Tag Archives: John Wirtz

Hatfield asks Center Grove hitters to ‘know your zone’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With Keith Hatfield calling the shots, the Center Grove Trojans are looking to force the issue on the baseball field.

“I’m really aggressive,” says Hatfield of his coaching style. “That goes for hitting, pitching and base running.

“We don’t work a whole lot of counts (as hitters). We have a philosophy: the first fastball we see in the strike zone, we’re going to be swinging.”

Hatfield, who led CG to IHSAA Class 4A sectional crowns in 2015 and 2016 and is heading into his fifth season at the Johnson County school in 2018, spends a good deal of practice time talking with his players about “knowing your zone.”

“It’s knowing where you have the greatest chance to get a hit,” says Hatfield. “For some guys that might be the shins. For some guys that might be at the belt.”

Approach is dictated by game situation. What’s the score? What’s the count? How many outs? How many runners? What’s the inning?

“Our approach in the second inning a lot different than in the sixth inning (with two outs and a man on base),” says Hatfield. “Early, we’re swinging to drive the guy in. Later, we want to make a productive out if we’re going to make an out.”

Trojan moundsmen are encouraged to go after hitters.

“I’m not a fan of waste pitches,” says Hatfield. “Especially with the whole pitch count thing, a waste pitch is just a notch on the counter.”

Talented Center Grove pitchers have gotten a lot of swings and misses and strikeouts the past two seasons, but the intent is to get the hitter out in two pitches and not rack up a lot of K’s.

“When the defense knows we’re trying to make something happen in two pitches, they are not going fall back on their heels,” says Hatfield.

With runners on base, Hatfield looks to make things happen. While errorless games are not unusual at the professional and college levels, they are in high school.

“A lot of things have to go right in order for a baserunner to be thrown out (by the defense),” says Hatfield. “More times than not we’re going to make the defense make a play.

“We’re not going to wait to have three hits in a row. We’re going to push the envelope and put pressure on the defense.”

Hatfield came to Center Grove after four seasons at Roncalli, where he led the Rebels to an IHSAA Class 4A runner-up finish in 2012 with a 1-0 loss to Lake Central.

A 2003 Roncalli graduate, Hatfield played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer and top-notch in-game strategist John Wirtz.

“He was really good at pulling all the strings,” says Hatfield. “He was also good at relating to the kids. We loved him. He was really fun to be around. He’s a legend on the south side of Indianapolis.”

Hatfield was a pitcher at the University of Indianapolis, making a record 66 mound appearances, and gained wisdom from Greyhounds head coach Gary Vaught.

“He was really good at bringing everybody together,” says Hatfield of Vaught. “He’s a really good motivator. He was good at getting 100 percent out of the guys.”

Hatfield, who graduated from UIndy in 2007, spent two seasons as the Hounds pitching coach prior to going to Roncalli.

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted a new pitch count rule (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).

Hatfield sees a need to adjust the numbers.

“The quantities and days of rest are wrong,” says Hatfield. “They need to talk to a lot more people about it and something needs to be done for the tournament.”

During the regular season, Hatfield uses his starting pitchers once a week and gears the rotation toward home-and-home Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Where the pitch count has more of an impact on his squad and other Class 4A teams is with the relievers and whether they hit the thresholds that require one or two days of rest.

Then comes the postseason with the possibility of three sectional games in five days.

“Many of these guys will be playing their last game,” says Hatfield. “If rain pushes sectional championship to Tuesday, you are now making decisions that affect the regional. That’s crazy.”

Hatfield notes that when Roncalli made the run to the state championship game in 2012, Colin Hawk pitched is every single game of the tournament.

Hatfield would also like to see seeding at the sectional level in order to keep the two best teams out of the same side of the bracket.

“But it’s a lot harder than it sounds,” says Hatfield. “There’s not a Sagarin ratings system for high school baseball. There would have to be a central rating system. Prep Baseball Report would have to be involved. They have scouts seeing games all over the state.

“I’m not smart enough to have all the answers, but I know it’s wrong to have the two best teams playing each other in the first round of the tournament. I don’t like the blind draw. It makes non-conference, regular-season games a lot less important than they could be.”

