Tag Archives: Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association

Blasko sees positive attitude as essential for athletics, life

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chadd Blasko found out as an an athlete how far a positive attitude could carry him and he’s carried that into his roles as coach, educator, husband, father and citizen.

Blasko, who recently became a baseball instructor at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center in South Bend, graduated from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School where he was a standout in basketball and baseball. He went on to pitch for Purdue University when Doug Schreiber was the Boilermakers head baseball coach.

“He’s probably one of the most influential people ever in my life,” says Blasko of Schreiber (who is now head coach at McCutcheon High School). “I heard as an immature high school kid about attitude and things like that. I didn’t understand what attitude meant until I went to Purdue and was around Coach Schreiber. He drilled attitude, attitude, attitude, attitude.

“When I coach, I carry that piece from him. A good attitude can relate to every single thing you do — how you carry yourself, how your react to people, how you come to practice. It’s the attitude you bring to the table in sports and in life.”

Blasko, who likes to use analogies in his coaching and teaching, sees attitude as the glue that keeps the pieces of the puzzle together.

“If you keep that attitude sound, it takes care of everything else,” says Blasko.

The 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher was selected in the 47th round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star did not sign and three seasons at Purdue and was taken in the first round (36th overall as a “sandwich” pick) in the 2002 draft by the Chicago Cubs.

Mishawaka teammate Eric Good was drafted as a pitcher in 1998 and played in the Montreal Expos organization. Purdue mates David Gassner (Toronto Blue Jays) and Andy Helmer (Cleveland Indians) were also drafted as pitchers.

Blasko wound up his professional career in the Baltimore Orioles organization in 2007.

He has had two stints as a varsity baseball assistant at Mishawaka, where he has been an assistant boys basketball coach for a decade.

“I’ve always had a passion for playing sports,” says Blasko, 38. “(Coaching) allows me to still be young and be a competitor. This allows me to still connect to it.”

Blasko is also a physical education and health teacher at MHS. Chadd and wife Samantha have two sons — Baylen (5) and Brooks (3).

When he became a father, Blasko backed off his baseball coaching duties to spend more time with his wife and sons.

“I sit back a lot of times and realize how valuable my times is with my boys,” says Blasko. “The time people put in with me, especially my dad and mom (Ed and Sandy Blasko). Those things are so important.

“It’s nice to coach kids, but it’s very important to be there for your kids as a father. Before you know it, they’re going to be 7 years old, 10 years old then they’ll be a teenager and won’t want to talk to you because they know everything.”

Blasko, who has a younger brother named Phil (who played basketball at Defiance College in Ohio and is now Mishawaka Parks & Recreation Department director), played baseball at Mishawaka for head coach Gregg Minegar and basketball for Jerome Calderone.

“(Minegar) was more laid-back,” says Blasko. “He had a mellow way of reaching a kid.”

Calderone was more demonstrative as is current Caveman head boys basketball coach Ron Heclinski.

“I remember his tough love,” says Blasko of Calderone (who is now principal at MHS). “I thanked him when I was inducted into the Mishawaka Hall of Fame.

“He was old school. He’s going to let out a bark. He’s not going to let you just go through the motions. He had passion. You have to have a passion for what you’re doing.”

Blasko appreciates how Heclinski finds a way to get though to his young athletes and their many personalities.

“I relate to him a lot,” says Blasko. “If you don’t relate to the kids, it’s hard to get to them. I’ve learned that from him.

“Sometimes you have to give that tough love and get after a kid. You have to hold him accountable.

“Some folks betray that as being too harsh. It’s about knowing that line and not crossing the line to disrespect. You’re showing them your passion. I’m trying to help you out.”

Blasko has also learned from Heclinski that some players respond to the proverbial kick in the hindquarters while other wilt when you do that.

“You should learn your players,” says Blasko. “You can’t just be a cookie-cut coach.

“There’s a common goal there it’s finding a way of how to unlock the kid’s lock.”

Blasko’s bottom line: If you’re in the classroom, on the court or on the field, if you can’t connect with that kid, it’s going to be very hard to teach them.

“I don’t care if I’m trying to teach you to have self esteem and be nice to people or how to pitch,” says Blasko. “It’s going to be very hard for me to get in your brain and for you to trust me.

“If you trust me, I’ve got you. They’ve got to know they can trust you and know what you’re about.”

In his early Performance Center sessions, Blasko has been showing young pitchers how to load up and use their whole body rather than just their arms.

He told them that if you’re going to throw a punch, you want to bring it back before you take it forward for maximum power and the same is true with pitching.

Once again, Blasko is not using a cookie-cut approach.

“They’re all different,” says Blasko. “We have a main goal, but if something works for you, I’m not going to change it all that much. I’m not going to make everybody a robot . We’re not all going to look identical.”

He wants them all to have the same foundation and be able to balance during their motion.

“You’re not stopping but you’re gathering yourself to make that powerful movement toward the plate,” says Blasko. “We want to be equal and opposite (creating a rhythmic and synchronized arm swing; extending the arms at the same tine, in the same motion, with the elbows matching up int he exact identical position and foot strike), stay on top of the ball and follow through.

“You’ve got to have a base and build your way up to get to the power position.”

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Chadd Blasko recently became a baseball instructor at the First Source Bank Performance Center in South Bend, Ind. He is a coach and teacher at Mishawaka (Ind.) High School. He played baseball at Purdue University and in the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles systems.

