Tag Archives: IHSAA

Anderson native Earley builds trust with elite hitters at Arizona State

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael Earley works with some of the best college batsmen in the country.

The Anderson, Ind., native is the hitting coach at Arizona State University, where former Indiana University head coach Tracy Smith fields a potent Sun Devils lineup featuring junior outfielder Hunter Bishop (.391 average, 17 home runs, 43 runs batted in), sophomore infielder Spencer Torkelson (.378-11-42), sophomore outfielder Trevor Hauver (.355-9-33), sophomore infielder Alika Williams (.352-3-34), Carter Aldrete (.290-4-32), junior catcher Lyle Lin (.287-4-35) and more.

In Earley’s first season with ASU hitters in 2018, Torkelson slugged a nation-leading 25 homers (the first frosh ever to lead the country in circuit clouts). Aldrete and Lin both raised their averages from the previous season by 20 points and were named to the all-Pac-12 team.

With Earley’s help on offense and defense, outfielder Gage Canning (.369-9-45) had a strong junior season and was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and signed with the Washington Nationals.

Earley, who turned 31 on March 15, helps players get into a productive rhythm.

“We create a routine and stick to that routine when things are going good or when things are going bad,” says Earley. “I know how important that is and to not get caught up in failure or success.

“With the elite guys, I become a psychologist and a mental coach more than a physical coach. I want to keep them even-keeled at all times.”

It’s not a cookie-cutter approach.

“Every guy’s different,” says Earley. “They can be similar hitters, but have opposite personalities.

“You need to connect with them so you know what makes them tick or go.”

Earley (@earleybaseball on Twitter and earleyhitcoach on Instagram) does this by making himself available.

“It’s about putting in the time and always being available for them,” says Earley. “Your work shows them you care. You never turn them down.

“We’ve built a culture of guys hitting all the time. They do it on their own and between classes. Guys are just working. We’ve got some guys who are obsessed with their craft.”

Spending so much time with his players builds a sense of trust.

“If they trust you, that’s the key to having a good relationship as hitting coach and hitter and having success,” says Earley.

After the 2018-19 Christmas break, Sun Devil hitters moved into the $5 million Malone complex, a place where they put in cage work before hitting outdoors.

“It’s the nicest batting facility I’ve ever seen,” says Earley.

Hitters will see pitches off a velocity and breaking ball machines.

“We usually do it every other day,” says Earley. “On a comfortable day, we’ll do regular BP and front toss. On a discomfort day, we’ll take gameday, high-heart rate swings.”

During preseason, Smith raised the competition level by sending his top four hitters against his top two pitchers for three or four innings of intense scrimmage.

ASU has built a culture of competition. It calms down a little during the season. But in the fall and preseason, Earley says it’s tough to beat.

“We have alpha-type athletes competing over and over again,” says Earley. “We have a smaller roster and we’re getting creative and writing things down and it just came to him.

“We had a lot of stressful innings for our pitchers and high-intensity at-bats for our hitters. It was huge for us coming into the year.”

Arizona State, which plays its home games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, got out of the gate in 2019 at 21-0 and are currently 27-7 overall and 10-5 in the Pac-12.

“We’re big on opposing scouting,” says Earley. “Our guys are really prepared. They’ve seen (opposing pitchers) before on video.

“Some of the analytics things we keep in-house. It does pay a big part in what we do every day.”

Earley is a 2006 graduate of Anderson (Ind.) High School, where he played for head coach Terry Turner. After one season at the University of Cincinnati for head coach Brian Cleary, he went to Indiana to play for Smith.

“I love Coach Turner,” says Earley. “He was mentor figure. He was the first coach that believed in me and helped push me.

“I’m a huge Daleville fan now.”

Turner has coached Daleville (Ind.) High School to IHSAA Class 1A state titles in 2016 and 2018.

Earley calls former Cincinnati coaches Cleary and assistant Brad Meador “great people.” He was just looking for a different experience and a chance to play at IU.

“He never let you let down,” says Earley of playing for Smith. “You always had to compete. He always expected the best out of you. It helped me get to the next level and be the best player you could be.

“It helped me translate into a better player and a better coach.”

In one season with the Bearcats (2007) and three with the Hoosiers (2008-10), righty swinger Smith hit .327 with 23 home runs and 87 RBI’s. In 2010, he was a third-team all-Big Ten selection after hitting .352-13-40 with 15 stolen bases. Mostly an outfielder, he played at least one inning at every position on the field except pitcher.

He was drafted in the 29th round by the Chicago White Sox, signed by scout Mike Shirley and ascending to Triple-A Charlotte in 2013. He played professional baseball through 2015, the last year with the independent Southern Illinois Miners. He was an associate scout with the New York Mets in 2016.

