Tag Archives: Knox

Bridges wants Hanover Central Wildcats to be smart, aggressive on bases

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Power may not show up at the field every day.

But there’s no reason aggressiveness on the base paths can’t be a part of each game.

That’s the way third-year Hanover Central High School head baseball coach Ryan Bridges sees it as he looks forward to the 2019 season.

“We did a very good job last year of taking the extra base,” says Bridges, who played four seasons at Griffith (Ind.) High School and five at Purdue University. “We’d see the ball in the dirt and were gone. It’s something I expect out of each one of my kids — to be a good, aggressive base runners.

“We always try to put pressure on the defense and make them make a play. High school kids are prone to make mistakes — even the best of them. A little bit of pressure can go a long way.

“You’re not always going to have those boppers. You can teach these kids to run bases and keep going. I can keep playing that style.”

Bridges and his Wildcats are part of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting as baseball-playing members).

To get his team ready for the postseason, Bridges has beefed up the non-conference schedule. It includes contests against IHSAA members Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell, Munster, Portage and Valparaiso and Illiana Christian, an Illinois High School Association school in Dyer, Ind.

A year ago, Bridges took his team to McCutcheon (now led by former Purdue head coach Doug Schreiber).

A game in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary is scheduled against Lowell on Friday, April 12.

Hanover Central (enrollment around 715) is part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Kankakee Valley, Knox, Twin Lakes and Wheeler. The Wildcats have won one sectional crown — 2011. That team went on to be 2A state runners-up.

Bridges played for head coach Brian Jennings at Griffith and graduated in 2007.

A corner infielder and designated hitter for Purdue, Bridges appeared in 126 games (85 as a starter) and hit .288 with six home runs and 61 runs batted in. A back injury in his freshmen season led to a medical redshirt.

“I enjoyed every second of all five years of it,” says Bridges of his Purdue days.

He credits Schreiber for his attention to detail whether it was a bunt play, study tables or the amount of commitment it took to achieve excellence.

“He likes things done a certain way,” says Bridges. “If kids understand the level of commitment needed at the next level, it will help them for the four years of high school.”

Recent HC graduates with college programs include Troy Cullen and Jose Sanchez at Indiana University South Bend, Michael Biegel at Calumet College of St. Joseph and Eric Lakomek at Wabash College. Among players Bridges coached at Griffith there’s Kody Hoese at Tulane University and Amir Wright at Saint Leo University.

Current Wildcats shortstop Nolan Tucker has signed with Valparaiso University. Sophomore center fielder Jared Comia has received D-I offers.

Purdue was Big Ten Conference champions in Bridges’ final season (2012). Two of his Boliermaker teammates — catcher Kevin Plawecki and pitcher Nick Wittgren — are now with the Cleveland Indians.

Bridges graduated from Purdue and has a special education endorsement and masters degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. He taught in the Griffith system and was an assistant on Jennings’ baseball staff for four seasons before going to Hanover Central, where he teaches physical education at the middle school in addition to going baseball.

While he may not have been that way when he was playing for him, Bridges says he saw Jennings come to the see the value of giving his players a physical and mental break when it’s needed.

“We get the whole week off before tryouts,” says Bridges of his Wildcats program. “Once it starts, there’s no break.

“That’s pretty important.”

During this IHSAA limited contact period where coaches can lead their teams in baseball activities for two hours two times a week, Bridges has players coming in at 5:30 a.m.

“We have quite a few basketball kids,” says Bridges. “Coach (Bryon) Clouse is nice enough to let my pitchers throw.”

“I the way they have it set up now,” says Bridges. “Coaches are aren’t running these kids four days a week in January and February.

“But I wish they would let pitchers throw a little more. Arm care is important and some of these kids have nowhere to throw — not only pitchers, but position players.”

Hanover Central pitchers began bullpens this week. Bridges will slowly progress their pitch counts moving up to the first official day of practice (March 11) and beyond.

