Tag Archives: Lapel

Alum Douglas wants his Frankton Eagles to be embrace competition

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Douglas played for a high school baseball coach who appreciated hard-nosed players and those willing to lead.

Kyle Campbell was guiding the Frankton baseball program when Douglas was a student-athlete and now 1994 graduate Douglas is entering his fifth season as Eagles head coach in 2018.

“He would always challenge his guys,” says Douglas of the late Campbell. “He was always interested in giving guys opportunities to lead. He was always somebody who was going to earn what you got.

“He recognized hard work.”

Douglas takes much the same approach with his players at Frankton Junior/Senior High School.

He wants competitors.

“You play the kids who are up for the challenge,” says Douglas. “If you can play, I don’t care if you’re a sophomore or a freshman.”

Frankton is a small town in Madison County and the school has around 480 students.

Douglas tells his players that they are making lifetime of memories during their school days.

“I’m a firm believer in the kids being good citizens and good students,” says Douglas. “I want them to be extremely involved with the community, have school spirit and support everyone. They should appreciate the four years and make the best of it.”

This high-knit community lost a baseball coach and teacher the day after Christmas 2017 when Chris Hatzell died unexpectedly at 44. The 1992 Frankton graduate was an eighth grade social studies teacher and tended the first base box for the Eagles.

“He was a great guy and a great dad,” says Douglas, who was a a high school teammate of Hatzell’s for two years. “You learn a lot about people after they’re gone. Students were very touched by the loss of Coach Hatzell.”

Douglas works as a union representative for Rolls Royce in Indianapolis and Hatzell was his “eyes and ears” at the school and did many things behind the scenes. On the diamond, he would throw batting practice or swing the fungo bat for hours.

“We reflected each other well,” says Douglas, who recalls Hatzell coaching a 12-year-old Frankton team to a Town & Country Baseball state championship.

To honor Hatzell, there will be a patch on Frankton jerseys this spring. There are also plans for a memorial marker near the dugout on the Eagles’ home field.

That field, located on the Frankton Elementary School grounds, has an infield that’s been re-graded and re-sodded with an irrigation system installed. The mound and home plate areas have been re-built. There is also new on-field storage in the home dugout, new concrete and safety hand rails in each dugout and concrete tee stations in the batting cage.

Frankton is part of two-high school district in Frankton-Lapel Community Schools.

“The kids still have a passion for the rivalry” says Douglas of the Lapel Bulldogs. “It keeps our kids motivated. You don’t want to go a whole year wearing a loss from your sister school.”

While Lapel is an athletic independent, Frankton belongs to the Central Indiana Conference (along with Alexandria-Monroe, Blackford, Eastbrook, Elwood, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill).

Since Douglas took over the program, he has gotten the Eagles schedule back up to the 28-game regular-season limit and includes plenty of quality.

“When you have Shenandoah, Wapahani, Tipton and Yorktown in addition to our CIC schedule (each team meets the other once on Tuesdays and Thursdays), you’re in for some good baseball,” says Douglas.

The Eagles are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lapel, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Shenandoah and Wapahani.

“We play in one of the toughest sectionals in the state,” says Douglas. “It’s competitive regardless of the names of the players. You’ve got coaches like Brian Dudley at Wapahani, Matt Campbell at Lapel, Bruce Stanley at Shenandoah and Keith Nunley at Monroe Central.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us. But it’s a good challenge that we embrace.”

The Eagles’ last two sectional titles came in 2003 and 2016. They were also regional champions in ’03.

Returnees for Frankton in 2018 include to college baseball-committed seniors in right-handed pitcher/shortstop Landon Weins (Morehead State University) and right-hander/infielder Evan Doan (Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo.) plus others from the Class of ’18 in right-hander/center fielder Travis McGuire, outfielder Will Harris, utility Brock Threet and Noah Van Slyke.

“We have nine seniors returning,” says Douglas. “That’s unheard of for a small school.”

There’s also junior right-hander/third baseman J.J. Hatzell and sophomore left-hander/outfielder Ethan Bates.

