Tag Archives: Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association

James-led Purdue Polytechnic Englewood eligible for IHSAA tournament in 2023

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

Purdue Polytechnic Englewood — a charter high school on the Near East Side of Indianapolis — becomes IHSAA baseball tournament-eligible in 2023.
The Techies are part of a Class 3A sectional grouping with Beech Grove, Christel House, Herron, Speedway and Washington.
Purdue Polytechnic Englewood (enrollment around 580) is a member of the Greater Indianapolis Conference (with Christel House, Eminence, Indiana Math & Science, Irvington Prep, Metropolitan, Riverside, Tindley, Victory Prep and Washington). IMS and Victory Prep are not expected to field baseball teams in 2023.
Eric James, who is an IT Specialist at the school and coached offensive linemen for the past four Purdue Polytechnic Englewood football seasons, is the Techies first-year head coach for the third-year baseball program. James was an assistant to Ryan Broadstreet in 2021 and 2022.
Player development is a priority for James.
“At our school a lot of the students don’t come to the school for athletics,” says James. “The guys that do come out have a love of baseball. I want to see strides of improvement. That’s my satisfaction.”
James is a 2013 graduate of Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis, where he played football, baseball and golf and participated for a short time in wrestling.
He was an Information Technology major and Management Information Systems minor at Indiana State University, graduating in 2017.
Purdue Polytechnic Englewood players participated in the Indianapolis RBI program in the summer and fall.
“That allowed them to get more reps and opportunities to play the game,” says James, who is assisted by Donald Baker III and Derrick Strode and expects around 18 players for a varsity-only season at Purdue Polytechnic Englewood in the spring. “We’re trying to get some recognition so our guys can play at the next level.”
The winter IHSAA Limited Contact Period is going on now.
“We’re just trying to get in as much of the fundamentals as possible,” says James, who has his Techies improving their footwork, agility as well as catching and throwing techniques. “We’re putting emphasis on fundamentals and why they do things and how it effects them on the field.
“We’re getting them as much baseball knowledge as we can.”
James attended his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic Jan. 12-14 in Indianapolis.
He picked up many pointers on drills, strength and conditioning and more.
“It was very informative,” says James. “I did enjoy my time there.”
The Schweitzer Center at Englewood houses Purdue Polytechnic Englewood and Paramount Englewood (elementary). The schools are in the renovated P.R. Mallory Building.
Techies athletics use the facilities at T.C. Howe Community High School located about two miles to the east.
Purdue Polytechnic North is located in the former Broad Ripple High School. The Lynx have separate sports programs.

Eric James.

Samardzija chooses baseball over football, makes majors, IHSBCA Hall of Fame

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

Jeff Samardzija grew up in a hard-nosed atmosphere.
Father Sam’s favorite coach was Indiana University’s Bob Knight. His favorite team was the 1985 Chicago Bears. Dad played semi-pro hockey in the Windy City.
“My upbringing was pretty intense with my dad,” said Samardzija Friday, Jan. 13, the day he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. “Luckily I was the second son. He worked the kinks out with my older brother and I kind of loosened up a little bit on me.
“I ended up having a good run there out of Valpo.”
Sam Samardzija Jr., was an all-state football player who became an agent for Wasserman Baseball representing his brother. He is the first-born son of Sam and Debora Samardzija. She died in 2001 at 46.
Jeff Samardzija, who turns 38 on Jan. 23, played wide receiver and helped Valparaiso (Ind.) High School to an IHSAA Class 5A state runner-up finish as a junior. The 2003 graduate was runner-up as Indiana Mr. Football and Indiana Mr. Baseball as a senior. McCutcheon’s Clayton Richard won both awards.
“He is the standard,” said Samardzija of Richard, who went on to pitch in the big leagues and is now head coach at Lafayette Jeff. “Quarterbacks — they get all the love.”
Samardzija, who is of Serbian decent, went to Notre Dame on a football scholarship and was also allowed to played baseball for the Fighting Irish.
“My first two years in football at Notre Dame I wasn’t very good and didn’t put up very good numbers,” said Samardzija, who caught 24 passes for 327 yards and no touchdowns in 2003 and 2004 for the Tyrone Willingham-coached Irish. “I had a lot of success in baseball my freshman and sophomore year.”
It was as a frosh football player that Samardzija received his nickname of “Shark.”
“When you start freshman year you get hazed by the older guys,” said Samardzija. “I didn’t have beautiful, thick facial hair like I do now.”
One day an ND veteran tagged him as “Shark Face” after an animated character.
“I had a good football season and somebody on ABC — (Bob) Griese or sometime said, ‘The Shark is running through the middle of the defense,’” said Samardzija, who caught 77 passes for 1,249 yards and 15 TDs in 2005 and 78 for 1,017 and 13 in 2006 with ND coached by Charlie Weis. “From then on people started calling me Shark.”
Samardzija did not pitch that much in high school.
“When I got to Notre Dame they made me pitch because football didn’t want me to play the outfield,” said Samardzija, who went 5-3, posted a 2.95 earned run average and was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball Magazine in 2004 then followed that up with 8-1 and 8-2 marks in 2005 and 2006 for head coach Paul Mainieri. “It was a great scenario. You don’t have to do off-season conditioning in football. You don’t have to do fall ball in baseball. You get to pick-and-choose where you want to go.
“Being on a full scholarship for football, the baseball coaches loved me. I was free. They didn’t ride me too hard. They just wanted me to show up on Saturdays and pitch. I threw a bullpen on Wednesdays. Everything else was football.”
After Samardzija did well as a collegiate pitcher and then excelled in football as a junior he now had to decide if his path going forward would be on the gridiron or the diamond.
“I had a dilemma on my hands,” said Samardzija. “I had given so much to football my whole life. It was never travel baseball. It was always travel football.
“Baseball was always my release. It was never work and it was never a chore to be out there on the baseball field.
“I had to fight for all my respect in baseball because I was labeled as a football guy.”
With the National Football League showing interest, two-time baseball and football All-American Samardzija was selected in the fifth round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs.
He made his MLB debut in 2008. He was with the Cubs 2008 into the 2014 season when he went to Oakland Athletics. That was the same year he was chosen for the All-Star Game though he did not play.
Samardzija played for the Chicago White Sox in 2015 and San Francisco Giants 2016-2020. He won 12 games in 2016 and 11 in 2019.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound right-hander with a four-seam fastball that got up to 99 mph appeared in 364 games (241 starts) and went 80-106 with one save and a 4.15 earned run average.
“It’s tough when you have to choose a path,” said Samardzija. “I made the right decision.”
A gift from the family and more than 40 donors, Samardzija Field at Tower Park is a youth diamond in Valparaiso.
Mostly off the grid in retirement, Samardzija is an avid fisherman and has spent plenty of time in recent years on the water.
Sometimes “Shark” encounters sharks.
“When I’m in Tampa we’ll get out there,” said Samardzija. “You don’t want to catch them, but sometimes they show up.
“I’ve enjoyed kind of just pulling back. It was a go-go-go life there for a long time.”
Samardzija and partner Andrea have two children.