“I’ll use more arms earlier in the (season) before I can get arms in shape,” says Bridges, who does not recall any of his hurlers reaching the limit of the pitch count rule adopted in 2017 (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’m very precautionary when it comes to that. Some of these kids have futures (as college pitchers).”

Bridges’ coaching staff features Nic Sampognaro, Cole Mathys, Anthony Gomez and Mike Halls. Sampognaro is a 2011 Hanover Central graduate who played at Saint Joseph’s College. Volunteer Mathys is also an HC graduate. Gomez played at Munster and moved on to Vincennes University and Ball State University. Halls is in charge of the Wildcats’ junior varsity.

Noting that the community is growing and that there are a number of baseball players in the eighth grade, Bridges says there is the possibility of having a C-team in the future.

Hanover Central is located in Cedar Lake, Ind. Cedar Lake also sends some students to Crown Point. Some St. John students wind up at Hanover Central.

Hanover Central Middle School fields a team for Grades 6-8 in the fall.

In the summer, there is Cedar Lake Youth Baseball and Saint John Youth Baseball. Both offer teams for Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth players. There are also a number of area travel ball organizations.

Bridges has known John Mallee for two decades. He went to him for hitting lessons as a kid. He is now a hitting advisor for Mallee and this summer will coach the Northwest Indiana Shockers 16U team. Indoor workouts are held at All Aspects Baseball and Softball Academy in South Chicago Heights, Ill., and The Sparta Dome in Crown Point, Ind. Mallee is the hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Catcher Jesse Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate, made his professional debut in the Phillies system in 2018.

Hanover Central plays it home games on-campus. Since Bridges has been with the Wildcats, they have added a batting cage behind the home dugout and got a portable “Big Bubba” portable batting cage and pitching machine.

“We always looking to improve the field,” says Bridges. “But I want to help the kids first with their skills.”

Ryan and Nicole Bridges have a daughter. Harper turns 2 in March.

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The Hanover Central Wildcats (Hanover Central Graphic)

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Head coach Ryan Bridges and his Hanover Central Wildcats baseball team.

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The baseball team from Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., gathers at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary. The Wildcats, coached by Ryan Bridges, are to play at the home of the Gary SouthShore RailCats again April 12, 2019.

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The Bridges family (from left): Ryan, Nicole and Harper. Ryan Bridges is head baseball coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind. He teaches physical education at Hanover Central Middle School.

 

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Becich welcoming new bunch of Wheeler Bearcats to varsity baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A new bunch of Bearcats will get a chance to make an impact on Wheeler High School baseball in 2019.

The 2018 squad had several seniors who had been playing for the school located in Union Township near Valparaiso, Ind., since they were freshmen.

Jake Armentrout moved on to Xavier University in Cincinnati. Clayton Sanders signed at the University of Saint Francis in Joliet, Ill.

Catcher Mason Diaz, a Northern Kentucky University commit who hit .388 last spring, is back for his senior year. Rex Stills, who hit .302 in 60 plate appearances as a freshman, is back for his sophomore season.

There will be opportunities for others to make their mark on varsity baseball for the first time.

How will the Bearcats go about doing that?

“We’re looking to do all the small things right and, hopefully, everything else falls in line with it,” says Kyle Becich, who is entering his ninth year with the program and fifth as head coach. “We’re rebuilding a foundation.”

Becich, who spent four seasons as a Wheeler assistant on the staff of Josh Long, counts Tommy O’Shea, Phil Sanchez, Christian Rosta and Payton Ball as assistant coaches.

The Bearcats generally have 24 players in the program for varsity and junior varsity squads. Some players swing back and forth based on the needs that day.

Wheeler (enrollment of about 540) is in the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest and Whiting as baseball-playing members).

Past non-conference foes have included Crown Point, Hammond Clark, Hammond Gavit, Hebron, Hobart, Lowell, Merrillville and North Newton. The Bearcats have met Hebron in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary.