 

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Franklin Community, Hanover grad Miller now coaching at Tusculum

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Todd Miller’s baseball coaching path has taken him to the eastern part of the Volunteer State.

A graduate of Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2002 and Hanover (Ind.) College in 2006, Miller is in his first season as an assistant at Tusculum University, an NCAA Division II school in Greeneville, Tenn.

Recruiting coordinator and assistant coach is charge of hitting, base runners and infielders are duties for Miller, who was hired in the summer of 2018.

He joined Brandon Steele, a former Tusculum assistant who was promoted when Doug Jones resigned as head baseball coach to concentrate on his duties as Pioneers athletic director.

Associate head coach Todd Ireland and graduate assistants John Topoleski and Hayden Pewitt round out the coaching staff.

Tusculum (24-14 through April 4) is part of the South Atlantic Conference (with Anderson of South Carolina, Carson-Newman, Catawba, Coker, Lenoir-Rhyne, Lincoln Memorial, Mars Hill, Newberry, Queens of Charlotte and Wingate).

The Pioneers play home games at Pioneer Park, a stadium owned by the school and also used by the short-season Appalachian League’s Greeneville Reds (Cincinnati Reds affiliate).

“We have, arguably, the best facilities in Division II baseball,” says Miller. Tusculum has indoor covered batting cages. A clubhouse, weight room, video lab and coaches offices are all underneath the stadium. A nearby building is used for defensive work.

Prior to Tusculum, Miller served four seasons as an assistant to Chris Anderson at Belmont (N.C.) Abbey College and four campaigns as an assistant to Jim Gantt at Cattawba College (Salisbury, N.C.).

Anderson played for Gantt at Catawba and joined Miller in turning the Crusaders’ fortunes around.

“We had a lot of success there,” says Miller.

After going 25-25 in 2015 (Miller’s first season), Abbey was 40-14  with a No. 2 national ranking (best in program history) in 2018 (Miller’s last).

“(Gantt) is one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around — bar none,” says Miller. “He’s got a fantastic program. He does a great job of developing players. He’s truly winner.”

Miller was a part of winning teams for the Indians. During his time there, Catawba won three conference titles and qualified for regional play three times. The program’s first regional crown and D-II College World Series berth in Cary, N.C., came in 2012.

He was an assistant at his alma mater, Hanover, and helped head coach Shayne Stock in 2009 and 2010. Those were also the junior and senior seasons for brother Adam Miller (Hanover Class of 2010). Their sister, Jessica (Class of 2012), was also a student there at the time.

Two seasons at Bluffton (Ohio) University, where James Grandey was head coach, came right after Miller graduated from Hanover.

In March 2007, Miller was involved in a tragic highway accident in Atlanta. Bluffton was on its way to Florida on its southern trip when a crash took the lives of seven people, including five players.

“I was thrown from the bus,” says Miller. “I went through the front windshield.

“I had four broken bones in my back, a skull fracture and a broken jaw.”

Head coach Grandey was hurt even worse and stayed weeks in a hospital before going back to Ohio.

At 22, Miller became temporary head coach.

“I was talking to guys about losing their best friend and roommate,” says Miller. “We had a team meeting after all the funerals. We said we can play this year if you’d like or not. Nobody is going to judge you either way.

“The team decided it wanted to play and do its best. We played the rest of that season with heavy hearts.”

The first game after the fatal accident was a loss, but the Beavers scored five runs — one for each lost player.

“That was symbolic,” says Miller, who recalls that the outreach locally and nationally was tremendous.

After a month after the accident, Tiffin University (located about 45 minutes from Bluffton) held a Purple Day (in honors of Bluffton’s school colors) and raised $13,000.

He was still dealing with physical and mental issues when Miller met one of the Tiffin students that were a part of the effort. A year later, they went on a date and are now married with three children.

Todd and Leigh Miller have Madeline (6), Brooks (3) and Boone (almost 10 months).

“It shows you that even through that tragedy, there can be a silver lining,” says Miller.

Bluffton is where Miller received his masters degree in business administration and formed a bond with Grandey.

“He’s been a teacher, mentor and friend to me through the years,” says Miller.

He played four seasons at Hanover — the first three for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dick Naylor and the last for Shayne Stock.

“I enjoyed Coach Naylor very much,” says Miller. “He was very organized and demanded excellence everyday — not only in the game but it practice.

“He was a winner. He was always able to get the best out of you. He was hard on you. But you had to read through the message a little bit. It was what he said not how he said it.”

Miller also played football at Hanover. He was a three-sport athlete in high school, spending his winters with basketball.

At Franklin Community, Miller’s baseball coaches were Jeff Mercer Sr. and Mark Pieper.

Jeff Mercer Sr. is the father of Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer Jr., a Franklin Community graduate and two years younger than Todd Miller. The Miller and Mercer families are long-time friends.

Miller is an American Baseball Coaches Association member and regular attendee of the ABCA Convention in January (the 2020 event is slated for Nashville).

“The ABCA is a must-attend for anybody serious about baseball,” says Miller. “I pick up something new every year.

“It’s relevant for all stages of coaching — youth, high school, college and professional.”

Miller also coached three summers with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization, leading a 14U squad for two years and a 15U team for one. Brother Adam assisted for all three seasons. He also got help from Ben Kleber, who is now head coach at Trinity Christian High School in Seymour, Ind.

