Tag Archives: IHSAA Success Factor

Accountability, camaraderie important to Wells and his Greencastle Tiger Cubs

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Wells received a baseball foundation that he now uses as head coach at Greencastle (Ind.) High School.

Wells played four seasons at Owen Valley High School in Spencer, Ind., and two at the University of Indianapolis and applies what he learned in guiding the Greencastle Tiger Cubs.

As a third baseman and pitcher, Wells started on varsity as a freshman for head coach John Heckman at Owen Valley. It wasn’t a common practice at the school at that time.

“Age doesn’t really matter,” says Wells of the message being sent by his coach. “You put your best nine out there and go with it.”

After the spring of 1999, John Heckman turned the Patriots program after that season to his son, Trent Heckman.

“I I learned a lot about quality of practice and to work hard at all times,” says Wells of the Heckamans. Wells graduated from OV in 2002.

Gary Vaught, who retired after the 2018 season with 808 career victories and a pair of trips to the NCAA Division II World Series, passed on the importance of discipline to Wells in his two campaigns with the Greyhounds (2003 and 2004).

Vaught held his players accountable. They knew where they needed to be and when. If they failed to do so, there was a price. It could involve playing time or, perhaps, extra running or conditioning.

“Kids don’t understand that being a college athlete is a full-time job,” says Wells, who found that out first-hand. “I also picked up valuable techniques and skills I try to instill in my players today.”

Finishing his history eduction degree at UIndy in 2006, Wells had an idea that he would like to be a baseball coach. He is heading into his third season as Greencastle head coach in 2019 after four campaigns as an assistant.

Wells was junior varsity coach at Owen Valley in 2007 and an assistant at North Putnam High School in 2009 and 2010.

Greencastle belongs to the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo in the West Division and Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley in the East Division.

“We have one of the best 3A conferences in the state,” says Wells, noting that Northview was moved up to 4A via the IHSAA tournament success factor. “Our conference is pretty loaded.”

WIC games are played back-to-back weeknights. Only the first game counts toward conference standings.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” says Wells, who has indicated that prefers both games count.

After the intradivisional games, crossover games are played between the divisions (West No. 1 vs. East No. 1 and so on).

Non-conference foes include Cascade, Covenant Christian, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Monrovia and Tri-West Hendricks.

With about 550 students, Greencastle is the fourth-smallest 3A school in Indiana. The Tiger Cubs are in an IHSAA sectional with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Northwest and Tri-West Hendricks.

The schedule includes some varsity/junior varsity doubleheaders.

The one-day Putnam County tournament brings Greencastle, Cloverdale, North Putnam and South Putnam together for competition. The Tigers Cubs won the event in 2018.

What about the 2019 team?

“We have a pretty talented sophomore group,” says Wells, who expects to have number of players who played varsity as freshmen in last spring. Among those are Bryce Barger, Ethan Maier, Jordan Meyer, Nick Sutherlin and Brody Whitaker.

Seniors Alex Costin, Tanner Sanders and Trey Wood are also in the mix.

The Tigers Cubs have not yet had any college baseball commitments. Wood plans to attend Taylor University in Upland, Ind., to play football. Recent graduate Tanner Nicholson is on the baseball team at Franklin (Ind.) College.

Wellls’ assistant coaches are Greencastle head boys basketball coach Bryce Rector (who is also head JV baseball coach) and boys basketball assistant Craig Whitaker.

The Tiger Cubs play on-campus on a field that was recently added new infield dirt, clay mixture around home plate and upgrades for drainage.

“There’s still a lot more we want to do,” says Wells.

A seventh grade social studies teacher at Greencastle Middle School, Wells has the opportunity to get to know future players before they get to high school.

“It’s an interesting dynamic,” says Wells. “I get a head start building relationships with those players.”

GMS, which serves Grades 6-8, has a baseball team. It is a club sport and not affiliated with Greencastle Community School Corporation.

“What we’ve lacked in the past is a feeder program,” says Wells. “When I grew up, Babe Ruth was the big thing. When we got to high school, we had known each other and played together since we were young.”

Such a system would build camaraderie and Wells would know what he had coming at the high school level.

“It’s something I’m trying to build,” says Wells. “We have not been able to get it pulled off yet.”

Greencastle is coming to the end of its fall baseball workouts. A new IHSAA rule allows coaches to practice with their teams for two hours two days a week during a certain period of time. The window closes after Oct. 12 and opens against the first week of December.

“I kind of like it,” says Wells. “I puts us all on a similar playing field. We’re a smaller school and have to share a lot of our athletes. (The rule) allows us to get as many guys together at once to throw and get in their cuts. It keep us in baseball shape throughout the year.

