Tag Archives: Indiana University South Bend

Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

RICHBENJAMINIWUBASEBALL

Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)

 

Advertisements

ABCA’s Sheetinger covers the bases of college baseball recruiting

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Navigating the maze that can be college baseball recruiting, players and their parents can use some straight-forward answers.

Jeremy Sheetinger, a former college player and coach who is now College Division Liaison for the American Baseball Coaches Association and ABCA “Calls from the Clubhouse” Podcast host, travels the country to offer advice.

That’s just what he did recently in a visit to the South Bend Cubs/1st Source Bank Performance Center as guest of director Mark Haley and Indiana University South Bend head coach Doug Buysse.

Sheetinger, who played at Franklin County (Ky.) High School and Kentucky Wesleyan College (NCAA Division II) and was an assistant and recruiting coordinator at both Brescia University (NAIA) and assistant at Georgetown College (NAIA), Director of Operations at the University of Kentucky (D-I), lead assistant and recruiting coordinator at Saint Joseph’s College (D-II) in Indiana and head coach at Spalding University (D-III) in Louisville, packed in plenty of information.

The high-energy Sheetinger, who now lives in Greensboro, N.C., where the ABCA is headquartered, and also serves as a associate scout with the Atlanta Braves, covered coach evaluations, parents’ impact and role, contact with coaches, campus visits, resources, differences in collegiate levels, finding the right fit, making a recruiting video, camps and showcases and a timeline for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.

EVALUATION

Sheetinger, who has given talks on recruiting about 2,000 times and worked baseball camps in 35 different states, says coaches are always evaluating and projecting players.

They use their past experiences and players to judge current players.

“We’ve got to use what we know to be true,” says Sheetinger. “If I see a kid who’s 6-2, 180 with a clean right-handed swing, I will remember a player who went on to be a conference player of the year. If I see 5-7, 135 with a bad swing (and short parents), I know that kid is never going to be 6-2.

“I’m looking at you through the eyes of all the players I ever coached. Mom and dad, it has nothing to do with your opinion of him as a player.”

If catchers take too long to get rid of the baseball with a very slow POP time, but can mash at the plate, they might help a college team as a first baseman.

A player with strong, accurate arm who can run might be a fit in a college outfield. But that throw must be on the money.

“When it’s time to throw something out, you’ve got to throw somebody out,” says “Coach Sheets.”

It’s also possible that movement that hurts a player in the outfielder helps him as a pitcher.

What about that big-bodied kid at shortstop for his high school?

“He can’t play short in college, but he’s got a great arm,” says Sheetinger. “Where can he play for me? Third base.”

The five baseball tools are hit for power, hit for average, defense, arm strength and running speed.

The average high school player has an exit ball velocity of 75 to 84 mph, average arm velo of 70 to 80 mph in the field, 70 to 75 mph at catcher and a 60-yard dash time of 7.0 to 7.2 seconds.

“I’m not telling your how to spend your money,” says Sheetinger. “Hitting lessons are great. Pitching lessons are great. But think about speed lessons and conditioning lessons.

“Think about going to the track at 6 o’clock in the morning and running sprints. You go, Sheets, what are you talking about? I’m not going to the track at 6 a.m. That’s why you run a 7.9. I’ll be your best friend if you just let me.”

Velocity is not the ultimate indicator for pitchers. Pitch control, secondary pitches, composure and maturity, athleticism and handling the running game are more important.

For all players, there are intangibles like attitude, leadership, energy, Baseball I.Q., confidence, clutch and the will to win.

“College coaches are watching everything,” says Sheetinger. “They don’t miss a beat. When you’re in a showcase event or you’re in a game and coaches are present and you hit a ground ball back to the pitcher, I want to see your best 90 time.

“That stuff matters. Run your best time every time.”

Sheetinger says players are evaluated on how they handle adversity and points to the example of a recruiting trip he made while at Saint Joseph’s, looking to offer a 75 percent scholarship to a pitcher.

This kid had stuff. But he also had an attitude, though the man calling balls and strikes was squeezing him and did not hesitate to let everyone in the ballpark know it.

“Bad umpires are multiplying daily,” says Sheetinger. “That ain’t going away. I’m more interested in your body language and presence.”

The pitcher enjoyed two lights-out innings then ran into adversity in the third.

He plunked the first batter, uncorked a wild pitch to send the runner to second and then gave up a duck snort and a double in the gap. A mound visit from his coach was greeted by plenty of walking around, cap removal and lack of eye contact.

“We’ve got maturity issues,” says Sheetinger.

The coach returns to the dugout and it’s duck snort, double and another hit-by-pitch.

When the coach comes back out to take the pitcher out, the youngster heaves the ball toward the sky and the coach catches when it comes down. Before the pitcher crosses the foul line, he fires his glove into the dugout.

