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High school assistants make impact around Indiana

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Head coaches of high school baseball programs across Indiana have enjoyed help from some longtime assistants.

Here are some of their stories:

Rhett Welliever (Crawfordsville)

Going into his 36th season in 2021, Rhett Welliever has been the pitching coach at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School for his whole run.

“I’m a humongous believer in owning that inside part of the plate with the fastball,” says Welliever. “It seems to have worked.

“If you can throw the inside fastball, every other pitch is available to you.”

Welliever wants his hurlers to employ solid mechanics. But he is also unique in today’s deviating from today’s prevelant approach.

“My pitchers are always working on stuff, stuff, stuff,” says Welliever, who knows his players enjoy throwing hard. “Most people work on location, location, location.”

Welliever has his catchers set up on the inside black for bullpens about 60-70 percent of the time. Many of his hurlers go hard in and soft away though some have done the opposite.

“It’s OK if once in awhile you hit a batter,” says Welliever. “Don’t get upset.”

Breaking balls are also thrown hard.

“We’re trying to create as much spin on that ball so it breaks as late as possible and the hitter has the least amount of time to react to it,” says Welliever. “I think that’s the best way to do it.”

Welliever has his pitchers build arm strength with long toss and with burnouts aka pulldowns.

The 2008 Crawfordsville pitching staff racked up 397 (No. 3 in the IHSBCA Record Book; No. 1 Lafayette Jeff fanned 450 in 43 games in 1971).

Steven Rice fanned 198 batters in 2009 and finished his Athenians career (2007-10) with 521 K’s.

Welliever worked alongside brother-in-law and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge through 2020. 

“One of John’s strengths teaching the fundamentals of fielding,” says Welliever. “(Strong defense) helps pitchers.

“It gives them confidence to attack the hitters and throw strikes.”

Brett Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville graduate, is now Athenians head coach. Motz played at the University of Evansville, served as a graduate assistant at Purdue University and was head coach at North Putnam High School before returning to his alma mater, where he is also the strength & conditioning coach.

The Athenians won Class 3A state championships in 2008 (32-4) and 2011 (29-6).

What keeps Welliever coming back?

“It’s working with the kids and getting them to the point where they’re confident about themselves,” says Welliever. “It’s seeing them succeed in baseball and in life.”

He has witnessed many former players giving back to the community as coaches at the youth and high school levels.

“It is the most satisfying thing,” says Welliever, who grew up around New Market, Ind., and is a 1980 graduate of Southmont High School in Crawfordsville, where he played baseball for Mounties head coach George Davis and counted Froedge and the Taylor twins — Dave and Dan — as teammates. Dave Taylor went on to help found the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

“We played a lot of baseball together,” says Welliever. “It was a really special group of guys.”

Dan Welliever, Rhett’s father, taught junior high and was a wrestling head coach and an assistant in baseball, football and softball at Crawfordsville.

Jamie Welliever, Rhett’s brother, is retired from teaching and has spent two tenures each as head baseball and head wrestling coach at Southmont.

Landon McBride (New Palestine)

A middle school coach for five years (seventh and eighth grade teams often play up to 20 games while feeding the high school program), Landon McBride joined the New Palestine High School staff for the 2007 season. He is the Dragons infield coach and helps with hitters on a staff led since 2012 by Shawn Lyons

“The thing that jumps out at me the most about Coach Lyons is his absolute passion for his kids,” says McBride. “If you’re not in the inner circle you may not see that. But he does a great job of having his finger no the pulse of where our team is at and where each individual is at.”

McBride sees Lyons as steady.

“He doesn’t get too high; He doesn’t get too low,” says McBride. “He tries to keep our players on that even-keel, knowing there’s going to be ups and downs everyday.”

On game days, McBride serves as Lyons’ right-hand man, bouncing lineups off one another and trading ideas about strategy while also coaching first base.

McBride emphasizes fundamentals when it comes to his infielders fielding ground balls.

“We’re getting reps in every day — the way we think is the right way,” says McBride. “With hitting, we believe in going the other way. We’re utilizing our speed, bunt and steal bases when we can.”

McBride regularly throws batting practice.

“I’m 59 but I’m still chucking it in there,” says McBride. “I try to give them a little sense of velocity (by moving the L screen closer to the plate.”

