Tag Archives: Illinois

Conner teaching lessons about baseball, life at Concordia University Chicago

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kolin Conner is doing his best to get Concordia University Chicago back to the lofty heights the Cougars baseball program had become accustomed.
From 2008-19, CUC posted an average record of 35-11 including 40-15 in 2018 and 42-10 in 2019. Conner was the Cougars head assistant (2016-19) — years in which the school won four Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference regular-season titles and made NCAA Division III World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. During the span, CUC was ranked No. 1 in the nation and Conner was named 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year.
A graduate of Indianapolis North Central High School (2009) and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2013), Conner took over as head coach at the private school in River Forest, Ill., in the summer of 2019. The Cougars went 5-5 during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 11-25 in 2021.
NCAA D-III rules allow for 19 total weeks of organized baseball activity — four in the fall and 15 in the spring. Concordia practiced four times a week during the fall.
“We did a lot of teaching. developing and evaluating where our guys are on the depth chart,” says Conner. “After last year, there was a little bit of re-establishing priorities for us.
“The work we put in now leads to success in the spring. It’s about holding everybody accountable. The overall success is much bigger than one individual.”
Conner says the most-important time comes when players are away from coaches in between fall and spring and must motivate themselves and stay on top of their academics.
“Here’s a 17-year-old freshman,” says Conner. “How’s he going to be when no one’s watching? That’s when good leaders and good people are made.”
Conner and his coaching staff of head assistant/pitching coach Matt Smith, assistant Abe Paz Agudello, assistant Connor Nelson and graduate assistant Kevin Garcia are getting players to create lifelong habits that will transfer into their lives beyond college.
“They get into the world world and (employers and co-workers) can trust these guys,” says Conner, who is currently busy recruiting, doing office work and getting ready for the return of players to practice after the Christmas break.
CUC baseball earned an ABCA all-academic team certificate, sported seven players with a 4.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale last spring while posting a 3.2 team GPA — the best among the school’s nine male sports. The Cougars typically have 10 to 12 academic all-conference selections.
The roster — currently at 36 — has 22 from the Chicagoland area plus Indiana’s Ben Collins (Chesterton), Elijah Hickman (Rensselaer Central), Brody Mariotti (Yorktown) and Westin Stutzman (Fairfield), six from Arizona (CUC recruits there each fall), two from California and one each from Colorado and Utah.
“We get a lot of good and smart kids that don’t have schools to go to,” says Conner. “(Chicago recruits) are used to cold weather and facilities and proud of the city they’re from.”
Conners says most players get some sort of aid — packages largely being dependent on grades and test scores — that takes away around half of the annual $42,000 tuition.
“It’s important that we’re getting the good character kid who wants to work and wants to win,” says Conner. “Those type of kids are usually pretty good academically.
“It’s no coincidence that are best players are usually are best students.”
A typical recruiting class is 10 players and Conner says he likes to have five or six signees around Christmas.
Conner played for Phil McIntyre at North Central, making varsity as a sophomore and representing the Panthers either as a catcher or outfielder and making long-time friendships.
He credits assistant/teacher Andy Noble for helping him in the classroom.
“He helped me find my way and who I was as a kid,” says Conner of Noble.
Conner was a catcher and first baseman in college. He played two seasons at National Community College Athletic Association member Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for Statesmen head coaches Mitch Hannahs (2010) and Kevin Bowers (2011).
Hannahs, who is now head coach at Indiana State University. was “very, very good at getting you conditioned mentally and getting the most out of people as players.”
Current LTC head coach Bowers brought Conner into the program.
“He really, really cares about the kids,” says Conner of Bowers. “He’s got a strong relationship with everybody he recruits.”
At Saint Joseph’s, Conner earned an Educational Studies degree with a Communications minor and played two seasons (2012 and 2013) for Pumas head coach Rick O’Dette.
“He’s the greatest guy ever,” says Conner of O’Dette, who became head coach at Saint Leo University in Florida when SJC closed its doors after the 2017 season. “He’s the reason I have a job in college baseball.
“He’s an unbelievable guy, a great mentor and cares about people.”
Conner played two summers of independent professional baseball after college with the 2013 Mike Braymen-managed Joliet (Ill.) Slammers and 2014 Andy McCauley-managed Evansville (Ind.) Otters — both in the Frontier League.
Kolin met future wife Lyndsey at Lincoln Trail. The Conners now have two children — son Leo (3) and daughter Layla (4 months).

Kolin Conner (Concordia University Chicago Photo)