Besides Center Grove, the MIC features Ben Davis, Carmel, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis, Pike and Warren Central.

The Trojans are grouped in a 4A sectional with Franklin Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville and Whiteland Community.

Hatfield goes into 2018 with a coaching staff that includes John Carpenter, Mike Grant and Joe Mack at the varsity level, Jordan Reeser and Jason Simpkins with the junior varsity and Jeff Montfort and Drew Garrison with the freshmen.

Player totals fluctuate with the number of pitcher-onlys in the program.

“This year is probably the biggest (total),” says Hatfield. “It could be 55 to 58). We’ll have nine or 10 pitcher-only.”

Hatfield, who also works for BSN Sports, has noticed a trend toward specialization in athletics and that includes pitching. But he will not pass up someone when he sees potential.

“If you have a good arm, you have to prove to me they can’t pitch,” says Hatfield.

Center Grove is well-represented in the college baseball world.

According to online rosters, there’s Ethan Brooks (Grace College), Jacob Cantleberry (San Jacinto North College in Texas and transferring to the University of Missouri), Joey Drury (Olney Central College in Illinois), Devon Hensley and Will Smithey (both at the University of Indianapolis), Eathan Stephen (Marian University) and Tye Thixton (Danville Community College in Illinois).

Current Trojans who have made college commitments are seniors Jacob Gilcrest (Wright State University in Ohio), Shawn Grider (Cincinnati Christian University) and Michael Wyman (Saint Leo University in Florida) and sophomore Bryce Eblin (Purdue University).

These players have various travel baseball affiliations in the summer.

“(Travel ball) is very important for a couple reasons,” says Hatfield. “There not going to get the exposure they need for recruiting during the high school season. It’s hard for college coaches to get out to see you because they’e playing as well.

“It’s good for guys to play for different people. Watch other people and how they do things — good, bad and indifferent. (Travel organizations) play at places the high school team couldn’t take them.”

Those are the pros. The Hatfield also sees a few cons.

“There’s a lack of competition in terms of winning and losing,” says Hatfield. “It’s very individually-driven. Teams are happy if they go 3-2 on the weekend. I don’t think that mentality if good for the kids.”

Hatfield says there are still instances of overuse of pitching arms.

“A lot of travel coaches think a kid can start on Thursday and come back and start on Sunday,” says Hatfield. “I don’t think that’s right at all.”

Center Grove plays on-campus. Behind the plate at the facility, there is an indoor facility with three cages, locker rooms, coach’s office and meeting room. Last fall, the infield was re-done. A few years ago, a new building housing concessions, storage and restrooms was added to a place often referred to as Trojan Park.

CENTERGROVETROJANS

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UIndy’s Vaught finds home in NCAA D-II baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gary Vaught is having an impact on baseball both in Indiana and nationwide.

Vaught, who won 588 games at the high school, NCAA Division I and junior college levels before coming to America’s Crossroads, just concluded his 23rd season as head coach at the University of Indianapolis.

His UIndy teams have added 777 more wins to his collegiate head coaching total pf 944. He has taken the Greyhounds to 10 NCAA Division II tournament appearances with two trips to the D-II College World Series (2000, 2012).

Indianapolis was ranked in the Top 10 during the 2017 season. Five key injuries led to a 27-23 record and missing the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament.

“That’s what I preach to these kids: One ball, one slide can end your career,” says Vaught. “But it doesn’t have anything to do with keeping you from getting your degree.”

The Norman, Okla., native who was a high school head coach for eight years before four at Connors State College in Warner, Okla., three at Kansas State University and three at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.

Vaught, a University of Central Oklahoma product, was Big Eight Coach of the Year at KSU in 1985. He led ORU to the NCAA West Regional finals in 1987, bowing out to host and eventual national champion Stanford.

He went from coaching to athletic administration after the 1989 season then got called back into the dugout.

“I grew up playing the game,” says Vaught. “I missed it tremendously.”

He coached his first season at UIndy in 1995.

“I’ve been blessed enough to have coached at all these levels,” says Vaught, who serves the American Baseball Coaches Association as NCAA Division II chair. “At Division II, you are more involved with the student-athlete.

