Tag Archives: LaPorte

Mishawaka graduate Severa leaves coaching legacy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Frank Severa had decades of high school coaching experience and was putting it to use again when sports came to a standstill because of COVID-19.

The 1974 Mishawaka (Ind.) High School graduate was a head coach at Rains High School in Emory, Texas (1982), and LaVille High School in Lakeville, Ind. (1998), and served on the staff of 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber at LaPorte (Ind.) High School (1993-99) as well as many other positions in baseball and football. 

Until recently, he ran his own strength and conditioning business.

Severa became a head baseball coach at the prep level for the third time when he was hired prior to 2020 at Argos (Ind.) Community Junior/Senior High School in Marshall County. Back issues caused him to step down and the pandemic kept him from coaching a game for the Dragons and Mishawaka alum Joe Kindig was hired as head coach for 2021.

Severa died May 19, 2021 at 64.

In his last coaching role, Severa established principles of success:

1. Make a commitment and honor it.

2. Develop a self-discipline work ethic.

“At some point they’ll be left to their own devices,” said Severa. “My eyes aren’t on them all the time.”

3. Accept and apply the coaching we’re offering to them.

4. Find a role on the team and develop it.

5. Develop that TEAM is greater than Me attitude.

“Get beyond the scholarship mentality and go with what’s best for the program,” said Severa.

6. Be accountable to themselves and their teammates.

Severa was a third baseman and pitcher while earning two baseball letters at Mishawaka for coach John Danaher. He was team MVP as a senior.

After taking it on the chin against LaPorte, Severa and a teammate went over to the home of the Slicers and sat on 10th Street, watching Schreiber lead his team through a two-hour practice. He would be an assistant at LaPorte for seven seasons through 1999 — the last year as head junior varsity and program pitching coach.

“There was a lot of pressure,” said Severa. “The JV was expected to win 20 games every year. 

“That was the benchmark.”

Severa was a kicker and defensive lineman for Mishawaka coach Bill Doba on the football field.

Marv Wood, who many know as the coach on the Milan state champions in 1954, was Severa’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes advisor.

“(Wood) had a huge impact on me,” says Severa, who went on to pitch at Central Florida Community College.

At Ball State University, Severa was a kicker for a football program led by Dave McClain. A B.S. in education was earned at BSU in 1980.

Taking a leave of absence from LaPorte, Severa got a masters in education at Valparaiso (Ind.) University in 1998. While at VU, he helped Crusaders head coach Paul Twenge with the baseball team.

Severa was a speaker and organizer at many clinics over the years, including the Chicago Catholic League, Bangor (Mich.) Youth Basseball Coaches, Tri-State Baseball Coaches (bringing in Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Lloyd McClendon as the featured speaker) and Cassopolis (Mich.) Youth Baseball Coaches.

He was a member of the IHSBCA, American Baseball Coaches Association, National High School Baseball Coaches Association.

Severa wrote a screenplay — “Throwback Hero.”

“The premise of the story: A floundering modern-day former baseball MVP mysteriously was up playing for the St. Louis Cardinals Gas House Gang,” says Severa. “The rub is his competition: A cocky 22-year-old rookie who schools him in baseball and life — his grandfather.”

Frank and wife Cheryl Severa had two children — Erin Manering and Frank Severa — and four grandchildren. Erin and Chris Manering have two children as do Frank and Ashley Severa. Cheryl Severa has worked for LaPorte Community Schools.

Frank Severa

Cass enjoying success with South Bend John Adams Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

John Adams High School in South Bend, Ind., is enjoying quite a baseball season so far in 2021.

Under the direction of seventh-year head coach Mike Cass, the Eagles go into a Thursday, May 20 contest at Penn at 15-3 overall and 6-3 in Northern Indiana Conference games.

“It’s the best season we’ve had in years,” says Cass, who has witnessed steady pitching and defense and has shuffled his lineup to produce some offense. Of the three losses, two came down to the seventh inning.

“We’ve gotten lucky,” says Eagles pitching coach Taylor Neville. “We’ve got pretty good depth at the pitching spot. 

“We always try to develop (the young arms) and give them time at the JV level or in a intrasquad game or a doubleheader where we’re trying to get guys playing time. We see how they perform and what we can fix. We come up with a plan for them. 

“We’ve really had a lot of guys develop. It know it just doesn’t happen here but in summer ball.”

Neville cites Adams senior Bryce Martens as someone who has gotten better as his prep career has progressed.

“In his freshman came up with us (to varsity),” says Neville. “His first game pitching was against Jimtown and he was really struggling with the curve ball. We worked on that and got a very nice curve ball out of it.

“He’s just continued to develop.”