Indy Heat wins 35-plus Lou Palmer Memorial Florida World Series

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana team earned baseball hardware last weekend in the Sunshine State.
The Indy Heat reigned in the 35-and-over division at the 2021 National Adult Baseball Association Lou Palmer Memorial Florida World Series Nov. 11-14 in Cocoa and Melbourne.
The team made up of Hoosier Townball Association and Indiana Baseball League players from around the central part of the state went 6-1 – 4-1 as the No. 1 seed in pool play – to take the title in the wood bat event.
Formed early in 2021 and playing in exhibitions against the Jasper (Ind.) Reds and IBL 18-and-over Rays at new Loeb Stadium in Lafayette, Ind., and in a Labor Day tournament at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., the Indy Heat is co-managed by catcher Paul Staten (46), center fielder/pitcher Chad Justice (38) and pitcher Gabe Cuevas (41). Staten was the oldest in Florida. The youngest was catcher Trevor Nielsen (34). Rules allowed two players no younger than 33 who were not used as pitchers.
Most Indy Heat players have experience in high school and beyond. Some play in both the HTA and IBL.
Staten played at North Forrest High School in Hattiesburg, Miss., and one year at Jones College in Ellisville, Miss.
Justice played at New Castle (Ind.) High School, graduated from Shenandoah High School in Middletown, Ind., ran track on scholarship and also played baseball for Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Jerry Blemker at Vincennes (Ind.) University.
Cuevas played at South Bend (Ind.) Washington High School and Triton College in River Grove, Ill.
“Playing against the Jasper Reds gives us a good dose of baseball early in the season,” says Staten, whose team was competitive in four losses to the long-established organization. “We gave them a ball game.
“We’re going to continue exhibition with those guys.”
Adult baseball players tends swing wood.
“Some of these guys can still create quite a bit of exit velocity with aluminum and composite bats,” says Staten.
“The (Men’s Senior Baseball League) tries to adhere to MLB rules as much as possible,” says Justice.
Sixteen Indy Heat players were able to make the Florida trip. About half of the team entry fee was picked up by sponsors. Players arranged hotels or airbnb accommodations.
The Indy Heat beat the Angels 16-0 in Game 1. John Zangrilli pitched a complete-game shutout.
Game 7 was a 15-7 loss to the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Phillies. That’s when the Indiana team opted to scrap their gale blue jerseys for black ones accented by gale blue and laser fuchsia and wore those the rest of the tournament.
“We’re not superstitious,” says Staten. “Dirty or not, we were wearing our black jerseys.”
The Heat concluded pool games by topping the Dallas (Texas) Redbirds 8-3, Northwest Indiana Royals 6-1 and the Dade City (Fla.) Brewers with Mitch Brock tossing a shutout in the latter contest.
The field of eight was cut to four after pool play with overall record being the top criteria for semifinals seeding. Runs against was the first tiebreaker followed by runs scored. The Heat outscored pool play opponents 48-16.
The Indy Heat bested the Chattanooga Phillies 14-6 in the semifinals. Yasidro Matos came on in long relief of Zangrilli for the Indiana winners.
A rematch with the Dallas Redbirds — a team with players who’ve been together for years — in the championship game resulted in a 4-3 Indy Heat win Cuevas pitching a nine-inning shutout. The tournament started with games having a three-hour time limit, but rains caused that to be cut to two hours in games leading up to the final one.
“Hats off to the pitching staff,” says Staten.
Indy Heat managers employed a bullpen strategy in Florida. By holding pitchers to about 60 pitches they had fresher arms at the end of the tournament.
“Other teams were dying out and we had three good arms going into the finals,” says Justice. “I didn’t guys want to throw more than 60 pitches and seeing (the opposing) lineup more than two or three times.”
Restrictions were lifted later in the event.
“That’s the time you leave it on the line,” says Staten. “There’s nothing going on after that.”
What’s next for the Indy Heat?
‘I don’t foresee us playing in anything competitive between now and spring,” says Staten, who notes that players will keep sharp in batting cages and keep sharp with a few practices before that time. “We’ve got guys that are ready to go now. They’re pumped coming off a championship.”

Representing the Indy Heat in winning the 35-and-over division at the 2021 National Adult Baseball Association Lou Palmer Memorial Florida World Series Nov. 11-14 in Cocoa and Melbourne are (from left): First row — David Hobbs, Paul Staten, Trevor Nielsen, Brandon Robertson, Carlos Paredes, Matt Miller, Yasidro Matos and Josh Doane; Second row — John Zangrilli, Ryan Sweda, Chad Justice, Derek DeVaughan, Mitch Brock, Mike Schuyler, Jay Gober and Gabe Cuevas. (NABA Photo)

After pitching in majors, Japan, Bullington scouting for Brewers

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Bryan Bullington left Ball State University after his junior year as the No. 1 overall selection in the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates he had visions of anchoring a big league starting pitching rotation for a decade or more.
It didn’t go quite like that, but the 6-foot-5 right-hander who had been Indiana Mr. Baseball at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School in 1999 did pitch as a professional until age 34 and returned to the game two years later as a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers – a position he has held for the past five years.
“I’m super proud, happy and thankful that I got to play as long as a I did,” says Bullington, who made his MLB debut with Pittsburgh in 2005, pitched in 26 big league games (16 in relief) with the Pirates, Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals, made several minor league stops and hurled four full seasons and part of a fifth in Japan. Starting with an 11-0 ledger, he tossed the first four with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp (38-31 from 2011-14) and the beginning of 2015 with the Orix Buffaloes.
“During my playing career I did a little bit of everything and had different experiences.”
Bullington had labrum surgery in 2005 and missed the 2006 season.
When did not make the big club out of Royals spring training in 2010, (Kansas City drafted him in the 37th round out of high school but he opted for college) Bullington was presented with his first invitation to play in the Far East.
He chose to stay in the U.S. and went to Triple-A Omaha and got into 13 contests that season with Kansas City.
“We had just had twins in the offseason (with a toddler already in the house),” says Bullington, who is married to Lauren. “It felt a little overwhelming.”
Now married 17 years, Bryan and Lauren Bullington reside in the Chicago suburbs with daughter Bella (15 and a high school freshman) and sons Jack and Matthew (both 12 and sixth graders).
In 2011, the interest and opportunity to go to Japan was still there. Bryan did his research then headed to the Land of the Rising Sun – where he enjoyed the baseball and was able to share cultural experiences with his family.
“I loved Hiroshima,” says Bullington. “I had two great interpreters.
“I spoke ‘survival Japanese.’”
He could order a meal or catch a cab.
Bullington was away from pro baseball in 2016 then got a chance to join the Brewers scouting staff in 2017.
“It’s been very educational,” says Bullington, 41. “The game has changed a ton in five years I’ve been doing it.
“(Research and development) and analytics are a big part of the game. I learn something new every year.”
By examining the data, a pitcher can add a pitch to his repertoire, tweak an existing one or adjust its frequency or efficiency.
“We used to be hesitant to mess or tweak with what a guy did later in their career,” says Bullington. “You can put data in front of them and they can see there might be an avenue for growth or improvement.”
While he has helped out in spring training and at fall instructional camp and has helped former Ball State assistant Matt Husted at Wheaton (Ill.) College, Bullington’s role with the Brewers is not as a coach – he does that with his sons – he’s an evaluator.
The past thee years scouting duties have been combined with a mix of amateur and pro assignments.
“My experience in Japan lets me get some international looks as well,” says Bullington, who was traveling over there a time or two each year pre-COVID-19 pandemic.
After the 2021 MLB, Minor League Baseball and amateur seasons, he did go the instructional league and the Arizona Fall League — both in the Phoenix area.
Right now, Bullington is assessing minor league and MLB free agents and preparing for the Rule 5 Draft, which is slated Dec. 9 – the last day of the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
By rule, players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on their new team’s big league roster all season in 2022, otherwise they must go through waivers and be offered back to their original team.
Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary O’Neal, Bullington went 15-0 as a Madison Consolidated senior, pitching a one-hitter in the 1999 IHSAA Class 3A state championship game.
In three seasons at Ball State, he earned numerous All-American honors and was Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year in 2000 and MAC Pitcher of the Year in 2001 and 2002. He set school records of career wins (29), strikeouts (357), single-season strikeouts (139 in 2002), fewest walks per nine innings (1.55 in 2002) and career hit batters (44).
Bullington was with the Cardinals during Rich Maloney’s first stint as head coach.
“I talk to him every couple of months,” says Bullington of Maloney. “He’s been great mentor for me and a coach.”
Taking online classes in the offseason, Bullington completed his degree in Business Administration and Management in 2010.
He was inducted into the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014 and MAC Hall of Fame in 2020.

