Tag Archives: IHSAA

Upp has storied LaPorte baseball program back in regional

rbilogosmall

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.

SCOTTUPP

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)

Advertisements

Keesling expects discipline, encourages expression at Pendleton Heights

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Travis Keesling is keeping up baseball traditions at Pendleton Heights High School while also creating a culture all his own.

A 1995 Pendleton Heights graduate, Keesling played four years for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt and became the Arabians head baseball coach after Stoudt retired at the end of the 2012 season with 654 wins, 14 sectional titles, three regional crowns and 10 conference championships in 32 seasons.

“Coach Stoudt is still around,” says Keesling. “He’s always ready to lend an ear if I call him. He is my mentor in coaching and one of the guys I respect more than anybody else.

“He does a phenomenal job of letting me grow as a coach.”

Like has been the case at Pendleton for the last four decades, Keesling does not let his players have facial hair and hair cuts must be short. He insists on discipline.

The Arabians are not flashy and come to the diamond with a “lunch pail” mentality. They’re there to work.

But he also lets his student-athletes express themselves.

“We allow players to be themselves and have their personality as long as they are respectful of the game,” says Keesling. “We want them to have a voice.

“Nowadays kids want to be heard. We have had more success as my coaching career has gone on by letting players have a little more freedom.”

Keesling played one season at Southeastern Illinois College and continued his schooling at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

He was an assistant to Stoudt at Pendleton 2003-06 and also coached travel baseball in the summer. His coaching resume also includes involvement with the Indiana Crossroads Showcase Series, Crossroads Championship Series, U.S. Baseball Academy camps and managing Anderson American Legion Post 127.

Keesling was head softball coach for one season at Wes-Del and five as head baseball coach at Greenfield-Central before returning to his alma mater.

The 2017 Arabians won the Hoosier Heritage Conference (which also includes Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon, New Castle, New Palestine, Shelbyville and Yorktown) for the first time under Keesling, playing mostly Friday conference doubleheaders, and reigned as Madison County champions for the fourth time in five seasons.

Pendleton typically has 45 to 50 players in the program with a varsity, junior varsity and freshmen team. The JV plays conference doubleheaders on Saturdays.

The ’17 coaching staff also includes Carlos Leyva (outfielders, baserunning and third base coach), Brad Schnepp (pitching coach), Jeff Freeman (infielders and first base coach) and Jim Kayajan (bench and hitting coach) at the varsity level, Matt Vosburgh and Mike Taylor with the JV and Brandon Schnepp with the freshmen.

Keesling and the Arabians will try to take a third straight sectional trophy when the IHSAA postseason begins Wednesday, May 24 at the Class 4A Pendleton Heights Sectional.

Pendleton Junior Baseball League has recreation teams from 8U through 14U. In Keesling’s first year, he started the PJBL-affiliated Indiana Arabians travel organization, which has teams 8U through 16U, to teach the game the Pendleton Heights way.

“We create an environment of how we’re going to play at the high school,” says Keesling of the approach with younger players. “I want my son to be a better player in July than he was in April. It’s all about development.”

With the arrival of the IHSAA tournament, a focus will be the new pitch count rules (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). Keesling said the standards used this season don’t go far enough in protecting arms.

“I think it’s too lax,” says Keesling, an IHSBCA district representative. “Ours at Pendleton Heights is stricter to the IHSAA. When a kid gets to 100 pitches, sweat starts dripping down my face. (Many players) have a career beyond us (in college). It’s not a win-at-all-costs.”

TRAVISKEESLING

Travis Keesling, a 1995 Pendelton Heights High School graduate, is in his fifth season as Arabians head baseball coach.

Kirchoff of Northeast Dubois proud to be a branch on sturdy coaching tree

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Kirchoff swells with pride when he thinks about the coaches in his life.

In his 24th season as an Indiana high school head baseball coach — his 15th at Northeast Dubois after nine at Heritage Hills — Kirchoff knows where his roots lie.

Father Rex Kirchoff was his baseball coach and Steve Brett (on his way to 467 wins) his basketball coach at Bloomfield High School, where Brian graduated in 1984. Brian’s uncle is Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame coach Guy Glover.

Another uncle — John Heaton — coached Shelbyville to the boys basketball Final Four in 1986.

Cousin Glen Heaton coached basketballers at Fort Wayne North Side.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Henry Ayres had Brian as an assistant for three seasons before he retired Kirchoff took over for the Patriots.