Jeff Samardzija. (San Francisco Giants Photo)
One of Jeff Samardzija’s career stops was with the Chicago White Sox.

IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Johnston was in professional baseball for six decades

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

Lenny “Lefty” Johnston was part of the professional baseball for six decades.
Born in Pontiac, Mich. on March 15, 1928, and graduated as a football, basketball and baseball standout from Arthur Hill High School (Saginaw, Mich.) and football and baseball star at Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo), Johnston was signed by the Chicago White Sox by Johnny Mostil and Doug Minor in 1952.
Johnston stole 325 bases and led his league in stolen bags for six consecutive seasons (1953-58).
He was The Sporting News Minor League Rookie of the Year for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox of the Western League in 1953.
In 1956 — his second of 12 Triple-A seasons — Johnston led the International League with 182 hits for the Richmond Virginians.
The last seven of his 15 minor league campaigns as a player was spent with the Indianapolis Indians (1960-66). The Indians won championships in 1961 (American Association), 1962 (American Association) and 1963 (International League South). Johnston was a player-coach in his last two seasons.
At 35, hit .316 and finished second in batting in 1964. He smacked four home run and drove in 67 runs in 127 games.
A lefty swinging and throwing outfielder, Johnston hit .304 in 76 games with the 1960 Indianapolis team managed by Johnny Hutchings and Ted Beard. The Indians were then a Philadelphia Phillies farm team.
He hit .297 in 113 games for the Cot Deal-managed 1961 Indians (then a Cincinnati Reds affiliate).
In 1962, Indianapolis was part of the Chicago White Sox system and the ties remained through Johnston’s career in Indy. He hit .270 with 45 runs batted in over 113 games for a ’62 team managed by Luke Appling (who went into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964).
Rollie Hemsley skippered the 1963 Indians and Johnston hit .262 with four home runs and 30 RBIs in 115 games.
Les Moss managed the 1964 Indians to a second place finish in the Pacific Coast League East.
Johnston hit .206 in 81 games for the 1965 Indians (fourth in the PCL East). George Noga was the manager.
Moss was back as manager in 1966. Johnston hit .251 in 94 games and the Tribe placed third in the PCL East.
Among his other managers are Hobart, Ind., native Everett Robinson plus Don Gutteridge, Danny Murtaugh, Eddie Lopat and Rube Walker.
Johnston will be enshrined in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame during the IHSBCA State Clinic Jan. 12-14 at Sheraton at Keystone Crossing in Indianapolis. The Hall of Fame and awards banquet is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 13 at the Sheraton. Other inductees will be Kelby Weybright, Drew Storen, Jeff Samardzija and the late Wayne Johnson.
For questions about banquet reservations, program advertisements or events leading up to the ceremony, contact Hall of Fame chairman Jeff McKeon at 317-445-9899.
Banquet tickets can be purchased at https://www.cognitoforms.com/Baseball3%20_2023IHSBCAStateClinic and can be picked up from Jeff on the night of the banquet at the registration table. Tickets must be purchased in advance.
“Lefty” Johnston married for the second time in Indianapolis and had two sons — David and Danny (who is now caregiver for his 93-year-old father in Nashville, Tenn.).
Johnston had three children from a previous marriage in Michigan and had three older children — Tommy, Janie and Kim. In total, he has five children, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
According to Danny Johnston, his father “loves Florida and loved coaching there.
“He also loved Bluefield, Va., where he spent part of three decades with the Bluefield Orioles coaching, mentoring and coordinating.”
As a national cross-checker scout “Lefty” was responsible for Tito Landrum coming to the Orioles.
Landrum hit the homer that gave Baltimore the lead in Game 4 of the 1983 ALCS and the O’s eventually made it to the World Series. 
“He was proud to have been a part of that,” says Danny Johnston.
He resided in Indianapolis for 50 years during the winters and helped sell season tickets for the Indians and was a substitute teacher and sold insurance for Lincoln National Life.
Johnston has been inducted into both Western Michigan’s Football Hall of Fame and Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 2010, “Lefty” received the Herb Armstrong Award for his contributions to baseball and the organization, and he was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame.
Johnston went into the Appalachian League Hall of Fame in 2020.