One of the players on those Bulls team was Drew Ellis, who went on to play at Jeffersonville High School and the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization (he begins 2019 at Double-A Jackson, Tenn.).

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Todd Miller (left), a graduate Franklin (Ind.) Community High School and Hanover (Ind.) College, is in his first season as an assistant baseball coach at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn. (Tusculum University Photo)

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Todd Miller is an assistant baseball coach at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn. His duties include recruiting coordinator and he is in charge of hitters, base runners and infielders. (Tusculum University Photo)

Armstrong, Madison welcoming IHSBCA all-stars this summer

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A baseball-mad town and surrounding area will be the focus of the Indiana high school diamond community this summer.

The 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star Series are scheduled for the week of June 17.

“We’re going to make it a week-long event,” says Tim Armstrong, head baseball coach at Madison Consolidated High School. “We’re exciting about having an opportunity to host. We want to do it up right.

“We’re going to make the all-stars feel like all-stars.”

Festivities are to be held at Madison Consolidated, nearby Hanover College as well as on and along the Ohio River.

Madison boasts the “largest contiguous national historic district in the United States” with sites, landmarks and tours plus speciality shopping, restaurants and cafes and the lure of Clifty Falls State Park.

Madison Consolidated will be the site of three all-star games for seniors (25 each representing the North and South) on the weekend. Hanover will house the players and be the site of the Futures Games (replaces the Junior Showcase) and all-star banquet.

Armstrong says Armstrong says Governor Eric Holcomb has agreed to throw out a first pitch. Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer has been tapped to be the keynote speaker at the all-star banquet.

The plan is to get local youth leaguers and Boys & Girls Club members involved in the fun.

Madison has long considered making a bid for the North-South Series. When Armstrong returned to the Madison Consolidated program for his second stint as head coach, he and former assistant Mike Modesitt (who now tends to all of Madison’s outdoor athletic facilities) began planning and got the mayor’s office and tourism folks involved.

Armstrong served as Madison’s mayor (Jan. 1, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2011) and was a city police officer for many years. He is currently certified through the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office and a resource officer at Madison Consolidated.

Basketball is also dear to Armstrong. He was varsity assistant in boys basketball at Madison two different times and was a lay head boys hoops coach at Shawe Memorial Memorial High School in Madison for two seasons.

The baseball-playing Madison Cubs call Gary O’Neal Field home.

Former Madison head coach Gary O’Neal, who retired for the second time after the 2002 season with 601 career victories, is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Armstrong graduated from Shawe Memorial in 1979. He became an assistant to O’Neal at Madison in 1982.

He started as Shawe’s head coach in 1989 and took the Hilltoppers the IHSAA Class 1A State Finals in 2001, losing 1-0 to eventual state champion Triton in the semifinals.

After sitting out the 2002 season, he returned as Madison’s head coach from 2003-07, resigned to serve as mayor and then got back into law enforcement. He returned to the program for the 2017 season.

Gary O’Neal Field is getting a new scoreboard and windscreen this spring and plans call for an expansion to permanent seating.

During Armstrong’s first stint with the Cubs, he enlisted the help of Madison American Legion Post 9 and got upgrades to the park like irrigation, a new back stop and fencing and a three-tier press box.

“It’s constant work if you want a nice facility,” says Armstrong. “We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and June. But we’re getting there.”

Madison Consolidated (enrollment around 875) is the smallest school in the Hoosier Hills Conference (which also includes Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour).

A tournament determines the HHC champion.

“It’s a great conference,” says Armstrong. “It’s traditionally strong.”

The Cubs are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Batesville, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville and South Dearborn. Madison has won 22 sectionals — the last in 2009. A 3A state championship was earned in 1999 as the Cubs topped Fort Wayne Carroll 10-0.

Bryan Bullington was the winning pitcher in that contest, capping off a 15-0 senior season.

Bullington was selected in the 37th round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals, but opted to go to college. He played three seasons at Ball State University and was chosen No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made his MLB debut with the Pirates in 2005 and went on to pitch for the Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays and Royals then in Japan.

Armstrong’s 2019 assistants include Joe Jenner, Ryan Mahoney and Drew Frazier with the varsity and Derek Wynn, Peyton Head and James “Doc” Boyd with the junior varsity or C-teams.

Local attorney Jenner and insurance agent Mahoney both played on Madison’s 1999 state championship team. Frazier played for Armstrong during his first stint as head coach.

Wynn also played one season for Armstrong at Madison. Head is a Hanover student. Boyd played at Evansville Memorial.

Armstrong’s core coaching values include taking responsibility for one’s actions.

“I stress accountability,” says Armstrong. “I hold them accountable for what they do on and off the field.”

The coach also looks to build a relationship and a sense of trust with his student-athletes.

“I’m very personable with my players,” says Armstrong. “We’re building the character and the type of person they will be once leave high school.”

Armstrong says he appreciates the drive and camaraderie of his current group.

“These kids work hard and they get along together,” says Armstrong. “That’s a big part of it.”

There are 30 in the Madison Consolidated program in 2019.

“Our middle school program is really strong,” says Armstrong. “They are athletes and baseball players. They’re going bump our numbers back up.”

There are close to 30 for seventh and eighth grade squads that play in the spring. The Madison Junior High School field is inheriting the old scoreboard and batting cage from Gary O’Neal Field.

