By STEVE KRAH
With clear communication as a priority and continuity on the coaching staff, Wawasee High School baseball is looking forward to the 2019 season.
Brent Doty, a 2002 Wawasee graduate, is entering his sixth season as head coach at his alma mater, which is located in Syracuse, Ind.
Primarily a catcher, Doty was a four-year player for head coach John Blunk at Wawasee. He played two seasons for Mitch Hannahs (now head coach at Indiana State University) at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and two seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) for Billy Gernon (now head coach at Western Michigan University).
“I was very fortunate to have those three great baseball coaches,” says Doty. “I was able to pick the nuances that they were really, really good at and try to influence the players in our program with those things.”
With Blunk, it was his knowledge of the game and his drive.
“His passion for it was huge,” says Doty. “Coach Hannahs was just so detailed in everything he did. He always wanted things done correctly. He would show you specifically how it needs to be done.”
Gernon was also very organized.
“We had a schedule we followed every day to a T,” says Doty of Gernon. “It was timed out — 15 minutes here, 30 there. It’s the detail they go into at the college level because they have to, they have such limited time each day and each season.
“I thought that would transition nicely with us to get as much accomplished in a day’s practice as we can.
Wawasee players know what to expect when they come out to practice.
“It’s never, ‘Hey, coach! What are we doing today?’,” says Doty. “They know the expectation and it makes practice run a lot smoother. Hopefully that’s going to turn into success as we continue to go down the road.”
An IHSAA rule change allows for a limited coach-athlete contact period. Coaches can work with an unlimited number of players for two two-hour practice slots per week during a window in the fall.
Doty and his staff, which includes associate head coach Vince Rhodes, Scott Beasley and volunteer Kent Doty (his father) at the varsity level and a to-be-named head coach and assistant Brett Carson with the junior varsity, have been leading outdoor practices for a few weeks.
“That’s nice for us,” says Doty. “We can get live swings, grounders and fly balls.”
Team concepts — like bunt coverages — can be drilled outside and give them a true look as opposed to doing it indoors.
“It’s been nice to implement some of those things,” says Doty. “But you don’t have your full team so you’re not gong to go so in-depth.”
With fall sports going on, there have been 10 to 12 at most sessions.
“A lot of our guys play multiple sports,” says Doty. “At a school of our size (around 950 students) they have to. We can’t just rely on single-sport athletes.
“We want you to get in as many sports as you can.”
The IHSAA-adopted pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) has now been on the scene for two seasons.
What does Doty think of it?
“It’s definitely good for the kids,” says Doty. “Player safety is always going to be No. 1.
“The 120 max is good, too. I can’t see myself going farther than that.”
Doty says one change in 2019 is that the JV will be on the same regimen as the varsity.
“It’s good,” says Doty of the switch. “Why does a sophomore playing on varsity get to throw more than a sophomore throwing on JV?”
One way that Doty and company build pitching depth is by giving many players an opportunity to see what they can do on the mound, especially at the JV level.
“If you’ve got a healthy arm, you’re probably going to pitch at some point,” says Doty.
A year ago, Wawasee had more than three dozen players for varsity and JV squads. Being very senior-laden, the varsity carried 21 players.
The number depends largely on the number of potential pitchers and those who can play multiple positions.
It’s important for each player to know how they can contribute to the program.
“We talk with each player individually and say this is where we see this as your role for the year,” says Doty. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to stay there or written in stone. But this is what we expect of you or as a varsity or JV player or a swing guy (that could see playing time on both).
“If they start to develop into something we didn’t foresee at the start of the year, we transition them into that. We allow them to have ownership of their role because once they buy into their role, it’s only going to make us better as a program.”
Staff stability also translates to a consistent message.
Doty began his post-college career as a teacher and an assistant baseball coach at Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville, N.C. When he took over the program for the 2014 season, he was the third head coach in three years for that junior class.
“Building that continuity and having that same staff year after year is only going to help us be successful going forward,” says Doty.
The 2018 season saw Wawasee go 8-16 with some growing pains.
“We also saw some bright spots that we can build on,” says Doty, who identifies juniors Levi Brown and Carter Woody and sophomores Kameron Salazar and Parker Young as being among the top returning Warriors.
Buildings and grounds personnel have talked about adding more bleachers down the foul lines past the dugouts at Warrior Field.
Wawasee softball added a windscreen last year. Doty says the same might be coming for baseball along with the addition of a batter’s eye. Right now, the backdrop is a water tower.
Getting lights has also been the part of discussions, which would aid in hosting tournaments.
The conference will again employ a double-round robin schedule with each team meeting each other home and away in two rotations.
“The coaches in the NLC talk often and we like it,” says Doty. “You don’t always see the same team at the end of the year as you do at the beginning. It allows for you to grow.
“We get to see teams progress as they get a little deeper into the season.”
After teaching at Wawasee Middle School, Doty has moved to the high school where he serves as both physical education/health teacher and assistant athletic director.
Brent and Ashley Doty have three children — Luke (5), Logan (3) and Emma (1).
Brent Doty, a 2002 Wawasee High School graduate, is entering his sixth season as head baseball coach at the school in Syracuse, Ind., in 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)