Tag Archives: Kokomo

Howard looking for first IU Kokomo baseball team to play the game fast

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Howard hit the ground running when he took over as head coach for the new baseball program at Indiana University Kokomo.

That’s fitting since Howard wants his Cougars to play the game fast and put pressure on opponents.

Since starting in January and hitting the recruiting trail, Howard and his assistants — associate head coach/pitching coach Joe Thatcher (a Kokomo High School graduate who pitched in the big leagues), recruiting coordinator Zach Hall (who played at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.) and infield/assistant hitting coach Jason Leone (who played at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo.) — have built a roster and begun establishing a culture.

“We want to play fast,” says  says Howard, who used his speed as a outfielder to a be an NCAA Division II All-American and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Slippery Rock State University and was an assistant at Chestnut Hill College, where the Griffins were consistently among the D-II leaders in stolen bases. “We want guys that understand the game and play the game hard. We want to put pressure on the defense and take advantage of any mistake they make.”

A Philadelphia, Pa., native, Howard served three seasons as manager of the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the summer collegiate Prospect League (2014-16) and was on the baseball staffs at Ball State University, LaSalle University and Chestnut Hill after his collegiate playing career.

Howard and his IU Kokomo staff have a group of 38 for 2017-18 and are now working on the recruiting class of 2018-19.

“We’re just looking for the best student-athlete we can find,” says Howard. IUK has about 3,000 students — many of them of commuters.

What attracted him to the heart of Indiana?

“Kokomo is a special place,” says Howard. “It’s a baseball town. We’re at an institution where we can attract a very strong student-athlete

“Our athletic department is young and looking to add sports strategically and run them in a competitive manner,” says Howard.

By having nearly 40 players, its creates competition within the squad and gives the Cougars some depth as they go through fall ball activities. Practices will wrap in a few weeks and players will hit the weight room. When classes begin again after winter break on Jan. 8, the team will kick it into gear as it prepares for the inaugural season opener Feb. 9 at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. It’s the first of three straight weekend series in Tennessee. The home opener on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium is Feb. 27 against Indiana Wesleyan.

At 28, Howard is one of the younger head coaches in NAIA baseball. He sees it as a positive.

“It’s an advantage,” says Howard. “I have a lot of energy and passion for what I do. I’m out everyday to prove I’m the guy for the job. I’m able to get my players on the field more.

“Baseball is a beautiful game that teaches a lot of life lessons and about (dealing with) failure. Baseball is a tough game to play. You need to take the positives from the negatives.”

MATTHOWARD

Matt Howard, 28, is the head coach of a brand new NAIA baseball program at Indiana University Kokomo. He is a Philadelphia, Pa., native who was an NCAA Division II All-American at Slippery Rock State University. (IU Kokomo Photo)

 

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Young Scott has mentally-tough Rossville in 1A state championship game

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Scott has steadily risen through the baseball coaching ranks and now finds himself leading a program one win from a state championship.

Scott, 26, is in his first full season at Rossville High School (he took over in 2016) and will lead the 24-8 Hornets against Lanesville (19-6) in the IHSAA Class 1A title game at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

“It’s kinda crazy,” says Scott of his coaching ascent from recreation ball to all-stars to travel baseball to high school assistant and then head coach. “Coaching’s been a part of me since I was 16.”

Scott played two seasons at Lafayette Jeff and one at McCutcheon, where he graduated in 2009. He then played two seasons at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill., before returning to the Lafayette area.

He was going to be an assistant at McCutcheon when Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton left that program and was hired at Rossville, which is located in Clinton Couny.

The 2017 Hornets feature a regular lineup with four senior leaders — shortstop Matt Homco, third baseman-pitcher Trevor Waggoner, Nate Clendenen and first baseman Harrison Whitman — and five sophomores.

“We are a very, very mentally strong team,” says Scott. “The leadership we have at the senior level is like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

The Hornets went 6-2 and placed fourth in the Hoosier Heartland Conference, which played a round robin followed by crossover games. Rossville is in the West Division with Carroll (Flora), Clinton Prairie, Frontier and Tri-County. The East Division includes Eastern (Greentown), Clinton Central, Sheridan and Tri-Central.

Tackling a regular-season schedule with bigger schools like Kokomo, Lafayette Harrison and Logansport in 4A, Maconaquah, Peru and West Lafayette in 3A has toughened Rossville for the postseason.

“That’s how you advance in the tournament — preparation and facing adversity,” says Scott, whose assistant coaches are Jon Jacoby, Evan Muinzer and Mason Roberts.