This year, Madison Baseball Club aka Mudcats will field eight travel teams ranging from 7U to 14U. The 14U team, made up mostly of seventh and eighth graders, goes by the Madison Fusion.

Not strictly a Madison organization, players are welcomed from all over southeastern Indiana.

“We want to give kids an opportunity where they can play and not travel far and play a lot of money,” says Armstrong, who indicates that costs to families are cut through fundraising and sponsorships.

Mudcats and Fusion players are encouraged to participate with the local recreation leagues during the week and their travel teams on the weekend.

Madison American Legion Post 9, which won a state championship in 2000, went on hiatus in 2018. Armstrong and Jenner were coaches and would like to bring the team back in the future.

“(Post 9) pays for it all,” says Armstrong, who saw American Legion Post 9 Field become a reality at Shawe Memorial and games move to Gary O’Neal Field when he landed there. “It doesn’t cost the kids a dime to play.”

Armstrong played Legion ball for Delbert Liter in the ’70s and later coached with him.

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Tim Armstrong is in his second stint at head baseball coach at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School.

Kleber, Trinity Lutheran Cougars are aiming high in 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-year head coach Ben Kleber and the Trinity Lutheran High School baseball team have set their sights high for the 2019 season.

“We expect to win the sectional,” says Kleber. “We want to be the first team in school history to win a regional game. That’s our goal.”

Trinity Lutheran (enrollment around 150) is an independent school located in Seymour, Ind. The school opened in 2002 and the first baseball season was 2003.

The Cougars’ schedule features Class 4A’s Bedford North Lawrence and Seymour, 3A’s Brown County, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Salem and Scottsburg, 2A’s Austin, Henryville and Southwestern (Hanover) and 1A’s Christian Academy of Indiana, Crothersville, Greenwood Christian Academy, Hauser, Indianapolis Lutheran, Jac-Cen-Del, Oldenburg Academy, Rising Sun, Springs Valley and West Washington. The Trinity Lutheran Invitational on April 13 includes a round robin with 2A’s Eastern (Pekin) and Switzerland County and 4A’s Jennings County.

Trinity schedules bigger schools to get ready for the IHSAA tournament series.

The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Crothersville, Orleans and West Washington. Trinity has won five sectional championships — the last two in 2016 and 2017.

Kleber, a graduate of Seymour High School (2007) and Hanover (Ind.) College (2011), was a varsity assistant and junior varsity coach the past two seasons to head coach Brandon Tormoehlen at Brownstown Central.

“I learned a lot about hitting and catching drills from Coach T,” says Kleber of Tormoehlen. “He’s just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to offense. He definitely valued your option on things.

“I like his philosophy on the game all together. He has his guys playing the game fast.”

The previous two springs before he was at Brownstown Central, Kleber was on the Trinity Lutheran varsity staff of head coach Bob Tabeling.

He spent the 2012 and 2013 campaigns coaching freshmen at Seymour with Jeremy Richey as head coach.

“Jeremy was great,” says Kleber of Richey. “I’ll be forever grateful for him giving me the start in coaching at the high school level.”

After playing at Seymour for coach Bob Bowman (the man who led the Owls to an IHSAA state championship in 1988), Kleber pitched at Hanover for Shayne Stock.

“(Bowman) was a baseball guy,” says Kleber. “He knew a lot about the game.”

Much of what Kleber uses at Trinity Lutheran — from pitching to base running to field maintenance — comes from his time at Hanover with Shayne Stock and Panthers bench coach Wayne Stock (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer).

“I loved playing for Coach (Shayne) Stock,” says Kleber. “He was

a hard-nosed guy who expected things done the right way. He expected the best of out you. He wanting your playing hard and playing smart.

“I learned so much from sitting and talking to (Wayne Stock).”

Kleber says he is transparent with his players and let’s them know their roles.

“They know what they need to do to get more playing time,” says Kleber. “I’m an open door. I make sure you’re ready to hear the truth and what’s expected of them and what they need to work on.

“Everybody is a piece to a puzzle. We want to be a family as much they want to be a team.”

Kleber’s desire is that his Cougars to be baseball-curious.

“I want our guys to ask questions,” says Kleber. “They have to be students of the game.

“You can’t just show up. You have to understand why.”

During the summers before his junior and senior years at Hanover, Kleber helped Todd Miller coach an Indiana Bulls travel team that included Drew Ellis (who played at Jeffersonville High School and the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks system).

Miller, a Franklin (Ind.) Community High Schoolg graduate who played baseball and football at Hanover, is now a baseball assistant at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn.

The Cougars’ roster features 13 players. There is no junior varsity team this spring. Some of those are also on the track team. Four players who logged significant playing time in 2018 are back.

“We’re young,” says Kleber. “Wwe’re learning a lot of fundamentals and how to play the game the right way.

“We’re building for the sectional.”

Recent Trinity graduates who went on to college baseball are Sam Crick (Hanover) and Jacob Schult (Rose-Hulman).

Kleber is assisted by Tyler Reedy, a Seymour graduate whom Kleber coached before Reedy was in high school. Doug Nichols helps with statistics and field maintenance.

Trinity plays its home games on Alf Snyder Field, an on-campus facility built through a donation from Snyder’s family.

Two years ago, the infield went from grass with dirt cut-outs to a conventional infield.

This year, the mound was replaced and one of the batter’s boxes was re-done. There are new sponsors on the scoreboard. Sponsor banners line the outfield fence and a new batter’s eye is on the way. There is also plans to put fences in front of the dugouts.