Lenny “Lefty” Johnston. (Baltimore Orioles Photo)

Watson putting premium on running as new Providence head coach

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

Tre’ Watson played for one state championship baseball team at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, Ind., and was an assistant coach for another.
Now he’s the interim head coach for the Pioneers. His promotion was announced in late October 2022.
Watson, who turned 25 in September, helped guide players through the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period and is doing so again this winter. There has been individual skills work, including hitting and defense.
“We’re pushing baserunning,” says Watson. “That’s going to be pretty big for us.
“We have a lot of speed and a lot of smart baserunners.”
The idea is to force the opposing defense into mistakes and capitalize on them.
“That was not our M.O. when I was playing,” says Watson, noting that Providence went 27-3 his final prep season with all three losses being by one run. “We had really good pitching and offensively were good at situational hitting.”
Watson was a key member of the 2016 IHSAA Class 2A state championship squad as a senior. He drew two walks and made two putouts while playing first base and third base in the state championship game and was presented with the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award.
After an injury-plagued stint at Vincennes (Ind.) University, Watson (who has had four knee operations and one hip surgery) moved closer to home, enrolled at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany and joined Scott Hornung’s Providence baseball staff for the 2018 season.
Watson worked toward the Business Administration degree he earned in 2021.
Longtime assistant Scott Hutchins took over the Providence program after the 2019 season. The Pioneers won another 2A state crown in 2021.
Eli Watson — younger brother of Tre’ — was a senior in 2021 and also was named to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. Eli is now a redshirt freshman outfielder at Western Kentucky University.
Providence (enrollment around 350) went 18-11 in 2022 and is an athletic independent.
The Pioneers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Clarksville, Crawford County, Eastern (Pekin) and Paoli. Providence has won 20 sectional titles — the last two in 2021 and 2022.
Home games are contested on Pioneer Field with its turf infield and Bermuda grass outfield. The synthetic surface makes rainouts a rarity.
Among the eight seniors on the 2023 team are three college commits — middle infielder Grant Borden (Mercer University), right-handed pitcher/third baseman Cody Jackson (Anderson University) and right-hander Grant Seebold (Oakland City University). Sophomore outfielder Cole Huett, who swings and throws lefty, is verbally committed to the University of Virginia. Grant Borden is the brother of Houston Astros minor leaguer Tim Borden II.
Other impact players include seniors Nathan Julius (outfielder), Casey Kaelin (middle infielder) and Brantley Whitlock (first baseman/third baseman) and juniors Jack Beyl (outfielder/right-hander), Luke Kruer (outfielder/right-hander) and Brian Wall (second baseman).
Watson, who expects to have 25 or 26 players for varsity and junior varsity squads, counts Jay Lorenz, Jared Clemons, Brian Jackson, Scott Hornung and Reece Davis among his assistant coaches.
Lorenz squeezed home the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning in the 2016 state title game.
Hornung is Watson’s father-in-law. Tre’ married Jacquie Hornung (Providence Class of 2016 and a former volleyball player at Bellarmine University in Louisville) in 2021. The couple resides in New Albany.
Tre’ Watson was born in Louisville to Charles II (aka Chuck) and Denna Watson and was raised in Jeffersonville, Ind. He was part of successful all-star teams at Jeff/GRC Little League.
Outside of coaching, Watson is business manager of St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish in New Albany.

Brothers Eli Watson (left) and Tre’ Watson celebrate Providence’s IHSAA Class 2A baseball state championship in 2021.
Jacquie Hornung (left) and Tre’ Watson celebrate Providence’s IHSAA Class 2A baseball state championship in 2021. The two were married shortly after this game. Tre’ and Jacquie Watson reside in New Albany, Ind.

Gries cherishes memories of coaching at Evansville Central, Tri-State Hot Stove League