Recruiting visit over.

On another recruiting trip, Sheetinger remembers seeing the opposite kind of behavior. A strong No. 3 hitter popped up on the infield in a key situation.

With Sheetinger’s eyes following him the whole way, the player carries his helmet and bat to the dugout, does a 30-second re-set, puts down his equipment and his back on the rail cheering before the No. 4 hitters sees his first pitch.

“That’s a great teammate,” says Sheetinger. “That’s a really good kid. Two weeks later, he gets a Division I offer. He was never going to come to play for me. But I like watching kids like that.

“It doesn’t show up on paper. But things matter.”

Sheetinger says it is easy to measure things like fastball velocity and 60-yard time. But not everything fits on a spreadsheet.

“Some things you can’t coach,” says Sheetinger. “Can you really coach someone to hustle? I can probably put fear into you to hustle. But either you hustle or you don’t.  It’s like either your pants are on-fire or they’re not. It’s not up to me to light your pants on-fire. It’s who you are internally.”

These kinds of players won’t get out-worked. They need to be taken seriously.

PARENTS’ IMPACT AND ROLE

Parents can either be a huge positive or negative influence on their son’s recruitment.

What parents do could be the first impression a coach gets about the player.

“Parents, as a college coach and as a scout, I don’t think you’re sweet when you yell at umpires,” says Sheetinger. “That’s the biggest turn-off for me of anything you do.

“Nobody barks at you when you flip burgers, let him do his job. If you want to be a coach so you can bark at umpires, apply for the job. If you need to do that, go to some other team’s game so we can track it back to your kid on the field.

“I assure you I’ve asked over a hundred people in the stands at a showcase ‘who’s dad is that?’

“Please change your ways. It reflects bad on your son.”

The Blame Game is not welcome.

“If you something against your high school coach, ask yourself this question: Does he really have something against my kid or is my kid just not good enough?,” says Sheetinger. “Most coaches will play the best players because most coaches like winning.”

Coaches pick up on how parents and players talk and act toward one another.

Players are expected to be in the forefront of the recruiting process.

Sheetinger encourages players to spend two hours twice a week doing online research on their college choices. If they are decided on their major, they start with that and see how many possible schools offer it. Then the look at the performance of the baseball program through archives, rosters and statistics.

“If a school has gone 10-40 10 years in a row, guess what Year 11 is going to look like?,” says Sheetinger. “If that coach has been there 10 years and they won five his first year, 10 his second, 20 his third year, 25 the next years and the last three years they’ve won the conference championship, that dude’s building something. The coach can’t hide that.

“Do your homework.”

The young athletes should be the ones communicating with coaches through minimal calls and emails.

“Players, take ownership of this process,” says Sheetinger. “I don’t want emails from mom and dad.”

CONTACT WITH COACHES

Email is the best way to reach out/introduce yourself to a college coach.

These emails should come from an appropriate address and be “meat and potatoes” — Subject … Name … Graduation Year … Position(s) … Hometown/High School … Grades … Research … Video link (include this with every correspondence).

Players should expects emails, texts and calls from coaches and be quick to respond to them.

Sheetinger advises players to treat every program as the most important one and to be respectful of the coach’s time and efforts.

Evaluation is still happening and communication is the key. Body language, eye contact, handshakes and paying attention all matter.

How do players talk?

What is important to them?

Sheetinger compares recruiting to dating.

“I like you,” says Sheetinger. “I’m going to try to convince you to like me.”

“I’m going to give you my spiel. We’re going to get to know your son because in a way because coaches step in as pseudo-stepfathers. We need to have a relationship. We need to have a bond. We’ve got to get along. (Parents) won’t be there.”

CAMPUS VISITS

This gives a player and his family a glance at the coaches, program, campus life and academics.

They will meet with the admissions and financial aid departments and get a campus tour etc.

Coaches will run the first visit.

Sheetinger says players should do 90 percent of the talking and parents 10 percent.

Players may make 10 official visits (spend the night) and unlimited unofficial visits (day visits).

On these visits, players are allowed to work out at D-II, NAIA and junior college schools but not at D-I and D-III.

There is a difference between a Baseball Visit (set up through the baseball staff) and Admissions Visit (no guarantee to see the baseball staff).

RESOURCES

College/University websites offer information on admissions and financial aid as well as biographies, archives, statistics and rosters for the baseball program.

Other helpful sites and resources: NCAA.org (rules, info), NCAA.com (stats, champions), NCAA Eligibility Center (formerly Clearinghouse; helps with collection of transcripts, core classes; D-I and D-II must register; cost is $65), NAIA.org, NAIA Eligibility Center (handles transcripts; all players must register; $75), FAFSA.gov (Due Oct. 1 of Senior Year), high school guidance counselor.

