Tag Archives: Jayson Best

Edgewood alum Pittsford learns from many along his diamond path

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Harrison Pittsford is soaking up the knowledge of veterans while getting in his summer reps as a first-year player for the South Bend Royals, members of men’s wood bat leagues in both South Bend and Fort Wayne.
At 20, Pittsford is younger than most of his Royals teammates. That includes 53-year-old Jayson Best.
“It’s cool learning from guys like Bestie,” says Pittsford, who completed his second year at NCAA Division III Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., in the spring. “I see how they play the game.
“It’s a great experience playing with those guys.”
Best, who was born in Lafayette, Ind., played professional baseball from 1989-97. He ascended to Double-A in the Minnesota Twins organization as a pitcher and later was head baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. He pitched a no-hitter for the Royals in Mishawaka, Ind., on July 10.
Pittsford, a 2020 graduate of Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind., comes up to play mostly weekend doubleheaders with former GC hitting star and current Eastern (Greentown) head coach Erik Hisner-managed Royals and Manchester teammate/roommate Hunter Aker (a South Bend Clay High School graduate).
While he does some catching, Pittsford is getting playing time in the outfield since he expects to be there much of the time at Manchester.
The Royals are to compete in a National Amateur Baseball Federation regional in Fort Wayne July 28-30. The top two finishers move on to the NABF World Series Aug. 2-5 in Battle Creek, Mich.
Pittsford was named to the 2022 all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team at designated hitter.
The righty swinger played in 30 games (28 starts) and hit .327 (33-of-101) with six home runs, eight doubles, 29 runs batted in, 27 runs scored and a 1.002 OPS (.418 on-base percentage plus .584 slugging average).
Rick Espeset competed his 26th season as Manchester head coach in 2022.
“Espy got my attention in the recruiting process,” says Pittsford. “His success and longevity eye-catching for me.”
Espeset’s Spartans have won 619 games with six national tournament appearances, including two trips to the D-III World Series (2004 and 2013).
As much as Pittsford appreciates all the knowledge that Espeset shares, he is also grateful for the insights on the mental approach.
“We’re taking time to detach from baseball with breathing and mindfulness,” says Pittsford.
As a D-III program, Manchester conducts four weeks of fall practice with the whole team and coaches. Players are then on their own for a few months until everyone reconvenes shortly before the start of the season.
“Nothing’s really forced on us,” says Pittsford. “If guys want to get better they are going to get better. I get motivated seeing my teammates working out.
“We have good leadership from underclassmen.”
A Sport Management major, Pittsford was named Academic all-HCAC in 2022.
“I want to stay involved in sports in some capacity,” says Pittsford of his post-college path. “That could be coaching, running a sports facility or being an athletic director. I want to be involved in sports and make a difference for kids and make sure the next generation has the same opportunities I had coming up.
“Sports can teach you a lot of life lessons like building character and making friendships.”
Born in Bloomington, Ind., and growing up in Ellettsville, Pittsford participated in baseball and basketball through Richland Bean Blossom Youth Sports and was also part of Monroe County Youth Football Association.
He was in travel ball with the Ellettsville Explosion, Diamond Dynamics and then Tier Ten.
It was with Diamond Dynamics that Pittsford met coach/instructor Tony Kestranek.
“He was passionate about baseball,” says Pittsford of Kestranek. “He taught us when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive.”
At Edgewood, Pittsford played four years each of football and baseball and two of basketball.
A special teams player as a freshman, he was the Mustangs’ starting center for three seasons.
Brian Rosenburgh was defensive coordinator Pittsford’s freshman year then head coach for the last three.
“I loved him as a person and a coach,” says Pittsford of Rosenburgh, who was also a Physical Education teacher at Edgewood.
An football coach was Mychal Doering.
“He’s an amazing guy,” says Pittsford of the father of classmate Izaiah Doering and JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) specialist at Edgewood. “He was high-energy and he motivated you. He was always checking on people outside of school and he taught me about life and handling the ups and down.
“He’s going through chemo (for cancer). It’s cool to see how he’s battling through that.”
Pittsford considered playing college football, but decided to go with his first love of baseball. Besides, at 6-foot, 230 pounds he is considered to be undersized for a college lineman.
Bob Jones, who has been a Business teacher for more than 40 years and head baseball coach for 36, passed along many diamond lessons to Pittsford.
“He knows a lot of baseball,” says Pittsford of Jones, who went into the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame last week. “It’s nice to learn from a guy who’s been around the game for so long.”
One of Jones’ more than 500 victories came during the first game of 2019 — a season that ended with the Mustangs finishing as IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up.
Playing in a tournament at Vincennes University, Edgewood fell behind 11-0 to Terre Haute North Vigo after four innings.
The Mustangs chipped away and eventually won 20-18 in a game that was played in a steady drizzle.
“It was a pretty crazy game,” says Pittsford, who started at catcher and batted No. 2 that day and drove in two runs.
Later moved to the No. 9 hole, it was there that Pittsford smacked a walk-off home run against West Vigo in the semifinals of the Owen Valley Sectional.
Several other Edgewood players wound up playing college baseball, including Class of 2019’s Joe Kido (Indiana State University), Ethan Vecrumba (Indiana University), Cooper Thacker (University of Southern Indiana) and Blake Deckard (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology), Class of 2020’s Pittsford and Sam Kido (Indiana University South Bend) and Class of 2021’s Luke Hayden (Indiana University).
Satoshi Kido — father of Mac, Joe and Sam — was an Edgewood assistant in 2019 and has been Pittsford’s hitting coach since he was 7 or 8.
“He’s helped me so much with my swing over the years,” says Pittsford. “He always knows how to fix my swing when I get in a slump.”
Pittsford spent much of 2021 dealing with a torn right shoulder labrum.
Harrison is the youngest of 1986 Edgewood alums Jay and Cheryl Pittsford’s two sons. Alex Pittsford (25) is a graduate of Edgewood (2016) and Wabash College (2020) and is now pursing his Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Notre Dame. He was in football and swimming in high school.
Jay Pittsford taught English for 19 1/2 years and then served as an assistant principal. Cheryl Pittsford is an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Physician’s Assistant.