Wheeler is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox and Twin Lakes. The Bearcats last won a sectional title in 2008.

“It’s a tough sectional,” says Becich of a field which is full of traditionally-strong teams and produced the 2018 3A state champion (Andrean).

Wheeler plays its home games on its campus at Richard Wendt Field. Wendt, a former Wheeler coach, died in 2012.

Recent upgrades to the facility include re-building the pitcher’s mound,  installing a new home plate and pitcher’s rubber, leveling the playing surface, realigning the bases, adding new wind screens in the outfield and reworking the speaker system.

Every October, the Bearcats have a field day where players, coaches and parents put the field to rest for the winter.

During the current off-season period, the Bearcats are getting stronger in the weight room.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, IHSAA and Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association have been working together on a proposal to add an arm care program to the baseball calendar.

“I support that, especially for kids that have nowhere to throw right now,” says Becich, noting that some of his players can work out with their travel teams at indoor facilities but not all have that kind of access. “You only have one arm your entire life and so many bullets to throw. It’s best to protect it when you can.”

Wheeler baseball has also been building a relationship with Union Township Little League. Last season, players who hope to one day don the Green, White and Orange were invited to work out on the field and were treated to pizza.

Becich, 32, is a 2005 Munster High School graduate. He played baseball and football for the Mustangs then one football season at North Central College in Naperville, Ill. He finished his education degree at Indiana University in Bloomington. His first job out of college was as a social studies teacher and coach at Wheeler.

Becich credits former assistant principal Jack Schimanski for playing a major role in his development.

“He was a huge mentor for me,” says Becich of Schimanski. “I was picking his brain all the time, learning some of the minor details.”

Schimanski had been a head coach at Joliet (Ill.) Catholic High School and learned much from Gordie Gillespie, who won 1,893 games in his 58-year college coaching career.

Kyle and Kelsey Becich have two children — son Liam (4) and daughter Reese (3).

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Mason Diaz, a Northern Kentucky University commit, catches  for Wheeler High School during the 2018 baseball season. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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Rex Stills crosses the plate for Wheeler High School during the 2018 baseball season. He is back for 2019. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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Mason Diaz, Sam Beier, Jake Armentrout, Nate Gosbin, Adam Wagoner and Hunter Catherman line up for the Wheeler Bearcats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Diaz returns for Wheeler in 2019. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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The Wheeler baseball team gathers during the annual High School Challenge at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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Kyle Becich coaches third base for the Wheeler High School baseball team. The 2019 season will be his ninth in the program and fifth as head coach of the Bearcats.

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Head coach Kyle Becich (left) and assistant Tommy O’Shea watch their Wheeler High School Bearcats baseball team.

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Kyle Becich, head baseball coach and social studies teacher at Wheeler High School near Valparaiso, Ind., and wife Kelsey have two children — son Liam and daughter Reese.

 

Mollenkopf entering 14th season of leading Caston Comets

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a big deal at a small school in Fulton County, Ind.

The Comets of Caston Junior/Senior High School (an IHSAA Class 1A member with an enrollment of about 215 in the top four grades) take pride in their facility — known as the “The Crater” — and the ball that is played there near the town of Fulton.

The man in charge of program since the 2006 season is Blake Mollenkopf.

Since he arrived on-campus, Caston has overhauled its field, adding lights and a new press box, refurbishing the dugouts and upgrading the playing surface.

“It’s one of the better fields in this part of the state,” says Mollenkopf. “Our kids, school and community are very proud of it.”

The Comets hosted sectional and regional tournaments in 2018.

Caston is part of a sectional grouping with North Miami, North White, Northfield, South Newton, Southwood and West Central. The Comets won the first sectional crown in school history when Mollenkopf’s squad hoisted the trophy at Tri-County in 2012.

Caston is a member of the Hoosier North Athletic Conference (with Culver Community, Knox, LaVille, North Judson-San Pierre, Pioneer, Triton and Winamac). Each team plays the other twice to determine the champion. LaVille won the crown in 2018.

