Tag Archives: Ken Schreiber

Schellinger saluted as baseball umpire of the year

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bob Schellinger got to call balls and strikes at the IHSAA State Finals.

After 45 years as a high school baseball umpire in Indiana and making his fourth appearance at the championships — circling the bases — Schellinger was the plate umpire for the Class 3A game Saturday, June 17 at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

The weekend also saw the LaPorte resident recognized with the 2017 Interscholastic Athletic Official Association Award for excellence in baseball.

Why do it for this long?

“I love the game,” says Schellinger. “I started playing Little League baseball when I was 6 years old.

“I coached baseball for 27 years. This is a way to stay in baseball.”

Schellinger, a St. Joseph Valley Officials Association board member, began umpiring in Babe Ruth League games and got his first high school license at age 18 in 1972. He worked many high school summer games while coaching in the spring at South Central (Union Mills) and LaPorte. He was head baseball coach for the Satellites for 16 years and became a Slicers assistant under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber in 1995.

There is not secret formula for being a good umpire.

“You’ve got to work at it,” says Schellinger, who has officiated 15 sectionals, 12 regionals, four semistates as well as his State Finals appearances. “You’ve got to verse yourself in the rule book and the umpire’s manual. You’ve got to verse yourself in the case book over and over and over again. You’ve got to go to meetings. You’ve got to watch other officials.

“I picked up a lot of stuff when I was younger watching other officials.”

Even when umpires are in the stands, they tend to look at the game differently.

“If there’s a ball hit down the line, you’re not watching the ball, you’re looking to see (which umpire) is covering third base,” says Schellinger. “You get into that mode. That’s good because you see things. I’ve been licensed all these years and worked all these games and I still learn when I see things.”

Schellinger sees baseball umpiring as an ever-evolving profession.

“We have new techniques and new things we’re supposed to do,” says Schellinger. “We have to change with the times.”

Umpires typically work in two-man crews during the regular season with three-man crews at sectional title and four-man at the regional, semistate and state levels. With that comes different mechanics.

“Rotations are so much different because of where your second base umpire is,” says Schellinger. “I could talk about it for hours. It’s new to us, too, and we’ve got to get used to it.”

Schellinger, who is married to Lorri and has five children (Tricia, Rob, Mark, Kevin and Danny), teaches health and physical education at LaPorte High School. He retired as head football coach after leading the Slicers to a Class 5A state runner-up finish in his 22nd and last season in 2014.

BOBSCHELLINGER

Bob Schellinger was recognized as the 2017 Interscholastic Athletic Official Association Award for excellence in baseball. A licensed official since 1972, he worked behind the plate for his first IHSAA State Finals for the Class 3A game — South Bend St. Joseph over Jasper — on Saturday, June 17. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Upp has storied LaPorte baseball program back in regional

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

LaPorte has three dozen IHSAA sectional baseball championships to its credit.

But the Slicers had experienced a title drought.

Until 2017.

The orange and black will not only be hosting but playing in the Class 4A LaPorte Regional for the first time since 2010.

Coach Scott Upp’s team earned that right by winning the Plymouth Sectional.

“Pitching and defense — that was the story of the sectional,” says Upp, who got commanding mound performances from Andy Samuelson and Chandler Banic. “We didn’t knock the cover off the ball. We got timely hits.”

LaPorte advanced through the sectional by beating South Bend Clay, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“All three of those programs are well-known throughout northern Indiana,” says Upp.

The regional field at Schreiber Field features Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) in Game 1, Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) in Game 2 and the regional final at night Saturday, June 3. Andrean is No. 6 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association 4A poll. LaPorte, Lake Central and Penn all received votes.

Between the four schools, they have won 18 state crowns (LaPorte 8, Andrean 5, Penn 4 and Lake Central) 1).

Upp knows from his experience as a LaPorte player (he’s a 1986 graduate who played for and later coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber) knows about the intensity and urgency of postseason baseball.

“You have your regular season and your second season,” says Upp. “If you can get hot or be playing your best ball at that time.”