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

Paul Gries has been a very active member of the Evansville, Ind., athletic community.
The Pocket City native taught for 34 years in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation — 10 at Plaza Park (K-8) and the rest at Central High School. His main subjects were Physical Education and Health.
Whatever the season, Gries was organizing and coaching youngsters in flag football, softball, baseball, soccer, basketball and more.
In 1978, he accepted an invitation to join John Wessel’s Central boys basketball coaching staff.
In 1980, he was asked to be a Bears baseball assistant.
“We hardly had a program at all,” says Gries, who took over as head coach in 1981 and began working in earnest on Central’s field.
“If you want to call it a field,” says Gries. “It was nothing. But I had dreams of what I wanted the baseball field to look like.”
With the help of players, coaches and parents, a diamond which was named in honor of Gries in 2016 (Paul Gries Field was dedicated in 2017 a few days after Gries underwent heart surgery) was steadily-crafted.
Gries, 79, was head baseball coach at Central for 21 seasons (1981-2001) before retiring at 58 and going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2002.
His teams went 408-196 and earned the first seven sectional titles in program history (1981, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1996, 1997 and 1998) plus the first two regional championships (1981 and 1987) and only semistate crown (1987). Central lost 4-1 to the LaPorte’s mythical national champions in the ’87 state championship game at Bush Stadium in Indianapolis.
Gries coached in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 1987 and was named National Coach of the Year in 2000.
“I had some good players (including 1985 graduate and future big league pitcher Andy Benes) and tied to get the most out of every player,” says Gries. “I was spending 14-hour days at Central High School. I was putting every ounce into it.
“It just wore me out.”
It was in 1987 that Gries was approached by longtime professional baseball man and Evansville resident “Singing” Ed Nottle, who had a daughter who was taught by Gries.
Nottle wanted to help Gries and other coaches raise money for their programs.
“We had car washes, candy sales and whatever you can image, but we were making making peanuts until Ed came along,” says Gries, who gathered all the high school and college coaches in town at the EVSC office and what came from planning sessions was the Friends of Bosse Field “Night of Memories.”
What began as a group of former baseball professionals who wanted to ensure that the history of Bosse Field would not be forgotten while fundraising turned into the Tri-State Hot Stove League. Gries served with that organization for 31 years, including stints as vice president and president, and is still involved.
One of the first “Night of Memories” guests was National Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. Gries flew to New Jersey to bring Yogi to town.
Over the years, Evansville native and Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Don Mattingly aka “Donnie Baseball” was at the first special night and has only missed it on a few occasions.
Gries coached Taylor Mattingly (Don’s oldest son) at Central. When Don was playing for the New York Yankees, he would get in the batting cage take swings after winter workouts by the Bears.
“He’d say, ‘Paul, give me some situations.’ I’d, ‘man on third, tie game, one out in the eighth or ninth inning’ and Mattingly just hit those fly balls,” says Griese. “It was unbelievable how Mattingly prepared himself.”
The next Tri-State Hot Stove League “Night of Memories” is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023 at Meeks Family Fieldhouse in the Carson Center at the University of Evansville. A paid autograph session is slated from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Central Time followed by a chat and live/silent auction at 6.
Featured guests include Don Mattingly, Jamey Carroll, Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Barrett, Colson Montgomery, Elijah Dunham, Cameron Decker, Wayne Hagin, Denny McLain, Darrell Evans and Graig Nettles.
“He’s unbelievable,” says Gries of emcee Hagin, who has been a play-by-play man for the Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets. “People love listening to the stories.”
Among past guests: Mattingly, Carroll, Eickhoff, Barrett, Hagin, Gabby Allison, Rick Ankiel, Clint Barmes, Andy Benes, Yogi Berra, Raymond Berry, Lou Brock, Don Buse, Steve Carlton, Jack Clark, Roger Clemens, Danny Cox, Andre Dawson, Jim Edmonds, George Foster, Kyle Freeland, Steve Garvey, Bob Gibson, Goose Gossage, Mark Grace, Bob Griese, Kevin Hardy, Keith Hernandez, Whitey Herzog, Paul Hornung, Al Hrabosky, Andruw Jones, Tommy John, Jim Kiick, Harmon Killebrew, Lily King, Ray Lankford, Tony LaRussa, Johnny Latner, Larry Little, Gaylord Perry, Bobby Plump, Ozzie Smith, Bob Feller, Brooks Robinson, Scott Rolen, Enos Slaughter, Frank Robinson, Andy Van Slyke, Lee Smith and Brad Wilkerson.
“They come from all over when they know Don Mattingly is here,” says Gries. “They can get close to him. People in New York can’t do that.”
College/Pro Football Hall of Famer Griese (Rex Mundi High School Class of 1963 and Purdue University Class of 1967) has been to many “Night of Memories.”
“We do this for the kids,” says Gries, who notes that the a non-profit group has raised close to $2 million for youth athletics and youth-focused organizations in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky in three decades.
Gries says the event at its peak netted up to $90,000 in one day.
Some of the money has been given to Habitat for Humanity. Gries says Mattingly, Bob Griese, Brian Griese (Bob’s son who now coaches with the San Francisco 49ers), Calbert Cheaney (a 1989 Evansville Harrison High School graduate who played at Indiana University, the National Basketball Association and now coaches with the Indiana Pacers) and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan (who played at Evansville College and the NBA and was a longtime NBA coach) all
gave large sums to sponsor homes.
A 1961 graduate of Evansville Mater Dei High School, Gries’ prep baseball coach was Len Will (an Indiana Football Hall of Famer).
“He was the gentlest man that I know,” says Gries. “That was the example he shared with us (athletes).”
On the basketball court, Gries eclipsed the 40-point mark three times including a single-game record of 44. That was long before the 3-point arc was put in place. Mater Dei was led on the hardwood by Ed Schultheis in Gries’ freshman and sophomore years and Tom Gore in his junior and senior seasons.
Gries went to Indiana State College (now Indiana State University) for basketball and baseball during an era when freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity.
The injury bug kept biting him on the hardwood. He suffered torn cartilage working out early in his freshman year then experienced ankle and groin ailments as a sophomore and decided not to stick with the Duane Klueh-coached Sycamores.
On the diamond, Gries earned three letters (1963-65, helping the Sycamores go a combined 37-24-2) playing for Paul Wolf (who wound up as a member of both the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and ISU Athletics Hall of Fame).
One of his fond memories is playing catch with future IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tommy John and having John feed the pitching machine for him during preseason workouts before the 1961 Terre Haute Gerstmeyer High School valedictorian reported to spring training.
Gries paced Indiana State in batting average, hits and runs as a junior in 1964 (.357, 25 and 20 ) and senior in 1965 (.413, 26 and 13). He hit .439 in conference games and was Indiana Collegiate Conference co-MVP with Ball State’s Merv Rettenmund (who went on to play 13 in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and California Angels and coached for the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres twice, Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers).
“The great thing about Paul Wolf is that he was old school,” says Gries.
Wolf was a minor league middle infielder 1926-33, including time with the Indianapolis Indians in 1930-31. He was able to pass on wisdom to Gries, who was a switch-hitting shortstop at Indiana State and moved to second base in his second of two pro seasons in the Washington Senators organization (1965-66).
“Pee Wee” (he was 5-foot-9 and 157pounds) spent much of the 1965 Appalachian League season on the disabled list with a sprained ankle after a collision at home plate.
It was during the Vietnam War era and Gries left baseball to joined the U.S. Army Reserves and got married for the first time.
“I got to see the difference between high school and college and college and pro,” says Gries. “What a big step it is.”
Divorced in 1989, Gries was single for 14 years and has been married to Mary, a fellow Catholic who moved to Evansville from Auburn, Ind., for 19 years.
Gries has five children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
“They are the joy of my life,” says Gries. “I’m going to spend as much time with my kids as I can.”

Paul Gries.
Paul Gries at the Tri-State Hot Stove League “Night of Memories.”

