Coaches Association District and National Coach of the Year in 2007.
Weybright is currently athletic director at Norwell and continues to work with the baseball program during its summer development period and occasionally during the season as time permits.

Storen is a 2007 graduate of Brownsburg High School.
As a freshman, he was the No. 2 pitcher (3-0, 1.17 earned run average) behind Lance Lynn on the eventual 2004 state runner-up.
As a sophomore, right-hander Storen went 9-0 with 86 strikeouts in 57 innings and helped the Bulldogs to go 35-0 and win the 2005 state championship while earning a No. 2 ranking in the country from Baseball America.
The Indianapolis Star called that team, “The greatest high school team in Indiana history.”
For his career, Storen finished 28-2 with 270 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.61. At the plate, he hit .400 with 16 home runs.
He was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2007, but attended Stanford University.
In two seasons with the Cardinal, he was named to three Freshman All-American teams and was twice chosen first team All-Pac 12. He got the win in Game 1 of the 2008 College World Series.
Storen led Stanford as a sophomore in saves, wins and appearances and was named team MVP for 2009.
He finished his collegiate career with a 12-4 record, 26 saves, 59 appearances and a 3.84 ERA.
As a draft-eligible sophomore, Storen was taken by the Washington Nationals as the 10th overall pick of the 2009 MLB Draft.
In eight seasons with the Nationals, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds, he went 29-18 with 99 saves, a 3.45 ERA and 417 strikeouts. He made six postseason appearances for Washington in 2012 and 2014 with one win and one save.
Drew and his wife Brittani currently reside in Carmel and have two boys — Jace (6) and Pierce (2).

Samardzija is a 2003 Valparaiso High School graduate is considered one of the best athletes in Indiana history.
By his senior year, he was recognized as one of the state’s best football players and was the runner-up for the Indiana Mr. Football award. Samardzija was a three-time all-state player and was selected to the Indiana All-Star team.
In baseball, he was a runner-up for the Mr. Baseball award as a senior, a three-year varsity letterman and an All-State honoree as a center fielder. He hit .375 with five home runs and 37 runs batted in as a junior and .481 with eight homers and 50 RBIs as a senior.
As one of the nation’s top football recruits, he chose Notre Dame where he was also invited to pitch for the baseball team.
Samardzija was a two-time All American wide receiver, a two-time All-American pitcher and a two-time runner up for the Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s best receiver.
Despite his football skills and the likelihood of being drafted as a first-round pick in the National Football League, Samardzija opted to play professional baseball after pitching for the Irish for three seasons.
The right-hander was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB Draft. He made his MLB debut for the Cubs in July 2008 and went on to pitch 13 full seasons.
In addition to the Cubs, Samardzija pitched for the Oakland Athletics (2014), Chicago White Sox (2015) and San Francisco Giants (2016-2020). He was named an All-Star in 2014.
Jeff and older brother Sam represent a rare achievement in VHS history with each being selected as All-State performers in both football and baseball.

Johnston graduated from Western Michigan University and was a minor league outfielder from 1952-67.
He played for the Indianapolis Indians from 1960-1966 and played in the
Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Senators organizations.
He was a career .286 hitter and had 525 stolen bases. He led his league in stolen bases six straight years (1953-58). He paced the International League in 1956 with 182.
Johnston was a minor league manager for nine years and was the with the Bluefield Orioles in the Appalachian League and the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., in an administrative role.
In 2020, he was inducted into the Appalachian League Hall of Fame. Johnston served as a scout, scouting supervisor, cross-checker and minor league coordinator roles before retiring in 2019. He currently resides in Nashville, Tenn.

Wayne Johnson spent 12 years as a varsity assistant to Greg Silver at Mooresville before spending two stints as the head coach at Brownsburg High School.
At the helm of the Bulldog program, he compiled 278 wins over 15 years.
During his first stint from (1987-2000), Johnson-led teams took home sectional championships in 1988, 1992, 1995 and 1996. The Bulldogs were also regional champions in 1996.
Then on short notice, Johnson was asked to return to coach Brownsburg in 2011 and won another sectional title.
While Johnson’s victories and championships are impressive, his contributions to Brownsburg baseball far exceed his won/loss record.
The 1990 Central Suburban Athletic Conference Coach of the Year was instrumental in the construction of Brownsburg’s home baseball field — Mary Beth Rose Park.
Johnson partnered with countless members of the community to design and build the stadium and it has served to host over a 1,000 games since the spring of 1988.
Rose Park is still considered a premier location to play baseball in Indiana.
Johnson was a big supporter of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame and it fundraising efforts.
He also owned a business, Johnson Sports Collectibles in addition to teaching for 39 years at Mooresville and Brownsburg High Schools. Johnson impacted many lives through the game of baseball and his presence is sorely missed. He is being inducted posthumously as he passed away on Dec. 19, 2018.