DIFFERENCE IN COLLEGIATE LEVELS

NCAA Division I (295 programs) may offer 11.7 max scholarships if fully funded (60 percent). Roster limits are 35 at the end of the fall with 27 on 25-percent scholarship.

Recruiting has ramped up for the majority of D-I teams.

NCAA Division II (254 programs) can give 9.0 max scholarships if fully funded (40 percent). There is no roster limit. That number will be set by the school, athletic department or coaches.

The top program work ahead in recruiting. Most are year-to-year.

NCAA Division III (383 programs) does not offer athletic scholarships. It is all academic- and financial-aid based. Like D-II, rosters are only limited by program choice.

Early decisions and admission dates are important. Most schools are year-to-year with their recruiting.

NAIA (187 program) may offer 12.0 max scholarships with exemptions. Again, there is no association-dictated roster limit. The majority of programs recruit year-to-year.

Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, is one of the best college teams in the country regardless of level. The Warriors have won the NAIA World Series 19 times, including 2015, 2016 and 2017.

NJCAA (410 programs across 3 divisions) gives 24.0 max scholarships in D-I, 24.0 max Tuition scholarships (no room and board) in D-II and zero athletic scholarships in D-III. The association imposes no roster limits. Recruiting is year-to-year at most of these two-year institutions.

Tyler (Texas) Junior College has taken the last four straight NJCAA Division III national titles.

Sheetinger says there is great baseball at all levels. The top teams in D-II, D-III, NAIA and NJCAA can win games on the D-I level.

He sums it up by saying that at the upper levels of D-I, most programs are already 90 to 95 percent done getting commitments from current seniors (Class of 2018) with juniors (Class of 2019) 80 percent done, sophomores (Class of 2020) 60 percent complete and freshmen (Class of 2021) 30 to 40 percent already committed.

“That’s how accelerated recruiting has gotten,” says Sheetinger. “It wasn’t that way 10 years ago.

The ABCA recently conducted a recruiting summit. A panel of 16 coaches came up with a proposed recruiting calendar to calm down the early signings.

“Coaches don’t like evaluating 13-year-olds,” says Sheetinger. “It’s hard enough to project a 16-year-old. D-II, D-III, NAIA and junior college are hot on this senior class. You’ve got to keep things in perspective.

“There are a lot more opportunities out there.”

Sheetinger says the reason many people recall their college years so fondly is because they are 18 to 22 and away from their parents and figuring out what kind of man, worker, husband and father they’re going to be. They are sorting out their religious and political views.

Take 35 guys spending nine months together on busses and in dorm rooms, weight rooms, locker rooms and cafeterias while figuring this out and you see the beginnings of lifelong bonds.

“It’s the best experience of your life,” says Sheetinger. “If you can go play, you should go play.”

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

Players must be a fit for a program, taking into consideration that coach’s style and the recruiting class.

Sheetinger likes to use the analogy of the fork with each prong being a priority in the college decision-making process. The fork could have as many as five prongs.

Prongs are sure to include academics and fit. Does a school offer the degree a player wants and how does he fit into the needs of the baseball program?

“You never go to play at a school that doesn’t offer a degree that you in your heart of hearts really want,” says Sheetinger.

Other things to consider are social atmosphere on-campus, location/geography and the cost.

A player might social butterfly and being in clubs or fraternities and going to concerts is important.

How big is the college compared to the player’s high school or hometown?

Is the school close enough for parents to regularly attend games?

How’s the weather?

If you don’t like the cold, maybe a school in upper Michigan is probably not for you.

If players have not asked their parents how much they are willing to pay out-of-pocket, they need to have that conversation.

Sheetinger says it is best to funnel down toward a players’ top choices of schools from 10 to 5 to 3.

Players should be aggressive, working toward and “yes” or “no” answer.

Can I play here or not?

Responses from coaches should be treated as hot leads. Response should be quick and player should try to get more info on the program and work toward campus visits.

MAKING A RECRUITING VIDEO

A professional video is not necessary. A good smartphone video will do the trick.

But a video is key. It gives coaches instant evaluation.

The video should be short. Position players will have five swing views from the side and five from the front or behind. Show a variety of defensive movement and throws (maximum of 8).

If a player has speed, show it with a 60-yard home-to-first video clip.

Pitching videos will show five fastballs, five curves and five change-ups from the wind-up and three each from the stretch.

Game footage must be edited.

Contact info, stats and coach’s info may be included.

CAMPS AND SHOWCASES

Players interested in a particular school are encouraged to go to their camp and be seen by their staff.

They must be mindful of database emails (every email doesn’t mean they are being recruited) and the “Cattle Calls” approach to camp population and marketing.

Campers should ask if other colleges will be attending. The price should be justified with how many possible evaluations they will receive by their attendance.