Neville is a graduate of Gahanna (Ohio) Lincoln High School.

C.J. Schwartz, another Adams assistant, graduate from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School and played baseball at Grace College in Winona, Lake, Ind.

What does Cass stress with his Adams players?

“Leadership, sportsmanship and fundamentals,” says Cass. “We want to do the little things in baseball like bunt coverage and being where you’re supposed to be (at your position) and those sorts of things.”

Prior to taking over the Adams program, Cass was an assistant to former South Bend St. Joseph head coach John Gumpf and before that an assistant to Scott Sherry at John Adams. 

He credits Gumpf for much about what he knows about coaching the game.

Cass coached at South Bend East Side Little League before his first stint at Adams.

Cass came to Indiana from Pennsbury Township, Pa. — west of Philadelphia where he rooted for the Philadelphia Phillies and his favorite player, Mike Schmidt.

Further educated at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Ind., and Indiana University South Bend, Cass has been a bookkeeper in the South Bend Community School Corporation for the past 20 years — mostly at John Adams.

Adams (enrollment around 1,950) is a member of the NIC (with Bremen, Elkhart, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington).

“We’ve got some good coaches in this conference,” says Cass. “You can tell they’re good coaches because they’re always there building a program.”

The Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka, Plymouth (the 2021 host) and Riley. Adams has won six sectional titles — the last in 2009.

Adams plays its home games at School Field, which is located about a mile off-campus next to the football field of the same name and Jefferson Traditional School.

Mike Cass (South Bend John Adams High School Photo)

IHSAA releases baseball state tournament series sites

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Where is your team going come sectional time?

What if they make the regional or semistate?

Who hosts the semistates?

When are the State Finals planned?

Those questions were answered as IHSAA Executive Committee minutes from Feb. 19 were released March 8.

According to the IHSAA website, Assistant Commissioner Robert Faulkens reported on the general format, sites and other preliminary plans for the 2020-21 Baseball Tournament Series. 

Faulkens was notified by the Indianapolis Indians that their schedule is now set by Major League Baseball rather than the International League and has the team set for home games on the dates of this year’s IHSAA State Finals. The plan now will be to play this year’s state championship games on the following Monday and Tuesday (June 21-22). 

Earlier, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association announced its plans to have its Futures Game and North/South All-Star Series that same week in Evansville.

The first IHSAA practice date is March 15. The first contest date is March 29.

IHSAA TOURNAMENT

Sectionals
Class 4A
1. Merrillville (6): East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland, Lake Central, Merrillville, Munster.
2. Chesterton (7): Andrean, Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Lowell, Portage, Valparaiso.
3. Plymouth (6): LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka, Plymouth, South Bend Adams, South Bend Riley.
4. Northridge (6): Concord, Elkhart, Goshen, Northridge, Penn, Warsaw Community.
5. Carroll (Fort Wayne) (5): Carroll (Fort Wayne), DeKalb, East Noble, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider

6. Huntington North (6): Columbia City, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead, Huntington North.
7. Lafayette Jefferson (5): Harrison (West Lafayette), Kokomo, Lafayette Jefferson, Logansport, McCutcheon.
8. Westfield (6): Carmel, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield, Zionsville.
9. Pendleton Heights (6): Anderson, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Muncie Central, Pendleton Heights, Richmond.

10. Ben Davis (7): Ben Davis, Indianapolis Arsenal Technical, Indianapolis Cathedral, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central (Indianapolis), Pike
11. Warren Central (6): Franklin Central, New Palestine, Perry Meridian, , Roncalli, Southport, Warren Central.
12. Plainfield (6): Avon, Brownsburg, Decatur Central, Plainfield, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo.
13. Mooresville (6): Center Grove, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Whiteland Community.
14. Bloomington North (6): Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus East, Columbus North, East Central, Shelbyville.
15. New Albany (6): Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, New Albany, Seymour.
16. Evansville F.J. Reitz (6): Castle, Evansville Central, Evansville F.J. Reitz, Evansville Harrison, Evansville North, Jasper.

Class 3A
17. Griffith (6): Calumet, Gary West Side, Griffith, Hammond, Hammond Clark, Hammond Gavit.
18. Kankakee Valley (6): Culver Academies, Glenn, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox, River Forest.
19. South Bend Clay (5): Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, South Bend Clay, South Bend Saint Joseph, South Bend Washington.
20. Northwestern (7): Benton Central, Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette, Western.

21. Wawasee (6): Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee, West Noble.
22. Garrett (7): Angola, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Garrett, Leo, New Haven.
23. Bellmont (6): Bellmont, Heritage, Marion, Mississinewa, Norwell, Oak Hill.
24. Yorktown (6): Delta, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle, Yorktown.
25. North Montgomery (6): Crawfordsville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Northview, South Vermillion.