Alum Collins wants ‘refuse to lose’ effort from Shakamak Lakers

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

In its storied baseball history, Shakamak Junior/Senior High School in Jasonville, Ind., has appeared in an IHSAA state championship game eight times.
Dylan Collins was on three of those teams — 2012, 2014 and 2015. The Lakers reigned over Class 1A in 2014.
Collins played catcher his first two varsity seasons, second baseman as a junior and shortstop as a senior. He was in the 2-hole in 2012 and at the top of his team’s batting order in the 2014 and 2015.
His head coach for the first three seasons was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chip Sweet. Todd Gambill took over the program after Sweet’s retirement.
“Coach Sweet was an all-around good guy,” says Collins. “We looked up to him as a father figure. He was very well-respected and we wanted to win for him.
“We had only one year with Coach Gambill. He was energetic. He knew what he was getting and we produced for him.”
Collins played two seasons at Vincennes (Ind.) University for Chris Barney and one at Purdue Northwest for Dave Griffin.
“(Barney) wanted me from the first time he saw me,” says Collins. “He told you how it was and lived up to the promise.
“(Griffin) was an honest guy and fun to play for.”
Collins came back home to work at Jasonville Utilities and joined the Shakamak baseball coaching staff.
After three seasons as junior varsity coach, Collins was named last week as head coach.
As a product of a program that has has won 27 sectional titles (the last two in 2021 and 2022) with state championships in 2008 and 2014 and runner-up finishes in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2012, 2015 and 2021, Collins knows that expectations are high in the Shakamak community.
“That’s what drives me to do what I do,” says Collins. “That’s the fun part of it.”
Every time Collins comes to Shakamak on-campus diamond he recalls the Laker legacy.
“It’s all the history there,” says Collins. “I remember 2004 and one of the first state runs. My brother (Class of 2006’s Derek Collins) was on the team. I was young and running around.
“There are so many memories.”
Collins’s 2023 coaching staff features Class of 2015’s Jake Walters and pitching coach Braxton Yeryar and Jason Pegg (Bloomfield alum) with previous head coach Jeremy Yeryar (Shakamak of Class of 1993) also helping out.
Braxton Yeryar was Collins’ teammate at Shakamak and a teammate and roommate at Vincennes U.
As the man in charge, Collins wants his Lakers to “refuse to lose” and play with confidence.
Among returnees from a 2022 team that went 16-14 is Indiana Wesleyan University commit and senior Brady Yeryar (.559 with seven home runs and 34 runs batted in as a junior).
Ethan Burdette (Class of 2021) is now at VU.
Shakamak (enrollment around 200) is a member of the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eastern Greene, Linton-Stockton, North Central of Farmsburg, North Daviess and White River Valley).
SWIAC teams meet each other one time.
The Lakers are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Bloomfield, Clay City, Dugger Union, North Central (Farmersburg) and White River Valley.
Shakamak is to open the 2023 season March 31 at Jasper.
There was weight training and conditioning for the Lakers during the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period. Collins says hitting and other activities will take after the Christmas break.
Shakamak has a junior high baseball team of seventh and eighth graders which play on the high school diamond in the spring. Another feeder is the Shakamak Youth League (T-ball through majors).
Collins and girlfriend Bailey Scott have a 4-month son named Kooper Collins. Dylan’s parents are Jeff and Denise Collins. Jeff Collins (Shakamak Class of 1983) played for head coach Herschel Allen and once held batting records for the Lakers. Brooke Griffith (Class of 2007) is the sister to Dylan and Derek.

Jonathan Miller (left), Dylan Collins and Jeff Gambill.

Dylan Collins, Bailey Scott and their son Kooper Collins.
Dylan Collins (front) is surrounded by brother Derek Collins (left), mother Denise Collins, father Jeff Collins and sister Brooke Griffith.

Geeser puts passion over flash with North Putnam Cougars

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

Chris Geeser is entering his eighth season as a baseball coach at North Putnam High School in Roachdale, Ind.
The 2023 season will mark his fourth in charge of the Cougars program.
It’s is Geeser’s desire to put a “well-organized, hard-nose competitive team” on the field.
“We’re going to play the game hard,” says Geeser. “We’ll run out ground balls and give it our best effort.”
Geeser, 31, promotes sportsmanship and sees no room for showboating and bat flipping in baseball.
“I’d rather see the passion than the flashiness,” says Geeser.
A true-blue Chicago Cubs fan, Geeser counts former North Side pitcher Carlos Zambrano among his favorites.
“He was so passionate,” says Geeser of a player who won 125 games and socked 24 home runs in 11 seasons with the Cubs.
Geeser was born in Rockford, Ill., and moved to Martinsville, Ind., as a fourth grader.
He played four years of baseball for the Martinsville High School. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Tutterow led the Artesians in Geeser’s freshman year. Luke Moscrip was head coach the next season and Mike Swartzentruber (now a Lake Central) in 2009 and 2010.
“I was a big fan,” says Geeser of Swartzentruber. “We had a lot of talent my junior and senior year. He was very detailed and very intense.”
Geeser graduated from Indiana State University in 2015 and was hired to teach Business at North Putnam about a week before school began in 2015-16.
North Putnam (enrollment around 445) is a member of the Western Indiana Conference (with Class 2A Brown County, 2A Cloverdale, 3A Edgewood, 2A Greencastle, 3A Indian Creek, 3A Northview, 3A Owen Valley, 2A South Putnam, 2A Sullivan and 3A West Vigo).
Each WIC team meets one time during the season.
The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Cloverdale, Greencastle, Parke Heritage, South Putnam and Southmont. North Putnam has won four sectional titles — the last in 2007.
With many North Putnam athletes involved in football, soccer or cross country, Geeser held IHSAA Limited Contact Period practices once a week in the fall. Those attending got a chance to throw and work on defensive basics and take plenty of batting practice.
“The skill that falls off faster than anything is hitting,” says Geeser. Since the winter Limited Contact Period began the Cougars are spending one day on bullpens and defensive drills and the other on hitting (in the cage or at stations around the gym).
“There’s not a whole lot of standing around at my practices,” says Geeser. “We’d like to get 100-150 swings.”
Sharing facilities with winter sports means coming in before school or going later in the evening.
North Putnam offers basketball, wrestling and swimming in the winter.
Winter workouts have had as many as 20 attendees, but the average is around 12.
Since Geeser became head coach the Cougars have fielded varsity and junior varsity teams and he expects the same in 2023. He guesses there might be 24 or 25 players in the program in the spring.
While there are no recent graduates in college baseball, Geeser sees that potential for junior right-handed pitcher Jaylen Windmiller, who struck out 27 and walked five in 22 2/3 innings for a 2022 team that went 13-13.
Geeser’s assistant coaches include returnees Cameron Brothers and Jackson Kendall and newcomer Anthony Rossock. Brothers and Kendall are North Putnam graduates and Rossock, who played at Anderson University, is a Greencastle alum. All three are North Putnam teachers.
North Putnam Middle School fields a team in the spring made up of seventh and eighth graders (and sometimes sixth graders).
North Putnam Youth Baseball League sponsors teams from T-ball to 12U. Geeser is actively involved with the organization.
A number of renovations to the school’s on-field diamond last summer, including rolling and re-building the infield, mound and home plate areas.
“I think our field’s pretty nice,” says Geeser. “We have really good lights.”
A Musco Lighting system can be controlled by a phone app.
Chris andy Lacey Geeser celebrated four years of marriage in the summer of 2022.