Sheetinger says it’s important to think of the coach’s perspective.

They notice players who stand out (bright cap and stirrups and name on the back of a jersey is helpful) and ones who exhibit hustle, energy, positivity and confidence.

A handshake and a thank you to every coach at the end of camp will go a long way.

TIMELINE

Freshmen are pointed toward strength and speed training, attending camps to get familiar with that environment and focusing on grades etc.

Sophomores continue with strength and speed training and camps and after the high school season begin emailing college coaches with info, videos, summer schedule etc.

Juniors have a very important year and season. They are looking to get their name out there. They do the training and camps and showcases in front of a large number of college coaches. They send emails to college coaches before the summer begins. They begin to funnel their list of schools.

Seniors  have a very active year. They do all the training and attend unsigned senior events. They are aggressive with emails to coaches and ask for campus visits. In the fall, they have campus visits, submit applications and many will commit. In the spring and summer, they will make final visits and commit.

ABCA CONVENTION

The ABCA national convention is coming Jan. 4-7, 2018 to the Indiana Convention Center and JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. More than 6,000 coaches and 330 exhibiting companies are expected.

JEREMYSHEETINGERCORNBELTSPORTSCREDIT

Jeremy Sheetinger is College Division Liaison for the American Baseball Coaches Association. He was in South Bend recently to advise players, parents and coaches about college recruiting. (Cornbelt Sports Photo)

 

Jimtown’s Mast asks players to hone in on their strengths

rbilogosmall

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What can you hang your hat on?

That’s the question that Darin Mast asks of his players and the team as a whole as head baseball coach at Jimtown High School.

“Find out what you can do and do it well,” says Mast, who enters his 11th overall season with the Jimmies in 2018 (he was JV coach for five years before taking over the varsity reigns in 2013). “Keep the game simple. Baseball is complicated enough.”

Mast got his first impression of organized baseball and how to the do things when he reached Goshen High School and first played on the junior varsity for coach Brian Eldridge. Mast was called up from the to the varsity as a sophomore in 1988 and got to experience the first of three straight GHS sectional championships. He was a letterman when the Redskins reigned in 1989 and 1990.

By that time, Eldridge had taken over as head coach from Elkhart County Sports Hall of Famer Devon Hoffman.

Taking what he learned from Eldridge, Mast went to Adrian (Mich.) College, where Craig Rainey was just getting started (2018 will be his 25th season). Before Mast got to the NCAA Division III school, Adrian had suffered through an 0-22 season.

What he witnessed early on were players who were undisciplined and did not know the fundamentals.

“I was so thankful to come from a (high school) program that did roll out the baseball and just play,” says Mast.

By Mast’s junior year, he was part of the first Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association-winner in school history.

It was the beginning of a winning tradition. The current pack of Bulldogs won a record ninth straight MIAA crown. Rainey 619 (427 in conference play). Adrian went the NCAA D-III championship eight straight times (2008-15).

“I remember back then (Rainey) told us that people want to play us now, but we won’t be a door mat for long,” says Mast. “It’s neat to see someone with that passion and drive succeed.”

Mast finished up his playing career in 1994. While he completed his degree, he got his first taste of coaching when he joined Rainey’s staff and helped with some of the pitchers in the spring of 1995.

A chance to “fly solo” came Mast’s way that summer when he led a Sylvania (Ohio) Mavericks travel team.

He spent some time as a substitute teacher then got hired by Goshen Community Schools in 1996. Mast coached baseball at his alma mater for four seasons — two with the junior varsity and two with the varsity. In the summers, he joined Eldridge in a lawn mowing business. Eldridge died in 2014.

After Goshen, Mast taught and did not coach at Garrett High School for a year before returning Elkhart County as a teacher at Jimtown Junior High. He spent five years as junior varsity baseball coach. When Mike Stout wrapped his 25-year career of leading the Jimmies program after the 2012 season, Mast was promoted to head coach.

“Very instrumental” is the way Mast describes Stout’s impact on his career as a coach and educator. Not only did he learn when he was on Stout’s coaching staff, he is still a teacher in the building where Stout is principal.

“I can pop into his office anytime and run stuff my him,” says Mast. “He is very cerebral.”

While game situations often called for a quick decision, Mast has come to appreciate Stout’s ability to step back and examine all the angles.

“I’ve learned from Mike to think things through,” says Mast. “He is never too quick to react to something. Things are not as bad as young initially perceive them. When I was younger, I would over-react.”

Mast is now one who likes to prepare for what might happen.

“I like to know the answer before the question is asked,” says Mast. “What do I do if a kid can’t (pitch) seven innings?”

Helping him this season will be returning varsity assistants Jordan Smith and Lee Mast (Darin’s father), varsity staff newcomer Kevin McMahon (formerly at Mishawaka Marian) and JV coach Cory Stoner.

