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Despite challenges, baseball is making its way in Gary

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s not easy being a teenage baseball player in Gary, Indiana.

Area schools have closed, making for less opportunities in the spring.

Little League nationwide has dropped its Big League (ages 17-18) divisions for baseball and softball, leaving several players looking for a place to play this summer, including more than 250 in Indiana District 1 (Gary area).

American Legion (19-and-under) to the rescue.

Kevin Bradley and Ray Dix III know the situation well. The two men coached a Big League team together last year. This spring, Bradley is back for his second season as head coach at Bowman Academy and Dix has joined a coaching staff that also includes Lorenzo Scott.

Bradley, 44, is a veteran of the Gary Fire Department who first played T-ball at East Glenn. When that field was damaged, he and others moved to Midtown Little League (now Gary Metro Area Little League, where he is now president), also at 21st and Harrison. He went on to now-closed Gary Lew Wallace High School, graduating in 1991. He earned a scholarship to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., as a third baseman, shortstop and pitcher (he still plays in an area adult league).

After one season, he returned home as a volunteer coach in various leagues. coached at Gary Roosevelt for seven years before coming to Bowman.

Bradley wants to be involved for the good of the youngsters and the game.

“To me it’s important to have a high school coach — in this city especially — that knows the game and loves the game instead of just having somebody because they couldn’t find anybody else to coach,” says Bradley, who uses baseball to teach his players life lessons like accountability. “Once you leave high school everything is about life. If they want to play on the next level, they have to know what’s expected of them from their college coach as far as work ethic and everything like that.

“At the next level, you’re in the world now. There’s no more mommy and daddy picking you up to go to school.”

Thirteen players — seniors Zavion Brown, Martrell Dixon, Darreall Payne, Antonio Price, Devin Russell and Charles Thompson III, juniors Joseph Moore, Langston Stalling and Aaron Whittaker, sophomore Jordan Adams and Keondre Pippins and freshmen Deysean Jenkins and Ezekiel Sankey — come from all over the city come to Roosevelt Park at 21st Avenue and Harrison St. for home games and practices. It requires some boys to take two buses to get there.

Bowman Academy is a charter school.

“Charter schools offer an alternative education to public schools,” says Dix. “Parents who are a little more concerned about what’s in a child’s text book will send them to Bowman. It’s just a matter of choice.”

One of three Gary high schools fielding baseball teams this spring (West Side and 21st Century are the other two) Bowman has already played doubleheaders at South Bend Clay and Delphi.

“We try to expose the kids to different areas,” says Bradley. “We go out and play someone different as opposed to playing all the schools around here.”

The original idea was to beef up the schedule to get ready for sectional play. Because of IHSAA sanctions against all Bowman athletic teams, there will be no postseason this year and next.

These games will get some players ready for the summer, where American Legion baseball is going to fill some of the void left by the departure of Big League baseball.

At least three American Legion teams are being formed under the name Region Legion Expos with ties to East Gary Memorial Post 100 in Lake Station. Donations are being sought to foot the bills for uniforms, travel, umpires and more. Dix is also looking for more coaches.

While Bradley began playing baseball at age 4, many Gary kids are staying away from Little League at Gary Area Metro (west of I-65) or Miller (east of 1-65) because leadership has changed so much over the years.

“We’ve also found the older the kids get, the less interested they become,” says Bradley. “They old enough to drive, get a job or a girlfriend, whatever. In the this area basketball is the king. So we battle everyday trying to get these kids interested in baseball

“We try to make it feasible for parents to afford to have their kids play. Even if they never played before, we just want to introduce them to the game.”

Bradley, Dix and Scott look at baseball as “serious business” and that’s why they’ve embraced the Legion baseball for those who want to continue playing the game in high school and beyond.

Dix, 33, grew up playing baseball in East Chicago Civic Little League. His family moved to right before his freshman year and he played at Merrillville High School.

“I learned so much baseball from (Pirates coach Fenton Macke),” says Dix. “He allowed me as a freshman to ask too many questions. He was amazing.”

Dix went on to attend Indiana University and began helping as a coach with his little brother’s team at Merrillville Little League.

“By the end of the summer I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I was 19 years old,” says Dix.

Rahdric Dix went on to letter in basketball and baseball at Merrillville played baseball at Butler University and the University of Southern Indiana.

“My brother was an amazing athlete and a really good ballplayer,” says Dix, who went from coaching Little League in Merrillville to Lake Station. He was also an assistant for five years at Lake Station Edison High School. After a year off, he spent two years on the staff at Gary West Side — the same school that gave the baseball world 21-year big league pitcher LaTroy Hawkins.

Dix, who is working on his college degree, is concerned about all the potential idle youth caused by taking away baseball for older teens, but he is excited about the exposure that the ones who do get to play will receive. He plans to take his team to Illinois and Michigan and play 20 to 25 regular-season games this summer.

“The biggest hurdle we’re having is getting people to understand the giant change that’s come about,” says Dix. “I want to give as many opportunities to as many young men as I can (through American Legion baseball).