Bryan Bullington (Topps Image)
Bryan Bullington (Getty Images)
Bryan Bullington (Hiroshima Toyo Carp Photo)
Bryan Bullington (Hiroshima Toyo Carp Photo)

It’s all about ‘family’ for Nowakowski, Calumet College of St. Joseph Crimson Wave

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Calumet College of St. Joseph — a private four-year Catholic institution with about 380 undergraduates in Whiting, Ind., embraces a close-knit community.
“It’s a family-oriented school and we have a family-oriented team,” says Brian Nowakowski, head baseball coach for the Crimson Wave since the fall of 2012. “We do everything together (including community service, meals and study tables). We don’t single out a single player for any misdoing.
“When someone hurts we all hurt.”
When Brian and Jeannine Nowakowski’s son, Bryce, required two open heart surgeries in the first year of his young life and then a heart transplant at 2, the CCSJ family rallied with support. Part of the cost of tickets to the Midwest Collegiate League (now rebranded as the Northern League) All-Star Game held at the Crimson Wave’s home park — Oil City Stadium — were given to the Nowakowski family.
When Bryce was prepared for, underwent and recovered from his July 30, 2014 transplant at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the school allowed the head coach to stay there while his assistants — younger brother Scott Nowakowski and Juan Alonso — led the CCSJ baseball team.
“The school let me work from home and I never skipped a beat,” says Nowakowski, whose son is now 9. “I could never re-pay them back.”
With Bryce’s medical condition and his mother recovering after beating cancer, Nowakowski decided it was best not to travel much during a 2021 season effected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If I had COIVD I would not be able to go home,” says Nowakowski, who resides with his wife of 11 years and child in Dyer, Ind.
The 2021 Crimson Wave only played games in the NAIA-affiliated Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
“Competing in the CCAC is hard,” says Nowakowski. “We’re fighting for same kids in recruiting. All the teams are very competitive.”
Olivet Nazarene University finished atop the ’21 conference standings.
One feather in the Crimson Wave’s cap is Oil City Stadium, located on 119th Street in downtown Whiting with a unique oil refinery backdrop in the outfield.
“It’s a great stadium,” says Nowakowski. “The City of Whiting does a great job keeping it up. It helps in recruiting.”
Eight Calumet of St. Joseph players — Michael Biegel, Julian Espino, Kevin McCune, Thomas Montes, Cody Plebanski, Shaun Quinn, Glenford Wagner and Luke Woodward — made the 2021 CCAC all-academic team.
A typical mix, the current Crimson Waves roster consists mostly of players from Chicagoland and the Calumet Region with some international students.
“We find the best players we can,” says Nowakowki. “If you want to be a part of the school we’re going to take you.
“We have affordable tuition. There’s no in-state, out-of-state or intentional. It’s all the same.”
Located on New York Avenue in Whiting, CCSJ has an agreement with The Illiana, located across the street. In Oct. 1, the school broke ground on its first residence hall.
In 2022, CCSJ is to open the season Feb. 25 at Hannibal (Mo.)-LaGrange.
The following weekend the Crimson Wave plays a series at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga.
From there CCSJ goes to Lake Wales, Fla., to play in the Warner University Invitational and other games, including at Southeastern.
CCSJ finished outdoor fall practice about two weeks ago. The Crimson Wave did drill work four days a week and competed in intrasquad games on the fifth day.
Right now, players are at the Rittenmeyer Center four days a week conditioning with weightlifting and stability exercises.
Besides Scott Nowakowski (in his seventh year at Calumet College of St. Joseph), the coaching staff also features Nick Relli, Nestor Carillo and Rocco Mossuto. Elli played for Nowakowski at CCSJ. Carillo (Morton Community College in Cicero, Ill.) and Rocco Mossuto (Saint Xavier University in Chicago) are both former head coaches.
Nowakowski grew up on Chicago’s East Side and graduated in 1997 from St. Francis de Sales High School, a member of the vaunted Chicago Catholic League.
“It’s tough competition,” says Nowakowki. “There’s no easy games in the Chicago Catholic League.”
Nowakowski played for Pioneers head coach Al Lodl and was good enough as a right-handed pitcher to sign a free agent contract with the Minnesota Twins organization in 1997 and reported to spring training in 1998. He pitched in the minors that year and 1999 and then was employed in private sector jobs.
But the diamond beckoned.
“I’ve been a baseball guy most of my life,” says Nowakowski. “I missed the game.”
Nowakowski got into coaching as an assistant to Pat Montalbano at Hammond Clark High School and was a Crimson Waves assistant to Tony Myszak for one year before becoming head coach.
A few years into the job, Nowakowski earned an Organizational Management degree from CCSJ.