Inductees will be honored during the IHSBCA State Clinic. The ceremony is slated for 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, 2023 at Sheraton at Keystone Crossing. The clinic is Jan. 12-14.
For questions about banquet reservations, program advertisements or events leading up to the ceremony, contact Hall of Fame chairman Jeff McKeon at 317-445-9899.
Banquet tickets can be purchased at https://www.cognitoforms.com/Baseball3%20_2023IHSBCAStateClinic and can be picked up from McKeon on the night of the banquet at the registration table. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

2023 IHSBCA Hall of Fame class. (Graphic by Dan Hardy Hill)

Hall of Famer Sherman offers diamond wisdom

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

Don Sherman won more than 600 high school baseball games during his 38 seasons as a head coach, beginning with Tipton and Hamilton Heights.
In 23 seasons at Huntington (Ind.) North, Sherman’s Vikings went 441-211 with 15 sectional championships, three regionals, one semistate and one state runner-up (1993).
His final season was 2001.
“I’m so proud of this,” says Sherman. “It didn’t end. The people are following me. They’re doing the same things.
“We have a community here.”
Sherman still finds himself serving as a substitute teacher nearly every school day and is a regular at Vikings practices and games and often talks baseball with current Huntington North head coach Jarod Hammel.
He even goes to the field solo and plays “fungo golf.”
Sherman, whose 23 is the only number retired for the Huntington North Athletics/Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and a former Tampa Bay associate scout for, loves to share his wisdom about the game.
A few years ago, he crafted a list of “Things kids need to know in order to give them the best chance to make their high school baseball team.”

  • Respect the game.
  • Practice hard because you play the way you practice.
  • It doesn’t take any talent to hustle.
  • Be a student of the game of baseball. Study the history of baseball.
  • Help your team win … whether you play or not.
  • Don’t tell people how good you are, show them.
  • Your parents love you; but, they don’t more than your coach loves baseball.
  • Body language screams. It never whispers.
  • Defense wins more games than offense.
  • Work on your game every day: throwing, hitting, fielding.
  • You don’t have to be a great athlete to be a good baseball player.
  • When you jog to warm up, finish first.
  • When you do a drill, do it perfect every time.
  • Never walk on the baseball field.
  • Maintain the grades that keep you eligible.

