Tag Archives: IHSBCA

Scientific training from Marks helps give state finalist hitters an edge

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Better offense through science.

Following the scientific methods prescribed by Mike Marks at the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., has helped players going after high school state titles in Indiana.

Penn (Class 4A) and South Bend St. Joseph (3A) both go after IHSAA state crowns Saturday, June 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

The Kingsmen (27-6) take on Indianapolis Cathedral (28-0) for the 4A title around 5 p.m. after the Indians (24-4) meet Jasper (30-4) for the 3A championship at approximately 2 p.m.

Among Marks’ weekly pupils are Penn seniors Nolan Metcalf (Kansas University commit), Niko Kavadas (Notre Dame) and Trevor Waite (Dayton) and junior Payton Kerr and St. Joe seniors Tony Carmola and Tyler Kleva (Trine).

“I use analytics and metrics to help them reach their potential,” says Marks. “I’m not the traditional baseball trainer.

“All you have to do is give good athletes information. All I do is use science to prove it to them and then they understand it.”

Marks gets hitters to be able to analyze their own swings.

“I want to know what they did wrong, so they can make an adjustment,” says Marks. “It’s more of a college/pro tech approach. We want a kid to be low maintenance at the next level.”

Marks, who started coaching his own Kalamazoo, Mich., area travel team in 2002-03 and worked at Around The Horn baseball school in Kalamazoo 2004-07 before starting his own place in Sturgis in 2008, talks about the kinetic chain of energy, building the swing from he bottom up.

Metcalf, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district player of the year for 2017, has been going to Marks since age 12 with Kavadas, Waite, Carmola and Kleva plus Mishawaka Marian senior Riley Tirotta (Dayton), South Bend Clay senior Trenton Stoner (Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne) also being longtime students. Kerr and South Bend Adams senior Spencer Nelson are newer clients.

Using video analysis and HitTrax technology, Marks talks with these players are many others (he has a long wait list because of demand) about things like launch angle and exit velocity.

Unlike the traditional approach, Marks encourages his hitters to drive the baseball in the air.

“We do not hit down on the ball like I was taught 20 years ago,” says Marks, who played at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich. “Line drives over the infielders’ heads leads to extra-base hits. I’d rather see a deep ball to center field than a grounder to shortstop.”

It’s an exciting moment when hitters can inform Marks they had 0 percent ground balls on 100 swings.

The Hitters Edge facility Wall of Fame is filled with many current and former Major League Baseball hitters at the point of contact.

Marks encourages his hitters to find a match and then goes about breaking them down.

“There is a small reconstruction period with kids,” says Marks. “I break the kids down to nothing to teach them core movements that they need to know.

“I want to teach them technique first. Then they can put their own style to the swing.”

Hitters are encouraged to have quick hands and not get jammed at the plate.

Marks wants his hitters to build muscle memory and to become unpredictable at the plate by being able to use all fields and not just pull or hit to the opposite field.

“Then they don’t know how to pitch to you,” says Marks.

IHSAA State Finals players have been tough outs in 2017. Witness some of the Penn numbers.

Penn left-swinging lead-off man Waite is hitting .491 with six home runs, five triples, eight doubles and 40 runs batted in.

Righty Metcalf (.410, 4 HR, 7 2B, 36 RBI), lefty Kavadas (.370, 4 HR, 3 3B, 9 2B, 26 RBI) and righty Kerr (.377, 1 HR, 5 2B, 23 RBI) have also been potent.

Then there’s righty-swinging St. Joe boys Carmola (.446, 3 HR, 4 3B, 12 2B, 28 RBI) and Kleva (.360, 1 HR, 9 2B, 31 RBI).

MARKSWAITEMETCALFKAVADAS

Hitters Edge instructor Mike Marks meets up with three pupils (from left): Penn High School and Indiana Nitro travel baseball players Trevor Waite, Nolan Metcalf and Niko Kavadas. The three Kingsmen have helped their team into the 2017 IHSAA Class 4A state championship game.

 

Selective offensive approach helps Steinhilber’s Hebron Hawks

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Working the count” is working for Hebron High School baseball.

This offensive approach has been good to the Hawks the past four seasons and has been key as Hebron (29-3) has advanced to the IHSAA Class 2A Kokomo Semistate opposite Wapahani (18-11) at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 10.

A batter who is patient and trying to “get ahead in the count” or get a pitch he can hit hard is often said to “work the count” or “work the pitcher.”

Seventh-year Hebron head coach John Steinhilber and his assistants — Sean Riley (first base), Chris Wiltfang (bench), Jake Wheeler (pitching) and Tim Joyce (preseason and outfield) — have been selling and the players have been buying.

“They’ve bought into our overall approach to hitting,” says Steinhilber. “We battle in counts.