When the varsity field is not available, New Pal baseball has been able to use the turf football field for long toss, tracking fly balls and taking grounders.

A 1980 graduate of Marshall High School in Indianapolis where he played three seasons for Bob Tremain and one for Brad Goffinet, McBride was a four-year player for Lynn Morrell at Marian University in Indianapolis — at the time an independent NAIA program.

McBride says he appreciates the discipline, structure and attention to detail that Tremain and Goffinet brought to Redskins baseball. 

“(Coach Morrell) liked getting the ball into play and swinging away,” says McBride. “It was the pure joy of being around the game.”

Landon, a partner in Indiana Property Services which gives him the schedule freedom to coach baseball, and wife Shari McBride have three children — Ryan (30), Angela (28) and Wes (24). The boys played baseball and Angela was also an athlete at New Palestine.

Mike Zeilinga (New Palestine)

A 1976 New Palestine graduate, Mike Zeilinga coaches Dragons outfielders and leads the junior varsity. 

Zeilinga began coaching boys basketball at New Pal in 1996 and led the freshmen for two seasons and the JV for four. He joined Al Cooper’s baseball staff in 2003. Cooper was a Dragons senior when Zeilinga was a freshman.

New Palestine earned a Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2003 and state title in 2004.

“The kids keep me young,” says Zeilinga. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching.”

Most Dragons practices begin with stretching and throwing followed by individual defensive position work and team drills (cuts, double cuts and knowing situations).

“Coach McBride is excellent about working with our infielders,” says Zeilinga. “He makes sure they are moving with every pitch.

“Coach Lyons trusts the coaches that he has. He and Coach McBride have coached together that they can read each other’s mind. They have that kind of chemistry.”

During the fall IHSAA Limited Contract Period (twice a week for two hours), 73 players were at workouts while participation was around 65 for recent winter sessions.

“All coaches at New Pal work very well with sharing athletes,” says Zeilinga. “That’s straight from the mentality of Coach (Al) Cooper (athletic director and former head baseball coach).

Zeilinga often works with New Pal outfielders and JV players.

Since varsity and JV teams tend to play on the same night, Zeilinga rarely sees the varsity once the regular season starts.

After each JV game, Zeilinga sends an overview of what his players did well or areas where they need improvement and share that with head coach Shawn Lyons and varsity assistant Landon McBride.

Like McBride, Zeilinga has noticed the head coach’s temperament.

“Coach Lyons doesn’t get real high or real low after a big win or a hard loss,” says Zeilinga. “He’s just a real gentleman of the game.”

Mike, who worked at Eli Lily & Company 35 years before retiring, and wife Susan Zeilinga have two children — Stephanie (a teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis) and Michael (who was the starting center fielder on New Palestine’s 2004 state championship team).

Kevin Hall (New Albany)

Kevin Hall is a 1986 New Albany High School graduate who was a scrappy middle infielder and lead-off hitter for John Buerger, but his association with Bulldogs baseball goes back to before he started school.

Hall, who credits his work ethic for being the youngest of 11, was a batboy for teams featuring older brother David and coached by Stan Sajko in the early 1970’s. Hall still has the tiny pinstriped uniform from those days.

“(Coach Berger) had an attention to detail,” says Hall. “John was very big on pitching and defense. He believed in the bunting game.”

With a few years off here and there, Hall has been on the New Albany baseball coaching staff since 1990. He has been Bulldogs head coach and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chris McIntyre’s top assistant for more than two decades.

“We both have the same philosophy on winning and we’re teaching these kids how to be young men,” says Hall, who leads infielders while also helping with outfielders, hitters and catchers. “When kids get out of school they’re probably not going to be their own boss. They need to learn to take direction.

“We understand that this is the game of failure. If you give us effort, we’ll never get on you about that.”

Hall coaches first base with McIntyre in the third base box.

“Coach McIntyre has a mind like nobody I’ve ever met,” says Hall. “He can process things. He’s analytical. He’s a math teacher. He loves the numbers.”

One day, Hall brought a stop watch to time runners without McIntyre knowing it and — counting in his head — the head coach was only off the actual number by about 1/10th of a second.

“Our program wouldn’t be near where it would be without Chris McIntyre.”

