Tag Archives: IHSAA state runners-up

Alum Frank moves up to head coach at Evansville Central

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

Robbie Frank was a sophomore starter on Evansville (Ind.) Central High School’s IHSAA state runner-up baseball team in 1987.
The 29-win Bears lost 4-1 to LaPorte in the championship game. The Slicers went to be named mythical national champions in that season.
Frank started at shortstop for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Griese as a junior and senior at Central and played one season as a utility player at Saint Louis University for Billikens head coach Bob Hughes.
The Central Bears were ranked No. 1 during the 1988 season. Central lost to Memorial in the sectional championship in both 1988 and 1989 — 3-0 and 8-2. The Tigers lost in the first round of the semistate in 1988 and won the state crown in 1989.
Energy and passion are two things Frank saw Griese bring to the diamond.
“It was a great experience to play under him,” says Frank. “We were a very talent team 1987-89. It was a good time to be at Central.”
In the summer of 1989, Frank played American Legion baseball for Evansville Funkhouser Post 8. Henry “Mac” LaRue was the manager and son Mark LaRue the head coach.
Later on, Frank coached Highland Little League teams in Evansville, including a state runner-up squad when his players were 12 and state champion unit when they were 13. Bryce Frank, Robbie’s son, was on those teams.
Robbie Frank has served as manager for Evansville Pate American Legion Post 265, guiding a junior squad to the state championship in 2021 and leading a senior team in 2022. He plans to do the same again in 2023, scheduling 30 to 35 games against the best competition he can find.
Frank also spent the past 10 years as an Evansville Central assistant. After head coach Mike Goedde retired at the end of a 12-year run in 2022, Frank was elevated to head coach.
“He’s an old school coach,” says Frank of Goedde. “He’s big on playing the game the right way. He gives a lot of responsibility to the kids — not only in baseball but in life.”
Goedde expected his players to represent themselves, their families and their schools in an appropriate way.
“You never know who’s watching or looking out,” says Frank.
When Frank was hired as Central head coach he had one-on-one meetings with returning sophomores, juniors and seniors to discuss expectations.
He plans to have IHSAA Limited Contact Period practices — twice a week for two hours — working around basketball which is also having LCP workouts.
Among the recent Central graduates to move on to college baseball are the Class of 2022’s Aiden Esarey (Goshen College), Gavin Kelley (Grace College), Ben Kennedy (Taylor University), Ethan Lyke (Murray State University), Ethan Rothschild (University of Southern Indiana) and Kaiden Turner (Grace College), 2021’s Henry Brown (Indiana State University), Garrett Causey (University of Southern Indiana) and Mason Simon (Oakland City University), 2019’s Cory Bosecker (Butler University) and Kody Putnam (Southeastern Illinois College and transferred to Jacksonville State University), 2018’s Sean Becker (Indiana University-Kokomo and transferred to Kentucky Wesleyan College) and Mason White (Indiana University Southeast) and 2017’s Evan Kahre (University of Southern Indiana).
Evansville Central (enrollment around 1,075) is a member of the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Castle, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz, Jasper and Vincennes Lincoln).
The Bears were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2022 with Castle, Evansville Harrison, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz and Jasper.
“It’s a dogfight every year,” says Frank.
Central has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2017.
The process of hiring Frank’s assistant coaches is in progress.
The Bears play home games at Paul Griese Field. Goedde had Bermuda grass added to the infield a few years ago.
Each spring, Cub Baseball in Evansville has eighth graders (and some seventh graders) competing on behalf of the high schools they are feeding.
Robbie Frank, who is president of Frank Insurance Services Inc. (owned by father Gene Frank), has three children — Faith, Ellie and Bryce. Faith Frank (20) is a former Evansville Central basketball and track athlete now studying at Ivy Tech in Evansville. Ellie Frank (19) was a two-time first-team all-state lacrosse player for the Bears and is now a Murray (Ky.) State University freshman. Bryce Frank (17) is a junior baseball player at Evansville Central.

Robbie Frank.