Frankton’s 2018 assistant coaches are Rick Dellinger, Tim Friend and Mark Caldwell.

Alumnus Matt Kunce is currently a player at Huntington University.

Prior to taking over the program at his alma mater, Douglas was coaching in youth and travel baseball. He continues to coach son Bradyn Douglas (a seventh grader) with Tony Cookerly and the 13U White Indiana Bulls.

“I’m a huge proponent of travel baseball,” says Douglas, who has had Frankton players also play for the Indiana Prospects, Indiana Mustangs, USAtheltic and others. “I use a lot of things that (executive director) Dan Held preaches throughout the Bulls organization.”

Frankton’s high school program is also fed by Red and White seventh and eighth grade club teams.

Brad and Tricia Douglas also have a daughter. Sydney Douglas is a Frankton junior.

BRADDOUGLASJAKERICHWINE

Frankton baseball coach Brad Douglas (left) celebrates with Jake Richwine in 2017. The 2018 season will make the fifth as Eagles head baseball coach for 1994 Frankton graduate Douglas.

Advertisements

North Central graduate Lozer embraces bullpen as U. of Michigan, Mets organization pitcher

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mac Lozer has come to relish the relief role.

A starting pitcher much of the time at North Central High School in Indianapolis, where he graduated in 2013, the right-hander was asked to go to the bullpen for the University of Michigan.

“I pitched how I would benefit the team most,” says Lozer. “They put me in late-inning, high-leverage situations.”

In four seasons with the Wolverines, Lozer made 100 mound appearances (all in relief) and went 4-1 with three saves and a 2.22 earned run average. In 77 innings, he produced 94 strikeouts and 44 walks.

Along the way, Lozer grew from 5-foot-11 and throwing 84 mph to 6-1 and with deliveries of 89 to 92 mph was selected in the 33rd round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets.

In 16 games and 23 innings at Kingsport (Tenn.) of the rookie-level Appalachian League, Lozer went 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA. He whiffed 20 and walked nine.

Lozer was pitching in the summer for the Indiana Bulls when he was approached by Michigan assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Nick Schnabel about coming to Ann Arbor.

“It was a perfect fit academically, athletically and socially,” says Lozer, 22. “To this day, it’s one of the best decisions of my life.”

At Michigan, he played for head coach Erik Bakich. A nutritionist and trainer before becoming a coach, the former head coach at the University of Maryland, assistant at Vanderbilt University and Clemson University and player at East Carolina University after San Jose City College attends to more than just what happens between the white lines.

“He’s an amazing guy and an amazing coach,” says Lozer of the man who runs the Maize and Blue program. “He’s a life coach. He is concerned with the full human being. He develops you in leadership skills and makes you a better future father and current brother and son. He has a perfect formula for coaching a baseball player.

“I’m glad I stayed one more year and had another year with Coach Bakich.”

Lozer says the nutrition component at Michigan offers a “killer foundation.”

Whether a player is looking to gain, lose or maintain weight, needs to know how much water to drink or what supplements to take, there is a program in place to help players maximize their bodies.

“It’s not rocket science, but a lot of hard work,” says Lozer.

The right-hander learned to work at the mental side of the game and follow many of the principles laid out by sports psychologists Dr. Ken Ravizza and Dr. Tom Hanson in their book, “Heads Up Baseball.”

Michigan did mental strength training nearly everyday and Lozer focused on concepts like awareness, confidence and releasing negative energy. In the off-season, the Wolverines attended leadership sessions twice a week.

“Mental toughness is a learned trait,” says Lozer. “It’s not inherited.

“You have to be mentally tough in the real world. It’s truly a life skill.”

As a college reliever, Lozer needed to be prepared to pitch three or four times a week as compared to a starter who pitches once a week.

“As a reliever, you can have a bad outing one day and redeem yourself the next day and get it off your mind,” says Lozer. “It’s all about mental preparation. You want to be in that moment and not hesitant.