Before that, Brian played at Indiana State University-Evansville for Larry Shown and then IHSBCA Hall of Famer Brian Kuester and Gary Redman as the school changed its name to the University of Southern Indiana.

“I’m very proud of the coaching tree that I’m a branch of such a coaching tree,” says Kirchoff. “You talk about a guy who’s been lucky. To pick up things from these men is unreal.”

Rex Kirchoff, who is now 81, taught his son the game and is the reason he pursued coaching the sport.

A few years ago, Brian found a way to pay him back.

A family of St. Louis Cardinals fans, the Kirchoffs went to Game 6 of the 2011 World Series (St. Louis bested the Texas Rangers 10-9 in 11 innings on David Freese’s game-winning home run).

“I never saw my dad showing a whole lot of emotion,” says Brian. “He was high-fiving police officers going out of Busch Stadium that night.

“I’ve been very blessed.”

Brian considers himself an “Old School” coach, but he does not always play things by the book.

“I still cringe when people don’t bunt in bunting situations,” says Kirchoff. “When I played for Coach Redman, I found out about being very aggressive on the bases.

“I’m a believer that most kids can move on the bases. You just have to pick ways to do it.”

Not all players a speed merchants. But delayed steals and hit-and-run plays can get the wheels turning.

“You can’t get much done playing station-to-station,” says Kirchoff. “You have to get creative when the kids aren’t quite the fastest.”

Northeast Dubois is an IHSAA Class 1A school of about 270 students. The Jeeps play in the Blue Chip Conference (with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Knox, Shoals, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet and Wood Memorial; Washington Catholic is also in the BCC but has no baseball team).

How competitive is the Blue Chip? Kirchhoff notes that Rivet did not win the conference and yet finished as 1A state runner-up in 2013.

“You’ve got to play pretty well to win our conference,” says Kirchoff. an IHSBCA district representative. “In some years, three or four teams — with a break or two — could be the team to end up at Victory Field.

“Our conference champion generally speaking has a pretty good chance to make a run every year.”

Northeast Dubois plays seven round robin conference games and then a variety of non-conference opponents.

“I like the opportunity to play as many different people as possible during the season and keep it fresh with the kids. The farthest we go is Shakamak — about 1 1/2-hour drive.

“For a 1A school, we’re in a really nice spot. We have a nice mix of schools and sizes. We have plenty of options.”

3A’s Jasper, Southridge and Washington, 2A’s Forest Park and 1A’s North Daviess all appear on the non-conference slate.

All but two of NED’s nine sectional titles and two of three regional championships have come on Kirchoff’s watch. The Jeeps play in the opener of the five-team Northeast Dubois Sectional Wednesday, May 24. The hosts are the defending champions.

By the way, a Northeast Dubois Jeep has nothing to do with a mode of transportation. It’s an homage to a character that first appeared in the Popeye comic strip in 1936 — Eugene the Jeep.

BRIANKIRCHOFF

Brian Kirchoff is in his 15th season as head baseball coach at Northeast Dubois High School. Before leading the Jeeps, he was head coach at Heritage Hills.

Tiny Tri-County’s LeBeau stresses diamond details

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When you’re a small school, you learn how to make the most of what you’ve got.

That’s what Jeff LeBeau has done at Tri-County High School, an IHSAA Class 1A institution that houses about 250 students.

LeBeau, a 1995 Tri-County graduate, is in his 16th season as Cavaliers head baseball coach after one season as junior varsity coach under Denny Stitz.

Jeff began coaching local youth baseball as a high school junior. After high school, he began assisting his father Craig, a Wolcott High School graduate and former Butler University pitcher who spent 50 years as a player, assistant coach and manager for Remington American Legion Post 280 before retiring a few seasons ago.

The younger LeBeau played four seasons for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame at Huntington University before coming back to Tri-County, which is based in the White County town of Wolcott and also serves parts of Jasper and Benton counties.

Stitz, who helped Tri-County win a Class 1A state title by beating Joe Rademacher’s Barr-Reeve club in 1998, taught Jeff LeBeau how to be successful at a small school.

“Attention to detail is crucial,” says LeBeau. “The student-athlete needs to be able to perform the fundamentals correctly. The  selection pool is limited. You have to get the most out of your student-athlete’s ability.”

LeBeau recalls that Stitz was very organized.

“There was not a practice that went unscheduled or unplanned,” says LeBeau. “We were always active.”

Jeff watched his father take a group of 15 to 18 boys from spring rivals and mesh them into a cohesive summer team that won multiple sectionals and regionals and competed a few times in the Indiana American Legion State Finals. Post 280 has not sponsored a team since Craig LeBeau stepped away. Nearby Lake Village Post 375 does.