Nolan Earley, a freshman center fielder and lead-off hitter at Anderson when big brother Michael was a senior shortstop and No. 3 hitter (Nolan was the starting QB and Michael a wideout in football). Nolan later played at the University of South Alabama and in the White Sox organization and with the Southern Illinois Miners.

Michael and Lisa Earley were married in 2015. The couple have three children — Marshall (5), Mia (3) and Maddie (1). They were living in Anderson before getting the call to Arizona.

Her husband says Lisa was not hesitant to make the move.

“She was with me in the minor leagues,” says Michael Earley. “She’s a baseball wife. This is her lifestyle.”

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Michael Earley, a graduate of Anderson (Ind.) High School who played at Indiana University and in professional baseball, is in his second season as hitting and outfielder coach at Arizona State University. Former IU head coach Tracy Smith is head coach of the Sun Devils. (Arizona State University Photo)

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Kleber, Trinity Lutheran Cougars are aiming high in 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-year head coach Ben Kleber and the Trinity Lutheran High School baseball team have set their sights high for the 2019 season.

“We expect to win the sectional,” says Kleber. “We want to be the first team in school history to win a regional game. That’s our goal.”

Trinity Lutheran (enrollment around 150) is an independent school located in Seymour, Ind. The school opened in 2002 and the first baseball season was 2003.

The Cougars’ schedule features Class 4A’s Bedford North Lawrence and Seymour, 3A’s Brown County, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Salem and Scottsburg, 2A’s Austin, Henryville and Southwestern (Hanover) and 1A’s Christian Academy of Indiana, Crothersville, Greenwood Christian Academy, Hauser, Indianapolis Lutheran, Jac-Cen-Del, Oldenburg Academy, Rising Sun, Springs Valley and West Washington. The Trinity Lutheran Invitational on April 13 includes a round robin with 2A’s Eastern (Pekin) and Switzerland County and 4A’s Jennings County.

Trinity schedules bigger schools to get ready for the IHSAA tournament series.

The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Crothersville, Orleans and West Washington. Trinity has won five sectional championships — the last two in 2016 and 2017.

Kleber, a graduate of Seymour High School (2007) and Hanover (Ind.) College (2011), was a varsity assistant and junior varsity coach the past two seasons to head coach Brandon Tormoehlen at Brownstown Central.

“I learned a lot about hitting and catching drills from Coach T,” says Kleber of Tormoehlen. “He’s just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to offense. He definitely valued your option on things.

“I like his philosophy on the game all together. He has his guys playing the game fast.”

The previous two springs before he was at Brownstown Central, Kleber was on the Trinity Lutheran varsity staff of head coach Bob Tabeling.

He spent the 2012 and 2013 campaigns coaching freshmen at Seymour with Jeremy Richey as head coach.

“Jeremy was great,” says Kleber of Richey. “I’ll be forever grateful for him giving me the start in coaching at the high school level.”

After playing at Seymour for coach Bob Bowman (the man who led the Owls to an IHSAA state championship in 1988), Kleber pitched at Hanover for Shayne Stock.

“(Bowman) was a baseball guy,” says Kleber. “He knew a lot about the game.”

Much of what Kleber uses at Trinity Lutheran — from pitching to base running to field maintenance — comes from his time at Hanover with Shayne Stock and Panthers bench coach Wayne Stock (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer).

“I loved playing for Coach (Shayne) Stock,” says Kleber. “He was

a hard-nosed guy who expected things done the right way. He expected the best of out you. He wanting your playing hard and playing smart.

“I learned so much from sitting and talking to (Wayne Stock).”

Kleber says he is transparent with his players and let’s them know their roles.

“They know what they need to do to get more playing time,” says Kleber. “I’m an open door. I make sure you’re ready to hear the truth and what’s expected of them and what they need to work on.

“Everybody is a piece to a puzzle. We want to be a family as much they want to be a team.”

Kleber’s desire is that his Cougars to be baseball-curious.

“I want our guys to ask questions,” says Kleber. “They have to be students of the game.

“You can’t just show up. You have to understand why.”

During the summers before his junior and senior years at Hanover, Kleber helped Todd Miller coach an Indiana Bulls travel team that included Drew Ellis (who played at Jeffersonville High School and the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks system).

Miller, a Franklin (Ind.) Community High Schoolg graduate who played baseball and football at Hanover, is now a baseball assistant at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn.

The Cougars’ roster features 13 players. There is no junior varsity team this spring. Some of those are also on the track team. Four players who logged significant playing time in 2018 are back.