“The goal is to get kids seen (by colleges). Kids are going to get seen for $100. Everybody else is going to charge up to $1,000.”

Legion ball became an option when Dix came in contact with Indiana second district baseball chairman Joe Kusiak, who is looking to add teams around northwest Indiana.

There would have been multiple options if they cut off the program at 17U or 16U, but that would exclude players going into or coming out of their senior year or, for some, their freshmen year of college.

“It was the first league I saw that would allow our older kids to still play,” says Dix. “You don’t want to tell our kids they don’t have anything to do in the summer. That’s not the world’s greatest idea. They’ll find something to do that none of us would enjoy.”

Having organized baseball gives these young men a positive outlet.

“One of the things that scares me the most is when they go away to college and they have to come back here,” says Dix. “They’ve spent eight or nine months away from the situation, bettering their lives, and they have to come back here and they don’t have the structure they had when they were at school.”

Scott, a St. Louis native married to a local gal, played at Ball State University and then eight seasons in the minors, making it to Triple-A in the Marlins organization. He began coaching with Bradley last season at Bowman.

“We found a gem when they put us together,” says Bradley of Scott. “We have coaches here with the knowledge to teach. We’ve got a great group of kids. They are receptive to all of us.”

The coaches try to keep the communication at a high level. Bradley, Dix and Scott might all be saying the same thing but in different ways. If players are not grasping what they are being taught, they are encouraged to ask for an explanation from a coach they can best understand.

“You learn that every kid is different,” says Bradley. “I may have to find a new way to show this kid how to field this ground ball.”

BOWMAN1

Bowman Academy’s baseball team pauses during practice Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at Roosevelt Park in Gary. The Eagles are (from left): head coach Kevin Bradley, Aaron Whittaker, Kiondre Pippins, Joseph Moore, Langston Stalling, Devin Russell, Jordan Adams, Antonio Price, Martrell Dixon and assistant coach Ray Dix III. Not pictured: assistant coach Lorenzo Scott, Zavion Brown, Ezekiel Sankey, Deysean Jenkins, Darreall Payne and Charles Thompson III. (Steve Krah Photo)

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While wins keep coming, Jasper’s Gobert keeps it fun

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There used to be a sign near Terry Gobert’s office leading out to Alvin C. Ruxer Field:  “Are you having fun?”

Gobert has coached Jasper High School to five state baseball championships (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2006), three runner-up finishes (2010, 2013, 2015) with 11 State Finals appearances since taking over the program in 1988.

The Wildcats also made it in 1986 with Gobert in his first season as an assistant to Ray Howard.

To put it lightly, Jasper has been winners — more than 700 times — with Gobert running the show.

All the while, he reminds himself to enjoy the journey.

“If you followed our program in the spring to the end of the year, you’re going to see kids pushed like they’ve never been pushed,” says Gobert. “But you’re also going to see humor like you’re never seen humor. You want to make it fun for the kids and also for yourself.

“You catch yourself demanding so much, you forget sometimes they’re kids.”

Winning has been such a constant that there is pressure for players to keep the tradition alive. But it’s not something that Gobert or his assistants — Jason Ahlbrand, Phil Kendall, Jeremy Wolf, Jeff Zink and Eric Dall — harp on.

“We push for excellence, we don’t push for W’s,” says Gobert. “But it’s there and the kids feel it. It’s not something I stress.

“With a single-elimination tournament in a sport like baseball, there are so many things that can happen. We play seven innings. You can have 21 hard-hit balls and nothing to show for it. You can have five bloops and win a state title … A good coach understands you can play well and lose.”

In Jasper’s last two state championship game appearances, the Cats came away a 2-1 loss to Norwell in 2013 and 2-1 loss to Andrean in 2015.

How high are the expectations in this baseball-crazed southern Indiana community?

The day after the ’13 setback, Gobert was back in Jasper pumping gas when he was approached by a citizen saying “this group just didn’t have it.”

“We lost two games that year,” says Gobert. “We lost 2-1 in 11 innings to a kid that got drafted (Mount Vernon-Posey right-hander Cody Mobley) and beat that team in the regional and then we lost to a good Andrean team. To say a team didn’t have it, any other community would be embracing that and they’d be legends. You have to fight that. But I’d rather be somewhere that expects to win than to just accept losing.”

Gobert is proud of the sustained excellence at Jasper, where they have taken 37 sectionals, 25 regionals and 13 semistates. The last season under .500 came back in 1972. Since ’88, the Cats have won 20 or more games 25 times with seven campaigns of at least 30 triumphs. The 2016 squad went 28-4.

Jasper won 265 games with Howard at the helm 1977-87 (the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame director still throws daily batting practice and is a radio analyst on WITZ).

Ken Brelage (1977), Keith Leinenbach (1977), Dan Fuhs (1978), Mark Kunkel (1978), Jerry Alles (1979), Brian Persohn (1979), Joe Birge (1980), Mike Ballenger (1981), Mike Burger (1982), Tim Fehribach (1983), Greg Begle (1983), P.J. Wessel (1984), Rick Rasche (1985) and Todd Krapf (1987) were IHSBCA All-Stars for Howard.