Volunteer Lee Mast is a former softball coach at Goshen High School and Goshen College.

“He keeps me out of trouble,” says Darin of Lee. “He’s my sounding board.

“Not a lot of people have had the opportunity to coach with the dads. That’s priceless. We’ve had good times together.”

Goshen is an IHSAA Class 4A school. Jimtown is in 3A.

“We have to the play the cards we’re dealt,” says Mast. “Some classes we’re stacked with good players.”

Some are a work-in-progress.

“We’re going to be young and inexperienced this year,” says Mast. “That’s OK if we learn and get better every time out.”

Mast plans a call-out for 2018 before Christmas break. Pre-season workouts begin January.

Then comes the time that the coach dreads.

“I have one bad day a year — Cut Day,” says Mast. “It’s hard.”

Mast talks to everyone who tries out for his program whether they make the cut or not. He offers pointers to those who might want to work on their game and try out again the following season.

“That’s something I will not compromise on,” says Mast. “That’s the right thing to do.”

Mast tries to project candidates, especially freshmen, based on their coach ability and attitude. He also expects them to have a decent amount of baseball ability. There is not enough time to teach the game from scratch.

About 40 tried out for the 2017 Jimmies. While he has no hard and fast number that he keeps, he likes to have no more than 14 on the JV to allows players a good amount of repetitions.

Jimtown is part of the 13-team Northern Indiana Conference (along with 2A school Bremen, 3A schools John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington and 4A schools Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay and South Bend Riley).

The non-conference schedule includes early-April and late-May dates with Goshen of the Northern Lakes Conference. RedHawks head coach Josh Keister was a player when Mast was on the GHS coaching staff.

Other NLC foes include Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Northridge and NorthWood. There’s also games with Northeast Corner Conference teams Fairfield and Westview, Hoosier North Athletic Conference member LaVille and independent Bethany Christian.

Jimtown plays its home contests at Booster Field, which debuted in 1976. The facility, which sports lights, has seen its share of sectional and regional games.

In order to get on the road quickly for away games, the Jimmies often use smaller buses so they can leave soon after dismissal.

No fewer than three of Mast’s former Jimtown players are now on college rosters. There’s Nick Floyd at Ball State University, Collin Gordon at Indiana University South Bend (transferred from Anderson University) and Blane Bender at Ancilla College.

Mast looks at Floyd as a measuring stick of what at D-I player looks like.

“Not everyone who comes through here is a college baseball player,” says Mast. “I owe it to the ones who can get to the next level to get them there.”

Mast notes that a college-bound player is one who is self-motivated to put in the extra work in baseball training and seeking out the program that fits them best.

With Mast, honesty is the best policy. Not looking to over-hype, he will tell it like it is when talking with players, their parents and college coaches.

He also has an open-door policy.

“If a player wants to know about playing time, I want him to come and ask me,” says Mast. “I’ll be honest. I’m not going to beat around bush.”

DARINMAST

Darin Mast, a graduate of Goshen High School and Adrian (Mich.) College, is entering his 11th season of coaching baseball at Jimtown High School in 2018 — his sixth as head coach. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

TRAYFLETCHER

T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)

 

Confidence is everything for Nadolny and his John Glenn Falcons

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Continual improvement.

That’s the goal of veteran baseball coach John Nadolny as he prepares players for his 17th season at John Glenn High School in St. Joseph County and 25th head-coaching campaign overall.

“‘Get better everyday.’ That’s what I say to these guys,” says Nadolny. “If you had a bad day today, tomorrow’s got to be better for you. Let’s find something positive in what you do everyday.

“This is such a mental game and confidence in high school is everything. You fail. You learn. You go on and get better.”

The coach knows that an average high school team with some confidence is going to be a superior team without confidence much of the time.

Nadolny wants his squad to improve as its progresses through fall ball to winter workouts to preseason indoor training to the first time they step outside in the spring. Then there’s the in-season adjustments.

“We get better at the year goes on every year,” says Nadolny. “We share a lot of kids athletically (at an IHSAA Class 3A school with an enrollment around 600). We don’t have a lot of travel baseball players. We’ve elevated some kids to a pretty good level.”

While Nadolny — aka “Nud” — will raise his voice when he deems it necessary, he is not the yeller and screamer he was as a younger coach — a result of mellowing with age and with the athletes he’s now coaching.

“Kids are a little bit more sensitive nowadays — to a point,” says Nadolny, a 1981 South Bend Riley graduate. “Not everybody is the same. I understand kids and I read kids now better than I ever did.

“We’ve had our success.”

