Tag Archives: Jarrett Hammel

Kiifner wants South Newton Rebels to be strong up the middle

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A border town will play more baseball in 2019 on the side of the state line where it plays its home games.

South Newton High School, located in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland, went 17-10 in 2018 and played 15 games against Illinois high schools.

After three seasons in the Illinois-based Sangamon Valley Conference (current members are Cissna Park, Clifton Central, Dwight, Iroquois West, Momence, Paxton-Buckey-Loda and Watseka), South Newton (enrollment around 190) is a member of the Midwest Conference (with Indiana schools Frontier, North Newton, North White, Tri-County and West Central).

Jim Kiifner, a 1984 graduate of Sheldon (Ill.) High School (now consulted into Milford Township), is entering his 10th season on the South Newton coaching staff — his third as head coach.

The 2019 Rebels — led by Kiifner and assistants Jason Krug (third season), Ricky Montemayer (fourth season) and Conner Ulmer (first season) — are scheduled to play 23 varsity and 13 junior varsity contests. Ulmer, a 2013 South Newton graduate, is a teacher while the others are lay coaches. Kiifner works in a warehouse for DuPont Corporation.

“My boss allows me to be a little flexible,” says Kiifner. “It also helps that I work in the Eastern Time Zone and coach in the Central Time Zone.

“I gain an hour.”

South Newon’s non-conference varsity opponents include Attica, Benton Central, Fountain Central, Frontier, Kankakee Valley and Seeger in Indiana and Cissna Park, Milford Township, Momence and Watseka in Illinois.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, Southwood and West Central. South Newton has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2017. That year, the Rebels advanced to the semistate for the first time, losing to eventual state runner-up Rossville at Plymouth.

“We’ve been pretty successful the last four years,” says Kiifner, 52. “We get a lot of fan support.”

Athletic budgets at the small school are supplemented through community fundraisers.

Kiifner was coaching in the Travelers Babe Ruth League when then-South Newton head coach Ron Benakovich invited him to join his staff. Benakovich led the Rebels from 2009-12 and Glenn Donahue from 2013-16 before Kiifner took over the as leader of the program in 2017.

“I want the kids to have the most fun as possible,” says Kiifner. “Discipline is a big thing. But I don’t like to be a brow beater.”

Program numbers are up to 23 with 11 newcomers.

“We’re working to get them up to speed on what we expect and do,” says Kiifner, who had a veteran team the past two seasons. The 2018 squad had six seniors and three juniors in the starting lineup.

Kiifner says he wants his teams to be strong up the middle on defense.

“Defend the middle first and work your way out,” says Kiifner. “(Pitchers are asked to) throw strikes and let the defense do the work behind them.”

With that in mind, South Newton has junior Austin Miller and sophomore Brandon Gilliam in the mix at catcher, senior Levi Sample and freshman Kayden Cruz at shortstop and Cruz and junior Terron Welsh in center field.

Senior left-hander Riley Patterson is the top returning pitcher who also plays first base. Senior Tyler Martell is at second base and freshman Kellen Krug at third base. Senior Ben Bryant is a candidate to play a corner outfield spot.

Offensive approach depends on personnel. Kiifner says the Rebels are transitioning from a power team to more of a small-ball squad.

The Hammel brothers have taken their pitching talents from South Newton to the college level.

Junior left-hander Jarrett Hammel started at Saint Joseph’s College and is now at Valparaiso University.

Freshman Jay Hammel was an all-state third baseman as junior, all-state first baseman as a senior and became the school’s second Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series player (Trent Smith was the first in 1990) and is now a freshman right-hander at Quincy (Ill.) University.

Trent Smith is the brother of Tracy Smith, a South Newton graduate who played at Miami University in Ohio and in the Chicago Cubs system before head coaching assignments at Miami University-Hamilton, Indiana University and Arizona State University. Smith’s 2019 Sun Devils were off to a 22-1 start.

Rebel Field, located on the South Newton campus, is a small non-lighted diamond with the distance down the foul lines at 272 feet to right field and 300 to left. Kiifner says there is talk about moving the fences back in the future.

With the school and field sitting in the midst of farm land, it is a breezy place.

“The are winds always blowing,” says Kiifner. “And it’s either too hot or too cold.”

Sheldon was a school of less than 100 students and baseball was a fall sport where there was no football team. Kiifner’s baseball coach was John Spezia, who has gone on to win more than 500 games as a basketball coach.