LaPorte lost to Chesterton in the regular-season finale, but took the time between then and their sectional games and “got back to the basics.”

“We got individual time in with defense and hitting,” says Upp. “Our pitchers got a chance to breathe a little bit.”

Getting that chance to practice and refresh is just what the Slicers needed going into the sectional.

While LaPorte has won plenty of sectionals, Upp notes that it has become a tougher proposition since the class system came along with the 1998 season (the year he took over for Schreiber 11 games in).

With all the state’s biggest schools and, in the case of Andrean (playing “up” in class because of the IHSAA success factor, postseason success is not a given.

“We seem to have different sectional champs every year and there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Upp. “It’s good baseball.

“I’m not making excuses for LaPorte and why we’ve had a seven-year span. It is more difficult.”

Upp calls IHSAA state tournament games “a rough way to go.”

“In high school baseball, you take one guy on the mound and that team becomes totally different,” says Upp. “And it’s a one-and-done tournament.”

There are no series or second chances.

The coach notes that there are not too many back-to-back champions in the Duneland Athletic Conference (which also includes Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso) either.

The 2017 Slicers were tied for first place in the DAC going into the final two games with Chesterton. LaPorte lost both games against Chesterston and split two games each with Crown Point, Lake Central and Valparaiso, finishing 9-5 and in fourth in the conference.

Chesterton won it at 11-3 (then lost to Andrean in the Chesterton Sectional championship game).

It’s all-Slicer coaching staff at LaPorte. Everyone played their high school baseball on Schreiber Field.

Jeff DeMass (Class of 2005) is the pitching coach. Rob Schellinger (1998) has moved up from the junior varsity to be a varsity assistant. Mark Manering (1981) is a volunteer varsity coach. The JV Slicers are led by Kevin Upp (2010) with help from Blake Hindsley (2005).

The rich traditions of the program are detailed in a book, Slicer Baseball: A Cut Above (produced by Prime Time Publications LLC, dba Indiana Football Digest) and sold by LaPorte High School.

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Scott Upp, a 1986 LaPorte High School graduate, has been the Slicers’ head baseball coach since early in the 1998 season. His 2017 team will play in the IHSAA Class 4A LaPorte Regional. (Steve Krah Photo)

Pishkur, Andrean 4A sectional champions for first time

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After nearly two decades, Andrean High School baseball is going back to LaPorte’s Schreiber Field.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur last took his 59ers to the home of the Slicers in 1998 — the year Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber retired.

Andrean — a private school with about 475 students in Merrillville playing “up” because of the IHSAA success factor (the 59ers were 3A state champions in both 2014 and 2015) — will take part of the Class 4A LaPorte Regional Saturday, June 3.

Game 1 pits Northwest Crossroads Conference champion Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) with the second semifinal featuring Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) with the regional final at night.

Joe Plesac, Ryne Pishkur, Tyler Ochi, Pat Antone and Bob Ochi are Dave Pishkur’s 2017 assistant coaches.

Pishkur took over as Andrean head coach for the 1980 season and played at LaPorte every year 1982-98.

“I had a very good, competitive relationship with Ken,” says Pishkur. “For many years, we were their first game of the season.

“I’ve thanked Schreib many, many times for being a mentor … I stole many ideas from Ken Schreiber.”

Pishkur’s 59ers of 2017 will go against the Scott Upp-coached Slicers after Andrean bested Portage 3-1, Valparaiso 9-5 and Chesterton 4-3 to win the Chesterton Sectional.

The Trojans, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell, sent three straight NCAA Division I-caliber pitchers to the mound (juniors Grant Brunt, Austin Peterson and Chris Torres) against the 59ers who countered with one (sophomore Mike Doolin).

Pishkur, who surpassed 900 coaching wins in 2016, notes the difference between 4A and 3A is the ability to have a deeper mound staff and batting order.

“It’s way more challenging to play the 4A schools,” says Pishkur. “We enjoy playing 3A because we think we are a pretty good 3A school. In all likelihood, we’ll be back in 3A next year.”