“It’s a very balanced conference,” says Mollenkopf.

HNAC’s 14 conference games are played with home-and-home series either on Monday or Tuesday or Thursday and Friday and a Saturday doubleheader, depending on the week.

Mollenkopf says participation numbers tend  to hover from 16 to 24 at the high school for varsity and junior varsity squads.

“It’s important to have a JV, especially at the 1A level to develop kids,” says Mollenkopf. “We try to play up (in class), especially at the JV level. We want to challenge them and prepare them for varsity baseball.”

The 2019 season will be the third for the IHSAA pitch count rule. This year, the parameters will be the same for varsity and JV (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).

“We’ve always stressed arm care here,” says Mollenkopf. “We do a lot in the fall and in January and February. At the varsity level, there’s very little influence. I’ve noticed it more on the JV level, where we’ve not had strike throwers all the way through.”

Mollenkopf says a focus on throwing strikes should be able to keep pitch counts down.

Assistant coaches are Adam Goller (14th year), Nick Stuber (ninth year), Matt Gibson (second year) and Brandon Kinser (first year). Stuber will run the JV team this spring.

Caston Athletic League (for ages 5-12) and a junior high club (for grades 7-8) are feeders for the high school program.

Though not affiliated with the school, the junior high team does play its games in the spring on the high school diamond.

In the summer, some Caston players take part in the Babe Ruth League in Logansport. There are others, including Gavin Mollenkopf (Blake’s oldest of two sons), who play travel ball for the Indiana Chargers.

There are some high school summer workouts and games and a team camp at Bethel College.

Caston graduate Seth Zartman is head baseball coach at Bethel. Ethan Zartman played at Caston for Mollenkopf, and then for big brother at Bethel.

Last summer, players from Plymouth and Rochester joined the Comets. In the past, South Adams and Tri-County have participated in the camp.

Mollenkopf is a graduate of Convoy Crestview High School, where he played for Jim Wharton, a member of the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association and ACME baseball halls of fame.

“He’s a great mentor,” says Mollenkopf of Wharton. “There’s so respect for him in that community. He’s still another ear to bend. He had a big impact on my life and my love for baseball.”

Mollenkopf played four seasons (2000-03) at Huntington University for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame.

Frame was known for his attention to detail, practice preparation and communication skills.

“I remember the Friday morning devotions,” says Mollenkopf. “He met with small groups of players. He tried to make an impact as future husbands, fathers and people.

“I went there to play baseball, but came out as a better man because of him, too.”

Mollenkopf received an elementary education degree at Huntington. Before coaching at Caston, he spent two seasons as an assistant to IHSBCA Hall of Famer George Phares at Taylor High School.

“He’s a special individual,” says Mollenkopf of Phares. “I learned how to interact with players, handling parent meetings and working with the administration

driving an hour back and forth.”

At the time, Mollenkopf was making the commute from Fulton County to Kokomo.

“There were so many meals and more he and (his wife) Martha provided for me.”

Mollenkopf is married to a Caston graduate. Blake and Stephanie have four children — eighth grader Kinzie (13), fifth grader Gavin (11), third grader Logan (9) and kindergartener Remy (6). All of them attend Caston schools.

After a few years on the job, Blake Mollenkopf resigned last May as Caston athletic director. Besides coaching baseball, he is an elementary physical education teacher and is involved with youth football and eighth grade girls basketball.

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The Mollenkopfs (clockwise from upper left): Blake, Stephanie, Kinzie, Gavin, Remy and Logan. Blake Mollenkopf is head baseball coach at Caston Junior/Senior High School in Fulton, Ind.

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Blake Mollenkopf has been head baseball coach at Caston Junior/Senior High School in Fulton, Ind., since the 2006 season.

 

 

Lawler seeing that success breeds success with LaVille Lancers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Buying into the multi-sport athlete idea and feeding off the success of other sports, the LaVille Lancers is enjoying a stellar 2018 season under fourth-year head coach Brian Lawler.