Brian Nowakowski (Calumet College of St. Joseph Photo)

Jenkins helping baseballers, softballers at Teddy BallGames in South Bend

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Shawn Jenkins played baseball in South Bend, Ind., as a boy. Now he helps boys and girls get better with bat, ball and glove as owner of Teddy BallGames, a training facility of the city’s northwest side.
Jenkins, who had been taking his South Bend River Bandits Softball teams to Teddy BallGames and helped set up 24-hour access and an alarm system as an ADT employee, took ownership from retiring Mike Branch on Feb. 1, 2021.
The father of three daughters (freshman Lexington, 14, and sixth grader Dellancey, 11, are ballplayers), Jenkins switched from coaching baseball to softball and is now also the head coach of that sport at South Bend Riley High School as well as overseeing the TB Tigers Baseball & Softball Travel Organization.
Softball teams played several games in the fall while baseball — with many in football and other fall sports — took the time off.
The 11U TB Tigers went 50-2, won eight tournaments and ended up ranked No. 1 in the county by Baseball Players Association in 2021.
Teddy BallGames, located just off Cleveland Road at 4085 Meghan Beehler Court, has batting cages and training space for individuals and teams and is outfitted with Rapsodo, HitTrax and

equipment.
There are currently about 75 members and Jenkins says there is room for 120.
Jenkins went from South Bend to Chicagoland and attended Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights then came back to Indiana as a junior and graduated from the former South Bend LaSalle High School in 1991. His head coach was Scott Sill.
“Scott Sill gave me a good foundation,” says Jenkins.
After a junior college stint in California, Jenkins ended up playing baseball and basketball at Waubonsee Community College in Aurora, Ill. The baseball coach was Hall of Famer Dave Randall.
“It was just a great program,” says Jenkins, who was a second baseman. “I was able to play for him and I really leaned a lot. I parlayed that into playing (NCAA) Division II baseball at Lincoln University (in Jefferson City, Mo.). The Blue Tigers were coached by Sergio Espinal, who grew up with Shawon Dunston and a teammate of Pete Incaviglia, Robin Ventura and Doug Dascenzo on a College World Series team at Oklahoma State University, was was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs (1985 and 1986).
Jenkins coached high school basketball in Louisiana and high school and college basketball in California then moved back to Indiana and was an assistant baseball coach at South Bend Washington High School for 12 years. He worked with former Maurice Matthys Little League teammate and best friend John Kehoe. Jenkins was 11 when Matthys won a district title a lost to Concord in sectional play.
For more information on Teddy BallGames, call 574-329-1264.

Teddy BallGames owner Shawn Jenkins (Steve Krah Photo).

Bickel now in charge of baseball at Marian University’s Ancilla College

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Attacking games and practices with passion.
That’s what Trey Bickel expects as the new baseball head coach at Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
“It’s business out there,” says Bickel, 27. “In baseball you have to be 100 percent focused.
“There has to be 100 percent intensity and focus or they’re wasting time.”
Bickel, who came to the Chargers as an assistant in the fall of 2018, took over the three weeks ago when Chris Woodruff left to become Assistant Athletic Director/Compliance Director at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College.
At the moment, Bickel is a one-man show. He is seeking at least one assistant.
“I have feelers out with buddies I played with,” says Bickel. “I want to make sure I get someone who fits in with our guys and gets us where we want to be.”
Bickel relinquished his athletic groundskeeper duties when Marian University came into the picture and hired a company to handle that, leaving the coach free to focus on baseball.
That includes recruiting.
“If you’re not getting that offer from your dream school don’t shut down any other options,” says Bickel. “Junior college is the route to go for a majority of guys if you don’t have those dream schools calling.”
There are currently 21 on the Marian University’s Ancilla College roster, including four pitcher-only players and a number of two-way players. Ideally, Bickel would like 25 to 30 athletes.
“Next spring I hope to have 15 to 20 pitchers rostered,” says Bickel.
Outside practices are now short and intense. When the team goes indoors its at the LifePlex in Plymouth.
This fall, the school formally known as Ancilla College took to the diamond to play five games against outside competition with others cancelled for COVID-19 reasons.
The Chargers were in 9-inning contests against Bethel University and Purdue Northwest and a doubleheader (two 7’s) against Indiana University South Bend.
The spring portion of the schedule is to begin Feb. 12-13 for a four-game series at Southeastern Illinois College. The first on-campus game is slated for March 19 vs. Morton College.
Marian University’s Ancilla College is a member of the Michigan Community College Athletic Association and National Junior College Athletic Association District 12.
Bickel finished his playing career at IUSB in 2018. The 2012 Mishawaka (Ind.) High School graduate went to Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., of the fall of 2012.
While he was not around the following spring then Cobras head coach Matt Kennedy (now a Butler University assistant) made an impression on him.
‘He’s a go-getter,” says Bickel of Kennedy, who he encountered again in the 2021 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. “He knows how to bring out intensity in his coaching. It shows in a (NJCAA) national championship (at Parkland in 2009 with a fifth-place finish in 2010). I definitely enjoyed the intensity he had as a coach.
“He attacks it. That’s what I’m looking to do.”
With a gap year mixed it, Bickel played two years at Holy Cross College for Brian Blondell before that program ceased and two at IUSB for Blondell, Mike Huling and Jon Koepf.
“They all brought something to the table to help me,” says Bickel, who was a right-handed pitcher. He threw a no-hitter in the Titans’ first-ever home game in 2016.
At Mishawaka, Bickel had John Huemmer as a head coach and Chadd Blasko as a pitching coach.
“(Huemmer) is one of the most genuine people I know,” says Bickel. “He’s a very nice guy and he’s there for his players and building relationships.
“He’s very good at that.”
Bickel spent a couple of seasons picking the brain of Blasko, who was selected 36th overall in the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs out of Purdue University.
Born in South Bend, Bickel spent parts of his elementary school years in Goshen, Elkhart and Mishawaka and was in the latter city from Grades 6-12. Trey is from a big family. He has two older brothers and one older sister plus one younger sister and one younger brother.