26. Brebeuf Jesuit (5): Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory, Danville Community, Greencastle, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Tri-West Hendricks.
27. Beech Grove (5): Beech Grove, Herron, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, Indianapolis Emmerich Manual, Indianapolis Shortridge.
28. Owen Valley (6): Brown County, Edgewood, Indian Creek, Owen Valley, Sullivan, West Vigo.
29. Lawrenceburg (7): Batesville, Connersville, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville Consolidated, South Dearborn.
30. Silver Creek (8): Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, Madison Consolidated, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg, Silver Creek.
31. Southridge (6): Gibson Southern, Pike Central, Princeton Community, Southridge, Vincennes Lincoln, Washington 

32. Evansville Bosse (5): Boonville, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Reitz Memorial, Heritage Hills, Mt. Vernon.

Class 2A
33. Whiting (6): Bowman Leadership Academy, Gary Roosevelt, Hammond Bishop Noll, Lake Station Edison, Wheeler, Whiting.

34. Hebron (6): Boone Grove, Hebron, North Judson-San Pierre, North Newton, Rensselaer Central, Winamac Community.
35. Westview (6): Bremen, Central Noble, Fairfield, LaVille, Prairie Heights, Westview.
36. Eastside (6): Adams Central, Bluffton, Churubusco, Eastside, South Adams, Woodlan.
37. Wabash (6): Carroll (Flora), Lewis Cass, Manchester, Rochester Community, Wabash, Whitko.
38. Delphi (6): Clinton Prairie, Delphi Community, Fountain Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Seeger, Western Boone.
39. Eastern (Greentown) (6): Blackford, Eastbrook, Eastern (Greentown), Madison-Grant, Taylor, Tipton.
40. Lapel (8): Alexandria Monroe, Elwood Community, Frankton, Lapel, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Wapahani, Winchester Community.
41. Centerville (5): Centerville, Hagerstown, Northeastern, Shenandoah, Union County.
42. Heritage Christian (6): Eastern Hancock, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Knightstown, Triton Central.
43. Cascade (6): Cascade, Covenant Christian (Indpls), Monrovia, Park Tudor, Speedway, University.
44. Southmont (5): Cloverdale, North Putnam, Parke Heritage, South Putnam, Southmont.
45. South Ripley (6): Milan, North Decatur, South Decatur, South Ripley, Southwestern (Hanover), Switzerland County.
46. Eastern (Pekin) (6): Austin, Clarksville, Crawford County, Eastern (Pekin), Henryville, Providence.

47. Mitchell (6): Eastern Greene, Linton-Stockton, Mitchell, North Knox, Paoli, South Knox.
48. Tell City (6): Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, North Posey, Perry Central, South Spencer, Tell City.

Class 1A
49. Washington Township (8): 21st Century Charter-Gary, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Kouts, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township, Westville.

50. LaCrosse (7): Argos, Culver Community, LaCrosse, Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy, South Central (Union Mills), Triton.
51. Fremont (7): Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont, Hamilton, Lakewood Park Christian
52. Caston (7): Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, Pioneer, Southwood, West Central.
53. Riverton Parke (5): Attica, Covington, Faith Christian, North Vermillion, Riverton Parke.
54. Frontier (6): Clinton Central, Frontier, Rossville, Sheridan, South Newton, Tri-County.
55. Liberty Christian (7): Anderson Preparatory Academy, Cowan, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells, Tri-Central, Wes-Del.
56. Seton Catholic (6): Blue River Valley, Cambridge City Lincoln, Randolph Southern, Seton Catholic, Tri, Union City.
57. White River Valley (6): Bloomfield, Clay City, Eminence, North Central (Farmersburg), Shakamak, White River Valley
58. Bethesda Christian (6): Bethesda Christian, Indiana School for the Deaf, Irvington Preparatory Academy, Providence Cristo Rey, Tindley, Traders Point Christian.
59. Morristown (6): Edinburgh, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Lutheran, Morristown, Southwestern (Shelbyville), Waldron.
60. Jac-Cen-Del (6): Hauser, Jac-Cen-Del, Oldenburg Academy, Rising Sun, Trinity Lutheran.
61. South Central (Elizabeth) (5): Borden, Christian Academy of Indiana, Lanesville, Orleans, South Central (Elizabeth).
62. West Washington (4): Crothersville, New Washington, Shawe Memorial, West Washington.
63. North Daviess (5): Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Daviess, Shoals, Vincennes Rivet.
64. Northeast Dubois (5): Cannelton, Northeast Dubois, Springs Valley, Tecumseh, Wood Memorial.