Heading into a home game Friday, May 18 against John Glenn, the Lancers are 20-2.

LaVille ran the table in the Hoosier North Athletic Conference, going 14-0. Pioneer (10-4) was second, followed by Knox (8-6), Winamac (7-6), North Judson (7-7), Triton (5-9), Caston (4-9) and Culver Community (0-14). Winamac is to visit Caston in the final HNAC game Friday, May 18.

“We’re a small school,” says Lawler, who coaches and teaches physical education in a LaVille Junior/Senior High building with around 350 students in the top four grades. “We believe in sharing athletes and providing opportunities for kids all year-round.

“We want to give them the best experience they can.”

Athletic director/head football coach Will Hostrawser leads a staff which coordinates their summer workouts so athletes can attend sessions in multiple sports.

Hostrawser has a baseball coaching background.

“He lets all his coaches coach,” says Lawler of Hostrawser. “But he’s always there if we want to pick his brain about something.”

As for success breeding success, two examples come in football and boys basketball. The Lancers went 8-5 on the gridiron last fall and 23-1 on the hardwood last winter.

The past four years, LaVille is 35-14 in football and 76-24 in boys basketball under head coach Michael Edison. Corey Duncan’s girls basketball squad was 16-8 in 2017-18.

Before playing baseball at Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University and earning his teaching degree at Bethel College, Lawler was a football and baseball athlete at South Bend St. Joseph High School. He graduated in 1999.

Before coming to LaVille, Lawler was a St. Joseph assistant for eight seasons on the staff of John Gumpf.

What does being a multi-sport athlete mean to him?

“Competing throughout the year and learning lessons from different coaches,” says Lawler. “It’s about being coachable and that translates into whatever sport that kid is doing at the time.”

The HNAC plays home-and-home two-game series with some doubleheaders, making it extra important to develop pitching depth.

“It forces you not the see that No. 1 twice,” says Lawler, who is assisted by Mark Elliot, Scott Wierczorek and Bryce Bustamante. “And with the 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) and our small roster (there’s 15 players in the program for a varsity and junior varsity schedule), we need to get as many pitchers as we can.”

The 2017 Lancers went 20-7 and graduated some quality senior pitchers. The current team has just one senior — first baseman Tyler Hollon. There is also a good mix of juniors, sophomores and a few freshmen.

Lawler counts catcher Reese Gallup and left-handed pitcher/outfielder Devon Schoff among the junior standouts and third baseman Jimmy Fischer, first baseman Isaiah Herbster, right-hander/outfielder Nick Moore and shortstop/right-hander Connor Wieczorek as some of the top sophomores.

LaVille plays its home games on its campus near Lakeville though it does have access to nearby Newton Park should field conditions call for a change of venue.

The Lancers’ non-conference schedule includes Argos, Bethany Christian, Bremen, Culver Military, Jimtown, John Glenn, Oregon-Davis, Rochester, South Bend Adams and South Central.

LaVille is in the IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional along with Bremen, Central Noble, Eastside, Prairie Heights and Westview. The Lancers have won three sectional baseball titles (1968, 1974, 1991).

Lawler and wife Sara reside in South Bend.

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LaVille Junior/Senior High School baseball coach Brian Lawler (right) poses with lone 2018 senior Tyler Hollon. The Lancers have reached the 20-win plateau again this spring.

 

Coaches encouraged to nominate seniors for IHSBCA All-Star Series in South Bend

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Plans are coming together for the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series Friday through Sunday, July 20-22 in South Bend.

The July 20 IHSBCA Junior Showcase and July 21-22 All-Star Series games will be played at Four Winds Field, home of the Class-A South Bend Cubs.

The All-Star banquet is slated for July 20 at the Century Center in Downtown South Bend. Former Elkhart Central High School, Bethel College and Milwaukee Brewers minor league pitcher Greg Kloosterman has agreed to be the keynote speaker.