In Frame, Jeff saw another detail-oriented coach and one dedicated to teaching more than the game to a group of youngsters — many away from home for the first time.

“He was a great father figure to us,” says LeBeau. “He was good at using the game of baseball to teach us life lessons.

“He taught me a different style of running a baseball practice, breaking down the game action into minor details.”

Playing home games at Remington Community Park (about six miles off-campus), Tri-County carries about 18 to 22 players in all four grades. This year, the Cavaliers played a full junior varsity schedule. The majority of road games are an hour or less from home with some trips to the Lafayette area.

The 2017 season marked Tri-County’s second in the Hoosier Heartland Conference. In 2017-18, the Cavs will be part of the reformed Midwest Athletic Conference (with Frontier, North Newton, North White, South Newton and West Central).

Remington Community Park and Wolcott Community Park host Cal Ripken baseball for ages 7-12. Players from North White, Rensselaer and West Central also take part.

Babe Ruth baseball teams (ages 13-15) travel to other area parks.

The Cavaliers have drawn into Game 1 of the eight-team Tri-County Sectional on Wednesday, May 24. The hosts will be after the seventh sectional crown in program history and third during LeBeau’s head coaching tenure (the others came in 2007 and 2011).

LeBeau, an IHSBCA district representative, says the new pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA in 2017 (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) are bound to be felt during the postseason.

“It will definitely come into play during sectional,” says LeBeau. “How quickly can your No. 1 or No. 2 bounce back?

“It’s not going away. We’ll see what needs to be tweaked (in the future).”

tricountycavaliers

With Griffin guiding merger of teams, Purdue Northwest enjoys strong first season

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Two Purdue University entities became one in the Region.

Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central came together to form Purdue Northwest.

On the baseball field, the new merger yielded a 30-18 mark for the PNW Pride.

Purdue Northwest coach Dave Griffin, who helmed the Purdue Calumet program for three seasons before the change, expected their to be a little trepidation from some of the players with new leadership. The 2017 roster, which included 25 players with Indiana hometowns and six from Illinois, was roughly split in thirds by former players from PUC and PNC and new recruits.

The transition was a smooth one.

“The kids worked hard and got along really well,” says Griffin. “It was one unit.

“The situation was great. We molded the kids together. I couldn’t ask for anything better. It was a very, very satisfying season.”

At 20-7, the Pride tied Olivet Nazarene for first in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference South Division during the regular season.

PNW’s season ended after it went 1-2 in the CCAC tournament.

The Pride played its home games on the turf of Dowling Park, a facility owned by the City of Hammond and shared with area high schools.

Sophomore outfielder Larry Crisler (.347) was PNW’s top hitter and senior right-hander Matt Sandoval (8-2, 2.48 earned run average) the top pitcher.

Griffin, 55, and his staff, which included former PNC head coach Shane Prance plus Phil Madvek, Vinnie Tornincasa, Dave Waddell, Tom McDermott and Jeff Rutherford this spring, have been recruiting Indiana, Chicagoland and beyond while the program develops an identity.

“People catch on pretty quick,” says Griffin. “I think we’re going in the right direction.”

Since season’s end, Griffin has been tying up loose ends and getting ready for the fall.

This summer, he will coach the Outsiders 17U team based out of Dave Griffin’s Baseball School in Griffith.

He has his views of the travel baseball world.

“I tell parents to play for a solid organization who has a good support staff,” says Griffin. “Games are just one part of the equation. There’s training and speed and agility.

“You need the right people to steer you the right way and someone who’s going to tell you the truth. Some will tell you anything as long as they’re going to make a buck. That’s sometimes where we lose focus a little bit.”

PNW players will hone their skills this summer in various collegiate circuits, including the Midwest Collegiate League, Northwoods League and Prospect League.

Griffin grew up in Dolton and Roseland, Ill., and played at the Dolton-Riverdale Babe Ruth League, where he played with Jimmy Boudreau (son of National Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau) first met baseball mentor and scout Bill Bryk.

“He’s always given me good advice,” says Griffin of Bryk, who now works for the Arizona Diamondbacks. “He kept me involved with the right people.”

Griffin also looks up to scout Bob Szymkowski.

“My story is similar to The Sandlot (movie). We use to play in the sandlot everyday. We’d choose up teams and I’d always be the manager.”

In 1979, Griffin graduated from Thornridge High School and went on to be an NAIA All-American first baseman at Texas Wesleyan University.

