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Guthrie eager to get going with Prairie Heights Panthers

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

T.J. Guthrie was just hired as the head baseball coach at Prairie Heights Community High School near LaGrange, Ind.

Guthrie and his coaching staff are young and eager to work with the Panthers.

“There’s not a staff out there more excited to get going,” says Guthrie, who at 26 is the oldest in a group that also includes Prairie Heights alums Tanner Perkins (who played at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne), Mike Gustin (who played at Trine University in Angola, Ind.) and Zach Smith. “We’re young and connected to the community.

“We have to have the youngest aggregate age in the state.”

Guthrie’s hiring was approved by the school board too late for the fall Limited Contact Period. The next window for baseball activities opens in a little over a month.

“I’m counting down the days until Dec. 9, I know that,” says Guthrie. That’s when teams can have two-hour blocks twice-a-week for baseball activity. He plans to precede that with an hour of weight lifting and conditioning, putting  as baseball practice at 7:30 p.m. after winter sports practices.

“I want to give everybody an opportunity to get on board early,” says Guthrie.

Why conditioning before practice and not after?

“I want to see them perform when their legs are not fresh,” says Guthrie. This equates to being able to make plays late in games when they’re worn out.

Perkins pitched at Indiana Tech, where head coach Kip McWilliams ran practices with a fast tempo. Guthrie plans to adopt that style for his Panthers.

“I want to see how they (perform) in bottom of seventh when they’re worn out,” says Guthrie. “When you practice at a high pace, once you get in a game everything seems to slow down.”

Building Heights up from the bottom will be a priority.

“We’re going to make sure we focus on the little things a lot,” says Guthrie. “As part of part of our warm-up routine, infielders will be working on their hands and footwork every single day. Outfielders will be doing drop steps and sprinting to the baseball.

“We want to start from the ground up and make sure everything fundamental is correct. We want to make sure we play the game the right way.”

Guthrie also intends to use plenty of technology and metrics, using Blast Motion to measure launch angle and exit velocity.

“We’re top of the cage enthusiasts,” says Guthrie. “We’ll do a lot of weighted-bat training. We’ll work on our hit path and getting the barrel on a plane. It’s rotational hitting.

“We want to lead the conference and, ideally, the state in doubles and home runs.”

This is Guthrie’s second stint on the Panthers staff. He wound up a run after the 2017 working with Nick Pfafman, who left to join head coach Greg Perschke at Trine.

A 2011 Fremont (Ind.) High School graduate who played for Eagles head coach Justin Bock, Guthrie went to Trine to be a pitcher and first baseman. He blew out his elbow in the first couple of practices and opted to focus on his studies and earn an accounting degree which he now puts to use with marketing and sales for his parents’ business, Casey’s Cove Marina on Crooked Lake in Angola.

Guthrie got his coaching start in the Sandy Koufax League in Fremont and coached in travel ball with the Indiana Elite and Sturgis, Mich.-based Hitters Edge.

Prairie Heights plays on-campus at Kellett Field, a facility that has been recently edged and is going through infield work. There are now double-barrel bullpens on both sides of the field. A year ago, the field got new fencing. The playing surface and irrigation system went in five years ago. There are no lights.

“The field is going to play very nice,” says Guthrie. “We have maintenance staff ready to help us out.”

While he has a young squad and no current college baseball commitments, Guthrie has players with those aspirations.

“I’ll put a big emphasis on trying to get guys to the next level,” says Guthrie. “I’m working hard to develop relationships with a lot of these area junior colleges (including Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., and Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne).”

Recent Prairie Heights graduate Jacob Heller also played baseball at Trine.

Four communities with their own youth leagues — Stroh, South Milford, Ashley-Hudson and Orland — feed into Prairie Heights and Guthrie intends to become a familiar face to those players and coaches.

“A number of players are in travel baseball,” says Guthrie. “I want wake sure I’m getting involved with the guys that are staying local and get them ready for high school.”

Prairie Heights (enrollment around 410) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, West Noble and Westview).

Each team plays each other once with the home team alternating from year to year. There’s also an in-season tournament. Teams are guaranteed two games. Most weekday games are played at 5:30 p.m.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Bremen, Central Noble, Fairfield, LaVille and Westivew. Prairie Heights has won two sectional titles — 1977 and 1984.

T.J. and Cheyene Guthrie were high school sweethearts. The couple, which resides in Angola, celebrated four years of marriage in September.