Rossville bested Pioneer and Clinton Central to win the Frontier Sectional, Daleville and Hagerstown to reign at the Carroll (Flora) Regional and South Newton to take the Plymouth Semistate.

The sectional title was the fourth in school history and first since 2002.

“That’s been really cool for our community,” says Scott. “And it’s made the kids believe.”

Scott Stair was Rossville’s head coach in 2000 when the Hornets won their first regional and made its first State Finals appearance.

Scott has welcomed new IHSAA 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) because it has allowed him to be less “tricky” in calling pitches and trying to strike opponents out or chase pitches out of the strike zone.

Hornet pitchers are much more likely to pitch to contact and Scott likes to switch up his arms to give opponents different looks.

“If we have a walk or go deep in counts, our defense can fall asleep,” says Scott. “It’s helped the whole process. Let them hit it. It’s worked so far.

“A lot of the teams we have in the postseason have a 1A (starter on the mound). I’m not a fan of letting a batter see the pitcher too many times in one game so they don’t get too comfortable.”

Lanesville will be making its second straight 1A championship appearance. The Eagles lost to Daleville in 2016.

BRADSCOTT

Brad Scott, who took over as head baseball coach at Rossville early in the 2016, has the 2017 Hornets in the IHSAA Class 1A state championship game. (Aaron Kennedy/Frankfort Times Photo)

Moore’s new flock leads Zionsville Eagles back into semistate

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zionsville was on the biggest stage in Indiana high school baseball in 2016.

The Eagles played Roncalli in the IHSAA Class 4A state championship game.

Zionsville led 2-1 after their sixth at-bat and then lost 3-2 with the Rebels scoring the decisive run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

That Eagles roster was chock full of impactful seniors. So even though they left Victory Field oh-so-close to a championship in 2016, they flew under the radar in 2017.

“We were so senior-heavy last year, everybody (outside Z-ville) assumed we were going to be down,” says fourth-year ZHS head coach Jered Moore. “Everybody assumed we were going to have to rebuild.”

People in the community knew better.

“Our junior class was always very successful at baseball,” says Moore. “They would have been starting (last year) on a lot of other teams.”

The 2017 version of Zionsville (22-11) is back in the 4A northern semistate against Penn (26-6). The game is slated for Saturday, June 10 at Kokomo (following the 1 p.m. 2A game). The Eagles topped the Kingsmen in last year’s semistate showdown at Kokomo.

The ’16 Eagles had five pitchers who touched 90 mph on the radar gun. There are practically no innings back from that squad and the hardest thrower hits 86 mph.

A deep mound staff is led by right-handers — seniors Max Bohrer and Eli Copner and junior Nick Brier.

The new 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) have been a “non-factor” for Zionsville this season. Starters did not pitch more than once a week and rarely went more than 100 pitches.

“Last year, we had one of the top pitching staffs in the nation — top to bottom,” says Moore. “This pitching staff is completely different. Last year, we threw strikes and threw hard. This year, we rely on throwing strikes and good defense.

“If you concentrate on defense, more than likely you’re going to win games.”

Zionsville stresses pitching and defense so much that they keep a “free base” chart that tracks walks, hit batsmen, passed balls, wild pitches, stolen bases, errors, dirt ball reads, advancing trail runners and extra bases on balls hit to the outfield.

“If we win the free base war, we’re going to win 90 percent of our games,” says Moore. “It’s pretty much held true.

“We can’t be giving up free bases.”

Moore notes that in the four games where the Eagles committed five or more errors, they lost three of those (the win came in extra innings).

Two full-time starters from ’16 (senior third baseman Chad Garisek and junior shortstop Riley Bertram) and one part-timer (junior first baseman Sam Edgell) can be found in the field for the Eagles. The first six batters in the order are all juniors.

Zionsville advanced to the 2017 semistate by beating Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon to win the Kokomo Sectional and Fort Wayne Snider and Fishers to take the Lafayette Jeff Regional.

Playing three-game series in the strong Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Westfield) gets the Eagles ready for the rest of their schedule.

“Our guys are not going to be intimidated,” says Moore. “We just go out and play baseball and see who wins.”

Jered Moore is the son of Craig Moore, who played at East Gary High School and coached back-to-back state runners-up at Blackford High School in 1977 (losing to Logansport and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Jim Turner) and 1978 (losing to Evansville Memorial and IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach Quentin Merkel and player Don Mattingly) and then at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and many years with the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

The Bulls offer the Craig Moore Memorial Scholarship in honor of the man who passed away in 2004.