He was drafted in 1982 by the Atlanta Braves. His best pro season was 1988 with the Triple-A Richmond Braves, when he hit. 289 with 21 home runs and 72 runs batted in and was named Howe Sports Player of the Year and played in the International League All-Star Game.

Griffin also played in the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees organizations.

During a six-year stint as head coach at Hammond Bishop Noll Institute, Griffin helped lead the Warriors to an IHSAA Class 2A state title in 2004 and a 2A state runner-up finish in 2006.

DAVEGRIFFIN2

Head baseball coach Dave Griffin led Purdue Northwest to a 30-18 mark in 2017. The PNW Pride came about after a merger of Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central programs. (PNW Photo)

Berryman getting Western ready for ‘next’ baseball move

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

They’ve got a good thing going at Western High School.

The Panthers have enjoyed plenty of baseball success, taking 18 sectionals, seven regionals, two semistates, one Class 3A state championship (2012) and one 3A state runner-up finish (2016).

Ty Calloway, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Howard County Sports hall of famer, led the program for 36 seasons and Quentin Brown (now with Indiana Primetime Sports) for the past three.

Ryan Berryman is now the man in charge. As a 1994 Western graduate, former WHS athletic director and head coach at county rival Northwestern, he is very aware of the winning tradition in Russiaville.

“We’re a baseball community,” says Berryman. “The expectations are high.”

Berryman, who returned to the classroom after serving as AD from 2011-13, has continued to coach baseball in the summer with the Indiana Bulls travel organization (he will lead a 16U squad this summer).

In 11 seasons at Northwestern, Berryman’s teams won 226 games, four sectionals and took the Tigers to a 2005 Class 2A State Finals. Future big leaguer Brandon Beachy was part of that team.

At Western, Berryman is greeted by 15 returnees from the 2016 state runners-up.

“We’ve got a much deeper pitching staff,” says Berryman, a big believer in mound depth with two-thirds of the players in his program being able to pitch. “It’ll be disappointing for all these guys if they don’t make a run.”

Not that Berryman wants the Panthers to get ahead of themselves.

“We don’t get caught up in anything too small,” says Berryman. “We don’t get caught up in anything too big. We just focus in on play by play, pitch by pitch.

“We want to keep it as simple as possible. There’s nothing magical to the success I’ve had as a coach.”

Berryman, whose coaching staff features Cody Shipley, Colton Summers, Devon Eaker and Dwight Singer at the varsity level as well as Luke Waitt and Michael Rocchio with the junior varsity, wants his players to have that “next” mentality — Next at-bat. Next pitch. Next inning.

His daily request is to be on-time and work hard.

“I only have two hours a day with these guys,” says Berryman. “After that, it’s on them.

“It’s a tough game. Find a way to work through your mistakes and get better and don’t dwell on the negative things.”

After playing for Calloway at Western, Berryman took the field for Indiana Wesleyan University and Northern Kentucky University as did twin brother Scott. Ryan pitched for the Lafayette Leopards of the independent professional Heartland League in 1998.

Berryman, who was head coach for the IHSBCA North-South All-Star Series in 2011 and is a past association president, would like to see an increase in the time coaches can work with athletes out-of-season — a change that would help not only baseball but other high school sports.

“I realize that these kids are student-athletes and academics come first and there are coaches that want to be with the kids too much,” says Berryman. “But, at the same time, we shouldn’t take opportunities away for kids to fully develop.

“Now, they can’t work with their baseball coach until a certain date has passed. It’s about kids and opportunities.”

Western competes in the 10-team Hoosier Conference. Teams play Tuesday-Wednesday home-and-home series within their divisions with seeded crossover games at the end of the season. Western, Cass, Hamilton Heights , Northwestern and Tipton are in the East. Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Rensselaer Central, Twin Lakes and West Lafayette are in the West.

Feeder systems for Western baseball are Russiaville Youth Baseball League and the Russiaville Rams travel team.

High school players participating with several travel teams in the summer, including the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Mustangs, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Pony Express and Indiana Prospects.

RYANBERRYMAN

Ryan Berryman, a 1994 Western High School graduate, is in his first season as the Panthers head baseball coach. He coached Northwestern to the 2005 IHSAA Class 2A State Finals and is a summer coach with the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

Keeping Kokomo Wildkats on even-keel duty of Swan

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Not every hop is true.

Not every line drive off your bat finds grass before it finds an opponent’s glove.

Not letting those moments keep you down is key to long-term success.