In 24 years as a head coach (at both Riley and Glenn), Nadolny is 480-223. He has sent 36 players on to college baseball and had Josh Glenn (1995 by the Philadelphia Phillies) and Andy Groves (2003 by the Kansas City Royals and 2007 by the Colorado Rockies) taken in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Four of Nadolny’s players have been chosen for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Glenn (1995) and Brian Stultz (1996) at Riley, Groves (2003) and Justin Gierlowski (2014; he did not play) at Glenn. Stultz was MVP of the series in Jasper.

Two of his former Glenn catchers —  the ones that he trusted to call all the pitches — are now college coaches. Doug Buysse is head coach at Indiana University South Bend and Adam Piortowicz is an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Western Michigan University.

Nadolny has racked up eight sectional titles (1991 at Riley and 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2016 and 2017 at Glenn). Besides the sectional crown in the first year as head coach, Nadolny took three straight Wildcat clubs to the sectional championship game.

Nadolny’s Falcons reigned at the Kankakee Valley Sectional in 2016 and 2017 and have all 23 pitching wins back for 2018.

There have been four regional championships (1991 at Riley and 2003, 2005 and 2006 at Glenn) one Final Four appearance (2003 at Glenn). The Falcons lost to eventual state runner-up Western in the regional semifinals in 2016 and eventual state champion South Bend St. Joseph in the regional finals in 2017.

“Those were awesome weekends when you had to win two in a day and there was no class system. No one remembers those anymore,” says Nadolny. “You might win three games in the sectional then two at regional, two at semistate and two at state. Those days are long gone. You had to have two really good pitchers.”

There’s also the eight conference titles (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2011 in the Northern State Conference and 2017 in the Northern Indiana Conference South Division — all at Glenn).

The 13-team NIC includes Glenn, Bremen, Jimtown, Mishawka Marian, New Prairie and South Bend Riley in the South Division and Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in the North Division. Nadolny says seeing strong pitching day in and day out in the conference has helped the Falcons at state tournament time.

The long-time coach does not take all the credit for the winning.

“I’ve been good because I’ve had good assistants,” says Nadolny, who has Joe Gambill as a varsity assistant. Gambill has been with Nadolny for all but one of his seasons at Glenn. Leland Travis (third season) and Brad Laskowski (second season) lead the junior varsity Falcons. Denny Stull was Nadolny’s assistant in all nine of his years in charge at Riley.

Nadolny sees himself as the product of the people who taught him the game over the years. Some of the ways, he loved and adopted. Others, he did not and did not make a part of his program.

“As I decided I was going to be a coach and a teacher, I kind of picked and pecked from everybody,” says Nadolny. “Everybody did things differently and tried to get the same result.

“I’ve was fortunate enough to play and coach against (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association) Hall of Fame coaches like Ric Tomaszewski (South Bend Washington), Len Buczkowski (South Bend Adams) and Jim Reinebold (South Bend Clay). They were all successful. Why wouldn’t I follow some of the things they’ve done? I took my personality and the way I feel about stuff and it all blended together.”

After playing for Jackson Middle School in ninth grade, Nadolny was a three-year varsity player for Ralph “Peanuts” Pieniazkiewicz at South Bend Riley High School and then played four seasons for Dick Patterson at Bethel College in Mishawaka.

“I learned a lot from Ralph. I learned discipline,” says Nadolny. “He was like a second father to me. I played for him and coached with him (1987-90) and took the Riley job when he left.

Nadolny grew to appreciate Pieniazkiewicz as the years unfolded.

“I got to understand him a little more about where he was coming from as I got older — like you do with anybody else,” says Nadolny. “As your life goes on you learn to see things through other people’s eyes and you step in their shoes a little bit.

“It’s the process of learning and living and coaching. As a player, you think you know everything.”

Nadolny drew some lessons about relationships from observing Patterson.

“He knew how to treat people,” said Nadolny. “One thing about him is that he let us play. We were pretty good.”

As a senior in 1986, pitcher/first baseman Nadolny played for a Bethel team that won the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Pilots had to win three games on the last day of the double-elimination tournament, which meant Nadolny missed graduation exercises.

“That was probably the happiest day of my life,” says Nadolny. “Anytime you’re on the field with a chance to play is a good day.

“There were a lot of good ballplayers at Bethel.”

The Pilots had a roster filled with South Bend area talent.

Steve Hosinski (LaVille High School graduate) Kevin McNamara (Mishawaka Marian) were NCCAA All-Americans. BC’s all-Mid-Central Conference selections included Hosinski, McNamara, Scott Holland (Plymouth), Rick Romeo (Adams) and Joey Underwood (Jimtown).

Hosinski won a then-school record 13 games while striking out 103 batters in 99 1/3 innings in 1986. Romeo set a then-BC mark with 58 walks.

Nadolny established standards at the time with 12 home runs and 56 runs batted in. His slugging percentage was .736 in 1986 and .623 for his college career. When he was a freshman, Scott Anderson (Penn) hit .469 — which still stands as the top single-season mark in Pilots history.