Gobert era All-Stars include Ryan Seidl (1991), Andy Noblitt (1992), Scott Rolen (1993), Aaron Rees (1995), Shawn O’Connor (1996), Matt Mauck (1997), Scott Kluesner (1998), Heath Uppencamp (1998), Jimmy Corbin (1999), Neil Giesler (2002), Ben Schmidt (2003), Adam Klatka (2006), Broc Litherland (2006), J.T. Stenftenagel (2007), Andy Binkley (2008), Austin Ahrens (2010), Tory Hall (2011), Dan Giesler (2012), Nick Gobert (2013), Scott Stallwood (2014), Austin Alles (2015), Cal Krueger (2016).

Rolen was Indiana Mr. Baseball and went on the play 17 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds.

Mauck played in the Chicago Cubs system for four seasons.

Wildcats to receive the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award at the State Finals include Phil Rohlehder (1967), Phil Kendall (1996), Matt Mauck (1997), Heath Uppencamp (1998), Sam Linette (2006), Austin Ahrens (2010), Nick Gobert (2013) and Ben Moore (2015).

“I’m more proud that we can maintain that kind of consistency at a public school for four decades,” says Gobert. “Another thing I love about this, the guys who played for Ray and now having their grandkids play for me. Kids I coached at the beginning, I’m coaching their kids now.”

With the advent of travel ball and sports specialization, Gobert has witnessed change over the decades.

A 1979 Greencastle High School graduate, Gobert lettered in football, basketball and baseball for the Tiger Cubs. He still believes in the multi-sport athlete and had many of those on many of his State Finals squads at Jasper.

An active board member with Jasper Youth Baseball, Gobert pleads with parents every year to let their offspring play multiple sports.

“People say it’s a different world now, but I just don’t buy that,” says Gobert. “Kids and parents today think they’ve got to decide at 10, 11 or 12 years of age, Johnny’s going to concentrate on baseball or whatever sport year-round. I don’t think there’s anything good that comes out of it.

“I tell them not to travel to the length they do. I’d rather have a young boy going to bed wishing he could play more baseball than too much baseball. By the time they get to high school it seems they’ve already traveled and they’re tired of it and want something else. Baseball is one of the worst.”

For those who are chasing the few baseball scholarship dollars that are out there, Gobert has this to say:

“I wish they would total up every penny spent, including gas, vehicles, mileage, tires, hotel, food, equipment, entry fees and the damaging effect on their younger sister who is being drug all across the Midwest summer after summer watching a sport they grew to hate because they had to watch their brother play it from the time he was 7 until 14 or whatever.”

The impact that travel baseball has on the high school season is twofold in the IHSBCA Hall of Famer’s mind — players are tired and there’s also the “pool play” mentality coming into the IHSAA’s one-and-done world.

“A good day is they had three hits,” says Gobert. “The Cats may not have won, but they had three hits.

“Every year we have to work harder and harder.”

Growing up in Greencastle, Gobert could name the 10 boys who dressed on every sectional basketball team from 1970-79.

“It used to mean more just to be on your high school team,” says Gobert. “Now so much in society, if you’re not playing by your freshman or sophomore year on varsity, you’re going to move on to something else.”

As a social studies teacher, Gobert presents lessons about civil rights. But it’s the test scores and the grades that parents want to know about more than what their son or daughter is being taught.

“I don’t want to paint a negative picture,” says Gobert.

Jasper has been successful over the decades because of simplicity.

“Get a good pitch to hit and drive it hard,” says Gobert. “(Son Nick who graduated from Jasper in 2013 and played at the University of Dayton) laughs at how simple we keep things.”

While batting averages are distributed to the media, Gobert is more concerned with the Quality At-Bat chart, which accounts for a batter going deep in the count, hitting the ball hard, moving the runner by hitting to the right side or extending an at-bat to eight or nine pitches before striking out.

“I know in my head who’s hitting and who’s not,” says Gobert. “I know in my head who’s making the plays in practice and that’s where the lineup comes from.

“I couldn’t tell you what the kid’s hitting (for average). I can tell you if I want him up there or not in a tough situation.”

Jasper coaches ask players not to give extra outs while on defense or the waste them on offense.

“We don’t want to extend any inning with errors or whatever,” says Gobert. “We don’t want to get doubled up, picked off or run at the wrong time. We want to put the ball in play and put pressure on the (opposing defense).”

Gobert counts it a bonus that all of members of his staff are full-time teachers and all but Forest Park graduate Zink played for the Cats. All are also basketball coaches for boys or girls, leaving much of the preseason work to Gobert, Howard and Kurt Gutgsell. Pitching coach Kendall played six seasons in the minor leagues with Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers affiliates.

“I value their input,” says Gobert of his assistants. “It’s great on the one hand, they understand the program and the expectations.

“But it’s also good to have new blood or outside perspective. That’s why you go to clinics. That’s why you talk to people and you’re willing to change. We don’t just do things because that’s the way we’ve always done it. I also don’t go to the national clinic and throw everything out that we’re doing because some clown says this is the way to hit or this is the way to pitch.”