“It’s a synergy of mental and physical preparation. You close your eyes and take mental reps. I do a lot more mental reps than I do pitches. I make sure my confidence is at its highest point before I go in.”

Lozer credits former Michigan pitching coach Sean Kenny (now at the University of Georgia) for making him into an effective pitcher, teaching him the attack mindset while helping him develop his four-seam fastball (which has two-seam action), slider and change-up (which became game-ready in 2017).

“He’s going to do great things at Georgia,” says Lozer of Kenny. “I thank him for everything he did at Michigan.”

Staying at Michigan for four years also helped Lozer complete his degree in sociology with a sales certificate.

Lozer played baseball from age 7 to 11 at First Baptist Athletic Association. From 12U to 14U, he was with the Indiana Prospects. Coaches included his father Jeff Lozer plus Mike Nash and Andy Upchurch.

At 14U and 15U, Mac was with North Central Panther Summer Select. That team was coached by North Central High School head coach Phil McIntyre.

Lozer appreciates how McIntyre allowed him to play multiple positions during his high school career. Mac was a center fielder, first baseman, shortstop and catcher as well as a pitcher at NCHS.

From 16U to 18U, Lozer played in the summer for the Indiana Bulls — the first two years for coaches Jeff Mercer (now head coach at Wright State University) and Emmitt Carney and the last for Matt Campbell (now head coach at Lapel High School).

“The best thing about (the Bulls) is they are not going for trophies,” says Lozer. “They are developing players to match their potential.”

Mac is the son of attorney and former Davidson College baseball player Jeff Lozer and Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis professor Staci Lozer.

“She takes care of all the boys in the house,” says Mac of his mother.

One younger brother, Alan Lozer, is studying investment banking at Miami University after playing baseball at DePauw University. Youngest brother Scott Lozer is a North Central freshman and Indiana Nitro player.

MACLOZER

Mac Lozer, a graduate of North Central High School in Indianapolis and the University of Michigan, is a pitcher in the New York Mets organization. (Kingsport Mets Photo)

 

Attention to feeder system starting to pay off for Nunley, Deckman, Monroe Central baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

By investing in its feeder system, Monroe Central High School baseball is optimistic about its present and future.

“We’re building the numbers,” says Keith Nunley, who heads into his third season as Randolph County-based Golden Bears head coach in 2018. “We usually have around 20 and hoping to build to 25. The train’s coming a little bit.”

With Nunley (Winchester High School graduate) and best friend and former Ball State University teammate/roommate Matt Deckman (Monroe Central graduate) guiding the varsity squad, MC went 15-11 in 2016 and 14-11 in 2017.

Monroe Central, an IHSAA Class 2A school with an enrollment around 370, sent catcher-outfielder Logan Conklin on the NCAA Division II Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Golden Bears junior shortstop Seth Wilson has verbally committed to Ball State.

A year ago, the Indiana Bears travel organization was established to help train mostly Monroe Central boys (with a few from Winchester).

This spring and summer, the team plans to field five teams — 9U, 10U, 11U, 12U and 15U.

Nunley has two boys (A.J., 12, and Koby, 9) and Deckman three (Bryce, 15, Trey, 10, and Easton, 7). All five are ballplayers. In addition to the Monroe Central Athletic League and all-stars in the spring, they will be involved with the Indiana Bears in the summer. Bryce Deckman is an MC freshman.

“We’re trying to show kids how to play the game the right way,” says Nunley, who was a middle infielder at Ball State 1999-2002 and part of Mid-American Conference regular-season championships in 1999 and 2001 and MAC West titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001. “It’s a transition from recreation league to all-stars to travel.”

The Indiana Bears generally stay within an hour of Parker City to find competition, usually venturing to Hamilton County to play at Grand Park in Westfield at the Noblesville Field of Dreams.

“We try to make it a community event during the summer time with our teams sometimes going to the same place,” says Nunley.

Players also travel to the Lapel area to receive instruction from Mike Shirley and Justin Wechsler. Shirley is a national cross-checker for the Chicago White Sox and former Ball State pitcher Wechsler is a White Sox area scout.