Selection of the squads, which will include senior players from all four classes (25 from the South and 25 from the North), is scheduled the morning of the IHSAA State Finals on Saturday, June 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

North and South committees will review the names sent in from the 16 district meetings held on June 3.

Each head coach, who is an IHSBCA member, will receive notification from the district representative informing him of the time and place of the meeting.

District reps are Bob Glover (Hobart) in A, Mark Schellinger (New Prairie) in B, Jim Treadway (Elkhart Central assistant) in C, Pat McMahon (Fort Wayne Canterbury) in D, Andy McClain (Norwell) in E, Travis Keesling (Pendleton Heights) in F, Jay Malott (South Dearborn) in G, Brad King (New Castle) in H, Ryan Wolfe (Plymouth) in I, Kyle Neal (Attica) in J, Matt Cherry (Fishers) in K, Jeff McKeon (Decatur Central assistant) in L, Kyle Kraemer (Terre Haute South Vigo) in M, Jeremy Richey (Seymour) in N, Brian Kirchoff (Northeast Dubois) in O and Mike Goedde (Evansville Central) in P.

A member MUST be present at the meeting to have a senior player nominated for consideration for the 2018 All-Star squads.

Each school is allowed to nominate up to three senior players for All-Star consideration.

Ricky Romans (Charlestown) will chair the South selection committee. Other members are Goedde, Dick Alter (Indianapolis Lutheran), Steve Bray (Northeastern), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Zach Payne (Lanesville), Jeremy Sassanella (Brebeuf Jesuit), Tim Terry (South Vermillion) and Justin Tucker (Batesville).

Kevin Hannon (Knox) will chair the North selection committee and be assisted by Wolfe, Ryan Berryman (Western), Chuck Brimbury (Peru), Jason Garrett (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger), Brian Jennings (Griffith), Justin Keever (Noblesville), Dave Neuenschwander (Adams Central) and Bob Shinkan (Munster).

Brian Abbott is executive director of the IHSBCA.

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The 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Series is July 20-22 in South Bend.

 

Servant leadership top priority for Bremen’s Gerard

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Being able to field, pitch and hit is essential.

But second-year Bremen High School head baseball coach Chad Gerard places leadership above those diamond skills.

“Teaching leadership to me is just as important as baseball,” says Gerard, who served two seasons as an assistant to Bo Hundt before taking over the Lions program for 2017. “It’s servant leadership. The the theory beyond that is that leaders are put in that position to make other people better.”

Taking a cue from former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, Gerard and his staff — former Mishawaka assistant Jim Morris and Bremen graduates Ryan Carpenter and Greg Williams — look to “build leaders that build leaders.”

Beyond baseball, Gerard sees his players as future fathers, husbands, employers and employees and wants them to lead in those capacities.

“That’s what is most important to me,” says Gerard, who has been married to Amanda for nine years and they have a daughter — Kaitlyn (6).

Between the lines, 1998 Mishawaka High School graduate Gerard puts an emphasis on pitching and defense.

Being a “huge Cubs fan,” Gerard enjoyed Chicago beating the Washington Nationals 9-8 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

But when coaching, a pitchers’ duel is more his speed.

“I like to win ball games based on preventing the other team from scoring runs as opposed to a slugfest,” says Gerard.

That may stem from his playing days, when he was a catcher for coach Gregg Minegar at Mishawaka and then Glenn Johnson at Grace College.

“At the college level, you play doubleheaders every time out,” says Gerard. “Catchers don’t want to be out there for a big inning.”

Big is the task that Bremen faces as the only IHSAA Class 2A school in the 13-team Northern Indiana Conference (which also includes Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay and South Bend Riley in 4A and Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in 3A).

“That certainly is a challenge,” says Gerard, noting the number of athletes who participate at the bigger schools. “But we’ve gone into the tournament extremely prepared the last two years. Day in and day out, we’re playing quality opponents. There’s no fear coming from these kids.”

