Tag Archives: Indiana University Southeast

Reel helps turn IU Southeast into respected NAIA baseball program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University Southeast’s baseball team will play in the NAIA Opening Round for the second straight season and the fourth time since 2010.

The 21st-ranked Grenadiers are in Kingsport, Tenn., for a five-team double-elimination event Monday through Thursday, May 15-18.

The winner out of No. 1 seed Keiser (Fla.) (39-18), No. 2 Tennessee Wesleyan (39-18), No. 3 Indiana University Southeast (45-13), No. 4 Talladega (Ala.) (36-22) and No. 5 Marian (Ind.) (29-21) advances to the 10-team NAIA World Series May 26-June 2 in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Grenadiers are slated to play Tennessee Wesleyan in Game 2 Monday afternoon. Kingsport is where IUS used to go for their conference tournament. Upon arriving Saturday night, they learned that former Grenadier Shane Weedman had pitched a no-hitter for the Evansville Otters of the independent professional Frontier League.

Other Indiana schools in the Opening Round are Huntington and Indiana Tech.

After losing seven starters from 2016, IU Southeast reloaded in 2017.

“It’s definitely been a year to remember,” says IUS head coach Ben Reel. “This team has been very competitive. When they show up everyday, they work.”

With Opening Round appearances in 2010 and 2011 as Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference conference champions and at-large berths in the KIAC and new River States Conference the past two springs, the Grenadiers have established a respected program.

It’s been a progression that’s taken time to achieve.

When Reel took over as head coach for the 2009 season at age 24 (he followed Joe Decker, who decided to go back to Silver Creek High School), the coaching staff was paid with stipends.

“We were like starving artists,” says Reel. “And nobody knew where we were.”

For the record, the school is in New Albany, just across the Ohio River from downtown Louisville.

“We had to crawl before we could walk and walk before we could jog,” says Reel, now 33 and still one of the younger head coaches in college baseball. “We’re starting to run a little bit. We’re starting to get some momentum and it’s taken a decade.”

Reel, who played at South Dearborn High School in Aurora and Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College before transferring to IU Southeast, led his first team to a 32-24 mark and saw the Grenadiers turn the corner in 2010.

That’s the year IUS went 39-20 (setting a school record for wins), NAIA second team All-American Kyle Lenn smacked 24 home runs and the program produced its first Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selection — Cameron Conner to the Kansas City Royals in the 20th round.

“Once that happened, everything started rolling,” says Reel. “That’s what put us on the map in our region.”

With IU Southeast, the University of Louisville (NCAA Division I), Bellarmine University (D-II) and Spalding University (D-III) all within 10 miles of each other, teams are competing for talent.

“You have to be very competitive,” says Reel, who looks at a roster with 15 players with Indiana hometowns and five from Kentucky. “But once prove you can mentor and develop players, you’ll start getting some better athletes.”

That’s not easy when you only have one scholarship to offer (11 below the NAIA limit).

“That puts us in bottom 10 percent out of the 198 (NAIA) teams in the country,” says Reel. “We take a lot of kids who are raw and help them find a niche.

“We get a lot of guys here who want to be coached. Myself and my staff do a lot of player development. We coach the heck out of them.”

Andrew Stanley, a high school teammate of Reel’s, has been with him since the beginning. The young coaching staff also features Jarret Young (second season), Brian Coffman (first season) and student assistants Justin Franz (fourth season) and Logan Coughlin (first season).

“We roll up our sleeves and get in (the batting cage) with them,” says Reel, who considers his communication skills (he’s talk to just about anyone for hours) and practicality as strengths. “That’s how I was raised. I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’m going to show you what to do. That’s what we believe as a staff.

“We go the extra mile. Our biggest selling point is these kids will be coached.”

Reel grew up on a farm near Prairie Creek in Vigo County, spent his middle school years in West Virginia then came back to Indiana and landed at South Dearborn.

With the Knights, he was a catcher for head coach Jay Malott.

“He was a fierce competitor,” says Reel of the former Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis coach. “He was a perfectionist. Nothing was ever good enough. We were never done practicing. We were just relentless. I learned that sense of dedication in high school.”

