By STEVE KRAH
Backed by an administration and community that makes baseball a priority, second-year head coach Pat O’Neil and his Danville Community High School Warriors are aiming high.
“I want to bring a sense of confidence to the players and the program,” says O’Neil. “They can be as good as they want to be by putting in the correct amount of time, doing things the right way and doing things together.
“I’m taking the same approach I did at Brownsburg. A state championship is your goal. It’s not given to you. You’ve got to put in the effort and go the extra mile. I’m really pleased with the direction the (Danville) program is going.”
Including five seasons at the helm for Fountain Central High School, 10 for Brownburg High School and one for Danville Community, O’Neil’s career record is 348-112.
Armed with discipline, enthusiasm and organization learned as a player and later assistant for high school baseball coaching icon Ken Schreiber while serving on his LaPorte staff for IHSAA state championships in 1987 and 1990, O’Neil led Brownsburg on the diamond from 2001-10. The Bulldogs earned a state crown in 2005 after a state runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004.
“The main goal is to get the blue (championship) ring at the end of the season,” says O’Neil, a 1975 LaPorte graduate and younger brother of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chip O’Neil. “I’ve got three blue rings and I know how good the blue feels.”
O’Neil coached future major leaguers at Brownsburg — pitchers Lance Lynn and Drew Storen and catcher Tucker Barnhart — and still communicates regularly with all three. In the three years after leaving the Bulldogs program, O’Neil took time off from coaching and saw many of their games.
When Lebanon High School head coach Rick Cosgray was looking for a pitching coach, he invited O’Neil to join the Tigers staff. In the first of his three seasons (2014-16), Lebanon won its first sectional since 2000.
Danville, which won the most-recent of its eight sectional titles in 2015, went 15-11 in 2017 and lost a 1-0 pitchers’ duel to eventual champion Indian Creek in the semifinals of the Class 3A Danville Sectional.
“It just came down to us not making a couple plays in the seventh inning,” says O’Neil, who saw the game’s lone run score on an 0-2 passed ball with two outs in the top of the seventh. Danville had runners at second and third when the game ended.
O’Neil’s varsity assistants are Danville graduates Jake Marckel and John Fuson with Chris Marckel (father of Jake) leading the junior varsity. O’Neil says he expects to have around 36 players in the program in the spring.
The 2018 Warriors will sport a roster full of seniors who are three- and four-year starters.
“They want to send a message that Danville baseball is program to be reckoned with and they want to lead the charge,” says O’Neil, who counts catcher Tarron Lawson, first baseman Ethan Shafer, right-handed pitcher Jackson Wynn, center fielder Dylan Snider, right-hander Tristan Morrell and right-hander/third baseman Isaac McGregor in the Class of 2018.
Lawson, Shafer and Wynn are Danville’s tri-captains. Lawson has committed to Eastern Illinois University while there has been college interest in some of the other Warriors.
O’Neil looks to get contributions from a junior class which includes shortstop/second baseman Blake Mills, utility man Mark Broderick, catcher Shane Bradley and right-hander Max Schumacher.
The importance of the unit is stressed by O’Neil.
“It’s all about team and there’s a role for everybody,” says O’Neil. “We encourage them about doing the best they can.”
The veteran coach notes that it doesn’t really matter where a batter appears on the lineup card.
“In the game, there’s only one legit lead-off hitter in the game (and that’s in the first inning),” says O’Neil. “When it’s your turn to produce, go up and produce. I want everybody to think they’re the No. 3 hitter.”
O’Neil cites the example of Austin Nickol at Brownsburg. He batted No. 5 and went into the 2004 State Finals hitting .281 with eight runs batted in then batted in the No. 9 hole and hit .407 with 22 RBI going into the 2005 championship game. The Bulldogs wound up 35-0 and Nickol received a scholarship to Butler University.
Danville belongs to the Sagamore Conference (along with Crawfordsville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone). The conference observes a schedule with home-and-home games in the same week for a total of 14 league games.
“The Sagamore is going to be strong this year,” says O’Neil. “It’s the most competitive top to bottom in the five years I’ve been around it.”
Danville has never won the Sagamore in baseball since joining in 2000. The Warriors were Mid-State Conference champions in 1946, 1951 and 1967 and West Central Conference champions in 1988, 1989, 1994 and 1998.
The Warriors’ 2018 non-conference slate includes Beech Grove, Cascade, Covenant Christian, Lafayette Central Catholic, Monrovia, Northview, Owen Valley, Plainfield, Speedway plus the Hendricks County Tournament (Avon, Brownsburg, Cascade, Plainfield and Tri-West Hendricks are in that).
Hendricks County Tournament titles came Danville’s way in 1989, 1991 and 1994.
Danville will again host the sectional. But the tournament field and the playing surface will have a new look. Because of success factor or shuffling, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter (2A state runner-up in 2017), Brebeuf and Tri-West Hendricks have moved in to join Danville, Greencastle and Indianapolis Northwest.
With support of superintendent Dr. Tracey Shafer, principal Dr. P.J. Hamann, athletic director Jon Regashus (who was an O’Neil assistant at Brownsburg) and others, there have been several athletic upgrades on campus. On the way for the baseball field are many new items — a turf infield, drainage and sprinkling system for the outfield, fencing and bleaches. The dugouts and press box are to be renovated with a locker room added upstairs in the press box building.
The community’s youngest players play recreation and travel baseball. Danville Community Middle School’s seventh/eighth grade team is to play about 20 games in the spring.
“We want them to play as much as they can and get as much experience as possible,” says O’Neil.
Before O’Neil went to Brownsburg (he has been a health teacher at the school since 2000-01), he was a Midwest scout for the Tampa Bay Rays. At Fountain Central, he was also head football coach for five seasons (1990-94).
In seven seasons at LaPorte with Schreiber, he became very close with the Hall of Famer and learned much about developing pitchers.
“You don’t start in March,” says O’Neil. “You have to build up strength so they can throw 110 pitches and feel strong.”
By state tournament time, O’Neil wants to have a well-establish No. 1 and No. 2 starter but depth is also important.
“We want to develop another four or five guys who can come in and throw strikes and feel confident,” says O’Neil, who saw four Danville pitchers — Weston, Shafer, Morrell, and MacGregor — go down with non-baseball injuries in the last month of the 2017 regular season and had younger players step in to pick up the slack.
Before coaching at LaPorte, Pat spent two season on brother Chip’s staff at South Bend St. Joseph.
The younger O’Neil played two seasons at Kentucky Wesleyan College after two at Vincennes University. He earned an undergraduate degree from KWC in 1980 and a master’s degree from Indiana University South Bend in 1990.
Married nearly eight years to Carol, Pat has two daughters. Oldest daughter Maureen and husband Matt Hoard have two boys — Clark (8) and A.J. (5). Youngest Katie and spouse Brandon Jewell have pets. Stepson Michael is a recent Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology graduate. Stepdaughter Jennifer is a nursing student at the University of Indianapolis.
Pat O’Neil enters his second season as head baseball coach at Danville Community High School in 2018. He coached five seasons at Fountain Central and 10 at Brownsburg, earning state runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004 and a state championship in 2005.