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Vernon brings ‘culture change’ to Benton Central Bison baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball players are buying what Jon Vernon’s selling at Benton Central Junior-Senior High School in Oxford, Ind.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have some good athletes and good players,” says Vernon, who is heading into his fourth season as BC head coach in 2019. “They’ve bought into my system.”

The Bison have improved its record in each of Vernon’s first three seasons in charge, going 10-17 in 2016, 17-9 in 2017 and 19-6 in 2018.

Benton Central lost 9-2 to Western in the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A West Lafayette Sectional championship game.

BC bowed out of the state tournament series with a  3-2 loss to Maconaquah on a seventh-inning wild pitch in the first round of the 2018 3A Peru Sectional.

“We changed the culture a little bit,” says Vernon, whose current seniors have been varsity since freshmen year. That group includes three who have signed for college baseball —

Center fielder Payton Hall (University of Southern Indiana), right-handed pitcher/third baseman Alex Stout (Bethel College) and first baseman/left-hander Matt Taylor (Anderson University).

Right-hander Taylor Varnado, BC’s probable No. 1 starting pitcher in 2019 and a third baseman, is expected to sign soon. Junior shortstop Alex Thurston is verbally committed to Valparaiso University.

Vernon says he expects to have about 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring. The JV went 11-6 in 2018.

Benton Central (enrollment of about 580) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division).

Teams play a home-and-home within their division then a crossover game with the corresponding regular-season placer in the other division.

BC is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

The Bison roam on-campus at Darrell Snodgrass Field, a facility that recently received new fencing and upgraded dugouts and sound system. The worked on the diamond in the fall, doing things like edging.

A unique feature is the sounds of wind turbines. Benton County is home to wind farms.

With all that breeze, Vernon says it is best to be conservative field conditioner in the like in the autumn.

“You put too much stuff down in the fall, it won’t be there in the spring,” says Vernon.

Vernon’s 2019 assistants include Denny Musser and pitching coach Brad Goffinet with the varsity and Tyler Marsh with the junior varsity. Musser, the uncle of former Benton Central and professional left-hander Neal Musser, was a JV coach at BC on the staff of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary DeHaven.

Neal Musser pitched 18 games for the 2007 and 2008 Kansas City Royals.

The southpaw was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets.

Goffinet pitched at Indianapolis Marshall High School and Butler University in the 1970’s. Marsh is a former North Newton High School assistant.

Right-hander Jayson Best graduated from Benton Central in 1985 and played at Milligan College in Elizabethtown, Tenn., before signing with the Minnesota Twins in 1989. He reached the Double-A level in 1992 and 1993 and hurled for the independent Lafayette (Ind.) Leopards in 1996 and 1997. He was pitching at Goshen College 2000-04 (one season for Todd Bacon and four for Brent Hoober) and Maple Leafs head coach in 2005.

Benton Central baseball is largely fed by travel baseball organizations, including the Lafayette Lightning and Indiana Nitro. In the past, teams have played Pony League and Babe Ruth.

Vernon is a 1989 graduate of Logansport (Ind.) High School. He played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr.

Turner’s Berries lost 6-2 to Evansville Memorial in the 1989 IHSAA state championship game. Vernon was his left fielder and lead-off hitter. It was the first of Logan’s three straight Final Four appearances. The Berries 7-3 in the state semifinals to eventual champion LaPorte in 1990 and beat Marion for the state title in 1991.

What was it like to play for Turner Sr.?

“It was a great experience,” says Vernon. “He knows more about baseball is his little pinky than I do in my whole body.”

Turner Sr., who was assisted for many years by Larry “Butch” Jones and Rich Wild, established a winning culture and a program.

“You didn’t want to let coach down,” says Vernon. “He trusted his players. A lot of people revere him.”

As a coach, Vernon learned from Turner Sr. that “you always have to play the best players” and it doesn’t matter what they’re family name is what grade they’re in.

“Sometimes that makes people happy and sometimes it doesn’t,” says Vernon. “If you want to win, that’s what you have to do. Sometimes you have to make those tough decisions.”

After a season of club baseball at the University of Kentucky, Vernon went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Huntington University and master’s degree from Ball State University. He was head baseball coach at Delphi (Ind.) High School from 1994-2000 and assisted Jim Turner Jr. at Logansport for one season in the mid-2000’s and ran Turner’s summer programs.

He picked up pointers on organization and running practice from Turner Jr. Vernon was also head volleyball coach for the Berries.