“It also helps us not burn out students on one thing.”

Ben and Kristen Wells have been married 11 years and have three children — 5-year-old son Lincoln and 3-year-old twin daughters Britain and Brooklyn.

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Greencastle (Ind.) High School won the 2018 Putnam County baseball tournament. Tiger Cubs with the hardware are (from left): assistant coach Bryce Rector, Gus Manion, assistant coach Craig Whitaker, Abe Wade, head coach Ben Wells and Jacob Harris.

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Upp has storied LaPorte baseball program back in regional

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

LaPorte has three dozen IHSAA sectional baseball championships to its credit.

But the Slicers had experienced a title drought.

Until 2017.

The orange and black will not only be hosting but playing in the Class 4A LaPorte Regional for the first time since 2010.

Coach Scott Upp’s team earned that right by winning the Plymouth Sectional.

“Pitching and defense — that was the story of the sectional,” says Upp, who got commanding mound performances from Andy Samuelson and Chandler Banic. “We didn’t knock the cover off the ball. We got timely hits.”

LaPorte advanced through the sectional by beating South Bend Clay, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“All three of those programs are well-known throughout northern Indiana,” says Upp.

The regional field at Schreiber Field features Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) in Game 1, Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) in Game 2 and the regional final at night Saturday, June 3. Andrean is No. 6 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association 4A poll. LaPorte, Lake Central and Penn all received votes.

Between the four schools, they have won 18 state crowns (LaPorte 8, Andrean 5, Penn 4 and Lake Central) 1).

Upp knows from his experience as a LaPorte player (he’s a 1986 graduate who played for and later coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber) knows about the intensity and urgency of postseason baseball.

“You have your regular season and your second season,” says Upp. “If you can get hot or be playing your best ball at that time.”

LaPorte lost to Chesterton in the regular-season finale, but took the time between then and their sectional games and “got back to the basics.”

“We got individual time in with defense and hitting,” says Upp. “Our pitchers got a chance to breathe a little bit.”

Getting that chance to practice and refresh is just what the Slicers needed going into the sectional.

While LaPorte has won plenty of sectionals, Upp notes that it has become a tougher proposition since the class system came along with the 1998 season (the year he took over for Schreiber 11 games in).

With all the state’s biggest schools and, in the case of Andrean (playing “up” in class because of the IHSAA success factor, postseason success is not a given.

“We seem to have different sectional champs every year and there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Upp. “It’s good baseball.

“I’m not making excuses for LaPorte and why we’ve had a seven-year span. It is more difficult.”

Upp calls IHSAA state tournament games “a rough way to go.”

“In high school baseball, you take one guy on the mound and that team becomes totally different,” says Upp. “And it’s a one-and-done tournament.”

There are no series or second chances.

The coach notes that there are not too many back-to-back champions in the Duneland Athletic Conference (which also includes Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso) either.

The 2017 Slicers were tied for first place in the DAC going into the final two games with Chesterton. LaPorte lost both games against Chesterston and split two games each with Crown Point, Lake Central and Valparaiso, finishing 9-5 and in fourth in the conference.

Chesterton won it at 11-3 (then lost to Andrean in the Chesterton Sectional championship game).

It’s all-Slicer coaching staff at LaPorte. Everyone played their high school baseball on Schreiber Field.

Jeff DeMass (Class of 2005) is the pitching coach. Rob Schellinger (1998) has moved up from the junior varsity to be a varsity assistant. Mark Manering (1981) is a volunteer varsity coach. The JV Slicers are led by Kevin Upp (2010) with help from Blake Hindsley (2005).

The rich traditions of the program are detailed in a book, Slicer Baseball: A Cut Above (produced by Prime Time Publications LLC, dba Indiana Football Digest) and sold by LaPorte High School.

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Scott Upp, a 1986 LaPorte High School graduate, has been the Slicers’ head baseball coach since early in the 1998 season. His 2017 team will play in the IHSAA Class 4A LaPorte Regional. (Steve Krah Photo)

Pishkur, Andrean 4A sectional champions for first time

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After nearly two decades, Andrean High School baseball is going back to LaPorte’s Schreiber Field.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur last took his 59ers to the home of the Slicers in 1998 — the year Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber retired.

Andrean — a private school with about 475 students in Merrillville playing “up” because of the IHSAA success factor (the 59ers were 3A state champions in both 2014 and 2015) — will take part of the Class 4A LaPorte Regional Saturday, June 3.