“They know they’re coming to get an education and baseball has helped them attain it.

“It’s very important that people care.”

Vaught said he certainly enjoys winning — his college head coaching win percentage is .595 — but gets even more satisfaction from seeing a player earn his degree.

“Great coaches are made by those who help kids reach their goals and sometimes those goals don’t have to do with baseball,” says Vaught. “When we ask players to play here, it’s a marriage. When I started in coaching, we saw how many people we could get into pro ball.

“That’s not what it’s all about.”

While Vaught has coached future big leaguers — Keith Lockhart among them — he knows those are few and far between.

Former players come back to campus years later — often with his family in tow — to reminisce about the good times he had as baseball-playing student.

That’s what energizes Vaught, who at 65 has no intentions of stepping away anytime soon.

Vaught notes that there is not that much difference between D-I and D-II. Both follow the same rules and calendar. It’s just that D-I offers 11.7 scholarships and limits rosters to 35 and D-II gives 9 scholarships and is not limited to the number of players it can have on the roster (though only 27 can be in uniform for tournament games).

“We get too hung up on the levels,” says Vaught. “Parents want their kid to walk around with a Division I label on his back. What’s important is that their son or daughter is happy.

“Alums of that school are able to give back to that school and the community.”

When Vaught began his college coaching career, he was one of the youngest in D-I, now has the most seniority in the Hounds athletic department and has and worked under four UIndy presidents (G. Benjamin Lantz, Jerry M. Israel, Beverly J. Pitts and Robert L. Manuel).

Former UIndy athlete and coach Dr. Sue Willey is the vice president for Intercollegiate Athletics for the Greyhounds. She oversees an expanding number of sports and facilities, including the 90,200-square foot Athletics & Recreation Center (ARC) and baseball’s Greyhound Park.

“Sue is as good a person as I’ve ever worked for,” says Vaught. “She cares for the student-athletes and cares for the coaches.

“It’s a family here. The coaching staff here all gets along. At a lot of D-I places, you’re on a island.

“Our community keeps getting stronger, stronger and stronger … I wouldn’t trade my experience at UIndy for anything.”

UIndy is proud of its retention rate, the ability to attract and keep students on campus through graduation.

“They come here and enjoy it,” says Vaught. “They realize that the professors care about them and they’re not just a number.

“Once a kid comes here, he’s not shopping and looking to go somewhere else in one year.”

Vaught is pleased to proclaim UIndy’s grade-point average is higher than 3.0 with a roster of nearly 50 players.

“My kids will get in more trouble for not going to class than missing a ground ball,” says Vaught. “That’s a known fact here.”

Vaught warns that unlike video games, hitting the “re-set button” in life is not that easy so he tries to get his athletes to understand that before they head down the wrong path.

To get players ready for the real world, Vaught insists they go through a drug test each August. The program also participates in community service projects.

UIndy’s 2017 roster included 30 players with Indiana hometowns. There are some years when many states and different countries are represented.

“We try to get the best kids in our backyard first and then we go nationwide,” says Vaught.

Since the regular season ended, Vaught has fielded many calls from players, including those at the D-I level, looking for a place to play in 2017-18.

Vaught’s coaching tree has many branches in his 35 years in the profession, with former assistants at many levels of the game. The 2017 staff included Al Ready (associate head coach), Mark Walther (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator), Colton White (assistant coach), Trevor Forde (graduate assistant) and John Wirtz (assistant coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer).

The Circle City will be the center of the college baseball coaching universe Jan. 4-7, 2018, when the ABCA national convention comes to Indianapolis for the first time. Given the location, Vaught said there could be as many as 10,000 in attendance. There are sure to be a few tours at UIndy and the NCAA headquarters in downtown Indianapolis.

“I’m looking forward to it,” says Vaught. “Every coach in the nation should be a member (of the ABCA). It’s our voice. Under (Executive Director) Craig Keilitz, the vision in baseball has grown in the communication area.

“I’m glad I’m a part of it.”

GARYVAUGHT

Gary Vaught just completed his 23rd season as head coach at the University of Indianapolis. He has more than 900 wins as a college head coach and serves as the American Baseball Coaches Association’s NCAA Division II chair. (UIndy Photo)