The NIC is divided into two divisions — Bremen, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawka Marian, New Prairie and South Bend Riley in the South and Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in the North. Each team plays the other once in conference play and there are titles for overall and games won within the division.

The Lions’ non-conference schedule includes Bethany Christian, Culver Academy, Elkhart Christian, Elkhart Memorial, Knox, LaVille, Tippecanoe Valley, Rochester, South Central and Triton.

Bremen won the Northern State Conference (which featured Culver, Jimtown, John Glenn, Knox, LaVille, New Prairie and Triton) in 2015 before that league disbanded.

At 2018 sectional time, Bremen is grouped with 2A schools Central Noble, Eastside, LaVille, Prairie Heights and Westview.

The Lions won the 2016 Westview Sectional and lost to eventual winner Eastside in the semifinals of the 2017 Westview Sectional.

Gerard coached in the Harris Township Junior Baseball Softball Association for three summers before spending 10 years as an assistant Mishawaka head coach John Huemmer then heading to Bremen. He has long kept track of pitches for his own hurlers and the opposing team. At any point in the game, he knows the pitch count for all.

With that in mind, he encourages his batters to work the count and get the opponent’s pitch count up.

He favors keeping track, but says the pitch count rule adopted by the IHSAA for 2017 (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 room for improvement.”

“It’s got it’s ups and downs,” says Gerard. “It’s great for the kids’ arm health. But they threw a monkey wrench in it when they added another day (of rest) once you hit 100 pitches.”

The old rule allowed a pitch to go 10 innings every three days.

“I remember when you could look in the newspaper and see who pitched and how many innings they have available,” says Gerard.

Hitting the 100-pitch plateau now means a required four days of rest, which really comes into play with a compacted sectional schedule.

“That forces some decision making (on when and how much to use a pitcher),” says Gerard.

Another sticking point is the enforcement of the new rule. Teams are now supposed to self-report and give their pitch count totals to their athletic directors and led AD’s communicate with one another.

It’s a matter of accountability.

“The umpire doesn’t keep track. It’s not his job,” says Gerard. “Who am I supposed to tell (if there’s a violation)?

“I caught two guys over the maximum number (120).”

The penalty for going over the limit is a team forfeit and Gerard says that did happen around the state last spring.

If Gerard got his way, he would also see baseball participation numbers go up across the board. He laments the shrinking of youth leagues.

“Little League is dying,” says Gerard. “Travel ball numbers are growing. A lot of kids are being left out. They are getting cut (from travel ball). I’m not sure how to do it, but we need get more kids playing baseball.”

Gerard notes that it depends on the number of baseball players in a given class whether Bremen will field a junior varsity team. Two years ago, the Lions had 11 seniors. Last year, Bremen did not have a JV team. He says he expects there will be enough freshmen this year to have one.

Bremen has one diamond. It is located a few blocks southwest of the Marshall County school’s campus.

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Chad Gerard, a 1998 Mishawaka High School graduate, is entering his second season as head baseball coach at Bremen High School in 2018. He was Mishawaka assistant for 10 seasons and Bremen assistant for two before taking over the Lions program.

IHSBCA South All-Stars head coach McKeon sports diamond pedigree

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

B-A-S-E-B-A-L-L demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

So says Jeff McKeon, who has been chosen as South head coach for this weekend’s 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. Practices, junior showcase and banquet are slated for Friday, July 14, with two games Saturday, July 15, and one game Sunday, July 16, at Ball State University in Muncie.

“I believe you must respect the game,” says McKeon, who resigned as head coach at Plainfield High School after the 2017 season (Shane Abrell has been named as his successor). “Once you cross that line, you have to give 100 percent every single time. The game will humble you in a second. If you ever think you are bigger than the game, it will strike back at you in a second.”

McKeon, who led the Quakers to a 94-75 record in his six seasons, was an assistant at three schools prior to Plainfield — one season for Jason Engelbrecht at Evansville Central, two for Steve Johnston at Evansville Reitz and six for Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg.

