Tag Archives: Joe Decker

Reel helps turn IU Southeast into respected NAIA baseball program

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University Southeast’s baseball team will play in the NAIA Opening Round for the second straight season and the fourth time since 2010.

The 21st-ranked Grenadiers are in Kingsport, Tenn., for a five-team double-elimination event Monday through Thursday, May 15-18.

The winner out of No. 1 seed Keiser (Fla.) (39-18), No. 2 Tennessee Wesleyan (39-18), No. 3 Indiana University Southeast (45-13), No. 4 Talladega (Ala.) (36-22) and No. 5 Marian (Ind.) (29-21) advances to the 10-team NAIA World Series May 26-June 2 in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Grenadiers are slated to play Tennessee Wesleyan in Game 2 Monday afternoon. Kingsport is where IUS used to go for their conference tournament. Upon arriving Saturday night, they learned that former Grenadier Shane Weedman had pitched a no-hitter for the Evansville Otters of the independent professional Frontier League.

Other Indiana schools in the Opening Round are Huntington and Indiana Tech.

After losing seven starters from 2016, IU Southeast reloaded in 2017.

“It’s definitely been a year to remember,” says IUS head coach Ben Reel. “This team has been very competitive. When they show up everyday, they work.”

With Opening Round appearances in 2010 and 2011 as Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference conference champions and at-large berths in the KIAC and new River States Conference the past two springs, the Grenadiers have established a respected program.

It’s been a progression that’s taken time to achieve.

When Reel took over as head coach for the 2009 season at age 24 (he followed Joe Decker, who decided to go back to Silver Creek High School), the coaching staff was paid with stipends.

“We were like starving artists,” says Reel. “And nobody knew where we were.”

For the record, the school is in New Albany, just across the Ohio River from downtown Louisville.

“We had to crawl before we could walk and walk before we could jog,” says Reel, now 33 and still one of the younger head coaches in college baseball. “We’re starting to run a little bit. We’re starting to get some momentum and it’s taken a decade.”

Reel, who played at South Dearborn High School in Aurora and Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College before transferring to IU Southeast, led his first team to a 32-24 mark and saw the Grenadiers turn the corner in 2010.

That’s the year IUS went 39-20 (setting a school record for wins), NAIA second team All-American Kyle Lenn smacked 24 home runs and the program produced its first Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selection — Cameron Conner to the Kansas City Royals in the 20th round.

“Once that happened, everything started rolling,” says Reel. “That’s what put us on the map in our region.”

With IU Southeast, the University of Louisville (NCAA Division I), Bellarmine University (D-II) and Spalding University (D-III) all within 10 miles of each other, teams are competing for talent.

“You have to be very competitive,” says Reel, who looks at a roster with 15 players with Indiana hometowns and five from Kentucky. “But once prove you can mentor and develop players, you’ll start getting some better athletes.”

That’s not easy when you only have one scholarship to offer (11 below the NAIA limit).

“That puts us in bottom 10 percent out of the 198 (NAIA) teams in the country,” says Reel. “We take a lot of kids who are raw and help them find a niche.

“We get a lot of guys here who want to be coached. Myself and my staff do a lot of player development. We coach the heck out of them.”

Andrew Stanley, a high school teammate of Reel’s, has been with him since the beginning. The young coaching staff also features Jarret Young (second season), Brian Coffman (first season) and student assistants Justin Franz (fourth season) and Logan Coughlin (first season).

“We roll up our sleeves and get in (the batting cage) with them,” says Reel, who considers his communication skills (he’s talk to just about anyone for hours) and practicality as strengths. “That’s how I was raised. I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’m going to show you what to do. That’s what we believe as a staff.

“We go the extra mile. Our biggest selling point is these kids will be coached.”

Reel grew up on a farm near Prairie Creek in Vigo County, spent his middle school years in West Virginia then came back to Indiana and landed at South Dearborn.

With the Knights, he was a catcher for head coach Jay Malott.

“He was a fierce competitor,” says Reel of the former Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis coach. “He was a perfectionist. Nothing was ever good enough. We were never done practicing. We were just relentless. I learned that sense of dedication in high school.”

At Cleveland State, Reel played for Mike Policastro.

“Coach Poli taught me a sense of professional,” says Reel. “He was very calm and very businesslike. He was organized and concise. He would be very honest and open with you about what you needed to do to get to the next level and be a man.”

Reel saw coaching in his future and behind the plate — where he did not make a an error as a sophomore (matching the feat of his senior high school season) — helped prepare him for the profession.

“As a catcher, you’ve got to get to know all these pitchers,” says Reel. “You get to know a bunch of strangers at the collegiate level.”

Relationships have always been important to Reel. One of his best friends — who he met through coaching — is Tennessee Wesleyan assistant Brad Neffendorf (they were in each other’s weddings).

“This game has some of the best people that Planet Earth has to offer,” says Reel. “They just truly love the sport and the people in it.

“That’s the most memorable part of doing this, it’s the people that you meet.”

Reel notes three major things IUS has going for its in community support, education and location.

“We fundraise $50,000 a year,” says Reel. “I takes $70,000 year to run a college baseball program. Our budget is $33,000. You have to have synergy to do that.

“We’re offering an IU degree. We have a tutor on the bus. It’s a big time education.”

Being so close to Louisville is very helpful. There’s so much to do there and there is easy access to an international airport.

BENREEL

At 33, Ben Reel is in his ninth season as head baseball coach at Indiana University Southeast. He has the Grenadiers in the NAIA Opening Round for the fourth time in 2017. (IU Southeast Photo)

Lost limbs, lost life put things into perspective at Silver Creek

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is important at Silver Creek High School.