Regionals 

Class 4A 

1. LaPorte
Feeder Sectionals: Chesterton, LaPorte, Merrillville, Northridge.
2. Kokomo
Feeder Sectionals: DeKalb, Huntington North, Lafayette Jefferson, Westfield.
3. Plainfield
Feeder Sectionals: Ben Davis Pendleton Heights, Terre Haute South Vigo, Warren Central.
4. Jasper
Feeder Sectionals: Bloomington North, Evansville F.J. Reitz, Jennings County, Mooresville.

Class 3A 

5. Griffith
Feeder Sectionals: Griffith, Kankakee Valley, South Bend Clay, Northwestern.
6. Bellmont
Feeder Sectionals: Wawasee, Garrett, Bellmont, Yorktown.
7. Danville
Feeder Sectionals: Beech Grove, Brebeuf Jesuit, North Montgomery, Owen Valley.
8. Southridge
Feeder Sectionals: Evansville Bosse, Lawrenceburg, Silver Creek, Southridge.

Class 2A
9. Whiting 

Feeder Sectionals: Whiting, Eastside, Hebron, Westview.

10. Lafayette Central Catholic
Feeder Sectionals: Delphi, Eastern (Greentown), Lapel, Wabash.
11. Park Tudor/Cascade
Feeder Sectionals: Cascade, Centerville, Heritage Christian, Southmont.
12. Evansville Mater Dei (Bosse Field)
Feeder Sectionals: Eastern (Pekin), Mitchell, South Ripley, Tell City.

Class 1A 

13. South Bend Washington
Feeder Sectionals: Caston, Fremont, LaCrosse, Washington Township.
14. Carroll (Flora)
Feeder Sectionals: Frontier, Liberty Christian, Riverton Parke, Seton Catholic.
15. Morristown
Feeder Sectionals: Bethesda Christian, Jac-Cen-Del, Morristown, White River Valley.
16. Lanesville
Feeder Sectionals: North Daviess, Northeast Dubois, South Central (Elizabeth), West Washington.

Semi-States 

1. LaPorte
2. Kokomo
3. Mooresville 

4. Jasper 

State Finals 

Victory Field (Indianapolis), 501 W. Maryland Street, Indianapolis
The eight (8) winning teams of the semi-state tourneys shall constitute the participants in the state tourney. 

Fessel wants North Harrison Cougars to ‘Win The Day’

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Win The Day.”

It’s a phrase that Kevin Fessel has tied to his role as head baseball coach at North Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind.

“We want to win in baseball, but we also want to be good people,” says Fessel, a 1996 North Harrison graduate. “I’m coaching young men to be husbands and fathers.

“Do what’s right even when no one’s watching.”

An assistant to Cody Johnson for three seasons, Fessel took over the Cougars program for the 2019 season. 

Of course, the 2020 schedule was taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was kind of heart-breaking,” says Fessel. “I contacted schools in Harrison and Crawford counties to see if they wanted to put together a Senior Day. We had a date set. Then there were more stipulations and no visitors were allowed on-campus.

“It was even more of a gut punch.”

A member of the North Harrison Class of 2020 — Dawson Howell — did go to Vincennes University to play baseball. Colin Higdon (Class of 2021) has committed to Franklin (Ind.) College.

Other Cougars to move on to college ball include 2019 grads Justin Deatrick (Central Methodist University in Fayette, Mo.) and Jake Harley (Kentucky Wesleyan College) and 2018 grad Max Flock (Vincennes U.).

During fall and winter workouts, North Harrison players have worked on their glove work — back hands, forehands etc. There’s been plyo-ball and core work. They’ve also gotten into the school’s hitting facility to polish their mechanics. 

“We got outside as much as we could,” says Fessel. “We did long toss and get our arm strength.

“With missing last year, I feel we got put behind the 8-ball.”

Once things opened up again in the summer, a few of Fessel’s players got to play travel ball. But the majority of them did not see game action on the diamond though there was some practice in July.

“It was just fun to be outside more than anything,” says Fessel. “We were getting re-connected. It felt like we couldn’t see them for the longest time.”

During the shutdown, Fessel and his players stayed in-touch through group chats. To keep the boys’ minds sharp, he coach offered scenarios from the baseball case book. He’d ask, “What’s the call on this?”

“I was testing their I.Q. and keeping them baseball-minded,” says Fessel. “We were trying to keep upbeat and stay ready during that COVID time. Then they shut it all down. 

“A lot of (players) shut down themselves and I really worried about them.”

North Harrison (enrollment around 700) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek).