“We wait to strike.”

Steinhilber and company have looked on in admiration at the number of pitches that recent Boston Red Sox batters have seen per at-bat.

Why not try to make it work on the Hawks’ level?

“(The Red Sox) see a lot of pitches. They make the pitchers work,” says Steinhilber. “We’ve done that over the last four years and it’s really hurt us.

“Guys don’t feel like they’re behind the 8-ball when they get behind two strikes. Our guys really relax. It’s something we really work on.”

Steinhilber said it is likely that more and more teams will be adopting the approach in the coming years and working the pitcher, especially in light of the new IHSAA 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).

“You want to make that guy throw extra,” says Steinhilber. “Getting into the other team’s bullpen, especially in high school, is really key.”

The count has also got pitchers and their coaches thinking about their approach.

“Now you get a kid 0-2, do you put him away to save your pitch count or work him like you normally would?,” says Steinhilber. “It’s probably a struggle with all high school teams in all states. Kids in high school think they’ve got to strike everybody out. They don’t trust their defense.

“Pitching to your defense is going to help you in the long run.”

Hebron won its first baseball sectional crown in 1976. No. 2 came in Steinhilber’s second season of 2012. That was also the year the Hawks won their first regional title.

“I played a small part in that,” says Steinhilber. “I have a great staff and we’ve had really great kids come through.”

Hebron’s Kyle Joyce was an IHSBCA All-Star in 2013.

Steinhilber played baseball and basketball at Boone Grove High School, where he graduated in 1986. He played baseball at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., then coached the sport for three while finishing his degree at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer.

Mike Moyzis was the Pumas head coach for a team that included Rick O’Dette, who just finished his 17th season as SJC head coach with the school and program closing up shop in 2017.

Steinhilber was an assistant for a few seasons with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean, the last in 1997 when the 59ers advanced to the championship game of the single-class semistate.

Basketball coaching called Steinhilber’s name and he was a head boys coach for 19 years, retiring at the end of the 2016-17 campaign. He worked six seasons at Calumet (1998-99 to 2003-04), six at South Central of Union Mills (2004-05 to 2009-10) and seven at Hebron (2010-11 to 2016-17) with sectional championships coming in his second seasons at both Calumet and Hebron.

Steinhilber is in his third year as Hawks athletic director, a position that gets especially crazy during the spring season.

“I have an athletic secretary (Susan Spurr) that is awesome,” says Steinhilber. “If I didn’t have her I’d be lost. I’ve also good pretty good coaches and a principal (Mark Lutze) that supports everything.”

The ’17 Hawks bested North Judson, North Newton and Boone Grove by a combined 32-1 to win the Boone Grove Sectional then earned 4-3 triumphs against Eastside and Hammond Bishop Noll to reign at the Whiting Regional.

Hebron and South Central both went 6-1 to tie for the regular-season title in the Porter County Conference, which generally played on Mondays and Fridays. The Hawks then bested the Satellites in the PCC tournament championship game played the day before the sectional opener.

Other members of the conference are Boone Grove, Kouts, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

To prepare for the turf at Kokomo, Steinhilber took his team to Lake Central for a practice. But the surface is not foreign to many of the Hawks.

“A lot of kids play travel and have played on turf,” says Steinhilber. “That’s a good thing for us.”

JOHNSTEINHILBER2

John Steinhilber, with wife Melissa, is in his seventh season as head baseball coach at Hebron High School in Porter County. The Hawks play Wapahani in the Class 2A Kokomo Semistate at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.

 

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)

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

Kraemer coaches Terre Haute South with passion

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Kraemer is passionate about the way he coaches baseball at his alma mater — Terre Haute South Vigo High School.

“I wear my emotions on my sleeve,” says Kraemer, a 1986 graduate who is in his 23rd season as Braves head coach. “I learned at a very young age (from a youth coach named Mike Kennedy): ‘When I tell you something, don’t take it personally.’ When I stop talking to you, I don’t care about you and when I don’t care about you, you’re not at a very good place in the program.

“There are kids you can get on and they can take it. There are kids you can get on and they can’t take it, but they learn quickly by watching how others act and respond to what’s going on.”

Kraemer played at South for Ken Martin, learned more about the game while at Purdue University from head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Alexander and pitching coach Steve Green (Kraemer was a Boilermaker team captain and bashed a team-high 10 home runs in 1990), served one season as an assistant at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, returned to Terre Haute as a volunteer assistant to Martin (1993 and 1994) and took over as head coach for the 1995 season.

As a football coach, Kraemer was on the Braves staff from 2007-15. Former South baseball player Mark Raetz was head gridiron coach 2007-12.

The Kraemer-led baseball Braves have won nine sectional titles and four regional crowns — the last of each coming in 2011.