Feeder schools from Jackson, Jennings and Bartholomew counties for Trinity Lutheran include Immanuel Lutheran (Seymour), Lutheran Central (Brownstown), St. Ambrose (Seymour), St. Bartholomew (Columbus), St. John’s Sauers (Seymour), St. Mary’s (North Vernon), St. Peter’s Lutheran (Columbus) and White Creek Lutheran (Columbus).

Kleber is a dispatcher for Rose Acre Farms, an egg producer in Seymour.

Ben and Katie Kleber were married in September 2015. They have a son — Braxton (2).

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Braxton Kleber (2) is the son of Ben and Katie Kleber. Ben Kleber is head baseball coach at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour, Ind.

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Katie and Ben Kleber were married in 2015. Ben Kleber is head baseball coach at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour, Ind.

 

Kiifner wants South Newton Rebels to be strong up the middle

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A border town will play more baseball in 2019 on the side of the state line where it plays its home games.

South Newton High School, located in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland, went 17-10 in 2018 and played 15 games against Illinois high schools.

After three seasons in the Illinois-based Sangamon Valley Conference (current members are Cissna Park, Clifton Central, Dwight, Iroquois West, Momence, Paxton-Buckey-Loda and Watseka), South Newton (enrollment around 190) is a member of the Midwest Conference (with Indiana schools Frontier, North Newton, North White, Tri-County and West Central).

Jim Kiifner, a 1984 graduate of Sheldon (Ill.) High School (now consulted into Milford Township), is entering his 10th season on the South Newton coaching staff — his third as head coach.

The 2019 Rebels — led by Kiifner and assistants Jason Krug (third season), Ricky Montemayer (fourth season) and Conner Ulmer (first season) — are scheduled to play 23 varsity and 13 junior varsity contests. Ulmer, a 2013 South Newton graduate, is a teacher while the others are lay coaches. Kiifner works in a warehouse for DuPont Corporation.

“My boss allows me to be a little flexible,” says Kiifner. “It also helps that I work in the Eastern Time Zone and coach in the Central Time Zone.

“I gain an hour.”

South Newon’s non-conference varsity opponents include Attica, Benton Central, Fountain Central, Frontier, Kankakee Valley and Seeger in Indiana and Cissna Park, Milford Township, Momence and Watseka in Illinois.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, Southwood and West Central. South Newton has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2017. That year, the Rebels advanced to the semistate for the first time, losing to eventual state runner-up Rossville at Plymouth.

“We’ve been pretty successful the last four years,” says Kiifner, 52. “We get a lot of fan support.”

Athletic budgets at the small school are supplemented through community fundraisers.

Kiifner was coaching in the Travelers Babe Ruth League when then-South Newton head coach Ron Benakovich invited him to join his staff. Benakovich led the Rebels from 2009-12 and Glenn Donahue from 2013-16 before Kiifner took over the as leader of the program in 2017.

“I want the kids to have the most fun as possible,” says Kiifner. “Discipline is a big thing. But I don’t like to be a brow beater.”

Program numbers are up to 23 with 11 newcomers.

“We’re working to get them up to speed on what we expect and do,” says Kiifner, who had a veteran team the past two seasons. The 2018 squad had six seniors and three juniors in the starting lineup.

Kiifner says he wants his teams to be strong up the middle on defense.

“Defend the middle first and work your way out,” says Kiifner. “(Pitchers are asked to) throw strikes and let the defense do the work behind them.”

With that in mind, South Newton has junior Austin Miller and sophomore Brandon Gilliam in the mix at catcher, senior Levi Sample and freshman Kayden Cruz at shortstop and Cruz and junior Terron Welsh in center field.

Senior left-hander Riley Patterson is the top returning pitcher who also plays first base. Senior Tyler Martell is at second base and freshman Kellen Krug at third base. Senior Ben Bryant is a candidate to play a corner outfield spot.

Offensive approach depends on personnel. Kiifner says the Rebels are transitioning from a power team to more of a small-ball squad.

The Hammel brothers have taken their pitching talents from South Newton to the college level.

Junior left-hander Jarrett Hammel started at Saint Joseph’s College and is now at Valparaiso University.

Freshman Jay Hammel was an all-state third baseman as junior, all-state first baseman as a senior and became the school’s second Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series player (Trent Smith was the first in 1990) and is now a freshman right-hander at Quincy (Ill.) University.

Trent Smith is the brother of Tracy Smith, a South Newton graduate who played at Miami University in Ohio and in the Chicago Cubs system before head coaching assignments at Miami University-Hamilton, Indiana University and Arizona State University. Smith’s 2019 Sun Devils were off to a 22-1 start.

Rebel Field, located on the South Newton campus, is a small non-lighted diamond with the distance down the foul lines at 272 feet to right field and 300 to left. Kiifner says there is talk about moving the fences back in the future.

With the school and field sitting in the midst of farm land, it is a breezy place.

“The are winds always blowing,” says Kiifner. “And it’s either too hot or too cold.”

Sheldon was a school of less than 100 students and baseball was a fall sport where there was no football team. Kiifner’s baseball coach was John Spezia, who has gone on to win more than 500 games as a basketball coach.

“He broke down fundamentals really well and brought it to your level,” says Kiifner of Spezia. “He tried not to overwhelm (his players).”