The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, Madison Consolidated, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek. North Harrison has won nine sectional championships — the last in 2015.

Fessel’s 2021 assistant coaches include Tony Waynescott (varsity), John Miller (junior varsity) and volunteers Chris Koutsoubos and Micah Napper.

North Harrison plays its games on campus on a field that’s dimensions are larger than many high school facilities — 320 feet down the foul lines, 365 in gaps and 390 to dead center field. 

“We don’t see a lot of home runs,” says Fessel, who says baseballs used in 2021 will need to be approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE).

Fessel says the Cougars’ field is expected to see a new wind screen this spring.

A middle school club baseball team is part of North Harrison’s feeder program. Ideally, there are enough players for separate seventh and eighth grade teams who play in a league filled with Hoosier Hills Conference feeder schools.

Since the middle school shares the same field with the high school, there is a movement to get a Pony League diamond built at the North Harrison Cal Ripken complex. The youth league for Grades K-6 tends to have about 220 participants.

Fessel played baseball for Danny Schmidt and football for Chuck Walker — both still North Harrison teachers.

Both men set an example about work ethic.

“Danny was one of those guys who were there all the time,” says Fessel. “He worked hard. That stuck with me.

“He did it for the players.”

Walker saw Fessel go on to play football at the next level at Franklin College, where he played two seasons for Mike McClure and two for Bill Unsworth.

It was at Franklin that Fessel met Michelle Knoll. The couple will celebrate 20 years of marriage in July and have three children — Brody (16), Bryce (13) and Abigail (9). 

North Harrison sophomore Brody Fessel is likely to be the Cougars’ starting catcher in 2021. He is also a varsity basketball player and football manager. Seventh grader Bryce Fessel plays football, basketball and is on the middle school baseball team. Third grader Abigail Fessel plays softball.

At LaPorte (Ind.) High School, Michelle was a batgirl for Hall of Fame coach Ken Schreiber

Since earning his History degree from Franklin and teaching certification at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Kevin has been an educator and football coach. 

He taught for nine years at Highland Hills Middle Schools (part of the Floyd Central system) and is in his sixth year at North Harrison Middle School, where he teaches eighth grade U.S. History. 

Fessel was on the varsity football staff at North Harrison 2000-08 — the last five assisting Jason Mullis. The 2009 season was spent with Brian Glesing at Floyd Central for coaching at Floyd Central Middle School 2010-14. In 2015, he returned to North Harrison. His primary responsibility on Mark Williamson’s staff is defensive line.

Kevin Fessel is the head baseball coach at Northern Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind.

Kankakee Valley coach Nelson values discipline, accountability

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Nelson came up in baseball surrounded by successful coaches. There were men who believed in discipline. 

He played for Tom Levandoski at Portage (Ind.) High School, graduating in 1992. The Indians were in the Duneland Athletic Conference with LaPorte, led by legend Ken Schreiber (seven state titles and 1,010 victories). 

Levandoski was a student manager under Hall of Famer Schreiber at LaPorte and emulated the esteemed coach.

“He was very hard core and no-nonsense,” says Nelson of Levandoski. “But he got a lot out of his guys.

“We beat LaPorte in the (1991 LaPorte) Regional final, 1-0. And we didn’t win there (often).”

Nelson knows about the way former McCutcheon and current Twin Lakes coach Jake Burton goes about his business and appreciates it.

“It got to see how Coach Schreiber carried himself,” says Nelson. “He would hold guys responsible and accountable with how they acted off the field and that carries on the field.

“That’s getting more and more challenging these days.”

Nelson, a former head coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., and assistant at Portage and Washington Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., took over as head baseball coach at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatland, Ind., for the 2019 season.

He has also been a head girls basketball coach at Marquette Catholic in Michigan City, Hanover Central and River Forest before taking over at KV in 2018-19.

In the spring of 2019, the Kougars baseball team had eventual IHSAA Class 3A state champion Andrean down 7-3 in the seventh inning of the Kankakee Valley Sectional championship game before bowing 8-7.

“That’s how close we are to beating a good team,” says Nelson. “But you’ve got to get 21 outs.

“A lot of kids from that team that are back (two years later).”

The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season.

“Boys are champing at the bit and ready to get back on the field,” says Nelson. “We have a mix of seniors doing a good job of being leaders with juniors following their lead and sophomores continuing that.

“I like our depth.”

In the fall, the Kougars held IHSAA Limited Contacted Period practices outside as often as possible with plenty of fungos to fielders and swings by hitters.

“Being out on the field again was awesome,” says Nelson. “We had 20-plus (participants) every time.”

Nelson expects 40 to 45 players in the spring to fill out varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams. 