Marian University’s Ancilla College baseball coach Trey Bickel (left) in third base box.
Marian University’s Ancilla College baseball coach Trey Bickel.

Wickliff, baseball-playing Beech Grove Hornets ‘turn the page’

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Beech Grove (Ind.) High School baseball adopted a mantra as the Hornets took to the diamond in 2021 under head coach Jacob Wickliff: Turn the page.
“Physically and philosophically one will never reach the end of the book unless you turn the page,” says Wickliff of the fresh-start approach in a program he was hired to lead in the summer of 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season.
“The clear message to everyone is that we’re starting over,” says Wickliff. “That’s been big with parents. Our upperclassmen and key underclassmen have bought in.”
Wickliff has been made excitement and standards a high priority at Beech Grove, which is just inside the I-465 corridor southwest of Indianapolis.
“Kids weren’t excited to play here and that’s been our big push,” says Wickliff, who says there is a buzz around the Hornets who play at new all-turf on-campus facility — Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
The diamond, which debuted in 2021, is part of a district referendum that put turf on the football field and added the baseball and softball fields and other school-related projects.
Baseball games and practices used to be at Sarah T. Bolton Park in Beech Grove.
Since the new baseball field is landlocked, it is 297 feet down the left field line and there’s 10-foot high fence from the pole to left-center.
Planes that fly by can’t miss the place since there’s a huge black, orange and white Hornet logo in center field.
The field also brings in plenty of rental fees that Wickliff turns right back into the baseball program to cover the cost of spirit packs and more.
Wickliff, who teaches at Beech Grove Middle School, wants the excitement to reach down to the community’s younger players from Beech Grove Little League which leads to the junior high program then the high school.
A tradition has been started of inviting junior high players to have a practice and play a game on the turf at the end of the season. Beech Grove Middle School play its home games at South Grove Intermediate.
“It goes back to excitement,” says Wickliff of getting those youngsters charged up about baseball.
Beech Grove (enrollment around 1,000) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central).
Last spring, the ICC adopted a two-game series format. There are home-and-home conference games each Tuesday and Wednesday.
In 2021, the Hornets were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Herron, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, George Washington and Indianapolis Shortridge. Beech Grove has won six sectional crowns — the last in 2014.
With a smaller student-athlete pool and so many multi-sport athletes, Beech Grove did not participate in the recent fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period.
But many returnees play travel ball and fall ball in addition to a fall sport.
“Guys doing it year-round deserve a little bit of a break,” says Wickliff. “Winter time is where we have to make the most growth and development.”
Two seniors finished the season at Beech Grove in 2021. One of those — Garrett Esposito — is now on the baseball team at Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Ill.
Wickliff says hopes to have several college baseball-worthy players in the Class of 2023 by the time they’re entering their senior year.
Beech Grove assistant coaches include Garry Hampton, Austin Jones and Ryan Kendall with the varsity and Christian Brown (head coach) and Justin Duhamell (assistant) with the junior varsity.
Wickliff is a 2012 graduate of Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis, where he played baseball for John Rockey and football for Michael Karpinski.
“I’m still in-touch with him to this day,” says Wickliff of Karpinski. “He’s one of my pivotal role models.”
Head JV baseball coach Devin Phillips was someone Wickliff looked up to going through school and had a big impact on him.
“He started process of me becoming a coach,” says Wickliff of Phillips. “It’s the way he was able to relate with the players and build those relationships.”
After earning a Physical Education degree with a Coaching minor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, he completed a Masters in Coaching Education and Athlete Development from Xavier University in Cincinnati.
While in college, Wickliff coached baseball with Rockey at Franklin Central and also was a middle school then freshmen football coach in an FC program led by Burt Austin followed by Grant Lewis.
Wickliff has been involved with three travel baseball organizations — the Indiana Astros, Midwest Astros and currently, Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).
After years of coaching 15U to 17U teams, he is now helms the 18U Signature team and serves as Director of Baseball Operations for high school age groups and is a lead evaluator on the Coaching Evaluation Team.
Jake Banwart, who counted Wickliff as an assistant at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis before the latter took his current Beech Grove job, is BAM president.
Jacob and wife Bridget Wickliff were married Nov. 2, 2019. They reside in Perry Township.

Jacob Wickliff.
The Beech Grove (Ind.) High School Hornets with head coach Jacob Wickliff.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School’s Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
Coach Jacob Barnwart.