Hall calls baseball “the fairest game ever.”

“Each team gets the same number of outs, same number of opportunities and deals with the same conditions,” says Hall. “There’s no clock. 

“You just have to go play.”

Hall throws a good deal of batting practice to the Bulldogs.

“Our kids get a lot of live arms,” says Hall. “I just use aspirin and ice and go back and do it again the next day.”

When McIntyre was approaching New Albany’s all-time win mark, Hall helped organize a special night for him.

After the celebration, Mac pulled Hall aside and said, “Don’t ever do that again” and then thanked him the next day.

“He’s very humble,” says Hall of McIntyre. “He wants the kids to have that limelight and not him.”

With the loss of the 2020 season because of COVID-19, New Albany had time to upgrade its baseball field while also putting in a new softball diamond next door. 

Kevin, a plant operator at Grant Line Elementary School in New Albany, and wife Melia Hall have a daughter together — eighth grader Anderson (named for Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson). Kevin’s two older daughters are Samantha and Stephanie. Melia’s son is Aidan.

Steve Ford (Lewis Cass)

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Marschand has had Steve Ford on his staff for three-quarters of his tenure leading Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Ind.

The 2021 season will mark Ford’s 31st with the Kings. He has always led the infield defense and helped with hitting instruction at Cass, which finished as Class 2A state runners-up in 2009 (20-9).

“It’s pretty collaborative in our program,” says Ford, who coaches first base and sits next to Marschand when the coaches are in the dugout. “We get a sense of the style of play we’re going to use and we coach each of the areas based on what we’re trying to do for that season.

“We we like to put pressure on the defense (on offense). You can do that a lot of different ways. If we have plodders (on the base paths), we can bunt them over. If we have rabbits, we can have more stolen bases, double steals and taking of extra bases.”

Kings coaches like players to play to their strengths and learn to do things like hit behind the runner and put the ball on the ground up the middle.

“We want them to be well-versed in the approach they are going to be taking at the plate based on the situation,” says Ford. “We would really like our players to learn the strategies and the options.

“In practice, we put runners in position and they decide how they are going to score the run.

“Once they have a broader knowledge of how to play, they are going to enjoy it more and be more successful.”

A big part of the Cass offensive blueprint is to get accumulate freebies with dirt-ball reads etc.

“Our approach at the plate has to be to hit hittable strikes,” says Ford. “Early in the count we’re not going to hit his pitch. We’re going to hit our pitch.”

A goal in batting practice is for each player to figure out which pitch he hits best.

BP goal – each player to learn to figure out which pitch he hits best

“Hitting a pitcher’s pitch is giving him a freebie,” says Ford. “Hitting our pitch is somewhat of a freebie for us.”

As part of its SAFE-T offensive plan, Cass wants to score the game’s first run.

Going for the long ball is not a priority, especially at home games where it’s 330 feet down the foul lines and 408 to center field.

“There’s a lot of outfield grass and we’re going to try to pepper it rather than try to hit it out of the park,” says Ford.

Kings defenders focus a lot of on momentum changers.

“One of he biggest on defense is the double play,” says Ford. “We work a lot on turns, feeds and throws to first base while trying to help our pitcher.

“At the high school level, pitching can be a huge variable. Defensive positioning os based on the speed of our pitcher. 

“I can’t tell (infielders) every pitch where to align so they have to be cognizant of signals between the pitchers and catcher and know what pitch is coming.”

The Kings also look to prevent opponents from taking the extra base by being in the proper position for cut-offs and double-cuts.

“We’re making sure to be in a good back-up position in case the throw isn’t perfect,” says Ford. “There are a lot of nuances in defense like where the first baseman takes the throw or where the third baseman goes based on the count. At the high school level, the drag bunt is a big strategy.”

Taking nothing for granted, Ford wants his infielders to back up throws from the catcher to the pitcher.

Ford, a 1970 Kokomo Haworth graduate played for for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Keith Slaughter. The 1970 Haworth Huskies were state finalists.

Bill Bright was middle infielder Ford’s coach at Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis).

Steve and wife Julia Ford have been married since 1974 and have two daughters — Amanda (a local farm wife with a son and two daughters) and Melanie (who played four years of basketball at the University of Charleston and is now associate athletic director, senior women’s administrator and NCAA compliance officer at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.). Amanda was a manager and Melanie a player for their father as a basketball coach.