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T.J. Guthrie is the new head baseball coach at Prairie Heights Community High School near LaGrange, Ind. He has recently been coaching travel ball for Hitters Edge.

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T.J. Guthrie (right) stands with a trophy he won in a coaches home run derby at a Gameday USA travel tournament with Hitters Edge. Celebrating with him are former player T.J. Vanderkuyl and assistant coach Jacob Summers. Guthrie is a 2011 Fremont (Ind.) High School graduate who recently became head baseball coach at Prairie Heights Community High School near LaGrange, Ind.

TJCHEYENEGUTHRIET.J. and Cheyene Guthrie take in a baseball game. T.J. Guthrie is now head baseball coach at Prairie Heights Community High School near LaGrange, Ind.

 

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Isaacs in charge of a baseball ‘brotherhood’ with Lakeland Lakers

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Banding together as baseball brothers, the Lakeland High School program has enjoyed a turnaround in two seasons with Michael Isaacs as head coach.

“We call ourselves a brotherhood,” says Isaacs. “We’ve got a group of young men to believe in themselves and believe in each other.

“Our group is pretty loose. We’re not wound tight. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles the last couple years.”

The Lakers won a combined six games in 2015 and 2016. The first season under Isaacs (2017), Lakeland posted 10 victories.

Heading into three straight Northeast Corner Conference games — Tuesday vs. Hamilton, Wednesday at Churubusco and Thursday at Garrett — the 2018 LaGrange County-based Lakers were 16-5 and with two NECC setbacks tied in the loss column tied atop the standings with Angola.

The rest of the conference includes Central Noble, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview. Each team plays the other once and there is a midseason blind-draw tournament. Westview topped the Lakers 5-2 in the championship game this spring.

Lakeland is in the seven-team IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional along with Angola, Fairfield, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee and West Noble.

The Lakers play their home games on-campus. The field has received upgrades in recent seasons of new lights and re-worked dugouts.

There are 21 players in the Lakeland program, with some rotating between varsity and junior varsity as needed.

Two Lakers seniors have made college commitments — right-handed pitcher/first baseman Drew Grossman (Indiana Tech) and first baseman/designated hitter Tristan Witham (Cincinnati Christian). Juniors with college baseball aspirations are shortstop/right-handed pitcher Hunter Frost and catcher Kole Miller.

All three of Michael Isaacs’ sons are involved with the program. Oldest boy Britain, who was a Lakers catcher, is now an assistant coach. Then there’s senior Nolan and freshman Colton. The latter has rotated in enough to earn his letter in his first year of high school.

Isaacs’ other assistants are Todd Miller, Kevin Witham and Aaron Pieri.

A 1987 East Noble graduate, Michael Isaacs played high school baseball for coach Steve Nelson.

After going to Taylor University in Upland, Ind., to play football, he transferred to the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, with the idea of playing baseball. But that was the year the Saints temporarily dropped the sport.

Isaacs coached in the Noble/LaGrange Little League out of high school then took about a decade off and got back in when his sons came along.

Besides the Little League, which serves players ages 6 through junior high, some Lakeland players are involved with travel ball organizations such as Hitters Edge and the Indiana Chargers.

The 2018 season marks the second season for pitch count rules in IHSAA-sanctioned games (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).

“At first, I was very hesitant about it,” says Isaacs. “But then it was not that big a deal. We have mindset for the week of who we’re going to pitch how much we’re going to pitch them. It’s worked out pretty good.

“(The rule) makes you develop four or five pitchers which is good for everybody.”

With teams counting pitches, Isaacs has seen a change in the game. Instead of a pitcher using extra pitches trying to get strikeouts, he’s seen some of them aim for efficiency.

“There’s more of an emphasis on putting the ball in play and letting the defense do the work,” says Isaacs. “It’s something we’re trying to beat into (our pitchers’) heads.”

If Isaacs could change anything about Indiana high school baseball, he would tweak the class structure.

“Personally, I think the private schools should be separate,” says Isaacs, who coaches at a public school. “Now you’re tied to a class because of your size. I’d have public school divisions and the private schools could maybe a big division and small division.”

Isaacs is not an educator. He works in the recreational vehicle industry.  He is a mill room manager for Jayco’s Starcraft division in Topeka, Ind.

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Michael Isaacs (right) bumps fists with oldest son Britain Isaacs during a 2017 Lakeland High School baseball game. Michael Isaacs is in his second season as Lakers head coach in 2018. Britain is one of his assistants.