“We’re young,” says Kleber. “Wwe’re learning a lot of fundamentals and how to play the game the right way.

“We’re building for the sectional.”

Recent Trinity graduates who went on to college baseball are Sam Crick (Hanover) and Jacob Schult (Rose-Hulman).

Kleber is assisted by Tyler Reedy, a Seymour graduate whom Kleber coached before Reedy was in high school. Doug Nichols helps with statistics and field maintenance.

Trinity plays its home games on Alf Snyder Field, an on-campus facility built through a donation from Snyder’s family.

Two years ago, the infield went from grass with dirt cut-outs to a conventional infield.

This year, the mound was replaced and one of the batter’s boxes was re-done. There are new sponsors on the scoreboard. Sponsor banners line the outfield fence and a new batter’s eye is on the way. There is also plans to put fences in front of the dugouts.

Feeder schools from Jackson, Jennings and Bartholomew counties for Trinity Lutheran include Immanuel Lutheran (Seymour), Lutheran Central (Brownstown), St. Ambrose (Seymour), St. Bartholomew (Columbus), St. John’s Sauers (Seymour), St. Mary’s (North Vernon), St. Peter’s Lutheran (Columbus) and White Creek Lutheran (Columbus).

Kleber is a dispatcher for Rose Acre Farms, an egg producer in Seymour.

Ben and Katie Kleber were married in September 2015. They have a son — Braxton (2).

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Braxton Kleber (2) is the son of Ben and Katie Kleber. Ben Kleber is head baseball coach at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour, Ind.

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Katie and Ben Kleber were married in 2015. Ben Kleber is head baseball coach at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour, Ind.

 

Kiifner wants South Newton Rebels to be strong up the middle

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A border town will play more baseball in 2019 on the side of the state line where it plays its home games.

South Newton High School, located in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland, went 17-10 in 2018 and played 15 games against Illinois high schools.

After three seasons in the Illinois-based Sangamon Valley Conference (current members are Cissna Park, Clifton Central, Dwight, Iroquois West, Momence, Paxton-Buckey-Loda and Watseka), South Newton (enrollment around 190) is a member of the Midwest Conference (with Indiana schools Frontier, North Newton, North White, Tri-County and West Central).

Jim Kiifner, a 1984 graduate of Sheldon (Ill.) High School (now consulted into Milford Township), is entering his 10th season on the South Newton coaching staff — his third as head coach.

The 2019 Rebels — led by Kiifner and assistants Jason Krug (third season), Ricky Montemayer (fourth season) and Conner Ulmer (first season) — are scheduled to play 23 varsity and 13 junior varsity contests. Ulmer, a 2013 South Newton graduate, is a teacher while the others are lay coaches. Kiifner works in a warehouse for DuPont Corporation.

“My boss allows me to be a little flexible,” says Kiifner. “It also helps that I work in the Eastern Time Zone and coach in the Central Time Zone.

“I gain an hour.”

South Newon’s non-conference varsity opponents include Attica, Benton Central, Fountain Central, Frontier, Kankakee Valley and Seeger in Indiana and Cissna Park, Milford Township, Momence and Watseka in Illinois.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, Southwood and West Central. South Newton has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2017. That year, the Rebels advanced to the semistate for the first time, losing to eventual state runner-up Rossville at Plymouth.

“We’ve been pretty successful the last four years,” says Kiifner, 52. “We get a lot of fan support.”

Athletic budgets at the small school are supplemented through community fundraisers.

Kiifner was coaching in the Travelers Babe Ruth League when then-South Newton head coach Ron Benakovich invited him to join his staff. Benakovich led the Rebels from 2009-12 and Glenn Donahue from 2013-16 before Kiifner took over the as leader of the program in 2017.

“I want the kids to have the most fun as possible,” says Kiifner. “Discipline is a big thing. But I don’t like to be a brow beater.”

Program numbers are up to 23 with 11 newcomers.

“We’re working to get them up to speed on what we expect and do,” says Kiifner, who had a veteran team the past two seasons. The 2018 squad had six seniors and three juniors in the starting lineup.

Kiifner says he wants his teams to be strong up the middle on defense.

“Defend the middle first and work your way out,” says Kiifner. “(Pitchers are asked to) throw strikes and let the defense do the work behind them.”

With that in mind, South Newton has junior Austin Miller and sophomore Brandon Gilliam in the mix at catcher, senior Levi Sample and freshman Kayden Cruz at shortstop and Cruz and junior Terron Welsh in center field.

Senior left-hander Riley Patterson is the top returning pitcher who also plays first base. Senior Tyler Martell is at second base and freshman Kellen Krug at third base. Senior Ben Bryant is a candidate to play a corner outfield spot.