Sherman was kind enough to expound on some of these points.
“Respecting the game — that goes back a long way,” says Sherman. “It’s just playing the right way. It’s just how you put your suit on; how you take your infield drills; how you act after your strike out with the bases loaded; how you act after a game you lost versus when you won the game; how you act when you’re 0-for-3 versus 3-for-3 at the plate.
“You put all that together and it’s called respect for the game that was set up by a lot of people in front of us that played it and coached it.
“I can spot disrespect for the game. A kid might not run out a ball or throws hit glove or his bat. Or he gives the third base coach flak who puts on a bunt when he wanted to hit away when the bunt was in-order.”
And there’s more.
“It’s when the game finishes to put away equipment. It’s how you ride the bus. How do you go to South Bend to play a game and what’s your conduct?”
Sherman grew up in central Pennsylvania as a catcher.
“My coach stood right behind me,” says Sherman. “I heard everything he said when he hit infield. I heard every detail, every comment he made.”
After two years of junior college ball in California, Sherman earned two letters (1962 and 1963) at Ball State Teachers College (now Ball State University) in Muncie, Ind., for head coach Ray Louthen.
Sherman talks about “Helping the team win … whether you play or not.”
He recalls a coach telling him how he was impressed with his second- and third-string catchers (Sherman had a starter and two other receivers).
“They accepted their roles,” says Sherman of the backups. “They weren’t going to get in the game, but they did the important part of getting my starters ready.”
Starters — plural — because Sherman took the advice of Ken Schreiber (winner of 1,010 games and seven state titles) about warming up two pitchers before a championship game in case the starter doesn’t have it that day and could lose the contest in the first inning.
“The hardest part of coaching today from what I hear from younger coaches is parents complaining about their kids not playing,” says Sherman. “That’s why it’s important for the kids to buy in early and accept their role. It might be as a late-inning pinch hitter. It might be as a pinch-runner. It might be as a relief pitcher. You might be playing third base when you came up as a right fielder or something like that.
“I’ve found that kids accept their roles better than their parents do. I cut a senior one time. He wasn’t going to get to play. I told him practice was going to be his gameday. We parted amicably. I was honest with him.”
Sherman had some players tell him they came out every year because they “liked being a Viking and being part of the team.”
These kind of players never gave the gave any problems. He never kept a “clubhouse lawyer.”
“The season’s long and those kids in the dugout while you’re coaching third (base) are politicking about ‘why am I not playing’ and that spreads. I could always spot them and I would have a sit-down and ask ‘can you accept your role?’”
Sherman contends “You don’t have to be a great athlete to be a good baseball player.”
“You can have a kid that’s 5-foot-6 who can run a little bit and put him at second base,” says Sherman. “He might lay down that bunt that gets the winning run moved over.
“In so many other sports you’ve got to be a physical specimen. You don’t in baseball.”
While conducting tryout camps for Tampa Bay, Sherman saw a sorts of body types. Oftentimes the best players did not have the best bodies.
Sherman explains where he came up with “When you do a drill, do it perfect every time.”
“You never know who’s watching,” says Sherman. “The pros time you when you come out of the (batter’s) box during batting practice.
“I thought pregame was so important. I copied (Mississippi State coach) Ron Polk’s pregame and had two balls moving at the same time. We’re just getting after it. We go around the horn and turn double plays.”
Sherman had what he called “negatives” more muffs and missed cut-off men.
If there was less than perfection during the drill, the whole team might have a do push-ups or some extra running.
“It’s the old military way,” says Sherman, who saw players begin to hold each other accountable. “They coached each other.”
It’s also on Sherman’s checklist to “Never walk on the baseball field.”
“Kids know that when they get inside that gate, inside that foul line they know to hustle,” says Sherman. “That’s when practice starts.
“You’re going to practice now and the purpose is to get better.”
There also the principle of “Don’t tell people how good you are, show them.”
“Show me with your effort and your skill set rather than what somebody else said about you (in a showcase setting),” says Sherman. “It’s humble being humble. If you wear your emotions on your sleeve, scouts and college coaches will look at that and say you’re a ‘front-runner.’”
To Sherman, “Body language screams. It never whispers.”
“It’s how you conduct yourself,” says Sherman.
There was one game when his best player struck out and threw his bat. The umpire did not eject the player, but Sherman took him out of the game.
“I’ll leave games today if I see that kind of stuff (including a lack of hustle),” says Sherman. “I hate bad baseball.”
The IHSBCA long ago began a tradition of giving on “Dinosaur” T-shirts to those hitting the 20-year mark. Sherman says he has worn out a few of his.
He is proud that he got to coach against and serve with Hall of Famers Dave Alexander, Bill Jones, Jack Massucci, Bill Nixon, Jim Reinebold, Chris Rood, Ken Schreiber, Dick Siler, Chris Stavreti and Jim Turner Sr., and so many others who have made the game what it is today.

Don Sherman. (Steve Krah Photo)
Huntington North was IHSAA baseball state runner-up in 1993.
Huntington North Vikings.