As for pitching, the new pitch count rule has not caused Jasper to alter its ways.

“We try to develop a good staff and we try to get kids where they can go deep in games,” says Gobert. “There’s no magic number (of pitches). Some kids can pick up a ball and throw all day and other kids need four or five days off.”

Gobert believes that daily throwing — not pitching or throwing breaking balls — is the best way to build arm strength.

Four decades ago, Howard was using a chiropractor to keep his team ready and Jasper now uses former player Dr. Jared Brosmer.

“I put a lot of value in that,” says Gobert. “He can do a test and and tell of the kid’s starting to fatigue.”

Jasper plays in the bi-state Big Eight Conference (with Boonville, Mount Vernon, Princeton, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington in Indiana and Mount Carmel in Illinois) and schedules top-flight competition from all over, many of those team’s coming to Ruxer Field with its 2,900 permanent seats, lights and well-groomed playing surface.

“Our field is one of the most beautiful in the country,” says Gobert. “We take a lot of pride and put a lot of work into our facility.”

TERRYGOBERT

Terry Gobert is in his 30th season as head baseball coach at Jasper High School. He has won five state titles and more than 700 games at the southern Indiana powerhouse.

Froedge makes success an expectation at Crawfordsville

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the heart of Montgomery County is a high school baseball program that’s hard to beat.

John Froedge has been coach at Crawfordsville since age 23 in 1982. His pitching coach and brother-in-law Rhett Welliever is in his 32nd year with the Athenians.

“We have something kind of unique here for a small community,” says Froedge. “Kids who come into the baseball program expect success so they work hard.

“Any of the programs that have had long-standing success have a formula. This is how we do Crawfordsville baseball and these are the expectations.”

The cornerstones of the Athenian way have always been structure, discipline and a love of baseball. With continued success came tradition and expectation.

In the past 26 seasons, Crawfordsville has won 14 IHSAA sectionals, five regionals, two semesters and two Class 3A state championships as well as 20 Sagamore Conference titles.

The Athenians raised the state trophy by besting Mishawaka Marian twice — 5-1 in 2008 and 8-3 in 2011.

C-ville has earned at least 20 victories in 21 of those 26 campaigns. The average record during the span is 24-8.

The 2016 Athenians went 25-5 and won the conference title, but not the sectional. For the first time since 2003-05, Crawfordsville has gone three straight seasons minus a sectional crown.

“We’ve got a bunch of really hungry seniors,” says Froedge of the 2017 squad. “We’ve virtually got the entire team back.”

While proud of the tradition, Froedge deflects from the stress of keeping it going.

“They don’t want to be the first group to go through here and not win something big,” says Froedge. “I tell them ‘Just play the game. There is no pressure. You’re not playing for the legacy. You’re not playing for the past. This is your team.’

“I want them to experience that success at the end of the year. But they’re not going to get it if they’re all uptight about it.”

Froedge, a 1976 Southmont High School graduate, is bearing down on 750 career victories. He is in select company among active Indiana high school coaches. Andrean’s Dave Pishkur is in the 900-win club. Twin Lakes’ Jake Burton has surpassed 800 while Froedge, Chesterton’s Jack Campbell, Indianapolis Scecina’s Dave Gandolph and Jasper’s Terry Gobert have all surpassed 700. All six are in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Froedge’s induction coming 2010.

Early in Froedge’s career, he saw success happening at places like Jasper and LaPorte and said why not Crawfordsville, too? He made it a point to take to LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber when attending the IHSBCA State Clinic each winter.

“When you’re trying to build your program, you find out who try to talk to the best,” says Froedge, who also learned about the game while playing for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Brandon at Anderson University.

All but one of Crawfordsville’s IHSBCA North/South All-Star selections — Damon Brown (1978) — have come with Froedge in charge. The others are Matt McCarty (1994), Brett Motz (1995), Adrian Norris (2002), Brandon Moore (2004), Ross Wheeler (2006), Andrew Swart (2008), Brett McKinney (2009), Steven Rice (2010), Cory Rice (2011), Caleb Rasmussen (2012) and Jordan Jackson (2013).

Many Athenians have gone on to play college baseball, but not many at the NCAA Division I level. A couple of exceptions are left-handed pitchers Cameron Hobson and Steven Rice.

When Crawfordsville won the 3A state crown in 2008, Hobson (win) and Rice (save) handled pitching duties in topping Marian.

Hobson went on to pitch for the University Dayton. His professional career took him as far as Triple-A. Rice was a part of Vanderbilt University’s 2014 College World Series champions.

“It sounds cliche, but we’re a team,” says Froedge. “Year in and year out, we’re not the most athletic, the most gifted. We develop strong pitching — and it’s no different this year — but it’s everybody pulling together and working for a common cause.

“We have kids that are super loyal to the program. We have had kids do well by working hard together.”