Offensive approach depends on personnel. Kiifner says the Rebels are transitioning from a power team to more of a small-ball squad.

The Hammel brothers have taken their pitching talents from South Newton to the college level.

Junior left-hander Jarrett Hammel started at Saint Joseph’s College and is now at Valparaiso University.

Freshman Jay Hammel was an all-state third baseman as junior, all-state first baseman as a senior and became the school’s second Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series player (Trent Smith was the first in 1990) and is now a freshman right-hander at Quincy (Ill.) University.

Trent Smith is the brother of Tracy Smith, a South Newton graduate who played at Miami University in Ohio and in the Chicago Cubs system before head coaching assignments at Miami University-Hamilton, Indiana University and Arizona State University. Smith’s 2019 Sun Devils were off to a 22-1 start.

Rebel Field, located on the South Newton campus, is a small non-lighted diamond with the distance down the foul lines at 272 feet to right field and 300 to left. Kiifner says there is talk about moving the fences back in the future.

With the school and field sitting in the midst of farm land, it is a breezy place.

“The are winds always blowing,” says Kiifner. “And it’s either too hot or too cold.”

Sheldon was a school of less than 100 students and baseball was a fall sport where there was no football team. Kiifner’s baseball coach was John Spezia, who has gone on to win more than 500 games as a basketball coach.

“He broke down fundamentals really well and brought it to your level,” says Kiifner of Spezia. “He tried not to overwhelm (his players).”

Jim and Madonna Kiifner have been married for 26 years. They have two sons who both played baseball at South Newton — William (24) and Luke (22).

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This is the 2019 South Newton High School Rebels baseball team.

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South Newton won a sectional and regional baseball title in 2017.

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Jim Kiifner is the head baseball coach at South Newton High School in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland.

 

Denbo looks for Springs Valley Blackhawks to take ownership of team

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rob Denbo is entering his first season as head baseball coach at Springs Valley Junior-Senior High School Springs Valley Junior-Senior High School in French Lick, Ind., in 2019.

But the 1989 graduate of the school wants his Blackhawks to know it’s not his team.

“I want to empower the kids,” says Denbo. “I want them to feel like it’s their team.

“I want them to have fun.”

Springs Valley has 13 players in the program — four seniors, four juniors, one sophomore and four freshmen.

“We have a pretty solid core,” says Denbo, who looks for lefty senior pitcher/first baseman/center fielder Christian Tucker to be the team leader. “They’ll all play at some point.

“We’re going to play a lot of freshmen. I’m looking forward to playing from the youngest to the oldest. When we come together and we’re going to be really hard to beat. I’m really excited for them.”

Denbo played baseball for the Blackhawks for four years — the last two for head coach Larry Pritchett.

“He was always very even-keeled,” says Denbo of Pritchett. “He was always excited for us, but he kept his emotions in-check.

“He also had a very dry sense of humor. He had a way of keeping the practices light. We all enjoyed playing for him.”

Pritchett did not believe in fancy plays and neither does Denbo.

“We won several games by keeping it simple,” says Denbo. “I try to do that as well.”

Denbo was a Springs Valley assistant coach the past two years under brother-in-law Bob Greger.

“They’ve bought into a new way of doing things,” says Denbo of the current squad. “I’m looking forward to watching them.”

Denbo, who is assisted by Henry Cruz, Seth Dickey and Broc Warner, has incorporated a good deal of drill work into Blackhawk practices.

“We get a lot of reps in the cage,” says Denbo. “We encourage good habits and create some muscle memory.

“The best way to do it is to have a drill that reinforces the right way to do something. They need to feel it.”

Denbo has noticed that his players are developing the ability to find their own flaws and correct them.

“I don’t have to say anything,” says Denbo. “They can self-correct. It’s not because I’m telling them to.”

Springs Valley (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Patoka Lake Athletic Conference (with Crawford County, Mitchell, Orleans, Paoli, Perry Central and West Washington).

Conference opponents play each other twice, but only the first meeting counts in the standings.

Non-conference foes include Barr-Reeve, Cannelton, Crothersville, Eastern (Pekin), Northeast Dubois, Salem, Scottsburg, Shoals, South Central, Trinity Lutheran and Wood Memorial.

The Blackhawks are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Cannelton, Northeast Dubois, Tecumseh and Wood Memorial. Northeast Dubois hosted the sectional in 2017. It moved to Cannelton in 2018. It is to be at Tecumseh in 2019. Springs Valley has won 17 sectional championships — the last in 2004.

SV home games are played on-campus on a field that was overhauled two years ago.