Harrison Pittsford (Manchester University Photo)
Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)
Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)

Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)

Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)
Harrison Pittsford (Timothy Jacob Photography)

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)

Hisner’s been a hit in decade at Whitko

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Plate discipline is something Erik Hisner carried into the batter’s box with him as a player and it’s a concept he teaches his hitters as head baseball coach at Whitko High School.

“We talk a lot about being selectively aggressive,” says Hisner, who enters his 11th season with the Wildcats in 2017. “I want guys to be aggressive on fastballs early in the count if it’s their pitch. The times we’ve gotten in trouble we’ve been almost passive.

“Understanding (baseball) situations is something we continue to work on.”

Whitko, which has moved from Class 3A to 2A, shared the Three Rivers Conference title in 2016 and have been state-ranked in recent seasons. The Wildcats advanced to the sectional championship game for only the second time in program history in 2009.

Hisner, who still holds career offensive records he set at Goshen College where he was a one-time NAIA All-American and NAIA all-region honorable mention selection and three-time all-conference pick from 2002-05 (.419 average, 211 hits, 161 runs batted in, 85 walks), comes from a baseball family.

Grandfather Harley Hisner played in the Boston Red Sox organization. His claim to fame is one mound start in the final game of the 1951 season against the New York Yankees. Harley struck out Mickey Mantle twice and gave up Joe DiMaggio’s last regular-season major league hit (a single). Harley appears in “Once Around The Bases (Triumph Books, 1998).”

Red Sox slugger and Hall of Famer Ted Williams and his “The Science of Hitting” book were respected in the Hisner household and those ideas were passed down to Harley’s son, Randy, who went on to play college baseball and coached his sons — Erik, Ryan, Shane and Gavin — at the Little League, Sandy Koufax or high school level.

In 2015, father and sons played on the same Fort Wayne-based adult league team managed by Erik.

The Hisners are also a family of educators. Randy teaches English at Bellmont High School (where he is also head boys cross country coach). Mother Cheryl teaches first grade at Southeast Elementary School in Decatur.

Erik, 34, is a 2001 Bellmont graduate. He represented the Braves in baseball and basketball four years and tennis for two. On the diamond, his senior year featured conference and sectional championships along with all-conference, all-state and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star honors. He began his teaching career in Fort Wayne and now is a physical education instructor and athletic director at Whitko Middle School.