Kids coming up through feeder programs like Crawfordsville Youth Baseball (CYB-Crawfordsville Youth Baseball on Facebook) and Crawfordsville Middle School dream of one day playing for the Athenian varsity.

There’s also a real family feel. John’s wife Debbie is always around. Son Brandon Froedge, who played for C-ville in the 1990’s, left the baseball staff last year to help assistant his sister Britney Carpenter in her role as Crawfordsville’s head softball coach.

John has been at it long enough that he can now say he has coached several fathers and sons in the royal blue and yellow gold.

Welliever, whom John calls a “baseball junkie” has been pitching daily batting practice for decades.

“One day we counted and he threw 750 pitches,” says Froedge. “He’ll throw to the whole roster multiple times and come back the next day and do it again.”

Tony Bean, Tommy Coy, Daryl Hobson and Connor Smith are also trusted assistants for the Athenians. Justin Dugger is in his 20th season of doing multiple jobs for the team. Bob Taylor has been shooting video of every game for the past 25 years or so.

The current CHS school building opened in 1993-94 and Athenians moved from Miligan Park/Baldwin Field (the program’s home field when it won sectional trophies in 1967, 1970, 1971 and 1974) to the on-campus facility in 1995.

“We’ve got a really beautiful field and the kids do all the work,” says Froedge.

In the Sagamore Conference, Crawfordsville meets Danville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone. Many non-conference games are against bigger schools and the Athenians go to Tennessee at the beginning of the season seeking the best competition available. The final of the C-ville tournament April 15 pitted 3A No. 1 Crawfordsville against 4A No. 1 Carmel (won 13-5 by the visitors).

JOHNFROEDGE

John Froedge is in his 36th season as head baseball coach at Crawfordsville High School. The Indiana Hugh School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer is bearing down on his 750th career victory. His Athenians won Class 3A state titles in 2008 and 2011.

Discipline, structure part of Nielsen’s Concord program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Regimented and respectful.

Those are concepts Eric Nielsen is establishing in his second season as Concord High School head baseball coach.

“I’m very structured,” says Nielsen, who followed the retiring Jim Treadway as leader of the Minutemen. “All our practices are planned out. We have times and we stick to those times. Guys hustle everywhere they go. We’re very disciplined and are going to play the game the right way. I teach them to respect the game. There’s no trash talking at all. I’m big on body language.”

It’s taken some time, but players are starting to come around to Nielsen’s way of doing things.

“You are starting to see people buying into that,” says Nielsen. “They know what’s expected. Seniors will get on guys if they are not doing things the right way. That’s less that I have to do because that expectation is there.”

Nielsen was an all-state catcher at Elkhart Memorial High School, graduating in 2004. He went to be a regular behind the plate at Purdue University. His first high school head coaching stops came at Mt. Vernon (Fortville) and Knightstown before he moved back to north central Indiana.

Along the way, he has learned how to read his young athletes.

“I’ve learned really well how to manage the players,” says Nielsen. “I think that’s why (Chicago Cubs manager) Joe Maddon is so good at what he does. He’s not managing baseball, he’s managing people. In the olden days with (LaPorte coach) Ken Schreiber, it was this is the way it is and if you don’t like it ‘see ya!’ It was hard-nosed and it was tough.”

And while Nielsen considers himself a traditional, hard-nosed guy, he knows he has to motivate in a different way and keep his players engaged.

“If you know the game of baseball and you can build relationships, you’re going to be very successful, pending you have the talent,” says Nielsen. “I’ve seen teams that have the talent but they never go anywhere because they are so done with the season by the time the state tournament comes around. They’re cashed out.”

A syndrome that baseball and other spring sports face is a loss of focus because it’s the end of the school year. For 12th graders, they call it “senioritis.” But other grades — and even coaches — can get it, too.

Nielsen insists on holding out a carrot for his players.

“You’ve got to have them chasing something,” says Nielsen. “If you don’t, they’re going let up.

“How do you intrinisically motivate the player to want to compete? I tell them to get caught up in the process, don’t get caught up in the results.

“If I can get the process important to them then the results will come. If the process is not important to them, they don’t want to compete and there’s no reason for them to put in everything they have, you’re going to get that apathy.”

Nielsen looks at his 2017 team and sees pitching depth. At least nine of 12 varsity players can take the mound.

“The hard part is finding out who is my No. 1 and No. 2, who’s my best reliever,” says Nielsen. “We’re still in the process of finding that out.”

Along with pitching coach Mike McGregor, Nielsen looks at pitchers not only in terms of physical talent but what’s happening between the ears.

“We’re trying to teach mental toughness on the mound,” says Nielsen. “If we can have guys that will compete, saying ‘I’m going to strike this guy out.’ Even if they don’t, they are going to distinguish themselves from the rest of the players.”

What about the new pitch count rule?

“I thought it was going to be a bigger issue than it has been,” says Nielsen. “I traditionally don’t have guys throw that much anyway. I don’t push the 120 spot. As long as they’re under 80, I know how many days they need off.

“I thought I’d be juggling a lot. It hasn’t been too bad.”