Winter workouts have consisted of plenty of weight room and batting cage work. When the weather has allowed, KV players have gone outside and used the baseball field on turf football playing or practice fields.

“We have a pretty nice field,” says Nelson of the lighted facility that has served many times as a sectional host site. Beyond the right field fence is a corn field. In left there is woods.

Assistant coaches for 2021 are Jim Pint (varsity), Jordon VanWienen (varsity), Jeremy Rozhon (JV) and Steve Schmidt (freshmen).

DeMotte Little League and Wheatfield Little League feed the Kankakee Valley program. Though slowed down in 2020 by the pandemic, Nelson hopes to establish a junior high program.

Nolan McKim, a 2020 KV graduate, is on the baseball team at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. There are no college commitments yet from current Kougars.

Kankakee Valley (enrollment around 1,100) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Lowell and Munster).

The conference plays two-game home-and-away series on consecutive weekdays.

The Kougars are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Culver Academy, John Glenn, Hanover Central, Knox and River Forest. Kankakee Valley has won four sectional titles — the last in 1999.

During his stint at Portage, Nelson assisted Bob Dixon.

“He was just great for the kids — a players’ coach,” says Nelson. “He would give the shirt off his back for the boys. He had them playing hard for each other.

“Portage takes a blue-collar/us-against-the-world mentality. We stuck together and fought.”

Randy Roberts is the head coach at Washington Township. His 2019 Senators were Class 1A state runners-up.

“Randy Roberts is the best coach of any sport in northwest Indiana,” says Nelson. “He is very humble. The (Porter County Conference) is a very good small-school baseball conference.”

Nelson was introduced to Roberts by brother Dustin. Max Roberts, Randy’s son and a Valparaiso High graduate, has pitched in the Seattle Mariners organization.

At Hanover Central, Nelson took the Wildcats to the 2011 Class 2A championship game where they were topped 8-1 by South Spencer. HC ace Andy Wellwerts stuck out 128 batters in 73 innings that season. He went on to play in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Stars Series.

Jesse Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate, set the state career record for hits (206) and went on to play at the University of Nebraska and in the Philadelphia Phillies system.

Nelson holds an elementary education degree with a physical education endorsement from Valparaiso University, where he played one season of baseball for Paul Twenge. Merel Nelson, Doug’s father, was VU’s athletic equipment manager.

A masters degree in administration was later earned by Nelson.

Doug is married to Ann Marie and has two sons — Nathan Ramian (28) and Kale Nelson (21). Nathan has coached freshman baseball and girls basketball at Portage and works in the IT department for Portage Township Schools). Kale is a junior at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis.

Doug Nelson (left) enjoys time with wife Ann Marie. Doug is head baseball coach at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatfield, Ind.

Mattingly grateful for chance to make impact with Asbury U.

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Eagles of Asbury University are on the rise in the NAIA baseball world.

The private school 80 miles southeast of Louisville, Ky.,  went from 18-35 in 2017 to 20-22 in 2018 to 24-22 in 2019 to 14-4 in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season with Manny Cervantes as head coach. 

In 2018, the Eagles lost many pitchers and position players to injury and still had a chance to be one of the six teams in the River States Conference tournament.

Asbury was hot and cold in the first half of 2019. After being swept in a three-game series with Cincinnati Christian University, the team re-focused and went 15-9 the rest of the way with the Eagles’ first-ever series win at Indiana University Southeast.

Before 2020 was cut short, Asbury won 11 of its last 13 games.

Cervantes brought Brandon Mattingly on board as Asbury as pitching coach in ’17 and the team earned run average has shrank each year from 6.68 to 5.78 to 4.28 to 2.47.

Mattingly, 35, has earned a reputation as a pitching instructor and top-flight recruiter.

In 1998, Mattingly played for a team — St. Matthews American — that came one game from making the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

At 18, he was in a very different place.

A 2003 graduate of Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, Mattingly went to West Lafayette, Ind., to be a pitcher for Purdue University. 

An injury to the right-hander kept him from getting into a game for the Boilermakers and Mattingly moved on from the game and transferred to Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette and received an Associate of Arts degree then moved back to Louisville.

Mattingly was studying Political Science and in the Pre-Law honors program at the University of Louisville when he shifted and started his own real estate title business. He now works as a title examiner, doing a lot of jobs with Sutton Real Estate.

He stumbled into the opportunity to coach with the Vipers Baseball Club travel organization and was with 18U and 17U teams in 2014 and 2015.

“Barry Pennybaker gave me the opportunity to work with pitchers,” says Mattingly. “I built a rapport with those young men quickly.”