A 1989 Brownsburg graduate who played for Bulldogs head coach Wayne Johnson, Jered Moore also took the diamond at Sam Houston State for Bearkats head coach John Skeeters.

Jered coached about 15 years with the Bulls (he is still a 17U assistant) before joining the Zionsville staff. His brother, Quinn, is also a Bulls coach.

The 2017 Zionsville staff includes Alex Graman (pitching coach), Jeremy Honaker (hitting coach) and Drew Koning (assistant coach) at the varsity level with Josh Medvescek, Jarrett Johnson, Brock Noye and Stephen Damm running the two junior varsity squads (Green and White).

Graman, a Southridge High School graduate, pitched at Indiana State University and briefly with the New York Yankees and in Japan.

Honaker, a Connersville High School graduate, played at the University of Southern Indiana and also coaches with the Indiana Bulls.

Koning, a Lafayette Jeff graduate, played football at Franklin College and also coached with the Indiana Bulls.

ZIONSVILLEEAGLES

Keeping Kokomo Wildkats on even-keel duty of Swan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Not every hop is true.

Not every line drive off your bat finds grass before it finds an opponent’s glove.

Not letting those moments keep you down is key to long-term success.

These are the kinds of things Kokomo High School head baseball coach Sean Swan is teaching his Wildkats.

Swan was a Kokomo assistant for four seasons before taking over leadership of the program for the 2015 season. That year, he had six freshmen in the starting lineup. The young Kats had the talent to compete, but were not always equipped for baseball’s inevitable rough patches.

“We prepare these young men to go out and do great things whether it’s in baseball or just life,” says Swan. “We use the game to teach those lessons. We talk about failure a lot. Failure is something you have to work through and how you can learn from it.

“We’ve made great strides in dealing with failure and adversity. We’re not perfect yet and I tell the kids we’re not going to be. Baseball is like that. You’re going to have games where things don’t go your way and you don’t play your best.”

Swan talks to his players about being mental toughness and playing a hard-nosed brand of baseball.

That approach got Kokomo off to a 14-0 start in 2017 even though it found itself down by 13 runs in one of those victories. The Kats fell behind 14-1 in the second game of a North Central Conference doubleheader against Lafayette Harrison only to win 21-18 with the decisive run coming at the end of the game.

“I was pleased we stuck with the process and kept fighting,” says Swan. “I want our guys to be very even-keeled. We talk about playing with emotion but not emotionally. We tell them to focus on playing the game the right way and not so much on who they’re playing against.”

When Kokomo took its first loss of the season — 12-1 to Zionsville — the Kats responded with a 2-1 NCC tournament quarterfinal win against Harrison in eight innings.

The ’17 Kats have 43 players on three squads — varsity and two junior varsity teams (Blue and Red).

Swan’s varsity coaching staff includes Tim Weir (pitching), Eric Dill (infield and hitting), Nick Shanks (outfield and statistics), Shawn Mayfield (hitting) and George Phares (quality control). There’s also Eli Grimes (JV Blue head coach), Andy Dicken (JV Blue assistant), Matt Turner (JV Red head coach) and Chris Beane (JV Red assistant).

Weir is the father of T.J. Weir, a Kokomo graduate and a pitcher in the San Diego Padres organization.

Phares, a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Howard County Sports halls of fame who won an IHSAA Class 2A state championship at Taylor in 2000, serves as an extra set of eyes. He scouts the Kats and gives Swan an honest evaluation on areas that need improvement.

“Sometimes as a head coach, you have blinders and get focused on what you’re trying to accomplish and you miss some things,” says Swan of Phares. “He challenges me in some areas.

“The guys on my staff are great baseball men, but great men in general. I want quality individuals that are high-character people.”

Kokomo once played at historic Highland Park Stadium and practice and play on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium, home to the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the summer collegiate Prospect League.

“We are blessed,” says Swan. “It’s one of the best fields in the state.”

With its fast surface, playing not the carpet has been an adjustment. Even softly-struck balls sometimes get through the infield and outfielders are asked to play deeper in an attempt to keep balls out of the gaps.

At all games — but especially at Municipal — the Kats look to put pressure on the defense by putting the ball in play.

“We try to be aggressive and get pitches we can drive,” says Swan. “Early in counts we want them to be sitting on fastballs. After the count gets deeper or they fall behind in the count, their (strike) zone expands a little bit. They shorten up their swing and then it’s about putting balls in play.”