Neese moves up to head coach role for Brebeuf Jesuit

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

Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School baseball ended the 2022 season as IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up.
The 2021 Braves participated at the semistate level.
Wes Neese was an assistant coach with those clubs and is now Brebeuf head coach after Jeff Scott stepped away from the post.
“There won’t be a ton of changes,” says Neese. “Our philosophies were so much the same. We did everything together.”
Neese and Scott met each other as assistants on the Mooresville (Ind.) High School staff led by Eric McGaha.
Scott was Neese’s assistant during his time leading the Pioneers program. Neese aided Scott for two previous seasons at Brebeuf, three at Martinsville (Ind.) High School and the most-recent stint with the Indianapolis-based Braves.
“I’ve been fortunate to be with coaches who didn’t have a big ego and let you coach as an assistant,” says Neese. “Coach McGaha did not micro-manage us. Jeff and I have continued that.”
As a Brebeuf assistant, Neese was third base and pitching coach. He called the pitches.
“I was able to learn a lot,” says Neese, who looks forward to getting ready for 2023 during the upcoming IHSAA Limited Contact Period.
“I’m letting kids get settled into school roles right now,” says Neese. “Starting Sept. 6 we’ll go two days a week for two hours until fall break.”
There will be practices on Father O’Brien Field and weightlifting days.
“We have quite a few fall athletes so we won’t have our whole team,” says Neese. “We’ll get to know as many kids as we can.”
Many position players are expected back for 2023. About 15 varsity innings return to the pitching staff with the graduation of Andrew Dutkanych IV (Vanderbilt University commit), Sam Reed (Eastern Michigan University), Chase Golden (Western Illinois University) and A.J. Rinebold (who plans to try to walk on at Purdue University).
Luke Bauer is bound for baseball at Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.) and Anthony Annee football at Marian University in Indianapolis.
Neese says there are no college baseball commitments yet in the Class of 2023 but Jayden Ohmer has gotten D-I schools to indicate interest.
First base coach Thomas Parker (a former Huntington North High School and Anderson University player) and infield coach/data and analytics coordinator Eric Hartung (who works for the NCAA in Indianapolis) return to the varsity coaching staff. Mooresville graduate and retired Ford Motor Company quality lead Eric Fenwick is an addition and will guide outfielders. Neese is interviewing junior varsity coach candidates.
The Class of 2021 had to two college players in 2022 — Nathan Bingman at Virginia Military Institute and Jack Moronek at Butler University in Indianapolis with the Class of 2020’s Shane Bauer at Dartmouth College (Hanover, N.H.), Karl Meyer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Andrew Pickett at Hope College (Holland, Mich.). Gabe Wright extended his prep school time at IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.).
Neese is a 1997 graduate of Greencastle (Ind.) High School, where Stan Ward was the head baseball coach his freshman year and Glen Hile was in charge of the Tiger Cubs the last three.
After being cut from baseball in fall at DePauw University in Greencastle, Neese opted to change his major to Secondary Education and began coaching at the youth and high school levels.
After a long stint as a teacher at Mooresville, Neese opted for a career change and went to work for Adrenaline Fundraising territory owner Scott and works from his Plainfield, Ind., home as business operations manager.
Wes and wife Jean Ann, a pharmacist at Eli Lily, celebrated 20 years of marriage in June. The couple has two sons — Brebeuf sophomore football/baseball player Steven Neese and Plainfield Community Middle School eighth grade footballer Brayden Neese.
What Wes Neese appreciates is the support Brebeuf baseball gets from president Fr. William Verbryke, athletic director Ted Hampton and assistants AD’s Brad Weinstein and Jacob Weinstein.
“There’s never been a time when we needed something that they weren’t there to provide it,” says Neese. “Working of the right people is credibly important to me and Brebeuf is the right place because of the people.”
Brebeuf (enrollment around 825) is four-year private school a member of the Circle City Conference (with Covenant Christian, Guerin Catholic, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and Roncalli).
The Braves were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Danville Community, Greencastle, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and Tri-West Hendricks. Brebeuf has won 16 sectional titles — the last dozen coming in the 2000’s.

Wes Neese (left) and Jeff Scott.
Joe Perkins (left), Thomas Parker, Jeff Scott, Wes Neese and Eric Hartung.
Aiden Holtzapple (left) and Wes Neese.
The Neese family (from left): Wes, Jean Ann, Steven and Brayden.