Jim and Madonna Kiifner have been married for 26 years. They have two sons who both played baseball at South Newton — William (24) and Luke (22).

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This is the 2019 South Newton High School Rebels baseball team.

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South Newton won a sectional and regional baseball title in 2017.

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Jim Kiifner is the head baseball coach at South Newton High School in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland.

 

Stambazze keeping minds in motion for Whitko Wildcats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-year head coach Bob Stambazze says he wants his baseball players at Whitko Junior-Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., to process the game.

“Your mind is constantly in motion,” says Stambazze. “We do chalk talk and go through (defensive) scenarios. Every play, everyone has a responsibility. Who to back up is so important in this game.

“Remember, back-ups are your last line of defense.”

Stambazze says he wants to establish a solid base for the program in years to come.

“They can say I did it the right way and they can build off of that,” says Stambazze.

A familiar face and voice to athletics in the area covered by the Three Rivers Conference (Fulton, Kosciusko, Miami, Wabash and Whitley counties), Stambazze also serves as sports director and play-by-play announcer for WJOT-FM 105.9 in Wabash and WARU-FM 101.9 in Peru.

He was hired for the baseball job at Whitko this winter after the unexpected passing of head coach Mark Fisher at 35 on Oct. 15, 2018.

“Mark said he got into coaching for how I treated him in Little League,” says Stambazze. “I want to continue what he tried to set up.”

Fisher played for Stambazze as a boy in Huntington County Baseball and was close with Bob and Marla Stambazze’s sons, Jake and Bobby. Both sons are married with two children. Jake Stambazze played multiple positions for Indiana Tech coach Steve Devine and was an NAIA All-America honorable mention for the Warriors in Fort Wayne in 2005.

Bob Stambazze played baseball at Huntington North High School, where he graduated in 1971. The first three years, Paul Buzzard was Vikings head coach. Wally Stoffel began in Stambazze’s senior season and took the team all the way to semistate.

Stambazze counts Don Sherman, Chuck Brimbury and Mike Frame as mentors.

At Huntington North, Stambazze competed against Tipton High School and then-Blue Devils head coach Sherman. It wasn’t long after that Sherman became head coach at Huntington North and went on to a successful career that got him elected to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

In Sherman, Stambazze saw a fierce competitor and someone devoted to baseball basics.

“He was very intense and everything had to be fundamental,” says Stambazze. “Like he did, I teach (fielders) to track the ball into the glove and ‘gator’ the ball with your right hand and glove. You always used two hands.”

Brimbury coached at Huntington North with Sherman then enjoyed his own success at Peru High School.

“I don’t know if anybody will play as aggressively as a Chuck Brimbury team,” says Stambazze. “He’s one of the more competitive and fun coaches to be around.”

Stambazze credits long-time Huntington University head baseball coach Frame for setting an example of how to handle pitchers and student-athletes.

“He was pitcher and he’s a student of pitching,” says Stambazze of Frame. “He does such a wonderful job with his staff. He has minimized stuff with his staff so they can do more. He breaks things down.

“His faith toward his players, it’s so important. I’ve always believed in telling parents, ‘they’re your sons and daughters, but they’re always going to be my kids.’”

Stambazze sold sporting goods for 32 years. He’s been an IHSAA-licensed official since 1975. This school year, he worked about 20 football games and eight basketball contests. He will be occupied this spring so he won’t be calling softball.

As for calling games on the radio, he does that for high schools in Wabash and Howard counties and Manchester University football and basketball.

“No one has more fun doing it than I do,” says Stambazze, who went on the air 13 years ago as a color commentator and moved over to play-by-play when there was an opening for that position. Uniquely, his color person rotates by the game.

“I’ve had moms work games with me, but they had to keep all the stats,” says Stambazze, who earned the Virgil Sweet Distinguished Service Award from the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association in 2015.

He calls 80 to 90 basketball games a year between high school varsity and junior varsity and college. This past sectional season saw him pull through while dealing with acute laryngitis. He also hosts a weekly Coaches’ Show for during football and basketball seasons.

Stambazze was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1972 and served in Germany. where he played basketball, managed the AYA on base and coached swimming. He played for the Germany/American baseball team in the world tournament in Nicargua in 1973 and coached the European 14-16 All-Stars to the Big League World Series in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1974.

After his military service, Stambazze played in three world fast pitch softball tournaments and also served as Huntington County Baseball president. He has been head softball coach at Huntington University and an assistant at Indiana Tech and Wabash High School.

Stambazze took over the Wildcats in time to help with some winter workouts. His assistant is Preston Myers, who made a long daily commute from Lebanon, Ind., to assist with the Northfield High School boys basketball program and is doing the same with Whitko baseball.

There have been 26 players with just two seniors at recent practices for varsity and junior varsity teams.

“We have a good JV schedule with about 20 games,” says Stambazze.

Whitko (enrollment around 460) will compete in the TRC with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Wabash.

Non-conference opponents include Adams Central, Bellmont, Bluffton, Churubusco, Heritage, Lakeland, Lakewood Park Christian, New Haven, Prairie Heights, Southern Wells, Wawasee and West Noble.

The Wildcats are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lewis Cass, Manchester, Oak Hill, Rochester and Wabash. Whitko won the program’s lone sectional crown in 2017 with Erik Hisner as head coach and Fisher as one of his assistants. Hisner then went to Northfield as an assistant and is now athletic director at Eastern High School in Greentown, Ind.