Chris Geeser. (North Putnam High School Photo)

Weybright sees Hall of Fame honor as reflection of Norwell community

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

Kelby Weybright is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The organization voted Weybright in as part of the 2023 class (players Drew Storen and Jeff Samardzija and veterans committee selections Lenny “Lefty” Johnston and Wayne Johnson are the others) and he will be recognized at a banquet held during the IHSBCA State Clinic. The dinner is slated for 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13 at the Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis.
Weybright coached baseball at Norwell High School near Ossian, Ind., for 17 seasons — the last 11 as head coach. On his watch, the Knights went 243-93 with two conference, seven sectional, four regional and two semistate titles to go with two IHSAA Class 3A state championships (2003 and 2007) and one 3A state runner-up finish (2006). The 2007 team went 35-0.
“It’s an award that truly represents the commitment and efforts of a lot of people in our community who gave of their time and talents to give kids an opportunity to learn and play the game of baseball and to play it at a high level,” says Weybright. “(It reflects) the kids who worked their tails off, coaches who gave of their time and talents, our community who supported those teams and our school who stood behind us.
“I was fortunate enough to be the person who had the title of head coach.”
Fundamental soundness was a priority for Weybright.
“There were fundamental drills we did every single day. I’m sure kids got tired of seeing it.
“Our practices were detailed down to the minute with what we were doing.”
Success could be achieved if Norwell had strong pitching, made the “everyday” play and won as many innings as possible.
“Whatever we were doing it was nine guys working as one as much as possible,” says Weybright. “I loved to look out at the baseball diamond and see a play happen and all nine guys moving in rhythm and going where they’re supposed to be.
“It’s like a symphony playing.”
Bunting and running were major parts of the Knights’ game.
So was hustle.
Many were the times when players went first to third or two players scored on a suicide squeeze bunt.
“We tried to play like our rear ends were on fire,” says Weybright. “I wanted guys who played the game hard. I wanted guys who competed. When we went on the field or came off the field it was at a dead run.
“We want to come out and have a great pregame. We wanted to be fast and crisp. We wanted the people in the other dugout to go, ‘Mmm, dang, we’re going to struggle today.’
“Those are the kinds of things our kids bought into. When you see team play that hard it carries over to different aspects of the game.”
His teams were well-conditioned, frequently coming in for 6 a.m. Saturday workouts during the winter.
But beyond baseball it was about getting teenagers ready to be fathers and productive members of the community.
“We’re proud of watching these guys grow and become the men they are,” says Weybright.
After the 2012 Norwell season, Weybright stepped away from his head coach post to guide his sons in travel ball and tend to his school responsibilities. After years as assistant principal and dean of students, Kelby was named Norwell’s athletic director in 2017. Those duties keep him busy though he does help out with the baseball program when time allows.
When the Knights advanced to semistate a couple of years ago he found time to work with the infielders.
He trades videos and ideas with current Norwell head coach Dave Goodmiller.
“I still try to stay involved,” says Weybright, 52.
Kelby and wife of 25 years, Lisa, have three children — Garrett (23), Jacob (21) and Maria (19).
Garrett Weybright (Norwell Class of 2018) and Jacob Weybright (Class of 2020) both played baseball in high school. Maria Weybright (Class of 2021) was a four-year varsity cheerleader at Norwell.
Kelby was born in Wooster, Mass., to Garry and Linda Weybright (who now live in Elkhart County) and moved to Indiana around age 5. Brother Teague Weybright is one year younger than Kelby.
A 1988 graduate of North White Middle/High School in Monon, Ind., Before graduating from Indiana University, Kelby played three baseball seasons at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill.
“It’s about an hour from Busch Stadium (in St. Louis),” says Weybright. “When I was in college you could actually buy outfield seats for five bucks.”
Growing up as a big Gary Carter fan, Weybright cheered for the Montreal Expos or New York Mets. Listening to Jack Buck on the radio or attending game changed his favorite team in college.
“I’m a diehard (St. Louis Cardinals) fan,” says Weybright. “I live and die by the Redbirds right now.”
For questions about Hall of Fame banquet reservations, program advertisements or events leading up to the ceremony, contact Hall of Fame chairman Jeff McKeon at 317-445-9899.
Banquet tickets can be purchased at https://www.cognitoforms.com/Baseball3%20_2023IHSBCAStateClinic and can be picked up from Jeff on the night of the banquet at the registration table. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