Game 1 pits Northwest Crossroads Conference champion Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) with the second semifinal featuring Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) with the regional final at night.

Joe Plesac, Ryne Pishkur, Tyler Ochi, Pat Antone and Bob Ochi are Dave Pishkur’s 2017 assistant coaches.

Pishkur took over as Andrean head coach for the 1980 season and played at LaPorte every year 1982-98.

“I had a very good, competitive relationship with Ken,” says Pishkur. “For many years, we were their first game of the season.

“I’ve thanked Schreib many, many times for being a mentor … I stole many ideas from Ken Schreiber.”

Pishkur’s 59ers of 2017 will go against the Scott Upp-coached Slicers after Andrean bested Portage 3-1, Valparaiso 9-5 and Chesterton 4-3 to win the Chesterton Sectional.

The Trojans, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell, sent three straight NCAA Division I-caliber pitchers to the mound (juniors Grant Brunt, Austin Peterson and Chris Torres) against the 59ers who countered with one (sophomore Mike Doolin).

Pishkur, who surpassed 900 coaching wins in 2016, notes the difference between 4A and 3A is the ability to have a deeper mound staff and batting order.

“It’s way more challenging to play the 4A schools,” says Pishkur. “We enjoy playing 3A because we think we are a pretty good 3A school. In all likelihood, we’ll be back in 3A next year.”

With its enrollment, Andrean (which also competed in 4A in 2016 and lost to Chesterton in the Merrillville Sectional championship game) would be in the middle of the IHSAA pack in 2A. Rules don’t allow for a team going up because of the success factor to go down more than one class.

Winning against bigger schools at tournament time is satisfying.

“A 4A sectional championship means a heck of a lot,” says Pishkur. “That’s so rewarding for our kids to compete and beat schools significantly larger than us.”

Pishkur, a 1971 Andrean graduate who also serves as alumni director, has more to say about playing out of class.

“I understand to some extent that the success factor is to even up the playing field,” says Pishkur. “They say private schools recruit. We just have open enrollment. More and more public schools (have gone to open enrollment and) have the same advantage that the so-called private schools had.”

By rule, the 59ers went up after the back-to-back state championships. Pishkur notes that graduation took the majority of those players and yet the school still went to 4A for two years.

“I don’t know how you remedy that,” says Pishkur.

The coach sees no cure for his lifelong obsession with the sport and he’s not seeking one.

“It’s a love affair with the game of baseball and, in particular, Andrean High School,” says Pishkur, who has had dozens of relatives attend the school, including his wife (Gretchen) and three children (Ryne, Courtney and Mark). “Not everybody is blessed with a job that they enjoy going to. It’s not a chore to get up in the morning. It’s not a chore to go to the school.”

Andrean started its baseball program in Pishkur’s junior year (1969-70) and played around a dozen games and treated it more like a recreation than a competitive venture.

“We were a basketball/football school,” says Pishkur.

The 59ers were 9-9 in 1979. The next season, Pishkur got a team featuring Dan Dakich to win more than 20 games and the first of the program’s 27 sectional titles (Andrean has also gone on to take 12 regionals, six semistates, five 3A state crowns — 2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015 — and a 3A state runner-up finish in 2004).

“The culture was changed because we took it more seriously,” says Pishkur. “Nobody had ever pushed them. We pushed. We had three-hour practices.”

Pishkur remains close with members of that ’80 team.

“They established the program so future teams would know what to expect,” says Pishkur.

Mark Pishkur, a four-year player for his father and a 2012 Andrean graduate, never expected to play baseball again but got the chance five years after his high school days.

His senior year, Mark played the field but could not bat because of injuries incurred his junior and senior years though he did lay down two left-handed bunt singles.

After his last 59ers game, Mark walked away from the diamond for good.

Or so he thought.

Time had healed him and made him stronger. He added life and movement to his fastball, hitting the gun around 84 or 85 mph.

In the fall of 2016, he walked on at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., and impressed enough to be considered for a scholarship in the spring.

However, he hurt his arm during the winter and decided against pitching with pain or the possibility of a Tommy John reconstructive surgery.

Sidearmers and submariners are not unusual at Andrean. Pishkur likes to have at least one player in the program give it a try.

“A lot of kids can’t change arm angles,” says Pishkur. “But it’s a look you don’t see very often in high school.”

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Dave Pishkur is in his 38th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater — Andrean High School. His teams have won more than 900 games and taken five state championships. (Andrean Photo)

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Jennings sees Griffith work ethic bring championships

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Griffith High School baseball is a product of its environment.

The players come from working class families.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These players understand their roles, strengths and weaknesses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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