With its enrollment, Andrean (which also competed in 4A in 2016 and lost to Chesterton in the Merrillville Sectional championship game) would be in the middle of the IHSAA pack in 2A. Rules don’t allow for a team going up because of the success factor to go down more than one class.

Winning against bigger schools at tournament time is satisfying.

“A 4A sectional championship means a heck of a lot,” says Pishkur. “That’s so rewarding for our kids to compete and beat schools significantly larger than us.”

Pishkur, a 1971 Andrean graduate who also serves as alumni director, has more to say about playing out of class.

“I understand to some extent that the success factor is to even up the playing field,” says Pishkur. “They say private schools recruit. We just have open enrollment. More and more public schools (have gone to open enrollment and) have the same advantage that the so-called private schools had.”

By rule, the 59ers went up after the back-to-back state championships. Pishkur notes that graduation took the majority of those players and yet the school still went to 4A for two years.

“I don’t know how you remedy that,” says Pishkur.

The coach sees no cure for his lifelong obsession with the sport and he’s not seeking one.

“It’s a love affair with the game of baseball and, in particular, Andrean High School,” says Pishkur, who has had dozens of relatives attend the school, including his wife (Gretchen) and three children (Ryne, Courtney and Mark). “Not everybody is blessed with a job that they enjoy going to. It’s not a chore to get up in the morning. It’s not a chore to go to the school.”

Andrean started its baseball program in Pishkur’s junior year (1969-70) and played around a dozen games and treated it more like a recreation than a competitive venture.

“We were a basketball/football school,” says Pishkur.

The 59ers were 9-9 in 1979. The next season, Pishkur got a team featuring Dan Dakich to win more than 20 games and the first of the program’s 27 sectional titles (Andrean has also gone on to take 12 regionals, six semistates, five 3A state crowns — 2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015 — and a 3A state runner-up finish in 2004).

“The culture was changed because we took it more seriously,” says Pishkur. “Nobody had ever pushed them. We pushed. We had three-hour practices.”

Pishkur remains close with members of that ’80 team.

“They established the program so future teams would know what to expect,” says Pishkur.

Mark Pishkur, a four-year player for his father and a 2012 Andrean graduate, never expected to play baseball again but got the chance five years after his high school days.

His senior year, Mark played the field but could not bat because of injuries incurred his junior and senior years though he did lay down two left-handed bunt singles.

After his last 59ers game, Mark walked away from the diamond for good.

Or so he thought.

Time had healed him and made him stronger. He added life and movement to his fastball, hitting the gun around 84 or 85 mph.

In the fall of 2016, he walked on at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., and impressed enough to be considered for a scholarship in the spring.

However, he hurt his arm during the winter and decided against pitching with pain or the possibility of a Tommy John reconstructive surgery.

Sidearmers and submariners are not unusual at Andrean. Pishkur likes to have at least one player in the program give it a try.

“A lot of kids can’t change arm angles,” says Pishkur. “But it’s a look you don’t see very often in high school.”

PishkurMr

Dave Pishkur is in his 38th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater — Andrean High School. His teams have won more than 900 games and taken five state championships. (Andrean Photo)

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Goedde sharing his knowledge at Evansville Central

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Goedde has coached collegians and now leads high schoolers.

“(The difference in) physical skills are obvious,” says Goedde. “With high school players, you have to be more patient. You know you’re going to have more physical and mental errors. You just try to keep them to a minimum.”

Goedde, 55, is a former University of Southern Indiana head coach (1994-2006) who served two stints as University of Evansville pitching coach (1986-88, 1990-93), one year as an Evansville Harrison High School assistant (2010) and is now in his seventh season as head coach at Evansville Central High School.

The 1980 Evansville Mater Dei High School graduate pitched three seasons for University of Evansville coach Jim Brownlee and three seasons in the Cincinnati Reds organization (1983-85).