‘Win 7’ battle cry of team-first Huntington North Vikings

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

Toughness.
Resiliency.
Character.
Concentration.
Effort.
Attention to Detail.
Professionalism.
These are the seven winning values — the battle cry — of the baseball program at Huntington (Ind.) North High School.
“Win 7” is emblazoned on social media and apparel.
“We fully believe in the team and we try to remove the individuals and that’s coaches and players,” says Jarod Hammel, who in the second year of a second stint as Vikings head coach (he was an assistant beginning in 2010 and then head coach from 2017-19). “Everything that we do is about the team with the exception of the ‘Win 7’ (year-end award).
“It’s the player who embodied our seven values. It’s not the MVP. We make that clear to the guys and they vote on it.”
It’s those values that can be controlled every game regardless of how the scoreboard reads.
“We may not win all seven innings of every game, but we want to compete that way,” says Hammel. “If we get back on the bus and we feel we won those seven it’s going to be a good bus ride home.”
The “seven” theme does not end there.
“We have seven class periods in a day where we tell our kids you go in and you compete in the classroom as well and you win all seven of your periods,” says Hammel. “There are seven innings in each game. There are eight teams in (the Northeast Eight Conference) so we have to beat seven conference opponents. That’s our mindset. We may or may not, but we want to compete like we will.
“There’s seven games on a typical road to the (IHSAA) State Finals for us out of our bracket.”
Huntington North (enrollment around 1,500) counts Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Leo, New Haven and Norwell as NE8 foes.
The Vikings are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with Columbia City (host), Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead and New Haven. Huntington North has won 20 sectional titles — the last in 2017.
The program has also produced three regional crowns (1982, 1987 and 1993), one semistate championship (1993) and one state runner-up finish (1993).
A celebration of the ’93 team featuring Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association/Huntington North Athletics Hall of Famer Don Sherman during the 2023 season is now in the planning stages.
Hammel logged four baseball seasons (one coached by Chad Daughterty and three by Russ Degitz) and four at Huntington University (coached by Hall of Famer Mike Frame), picking up diplomas in 2006 and 2010.
“I was fortunate to have been a part of Viking baseball my whole life and be a small piece of it,” says Hammel. “I remember most the groups that I played on that served each other and was pulling for each other.
“So we’ve tried to create that and we’ve been fairly successful using the program to impact young men in the community.
To expose youth to Viking baseball and its players one method of outreach is a “home run derby” held on home football nights.
“We just let kids have fun,” says Hammel. “We don’t care if it’s the prettiest swing. We let them use wiffle ball bats and set up a snow fence.”
The recent IHSAA Limited Contact Period saw about 40 players participate with many others occupied with a fall sport.
“I think it’s going to be a competitive year to throw your name in the mix and be part of the program,” says Hammel. “I want to keep as many kids as I can and impact them through the program. We won’t turn any guys away who demonstrate commitment and desire to be involved and make good decisions. With that said, we’re probably going to land around 30 to 35 (players for varsity and junior varsity squads).
“We have a lot of multi-sport guys which I love. At minimum I’m wanting to catch a football practice a week so I can see our guys competing in a Viking jersey.”
Hammel says about 80 percent of those participating in the “Viking Velocity Builder Program” using a timed duration increased their arm strength and speed at the end of about six weeks training.
“We set realistic expectations of we can accomplish baseball-wise,” says Hammel. “Our primary focus was building relationships, especially with our new faces.”
Renovations took Huntington North from two baseball diamonds to one and three teams to two.
Viking Field, which is located on-campus, has new fencing, backstop netting and a brick kick wall as well as new batting cages and bullpens.
A hill in right field has been smoothed out and a tall wall has been installed. It’s 310 feet down the right field line, 345 in the right-center gap, 405 to center, 375 to left-center and 340 down the left field line.
“We’re so excited in some of the things the community has trusted us with,” says Hammel. “A significant amount of money has been donated to our baseball program.
“We have a new football field which is turf and we can work out on as well.
“It’s an exciting time for our guys to be involved. I think that they want to be good stewards of it.”
A former Mathematics teacher at Huntington North, Hammel is now an assistant principal. He has a masters degree from Ball State University and is married with four small children.

The 2022 Huntington (Ind.) North Vikings baseball team.
The 2022 Huntington (Ind.) North Vikings baseball team huddles.
The 2022 Huntington (Ind.) North Vikings baseball team bonds with bowling.
The 2022 Huntington (Ind.) North Vikings baseball team helps with the renovation of Viking Field.

Nuest statistical attachment to Kouts baseball spans half century

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Pafko and Hank Sauer were stars in the Chicago Cubs outfield, South Bend’s Bob Rush was the top pitcher, Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch was the manager and Bert Wilson was the radio play-by-play voice for the North Siders when Keith Nuest started keeping score for baseball games in 1950.

Nuest was 7 and living in Kouts, Ind., which is 12 miles south of Valparaiso in Porter County.

More than seven decades later, the 78-year-old Nuest has scored and tabulated numerous sporting events for the Kouts Middle/High School Mustangs.

This winter was his 53rd season of keeping the book for boys basketball (he has not missed a game in that span and tracked the digits for the IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up in 2020-21) and the 43rd for girls basketball. He compiles stats for basketball, baseball, softball and track and field.

Much of what Earl Mishler has on his high school baseball website — ETPearl.com — came from Nuest.

His interest in the sport and numbers once had Nuest scoring Chicago Bulls and Indiana University games on the radio. 

The 2020 season would have marked his 50th as statistician for Kouts baseball. But he doesn’t count that one since the COVID-19 pandemic took the season, making 2021 the half-century mark for that job.

But it’s not really a job. Nuest has never taken any pay for scoring or coaching baseball and minimal for basketball over the years.

It’s about helping the community and being close to things he enjoys.