Nielsen said the pitch count rule will likely be more of an issue during the IHSAA tournament series than the regular season.

“People are going to watch that really close,” says Nielsen.

Concord spends plenty of time at its regimented practices on “small ball.” The Minutemen work on moving runners with the bunt.

“We don’t have anybody on the team we can rely on to hit the long ball yet,” says Nielsen.

Something that Nielsen established in his first season at Concord was an Armed Forces Day (Concord Baseball Armed Forces Day on Facebook). It was such a hit, the Minutemen will be pay tribute to those who have served Saturday, May 6 when South Bend Adams visits for a 10 a.m. game.

Father Scott Nielsen (Army during Vietnam era) and grandfather Bob Burns (Air Force during World War II) and assistant coach Jason Paulson (Marines) are all people close to Nielsen with military ties.

As a social studies teacher at CHS, he also gets a chance to tell students about the importance of the military.

“It’s good to show the kids what these guys are doing day in and day out for our country and show them appreciation for the sacrifices that they make and have made for our freedom,” says Nielsen, whose other assistants are Sean Sears and Nic Minder.

The Minutemen compete in the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). The double round robin NLC race began this week.

ERICNIELSEN2

Eric Nielsen, a 2004 Elkhart Memorial High School graduate, is in his second season as head baseball coach at Concord High School. He was a catcher at Purdue University.

700 wins in, Wapahani’s Dudley has not changed all that much

 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Dudley just reached the rarified air of the 700-win plateau as an Indiana high school baseball coach.

Dudley steered Wapahani to a 9-1 win at Mid-Eastern Conference foe Randolph Southern April 12 to reach the milestone.

But that doesn’t mean he’ll be hitting fewer fungos or throwing less batting practice to his players.

Dudley will still be teaching the game and taking care of Raider Field — a diamond showplace in the Delaware County town of Selma.

“I’ve been very fortunate to not only have good players, but good kids,” says Dudley. “They all came from good families that have been supportive of our program.

“A lot more goes into it than one guy getting credit for 700 wins.”

This coach and educator is not given to long-winded speeches or flashiness.

“I’m simple,” says Dudley, an Accounting and Careers teacher at WHS.

Written below his likeness on his Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame web page is a simple, heart-felt sentiment:

“I have been blessed to serve as the Wapahani Varsity Baseball Coach since 1984. This honor is dedicated to the coaches, players, parents, and fans that have made Wapahani Baseball so special to our community.”

The building blocks of the program are straight forward.

“We just do things the right way and with class,” says Dudley. “We’re not here to show people up and do things that would be unsportsmanlike.

“What we’ve tried to do for a long time is have an expectation to win — from Day 1 when I started until now, we expect to win.”

Each senior class feels an obligation to keep the tradition alive.

“They don’t want to stand out and be the group that didn’t win,” says Dudley.

What does 700 victories mean to Dudley?

“I’ve been here a very long time and we’ve been pretty successful throughout those years as well,” says Dudley, a 1976 Wapahani graduate.

Success is just what the Raiders have enjoyed on a regular basis.

Besides 25 MEC titles (1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016), Wapahani has won 14 sectionals (1989, 1990, 1991, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014), six regionals (1989, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2014), two semistates (2004 and 2004), one state championship (2014) and one state runner-up (2004) — all on Dudley’s watch.

The Raiders beat Evansville Mater Dei 2-0 for the 2A title in 2014.

IHSBCA all-stars include Mike Schuck (1986), Brady Stevens (1988), Joe Luce (1989), Bobby Hirst (1990), Mitch Druckemiller (1993), Joe Hirst (1994), Kris Luce (1997), Donnie Collins (1998), Travis Johnson (2002), Eric Van Matre (2004), Jeremy Hazelbaker (2006), Devin Wilburn (2010), Brandon Estep (2011), Hayden Woodard (2013) and Zack Thompson (2016).

Hazelbaker was a standout at Ball State University and made his Major League Baseball debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. He is now with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Playing in the MEC (along with Blue River Valley, Cowan, defending 1A state champion Daleville, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Union (Modoc) and Wes-Del) tests the Raiders as does a strong non-conference schedule peppered with larger schools.

“Our conference is pretty competitive,” says Dudley. “It seems that no matter where you’re at, each team has a least one good pitcher. A lot of kids from our conference have played college ball. For being (a 1A/2A) conference that says a lot.”

Baseball has long been a priority at this place. Selma High School (which later consolidated with Center to former Wapahani) won a sectional in the first year of the IHSAA state tournament series (1967).

Time has also given Dudley some perspective and changed his coaching style a little bit.

“I’m a little more laid back after 34 years then I probably was the first 10,” says Dudley. “It’s just a baseball game — not life. When you’re young and full of energy, you think it’s life and death and it’s really not.”

When Dudley took over at Wapahani, the field had an all-dirt infield and now has spacious dugouts, a bricked backstop wall and tiered stands with a substantial press box and concession stand.

“We’ve had a lot of changes,” says Dudley. “The community takes pride in our field and our program.”