Edgewood alum Pittsford learns from many along his diamond path

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

Harrison Pittsford is soaking up the knowledge of veterans while getting in his summer reps as a first-year player for the South Bend Royals, members of men’s wood bat leagues in both South Bend and Fort Wayne.
At 20, Pittsford is younger than most of his Royals teammates. That includes 53-year-old Jayson Best.
“It’s cool learning from guys like Bestie,” says Pittsford, who completed his second year at NCAA Division III Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., in the spring. “I see how they play the game.
“It’s a great experience playing with those guys.”
Best, who was born in Lafayette, Ind., played professional baseball from 1989-97. He ascended to Double-A in the Minnesota Twins organization as a pitcher and later was head baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. He pitched a no-hitter for the Royals in Mishawaka, Ind., on July 10.
Pittsford, a 2020 graduate of Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind., comes up to play mostly weekend doubleheaders with former GC hitting star and current Eastern (Greentown) head coach Erik Hisner-managed Royals and Manchester teammate/roommate Hunter Aker (a South Bend Clay High School graduate).
While he does some catching, Pittsford is getting playing time in the outfield since he expects to be there much of the time at Manchester.
The Royals are to compete in a National Amateur Baseball Federation regional in Fort Wayne July 28-30. The top two finishers move on to the NABF World Series Aug. 2-5 in Battle Creek, Mich.
Pittsford was named to the 2022 all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team at designated hitter.
The righty swinger played in 30 games (28 starts) and hit .327 (33-of-101) with six home runs, eight doubles, 29 runs batted in, 27 runs scored and a 1.002 OPS (.418 on-base percentage plus .584 slugging average).
Rick Espeset competed his 26th season as Manchester head coach in 2022.
“Espy got my attention in the recruiting process,” says Pittsford. “His success and longevity eye-catching for me.”
Espeset’s Spartans have won 619 games with six national tournament appearances, including two trips to the D-III World Series (2004 and 2013).
As much as Pittsford appreciates all the knowledge that Espeset shares, he is also grateful for the insights on the mental approach.
“We’re taking time to detach from baseball with breathing and mindfulness,” says Pittsford.
As a D-III program, Manchester conducts four weeks of fall practice with the whole team and coaches. Players are then on their own for a few months until everyone reconvenes shortly before the start of the season.
“Nothing’s really forced on us,” says Pittsford. “If guys want to get better they are going to get better. I get motivated seeing my teammates working out.
“We have good leadership from underclassmen.”
A Sport Management major, Pittsford was named Academic all-HCAC in 2022.
“I want to stay involved in sports in some capacity,” says Pittsford of his post-college path. “That could be coaching, running a sports facility or being an athletic director. I want to be involved in sports and make a difference for kids and make sure the next generation has the same opportunities I had coming up.
“Sports can teach you a lot of life lessons like building character and making friendships.”
Born in Bloomington, Ind., and growing up in Ellettsville, Pittsford participated in baseball and basketball through Richland Bean Blossom Youth Sports and was also part of Monroe County Youth Football Association.
He was in travel ball with the Ellettsville Explosion, Diamond Dynamics and then Tier Ten.
It was with Diamond Dynamics that Pittsford met coach/instructor Tony Kestranek.
“He was passionate about baseball,” says Pittsford of Kestranek. “He taught us when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive.”
At Edgewood, Pittsford played four years each of football and baseball and two of basketball.
A special teams player as a freshman, he was the Mustangs’ starting center for three seasons.
Brian Rosenburgh was defensive coordinator Pittsford’s freshman year then head coach for the last three.
“I loved him as a person and a coach,” says Pittsford of Rosenburgh, who was also a Physical Education teacher at Edgewood.
An football coach was Mychal Doering.
“He’s an amazing guy,” says Pittsford of the father of classmate Izaiah Doering and JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) specialist at Edgewood. “He was high-energy and he motivated you. He was always checking on people outside of school and he taught me about life and handling the ups and down.
“He’s going through chemo (for cancer). It’s cool to see how he’s battling through that.”
Pittsford considered playing college football, but decided to go with his first love of baseball. Besides, at 6-foot, 230 pounds he is considered to be undersized for a college lineman.
Bob Jones, who has been a Business teacher for more than 40 years and head baseball coach for 36, passed along many diamond lessons to Pittsford.
“He knows a lot of baseball,” says Pittsford of Jones, who went into the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame last week. “It’s nice to learn from a guy who’s been around the game for so long.”
One of Jones’ more than 500 victories came during the first game of 2019 — a season that ended with the Mustangs finishing as IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up.
Playing in a tournament at Vincennes University, Edgewood fell behind 11-0 to Terre Haute North Vigo after four innings.
The Mustangs chipped away and eventually won 20-18 in a game that was played in a steady drizzle.
“It was a pretty crazy game,” says Pittsford, who started at catcher and batted No. 2 that day and drove in two runs.
Later moved to the No. 9 hole, it was there that Pittsford smacked a walk-off home run against West Vigo in the semifinals of the Owen Valley Sectional.
Several other Edgewood players wound up playing college baseball, including Class of 2019’s Joe Kido (Indiana State University), Ethan Vecrumba (Indiana University), Cooper Thacker (University of Southern Indiana) and Blake Deckard (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology), Class of 2020’s Pittsford and Sam Kido (Indiana University South Bend) and Class of 2021’s Luke Hayden (Indiana University).
Satoshi Kido — father of Mac, Joe and Sam — was an Edgewood assistant in 2019 and has been Pittsford’s hitting coach since he was 7 or 8.
“He’s helped me so much with my swing over the years,” says Pittsford. “He always knows how to fix my swing when I get in a slump.”
Pittsford spent much of 2021 dealing with a torn right shoulder labrum.
Harrison is the youngest of 1986 Edgewood alums Jay and Cheryl Pittsford’s two sons. Alex Pittsford (25) is a graduate of Edgewood (2016) and Wabash College (2020) and is now pursing his Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Notre Dame. He was in football and swimming in high school.
Jay Pittsford taught English for 19 1/2 years and then served as an assistant principal. Cheryl Pittsford is an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Physician’s Assistant.