Ryan, 33, teaches science at Adams Central Senior-Junior High School (where is also an assistant track coach).

Shane, 28, teaches English at Japan.

Gavin, 26, teaches social studies at Bellmont (where is also an assistant boys cross country and track coach).

Besides his father, Erik Hisner also counts his college coaches — Brent Hoober and Jayson Best — among those who taught him the game.

“(Hoober) taught me how to structure and put your program together,” says Hisner of the man who was his head coach his first three collegiate seasons. “He was really good at letting guys play and not over-coaching. He wasn’t a micro-manager with players.

“Sometimes us coaches have to bite our tongue.”

Hisner said he learned much from conversations with Best, who went from pitching coach to head coach at GC in Hisner’s senior year.

“I learned how to manage a game and the the little things that go into it,” says Hisner. “I learned about thinking one or two plays or one or two batters ahead. (Best) played professional ball and had a lot of good stories and insight.”

Hisner was an assistant in Josh Keister’s first season as Maple Leafs head coach in 2006 and was going to be an assistant at Fort Wayne Northrop when the opportunity came up at Whitko.

Having been involved in his fall camps for a few years and because he knew his grandfather, IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bill Jones went to bat for the young Hisner.

“He got my foot in the door” says Hisner.

Two days after taking the job leading into the 2007 season, Hisner found himself among top Indiana baseball minds. There was (Hall of Famers) Jones, Chris Stavretti, Jack Massucci, Jim Reinebold and Ken Schreiber.

“You talk about the legends of Indiana high school baseball,” says Hisner. “It was like a $25 clinic at a facility in Fort Wayne. You can’t miss that one.”

Hisner has made many connections in the IHSBCA. Former Churubusco coach Mark Grove among his best friends in the profession.

Since Hisner did not have the benefit of an off-season when he started at Whitko, his focus was staying positive and working on a few little things.

“I’m a hitting guy so we talked a lot about approach,” says Hisner. “We’d make sure we knew what we were looking for in certain counts.”

While Whitko had been winless the previous season, it was not as grim as it seemed. The Wildcats had learned plenty of baseball from Lance Hershberger and those players were back to greet Hisner.

“(Hershberger) did a good job here.” says Hisner. “It wasn’t as bad a situation as the numbers might say. It wasn’t a situation where I had to come in a teach them how to throw and lead off.

“The thing about that year is I actually learned a lot from he kids by watching them play. To play for Lance, you’ve got to be pretty tough and pay attention to detail.”

The first Whitko win that season, snapping a long losing skid, was a one-run game against Heritage. Coach Dean Lehrman’s Patriots went on to be Class 2A state runners-up to South Spencer.

After that first year, Whitko took pride in its off-season work. The Wildcats played 25 to 30 games each summer in Hisner’s first few seasons.

“We got that family feel,” says Hisner. “We were kind of in the trenches together. It was nothing fancy. We just played a lot of baseball and got them experience.”

The evolution of travel baseball has limited or helped eliminate summer schedules at many high schools and the number of summer games for the Wildcats has dropped to 15 or 20, but still sees it as a good way to develop players.

Some get a chance to play travel ball and Hisner is all for it if it’s going to benefit the player.

“My parents have been pretty good about asking questions and making sure its a good fit,” says Hisner. “We’ve had good luck with teams like the Indiana Chargers, Summit City Sluggers and others who are doing it for the right reasons. It’s about development and not just playing games.”

Hisner’s coaching staff for 2017 features Travis Bradford, Mark Fisher, Tim Planck, James Stoddard and Seth Patrick. Bradford is a Whitko graduate and former Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne hurler, is the pitching coach. Stoddard and Patrick played for Hisner at Whitko.

“(Patrick) is probably the smartest player I ever coached,” says Hisner of the former Wildcats catcher. “We didn’t call the pitches when he was (a player) here.

“He was one of those program guys, a scrapper type.”

Baseball has long been a strength in the Three Rivers Conference (now containing 10 members), which has produced state champions (Wabash in 1986, Northfield in 2001 and 2012, Manchester in 2002) and a state runners-up (Northfield in 2013).

ERIKHISNER2

Erik Hisner enters his 11th season as head baseball coach at Whitko High School in 2017.

HISNERS

The Hisners (from left): Shane, Ryan, Randy, Gavin and Erik.