In a small town, baseball is a focal point and residents show up to watch high school, junior high (East Central Indiana League) and youth games.

We have a great Little League in Selma that has been strong for year and a lot of kids play in it,” says Dudley. “That’s been a good feeder system for us for sure.”

Dudley, who has a 2017 coaching staff of Jason Dudley, Randy Murphy, Willie Pease, Blake Turner and Drew Brandt, expects his hitters to be aggressive. The Raiders generally don’t grind just to run up the opponent’s pitch count.

“That’s more for the college level,” says Dudley. “We’ve got to be aggressive. You cannot become passive.”

Dudley says he is pretty happy with the current state of Indiana high school baseball. One thing he might change is the amount of time players are allowed to get ready in the preseason.

BRIANDUDLEY

Brian Dudley, a 1976 Wapahani High School graduate, is in his 34th season as Raiders head baseball coach. This year, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer reached the 700-win plateau. (Wapahani Photo)

Closser has Alexandria focused on work ethic, respect for the game

 

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tigers — in the wild — are known for being focused, determined and patient.

On the baseball field, the Tigers of Alexandria-Monroe High School are expected to display some of these characteristics and more.

Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria graduate, is in his 11th season as the Alex Tigers head coach.

“We always play hard (and are focused on) the integrity of the game,” says Closser. “I’m real big on treating the game the way it’s supposed to be treated and teaching the kids life lessons.

“It’s not all about baseball. It’s about learning to get along and deal with life, too.”

Closser wants his young athletes to know about strong work ethic.

“Kids are different hard now,” says Closser. “They think they want to work hard and they really don’t know how. We try to teach that.”

Assistant coaches Jeff Sells, Adam Rusche and Braden Warren are helping the sometimes-intense Closser deliver the message.

“You’ve got to trust your assistants,” says Closser. “You’re going to tell them things don’t want anybody else to know. You want to bounce stuff off their heads. They’ve got to take some stuff, too.

“I’m a pretty uptempo guy and I sometimes get excited. They’ve got to know that some of the things I’m saying to them they’ve got to let go over their head and not take it to heart all the time.”

Closser appreciates it when his younger players who don’t yet know his ways are counseled by the veterans.

“Our older kids will take them off to the side and say, ‘his bark is worse than his bite. Take it for what it’s worth. Listen to what he’s saying and not how he’s saying it,’” says Closser. “Sometimes you have to be a dad to (players). Sometimes you have to be a coach to them or a mentor.”

When Closser took over at Alex, he established a junior high team, which mirrors what is being done at the high school and essentially has replaced Babe Ruth baseball in town. Those junior high boys play 20 games in June in the East Central Indiana League.

“I wanted them to start learning what we do at our level so when they come in as freshmen they could be ready,” says Closser. “It’s worked out really well for us.”

With so many three-sport athletes, there is not much travel baseball around Alex.

“I like three-sport athletes,” says Closser. “You don’t have to wonder what they’re doing when they’re not around you.

“I played three sports in high school. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think it makes them a better person and more disciplined. You’ve got to have a routine.”

Alexandria, an IHSAA Class 2A school, has won 18, 19, 20, 22 and 16 games in the past five years and was off to a 5-2 start in 2017 despite not having a high team batting average.

“We’ll hang our hats on pitching and defensive this year and being aggressive on the bases,” says Closser. “We bunt; we steal; we hit-and-run. At this point, we have to do that kind of stuff to scratch out some runs.”

Baseball has a strong tradition at Alex. The Tigers have won seven sectional (1974, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1998, 2013, 2016), two regional (1981, 1998), one semistate (1998) and one state championship (1998).

The ’98 team (25-4), coached by Monte Sprague, featured Indiana Mr. Baseball J.D. Closser (Jeff’s son went on to play Major League Baseball with the Colorado Rockies after being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fifth round in 1998 and spending parts of the ’98, ’99 and 2000 minor league seasons with the South Bend Silver Hawks).

“It was fun to just sit back and watch,” says Closser. “They had a great team. It wasn’t just about (J.D.).

“It was fun for the other guys because there were always a lot of scouts around.”

In a 4-3 championship game win against Evansville Mater Dei, Joe Granger, Justin Musick and Mike Clark drove in runs while Granger, Clark, Justin Melton and Mat Blanton scored them. Jim Linder went to distance on the mound with nine strikeouts. J.D. Closser was presented with the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award.

That was the first school year for IHSAA class sports and Alex, coached by Garth Cone, also raised the state championship trophy for 2A boys basketball. Wade Leer, David Potter, Trester Award winner Rusty Garner and J.D. Closser logged the most minutes in the 57-43 title game win against Southwestern (Hanover).

J.D., the oldest of Jeff and Emily Closser’s three children, is coaching in the New York Yankees system. He is the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder (a Double-A affiliate).

Josh Closser played basketball at Alex and graduated in 2000. Jackie (Closser) Novinger graduated in 2003 and went on to play basketball at Butler University. One of her high school teammates was 2005 Indiana Miss Basketball Jodi Howell (who played at Purdue University).