Harrison Pittsford (Manchester University Photo)
Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)
Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)

Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)

Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)
Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)

Columbus East grad Back enjoys ‘game within the game’ as baseball backstop

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

Dalton Back was a coach pitch player when he chose his favorite position on the baseball field — catcher.
“The thing that I love about it most now that older is that it’s like a game within a game — calling pitches and locations, keeping track of baserunners and whatnot,” says Back, 20 and the veteran of two college seasons. “What kept me in it when I was little was just being involved in every pitch. It’s the most active position on the field. That’s what I like most about it.”
Born and raised in Columbus, Ind., to Dwayne and Jennifer Back, Dalton played in was in now Youth Baseball of Bartholomew County and was later part of two district championship and state tournament teams.
When it came time to play travel ball, Back went with the Blazers then the Evoshield Canes.
“They changed the way I saw baseball and how I played it,” says Back of Canes coaches Jay Hundley and Phillip Webb. “They turned me into the man and player I was back then and who I am now.
“They really grew the game for me. I appreciate that a lot.”
Back is a 2020 graduate of Columbus East High School. He earned three letters for Olympians head coach Jon Gratz.
“He’s very open-minded,” says Back of Gratz. “He did a lot of experimental stuff. He was very open and willing to learn. He didn’t see himself as a know-it-all in baseball.”
Columbus East went 25-5 and lost 3-2 to Hamilton Southeastern in the 2019 IHSAA Class 4A state championship.
Back, who batted No. 2 in the order and contributed a triple and two walks in that game, is convinced that Gratz’s inclination of listening to his players was a major contributing factor to the Olympians’ run.
“We would just brainstorm different ideas about what we could do better in certain areas like productivity in practice or how to hold each other accountable,” says Back, who was an all-stater in 2019 and all-Hoosier Hills Conference in 2018 and 2019 and missed his senior season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “(Gratz) allowed the players to lead which is very nice.”
At Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Back played 76 games (65 as a starter) and hit .224 with seven home runs, 16 doubles, 37 runs batted in and 39 runs scored. He homered four times and enjoyed a pair of three-RBI games in 2022.
Back, a 5-foot-10, 200-pounder, is now in the Transfer Portal with two years of eligibility. His next diamond destination is still to be determined.
“I’m trying to stay relaxed and calm about it,” says Back of making a decision of where to play and study next.
He has participated in each of the College Summer League at Grand Park’s three seasons — Local Legends in 2020, Turf Monsters in 2021 and Tropics in 2022.
The league based in Westfield, Ind., is attractive to Back because the schedule is not too rigorous and there are helpful amenities.
“There are not so many games a week where you’re killing your body,” says Back. “I have access to Pro X (Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus) to hit and lift all the time.
“Everything is close around here. It’s easy to manage your time.”
A righty swinger, Back describes his offensive approach.
“The main thing that helps me is to just keep reminding myself to swing 80 percent all the time,” says Back. “A lot of times I swing way too hard and I’m trying to do too much with the baseball.
“If I have a slow heart beat, go 80 percent and I’m nice and smooth with my swing, a lot of times I can let the bat do the work. Most of the time that’s how I have success at the plate.”
As a college student, Back has studied Kinesiology (the science of human movement) and can see himself as a physical therapist after his playing career.
“I’ve always been attracted to human physiology,” says Back. “I got real big into the weight room in high school. I loved it. I was fascinated with how everything works and how the body recovers. With physical therapy I’d be able to stay around athletics and help other athletes.”
Dalton has an older brother — Joey Back (24).