Fishers, Indiana Wesleyan alum Davis comes back to baseball as a coach

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Brice Davis got the call that led him into professional baseball he was busy on the field.
Davis was coaching third base for Indiana Wesleyan University in a doubleheader when the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers manager Jamie Bennett, who pitched of the DuBois County (Ind.) Dragons and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats coached with the RailCats, and outgoing hitting coach Derek Shomon reached out about filling Shomon’s spot since he had taken a coaching job in the Minnesota Twins organization.
“They wanted to see if I’d get rattled,” says Davis of the timing. “It was a twisted joke.”
But Davis impressed and after the twin bill received text messages and got a good review. The next thing he knew he is joining the Boomers for spring training and after that came a 96-game regular season and the fourth league championship in franchise history.
“It was whirlwind,” says Davis of the 2021 baseball season began in early February with Indiana Wesleyan in Lakeland, Fla., and ending in late September with Schaumburg in Washington, Pa. “It was an incredible year and an incredible ride.
“It was a really special group (at IWU). To be leaving them at that time was incredibly tough. I’m in awe that we got to share all those runs together.”
Indiana Wesleyan wound up 2021 at 44-14, Crossroads League regular-season and tournament champions and an NAIA Opening Round host.
Davis, a four-year starter at IWU and a 2013 graduate with a Sports Management degree, spent three seasons on the staff of Wildcats head coach Rich Benjamin (2019-21).
“He’s a huge offensive mind and about hitting for power,” says Davis of Benjamin, who was an assistant at Fishers (Ind.) High School before moving on. “I saw it as an opportunity.
“I wanted to see if I could hack it at the college level.”
Davis first became a hitting instructor in 2009 (his training business is Davis Baseball LLC). But it was a big transition to working with professional hitters in 2021.
“You’re helping prepare guys to be successful (in pro ball),” says Davis. “At the college level, you’re doing a lot of development. They’re making strides every single month to be the best versions of themselves and trying to stay locked in.
“Guys at the professional level are already pretty talented. They want to take their skill level and apply it against a pitching staff (or individual). In both arenas the goal is to simplify life. You pick out an approach that is going to breed results and success.”
The difference between high school and college and pro baseball is that the pros play everyday with much more travel and they don’t have as much time to work on their craft.
“Learning how to hit when you’re only 80 percent or getting your two knocks comes in a lot of ways,” says Davis. “I was amazed how many guys played hurt.”
How a player felt on any given day is how they prepared for that day’s game. That might mean more batting practice or less.
“You can’t treat everyday like Opening Day,” says Davis. “It just doesn’t work like that.”
Since Schaumburg is an independent league team, scouting is done differently. Major League-affiliated clubs have access to plenty of stored data on opponents.
The only resource available to the Boomers staff was Frontier League TV (2021 was the first year that all league clubs broadcast games). Coaches and players spent a lot of time looking at video to find tendencies.
The Evansville Otters were the only team who put pitching velocity on the screen during their broadcasts, leaving Schaumburg to study those videos when teams took on Evansville.
In the league championship series against the Washington Wild Things, the staff was at a disadvantage. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boomers had not played anyone on Washington’s side of the league during the regular season. Also, there was no radar gun reading available at Wild Things Park.
“It was all hearsay. You had no more information than in a non-conference high school baseball game. It was ‘see it and hit it, boys!’
It was absolute gauntlet level from our staff and our players. It’s not copy-paste-print like it is at some of the other levels. It’s not like high school baseball where you can trade tapes.
“It was a big learning curve.”
Davis notes that the Frontier League is now partnered with Major League Baseball so maybe things will change for the better.
Not all pro players take to information the same way.
“This guy wants to know velo and out pitch and this guy wants to know as much as possible,” says Davis. “Other guys don’t want to know anything and just play the game.”
And if a pro hitter doesn’t want info, it’s not up to the coach to shove it down his throat.
“You have respect for what they’re trying to do,” says Davis.
While Schaumburg players hail from all over the country, there are also a number with ties to the area, including former Indiana Wesleyan pitcher Isaiah Rivera from Des Plaines, Ill.
“There are a lot of college players in the region,” says Davis. “You don’t want to miss on anything in your back yard. Chicago is a cool city with a lot of great athletes in it.”
Davis says many have the misconception that independent ball is full of 27-year-old has-beens. But a good deal have been selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft and spent time in the affiliated minors.
The Frontier League is unique because it puts players into Rookie, Experienced and Veteran eligibility classifications and there is a cap on veterans (those turning 29 by Oct. 1). Teams can also make just 30 transaction moves per season.
“The world of independent baseball is fascinating,” says Davis.
Another thing about 2021 in much of independent ball is that there was no season in 2020 because of the pandemic.
“They’re learning how to play baseball again and getting their timing back,” says Davis. “It’s like they’ve been waiting for the prom for two years.
“It was about managing emotions, telling them to enjoy the moment and don’t overthink it.”
There was a time when Davis didn’t want to think about baseball. It stung too much when his playing career was over and he did not watch a game for two years.
Brice’s father was a high school boys basketball coach for many years. Hagerstown, Ind., native Jerry Davis was a head coach at Triton Central and Wawasee and an assistant at Marion and Hamilton Southeastern. He came back to Indiana from Dallas, where Brice was born, to teach math and coach hoops.
“I grew up in the gym,” says Brice. “My safe place to process life was listening to bouncing balls. That’s a sanctuary few people understand.”
Davis, who did not play high school basketball to focus on baseball opportunities, joined the Hamilton Southeastern hardwood staff of Brian Satterfield and coached freshmen for two seasons.
“Climbing up the hard way in basketball appealed to me,” says Davis. “Going to clinics and studying tape was a journey in itself.”
Then came the call back to baseball and he answered it.
“I’m in a better head space when I’m going to the field,” says Davis, who received words of encouragement that still resonate with him.
Brian Abbott, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive director and a former IWU assistant, approached Davis at the IHSBCA State Clinic when the latter was on Matt Cherry’s Fishers Tigers staff.
“He was one of the first people who told me I needed to be in coaching,” says Davis of Abbott, the IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “It’s because of kids like myself. He said, ‘you belong in this industry. You might be the only person who gets to tell a kid that day that they matter.
“You have a purpose to connect with kids.”
Davis has taken that connection to heart.
“I love teaching the game,” says Davis. “I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. A lot of good can be done by powerful teaching and coaching.
“It’s a great profession.”
Davis, who was part of Fishers’ first graduating class in 2008, was reunited with Cherry for three seasons (2016-18) as an assistant coach. The 2018 team made an IHSAA Class 4A state title run.
“He’s single-most influential person in my life besides my dad since I was 15,” says Davis of Cherry. “He knows there’s more to people than baseball. He’s transformational.”
Cherry, who had coached Davis prior to the 2016 season he needed a freshman coach. Davis accepted the invitation.
“I’ll be darned if I wasn’t completely consumed,” says Davis. “I told (Cherry) the next year I want to be a varsity coach. I want to be with the older kids. I want to dive in and see where it could go.”
In 2017 and 2018, Davis was Fishers’ hitting coach. The latter team set 21 school records.
“We had all the fun in the world,” says Davis.
Now 32 and living in Wheeling, Ill., Davis is teaching at area facilities, including Parkway Bank Sports Complex aka The Dome in Rosemont, Ill., and East Sports Academy in Itaska, Ill., and helping at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. Owls head coach Bill Fratto is also an assistant/first base coach for the Boomers.
Through it all, Davis has developed a fraternity of brothers at each baseball stage and keeps in-touch with people on his high school, college and pro path. Kris Holtzleiter, the new Eastbrook High School head coach, played and coached with close friend Davis at IWU.
“Every season has a story whether it’s good or bad,” says Davis. “You must make the most of the moment you’re in.
“It’s not about the championships or the trophies.”
It’s the people.