At Cleveland State, Reel played for Mike Policastro.

“Coach Poli taught me a sense of professional,” says Reel. “He was very calm and very businesslike. He was organized and concise. He would be very honest and open with you about what you needed to do to get to the next level and be a man.”

Reel saw coaching in his future and behind the plate — where he did not make a an error as a sophomore (matching the feat of his senior high school season) — helped prepare him for the profession.

“As a catcher, you’ve got to get to know all these pitchers,” says Reel. “You get to know a bunch of strangers at the collegiate level.”

Relationships have always been important to Reel. One of his best friends — who he met through coaching — is Tennessee Wesleyan assistant Brad Neffendorf (they were in each other’s weddings).

“This game has some of the best people that Planet Earth has to offer,” says Reel. “They just truly love the sport and the people in it.

“That’s the most memorable part of doing this, it’s the people that you meet.”

Reel notes three major things IUS has going for its in community support, education and location.

“We fundraise $50,000 a year,” says Reel. “I takes $70,000 year to run a college baseball program. Our budget is $33,000. You have to have synergy to do that.

“We’re offering an IU degree. We have a tutor on the bus. It’s a big time education.”

Being so close to Louisville is very helpful. There’s so much to do there and there is easy access to an international airport.

BENREEL

At 33, Ben Reel is in his ninth season as head baseball coach at Indiana University Southeast. He has the Grenadiers in the NAIA Opening Round for the fourth time in 2017. (IU Southeast Photo)

‘No-nonsense’ Bacon has Marian U. in NAIA Opening Round

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Marian University began its 2017 baseball in the Mid-South and the Knights are returning to that part of the country with a berth in the NAIA Opening Round.

It’s the first time the school has made it since the NAIA changed the postseason format over a decade ago.

Coach Todd Bacon’s club opened the campaign Feb. 17 in Blue Mountain, Miss., and will now go to Kingsport, Tenn., for a five-team double-elimination event Monday through Thursday, May 15-18.

The winner out of No. 1 seed Keiser (Fla.) (39-18), No. 2 Tennessee Wesleyan (39-18), No. 3 Indiana University Southeast (45-13), No. 4 Talladega (Ala.) (36-22) and No. 5 Marian (29-21) advances to the 10-team NAIA World Series May 26-June 2 in Lewiston, Idaho. Marian meets Talladega in Game 1 Monday morning.

Other Indiana schools in the NAIA tournament are Huntington and Indiana Tech.

“We’ve really tried to upgrade our schedule each year,” says Bacon. “We’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to get this program to where it is now.”

Bacon is in his fourth year as head coach. But he has coached in the Crossroads League (formerly known as the Mid-Central Conference) for 27 years. He’s led baseball programs at Goshen and Marian, men’s basketball squads at Goshen, women’s basketball, men’s tennis and women’s tennis at Marian).

Through it all, Bacon has demanded his players do things a certain way.

“Every team and athlete would probably tell you it’s a no-nonsense,” says Bacon, who was an MU baseball assistant to Kurt Guldner for five years before becoming head coach. “There’s not a lot of sugar coat. There’s not a lot of beating around the bush.”

Bacon lays his cards on the table when he’s recruiting.

“I can tell every kid at the end of our visit that they’ll say ‘I would love to play there’ or ‘no way am I going there,’” says Bacon. “Either way is great. Usually there’s not shades of gray. It’s pretty black and white.”

All but one player on the 2017 roster are from Indiana hometowns. It’s not only because Marian, a Catholic school that’s been in Indianapolis since 1937, does not have a bottomless recruiting budget. There’s another big reason.

“We have to watch those kids play multiple times to see how they interact with teammates, how they handle adversity, how the handle success,” says Bacon. “Most coaches recruit to their ballpark. That’s something we’ve tried to do here. If we can be very, very good at home that gives us a chance to be in the top half of the conference and compete at tournament time.”

The 2017 Knights went 16-3 at spacious Marian University Ballpark (it’s 400 feet to dead center field).