Steve Ford was the girls basketball coach at Cass for 18 seasons, concluding in 2007-08.

Jim Kominkiewicz (Penn)

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos has been head coach at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., for four Class 4A state titles (1994, 1998, 2001 and 2015) and a state runner-up finish (2017). 

Jim Kominiewicz has been there as an assistant for all of them. The 2021 season will be Komo’s 31st on the Kingsmen coaching staff. He has been in education for 38 years — eight in South Bend and 30 in the Penn system.

The current staff has Dikos leading the catcher, Kominkiewicz the infielders, Tom Stanton the pitchers and John Westra the outfielders.

“Greg is one of the best catching coaches in the state,” says Kominkiewicz, noting that Penn has produced its share of college backstops. “Catching is one of the hardest things to do. You’re involved in every play.

“When have pitchers like Skylar Szynski or Ryan Lynch, you better make sure your catcher can catch the ball.”

Kominkiewicz applauds Dikos for his willingness to keep learning and incorporating them into the Kingsmen program.

“Every year we try to do something better,” says Kominkiewicz. “We never stay the same. We try to change things up and keep the kids excited about it. 

“Greg is always going to clinics. He’s the best.”

Kominkiewicz has noticed that many clinic speakers reinforce concepts already being taught by Penn coaches.

“It shows we’re doing things right,” says Kominkiewicz. 

As an infield coach, Komo stresses getting the palm to the baseball and fielding through it. Time is spent on back-handing and picking up short hops.

Kominkiewicz graduated from South Bend John Adams High School in 1972, where he played baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski.

Komo’s first baseball coaching post was at South Bend Washington High School on the staff of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski that also included pitching coach Larry Jackowiak.

“Rick was very intense,” says Kominkiewicz. “He’s a book. We spent a lot of time together. We’d come in on Saturday morning and leave at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. 

“I learned a lot of baseball from those guys. Both of them were great coaches.”

A popular drill during the indoor portion of the preseason was a game called “27 Outs.”

As fielders got closer to making it to the finish, balls off fungo bats got harder.

“That’s why (Tomaszewski’s) team were good,” says Kominkiewicz. “They competed every practice.

“We do the same things at Penn. We compete. We test for sit-ups, push-ups and longest throws. We rate their at-bats (4 points for a line drive, 3 for a hard ground ball etc.). Pitchers try to throw the most strikes — things like that.”

Ground balls and double plays are often timed.

Splitting the team into three groups, the Kingsmen go nine outs per round. Losers do extra running or clean up the field.

“A lot of times our practices are harder than the games,” says Kominkiewicz. “But it’s got to be good practice — not just practice. We want to do it right.

“Our theory is we want to good game of catch, put the ball in play (on offense) and pitchers have to throw strikes. That’s what we stress.”

After Washington, Kominkiewicz went to Adams to coach football, wrestling, baseball and and weightlifting then went back to Washington to coach baseball.

Then came the move to Penn, where he also coached football for two years. He has taught and coaches football and wrestling and served as athletic director at Grissom Middle School.

Jim and wife Beth Kominkiewicz have four children — Ryan (38), Brandon (32), Jill (29) and Matt (21) — and seven grandchildren ages six months to 9 years. 

Ryan, an engineer with Caterpillar, played baseball at Penn. 

Brandon played football at Penn and the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and coaches football at Fort Wayne North Side High School.

Jill is a dental assistant.

Matt played baseball and football at Penn and is on the football team at Saint Francis.

Kevin Fitzgerald (Noblesville)

A 1987 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis where he played two seasons each for former big league pitcher Russ Kemmerer and Richard Bender, Noblesville High School assistant Kevin Fitzgerald served in the U.S. Marine Corps 1989-94 then was an assistant to Duke Burns at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis (2000-02), Dave Mundy at Sheridan (Ind.) High School (2003 and 2004) and head coach at Sheridan (2005 and 2006).

“He was fantastic,” says Fitzgerald of Kemmerer. “There were so many lessons I learned that I didn’t realize I was learning at the time.