Brice Davis.
Jerry Davis and Brice Davis.
Brice Davis with mother Jerry and mother Paige.
Brice Davis and M.J. Stavola.
Bill Fratto and Brice Davis.
Young Schaumburg (Ind.) Boomers fan and Brice Davis.
Former Indiana Wesleyan University players Isaiah Rivera and Brice Davis a player and coach with the Schaumburg Boomers.

Martinsville’s Peterson puts stock in education, unity, fun

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tutterow Field is the varsity baseball diamond at Martinsville (Ind.) High School. It is named for late Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Tutterow, who led the Artesians for 39 years through 2008.
Second-year Martinsville head coach Adam Peterson says getting to play there has to be earned.
“In order to be on the that field you’ve got to take care of business in the classroom,” says Peterson, who is also assistant principal at John R. Wooden Middle School in Martinsville. “That’s our first emphasis before we even get to the baseball part.”
MHS students are on a trimester schedule.
“It’s also about being good citizens and teammates and taking care of each other. Even if you’re not the best player on the team, you still have something to give.”
Peterson also wants his student-athletes to improve each day and have fun while they’re doing it.
“Winning is fun,” says Peterson. “But it’s the idea of being around their friends and relishing those experiences. The season is a grind with practices and games. We want to mix it up, keep the kids on their toes and keep it fresh.”
Peterson, who was a middle infielder in high school then played almost all the positions in college, encourages his players to be be versatile.
“It gives you more of an opportunity to be in the lineup everyday,” says Peterson.
In 2021, Martinsville had just over 30 players in the program at the end of the season for varsity and junior varsity games.
At a preliminary meeting this fall, 46 showed up to show their baseball interest.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period ended Oct. 16. Twice a week, 10 to 13 athletes met twice a week for baseball activities (many others were in fall sports). Baseball players continue to lift weights twice a week with Martinsville head strength & conditioning coach Ethan Breach.
Tutterow Field is behind a new fieldhouse. The grand opening for the facility which his plenty of rubberized floor space and batting cages was Oct. 8.
Assistant coaches for 2022 are expected to be Martinsville alums Steve Bunton, Layne Bayird and Gary Brittain.
The Artesians had one senior in 2021 — Braxton Wilson. The right-handed pitcher signed at Purdue Fort Wayne.
Right-hander Brandon Dodson (Class of 2020) landed at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill.
Verbal commitments to the University of Evansville have been made by catcher/shortstop Andrew Payton (Class of 2022) and left-hander/outfielder Kevin Reed (Class of 2023).
Last spring, Martinsville had junior high baseball. Seventh and eighth grade teams not affiliated with the school played against conference teams. In 2022, the school system hopes to sponsor the program.
Peterson joined Martinsville schools in 2016-17 and was a baseball assistant to Jeff Scott for two seasons (2017-18). The Artesians won a sectional title in 2017.
Martinsville (enrollment around 1,300) is a member of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Mooresville, Perry Meridian, Plainfield and Whiteland Community).
In 2021, the Artesians were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Center Grove, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Mooresville and Whiteland Community. Martinsville has won 15 sectional titles — the last in 2019.
Before Martinsville, Peterson spent a year as assistant principal at Indiana Math & Science Academy, a charter school in Indianapolis.
Prior to that, Peterson was at Rio Rancho (N.M.) High School for nine years, where he was head assistant for four seasons then a volunteer while he and wife Donna started their family. Rio Rancho head coach Ron Murphy is the all-time wins leader in New Mexico high school baseball history. The Murphy-coached Rams won Class 5A state titles in 2007 and 2009 and he is in the New Mexico Baseball Coaches Association and New Mexico Sports halls of fame.
“He’s a fun guy,” says Peterson of Murphy, who built the Rio Rancho program from scratch. “He’s originally from Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s got some good stories.”
Before New Mexico, Peterson taught on an Indian reservation in Hayes Lodge Pole, Mont.
That’s where he met his future wife. When the New Jersey native applied to the University of New Mexico for her doctorate in History, that’s where the couple landed. The Petersons ended up in Indiana when Donna Peterson went to work at Indiana University and she is now teaching Ivy Tech History courses at Martinsville High.
Before Montana, Adam taught and coached in the Superior, Wis./Duluth, Minn., area.
Peterson graduated from Superior High School in 1999. He played four years of baseball – three varsity — for Spartans head coach Steve Fregin.
At the University of Wisconsin-Superior, Peterson was a four-year starter for Yellowjackets head coach Jim Stukel.
Adam and Donna’s three children are daughter Emma (12), Caleb (almost 10) and daughter Blair (5).