Whitko plays its home games on-campus. Since his youth, Stambazze has known the importance of grooming the diamond.

“I’ve always taken care of the field,” says Stambazze. “That kind of comes naturally to me. Our kids do a very good job. They had the rakes in their hands after practice.

“You’ve got to own your program.”

Stambazze has held a clinic for the Larwill youth baseball league and hopes to do the same for youth leagues in Pierceton and South Whitley. Those organizations cover T-ball to Pony League.

There is currently not junior high baseball at Whitko, but it’s something that Stambazze and athletic director Josh Mohr have talked about.

Stambazze opposes some of the rule changes Major League Baseball is implementing like limiting pitching changes and the like.

“MLB doesn’t need to manage the game,” says Stambazze. “That’s part of baseball. They’re trying to take the human element out of the game. That’s the greatest part of the game. Leave it alone.”

The coach does favor the idea of high school batters staying in the batter’s box and the pitchers not taking too much time between deliveries.

“You want to have a flow to the game,” says Stambazze.

The IHSAA pitch count (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) came along in 2017 and Stambazze favors that. Prior to the restriction, he broadcast games when pitchers representing the same school threw 225 and 175 pitches in tournament play.

Scrimmage rules allow for four innings of 10 batters each. Stambazze says he is planning to use 10 pitchers for four batters apiece in Whitko’s scrimmage and then restrict them to 45 tosses in each of the Wildcats’ first two regular-season games and work up from there.

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BOBSTAMBAZZE

Bob Stambazze is entering his first season as head baseball coach at Whitko Junior-Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., in 2019. He is a Huntington North High School graduate and is sports director and play-by-play announcer for sports director and play-by-play announcer for WJOT-FM 105.9 in Wabash and WARU-FM 101.9 in Peru. (Jan’s Photography Photo)

Gameday mentality fuels Frame-coached Huntington U. Foresters

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Huntington (Ind.) University baseball team can’t control the wintry weather and the fact that they have to do almost all of their practicing indoors so far in 2019.

But the Foresters won’t use that as an alibi.

Mike Frame, who is in his 35th season as HU head coach, won’t let that happen.

“We’re not going to use it as an excuse,” says Frame, who has had his players working out inside the Merillat Complex fieldhouse when it’s been too cold or wet to use Forest Glen Park. “It’s the hand that we’ve been dealt so we have to make the most of it.”

Years ago, Frame and close friend Tom Roy (who is now co-head coach at Grace College) came up with ACE. The acronym stands for Attitude, Concentration, Effort. It’s something the student-athletes can control everyday.

“For me, it goes beyond playing baseball,” says Frame, a member of the Huntington University Athletics, Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Northeast Indiana Baseball Association halls of fame. “We talk to these young men from the time we recruit them that attitude, concentration and effort is something take you with you when you leave. Someday you’re going to be an employee and the employer is going to want somebody with a great attitude, great concentration and great effort.

“Someday there’s going to be a young lady that would like to have a husband with those qualities and a little boy or little girl that would like to have a father with those qualities.

“Let’s control the things that we can control.”

The Foresters’ schedule called for first 20 road games to be played on the road.

Of that number, a dozen were contested and Huntington split them, including one win against NAIA No. 19-ranked University of the Cumberlands and two against No. 22 Taylor University. The home opener against Spring Arbor University was moved to the turf at Logansport High School, where a 6-5 win was achieved for 7-6 start to the campaign.

“We have to prepare to go out and play right away against really good competition,” says Frame. “We have to make sure what we do in (the fieldhouse) translates outside whether we’ve been on the field or not.”

Practices are conducted at a high tempo.

“We have to have a gameday mentality in all that we do,” says Frame. “That’s one of the reasons we practice with uniforms on, guys hit with helmets on.”

Because Frame believes baseball was not meant to be played indoors, player earn their positions in the fall. He does not play favorites.

“The best player is going to play.,” says Frame “What year you are in school doesn’t matter.”

What makes Crossroads League baseball so strong?

“There’s some stability at the top in terms of coaching,” says Frame, noting his own longevity and that of Mount Vernon Nazarene’s Keith Veale (30th season) and Taylor’s Kyle Gould (15th season). “Those coaches are working at it.”

Frame says the league is made up of similar schools in terms of resources, scholarship money and the like. Member schools tend to be faith-based with a strong focus on academics.

“We have to ask how they can handle things at a Christian school and academically before we ever look at (athletic) ability,” says Frame.

HU pitching coach Brian Abbott is in his second go-around at Huntington after a stint at league member Indiana Wesleyan.

“It’s a very competitive league,” says Abbott. “These teams compete at a very high level.”

The league has produced professional players and former IWU pitcher Brandon Beachy made it all the way to the big leagues.

Former Huntington player Dalton Combs spent the past two seasons as an outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization.

“You can get to professional baseball from a small school,” says Abbott, who is also executive director of the IHSBCA. “It might be a little easier as a pitcher. A position player needs to be outside with the at-bats and the ground balls that are harder (to come by) in this weather.”

The winner of the Crossroads League regular season (No. 1 seed in the tournament) and the winner of the Crossroads League Tournament will receive automatic bids to the NAIA Opening Round. If the winner of the regular season (No. 1 seed in the tournament) and the winner of the Crossroads League Tournament are the same team, the second place team from the tournament will be awarded the second automatic bid.