Swan looks at the new pitch count rule and says it has more of an effect at the JV level than the varsity.

“We build up (varsity) players so they can throw 80 to 100 pitches and we’re comfortable with that,” says Swan. With varsity depth, starters generally pitch just once a week. “But the rule makes us be forward-thinking with our younger guys. We have two junior varsity teams and they’re not efficient with their pitches.

“Bigger schools it won’t effect quite as much, but I really see it effect JV programs, especially at small schools. They just don’t have that depth. They don’t have the arms to eat up innings.”

Swan, a Muncie Central graduate, began his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater while still in college.

His first head coaching job came at Lapel. The Bulldogs won just one game the year before he arrived and a few years later won a sectional.

Swan then served five years as assistant to Ryan Bunnell at Westfield and considers him a mentor.

“I learned a great deal from him,” says Swan. “He’s a great baseball guy.

“I tend to be more emotional and he’s very steady. He’s great with X’s and O’s and I watched how he drew up a practice plan.”

Swan was head coach at Tri-Central for three seasons before joining Tim Weeks’ staff at Kokomo, where Swan also now serves as assistant principal.

SEANSWAN

Sean Swan is in his third season as head baseball coach at Kokomo High School. He was an assistant for the Wildkats for four seasons before that. He is also an assistant principal at KHS.

Turner wants Logansport players to take field prepared for anything

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Turner Jr. has been a witness and participant in a large swath of Logansport High School baseball history in his 60 years.

He fondly recalls shagging flies while father Jim Turner Sr., prepared the Berries.

Later, he played for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer at LHS. Jim Jr. was the winning pitcher after Jim Jr. gave him the ball as a reliever in the fourth inning of the state championship game in 1975. Final: Berries 11, Indianapolis Marshall 5.

In 28 seasons (1964-91), Jim Sr. won 582 games with four state championships (1975, 1977, 1979, 1991), a state runner-up finish (1989) and another Final Four appearance (1990).

When Larry “Bud” Jones became head coach in 1992, Jim Jr. joined his staff and served seven seasons before becoming head coach himself in 1998.

Learning how to play the game from his father while growing up, the younger Turner gained much knowledge from Jones on how to coach young men.

Never much of a yeller and screamer, Turner Jr. says the players of today are generally not motivated by that coming from a coach and are likely to tune out.

“Coach Jones was a great mentor for me,” says Turner Jr. “It was his demeanor. He was calm but firm with players. He would never chew them out. he would describe what was wrong and give them a positive way to fix something.”

Turner Jr. says an adjustment must be suggested as part of the equation.

“Otherwise, you’re not coaching, you’re criticizing,” says Turner Jr. “Give them a way to fix the problem.”

Turner and his 2017 coaching staff — Brad Platt and Greg Korreckt at the varsity level and Cory Cripe, Ron Kinnaman, Mark Lowry and Carlos Villar with the junior varsity — work diligently with the Berries in practice to cover potential situations. Each position has a kind of checklist of things they should know how to do.

“We just try to teach players to be fundamentally sound and take responsibility for their development,” says Turner Jr. “We try to do our coaching in practice. That way we’ve rehearsed or at least talked about everything that could happen and prepare them for the games.”

The Berries adjust their offensive inclinations to their personnel. Turner Jr. says he needs more time to evaluate the new pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA.

After moving from Riverside Park to Fairview Park, Logan has been on its current on-campus field since the mid-1970’s. It was renamed Jim Turner Field for his father in the early ’90s and in 2016 the Berries became one of the few high schools in Indiana to have artificial turf.

“It’s going to become more and more common,” says Turner Jr. “After a certain period of time the investment pays for itself.”

Before the change to Sprinturf, the field did not drain well and the Berries lost games and practices to inclement weather.

With the turf, Logansport has been able to support a junior high school baseball program as well as soccer and other activities.

Coming off a 16-13 record in 2016, the Berries (10-7, 3-4) head into a May 3 North Central Conference game against Lafayette Harrison.

Established in 1926, the NCC is Indiana’s oldest high school athletic conference. Besides Logansport and Harrison, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon are in the West Division with Anderson, Indianapolis Arsenal Tech, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond in the East Division. The NCC tournament is slated for May 6 and 13.

Logan’s last sectional title came in 2002, the same season the Berries went all the way to the program’s eighth State Finals appearance.

Logansport High School baseball has a long tradition. The Berries now play on turf at Jim Turner Field.