Martinsville (Ind.) High School’s 2017 sectional baseball champions.
Adam Peterson.
Adam Peterson.
Donna, Emma, Blair, Caleb and Adam Peterson.
Rio Rancho High School’s 2007 New Mexico Class 5A state baseball champions.
Rio Rancho’s Micah Martinez and Adam Peterson in 2009.
Ron Murphy and Adam Peterson in 2018.

Scully says much goes into developing Ball State pitchers

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Ball State University develops baseball pitchers, one approach does not fit all.
Each individual is assessed and brought along while keeping in mind what is best for them.
“We’re not making a broad stroke,” says Larry Scully, the Cardinals pitching coach since August 2019. “Everyone is different in terms of their needs.”
Scully, who began his coaching career in 1992 and has mentored 16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections, uses the example of a freshman arriving on the Muncie, Ind., campus in the fall.
That hurler is introduced to Bill Zenisek, Ball State’s baseball strength & conditioning coach.
“He gets a measurement of movement for all the players,” says Scully. From this evaluation, which includes a TPI movement screening, specific exercises are prescribed that will help them become an efficient athlete.
Players are introduced to proper nutrition and the weight room and learn that terminology.
Rapsodo equipment is used during bullpen sessions and the motion-capture data is used for development as is Synergy slow-motion camera feedback.
Then there’s the throwing program.
“We get to see how the arm moves,” says Scully.
As a part of that there is long toss. Some will go long and high and up to 300 feet the day after they throw and others will focus on mechanics and toss on a line for distance.
Through it all, a pitcher’s delivery is checked for efficiency.
How does he start?
How does he drive down the mound?
How does he finish?
Since Scully is Driveline-certified, the Cardinals will use bands, PlyoCare Balls and mediBalls in training.
Bullpen sessions may be geared toward refining a certain pitch or location.
A pitcher’s workload — heavy or light in terms of innings or the number or intensity pitches — will also play into training.
Fall ball began at Ball State the first week of September and just recently concluded.
Pitchers worked alone the first two weeks and were then incorporated into team practices and scrimmages. Then adjustments were made during individual work.
Until Dec. 3, pitchers will work eight hours a week, including strength sessions and 45 minutes a day Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays with their pitching coach.
“We’ll try to maintain what they do well and get better to help us win,” says Scully.
Before coming to Ball State, Scully spent five seasons at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where he worked with Braves head coach Elvis Dominguez.
“We were one of the top academic schools in the Missouri Valley Conference,” says Scully, who also served as Bradley’s recruiting coordinator. the 2019 Braves led the MVC in earned run average (3.37), fewest hits allowed per game (7.21) and WHIP (1.27).
What drew Scully to the Cardinals?
“Ball State has a rich tradition in winning and developing pitchers,” says Scully.
At BSU, Scully joined head coach Rich Maloney, who became the 27th active NCAA Division I coach to earn his 800th career coaching win in 2019. To date, Maloney is 877-581-1 (546-337-1 in his second stint with Ball State) in 26 seasons. He has coached 65 players who were drafted 72 times. He’s coached six first-rounders with only one being drafted out of high school. The most-recent is right-hander Drey Jameson (34th overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019).
Maloney paid Scully a compliment during the interview process.
“Everywhere you’ve been the pitching staff has gotten a bump,” says Scully of Maloney’s words.
The 2021 MLB Draft was very satisfying for Scully.
Three pitchers who the coach helped hone his craft were taken in the first seven rounds — Ball State’s Chayce McDermott (fourth round by the Houston Astros) and Bradley’s Brooks Gosswein (fourth round by the Chicago White Sox) and Theron Denlinger (seventh round by the White Sox).
When looking at pitching potential, Ball State recruiting coordinator Blake Beemer is often drawn to athletes of a certain build.
“They are long and lean with loose arm action,” says Scully. “Others might not be that, but they may be left-handed and can get left-handers out.
“Blake does a good job of finding low-lying fruit. Here’s something we can probably fix (about the pitcher’s mechanics or pitch selection).
“There’s a lot of moving parts. Everyone sees the final product, but there’s a lot of work that goes into it.”
Prior to Bradley, Scully was pitching coach at Murray (Ky.) State University (2014), Lamar (Colo.) Community College (2010-13), assistant at Saint Louis University (2007), head coach at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo. (2000-06) and assistant at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa (1999) and Indiana Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa (1992-96).
Dan Skirka was a Murray State assistant when Scully was there and is now the Racers head coach.
Scully was born in Toronto and played at York Memorial Collegiate Institute in 1986. His head coach was Jim Ridley, who was later inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Ridley twins — Jeremy and Shayne — were teammates who wound up playing at Ball State and were both drafted in 2000 (Jeremy Ridley by the Toronto Blue Jays and Shayne Ridley by the Baltimore Orioles.).
“Jim was a tremendous influence on me,” says Scully. “He was a terrific coach and a terrific person.
“Some are just very lucky. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very good baseball people.”
A left-handed pitcher, Scully competed in the Junior Olympics at 18U and then played for and coached with Rick Mathews (now in the Colorado Rockies organization) at Indian Hills and played for Joel Murrie (now with the Los Angeles Angels) at Western Kentucky University.
Scully earned an English Literature from WKU in 1992 and master’s degree in Sports Administration from the United State Sports Academy in 1994. 
“It was my intent to be an English teacher and baseball coach,” says Scully. “I learned that’s tough gig. Both require a lot of time. Now I’m helping daughter now with her grammar.”
Larry and wife Shari have six children from 30 down to eighth-grader Ava. Shari Scully has taught for nearly 30 years and is employed as a sixth grade Language Arts teacher at Tremont (Ill.) Middle School.

Larry Scully (Ball State University Photo)