Senior outfielder Donovan Clark (Fort Wayne South Side High School graduate), senior right-handed pitcher D.J. Moore (Homestead), senior first baseman/designated hitter Adam Roser (Northfield), junior right-hander Mason Shinabery (Bellmont), junior left-hander Alex McCutcheon (Huntington North) are part of the current Huntington mix.

All come together for a common cause but with a different perspective.

Clark, who played high school baseball for head coach Sheldon Van Pelt, was on the football team at Indiana University before a back injury ended his career in that sport. With friends Will Coursen-Carr and Tyler Zimske playing baseball at Huntington, he decided to switch his focus to the diamond.

What is the difference between NCAA Division I football and NAIA baseball?

“Baseball — in general — is more mental,” says Clark, who went from defensive back to center fielder. “In football, if you don’t have a tackle, interception or impact the game in some way, you’re not considered the best player on the field.”

The Forester Way has a familiar feel to Clark, who is scheduled to graduate this spring with a business marketing degree.

“It’s a small school,” says Clark. “But the program here goes about things in a big school way. We have a strength coach (Scott Craft).”

With all the indoor workouts, Clark has been getting some reps with the infielders to stay busy and learn something new.

“It’s difficult to come inside and go outside and play a game,” says Clark. “But we’ve done a good job of adapting to it. I’m proud of the team.”

Moore, who played at Homestead for Steve Sotir, has noticed the change between high school and college baseball.

“There’s a big difference,” says Moore. “For one, the game speeds up tremendously. Everybody becomes bigger and stronger. Everybody has better eyes at the plate. When you first come in, you’re facing guys who are three or four years older than you.

“The biggest thing is execution and knowing I can’t just throw the ball over the plate without a purpose like I did in high school. I have to actually hit my spots and have a plan.”

The Crossroads League provides a challenge from top to bottom.

“You never know what’s going to happen in this league,” says Moore. “You’ll have ranked team. You’ll have teams receiving votes. You’ll have teams not even close to receiving votes that will still find a way to win. Any team can come out to play and win. There’s not any dominant team in this whole league.”

Moore has learned how to balance academics and athletics.

“It’s a difficult process, but it’s bearable,” says Moore. “It’s about getting your studies done before practice and keeping in-touch with professors. They understand how busy we are in the spring.”

Moore, a sport management major, says Frame encourages his players to take a heavier course load in the fall, maybe 16 or 17 hours and 12 in the spring with as many morning classes as possible.

Tradition attracted more to Huntington.

“Coach knows what he’s doing,” says Moore. “He’s coached here more than half his life. He’s got a great attitude about things and makes us work hard.”

Roser appreciates the approach and the time spent before practices working  ACE attributes.

“We go over Bible verses and examples of how we can be better with our attitude, concentration and effort,” says Roser. “In baseball, the best team doesn’t always win.

“If you have the right attitude and concentration and you put forth the effort, you can beat a good team no matter what kind of talent they have.”

College baseball requires a great time commitment. But Roser, who played for Tony Uggen at Northfield, knew that when he was being recruited.

“It takes awhile for people to adapt to this kind of culture with how much time we put into baseball and studying,” says Roser. “It’s like a 24-hour job almost.

“Coach Frame does a pretty good job of explaining to us what we’re getting ourselves into.”

Roser is slated to graduate this spring with a sports management degree.

Shinabery also played another position while at Bellmont, but is a pitcher-only for the Foresters. While he came out of the bullpen last summer with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers, he’s been used as a starter for Huntington.

“I have a routine,” says Shinabery. “I know when I’m going to pitch. I just make sure I’m ready to go that day.”

Having support is helpful for the pitching staff.

“Coach Abbott and Coach Frame have faith that all our pitchers can do it,” says Shinabery. “In certain situations, they don’t care who comes in. We can all throw strikes and get the job done

“Just them believing in us helps out me and our staff a lot.”

McCutcheon played his high school baseball in the same town, but began his collegiate career at Vincennes University. After a season, he transferred to Huntington and enjoys the baseball atmosphere.

“Coach Frame sets up the mentality the program has,” says McCutcheon. “We’re a blue collar team. We work hard. Coach Frame encourages toughness in everything. He makes us do things the right way.

“That’s what separates us.”

Assistant coach Thad Frame (Mike’s son) keeps practices humming by constantly reminding players at a swift pace. NAIA game rules call for 20 seconds between pitches and two minutes of warm-up between innings.

“When we pitch, Coach has a timer,” says McCutcheon. “We make sure we are always uptempo.

“Thad wants us to get out on the field as fast as we can. If the hitter is just casually putting his gloves on and we can get him off-guard. That’s an advantage for us if he’s not fully prepared.”

McCutcheon says he knows that two things important to Mike Frame are hustling and being mentally-prepared.

Each day after stretching, players are led through visualization.

“Coach Frame has us lay down for a minute or so and clear out everything,” says McCutcheon. “You see yourself walk everything you’re thinking about out the door and get ready for practice.

“He wants our mindsets to be there everyday. That’s the most important thing for him.”

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MIKEFRAME

Mike Frame is head baseball coach at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

BRIANABBOTT

Brian Abbott is baseball pitching coach at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

DONOVANCLARK

Donovan Clark is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

DJMOORE

D.J. Moore is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

ADAMROSER

Adam Roser is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

MASONSHINABERRY

Mason Shinabery is a junior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

ALEXMCCUTCHEON

Alex McCutcheon is a junior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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