Since his second season as head coach, Kraemer has been assisted by 1981 South graduate and U.S. Marines veteran Brian Pickens.

Kraemer and Pickens share hitting coach duties.

A.J. Reed, who made his Major League Baseball debut with the Houston Astros in 2016 and is currently at Triple-A Fresno, socked 41 homers and drove in 150 runs during his South career, which concluded in 2011. The next year, the bats were changed and it made it harder for teams to score runs with extra-base hits.

“He was a quiet kid,” says Kraemer, who also saw Reed go 26-10 with 390 strikeouts in 260 innings and a 1.88 earned run average on the mound for the Braves (he once threw 143 pitches in a 10-inning semistate outing). “He had the most natural ability I’ve ever seen.”

Another of Kraemer’s top products is Matt Samuels, who pitched at the University of Tennesee and Indiana State University and briefly in the Minnesota Twins organization.

Kyle’s son, Koby, played for him and at ISU and in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

With less-explosive bats a few years ago, Kraemer and Pickens began to change the way they teach hitting.

“Small ball became more important,” says Kraemer. “The bats we use are just dead.”

To generate more power in the hips — not necessarily via home runs — hitters are loading up by raising their knee and creating some momentum in the lower half of the swing and uncoiling to drive the baseball.

All but one of seven 2017 Braves coaches are South graduates. Besides Kraemer and Pickens, there’s Chad Chrisman (23rd year and charged with infield positioning) and three who played for Kraemer — Daniel Tanoos, Scott Flack and T.C. Clary. Pitching coach Adam Lindsay is a graduate of West Vigo High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Steve DeGroote.

Todd Miles is a former longtime South coach. After returning from the Indiana State Police, Miles (who played on ISU’s College World Series team in 1986) took a job at Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute that does not allow him the time to coach with the Braves.

South, who is preparing for the Class 4A Mooresville Sectional, fielded two teams this spring — one varsity and one JV.

The new pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA (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) “forced us to cut back on one (JV) team because we’ve had to limit pitches and we’re short on pitchers.”

“Personally, I don’t think (the pitch count rule) was needed,” says Kraemer. “Most (coaches) did it right.”

As of May 18, none of Kraemer’s moundsmen had thrown more than 103 pitches in a game.

Conference Indiana, which South joined in 2013 after holding membership in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, tends to play league doubleheaders on Saturdays (against Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian and Southport). Braves starters generally work once a week.

“If you use common sense, you’re OK,” says Kraemer. “It will be interesting to get feedback from smaller schools, where can walk and chew gum, they’re going to be a pitcher until they prove they’re not.”

Baseball players learn the game in Cal Ripken Leagues at Riley and Terre Town, Little Leagues at Terre Haute North and West Terre Haute and through various travel baseball organization, including Junior Rex, Indiana Havoc, Redbirds, Junior Sycamores and Mad Dogs plus senior and junior American Legion teams for Wayne Newton Post 346. That program was ran by John Hayes for years and is now headed by his brother Tim.

“Travel ball has really taken off,” says Kraemer. “You might as well embrace it. It’s here to stay. (Post 346) now has more of a travel feel (playing in tournaments with travel ball teams).”

KYLEKRAEMER

Kyle Kraemer is in his 23rd season as head  baseball coach at his alma mater — Terre Haute South Vigo High School. (TH South Photo)

Cherry has built a strong program from scratch at Fishers

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the midst of an Indiana high school baseball hotbed, Fishers has grown its own crop of winning teams and productive student-athletes.

Matt Cherry is the only head coach the Tigers have ever known, starting the program from scratch and fielding the first varsity team in 2007.

There were a few growing pains at the beginning, but it took off from there and Fishers now holds its own in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville) and beyond.

Fishers heads into the Class 4A Westfield Sectional ranked No. 3 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association poll (Carmel and Indianapolis Cathedral are 1-2).

Off to a 24-4 start in 2017, those four defeats came by one run each (to Oakland, Tenn., Hamilton Southeastern, Avon and Carmel).

“I’m not sure that there were many cons to this experience,” says Cherry of starting up the program. “We have been able to build our own traditions and history.

“We created everything (uniforms, baseball logo, expectations of Tiger baseball on the field and in the classroom, annual traditions like how we do Senior Night … everything).”

Cherry, who grew up learning and loving the game from father Mark, is a 1998 graduate of New Castle Chrysler High School, where he played for Gary Brown. He played for and later coached with American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon at Anderson University.

“Coach Brown was a great coach who held us to a high expectation on the field, but challenged me to be even better off the field,” says Cherry. “Coach Brown was intense on the field and a kind-hearted man off of it.”

New Castle went to semistate for the first time in 26 years in 1996 and was 21-2 and ranked No. 2 before losing in the 1998 sectional.