“I’ve always had a love of numbers,” says Nuest, a 1961 Kouts graduate who went on to work 39 years in the financial department at Midwest Steel in Portage, retiring at 60. “Math always came easy to me.”

About five years ago, Nuest completed a 40-year run of coaching Kouts in high school summer ball. He ran the area league — which at various times included teams from Culver, Kankakee Valley, Knox, Renselaer Central, Wheeler, Valparaiso and beyond —  for about 25 years, scheduling all the games.

“I always tried to make it fun for the kids,” says Nuest. “Just being around the kids was enjoyable for me. I watched them grow and improve as individuals.”

In the spring, he has worked under 11 head coaches. Don Spoerner was the first. Jim Tucker is now in charge of the Kouts baseball program.

“I really love the game of baseball,” says Nuest. “I love the strategy that goes into it. Anything can happen on any given pitch. 

“People think bas ball is boring and slow. But you never know what’s around the corner.”

As a scorekeeper, Nuest came up with a way of doing it and stayed with it.

What makes it unique?

“I don’t know that there’s any specific thing, but you should be able to read it like a book,” says Nuest. “You should be able to tell  batting average and earned run averages of your team and your opponents.

“It all flows together. It you leave something out it’s like you left out a page.”

This spring, Kouts named its baseball diamond in honor of their longtime contributor.

“It’s a wonderful community,” says Nuest. “I was never a teacher at the school and never an official coach.

“It was kind of an overwhelming honor at the time. I’ve donated hours and hours of work. But I certainly never expected anything like this.”

Nuest was born in Valparaiso and except for a few years in Lake Village when he was in school and two years in Valparaiso when he married second wife Lana, he has resided in Kouts.

Keith and Lana were married 46 years and had a blended family of five. Lana Jeanne (Lawrence) Nuest died Aug. 6, 2020 at 77.

The 2021 Kouts Mustangs head into play today (May 10) at Keith Nuest Field against Covenant Christian (DeMotte) at 11-7. Kouts is in the 1A Washington Township Sectional.

The Kouts (Ind.) Mustangs baseball team plays at Keith Nuest Field. (Steve Krah Photo)
Keith Nuest in a familiar place — the baseball dugout for Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. He counts the 2021 season as his 50th as scorekeeper for the Mustangs. The 1961 Kouts graduate coached summer teams for 25 years. (Steve Krah Photo)

Hatfield asks Center Grove hitters to ‘know your zone’

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With Keith Hatfield calling the shots, the Center Grove Trojans are looking to force the issue on the baseball field.

“I’m really aggressive,” says Hatfield of his coaching style. “That goes for hitting, pitching and base running.

“We don’t work a whole lot of counts (as hitters). We have a philosophy: the first fastball we see in the strike zone, we’re going to be swinging.”

Hatfield, who led CG to IHSAA Class 4A sectional crowns in 2015 and 2016 and is heading into his fifth season at the Johnson County school in 2018, spends a good deal of practice time talking with his players about “knowing your zone.”

“It’s knowing where you have the greatest chance to get a hit,” says Hatfield. “For some guys that might be the shins. For some guys that might be at the belt.”

Approach is dictated by game situation. What’s the score? What’s the count? How many outs? How many runners? What’s the inning?

“Our approach in the second inning a lot different than in the sixth inning (with two outs and a man on base),” says Hatfield. “Early, we’re swinging to drive the guy in. Later, we want to make a productive out if we’re going to make an out.”

Trojan moundsmen are encouraged to go after hitters.

“I’m not a fan of waste pitches,” says Hatfield. “Especially with the whole pitch count thing, a waste pitch is just a notch on the counter.”

Talented Center Grove pitchers have gotten a lot of swings and misses and strikeouts the past two seasons, but the intent is to get the hitter out in two pitches and not rack up a lot of K’s.

“When the defense knows we’re trying to make something happen in two pitches, they are not going fall back on their heels,” says Hatfield.

With runners on base, Hatfield looks to make things happen. While errorless games are not unusual at the professional and college levels, they are in high school.

“A lot of things have to go right in order for a baserunner to be thrown out (by the defense),” says Hatfield. “More times than not we’re going to make the defense make a play.

“We’re not going to wait to have three hits in a row. We’re going to push the envelope and put pressure on the defense.”

Hatfield came to Center Grove after four seasons at Roncalli, where he led the Rebels to an IHSAA Class 4A runner-up finish in 2012 with a 1-0 loss to Lake Central.

A 2003 Roncalli graduate, Hatfield played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer and top-notch in-game strategist John Wirtz.