After a brief stint in Florida, he came back to Indiana. He teaches business and computer classes at Benton Central has been BC’s head volleyball coach for three seasons.

Jon and Diann Vernon have been married for 25 years. They have four children — Matthew, Luke, Kailey and Karlee. Matthew works in finance for Amazon and lives in South Carolina. Luke is a dental student at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Kailey is in physician assistant school at Butler University. Karlee is 20 and works in Zionsville, Ind.

Staggered BC

ALEXTHURSTONBENTONCENTRALAlex Thurston (right) bats for Benton Central High School. He is a junior in 2019 and a verbal commit to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.

MATTTAYLORBENTONCENTRALMatt Taylor (left) catches a ball at first base for Benton Central High School. He has moved on to the baseball team at Anderson University.

PAYTONHALLTAYLORVARNADOALEXTHURSTONMATTTAYLORALEXSTOUTHOOSIERNORTHBenton Central players Payton Hall, Taylor Varnado, Alex Thurston, Matt Taylor and Alex Stout represent Hoosier North in the 2017 Colt Harry Bradway Classic in Lafayette, Ind.

VERNONFAMILY

The Vernon family in Key West, Fla., with spouses and children (from left): Matthew, Emily, Mary Katherine, Mason, Kailey, Karlee, Diann, Aubriel, Jon and Luke.

ALEXSTOUTBENTONCENTRAL

Another Benton Central High School baseball signs to play in college (from left): First row — Father David Stout, Benton Central Alex Stout and mother Stephanie Stout. Back row — Bethel College assistant Kiel Boynton, Bethel College head coach Seth Zartman and Benton Central head coach Jon Vernon. (Benton Central Photo)

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Carr wants Mt. Vernon (Fortville) Marauders to play with ‘Dirtbag’ intensity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Carr wants his Mt. Vernon (Fortville, Ind.) High School baseball players to play with an edge.

As a reward, the Marauders head coach presented “Dirtbag” T-shirts to those athlete who exhibited this brand of baseball in 2018 and plans to do the same again in 2019.

“We’re too nice sometimes,” says Carr. “(The incentive) gave them a reason to play a little harder. I want (opponents) to know they played a game of baseball.

“Every year the team has become closer and closer to what I want. We’re a year older and a year more experienced.”

After seeing Mt. Vernon go 16-12 in 2018, Carr heads into his fifth season as head coach next spring.

“It sounds so cliche’, but I want to get good kids to play hard,” says Carr, who learned more about the profession by attending the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis in 2018. “I want to get as much out of them as I can.

“I want them to play the game right and be respectful. I tell them to give ‘100 percent, 100 percent of the time.’”

Carr came back to Mt. Vernon (he was an assistant on Dustin Glant’s staff while teaching freshmen physical education during the spring semester in 2012) after spending 2013 as an assistant at Indianapolis Arsenal Tech and 2014 as head coach at Indianapolis Manual.

At the latter stop, the baseball program had been dormant and Carr helped bring it back. It was an experience that was both difficult and rewarding.

“I was knocking on doors and creating relationships to make sure we could field a team,” says Carr. “I had no assistant coach. I did get a lot of support from athletic director and assistant principal Don Burton.”

The Redskins won one game in 2014.

When Carr took over at Mt. Vernon, he was the fifth head coach at the Hancock County school in six years. He has tried to bring a sense of stability to the program and has sent players on to college baseball each year — Zach Spears (Miami University of Ohio and now in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization) in 2015, Noah Powell (Ball State University) and Kennedy Parker (Anderson University) in 2016, Braydon Augustinovicz (Franklin College) and Ryan Beck (Indiana University Kokomo) in 2017 and Caleb Rush (Frontier Community College in Illinois) and Dino Tharp (Urbana University in Ohio) in 2018.

Carr expects three seniors to return for 2019 — left fielder Dylan Cole, catcher Sam McCarty and center fielder Thomas Obergfell. Carr sees Cole going to an Ivy League school for academics only with the other two weighing their options of playing college ball.

A 2000 Norwell High School graduate, Carr was a four-year starter for head coach Bob Mosier.

“I learned that it does not matter what grade a kid’s in, if he’s good enough, let him play varsity,” says Carr. “It’s not always a very popular decision to play young guys. But if they’re good enough, put them on the field.”

Carr was one of three freshmen seeing considerable playing time when Norwell won the 1997 Bellmont Sectional and met future Notre Dame and major league pitcher Aaron Heilman and his Logansport teammates in the first round of the Kokomo Regional.