When the playing career ended, Brownlee gave Goedde a chance to coach.

“He was a huge influence on the field and a huge influence off the field,” says Goedde. “He taught me a lot of things instead of just baseball.

“There’s guys out there that need chances and I can provide those as well.”

Goedde decided to get his teaching license so he could teach baseball and life lessons. He eventually landed at Central for the 2011 season.

“We teach more than just the X’s and O’s,” says Goedde as he prepared the Bears for the Class 4A Evansville Reitz Sectional. “The kids are all ears. Very few of them tune you out. They’re eager to learn.”

With his background, Goedde is hands-on with his pitchers.

“We develop them to win with their fastball,” says Goedde. “I’m not a big fan of a lot of junk (or breaking pitches). Locating the fastball is the most important thing.”

That is the case with his current crop of hurlers and that was true when he coached future big league right-hander Andy Benes at U of E. He was taken first overall by the San Diego Padres in the 1988 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and went on to win 155 MLB games in 14 seasons with the Padres, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks.

“He realized what he was capable of doing and developed it,” says Goedde of the former Central star who is enshrined in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. “Not everybody does that. He’s a very unique player and person.”

Benes resides in St. Louis but was back in the Pocket City this spring for a special occasion.

This spring, Central named its playing facility in honor of the man who built it — IHSBCA Hall of Famer Paul Gries. His 1987 team was a state runner-up the Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber’s LaPorte national champions.

While Goedde never played for or coached with Gries, who retired after the 2001 season, he commends the man.

“The more I coach high school players, the more I admire what he was able to do,” says Goedde. “He was known for developing a family atmosphere.”

Helping Goedde guide the program in 2017 are assistant coaches Robbie Frank, Chris Chitwood and Dave Pfetscher at the varsity level, Jon Pfetscher, Ryan Causey and Charlie Causey with junior varsity and Kevin Kolb and Gary Masterson with the freshmen.

The JV and freshmen have a different schedule from the Bears varsity. Goedde generally keeps 38 to 40 players in the program each season.

The spring, 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).

“I think it’s a great rule,” says Goedde. “It’s being done for all for the right reasons and right purposes.

“It’s something to make people aware of some guidelines.”

Through games played May 18, the Bears had one pitcher come close to the limit, tossing 119 pitches in a complete game.

While pitch count numbers can become a part of strategy, Goedde is of a mind that coaches are coached on their own pitchers more than opponents.

“As time goes on, they’ll figure out ways to get the opposing kid’s count,” says Goedde. “It’s tough to convince (hitters) to drive up the pitch count.”

The Central Bears play in the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (along with Castle, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Reitz, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville North and Evansville Memorial).

SIAC schools play each other once a week in a two-game home-and-home series, making it possible for teams to use their top starting pitchers in conference games.

Central players come from area Little League, Babe Ruth and travel programs. In the spring, seventh and eighth graders on their way to Central play Cub baseball.

MIKEGOEDDE

Mike Goedde is in his seventh season as head baseball coach at Evansville Central High School. He is a former head coach at the University of Southern Indiana and served two stints as pitching coach at the University of Evansville and one as an assistant at Evansville Harrison High School.

Discipline, structure part of Nielsen’s Concord program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Regimented and respectful.

Those are concepts Eric Nielsen is establishing in his second season as Concord High School head baseball coach.

“I’m very structured,” says Nielsen, who followed the retiring Jim Treadway as leader of the Minutemen. “All our practices are planned out. We have times and we stick to those times. Guys hustle everywhere they go. We’re very disciplined and are going to play the game the right way. I teach them to respect the game. There’s no trash talking at all. I’m big on body language.”

It’s taken some time, but players are starting to come around to Nielsen’s way of doing things.

“You are starting to see people buying into that,” says Nielsen. “They know what’s expected. Seniors will get on guys if they are not doing things the right way. That’s less that I have to do because that expectation is there.”