Kelby Weybright. (Norwell High School Photo)

IHSBCA Hall of Fame to induct Weybright, Storen, Samardzija, Johnston, Johnson in ’23

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

Coach Kelby Weybright, players Drew Storen and Jeff Samarzija and veterans committee selections Lenny “Lefty” Johnston and Wayne Johnson make up the 2023 induction class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Weybright is a graduate of North White High School. Following graduation, he attended and played baseball for three years at Blackburn College before earning his bachelor degree from Indiana University.
Following one season as an assistant at North White, Weybright spent six seasons as an assistant and 11 seasons as the head coach at Norwell High School where he compiled a record of 243-93 with two NHC, seven sectional, four regional and two semistate titles with an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2006 and 3A state championships in 2003 and 2007 before retiring in 2012 to coach his sons in travel baseball.
The 2007 team went 35-0 and finished ranked 10th nationally (Collegiate Baseball/Easton Sports). The 2006 and 2007 squads went a combined 64-2.
Weybright coached 22 players that played collegiately with six IHSBCA North All-Stars and four Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections.
Two NHC Coach of the Year honors (2006 and 2007) came Weybright’s way as well as two IHSBCA Coach of the Year awards (2003 and 2007).
He was recognized as a National High School Baseball Coaches Association District and National Coach of the Year in 2007.
Weybright is currently athletic director at Norwell and continues to work with the baseball program during its summer development period and occasionally during the season as time permits.

Storen is a 2007 graduate of Brownsburg High School.
As a freshman, he was the No. 2 pitcher (3-0, 1.17 earned run average) behind Lance Lynn on the eventual 2004 state runner-up.
As a sophomore, right-hander Storen went 9-0 with 86 strikeouts in 57 innings and helped the Bulldogs to go 35-0 and win the 2005 state championship while earning a No. 2 ranking in the country from Baseball America.
The Indianapolis Star called that team, “The greatest high school team in Indiana history.”
For his career, Storen finished 28-2 with 270 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.61. At the plate, he hit .400 with 16 home runs.
He was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2007, but attended Stanford University.
In two seasons with the Cardinal, he was named to three Freshman All-American teams and was twice chosen first team All-Pac 12. He got the win in Game 1 of the 2008 College World Series.
Storen led Stanford as a sophomore in saves, wins and appearances and was named team MVP for 2009.
He finished his collegiate career with a 12-4 record, 26 saves, 59 appearances and a 3.84 ERA.
As a draft-eligible sophomore, Storen was taken by the Washington Nationals as the 10th overall pick of the 2009 MLB Draft.
In eight seasons with the Nationals, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds, he went 29-18 with 99 saves, a 3.45 ERA and 417 strikeouts. He made six postseason appearances for Washington in 2012 and 2014 with one win and one save.
Drew and his wife Brittani currently reside in Carmel and have two boys — Jace (6) and Pierce (2).

Samardzija is a 2003 Valparaiso High School graduate is considered one of the best athletes in Indiana history.
By his senior year, he was recognized as one of the state’s best football players and was the runner-up for the Indiana Mr. Football award. Samardzija was a three-time all-state player and was selected to the Indiana All-Star team.
In baseball, he was a runner-up for the Mr. Baseball award as a senior, a three-year varsity letterman and an All-State honoree as a center fielder. He hit .375 with five home runs and 37 runs batted in as a junior and .481 with eight homers and 50 RBIs as a senior.
As one of the nation’s top football recruits, he chose Notre Dame where he was also invited to pitch for the baseball team.
Samardzija was a two-time All American wide receiver, a two-time All-American pitcher and a two-time runner up for the Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s best receiver.
Despite his football skills and the likelihood of being drafted as a first-round pick in the National Football League, Samardzija opted to play professional baseball after pitching for the Irish for three seasons.
The right-hander was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB Draft. He made his MLB debut for the Cubs in July 2008 and went on to pitch 13 full seasons.
In addition to the Cubs, Samardzija pitched for the Oakland Athletics (2014), Chicago White Sox (2015) and San Francisco Giants (2016-2020). He was named an All-Star in 2014.
Jeff and older brother Sam represent a rare achievement in VHS history with each being selected as All-State performers in both football and baseball.

Johnston graduated from Western Michigan University and was a minor league outfielder from 1952-67.
He played for the Indianapolis Indians from 1960-1966 and played in the
Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Senators organizations.
He was a career .286 hitter and had 525 stolen bases. He led his league in stolen bases six straight years (1953-58). He paced the International League in 1956 with 182.
Johnston was a minor league manager for nine years and was the with the Bluefield Orioles in the Appalachian League and the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., in an administrative role.
In 2020, he was inducted into the Appalachian League Hall of Fame. Johnston served as a scout, scouting supervisor, cross-checker and minor league coordinator roles before retiring in 2019. He currently resides in Nashville, Tenn.

Wayne Johnson spent 12 years as a varsity assistant to Greg Silver at Mooresville before spending two stints as the head coach at Brownsburg High School.
At the helm of the Bulldog program, he compiled 278 wins over 15 years.
During his first stint from (1987-2000), Johnson-led teams took home sectional championships in 1988, 1992, 1995 and 1996. The Bulldogs were also regional champions in 1996.
Then on short notice, Johnson was asked to return to coach Brownsburg in 2011 and won another sectional title.
While Johnson’s victories and championships are impressive, his contributions to Brownsburg baseball far exceed his won/loss record.
The 1990 Central Suburban Athletic Conference Coach of the Year was instrumental in the construction of Brownsburg’s home baseball field — Mary Beth Rose Park.
Johnson partnered with countless members of the community to design and build the stadium and it has served to host over a 1,000 games since the spring of 1988.
Rose Park is still considered a premier location to play baseball in Indiana.
Johnson was a big supporter of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame and it fundraising efforts.
He also owned a business, Johnson Sports Collectibles in addition to teaching for 39 years at Mooresville and Brownsburg High Schools. Johnson impacted many lives through the game of baseball and his presence is sorely missed. He is being inducted posthumously as he passed away on Dec. 19, 2018.