That was the last year of the IHSAA single-class system in Indiana. Carr recalls that the focus at the time of the switch was on basketball.

“It didn’t change that much for baseball,” says Carr. “We were in a sectional before with 2A’s and 3A’s. The Bellmont Sectional was made up of Adams and Wells county schools.”

Mt. Vernon is part of a Class 4A sectional grouping with Anderson, Connersville, Greenfield-Central, Muncie Central, Pendleton Heights and Richmond.

In 2018, the tournament was hosted by Mt. Vernon. Pendleton Heights beat the Marauders in the championship game. The last Mt. Vernon sectional championship season was 2011.

Mt. Vernon is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown). The Marauders went 6-8 in HCC play in 2018, finishing tied for fifth with Pendleton Heights and Shelbyville and behind conference champion New Palestine (11-4), New Castle (9-4), Yorktown (8-6) and Greenfield-Central (7-7).

HCC games are played as Friday night doubleheaders unless New Castle (which does not have lights) is hosting and then the contests are on Saturday.

Mt. Vernon’s lighted varsity diamond is on-campus and has a short brick wall in front of the dugouts rather than a screen. There is an adjacent practice field.

Carr is still filling his 2019 coaching staff. Michael Thompson has been with him each year at the varsity level and will return. Jerry Grill will lead the junior varsity. Other coaches at the varsity, JV and C-team levels have not yet been solidified.

Typically, Carr likes to have 40 players in the program.

“Every year I get better at (explaining to players how they might fit),” says Carr. “I try to be forthright and open, telling them ‘this is the role you’re going to play.’”

Marauder Baseball Club will field 8U through 13U teams in 2019. The club’s first season was 2018.

Other feeder programs for MVHS include middle school baseball, Mt. Vernon Optimist League, Oaklandon Youth Organization and various travel organizations. The Midwest Astros are headquartered in Greenfield. Marauders also play in the summer for the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro and others.

The son of Megan Carr, Ryan grew up in Bluffton, Ind., and participated in local youth leagues and travel ball for the Fort Wayne Indians during his high school years.

He played four seasons (2001-04) at Manchester College (now Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.).

The Rick Espeset-coached Spartans won Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament titles in 2002 and 2004, an HCAC regular-season crown in 2004 and went to the 2004 NCAA Division III College World Series in Appleton, Wis.

“He’s an interesting cat,” says Carr of Espeset. “He’s always thinking and changing. He tries things his players maybe don’t understand. But he’s proven himself.

“I loved playing for him.”

Carr tries to mimic Espeset calm demeanor.

“He’s not a rah-rah guy,” says Carr. “I’m more excitable, but I try to keep it cool. I don’t get in an umpire’s face.”

Carr got his history/social studies in 2006. After holding non-education positions, his first teaching job was at Indianapolis Marshall High School in the fall of 2011. That’s when he began helping Glant at Mt. Vernon.

Now a high school history and government teacher at Mt. Vernon, Carr is engaged to Joanna Sajda.

RYANCARRJOANNASAJDA

Ryan Carr (left) and fiancee’ Joanna Sajda enjoy Turkey Run State Park in the spring of 2018. Carr is entering his fifth season at head baseball coach at Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind., in 2019.

 

New Palestine’s Lyons to be head coach in 2018 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Shawn Lyons took a recent call that added a little extra excitement to his summer.

Lyons, the head baseball coach at New Palestine High School, got the news from Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive director Brian Abbott telling he was named to the South coaching staff for the 2018 series July 20-22 Four Winds Field in South Bend.

Not only that, Lyons will be the head coach of that staff. He will be assisted by Decatur Central’s Jason Combs, Lanesville’s Zach Payne and Castle’s Curt Welch.

“It’s an honor,” says Lyons. “Now I’m learning more about it everyday. I’ve had (New Palestine) kids play in the games. But I didn’t know the behind-the-scenes stuff.

“I’ve called other coaches to know what to expect, the routine and the regimen.”

Among others, Lyons has been getting advice from IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rich Andriole, who has coached in the all-star series twice.

Like any coach, there’s making out the lineups. But other all-star considerations include fairly distributing playing time and figuring out who can pitch that weekend and how much. With guidance from the IHSBCA leadership, Lyons expects those duties to be divided between the four coaches.