Mattingly was later made the main pitching coach for 16U through 18U Vipers.

It was while coaching the Vipers in a summer tournament hosted by Asbury in 2016 that Mattingly met Cervantes.

“He let me know that his pitching coach had just moved on,” says Mattingly. “He told me his vision of building into the top team in the region.”

Cervantes encouraged Mattingly to apply for the position.

“He was very gracious in allowing me that opportunity,” says Mattingly of Cervantes. “He spoke highly of me to board members and the athletic director. He put himself on the line for me.

“I had no experience coaching college baseball.”

Mattingly does not regret his decision.

“This is a place I belong,” says Mattingly. “They have allowed me to come into their world and be involved with some of the best people I’ve ever met.

“It’s important to me that I’m able to express how grateful I am to be at Asbury.”

Mattingly started at Asbury in the fall of 2016.

“We had talented young men on the roster, but not as much depth as other schools,” says Mattingly. “We were still shifting the culture to winning while reflecting God’s grace.”

With hunger for championships, Mattingly began using his relationships built through the Vipers to bring in student-athletes that could have an immediate impact for the Eagles.

“We made it pretty clear pretty quickly that we were going to be a player in recruiting baseball talent,” says Mattingly. “The ability to develop relationships with younger players gave us a leg up.”

Not as stringent as the NCAA recruiting calendar, the NAIA allows for this.

“Developing relationships is the priority,” says Mattingly. “You get a lot of opportunities to talk with these young men and their parents.

Mattingly lets them know they are interest in them as an athlete, student and a child of God.

“We treat them with respect,” says Mattingly.

Besides Asbury, baseball-playing schools in the River States Conference are Alice Lloyd College (Pippa Passes, Ky.), Brescia University (Owensboro, Ky.), Indiana University Kokomo (Ind.), Indiana University Southeast (New Albany, Ind.), Midway (Ky.) University, Oakland City (Ind.), University, Ohio Christian University (Circleville, Ohio), Point Park University (Pittsburgh, Pa.), University of Rio Grande (Ohio) and West Virginia University Institute of Technology (Beckley, W.Va.).

Among others in the area are the University of the Cumberlands (Williamsburg, Ky.), Campbellsville (Ky.) University, Georgetown (Ky.) College, Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Ky.), University of Pikeville (Ky.) and Thomas More University (Crestview Hills, Ky.).

“Eyes pay attention to this part of the country,” says Mattingly. “We want to make dents in those recruiting classes.”

After the COVID lockdown, some Asbury players were able to play in the College Summer League at Grand Park (Westfield, Ind.) and the Commonwealth Collegiate Baseball League in Lexington, Ky.

Granted an extra year of eligibility, four Kentucky-bred seniors — right-hander Will McDonald, left fielder Colton Back, first baseman/designated hitter C.J. Compton and righty reliever Austin Jennings — decided to come back for a fifth year in 2021. McDonald is the ace of the pitching staff and joins back Back as a second-year team captain. 

First baseman Paul Haupt and center fielder Garrett McIntire — a pair of juniors — can track their relationship with Brandon back to the Vipers.

Mattingly has also been pitching coach for the Ohio Valley League’s Henderson (Ky.) Flash since 2017 (minus the canceled 2020 season) and has built relationships with coaches and players in the southern part of Indiana.

The Asbury roster features junior right-handed pitcher/infielder Walker Paris (Mt. Vernon), sophomore infielder Gabe Falcone (Silver Creek) and three freshmen — right-handed pitchers Wes Allen (Southridge) and Cameron Crick (Greenwood Community) and infielder Alex Stroud (Roncalli).

Payton Mattingly (no relation to Brandon) was an Asbury senior in 2020 after playing at Southridge High (for father Gene) and Olney (Ill.) Central Community College.

Former Flash left-hander Andy Samuelson (a graduaate of LaPorte, Ind., High School) was drafted in the 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

Brandon Mattingly has been the baseball pitching coach at Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky., since 2017. He is also the recruiting coordinator. He has been pitching coach for the summer collegiate Henderson (Ky.) Flash since 2017 and got his coaching start with the Louisville-based Vipers Baseball Club. ( Henderson Flash Photo)

Coulter, South Central Satellites eager for ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Coulter has been head baseball coach at South Central Junior/Senior High School in Union Mills, Ind., for more than 500 days and has yet to earn a win or loss.

Hired prior to 2020, there was much anticipation with a talented group coming back. 

The Satellites won the Porter County Conference for just the third time (2009 and 2017 were the other title seasons) and the IHSAA Class 1A South Bend Career Academy Sectional before losing in the South Bend Regional championship to eventual state runner-up and fellow PCC member Washington Township in 2019. 