Dalton Back (Miami University Photo)

Dalton Back of the 2022 College Summer League at Grand Park’s Tropics (Steve Krah Photo)

Former Indiana Mr. Baseball, MLB first-rounder O’Conner lands with independent St. Paul Saints

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin O’Conner was a highly-touted professional baseball prospect when he wore the uniform of Cowan Junior/Senior High School.

As a sophmore at the Muncie, Ind., school, he helped the Camden Pankhurst-coached Blackhawks earn an IHSAA Class 2A state runners-up finish in 2008.

In 2009, O’Conner put up head-turning numbers as a shortstop and pitcher: .521 average, 19 home runs, 61 runs batted in, 7-0 record, 0.30 earned run average, 101 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.

That summer, he won the Home Run Derby at the Perfect Game National Showcase at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and was invited to the Perfect Game Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego.

In 2010, he was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball and selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays right out of Cowan.

As a pro, O’Conner became a catcher. He played 48 games with the Gulf Coast Rays in 2010.

In 2011, he played at rookie-level Princeton threw out 16 of 45 base stealers.

He helped Hudson Valley win the New York-Penn League championship in 2012.

O’Conner played at Low Class-A Bowling Green of the Midwest League in 2013.

That winter, he played for the Brisbane Bandits of the Australian Baseball League.

“It was awesome,” says O’Conner of his time Down Under. “It was a chance to go to another country, live there for three months and get to see their culture and also get to play baseball.”

In 2014, O’Conner played at Charlotte and was an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star and Florida State League All-Star, FSL Post-Season and Baseball America High Class-A All-Star.

He played in the Arizona Fall League and was placed on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster in November.

O’Conner spent the entire 2015 season at Double-A Montgomery and led the Southern League in total chances (91) and threw out 29 of 60 base stealers.

“For me, it’s big part of the game,” says O’Conner. “Being able to control the running game can keep runners off of bases in scoring position and keep them from scoring runs. If the pitcher can give me a good time to the plate, mix his looks in.

“It’s really more on the pitcher and the infielder making a good tag along with me making a good throw. It’s just not me, it’s everybody involved.”

In 2016, he began the season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League because of a back injury. He was promoted to Double-A in August.

It was discovered he had a herniated disk and he had two back surgeries in October and November and and was removed from the 40-man roster in December.

“I’m all good now,” says O’Conner of his procedures. “The back pain really wasn’t the issue, it was the sciatica down my leg. I needed to get it fixed.”

O’Conner started 2017 at Double-A and was promoted to Triple-A Durham in August. The Bulls won the Triple-A National Championship.

After the season, he was granted his free agency and signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants in November 2017. The Giants released him in April 2018 and he inked a deal with the St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association, a circuit which also features the Gary SouthShore RailCats.

The Saints got off to a 5-1 start and O’Conner is coming off a 3-for-3 game with two RBI and two runs scored Wednesday, May 23 at home against the Chicago Dogs.

He belted home runs May 18 at Gary and May 23 in St. Paul.

O’Conner quickly learned the difference between high school and professional baseball while with the Rays and Giants organizations and it holds true with St. Paul.

“It’s a grind,” says O’Conner, 26. “You’re playing baseball, but it’s also a job. You’ve got to come out and try to win everyday.

“You learn that right away. You’re playing every single day. It takes a toll on your body and it’s something you’ve got to get used to.”

O’Conner played for a number of travel baseball organizations growing up then spent two years while in high school with coaches Dan Held and Quinn Moore and the Indiana Bulls.

Justin is the son of Muncie’s Randy and Kim O’Conner and has an older brother and a younger sister.

Jacob O’Conner is in law school in Cincinnati. Kirsten O’Conner, a former Ball State University softball player, is a nutritionist in Illinois.

JUSTINOCONNERSTPAUL

Justin O’Conner, who was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball at Cowan Junior/Senior High School and a first-round draft selection of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, is now with the independent St. Paul Saints. Released by the San Francisco Giants organization, the catcher signed with the team shortly before the beginning of the 2018 season. (St. Paul Saints Photo)