“He broke down fundamentals really well and brought it to your level,” says Kiifner of Spezia. “He tried not to overwhelm (his players).”

Jim and Madonna Kiifner have been married for 26 years. They have two sons who both played baseball at South Newton — William (24) and Luke (22).

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This is the 2019 South Newton High School Rebels baseball team.

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South Newton won a sectional and regional baseball title in 2017.

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Jim Kiifner is the head baseball coach at South Newton High School in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland.

 

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O’Dette takes a little Saint Joe with him to Saint Leo

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rick O’Dette is enjoying his new baseball home.

But he’ll always have a warm place in his heart for the old one.

#ForeverPumas.

After Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., closed at the end of the 2017-18 school year and 1999 SJC graduate O’Dette’s tenure as Pumas head coach wrapped after 17 seasons, he and his staff found landing spots for about 30 players from the top-20 NCAA Division II program then found a job of his own in Florida — taking a few familiar faces with him.

While there are former SJC players now at all levels of college baseball, there are four contributing this spring with NCAA Division I programs not far from Gil Hodges Field.

Junior right-handed pitcher Quinn Snarksis wound up as starter at the University of Illinois.

Sophomores Noah Powell and Lukas Jaksich are both at Ball State University — Powell (who went to Mount Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind.) as starting shortstop and lead-off hitter and left-hander Jaksich (who went to Andrean High School in Merrillville) as a starting pitcher.

Sophomore left-handed reliever Jarrett Hammel is now wearing the colors of Valparaiso University. Hammel went to South Newton High School.

Junior Joe Kenney went to the University of Indianapolis — one of Saint Joe’s old foes from the Great Lakes Valley Conference — to be a starting second baseman.

“We miss those guys,” says O’Dette of his former players. “They were put into a spot. I stay in contact with a lot of them.”

O’Dette is now head baseball coach at Saint Leo University in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area. There are about 2,600 students on campus with many more connected in various ways around the country.

Playing in the powerhouse NCAA Division II Sunshine State Conference (along with Tampa, Nova Southeastern, Florida Southern, Palm Beach Atlantic, Eckerd, Lynn, Barry, Embry-Riddle and Rollins), the Lions were off to a 36-10 start and still fighting for a regional tournament berth in 2018.

“It’s considered the best Division II conference in the country,” says O’Dette, whose team recently took two-of-three in an SSC series against Florida Southern. (Saint Leo is) literally one of the best places in the country. The school looks like a resort.”

Just since O’Dette got there, there has been $35,000 in upgrade to the baseball facilities.

School has been out for two weeks and the team has been practicing multiple times a day in 85-degree weather.

Matt Kennedy, who served with O’Dette at Saint Joe in two different stints, is his top assistant at Saint Leo.

Former SJC player Morgan DePew is a volunteer assistant coach for the Lions.

Sophomore Amir Wright, a Griffith High School product and former Puma, is Saint Leo’s center fielder and lead-off hitter.

Once part of the SJC mound staff, sophomore right-hander Joey Antonopoulos is one of SLU’s top relievers.

Redshirt freshman infielder Danny Torres, a South Bend St. Joseph graduate, was already at Saint Leo when O’Dette and he rest of the newcomers arrived.

O’Dette hit the ground running when he arrived on campus in late June of 2017, signing 13 new players in the first six weeks or so. Six of Saint Leo’s signings for 2019 are from the Midwest, including Center Grove senior Mikey Wyman.

Among the many standouts for the 2018 Lions is junior Peyton Isaacson. The former Coastal Carolina University player is both a power-hitting catcher and closer for Saint Leo. Swinging from the left side, he has 11 home runs and has also used his right arm to notch 14 saves.

Senior second baseman Zach Scott is another head-turner for the Lions.

Isaacson and Scott are expected to go in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft June 4-6.

Many folks with ties to Saint Joe have gotten a chance to watch Saint Leo.

“Pumas became Lions,” says O’Dette. “Alumni have been great. During the month of March, I bet I saw 25 alumni on spring break.”

O’Dette has been featured on the Top Coach Podcast twice — both at Saint Joe and Saint Leo.

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After 17 seasons as his alma mater — Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., Rick O’Dette is now head coach at Saint Leo University in Florida. (Saint Leo University Photo)