Shawn, who can be seen each January organizing the college tables at the IHSBCA State Clinic, grew up learning things like respect for the game, playing hard and being accountable from his father — Joe Lyons — and at Community Little League in Indianapolis.

“My dad wasn’t one of those helicopter parents that was always hovering around,” says Lyons. “He let me sink or swim on my own.”

As a coach, Lyons has an open door policy with parents with the exception of playing time. That is not up for discussion.

“We don’t have too many issues,” says Lyons. “I had two kids that played for me and they didn’t always play. It wasn’t easy when I got home. I had to do what was best for the program.”

Shawn and Holly Lyons (a family law attorney in Greenfield) have three adult children — Katie, Nick and Corey. All were athletes at New Palestine — Katie Lyons in volleyball and basketball (and played basketball at UIndy), Nick Lyons in baseball (with one diamond season at Franklin College) and Corey Lyons in baseball and football.

A 1979 graduate of Indianapolis Scecina Memorial High School, Shawn’s head coach with the Crusaders was Larry Neidlinger. He played two seasons for coach Bob Tremain at Indiana Central University (now the University of Indianapolis) and one for coach Craig Moore at the Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis.

The president of Indiana Appraisal Service, Inc., Lyons joined the New Palestine coaching staff as pitching coach nearly 20 years ago and became head coach for the 2012 season. The Dragons have had three head baseball coaches since 1965 — Marvin Shepler, Al Cooper and Shawn Lyons.

“I’m pretty passionate about high school baseball and I’m lucky enough to be able to make my own (work) schedule,” says Lyons.

New Palestine has done very well on the IHSAA tournament stage, winning the sectional 16 times, regional on six occasions and semistate once.

“We have talented kids that work hard,” says Lyons. “We have a good culture.”

Cooper’s Dragons were in the 3A state championship game in back-to-back seasons, finishing as runner-up to Norwell in 2003 and besting Andrean for the state title in 2004.

In his seven seasons at the helm, Lyons’ New Palestine teams are 145-64 with three Hoosier Heritage Conference titles (2012, 2016 and 2018), three sectional crowns (20-12, 2014 and 2015) and two regional championships (2012 in 4A and 2014 in 3A). The 2018 squad went 22-7 overall and 11-2 in the HHC and lost to eventual 4A state runner-up Indianapolis Cathedral in the final of the Warren Central Sectional.

The Dragons were briefly No. 1 in the IHSBCA poll and wound up No. 7 in the final rankings.

Besides New Palestine, the Hoosier Heritage Conference (which also features Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown) plays varsity doubleheaders on Friday nights with junior varsity twinbills on Saturdays.

Five seniors from 2018 —  Jake Garrison (Olney Central College), Nick Rusche (Taylor University), Cameron Pitzer (Huntington University), Kyle Gardner (Anderson University) and Myles Kost (Trine University) — have committed to play baseball at the next level. The best two players were juniors — catcher Colby Jenkins and left-hander Jack Walker (an Indiana University verbal commit).

The 2017 team sent outfielder/catcher/right-hander Jake Smith to Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Mich., and right-hander/outfielder Keegan Watson to the University of Nebraska.

“If they want to play (in college), I’ll help them out anyway I can,” says Lyons. “But when they call me I tell them the truth (about the player’s abilities and character). I let the players and the parents know that.”

Lyons credits development, administrative and community support as factors that have kept Dragons baseball vital for decades. Players come out of the New Palestine Youth League, where the high school teams conducts clinics and workshops.

“We want to keep the foundation strong,” says Lyons.

Numerous travel organizations also contribute to the progress of players.

With the help of Community School Corporation of Southern Hancock County and the New Palestine Baseball Backers, the Dragons have been able to raise funds to buy equipment and stay competitive while fluctuating between 3A and 4A.

His “amazing” 2018 coaching staff included Landon McBride, Andy Swain, Andrew Armour, Tim Zellers and Brad Rusche at the varsity level with Mike Zeilinga leading the JV and Jeremy Meredith the freshmen.

McBride played for Tremain at Indianapolis Marshall High School and then at nearby Marian College (now Marian University). Swain is a New Palestine graduate who played at Purdue University. Armour played for the Dragons and then at UIndy. He shares hitting coach duties with retired Carmel police officer Zellers. Zeilinga is valuable to Lyons as an organizer. Meredith was formerly a varsity assistant at Logansport and Warren Central.

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SHAWNLYONS

New Palestine (Ind.) High School head coach Shawn Lyons will be the South head coach for the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series July 20-22 in South Bend. (New Palestine High School)