Cherry knows Alabama native Brandon as “Bama” and credits him for a major part in his development.

“Coach ‘Bama’ influenced me on the nurturing side of relating to players,” says Cherry. After an arm injury ended his playing career, Cherry was an AU assistant for two seasons, including the 2003 season when the Ravens placed third at the NCAA Division IIII World Series.

From Anderson assistant Brian York Cherry learned the importance of the little things in building a successful and winning program.

Todd Salkowski was football offensive coordinator at New Castle when Cherry played there and also left a lasting mark on Cherry.

“He is a winner in everything he does and taught me so much about the bigger picture beyond winning and losing,” says Cherry of Salkowski, now athletic director and girls basketball at Shenandoah High School. “I still use his favorite quote that said every week: ‘If what you did yesterday looks big to you today, then you haven’t done much today.’”

Cherry also counts high school baseball coaches Justin Keever (Noblesville), Ryan Bunnell (Westfield), Curry Harden (former Hamilton Southeastern head coach and current HSE assistant), Jake Burton (formerly of McCutcheon and now at Twin Lakes), Dave Ginder (Fort Wayne Carroll) and many more as mentors.

“I truly believe I have been called to be a teacher and a coach,” says Cherry, who was also a volunteer varsity assistant at Pendleton Heights (2005) and head JV coach at Hamilton Southeastern (2006). “Obviously, my competitive nature wants to win baseball games, but I believe there is far more to coaching than winning and losing.

“I believe I have been entrusted with these young lives to help develop them into young men who will be strong fathers, husbands, and citizens using the avenue of baseball to aid in this development.

“(Motivational speaker) Joe Ehrmann talks about the success of your program will be determined by who those young men become in 10-15 years, and I truly believe that is why I am a coach to help in that development process.”

On the field, Cherry’s emphasis is geared to the current crop of talent.

“I tend to be an extremely aggressive offensive coach trying to constantly put pressure on the opponent’s defense, while being more conservative on defense … taking outs as they come, making the routine play routinely as we race to be the first team to 21 outs.”

Fishers did play its first season without a senior class and had to learn how to win after a few losing seasons.

“Thankfully, we have been blessed with successful years recently, so we have been able to see the rewards of the hard work from all of our coaches and former players in our program,” says Cherry, whose 2017 staff include Darren Simms, Jeff Harkin, Brice Davis and Craig Huls with the varsity, Matt Poisel and Chris Hebert with the junior varsity and Rich Wender and Adam Glaze with the freshmen.

Simms has been with the program since the beginning. His responsibilities include outfielders, third base coach, defensive play caller, baserunning and bunting. He played at Anderson U. when Cherry was an assistant in 2003.

Harkin coaches first base and is assistant defensive play caller.

Davis, a 2008 Fishers graduate, is hitting coach.

Huls is pitching coach.

The HCC has adopted a three-game series. Cherry is a fan of the format.

“I am a huge proponent of the three-game series,” says Cherry. “It has forced us to develop depth with our pitching staffs. We now have three starts that pitch in huge conference games each week plus we must develop a bullpen to make it through the three games. In addition, we are able to develop a fourth starter to pitch in our non-conference games.

“We have some of the best coaches in the state in our conference competing against those guys night in and night out makes it a lot of fun,” says Cherry. “The coaches in our conference are not only great coaches, but great men as well. We have battles on the field, but were all friends off the field. All the coaches work really hard and have built strong baseball programs.

“The coaches in our conference make the three-game series a lot of fun, because they are work at creating scouting reports, pitching hitters certain ways, and positioning their defenses against the scouting report. This forces hitters to learn how to hit against good pitching. Our three-game series is a great opportunity to prepare our players who are going on to play college baseball. Our guys are playing in intense, meaningful games every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”

HCC are tight-knit lot.

We have some of the best coaches in the state in our conference and competing against those guys night in and night out makes it a lot of fun,” says Cherry. “The coaches in our conference are not only great baseball coaches, but great men as well. 

“We have battles on the field, but we are all friends off the field.  All the coaches work really hard and have built strong baseball programs.”

The ’17 Tigers went unbeaten at home. The school recently re-configured the fence foul line to enclose the bullpens. From the outfield end of the dugouts the fence line angles towards the outfield and then runs parallel down the foul line to the outfield fence (similar to Wrigley Field).

“Our fence line is not as close to fair territory as Wrigley, but it is a lot closer than many high school fields, which gives is a unique setting,” says Cherry, an IHSBCA district representative and a member of the ABCA and National High School Baseball Coaches Association (BCA).

MATTCHERRY

Matt Cherry is the only head baseball coach Fishers High School has ever known, starting the program from scratch and fielding the first varsity team in 2007.