Not only do Nunley and Deckman coach baseball together, they also coach AAU basketball and both are employed by Adrenaline Fundraising.

Players coached by Nunley and Deckman at younger ages are beginning to arrive at the high school level with a foundation of skills and knowledge.

“By the time they get to us, we want to hit the ground running and not have an intro period,” says Nunley. “We want to have them come in ready to go.”

At the smallish school, freshmen are often asked to play a varsity role against a solid schedule.

Monroe Central belongs to the Mid-Eastern Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Randolph Southern, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del).

The sectional group includes Frankton, Lapel, Muncie Burris, Shenandoah and Wapahani. Since they have lights, Frankton and Lapel have been sectional hosts in recent years.

Daleville was 2A state champions in 2016 while Wapahani was 2A state runners-up in 2017.

At Winchester, Nunley played for Bill Bush.

“Coach Bush is great human being,” says Nunley. “He was a great leader and a role model to us players.”

Nunley was a player during head coach Rich Maloney’s first tenure at Ball State and the two have remained close. Maloney came back to Muncie beginning with the 2013 season.

“He took me under his wing,” says Nunley. “It was real special time in my life for sure.”

Current Ball State assistant and recruiting coordinator Scott French was in the same recruiting class with Nunley.

The closeness in the relationship and distance has allowed Monroe Central to play games at BSU when the Cardinals are on the road. The Bears are slated to play Adams Central there on April 21.

Besides Nunley and Deckman, MC’s coaching staff features Bracken Barga (junior varsity and junior high coach), Sean Richardson (pitching and youth program coach) and volunteer assistants Bob Gilmore (who is in his 80’s) and Ryan Taylor (who serves as youth baseball coordinator).

When Nunley, whose wife Kate is a special education teacher at Monroe Central, was hired two-plus years ago, an overhaul of Monroe Central’s on-campus field began. That includes the playing surface, mound and home plate area.

“We spent a lot of time and effort turning that thing around,” says Nunley. “The players and coaches do a good job with the up-keep.

“It drains very well. We’ve had road games rained out and we were able to practice at home.”

EASTONDECKMANAJNUNLEYBRYCEDECKMANTREYDECKMANKOBYNUNLEY

The sons of Monroe Central High School baseball coaches Keith Nunley and Matt Deckman practice on the Golden Bears’ field (from left): Easton Deckman, A.J. Nunley, Bryce Deckman, Trey Deckman and Koby Nunley.

MONROECENTRALBASEBALLFIELD

A view of the Monroe Central High School baseball field from the press box.

KATEKEITHKOBYAJNUNLEY-1

Monroe Central High School baseball bead coach Keith Nunley and wife Kate attend a Notre Dame football game with sons Koby (left) and A.J.

KEITHNUNLEYMATTDECKMANKOBYNUNLEYTREYDECKMAN

Keith Nunley (back, left) and Matt Deckman pose with sons Koby Nunley (left) and Trey Deckman after a 2017 travel tournament for the Indiana Bears.

Campbell, Lapel Bulldogs meeting baseball challenges head-on

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball teams at Lapel High School are faced with unique challenges.

At 470 students, the school is slightly smaller than its corporation partner, Frankton, and one of the smaller ones in the Madison Country area.

Yet, the 2018 schedule for IHSAA Class 2A Lapel features 4A schools like Anderson and Lawrence North and perennial 3A powers like Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and Western plus plenty of talented 2A and 1A programs.

“There are definitely challenges,” says Matt Campbell, who enters his second season as Lapel’s head baseball coach in 2018. “It’s not in the size or the athletes that come out of it. Location is a very interesting factor. There are not a lot a lot of schools in close proximity of the same size. We end up playing a lot bigger schools.

“It’s fun to go up against them and have success on different levels every night. I just want to play good baseball schools and play them well.”

In 2017, Lapel hosted a sectional with Frankton, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Shenandoah and Wapahani. The Bulldogs won sectionals in 1976, 1983, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2013 and 2015. Lapel’s lone regional title came in 2006.