Nielsen was an all-state catcher at Elkhart Memorial High School, graduating in 2004. He went to be a regular behind the plate at Purdue University. His first high school head coaching stops came at Mt. Vernon (Fortville) and Knightstown before he moved back to north central Indiana.

Along the way, he has learned how to read his young athletes.

“I’ve learned really well how to manage the players,” says Nielsen. “I think that’s why (Chicago Cubs manager) Joe Maddon is so good at what he does. He’s not managing baseball, he’s managing people. In the olden days with (LaPorte coach) Ken Schreiber, it was this is the way it is and if you don’t like it ‘see ya!’ It was hard-nosed and it was tough.”

And while Nielsen considers himself a traditional, hard-nosed guy, he knows he has to motivate in a different way and keep his players engaged.

“If you know the game of baseball and you can build relationships, you’re going to be very successful, pending you have the talent,” says Nielsen. “I’ve seen teams that have the talent but they never go anywhere because they are so done with the season by the time the state tournament comes around. They’re cashed out.”

A syndrome that baseball and other spring sports face is a loss of focus because it’s the end of the school year. For 12th graders, they call it “senioritis.” But other grades — and even coaches — can get it, too.

Nielsen insists on holding out a carrot for his players.

“You’ve got to have them chasing something,” says Nielsen. “If you don’t, they’re going let up.

“How do you intrinisically motivate the player to want to compete? I tell them to get caught up in the process, don’t get caught up in the results.

“If I can get the process important to them then the results will come. If the process is not important to them, they don’t want to compete and there’s no reason for them to put in everything they have, you’re going to get that apathy.”

Nielsen looks at his 2017 team and sees pitching depth. At least nine of 12 varsity players can take the mound.

“The hard part is finding out who is my No. 1 and No. 2, who’s my best reliever,” says Nielsen. “We’re still in the process of finding that out.”

Along with pitching coach Mike McGregor, Nielsen looks at pitchers not only in terms of physical talent but what’s happening between the ears.

“We’re trying to teach mental toughness on the mound,” says Nielsen. “If we can have guys that will compete, saying ‘I’m going to strike this guy out.’ Even if they don’t, they are going to distinguish themselves from the rest of the players.”

What about the new pitch count rule?

“I thought it was going to be a bigger issue than it has been,” says Nielsen. “I traditionally don’t have guys throw that much anyway. I don’t push the 120 spot. As long as they’re under 80, I know how many days they need off.

“I thought I’d be juggling a lot. It hasn’t been too bad.”

Nielsen said the pitch count rule will likely be more of an issue during the IHSAA tournament series than the regular season.

“People are going to watch that really close,” says Nielsen.

Concord spends plenty of time at its regimented practices on “small ball.” The Minutemen work on moving runners with the bunt.

“We don’t have anybody on the team we can rely on to hit the long ball yet,” says Nielsen.

Something that Nielsen established in his first season at Concord was an Armed Forces Day (Concord Baseball Armed Forces Day on Facebook). It was such a hit, the Minutemen will be pay tribute to those who have served Saturday, May 6 when South Bend Adams visits for a 10 a.m. game.

Father Scott Nielsen (Army during Vietnam era) and grandfather Bob Burns (Air Force during World War II) and assistant coach Jason Paulson (Marines) are all people close to Nielsen with military ties.

As a social studies teacher at CHS, he also gets a chance to tell students about the importance of the military.

“It’s good to show the kids what these guys are doing day in and day out for our country and show them appreciation for the sacrifices that they make and have made for our freedom,” says Nielsen, whose other assistants are Sean Sears and Nic Minder.

The Minutemen compete in the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). The double round robin NLC race began this week.

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Eric Nielsen, a 2004 Elkhart Memorial High School graduate, is in his second season as head baseball coach at Concord High School. He was a catcher at Purdue University.

Outlook on baseball, life changes for Crown Point’s Strayer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Discipline and dedication are still important to Steve Strayer.

Crown Point High School’s head baseball coach (2017 is his 15th season) holds to the concepts that’s made him successful (the Bulldogs have won seven sectionals, five regionals and six Duneland Athletic Conference titles on Strayer’s watch).