“We bulldozed the entire infield under and completely re-did it,” says Denbo. “We’re in really good shape.”

The field has lights, which comes in handy for twilight doubleheaders.

A junior high team of about 18 players also uses the field in the spring. Made up mostly of seventh and eighth graders with a few sixth graders, they play about as many games as the high school varsity.

Springs Valley Youth League and travel baseball organizations, including the Lost River Posse, are also feeders for the high school program.

Denbo played baseball for four years and football for two at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. His head coaches were Ed Meyer (baseball) and Nick Mourouzis (football).

After graduating in 1993, Denbo went into journalism and later switched to the hospitality business. He is internal communications manager for French Lick Resort.

Rob and Stacy Denbo have been married 21 years and have three daughters — Andi (19), Emma (17) and Alayna (14).

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Members of the 2019 Springs Valley High School baseball team attend a game at Indiana University in Bloomington. Rob Denbo (third from left) is the head coach of the Blackhawks.

Willis keeps things fresh for Covington Trojans

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keeping things fresh and appealing, Evan Willis enters into his sixth season as head baseball coach at Covington (Ind.) High School in 2019.

A 2007 graduate of the school in Fountain County, Willis is constantly blending in baseball ideas to incorporate into the Trojans program.

Willis finds drills and other instructional materials online and shares them with his players.

“It’s not always the same thing everyday,” says Willis. “We mix it up.”

To build camaraderie, excitement and the understanding of the game, Willis adds competitive things to each practice.

“There’s a lot of down time in baseball,” says Willis. “You have to get the kids to buy into it.”

As a spring sport, baseball has to contend with seniors who are competing while graduation and their future often dominates their thoughts.

“It’s difficult to keep seniors focused on the game,” says Willis. “You have to be serious, but also keep it fun and exciting for the kids so they want to be a part of it.”

Willis played for Mike Holland at Covington.

“He made it fun for us,” says Willis of Holland.

After earning his elementary education degree at Indiana State University, Willis returned to Covington to teach second grade. Besides baseball, he has coached junior high and junior varsity basketball.

Covington (enrollment around 280) is a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Attica, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage, Riverton Parke, Seeger and South Vermillion).

Conference games play one another twice — either in home-and-home weekdays series and Saturday doubleheaders.

Non-conference opponents on the schedule include Benton Central, Clinton Prairie, Crawfordsville, Danville (Ill.), Delphi, North Montgomery, North Putnam, Southmont, Terre Haute South Vigo and West Lafayette.

The Trojans are in an IHSAA Class 1A grouping with Attica, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage (consolidation of Rockville and Turkey Run) and Riverton Parke. Covington won the latest of its 12 sectional crowns in 2018.

Willis has three other Covington graduate on his coaching staff — Matt Gerling (fifth season), Ryan Tolley (second season) and Jon Covault (first season). Gerling (Olney Central College) and Covault (Danville Area Community College) played college baseball.

Former player Ollie Pettit went to Danville Area while current junior Tanner Dreher has made a verbal commitment to the University of Illinois-Springfield. The versatile player has been used by Covington as a catcher, pitcher, shortstop and third baseman.

Willis says senior right-handed pitcher Logun Freed has shown an interest in playing at the college level.

During the off-season, the Trojans who were not in a winter sport went through strength training and conditioning. Hitters took cuts in new indoor batting cages. Pitchers began building up their arms.

“I love the 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),” says Willis. “It’s the healthiest thing for the pitchers’ arms.

“It also forces you have (pitching) depth. We play four games the first week. We’ll have to have a lot of people to throw.”

Many Covington athletes take part in an Advanced Physical Conditioning class.

Trojan Complex on Ninth Street is the home to Covington baseball, softball, track, football, soccer and tennis.

While its not affiliated with the school and is funded through Covington Youth Baseball (Scott Holycross is the organization’s president), there is a junior high team of seventh and eighth graders which play about 10 games in the spring and play home games on the high school field. Many of those players go on to to play Pony League in the summer.

Covington Youth Baseball sends its peewee, minor and major league players to a six-week youth camp conducted by high school coaches and players in the winter.

Evan and Shannon Willis have been married for two years. Their fathers (Ron Willis and Shane Bowling) coached together at the youth league level with sons Landon Willis and Bryce Bowling on the team.

Ron and Ruthann Willis sent three sons through the Covington High School program. Oldest son Brad Willis (Class of 2005) was a center fielder and played two seasons with shortstop Evan. Landon Willis (Class of 2011) and Bryce Bowling (Class of 2012) both played for coach Brad Short.

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Evan and Shannon Willis take in a baseball game at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Evan Willis is head baseball coach at Covington (Ind.) High School.