Lapel is also an independent, having left the Indiana Crossroads Conference in 2014-15.

Where the disadvantage comes in is with scheduling. Lapel is often the first team to get dropped when conference teams need to make up games.

“In high school sports, there’s nothing better than having rivalries,” says Campbell. “It’s always better to be playing for something. That’s the same way it is with all sports at Lapel.

“Frankton is our rival (in Frankton-Lapel Community Schools). We may not circle it on the calendar, but everybody knows when that game is going to be played.”

The whole community is mourning the loss of Frankton baseball and basketball assistant Chris Hatzell, who died Dec. 26 at age 44.

“He was a great guy,” says Campbell of Hatzell, the Eagles’ first base coach. “He will be missed.”

Campbell enters his second season as Lapel head baseball coach in 2018. He is the eighth man to lead the program in 11 years. The Class of 2017 had four different coaches in four years.

The baseball field at Lapel went in with the new school building a decade ago, but improvement or maintenance projects have slowed with the coaching turnover. Campbell did participate in a recent irrigation upgrade.

Among those moving on were Brad Lantz, Dustin Glant and Matt Bair.

Lantz, a Lapel graduate, went on to become head coach at Guerin Catholic High School and is now an assistant at Noblesville.

Glant became head coach at Anderson University and is now entering his sixth season as an assistant at Ball State University.

Bair is entering his first season as head coach at Anderson U.

Campbell came to Lapel after serving as an assistant at Pendleton Heights — first to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt and then current Arabians head coach Travis Keesling.

“He is the epitome of baseball,” says Campbell of Stoudt. “I talk to him weekly if not more. I can’t get enough of him. There’s a reason he was so successful. He just loves being around the game. When I got this job, I think he was as excited about the game as I was. I gave him one more connection to the game.”

Stoudt was a regular spectator in 2017 at Lapel games.

Campbell played at Hamilton Southeastern High School, graduating in 2001 — the last season as Royals head coach for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Seitz.

“He has a ton of wisdom to give,” says Campbell of Seitz. “One of those things was — don’t stray, keep to the path. He saw the end in sight that we — as 17- and 18-year-olds — didn’t see.

“That’s something that’s stuck with me for a long time. Especially at this time of year. The season seems so far off. Pitchers and catchers meet at 6 a.m. After school, we finally get access to the gym (after winter sports teams). There’s the time in the weight room. But to us coaches, it seems like it’s just around the corner.

“It’s the dawning of a New Year.”

Campbell has also been coaching with the Indiana Bulls organization since 2006. He began as an assistant to Larry Fowler and took over the 18U squad in 2009 and a few years later joined the board of directors.

Fowler is now an assistant to Campbell at Lapel. His other assistants for 2018 include Ryan Scott, Jim Cook, Cameron Mendel, Hunter Cook, Sam Wides and Cade Luker. Scott, Mendel and Luker are all Lapel graduate. Jim Cook coached at Pendleton Heights and his son, Hunter Cook, played there.

Lapel is currently represented in college baseball by Brady Cherry (Ohio State University) and Jaxon Shirley (Weatherford College in Texas).

Left-hander Devon Frank (Lapel Class of 2018) has verbally committed to Anderson U. Other Bulldogs are considering college options.

Campbell graduated from Indiana University (where he did not play baseball), taught 10 years in Pendleton schools and is now teaching seventh grade at Lapel Middle School. Matt and Christene Campbell have two children — Easton (4) and Teaghan (3 months).

MATTCAMPBELLLAPEL17BRIANGILL

Matt Campbell, a Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate, is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Lapel High School in Madison County in 2018. (Brian Gill Photo)

 

Conwell stays positive with his Cowan Blackhawks baseballers

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a game filled with moments of failure.

Even the very best players and teams will inevitably have plays or games that don’t go their way.

Ryan Conwell chooses not to dwell on the negatives.

The Cowan High School head baseball coach always looks for the silver lining.