John first learned the game on the lots around his South Bend neighborhood and at South Bend Southside Little League, where his father Stanley became a fixture. Stanley and Betty Nadolny had five children — Cathy, Jackie, Steve, Rick and John. Steve is a member of the Manchester University Athletic Hall of Fame.

John learned from his big brothers and while playing for South Bend American Legion Post 357 and later in the Michiana adult league with the St. Joe AC’s.

After college, the youngest of the Nadolny offspring went into teaching in South Bend and became a Riley baseball assistant. He was with the Wildcats until 1999 then did some scouting before landing the coaching job at Glenn. He has also been a special education teacher at the school in Walkterton.

This fall, Nadolny has conducted optional open fields a couple times a week while planning a trivia night fundraiser. When fall ball wraps, work will begin in earnest on upgrades to the home and visiting dugouts.

At Glenn, it’s all about continual improvement.

JOHNNADOLNY1

John Nadolny is heading into his 25th season as a high school head baseball coach in 2018. It will be his 17th at John Glenn in Walkerton, Ind. He started his career at his alma mater — South Bend Riley. He has 480 career victories. (Gregory Ladewski Photo)

 

 

Buysse busy building baseball program at IUSB

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Buysse has hit the ground running as the first full-time baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend.

Buysse, who was hired July 25 after serving three seasons as head baseball coach at South Bend Washington High School, has been assembling his coaching staff and preparing for the arrival of his players (fall semester begins Monday, Aug. 21.).

That’s when implementation of the program’s culture can begin in earnest.

After talking with seniors and other returnees, Buysse has found that the players want a brotherhood.

“A big part of our fall will be building a hard-working, positive, all-in-the-same-boat culture,” says Buysse. “They are very excited. They really want that bond as a team.”

The idea is to be selfless and care more about teammates than themselves.

There will be practices and intra-squad games in the fall as Buysse and his players become familiar with one another.

“It’s going to be a learning experience all the way around,” says Buysse. “We’ll see what Titan baseball looks like moving forward.”

A three-week break in October will allow players to get a break from daily baseball activities while they continue to lift weights, condition and go to class.

Buysse ticked off the program’s priorities.

“They start off the field,” says Buysse. “We want to develop men; everyone graduates. After that comes the classroom. Wins and losses are down the list.”

Daily class checks are likely with Buysse and his staff. All newcomers will be required to spent a minimum of four hours per week in study table. All players will be expected to use these resources until they have a 3.0 grade-point average or better.

Buysse has set a goal of a 3.4 accumulative team GPA. That’s for the fall and the spring.

“I’m not a big believer in relaxing expectations during the season,” says Buysse.

The grade rule is not meant to be punitive but to show them what is available to them.

“We’re trying to show these guys all the tools they need to be successful (on the field and off) and showing them how to use those tools,” says Buysse. “If they graduate, they’ll graduate with an IU degree and that will open more doors than playing college baseball will.

“The resources they have here are just unbelievable. I have are just unbelievable. I have the backing of the administration. They want to see this be a success.”

The John Glenn High School and Saint Joseph’s College graduate has hired Trace Myers as a part-time assistant. Chris Mangus, Luke Gaboury and Kyle Liedtky will be volunteer student assistants while Kyle Heeter is the strength and conditioning coach.

Myers comes from the University of Notre Dame, where he was director of operations for the rowing program. Mangus was the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the year last spring and is working to finish his degree.

The Titans, a member of the NAIA and CCAC, go into the fall with a roster of 31 players. That includes about a half dozen recruits and transfers.

Buysse played at SJC for Rick O’Dette (now at St. Leo University in Florida) and the coach told his players “baseball is 10 percent of what we do.”

Saint Joseph’s shut its doors in May, taking the baseball program with it. With Buysse at IUSB and the Titans playing many of their games in Chicago, he expects to see many SJC alums to back his program next spring.

Buysse will have his assistants out on the recruiting trail this fall, attending showcases and working at camps.

IUSB is looking to fill its schedule, which is capped at 55 games.

Newton Park in Lakeville, about 11 miles southwest of campus, will be the Titans’ home facility.

As a joint effort between the school and Newton Park, the baseball team will provide a labor force to get things done at the complex and the owners will supply materials.

IUSB will have priority at the field.

“They want us there and are willing to work with us,” says Buysse.

The Titans will work to be very visible in the community, appearing at local schools and participating in service projects.

Buysse has been active with the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and the new South Bend Cubs Foundation and expects to continue in some capacity.

DOUGBUYSSEIUSB

Doug Buysse is the new head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend. (IUSB Photo)

 

IU South Bend finding its way in second college baseball season

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Working through the growing pains that come with a new program, Indiana University South Bend is looking to make its mark on the NAIA baseball landscape.