JIMTURNERJR1

Logansport High School baseball has a long tradition. The Berries now play on turf at Jim Turner Field.

Kokomo’s Thatcher on next diamond adventure

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Thatcher didn’t see himself pitching in Major League Baseball.

But he did it.

He didn’t see himself coaching college baseball in his hometown.

But he’s doing it.

Thatcher grew up playing the game in Kokomo. There was UCT Little League and stints with Kokomo American Legion Post 6, Russiaville Cubs and Indiana Bulls in the summer and Kokomo High School in the spring.

Many games were played at Kokomo’s historic Highland Park, which was once home to Kokomo Giants, Kokomo Dodgers and Kokomo Highlanders.

“The short porch in right is what I remember most,” Thatcher said. “It was a cool place to play. There were a lot of stands and so it felt big at the time.”

After graduating from KHS in 2000, Thatcher became a legacy at Indiana State University. His father — Phil — played for the Bob Warn-coached Sycamores and so did Joe.

The Warns were family friends and the Thatchers spent many alumni weekends in Terre Haute. It was an easy decision for Joe to go to ISU and be a teammate of Barry Warn, son of Bob the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

“(Coach Warn) was great,” Thatcher said. “He really cared about his players. You felt you were part of a family.”

A 6-foot-2 left-hander, Joe started as a freshman then served as ISU’s closer as a sophomore and junior. When the Sycamores got off to a tough start in his senior year and there was not much call for someone to get the last few outs, he went back into the starting rotation.

When the 2004 MLB Draft came at the end of final college campaign, Thatcher’s named wasn’t called. Instead, the southpaw played part of two seasons in the independent Frontier League.

Thatcher joined the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2005 and made his MLB debut came with the San Diego Padres in 2007.

By this point, he knew he was exclusively a reliever.

“In organized pro ball, hard-throwing guys are usually projected as closers,” Thatcher said. “I knew I was going to be a left-handed match-up guy (lefty on lefty). That’s what I tried to focus on.”

Sometimes called a LOOGY (Left-handed One-Out Guy charged with getting out the opponent’s big left-handed batters lat in games), Thatcher was also called upon to pitch full innings, worked with his low three-quarter delivery against left-hander and right-handers.

“I always had confidence in myself that I could get anybody out,” Thatcher said. “I ended up having pretty good numbers against righties in my career.

He also kept himself in shape and shared his off-season regiment along with Dr. Jamey Gordon of St. Vincent Sports Performance and USA Baseball at the recent IHSBCA State Clinic.

“I was around some of the best conditioning staffs in the world (in pro baseball),” Thatcher said. “I saw all the innovative stuff.”

Thatcher was with the Padres organization until being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013. He pitched for the D-backs and Los Angeles Angels in 2014 and the Houston Astros in 2015. His 2016 was spent with Triple-A clubs in the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs organizations, but was not on the postseason roster during the World Series run. He decided to retire at the end of the season at age 35.

“I’m most proud of how long I was able to play,” Thatcher said. “It takes a lot to stay there and build up that trust with the coaches and front office people. To go from being un-drafted to someone who spent nine years in the big leagues, I’m pretty proud of that.”

Thatcher had studied insurance and risk management in college and planned to follow his father into that business (Phil works for Regions Bank Insurance) and even got his license and spent some off-seasons as an agent.

“I wasn’t planning on having a big league career,” Thatcher said.

Now, he is staying in baseball as associate head coach for a brand new program at Indiana University Kokomo (the IUK Cougars are scheduled to debut in 2017-18). He has been on the recruiting for about a month.

“We have a lot to offer — an IU degree, good coaching staff (including head coach Matt Howard and assistant coach Zach Hall) and (Kokomo Municipal Stadium) is a huge draw,” Thatcher said. “It gives us a leg up on the competition.

“(The school) wanted to make sure they did it right before they started the program so it wasn’t just thrown together. They do everything top level, first class. The only thing small school about what we’re doing is the actual school size (around 4,100 enrolled students, according to the IUK website).”

IU Kokomo has centrally-located campus and is up to nine sports in its athletic department. The Cougars are an NAIA program and member of the River States Conference.

Thatcher will share his experiences with his student-athletes.

“I played with a lot of good veterans and learned how to be a pro,” Thatcher said. “That meant being disciplined enough to take care of your business without being told to do it.”

And he almost didn’t do it at all.

joethatcherpadres

Kokomo’s Joe Thatcher as a pitcher with the San Diego Padres.