Stambazze keeping minds in motion for Whitko Wildcats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-year head coach Bob Stambazze says he wants his baseball players at Whitko Junior-Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., to process the game.

“Your mind is constantly in motion,” says Stambazze. “We do chalk talk and go through (defensive) scenarios. Every play, everyone has a responsibility. Who to back up is so important in this game.

“Remember, back-ups are your last line of defense.”

Stambazze says he wants to establish a solid base for the program in years to come.

“They can say I did it the right way and they can build off of that,” says Stambazze.

A familiar face and voice to athletics in the area covered by the Three Rivers Conference (Fulton, Kosciusko, Miami, Wabash and Whitley counties), Stambazze also serves as sports director and play-by-play announcer for WJOT-FM 105.9 in Wabash and WARU-FM 101.9 in Peru.

He was hired for the baseball job at Whitko this winter after the unexpected passing of head coach Mark Fisher at 35 on Oct. 15, 2018.

“Mark said he got into coaching for how I treated him in Little League,” says Stambazze. “I want to continue what he tried to set up.”

Fisher played for Stambazze as a boy in Huntington County Baseball and was close with Bob and Marla Stambazze’s sons, Jake and Bobby. Both sons are married with two children. Jake Stambazze played multiple positions for Indiana Tech coach Steve Devine and was an NAIA All-America honorable mention for the Warriors in Fort Wayne in 2005.

Bob Stambazze played baseball at Huntington North High School, where he graduated in 1971. The first three years, Paul Buzzard was Vikings head coach. Wally Stoffel began in Stambazze’s senior season and took the team all the way to semistate.

Stambazze counts Don Sherman, Chuck Brimbury and Mike Frame as mentors.

At Huntington North, Stambazze competed against Tipton High School and then-Blue Devils head coach Sherman. It wasn’t long after that Sherman became head coach at Huntington North and went on to a successful career that got him elected to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

In Sherman, Stambazze saw a fierce competitor and someone devoted to baseball basics.

“He was very intense and everything had to be fundamental,” says Stambazze. “Like he did, I teach (fielders) to track the ball into the glove and ‘gator’ the ball with your right hand and glove. You always used two hands.”

Brimbury coached at Huntington North with Sherman then enjoyed his own success at Peru High School.

“I don’t know if anybody will play as aggressively as a Chuck Brimbury team,” says Stambazze. “He’s one of the more competitive and fun coaches to be around.”

Stambazze credits long-time Huntington University head baseball coach Frame for setting an example of how to handle pitchers and student-athletes.

“He was pitcher and he’s a student of pitching,” says Stambazze of Frame. “He does such a wonderful job with his staff. He has minimized stuff with his staff so they can do more. He breaks things down.

“His faith toward his players, it’s so important. I’ve always believed in telling parents, ‘they’re your sons and daughters, but they’re always going to be my kids.’”

Stambazze sold sporting goods for 32 years. He’s been an IHSAA-licensed official since 1975. This school year, he worked about 20 football games and eight basketball contests. He will be occupied this spring so he won’t be calling softball.

As for calling games on the radio, he does that for high schools in Wabash and Howard counties and Manchester University football and basketball.

“No one has more fun doing it than I do,” says Stambazze, who went on the air 13 years ago as a color commentator and moved over to play-by-play when there was an opening for that position. Uniquely, his color person rotates by the game.

“I’ve had moms work games with me, but they had to keep all the stats,” says Stambazze, who earned the Virgil Sweet Distinguished Service Award from the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association in 2015.

He calls 80 to 90 basketball games a year between high school varsity and junior varsity and college. This past sectional season saw him pull through while dealing with acute laryngitis. He also hosts a weekly Coaches’ Show for during football and basketball seasons.

Stambazze was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1972 and served in Germany. where he played basketball, managed the AYA on base and coached swimming. He played for the Germany/American baseball team in the world tournament in Nicargua in 1973 and coached the European 14-16 All-Stars to the Big League World Series in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1974.

After his military service, Stambazze played in three world fast pitch softball tournaments and also served as Huntington County Baseball president. He has been head softball coach at Huntington University and an assistant at Indiana Tech and Wabash High School.

Stambazze took over the Wildcats in time to help with some winter workouts. His assistant is Preston Myers, who made a long daily commute from Lebanon, Ind., to assist with the Northfield High School boys basketball program and is doing the same with Whitko baseball.

There have been 26 players with just two seniors at recent practices for varsity and junior varsity teams.

“We have a good JV schedule with about 20 games,” says Stambazze.

Whitko (enrollment around 460) will compete in the TRC with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Wabash.