“We have thick natural grass and it does not play quick,” says Bacon. “You’ve got have some guys with sure hands in the infield because they are going have to make some plays on the move on our grass.”

Marian has been consistently solid on defense since Bacon took over the program.

“We’ve made the routine plays,” says Bacon. “That’s kept us in games when our offense has been hot and cold.”

Bacon helped Benton Central High School make it to the Elite Eight in his junior and senior baseball seasons of 1985 and 1986. The four-year varsity player was coached by Doug Jennett for the first three years and Tony Primavera his senior year.

At Earlham College, where he graduated in 1990, Bacon was a star on the basketball court and also played baseball for coach Doug Welsh.

His coaching approach is a mixture of many others he’s come across during during long career.

“You learn something from every coach you have,” says Bacon. “You pick and choose all the things that fit your personality and what you’re trying to get done.”

Bacon’s coaching staff features Mark Elder (third season), Matt Voorhees (third season), Brett Jackson (first season), Austin Gibson (fifth season) and Scott Satterthwaite (seventh season).

Elder pitched at Indiana University for coach Bob Morgan and is MU pitching coach.

Voorhees, who played four years at Wabash College, shares hitting coach duties with Bacon.

Jackson, who played up the middle for the Knights, now works with infielders.

Gibson, who was an all-conference player for Marian, helps with recruiting on the east side of the state.

Satterthwaite handles many administrative duties and some Indianapolis area recruiting.

Todd and Carmen Bacon have four children — Dakota (24), Maverick (a sophomore first baseman at Ball State University after a prep career at North Montgomery), Isaac (high school sophomore) and Teegan (sixth grader).

“In 27 years of coaching, you have to have people stand beside you through the good and the tough times,” says Bacon.

BACONFAMILY

The Bacon family (from left): Isaac, Carmen, Dakota, Maverick, Teegan and Todd. The 2017 Marian University baseball season marks Todd’s fourth as head coach and ninth in the program. The Knights are bound for the NAIA Opening Round in Kingsport, Tenn.

McWilliams has Indiana Tech baseball back in NAIA Opening Round

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kip McWilliams is taking Indiana Tech to the NAIA Opening Round baseball tournament for the seventh time in his 10th season as Warriors head baseball coach.

With plenty of experience back from the 2016 Opening Round qualifier, 18th-ranked Indiana Tech (41-12) has been assigned as the No. 2 seed at the five-team Bartlesville, Okla., site. The winner of the double-elimination event scheduled for Monday through Thursday, May 15-18, will have their ticket punched to the 10-team NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.

Indiana Tech plays No. 3 Bryan (Tenn.) (37-18). No. 1 Oklahoma Wesleyan (48-9), No. 4 Midland (Neb.) (40-18) and No. 5 St. Ambrose (28-23) will also be competing in Bartlesville for a berth in Lewiston.

Indiana Tech, conference tournament champion Northwestern Ohio and tournament runner-up Davenport (Mich.) are three Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference teams in the Opening Round — Northwestern Ohio at Lima, Ohio, and Davenport at Bellevue, Neb.

Other Indiana schools in the NAIA tournament are Huntington, Marian and Indiana University Southeast.

McWilliams credits a roster full of players used to winning with the ability to focus on the task at hand has Indiana Tech back in championship contention. The Warriors will have scouting reports on the opponent, but are more concerned with what they do best.

“We focus on ourselves,” says McWilliams. “The game of baseball is very interesting. It’s the best teams, not the most talent that gets you there. We work well together. We focus on the fundamentals. We look to execute the pitch or execute the play.”

Tech executed well enough in 2017 to surpass the 40-win plateau for the third straight year and this came against a super-strong schedule inside and outside the WHAC.

“We’re not trying to go through the season perfect,” says McWilliams. “You can go 50-5 or something by scheduling lesser opponents. We want to be challenged. We want our guys to expect a fight.

“If I’m going to go down south, I want play southern schools that have already been outside for awhile. Many times before conference we’re .500 or below because of the strength of our schedule. I’d much rather lose a game 1-0 to the best team in the country than win 35-2.”