“I’m constantly trying to stay positive — no matter what,” says Conwell, who was hired in the fall of 2014 and heads into his fourth season of leading the Blackhawks program in 2018. “Baseball is such a mental sport. Kids get down on themselves enough. They don’t need me mashing it into their heads as well.

“If you fail 7 out of 10 times at the plate, you’re doing well. We have to find something good out of every at-bat and find what we can do better the next time.”

Conwell is a 2002 graduate of Wapahani High School, where he played four baseball seasons — three on varsity — for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley. After graduation, Conwell coached junior high baseball for the Raiders for seven years.

By observing Dudley, Conwell saw the importance of fundamentals and mental toughness.

“We did a lot of reps of everything,” says Conwell. “Almost every practice there was a drill that focused on the mental part of the game, not just the physical part.”

One drill called for nine players to start in the dugout and sprint to nine different positions on the field then spring back to the dugout. Then players had to quickly figure out the next position they would take and then run there. The object was for everyone eventually being at all nine positions.

If two players ever landed at the same place, the mental toughness/communication drill would start over from the beginning.

There was always a lot of work on defensive situations.

What might happen next?

Where does the throw go if the ball is hit to me?

“(Dudley) also insisted that every player on the field needed to be moving on every play,” says Conwell.

After his time with Wapahani, Conwell moved across Delaware County to Delta High School for four seasons — two as a junior varsity coach and two as a varsity assistant on the staff of Terry Summers.

“He went a lot more into the details of the game,” says Conwell of Summers. “He wanted to make sure things were covered. It could be something as small as the wheel play or certain pick-off moves. We worked a lot on situational hitting.”

Conwell has taken what he’s learned about the game and molded it into his own style, which focuses on positivity and fundamentals.

“We do some team building exercises early in the year,” says Conwell. “We frequently stop during a practice to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“Several players play multiple positions. My whole infield can be different depending on who’s pitching that day.”

At a Class 1A school with an enrollment around 230, the Blackhawks have not fielded a JV team since Conwell has been in charge. He is hoping that might change this spring and get his younger players some more playing experience.

“I have a really good incoming freshmen class,” says Conwell. “I think I’ll have eight or nine freshmen. We could have 20-22 kids total.”

The Blackhawks had 18 players in 2015 (including Luke Miller, who is now on the Indiana University team) and 16 in both 2016 and 2017.

Feeding the program is the emergence of a junior high team in 2017. Playing on the varsity field from late May to early July, a combined squad of seventh and eighth graders is expected to play again in 2018 in the Eastern Central Indiana Junior High Baseball League. It’s a circuit that has been headed up by Wapahani’s Jason Dudley.

Cowan plays its games on-campus.

“Every year, we try to do something (to the facility),” says Conwell. “Money is always an issue.”

In Conwell’s second season, a four-foot fence was put up in front of the dugouts. It enlarges the bench area and brings players a little closer to the action.

Re-surfacing of the infield is on the wish list for after the 2018 season.

The Blackhawks play in the 10-team Mid-Eastern Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del). Eastern Hancock and Shenandoah joined the MEC in 2017-18.

Conwell also likes to get many of the traditionally-competitive 1A and 2A teams in the area on his non-conference schedule, including Seton Catholic and Union City in 1A, Burris, Centerville, Eastbrook, Hagerstown, Lapel, Northeastern and Winchester in 2A. Cowan is also slated to play 3A schools Delta and Mississinewa.

The Blackhawks are grouped in a 1A sectional with Anderson Prep Academy, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. In the future, Conwell would like to get more sectional opponents on Cowan’s regular-season schedule.

Not currently in the classroom, Conwell is taking online classes from Western Governors University toward a teaching certificate. Away from coaching, he works I work LifeTouch, a senior portraits lab in Muncie. Ryan and Katlyn Conwell have a daughter named Kinley. She was born in April of 2016 — in the midst of her daddy’s second season at Cowan.

Former Blackhawks baseball player Justin O’Conner is a minor league free agent who began his pro career right after the catcher was selected in the first round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

RYANCONWELL

Ryan Conwell, who heads into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Cowan High School in 2018, shares a moment with wife Katlyn and daughter Kinley (born in April 2016).