The Tigers have produced eighth Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-stars — DeWayne Allen (1981), Dan Overman (1984), Barry Morphew (1986), Dean Morehead (1990), Brian Yeagy (1991), Jeff Urban (1995), J.D. Closser (1998) and Owen Young (2014).

Alex plays in the Central Indiana Conference (with Blackford, Eastbrook, Elwood, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill). Frankton has been ranked this spring in the IHSBCA Top 10. Each league team plays one another once on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

That leaves room for top-notch non-conference competition.

“We like to play a good schedule,” says Closser, who saw Alex host at an early-season tournament featuring defending 2A state champion Providence plus Rossville and Peru. “That puts us ready for the conference and for tournament time.”

JEFFCLOSSER

Jeff Closser, a 1976 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is in his 11th season as head baseball coach for the Alex Tigers.

Reinhardt reflects on two decades at Bethany Christian

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Only three men in the last half century have held the title of head baseball coach at Bethany Christian High School.

Dan Bodiker led the program 1966-95.

Jason Leichty served 1996-97.

Brent Reinhardt has been in charge 1998 to the present.

Reinhardt, who took a teaching job at the private school on the south side of Goshen the same academic year he assumed baseball coaching duties, has announced that this spring — his 20th — will be his last season as head coach.

While he plans to stay around baseball as a summer youth coach and remain in his role as varsity assistant girls basketball coach, he is stepping away from his spring diamond job.

The father of four (Brent and college sweetheart Marla have BC graduate and Grace College freshman Alex, junior Brooke, eighth grader Mia and fourth grader Jacoby) took the time this week to discuss his baseball past, present and future.

Alex has played junior varsity baseball this spring for the Lancers. The two girls are both athletes and Brent plans to see them play for Bethany in 2017-18. He also intends to form a 12U team in the Boys of Summer League that will include Jacoby and other Bethany students.

Stepping down in the spring will also give him more time for at-home projects and taking care of his sheep.

Reinhardt says he could see himself returning to high school baseball coaching someday, but as an assistant. He would leave the administrative work to the head coach.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association members who reach 20 years of service are designated as a “dinosaur” and receive a T-shirt declaring their jurassic credentials.

“It’s kind of interesting being a ‘dinosaur,’” says Reinhardt. “I just had opportunities earlier than most people did.

“But when you look around, there’s hardly anyone still around when I played (Reinhardt is a 1988 NorthWood High School graduate who played for Bob Riley and Dennis Myers before playing for DeVon Hoffman at Goshen College, where he met volleyball player and wife-to-be Marla Gerber).”

Bodiker and Hoffman are to be honored when Goshen visits Bethany at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 2. RedHawks head coach Josh Keister also played for Hoffman (who is also a former Goshen High head coach) at GC.

Even though Reinhardt is just 47, this is his 25th straight spring of leading teenagers with bats and balls. He was NorthWood’s head softball coach for five seasons before being hired at Bethany.

Why has he stuck around for two decades?

“I just love baseball and I love kids,” says Reinhardt. “I love the turning of winter into spring and the new life. That six to eight weeks just flies by.”

Reinhardt, a social studies teacher, has spread the game to non-players through baseball-themed Interterm/J-Term sessions.

One year, he took students to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Another time, he had them develop a minor league franchise where they had to pick the city, name the team, identify the ballpark food and construct a model of the stadium.

Reinhardt grew up a Chicago Cubs fan.

“It’s been a tradition in our family,” says Reinhardt. “Last year was pretty exciting.”

As a high schooler, Reinhardt’s favorite player was Ryne Sandberg. His favorite Cub from the 2016 World Series champions is Anthony Rizzo.

“I really like the way he plays and his leadership,” says Reinhardt. “I think he’s the face of the Cubs.”

Bethany is a Class 1A school with one IHSAA sectional title in school history (1987) and is often taking the field with teams full of players with more skill.

This gives the Bruins chances to see what it’s like to face challenges and overcome adversity.

“There’s a lot of lessons in just going out there and fighting and scratching and clawing and, at the end of the day, saying you gave it your best,” says Reinhardt. “Those are good life lessons.”

Teaching the fundamentals has also been fun for Reinhardt.

“Sometimes I’ve really had to break it down because we had some really inexperienced players in some years,” says Reinhardt. “You see a lot of improvement from freshmen to senior year if they stick with it. That’s gratifying to see that.”

A small school like Bethany allows students to get involved with many activities. Reinhardt knows he will be sharing his players with choir programs and other athletic teams.

“That’s just the way it is,” says Reinhardt. “We want to develop balanced kids who can do lots of things.”

It’s all the educational experiences that count.

“I’d like to win sectionals and state titles and those sorts of the things. But I’ll look back on all those great kids and see what they’re doing now and how they’re changing the world.

“Hopefully, they’ll look back and say baseball was fun. One of my biggest hopes is to have them playing catch with their children, taking them to games and passing on the love of baseball.”

BRENTREINHARDT

Brent Reinhardt has announced that 2017 is his 20th and last season as head baseball coach at Bethany Christian High School.