Fast-paced practices get the team ready for what might come.

McWilliams recalls dialing up the curveball machine to throw a “Chris Sale slider.”

The players protested, saying they’ll never see that in a game.

McWilliams’ response: “You never know.”

With a coaching staff that includes Gordon Turner (eighth season), Zach Huttle (third season), Bryant Mistler (third season), Pat Collins-Bride (third season) and graduate assistant Cody O’Neal (first season), McWilliams leads a 2017 roster with players from seven different states and three Canadian provinces. There are 14 with Indiana hometowns (most near the Fort Wayne campus), seven from California and one each from Florida and Texas. Some of them are transfers. Tech has a strong relationship with many junior college coaches.

Having a successful background gives players a better chance of landing with the Warriors.

“We’re recruiting kids that can compete at that tournament level,” says McWilliams. “If we’re looking at Player A and Player B and they are both about the same in talent, we may look at their experience in the postseason to see who we might actually offer that scholarship.

“There’s something about those guys who are winners. We can get them come to Indiana Tech and have a great experience.

“My father (the late David McWilliams) gave me some great advice: Get good players and stay out of the way.”

The Tech experience also includes an education and McWilliams is careful to give his players a chance to hit the books, experience collegiate life and be fresh for the diamond. After all, the NAIA season, including fall and spring periods, is 24 weeks, not including the postseason.

“It’s like a full-time job,” says McWilliams. “We give guys enough rest time so they can focus on being a student-athlete.

“We give them some time off and time away so we’re not at each other’s throats.”

McWilliams is a Bloomington South High School graduate. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Grier Werner and Indiana Football Hall of Famer Mo Moriarty were his coaches.

“I was not very good at baseball, but I loved it and I loved it because of Coach Werner,” says McWilliams. “He held me accountable. He pushed me to be the best teammate I could be.

“(Moriarty) taught me just how important the leaders on the team are. I remember my senior year. The team had a bad day at practice. Mo called us captains into his office and jumped on us. It was all our fault. We’ve got to be there to hold the other teammates accountable. Everybody has a job to do.”

McWilliams played baseball and football for two seasons at Franklin College. His baseball coach was Lance Marshall, who taught him much about the mental and physical aspects of pitching.

Coaching came into McWilliams’ life when he went to Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and worked with Brian Donahue and Mark Flueckiger (now at Huntington).

Before landing at Tech, McWilliams was at Marian College (now Marian University) in Indianapolis for eight seasons (six of which ended with the Knights making the NAIA tournament). His head coach was Kurt Guldner, who reached the 500-win plateau during his career.

“It’s not just coaches you coached with, but coaches you coached against,” says McWilliams. “When I went against Sam Riggleman at Spring Arbor I knew I was going to walk away learning some things.

“Coaching college baseball is such a nice fraternity. We share ideas all the time. Everything we do is taken from other coaches.”

From his own experience, McWilliams learned in his first year as a head coach that he didn’t want captains. He had 15 seniors, named three as captains.

“The other 12 don’t lead because they don’t think that’s their job,” says McWilliams. “Seniors do help with the team culture.”

At Tech, that means making sure every player is welcomed and the attitude stays positive. College is hard enough.

“When we have practice we don’t know how their day’s been going,” says McWilliams. “If we start riding them and riding them, they are going to shut down. We want to keep trust in each other.”

KIPMCWILLIAMS

Kip McWilliams is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at Indiana Tech. The Warriors are heading into the NAIA Opening Round for the seventh time under his leadership. (Indiana Tech Photo)

Gernon building successful baseball culture at Western Michigan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Billy Gernon is reaping the rewards of his labor as a college baseball coach while also giving back to a game he embraced as boy.

Gernon saw his sixth Western Michigan University squad go 22-34 and win the school’s first-ever Mid-American Conference tournament championship in 2016 while the Broncos earned their first NCAA tournament berth since 1989.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting things going on,” says Gernon. “I’m trying to capture that momentum and bottle it.”