“For him, it was really teaching about life and baseball was just the tool. He said baseball is played on a six-inch field — the six inches between your ears. There are no such things as physical errors — they’re all mental. You weren’t prepared.”

Bender, who had big shoes to fill replacing the popular Kemmerer, is credited by Fitzgerald for the opportunity to explore leadership.

Fitzgerald joined Justin Keever’s staff at Noblesville in 2007.

The Millers won a Class 4A state championship in 2014.

Involved in all aspects of the program, Fitzgerald’s primary focuses is on hitters and outfielders. He also coaches third base and runs the Millers’ analytics.

“I take a lot of stuff off Justin’s plate,” says Fitzgerald. “Being an assistant coach at Noblesville High School is a better gig than a lot of head coaching jobs around the state.

“(Assistants are) all given specific areas (by Keever). Having that kind of trust and autonomy is one of the keys to the program

“He’s built an unbelievable culture in the program that was evident from Day 1.

“We have pretty intense discussions as a staff on direction. One of Justin’s gifts is to pull that together. When we walk out the door, it’s one voice. It’s a purely collaborative process.

“Justin Keever, to me, is the quintessential baseball coach. It’s truly a joy to be on his staff.”

Fitzgerald says Millers hitters are approach-driven.

“Two strikes and less than two strikes are the only two counts that matter,” says Fitzgerald. “With less then two strikes we’re looking to do damage.

“We want to grind pitchers up so we’re aggressively patient. We’ll give up a pitcher’s strike early in the count because it’s not one we can do damage with. But we’ll wait for a mistake.

“The best way to hit a breaking ball is to don’t miss the fastball.”

Points of emphasis for outfielders include trying not to let balls hit the ground and throwing the ball to the right place so runners don’t move up.

Fitzgerald keeps a freebies chart that tracks trail-runner advances.

“We look to win the freebie war every game,” says Fitzgerald. “We want to score plus-5 or more.”

Tools like FlightScope and Rapsodo are used to gather analytic metrics that can be studied and adapted to what Noblesville seeks to accomplish in individual player development.

“It’s not about maintenance,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s about being progressive and moving to the next level.”

Fitzgerald’s resume also includes a stint as executive director and coach for the Indiana Mustangs and working at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind.

Fitzgerald has gained an appreciation for where the Hoosier State stands in the diamond world.

“I don’t think Indiana high school baseball gets enough credit from the public for being as good as it is,” says Fitzgerald. “big-time college programs are always recruiting in Indiana. They know.”

When talking with a coach from a Southeastern Conference school, Fitzgerald asked the difference between players from warm-weather states and places like Indiana.

“He said that northern players are academy players,” says Fitzgerald. “They lack some of that instruct. They don’t play (as much as warm-weather players). 

“That’s our biggest challenge during the off-season (at Noblesville High). We try to be game-like with game speed and tempo indoors. We do anything we can to create instinct.”

Kevin works for Amazon and holds a Business Management degree and is working toward at Quantitative Economics degree from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

Brett Windmiller (Fort Wayne Carroll)

A 1991 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School, Brett Windmiller has been on the staff of head coach Dave Ginder at Carroll High School in Allen County since the 2003 season.

The Chargers were Class 3A state runners-up in 1999 and Class 4A state champions in 2010 and 2011.

“(Coach Ginder) understands the things to be good at,” says Windmiller. “His practice organization great and he’s very aware of time.

“If we’re not doing something right, we move on. We’re not going to beat a dead horse.

“As an assistant coach he’s great to work for. You truly feel like you have a say in things. He asks our opinion.”

Windmiller guides the Chargers’ catchers and infielders.

He expects catchers to learn how to run a game (Ginder and Windmiller do not call pitches).

“We teach our kids this is what we want in certain counts,” says Windmiller. “Practice is where we teach. Kids are freed up to play at game time.”

The Chargers talk about the mental game and preparing for each pitch as taught by Brian Cain.

“Players on our 2011 team were masters of the mental game before we emphasized it,” says Windmiller. “They flat out knew they were going to win. 

“It was an amazing group.”

Ginder played at Carroll (Class of 1991) for Chris Adams and at Anderson University for IHSBCA, Anderson U., and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon.

Windmiller played his freshmen year for IHSBCA/Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer Lance Hershberger and sophomore through senior seasons for his father and NEIBA Hall of Famer Larry Windmiller.