“We have to keep kids accountable. That’s important,” says Strayer. “The way the culture is today, people look the other way on things. That doesn’t do us any good as a society.

“I believe in being disciplined. But I’ve been a little less rigid.”

On March 18, 2016, Strayer’s outlook changed when he suffered a stroke.

“I didn’t have to go through any rehab or speech therapy,” says Strayer. “I was fortunate I recovered so well. I think I missed a week.”

Strayer, who is also a math teacher at CPHS, went through the season and school year before he realized his level of fatigue.

“I felt fine, but as the year went on, I was getting worn out and I didn’t realize how worn out I was,” says Strayer. “Once the season was over with, I really had to recuperate.”

With time to rest and the help of his wife Jennifer (they will be married 20 years in 2017), Strayer is close to feeling like his old self at 50 and in his 27th overall season as a coach.

“I feel very good,” says Strayer. “I’m very sharp mentally. I don’t think I was very sharp last year. I wasn’t always aware of the little things.”

He just makes sure to get 7 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep per night.

Helping the Dogs alone are a coaching staff full of Region graduates — Matt McCaleb varsity (Chesterton Class of 1997), Brett Keeler varsity (Munster 2009), Matt Zurbriggen (Crown Point 2009) with the varsity, Dave Hoffman (Crown Point 2006) and Austin Atherton (Crown Point 2011) with the junior varsity and Scott Retig (Crown Point 1985) and Steve Lowe (Crown Point 2011) with the freshmen. Former assistant Jose Andrade (Crown Point 2011) has also had a big impact in recent seasons. Zubriggen, Hoffman, Atherton, Lowe and Andrade all played at CP for Strayer while Retig played for Ed Sherry.

The Bulldogs tend to carry 15-18 players per team. Strayer says the number depends players being able to accept their responsibilities within the team structure.

“We constantly monitor and talk with our players about their roles,” says Strayer. “Some of them are not happy with the roles, but they are a good teammate and fulfill the role. A lot of times, we will cut a decent player because we know they will not be happy with being a role player.”

Crown Point is a baseball-crazy community.

“A lot of the parents and kids are into it,” says Strayer. “It’s very competitive. They’re playing a lot of games and trying to improve their skills.”

Cal Ripken and travel teams often practice at the high school fieldhouse. Players also attend summer and winter camps put on by CPHS.

With Chesterton, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso in the DAC, Crown Point needs to stay on top of its game to stay in the title mix.

“You have to have some discipline on the baseball field to be able to compete,” says Strayer. “All of these other schools have a lot of talent also.”

Strayer-coached clubs strive to be proficient with base running, defense, drawing walks and bunting.

“Doing the little things can get you over the top,” says Strayer. “My better teams have always done those teams well.”

Strayer takes pride in having developed strong players and productive citizens. CP has produced its share of academic all-staters.

“Year after year, we have very competitive, hard-working teams,” says Strayer. “We get a lot of classy individuals that go on to (college) and prosper.”

Before arriving at Crown Point, Strayer was head coach at Boone Grove for 10 seasons. During the span, the Wolves took six sectional, four regional and seven Porter County Conference crowns. A highlight of Strayer’s career came in 1996 when BG beat LaPorte 3-2 in the championship game of the LaPorte Regional.

“That was probably my most exciting win,” says Strayer, who was 29 at the time and going against Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber. “They were pretty loaded.

“I was very young and naive and didn’t know what I was doing.”

Strayer, a former IHSBCA president and district representative, graduated from Prairie Heights High School in 1985. He attended Calvin College for one year and transferred to Manchester University, where he graduated in 1990. He was an assistant for two seasons at Prairie Heights before taking over at Boone Grove.

STEVESTRAYER

Steve Strayer is in his 15th season as head baseball coach at Crown Point High School, 25th as a head coach and 27th overall. (Crown Point Photo)

Hisner’s been a hit in decade at Whitko

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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).

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

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