Inductees will be honored during the IHSBCA State Clinic. The ceremony is slated for 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, 2023 at Sheraton at Keystone Crossing. The clinic is Jan. 12-14.
For questions about banquet reservations, program advertisements or events leading up to the ceremony, contact Hall of Fame chairman Jeff McKeon at 317-445-9899.
Banquet tickets can be purchased at https://www.cognitoforms.com/Baseball3%20_2023IHSBCAStateClinic and can be picked up from McKeon on the night of the banquet at the registration table. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

2023 IHSBCA Hall of Fame class. (Graphic by Dan Hardy Hill)

Willard follows father as Eastside Blazers head coach

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

Eastside Junior/Senior High School athletics has been a big part of Cade Willard’s world all of his 23 years.
His parents — Aaron and Kerri Willard — have both been employed by DeKalb Eastern Community School District.
Cade played baseball and basketball for the Butler, Ind.-based Eastside Blazers — Jason Pierce for the first two years (2014 and 2015) and his father for the last two (2016 and 2017) on the diamond and Ryan Abbott on the hardwood.
A right-handed pitcher, Willard played three seasons at Purdue Fort Wayne (2019-21). He redshirted in 2018. He appeared in 92 games (all in relief) for the Mastodons. His head coach the last two seasons was Doug Schreiber.
“Throughout my career I’ve been blessed with good coaches,” says Willard.
Graduating in 2021 as a Business Management major and Marketing minor, Willard went to work at Eastside teaching Business and Computer Science and joined his father’s baseball coaching staff.
After an IHSAA Class 2A state runner-up finish in 2021, Eastside won another sectional title in 2022. The Kelly Green & White went 26-7 in ’21 and 21-8 in ’22.
Eastside (enrollment around 380) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview).
The Blazers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Central Noble, Churubusco, Prairie Heights, Westview and Whitko. Eastside has won seven sectional titles.
Aaron Willard was a North coach and Owen Willard — little brother of former volleyball/softball athlete Madison (Willard) Shelter (Class of 2014) and Cade — was the MVP at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.
At the end of the season, Aaron Willard kept his athletic director tag but passed the head coaching baton to Cade.
His decision to pursue business or education and coaching was made during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I grew up around Eastside my whole life,” says Cade. “It seemed right.
“It makes it more special being in your hometown.”
Aaron and elementary P.E. teacher Kerri now have more time to see right-hander Owen pitch at PFW.
Cade is also an assistant to Ed Bentley on the Blazers varsity boys basketball staff. Willard found time to lead IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activities (two days a week for two hours) in the fall and will do so again in the winter, beginning Dec. 5. He will roll right from basketball to baseball on some days.
“In the fall, we got better, got in a routine and got our hitting philosophies down,” says Willard, who had eight to 10 high schoolers at each session along with a handful of junior high players. “On paper, we had our starting infield out there.
“It’s important to get kids in before the holidays. We can see what numbers we have.”
Cade wants the ones who are able to attend to get used to his practice structure.
“The past few years we’ve been successful,” says Willard. “It’s about keeping the tradition alive.
““We’re always a scrappy team. I want to get our guys ready to compete. We have a few spots to fill. We were super senior-heavy last year.
“For some it will be the first time playing varsity baseball. Toward the end of the season we’ll be alright.”
Besides Owen Willard, Class of 2022’s Nick Snyder moved on to college baseball at Indiana University Southeast.
Willard has a mixture of seasoned and younger assistant coaches.
“I think it’s important to bring on experienced guys who know what to do in different situations,” says Willard.
Eastern graduate Tony Emenhiser — who coached with Pierce and Aaron Willard — is back. Alum Gary Kaiser was also on Pierce’s staff.
Conner Dove is junior varsity head coach and is assisted by Mike Gustin. Dove was an Eastside classmate of Willard. He was a teammate of Prairie Heights graduate Gustin at Trine University (Angola, Ind.).
Willard expects to have around two dozen players for varsity and JV squads. Among returnees is Class of 2024’s Loden Johnson and Ryder Reed and Class of 2025’s Jace Mayberry.
Pitchers will be asked to throw strikes and keep the ball low and away from he middle of the plate.
“Free bases hurt,” says Willard. “You can throw two pitches for strikes and get away with it and be effective with three.
“In our non-conference games we’ll see who can throw and who cannot throw. It’ll get us ready for rather get ready for conference in the later weeks.
There will be a lot of juggling (of positions) this year for sure. We want to put the best lineup out there for conference.”
Eastside plays home contests on-campus at Michael D. Fieldler Field. The diamond played host to a fall league and has had its dugouts upgraded with other projects in the works.
Bobcat Youth League locations at Butler and Riverdale-St. Joe develop players that end up at Eastside. Fifth and sixth graders travel to play area teams, including in Hicksville, Ohio. Butler is about four miles from the Indiana-Ohio line.
The non-conference high school season tends to include Ohio opponents like Archbold, Edgerton and Fairview.
A youth camp is planned at Eastside for the spring.
“It is important to get youth kids enjoying and playing baseball
doing it the right way,” says Willard. “Dad — being AD — says that’s an area you could blossom in with time over the long run.”

Cade Willard.
Cade Willard.
Aaron Willard (left) and Cade Willard.
Owen Willard (left) and Cade Willard.
Cade (left), Owen, Kerri and Aaron Willard.