Non-conference opponents include Adams Central, Bellmont, Bluffton, Churubusco, Heritage, Lakeland, Lakewood Park Christian, New Haven, Prairie Heights, Southern Wells, Wawasee and West Noble.

The Wildcats are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lewis Cass, Manchester, Oak Hill, Rochester and Wabash. Whitko won the program’s lone sectional crown in 2017 with Erik Hisner as head coach and Fisher as one of his assistants. Hisner then went to Northfield as an assistant and is now athletic director at Eastern High School in Greentown, Ind.

Whitko plays its home games on-campus. Since his youth, Stambazze has known the importance of grooming the diamond.

“I’ve always taken care of the field,” says Stambazze. “That kind of comes naturally to me. Our kids do a very good job. They had the rakes in their hands after practice.

“You’ve got to own your program.”

Stambazze has held a clinic for the Larwill youth baseball league and hopes to do the same for youth leagues in Pierceton and South Whitley. Those organizations cover T-ball to Pony League.

There is currently not junior high baseball at Whitko, but it’s something that Stambazze and athletic director Josh Mohr have talked about.

Stambazze opposes some of the rule changes Major League Baseball is implementing like limiting pitching changes and the like.

“MLB doesn’t need to manage the game,” says Stambazze. “That’s part of baseball. They’re trying to take the human element out of the game. That’s the greatest part of the game. Leave it alone.”

The coach does favor the idea of high school batters staying in the batter’s box and the pitchers not taking too much time between deliveries.

“You want to have a flow to the game,” says Stambazze.

The IHSAA pitch count (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) came along in 2017 and Stambazze favors that. Prior to the restriction, he broadcast games when pitchers representing the same school threw 225 and 175 pitches in tournament play.

Scrimmage rules allow for four innings of 10 batters each. Stambazze says he is planning to use 10 pitchers for four batters apiece in Whitko’s scrimmage and then restrict them to 45 tosses in each of the Wildcats’ first two regular-season games and work up from there.

WHITKOWILDCATS2

BOBSTAMBAZZE

Bob Stambazze is entering his first season as head baseball coach at Whitko Junior-Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., in 2019. He is a Huntington North High School graduate and is sports director and play-by-play announcer for sports director and play-by-play announcer for WJOT-FM 105.9 in Wabash and WARU-FM 101.9 in Peru. (Jan’s Photography Photo)

Rupley, Manchester Squires value baseball smarts

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jack Rupley began learning about the details of baseball decades ago from a man named Karl Merritt.

Merritt was the head baseball coach at Manchester High School in the Wabash County town of North Manchester. Rupley (Class of 1975) was one of his players.

“He taught us a lot of the intricacies of the game, which I try to pass along now,” says Rupley, who became Manchester Junior-Senior High School’s head coach in 1998 after a few seasons as an assistant. “It’s just knowledge of the game and see how the game unfolds. It’s baseball savvy. It’s baseball intelligence.”

Like Merritt, Rupley wants his Squires to carry a high Baseball I.Q.

“Every time that ball’s hit, everybody has a place to go,” says Rupley, repeating something that Merritt emphasized to his defenders. When it comes to fielding, if your feet aren’t right, your throw probably isn’t going to be very good.

“We work really hard and getting the feet set and going in the right direction.”

Next week, the Squires will be divided by positions. Shortstops and second baseman will get in plenty of double play flips and work on correctly back-handing the ball.

Infielders will rehearse their timing.

“A timing mechanism has to go off in your head,” says Rupley. “If I bobble the ball, do I still have a chance to get the guy at first? Our philosophy is if you can’t get rid of the ball in three seconds from the crack, you may not get the guy out because a decent speed from home to first is four seconds.”

Manchester plays on its campus on Faudee Field (named for former coach at Chester Township High School and the first athletic director at Manchester, Gerald “Doe” Faudee).

The diamond has a generous amount of foul territory. For that reason, making accurate throws and backing up throws is extra-important.

“We don’t want to compound a mistake by hurrying and making a bad throw and giving that guy second base,” says Rupley. “If a right fielder’s being lazy and not getting over there to help out, you might give them third.

“Baseball doesn’t change. Yeah, kids are bigger and stronger. But if you can throw the ball, hit the ball and catch the ball better than the other team, you’re going to be a pretty good shape.”

Manchester works hard on fundamentals in practice, going through fly ball, ground ball, bunting and hitting stations.

Merritt was a strong believer in the bunt game. Everyone on the roster had to be able to execute when called upon to put one down.

“We bunt almost everyday,” says Rupley. “We put the pressure on the defense. We make that pitcher think about getting off the mound in a hurry.”