These are the kinds of things Kokomo High School head baseball coach Sean Swan is teaching his Wildkats.

Swan was a Kokomo assistant for four seasons before taking over leadership of the program for the 2015 season. That year, he had six freshmen in the starting lineup. The young Kats had the talent to compete, but were not always equipped for baseball’s inevitable rough patches.

“We prepare these young men to go out and do great things whether it’s in baseball or just life,” says Swan. “We use the game to teach those lessons. We talk about failure a lot. Failure is something you have to work through and how you can learn from it.

“We’ve made great strides in dealing with failure and adversity. We’re not perfect yet and I tell the kids we’re not going to be. Baseball is like that. You’re going to have games where things don’t go your way and you don’t play your best.”

Swan talks to his players about being mental toughness and playing a hard-nosed brand of baseball.

That approach got Kokomo off to a 14-0 start in 2017 even though it found itself down by 13 runs in one of those victories. The Kats fell behind 14-1 in the second game of a North Central Conference doubleheader against Lafayette Harrison only to win 21-18 with the decisive run coming at the end of the game.

“I was pleased we stuck with the process and kept fighting,” says Swan. “I want our guys to be very even-keeled. We talk about playing with emotion but not emotionally. We tell them to focus on playing the game the right way and not so much on who they’re playing against.”

When Kokomo took its first loss of the season — 12-1 to Zionsville — the Kats responded with a 2-1 NCC tournament quarterfinal win against Harrison in eight innings.

The ’17 Kats have 43 players on three squads — varsity and two junior varsity teams (Blue and Red).

Swan’s varsity coaching staff includes Tim Weir (pitching), Eric Dill (infield and hitting), Nick Shanks (outfield and statistics), Shawn Mayfield (hitting) and George Phares (quality control). There’s also Eli Grimes (JV Blue head coach), Andy Dicken (JV Blue assistant), Matt Turner (JV Red head coach) and Chris Beane (JV Red assistant).

Weir is the father of T.J. Weir, a Kokomo graduate and a pitcher in the San Diego Padres organization.

Phares, a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Howard County Sports halls of fame who won an IHSAA Class 2A state championship at Taylor in 2000, serves as an extra set of eyes. He scouts the Kats and gives Swan an honest evaluation on areas that need improvement.

“Sometimes as a head coach, you have blinders and get focused on what you’re trying to accomplish and you miss some things,” says Swan of Phares. “He challenges me in some areas.

“The guys on my staff are great baseball men, but great men in general. I want quality individuals that are high-character people.”

Kokomo once played at historic Highland Park Stadium and practice and play on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium, home to the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the summer collegiate Prospect League.

“We are blessed,” says Swan. “It’s one of the best fields in the state.”

With its fast surface, playing not the carpet has been an adjustment. Even softly-struck balls sometimes get through the infield and outfielders are asked to play deeper in an attempt to keep balls out of the gaps.

At all games — but especially at Municipal — the Kats look to put pressure on the defense by putting the ball in play.

“We try to be aggressive and get pitches we can drive,” says Swan. “Early in counts we want them to be sitting on fastballs. After the count gets deeper or they fall behind in the count, their (strike) zone expands a little bit. They shorten up their swing and then it’s about putting balls in play.”

Swan looks at the new pitch count rule and says it has more of an effect at the JV level than the varsity.

“We build up (varsity) players so they can throw 80 to 100 pitches and we’re comfortable with that,” says Swan. With varsity depth, starters generally pitch just once a week. “But the rule makes us be forward-thinking with our younger guys. We have two junior varsity teams and they’re not efficient with their pitches.

“Bigger schools it won’t effect quite as much, but I really see it effect JV programs, especially at small schools. They just don’t have that depth. They don’t have the arms to eat up innings.”

Swan, a Muncie Central graduate, began his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater while still in college.

His first head coaching job came at Lapel. The Bulldogs won just one game the year before he arrived and a few years later won a sectional.

Swan then served five years as assistant to Ryan Bunnell at Westfield and considers him a mentor.

“I learned a great deal from him,” says Swan. “He’s a great baseball guy.

“I tend to be more emotional and he’s very steady. He’s great with X’s and O’s and I watched how he drew up a practice plan.”

Swan was head coach at Tri-Central for three seasons before joining Tim Weeks’ staff at Kokomo, where Swan also now serves as assistant principal.

SEANSWAN

Sean Swan is in his third season as head baseball coach at Kokomo High School. He was an assistant for the Wildkats for four seasons before that. He is also an assistant principal at KHS.