Brett played four seasons at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) for IHSBCA/NEIBA Hall of Famer Mike Frame, graduating in December 1995.

Before landing at Carroll, Brett was on his father’s Dwenger staff from 1996-2002.

Hershberger, who was an elementary physical education teacher for Windmiller, taught his players about focus and intensity.

“It started with him from the time you started playing catch until you got on the bus and went home,” says Windmiller. “All those things in between mattered. Not that you’re going to dwell on it afterward but this current pitch or at-bat is important.

“If you weren’t ready, you were going to hear about it from Lance.”

Hershberger reminded his players that there was a difference between baseball during the high school and summer seasons. There’s a finality to the high school season while the summer — though very important for development and exposure — is a series of games and unattached tournaments.

Brett did not feel the stigma of being a coach’s son.

“It may have just been the guys I played with,” says Brett. “In hindsight, it may be that dad handled it real well.

“I enjoyed playing for him. There were expectations with the way he wanted you to play. He was good at detecting an issue by watching you swing or throw.”

In his son’s eyes, Larry Windmiller was pretty even-keeled.

“He never got upset,” says Brett. “He was kind of in the middle all the time.

“He really let us play. We had a lot of kids with talent. We played loose and had a lot of success.”

The Dwenger Saints bowed out to Highland in the 1991 South Bend Semistate championship game.

At Huntington, Windmiller learned to play with intensity but not to let a mistake or a perceived bad call fester.

“The intensity of a baseball game is there,” says Windmiller. “It has to be. You learn the moments of the game where that’s appropriate. It cannot drive you into making a second mistake. You can’t carry your at-bat into the field. My red light was strike calls I didn’t agree with.

“Coach Frame was great as far as getting me to try to understand that I’m killing myself when I’m doing that. He helped me lose a little bit of the football mentality.”

Windmiller says he and his fellow coaches have matured over the years and tries set a good example for the players.

“When something bad happens, they are going to look at us,” says Windmiller. “We want to be cheering them on and saying let’s go to the next pitch.”

His first spring at Carroll, Windmiller coached junior varsity players with Mike Klopfenstein.

“JV’s great,” says Windmiller. “There’s no all-conference. There’s no media. It’s just young kids learning how to play baseball the correct way.”

At the JV level, win-loss record is irrelevant. It’s about developing. Between the spring and summer ball and getting in the weight room, a player can make big jumps from one season to the next.

Windmiller is a public address announcer for many Carroll sports, including football, boys basketball, girls basketball and wrestling. He has coached eighth grade football and seventh grade girls basketball in the system.

He is also an NEIBA board member and president of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation, running the Red Carrington League with Richard Brown. 

Brett took over the FWBF post after the passing of NEIBA Hall of Famer Dick Crumback in 2019. 

The NEIBA presents the Dick Crumback Player of the Year annually to an area ballplayer. The honor comes with a $1,000 donation ($500 from the Crumback family and $500 for the FWBF) to the program of the recipient.

“It’s a pretty tight-knit baseball community in Fort Wayne,” says Windmiller, who has also been a Wildcat League coach.

Brett, a sixth grade science teacher at Carroll Middle School, and wife Kara Windmiller (secretary to Chargers athletic director Dan Ginder) live in the Carroll school district and have two daughters — high school sophomore Ryli and seventh grader Hannah.

Brett’s sister Kari played volleyball and basketball at Dwenger.

Rhett Welliever is an assistant baseball coach at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School. (Susan Ehrlich Photo)
Landon McBride is an assistant baseball coach at New Palestine (Ind.) High School.
Mike Zeilinga is an assistant baseball coach at New Palestine (Ind.) High School.
Kevin (right), with wife Melia, is an assistant baseball coach at New Albany (Ind.) High School.
Steve Ford is an assistant baseball coach at Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Ind.
Jim Kominkiewicz is an assistant baseball coach at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind. (The Pennant Photo)
Kevin Fitzgerald is an assistant baseball coach at Noblesville (Ind.) High School.
Brett Windmiller is an assistant baseball coach at Carroll High School in Allen County, Ind.

Vernon brings ‘culture change’ to Benton Central Bison baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

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)

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)