At Plainfield, McKeon got to be the host coach for the IHSAA’s South semistate games. The field has two berms for spectators and a scoreboard in center field.

Coming from Evansville, where iconic Bosse Field and other parks all have unique features, McKeon likes that the facility is not a “cookie-cutter.”

“I’m a big baseball purist,” says McKeon. “The ballpark should be part of the experience.

“Plainfield has some uniqueness to it.”

A 1993 Evansville North High School graduate, his high school coach was Dan Sparrow. He was a catcher and then a middle infielder at Ashford University in Iowa, graduating in 1997. He also worked two years for the Clinton LumberKings as an intern, grounds crew worker and clubhouse assistant and one for the Birmingham Barons as assistant GM for concessions and in sales.

Jeff comes from a baseball family. He is the son of former minor league catcher and scout and current Evansville Otters radio analyst Bill McKeon. In 2010, Bill was briefly the Otters manager with Jeff as a coach.

Bill McKeon and Joe Unfried, Jeff’s uncle, were teammates on the 1956 Evansville Braves of the Class B Three-I League and founded the non-profit Tri-State Hot Stove League in 1993.

The ’55 Evansville Braves were owned and managed by Bob Coleman. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inducted Coleman in 1980.

Coleman, Engelbrecht, Johnston, Sparrow and Unfried, are all members of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class in 2016.

Bill’s older brother and Jeff’s uncle is Jack McKeon, the manager for the 2003 World Series champion Florida Marlins. Jack also served as skipper for the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds.

In his first off-season as general manager of the Padres, he began to rebuild the club with a series of deals and became known as “Trader Jack.”

Jack’s sons have also been involved in professional baseball. Kasey McKeon was a catcher in the Detroit Tigers system and is now director of player procurement for the Washington Nationals.

Kelly McKeon has scouted for the Padres, where he signed Greg Booker, son-in-law to Jack, brother-in-law to Kasey and Kelly father of former Baltimore Orioles minor leaguer Zach Booker. Greg Booker is now a pro scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I’ve had some good mentors,” says McKeon, who is a business teacher at Plainfield and IHSBCA vice president on a leadership team that has included Brian Abbott as executive director, Shane Edwards (Oak Hill), Kevin Hannon (Knox), Scott Hughes (Shelbyville), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Phil McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central) and Ricky Romans (Charlestown).

“Those are awesome guys,” says McKeon. “They are great coaches and even better men. Being with those guys has been life-altering for me.”

Fundamentals and instruction are important to McKeon, who has thrown countless hours of batting practice trying to turn weaknesses into strengths.

“I’ve worked with a lot of very good players,” says McKeon. “But you win not with best players, you win with the role player that has to step up.”

McKeon, who is in charge of vendors at the IHSBCA State Clinic in January, will serve as a vice president in 2017-18 and is due to be president the following year.

This year marked his third as South representative and coach for the Crossroads Series, held the past two season at Ball State.

With Rich Andriole as head coach, the South swept the North in three games at Whiting in 2016.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” says McKeon, who will be assisted by Brad Catey (Hagerstown), Justin Tucker (Batesville), John Major (Columbus East) and have a Plainfield Quaker on the roster for the third straight year. It’s first baseman Daylan Nanny (bound for Arizona Western College) in 2017. Outfielder/first baseman Jackson Blevins was selected in 2016 and went on to Saint Joseph’s College. He is playing for the Dubois County Bombers this summer. After the closing of SJC, Blevins is slated to play at Wabash College in 2017-18.

Pitcher Antonio Lucciola represented Plainfield in the North/South series in 2015.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to be recognized for their accomplishments,” says McKeon.

Jeff and wife Liz have a son and a daughter — Gavin (9) and Katie (5).

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Jeff McKeon, head baseball coach at Plainfield High School 2012-17, will be head coach for the South in the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.