In their second year and with Mike Huling in his first year as head coach, the Titans are on a quest to be competitive in the tough Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference this spring.

At the same time, IUSB looks to keep making progress as numbers and talent increases.

“It’s been a struggle, but right now we feel that we have the kinds of guys that we need moving forward,” says Huling, who was a Titans assistant in 2015-16. “They buy into our system. They believe in the vision that we have of winning baseball games.

“We want to play hard in our conference.”

The top two teams in the CCAC will earn an NAIA regional berth. Huling says the the teams to beat look to be Judson and Saint Francis (Ill.).

There are just five seniors — Trey Bickel (Mishawaka), Damon DeJesus (Fort Wayne), Luke Gaboury (South Bend), Chris Mangus (Niles, Mich.) and Sammy Nieves (Canovanas, P.R.) — on the IUSB current roster of 28 (down from around 45 at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year).

“Early in the season, we haven’t been good teammates and we’ve haven’t been playing for each other,” says Huling. “As a coaching staff, we’ve been trying to get them to buy into that type of thing because those things help you win baseball games. The good thing is we faced that adversity early when the games didn’t matter (before conference play). We feel we’re headed in the right direction.”

The Titans are off to a 9-10 start to the 2017 season, including 2-0 in the CCAC. An injury to right-hander Kyle Rago has depleted the pitching staff. Other hurlers have been asked to step forward and focus on throwing strikes.

“You definitely have to have pitching in this conference,” says Huling. “We play five conference games every week. We’re struggling to find five starting pitchers.”

Huling said details of a contract is being worked out to move to Newton Park in Lakeville and IUSB may be able to call that home within a few weeks.

The Titans have been practicing on and opened the season at South Bend’s School Field — a facility the Titans have been sharing with varsity and junior teams from South Bend Adams High School as well as Jefferson Intermediate School baseball and football.

“We had to juggle all those schedules,” says Huling. “Those are the kinds of things we had to deal with early on. It’s tough when we show up to the field and there’s a football practice in right field or we have to practice from 8 to 10 at night.”

As for the future, 17 recruits have already been signed for next season.

“We’re definitely excited about next year,” says Huling. “But I don’t believe in the ‘rebuilding year.’ We always want to compete every single year.”

Using his relationships while playing at the University of Southern Indiana (the Screaming Eagles won the NCAA Division II national title in 2010) and being an assistant coach at NCAA Division I Bowling Green State University has given Huling some recruiting ties around the country.

Huling says IUSB is able to pull some out-of-state student-athletes carrying a minimum 3.0 grade-point average to earn a Chancellor’s Merit Scholarship that brings fees close to in-state tuition.

Recruiting in the South Bend area has been adversely affected because of the field situation. Most Indiana recruits have come from he Indianapolis area, but there have been signees from California, Texas, Ohio and Michigan.

“There’s so much unseen talent in California and Texas, it’s crazy,” says Huling, who has family in California and couples visits with recruiting. “Believe it or not, some of these kids want to come to the Midwest. If a major Division I institution doesn’t offer them anything, they don’t have anywhere to go.”

Huling, a 2006 Mishawaka High School graduate, had to work hard to been noticed as a player. He earned a spot at NCAA Division I Illinois State University, where he redshirted before transferring and playing two seasons at Glen Oaks Community College before landing at Southern Indiana for two seasons (2010 and 2011). USI is coached by Tracy Archuleta.

“He is one of my mentors,” says Huling. “He was an under-the-radar guy as a coach as well. He’s win two NCAA Division II national championships at the Midwest school (USI also won it all in 2014). I’ve learned a lot from him. Just his whole demeanor, strategy, on-the-field, off-the-field, discipline — all that sort of stuff.

The spring marks Huling’s third coaching in the NAIA. He was an assistant at NAIA Holy Cross College in 2015 before that program folded and he moved over to join the brand new IUSB program.

His coaching staff includes NAIA veteran Jon Koepf, who a graduate assistant the last two seasons at the University of Rio Grande (Ohio). Koepf played for former major league pitcher Len Barker at NCAA Division II Notre Dame College.

Other IUSB assistants include Matt Schwitz, who pitched at Holy Cross, and Chris Woodruff, who played outfield at Holy Cross and IUSB. Schwitz, who was also an assistant at IUSB in 2016, played at South Bend St. Joseph High School and Woodruff at Adams.

If he has his way, the NAIA will fall in line with the NCAA and do away with the re-entry rule and courtesy runners.

“It’s kind of like high school rules,” says Huling.

MIKEHULING

Mike Huling is in his second season on the Indiana University South Bend baseball coaching staff — his first as head coach. He is a Mishawaka High School graduate.