Left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin was chosen as WMU’s first MAC tournament MVP and was then selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, getting an invitation to big league spring training in 2017.

Akin was the Broncos’ highest draft pick since Harry Shaughnessy in 1970. Shortstop Connor Smith was named 2016 MAC Freshman of the Year.

As if to prove that old adage about the importance of pitching and defense, Western was among the nation’s leaders in fielding percentage at .978 — the all-time best mark at a school that started playing baseball in 1911.

“The strengths for me as a coach speaks to where I come from,” says Gernon. “Competition for big bats is heavy. Competition for defense is not as high.”

Gernon’s first season in Kalamazoo was 2011 after two at Michigan State University and nine as head coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Gernon grew up near the baseball fields near Mt. Tabor Road in New Albany, Ind.

“The game became surrogate father,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time.

“I came from a broken home at a very early age. I had an unexplainable love for the game. I was gifted at pitching. Being good at it probably made me like it more.”

Now 50, Gernon still fondly looks back to his 13-year-old summer at playing Babe Ruth League baseball in New Albany, Ind., for a trio of enthusiastic coaches — Louis Jensen Jr., Buzz Benson and John Shine.

“They were young guys and they were a lot of fun,” says Gernon. “I remember looking forward to going to practice.”

Jensen is now director of high school eduction for New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.

After graduating from New Albany High School in 1985, Gernon took his pitching talents to Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. He was the MVP for the IUS and that gave him a chance to play for IU Bloomington as a senior in 1990. Head coach Bob Morgan asked him to join the Hoosiers and he was excited about his opportunity.

Then tragedy struck.

“My brother died it the day I got there,” says Gernon. A car wreck took David Gernon’s life in 1989. “I was a very vulnerable person.”

Morgan’s passion pushed Gernon to succeed on the diamond.

“At Big Ten level, you need to win,” says Gernon. “You need to perform.”

With Morgan’s insistence on hard work, no excuses and accountability, Gernon flourished and became IU’s closer.

“He catapulted me to another level,” says Gernon.

Somewhere along the line, his focus went away from becoming a radio announcer and a chance to coach came along.

“I just decided to go for it,” says Gernon.

There were bumps along the way. At IPFW, Gernon took over a program that made a transition from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I during his tenure. For seven of his nine seasons in Fort Wayne, the Mastodons were not in a conference and had just five in-state scholarships with no paid assistant coaches. The teams averaged 11 home games and 40 road games per season.

Yet, Gernon still scheduled the best competition he could find even if his record (157-275-3 in those nine campaigns) suffered for it.

“The biggest teacher for me, personally, has been failure,” says Gernon.

Time, maturity and sincerity plus having a son of his own (Jacob David is 16 and a sophomore at Portage Central High School) have also taught him to be a better coach.

“I always try to keep my brother’s spirit alive in me,” says Gernon. “It’s important to me that my players know I love them. I need to do a better job of not only making sure I was saying it, but doing it.”

His Broncos have responded to that passion.

“Players want to perform for me,” says Gernon, who is 136-193 at WMU. “When they don’t, they’re so bothered. They don’t need anything from me but to address the wound.

“Failure is an event, not a person. The game is riddled with failure and great players learn how to deal with it.”

More than ever, Gernon is concerned with building the culture.

“Cultures are more important than anything,” says Gernon. “Great cultures win over talent. It’s my job as a leader to have guys know what the culture is and become great messengers of the team’s philosophy and culture.”

Gernon expects players to spread the word in the locker room: This is how we do things and this is what’s expected.

“Great culture is why Western won the first MAC tournament in school history and went to the NCAA tournament,” says Gernon. “We have great leaders.”

And through it all, he’s giving back.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time. I’m trying to do everything I can to serve it in the form of gratitude. I talk to current players more about their legacy, how they want to be remembered and the mark they want to leave on other players.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach.”

It’s just that important.

billgernonwmu

Western Michigan University head baseball coach Billy Gernon played at New Albany High School, Indiana University Southeast and IU Bloomington and coached at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne before heading north. (Western Michigan University Photo)