Rupley teaches these lessons with the help of assistants Matt Carver, Stacey Clark and Luke Helton.

Carver played for Rupley at Manchester. Clark represented the Squires on the diamond before Rupley’s time as head coach. Helton, a Manchester University student, played at Tippecanoe Valley High School and briefly for Manchester U.

Rupley really incorporates the bunt. In fact, his team bunted well enough and got enough timely hits, strong defense and solid pitching during the 2002 postseason to claim an IHSAA Class 2A state championship.

“We ran the bases like a Banshee,” says Rupley. “We might as well be aggressive. What do we have to lose?”

Manchester got off to a 4-13 start in 2002 and was 6-17 going into sectional play. But nine of those losses were by one or two runs.

“We had been in most every game we played,” says Rupley. “I told (my team), all we have to do is just relax and go play. What happened before doesn’t matter.

“Everything just clicked.”

The team, which included Ryan Roth (now co-head coach at Grace College), topped No. 3-ranked Batesville 9-8 in the championship game. Josh Staton got the mound victory and Todd Dale earned the save.

Baseball participation numbers at Manchester have gone up and down. Rupley has had as few as 20 players for varsity and junior varsity squads. In 2018, he had 26 and expects to have 27 or 28 in 2019.

“That’s about the right number for us,” says Rupley. “We don’t have enough kids to have a C-team or freshmen team. We’re not big enough.”

Everyone has a role.

“I sit them all down individually and tell them where I think they’re at,” says Rupley. “I ask them what position they want to play. I tell the kids up front, ‘listen, you may have two kids in front of you that are better at that position. But we may ask you to step somewhere else and help us out.’”

Lending a few more opportunities for players to participate is the rule that allows courtesy runners for the pitcher and catcher.

Rupley also wants his players to know the importance of being a student-athlete.

“I tell the kids, first and foremost, you’re in school to get an education,” says Rupley. “Grades are important because you use your brain the rest of your life.”

The coach notes that the percentage of going on to the next level is pretty minimal.

“I want them to be a good citizen — in and out of school,” says Rupley. “When you’re on that team you represent your parents, you represent the team and your represent the community.”

He also lets his young athletes know that life is full of adversity and the teen years are a time to learn about responsibility.

“Not everything is going to go your way,” says Rupley. “You have to understand that mom and dad aren’t always going to be there to make decisions for you. You’ve got to learn to make your own decisions and stand on your own two feet.

“I tell the kids, I know there are days when you’re not going to be at your best. But all I’m going to do is give me your best effort everyday.”

Manchester (enrollment around 510) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).

The Squires’ 2019 non-conference foes include Blackford, Caston, Central Noble, Churubusco, Columbia City, DeKalb, Eastern, Fort Wayne Wayne, Heritage, Oak Hill, Taylor and Wawasee.

The Wabash County Tournament (Manchester, Northfield, Southwood, Wabash) was suspended a few years ago since the teams already met in conference and sectional play.

When Rupley went to Manchester, conference games were played in the summer after the IHSAA state tournament series. At that time, the Squires played a double round robin in the Northern Lakes Conference through mid-July. There were a dozen or so non-conference games in the spring prior to the sectional.

If Rupley could change anything about Indiana baseball it would be to make the start of the season later.

“The weather is so unpredictable,” says Rupley. “To me, baseball is a warm weather sport.”

Recent Manchester graduate Hayes Sturtsman is on the baseball team at Indiana Tech. Seniors Mason Meyer (Grace College) and Grant Strobel (Ivy Tech Northeast) have made college baseball commitments.

Rupley says he will do what he can to help players who want to play college ball. He also explains what it entails.

“It’s going to be a lot different than what it is here,” says Rupley. “It’s 10-month commitment.

“It might be a lot harder physically and a little harder mentally, too. There are a whole bunch of guys who were good at their high school.

“It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work.”

Rupley saw that firsthand. Jack and Cathy Rupley have three sons — Keith (Manchester Class of 1996), Kory (2000) and Klint (2001). Keith played football at Earlham College while the other two played on the gridiron at Anderson University.

Jack Rupley was an assistant football coach at Manchester for 30 years. He has been IHSAA-licensed basketball official since 2000. He is the maintenance director at Manchester while Cathy is a cook.

Columbus East High School head coach Jon Gratz played for Rupley and graduated in 2001. Rupley-coached Dan Jones is a former head coach at LaVille High School.

MANCHESTERSQUIRES

JACKRUPLEY

Jack Rupley has been head baseball coach at Manchester Junior-Senior High School in North Manchester, Ind., since 1998. He is a 1975 graduate of the school.