Anderson U. alum Bair looks to build ‘culture of brotherhood’ for Ravens

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Reaching out to re-connect with its winning baseball past, Anderson University has hired alum Matt Bair as head coach.

Bair, a 2001 AU graduate, played for and coached with Dr. Don Brandon and participated in the NCAA Division III World Series as a Ravens player (1998) and assistant coach (2003).

“I’ve been able to connect with several alumni already that are excited in the vision we are putting forward with the baseball program,” says Bair, who had former Anderson player and assistant coach Brent Hoober as the best man in his wedding. “We’re trying to gain some of their energy and momentum back.”

Brandon, who is in the Anderson, American Baseball Coaches Association and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame after winning 1,100 games in 38 seasons, created what Bair calls a “culture of brotherhood” while competing at a high level.

With a foundation of respect, trust, loyalty, faith and fun, Bair is hoping to do the same.

“If you focus on the relationships, the wins will be the result,” says Bair. “Everybody is out there to win, but it can’t be the focus. It’s not the only piece of the puzzle. A lot of life lessons can be taught through the game. Coach Brandon was a master at that. He had a lot of wisdom. He gave us some great attributes that we could carry forward and be better men.

“I want players to have great memories of being loved by their coaches and teammates. I want to make this the best life experience possible for them.”

The 1996 Anderson High School graduate returns to campus after three high school head-coaching stops — one season at Cowan, three at Anderson Highland and one at Lapel plus an ongoing relationship with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization as a coach, instructor and board member.

Bair’s coaching staff includes Jim Hazen, Carlos Leyva, Jeff Freeman and Zach Barnes as assistants with J.D. Tammen as statistician, Brandon Schnepp as graduate assistant/baseball operations and Jacob Troxell as volunteer assistant. Leyva and Freeman were assistants to Bair at Anderson Highland.

AU coaches are on the recruiting trail — mostly around Indiana and the Midwest — looking for athletes who can help the Ravens compete in NCAA Division III baseball at a national level as well as in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. That means taking aim at some Division I-type talent.

“We want impact guys in our program,” says Bair. “We go after those big guys because sometimes our school is a good fit for them — academically, athletically and socially.”

Being a D-III school that gives no athletic scholarships, Bair says AU is “looking for kids who take a genuine interest in their academics.”

Besides the talent, Bair and company also look for the intangibles of coachability, competitiveness and caring. They are looking for someone who responds to instruction and is driven while being a good teammate.

Bair, the son of Debbie and Kevin Moore of Anderson and Glen Bair of Lapel, played at Anderson High for Terry Turner and Wally Winans. He was a shortstop on the 1995 Indians that reached the semistate.

“Both of them have a real love for the game and the kids that they coach,” says Bair of Turner and Winans, who were coaches in the 2017 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Muncie. “They were good at the X’s and 0’s of the game, but they also had an impact on developing me as a person. They were always good to me. They helped me grow in the game.”

Matt and Brooke Bair have been married 15 years and have three sons — Landon (13), Isaac (12) and Hogan (9).

Besides recruiting, Bair and his staff have been getting prepared for Aug. 28 — the day that players report to campus, where they will be greeted by an upgraded Don Brandon Field (new sod, bullpens, game mound, batting cages and regular visits from Midwest Turf Management).

“I’m really excited about some of these things we’re doing with our facility,” says Bair. “We want create a showcase field.”

NCAA D-III rules allow 16 days of fall practice. Bair plans to use that time for evaluation through practice and an Orange and Black series.

David Pressley was AU head coach after Brandon’s retirement and served for five seasons (2011-15). Dustin Glant led the Ravens in 2016. Drew Brantley and Mark Calder were interim co-head coaches in 2017.

MATTBAIR

Matt Bair, a 2001 Anderson University graduate, has been named as head baseball coach of the Ravens.

Keeping Kokomo Wildkats on even-keel duty of Swan

rbilogosmall

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.