The Joe Decker-coached Dragons work hard to make themselves good at the sport and they have several wins and IHSAA sectional titles (2000, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014) to show for it.

But a 2012 natural disaster and the 2017 passing of a teen athlete from a rival school have help put it all in perspective.

Silver Creek is in the southern Indiana town of Sellersburg —  10 miles from Henryville and 83 miles from Southridge High School in Huntingburg.

Tornadoes in 2012 leveled Joe and Stephanie Decker’s Henryville home and caused Stephanie to lose both of her legs.

With the help of their faith, the community and a desire to help others, the family has moved forward. The Stephanie Decker Foundation was started and she travels all around on prosthetic legs to help bring sports to children without limbs.

“She handles it really well,” says Joe Decker. “She’s a lot tougher than I am. I know that.

“We’re like everybody else at this point. We’re chasing kids around.”

The Deckers make sure youngest son Dominic gets to travel baseball and daughter Reese to travel softball. Nolan is 19 and living in Columbus.

“Five years ago my family learned it’s just a game,” says Decker. “(Baseball) will teach them a lot, but at the end of the day it’s just a baseball game.”

Joe makes sure his high school players count their blessings.

“We tell them ‘be glad you get to do this everyday because a lot kids don’t,” says Decker. “Even for them to live where they live. They live in rural Indiana. Their problems are nothing. Compared to a lot of other kids, they are extremely lucky. They are just really good kids and they care about other people.”

Evidence of that came a few weeks ago. Southridge assistant baseball coach Gene Mattingly’s daughter, Lexi, had experienced cardiac arrest at tennis practice and was hospitalized in Louisville before Silver Creek visited the Raiders for a non-conference baseball game.

Joe knew Gene a little bit. Both have coached for the Ironmen  a Christian-based travel baseball organization. Joe did not know Lexi. Feeling compassion, the Dragons presented Gene with a signed baseball and Dragons T-shirt for his daughter before the Silver Creek-Southridge game.

After being in critical condition, Lexi seemed to be recovering when Joe got a call on gameday against South Central last week. She was being flown back to Louisville.

Around the fifth inning of the contest, he got a call that Lexi Mattingly had passed. He shared the news with his assistant coaches, including Ryan Wheeler, but not his players.

Sophomore Tyler Wheeler noticed a look on his father’s face and asked “Dad, are you alright?”

He told him the sad news just before Tyler’s next turn at bat.

Tyler, who had been struggling at the plate, draws a little “L” in the batter’s box and socks the second pitch for his first high school home run.

“He comes around third base and he’s almost in tears,” says Decker. “It’s pretty amazing.”

That same week practice, Decker shared the baseball and faith story of John Scolinos and “Staying at 17 Inches.” It’s the reason the Dragons wear a 17 on their practice shirts.

Decker, 47, is in his second stint of teaching baseball and life lessons at his alma mater. Beginning at 22, he was head coach for five seasons at Brown County High School (1992-96). The Eagles won the school’s first sectional in any sport in 16 years in 1992. He led the program at Silver Creek 1997-2003, served as head coach for three seasons at Indiana University Southeast in nearby New Albany (2004-06), took two seasons off and came back to the Dragons head coaching post in 2009.

Decker and his assistants want Silver Creek baseball to a be a family for current and former players. It’s not unusual to see alums from the past five years in the dugout during games.

“It’s really important to us that our kids like being here and they like coming back,” says Decker. “They feel it’s there program.”

The Dragons are drilled on the fundamentals and on Mental Toughness Training through Dan Thurston of Long Toss Indiana. After winning four straight Class 3A sectionals, Silver Creek lost 2-1 against host North Harrison in 2015. Decker chalks that up to strong opposing pitching.

The 6-3 loss to Brownstone Central in the 2016 North Harrison Sectional title game — even with three freshmen and two sophomores in the SC lineup did not sit well with Decker.

“Last year it was more like we played not to lose,” says Decker. “From my aspect that was a mental thing. As a coach, I’ll take the blame for it.

“We were not mentally tough from a competitive standpoint. (Most players) never faced adversity … Eyes were wide and they kind of tightened up.”

The idea is to stop the feature of failure.

“We talk about making aggressive mistakes,” says Decker.

Actions in practice — like not getting a bunt down, making the throw to the right base or an unexcused absence — have consequences for the Dragons like extra running.

“We play the process and not the score,” says Decker. “We’re teaching them baseball, but we really focus on work ethic. We tell them the one thing you can control is how hard you work. We’ve tried to keep that workmanlike mentality. That helps them keep a chip on their shoulder a little bit.

“We spend a lot of time just talking about the mental side of the game. It goes back to playing the process. If you can get them to not think about winning and losing and just playing the right way, winning takes care of itself.”

Besides pitching coach Ryan Wheeler, the coaching staff includes Ritchie Ware, Scott Jennings and Brent Falcone. It is Falcone that runs the arm care program for the Dragons.

Silver Creek plays in the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern-Pekin, North Harrison, Salem and Scottsburg). All MSC teams play one another, often on Mondays and Thursdays. Decker would like to see the conference go to a tournament and free up other regular-season dates for strong non-conference competition.

The Dragons finish the season at the Jasper tournament and also play New Albany and Jeffersonville heading toward the IHSAA state tournament series.

JOEDECKER1

Joe Decker is the head baseball coach at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg. His wife Stephanie lost both legs in the Henryville tornado of 2012. This season, his team experienced the loss of a teenage athlete at rival Southridge.