“He was really good at pulling all the strings,” says Hatfield. “He was also good at relating to the kids. We loved him. He was really fun to be around. He’s a legend on the south side of Indianapolis.”

Hatfield was a pitcher at the University of Indianapolis, making a record 66 mound appearances, and gained wisdom from Greyhounds head coach Gary Vaught.

“He was really good at bringing everybody together,” says Hatfield of Vaught. “He’s a really good motivator. He was good at getting 100 percent out of the guys.”

Hatfield, who graduated from UIndy in 2007, spent two seasons as the Hounds pitching coach prior to going to Roncalli.

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted a new pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

Hatfield sees a need to adjust the numbers.

“The quantities and days of rest are wrong,” says Hatfield. “They need to talk to a lot more people about it and something needs to be done for the tournament.”

During the regular season, Hatfield uses his starting pitchers once a week and gears the rotation toward home-and-home Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Where the pitch count has more of an impact on his squad and other Class 4A teams is with the relievers and whether they hit the thresholds that require one or two days of rest.

Then comes the postseason with the possibility of three sectional games in five days.

“Many of these guys will be playing their last game,” says Hatfield. “If rain pushes sectional championship to Tuesday, you are now making decisions that affect the regional. That’s crazy.”

Hatfield notes that when Roncalli made the run to the state championship game in 2012, Colin Hawk pitched is every single game of the tournament.

Hatfield would also like to see seeding at the sectional level in order to keep the two best teams out of the same side of the bracket.

“But it’s a lot harder than it sounds,” says Hatfield. “There’s not a Sagarin ratings system for high school baseball. There would have to be a central rating system. Prep Baseball Report would have to be involved. They have scouts seeing games all over the state.

“I’m not smart enough to have all the answers, but I know it’s wrong to have the two best teams playing each other in the first round of the tournament. I don’t like the blind draw. It makes non-conference, regular-season games a lot less important than they could be.”

Besides Center Grove, the MIC features Ben Davis, Carmel, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis, Pike and Warren Central.

The Trojans are grouped in a 4A sectional with Franklin Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville and Whiteland Community.

Hatfield goes into 2018 with a coaching staff that includes John Carpenter, Mike Grant and Joe Mack at the varsity level, Jordan Reeser and Jason Simpkins with the junior varsity and Jeff Montfort and Drew Garrison with the freshmen.

Player totals fluctuate with the number of pitcher-onlys in the program.

“This year is probably the biggest (total),” says Hatfield. “It could be 55 to 58). We’ll have nine or 10 pitcher-only.”

Hatfield, who also works for BSN Sports, has noticed a trend toward specialization in athletics and that includes pitching. But he will not pass up someone when he sees potential.

“If you have a good arm, you have to prove to me they can’t pitch,” says Hatfield.

Center Grove is well-represented in the college baseball world.

According to online rosters, there’s Ethan Brooks (Grace College), Jacob Cantleberry (San Jacinto North College in Texas and transferring to the University of Missouri), Joey Drury (Olney Central College in Illinois), Devon Hensley and Will Smithey (both at the University of Indianapolis), Eathan Stephen (Marian University) and Tye Thixton (Danville Community College in Illinois).

Current Trojans who have made college commitments are seniors Jacob Gilcrest (Wright State University in Ohio), Shawn Grider (Cincinnati Christian University) and Michael Wyman (Saint Leo University in Florida) and sophomore Bryce Eblin (Purdue University).

These players have various travel baseball affiliations in the summer.

“(Travel ball) is very important for a couple reasons,” says Hatfield. “There not going to get the exposure they need for recruiting during the high school season. It’s hard for college coaches to get out to see you because they’e playing as well.

“It’s good for guys to play for different people. Watch other people and how they do things — good, bad and indifferent. (Travel organizations) play at places the high school team couldn’t take them.”

Those are the pros. The Hatfield also sees a few cons.

“There’s a lack of competition in terms of winning and losing,” says Hatfield. “It’s very individually-driven. Teams are happy if they go 3-2 on the weekend. I don’t think that mentality if good for the kids.”

Hatfield says there are still instances of overuse of pitching arms.

“A lot of travel coaches think a kid can start on Thursday and come back and start on Sunday,” says Hatfield. “I don’t think that’s right at all.”

Center Grove plays on-campus. Behind the plate at the facility, there is an indoor facility with three cages, locker rooms, coach’s office and meeting room. Last fall, the infield was re-done. A few years ago, a new building housing concessions, storage and restrooms was added to a place often referred to as Trojan Park.

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