Several key starters from that squad returned in 2020.

But the Satellites never took the field in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“That’s the hand we’ve been dealt,” says Coulter. “Like everyone else.”

Coulter and company now getting ready for 2021 with more high hopes.

“I think we’ll be a dark horse this year,” says Coulter. “We’ve revamped the entire program and internally changed our mindset.”

South Central (enrollment around 325) is part of a 1A sectional grouping with Argos, Culver Community, LaCrosse, Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy and Triton. The Satellites have won 16 sectional crowns, including 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. South Central won regional crowns in 1999, 2005, 2006 and 2011.

“We’re the sectional favorite or co-favorite almost every year,” says Coulter. “We don’t want winning sectional defining our season.”

When the Satellites break a huddle in practice, the chant is “138.”

That’s the number of miles from Satellite Field to Victory Field in Indianapolis — site of the IHSAA State Finals.

“We have a very talented group,” says Coulter. “It’s an exciting time to be a South Central baseball player.

“We’re more poised now to make a pretty deep (tournament) run.”

Last summer, South Central took part in five travel tournaments. No players were turned away. There were 32 taking part in games and workouts.

With the majority of the varsity lineup committed to other travel teams, 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds played in 17U events. 

With all the players together, a title was won at the On Turf Sports Classic in Columbia City, Ind., beating a team made up of Avon and Plainfield high school players for the championship. There was also a squad from Cincinnati and the Harris Storm (Penn High School players).

There are currently 38 identified with the program, including 18 freshmen. One member of the Class of 2024 — pitcher Bradley Ferrell — shined at a recent Perfect Game event in Florida.

Coulter is a 2009 LaPorte High School graduate. Other LPHS alums on his Satellite coaching staff include pitching coach Tony Ferrell (a member of the 1992 state champions and father of Bradley), Dave Santana and Garrett Kautz with the varsity. Alex Rochowiak is the JV head coach. Zach Lee is the JV pitching coach. Chesterton High School graduate Rochowiak played is the son of Michigan City High School head coach Jeff Rochowiak.

South Central has also gotten new uniforms for its varsity and junior teams and put a new windscreen completely around its home park.

The coaching staff donated their 2020 salaries to pay for infield playing mix, which helps with turnaround time on rain days.

The grass baseline have been replaced with dirt.

“It looks more like a baseball field now,” says Coulter.

Besides South Central, the Porter County Conference includes Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

Boone Grove won the IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2018 with Washington Township making it to the Class 1A finale in 2019.

“It’s a pretty solid conference in baseball,” says Coulter. Currently the largest of Indiana’s 1A schools, South Central has yet to win a PCC tournament.

Recent South Central graduates now in NCAA Division I college baseball are Carson Husmann (Bradley University) and Kyle Schmack (Valparaiso University).

The Satellite Series — a competition among groups — was launched in November and will continue until tryouts in March. Upperclassmen drafted teams of underclassmen. Teams compete for weekly points based on attendance, Baseball I.Q. sessions, in-person hitting sessions and school grades.

“The kids have absolutely eaten it up,” says Coulter, who adds that they are vying for a letter jacket patch and a steak dinner grilled by the coaching staff.

South Central players build their Baseball I.Q. with Zoom sessions that have included guests like Evan Miller (a pitcher in the San Diego Padres system who starred at LaPorte High and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) and Rob Younce (a Philadelphia Phillies scout and national travel coach with the Canes).

Coulter encourages his players to talk and think like a coach and presents lessons from American Baseball Coaches Association convention speakers and the Baseball Coaching Bible edited by Jerry Kindall and John Winkin and featuring 27 coaches including LaPorte legend Ken Schreiber.

“It’s been real beneficial,” says Coulter. “The No. 1 priority in our program is to play catch. If you can’t play catch, you can’t play baseball.

“(Our players) hear some words from people at the top of the game.”

There are plans for Coulter and his assistant to tap into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic, which will stream its speakers to members Saturday, Jan. 16. 

“It allows us to grow and stay current with the times,” says Coulter.

After playing football and lacrosse and a few seasons of basketball in high school, Coulter went to Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., where he pursued a Business Management degree and served as a student assistant football coach on the staff of Shannon Griffith.

After a season a junior varsity baseball coach at LaPorte, Coulter led the South Shore Smoke 13U travel team.

Coulter and partner Kevin Tran are Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agents based in LaPorte. 

Zach Coulter is the head baseball coach at South Central High School in Union Mills, Ind. The graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., is also a Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agent in LaPorte.

Snyder in second go-round leading LaCrosse Tigers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eric Snyder’s coaching style is based on discipline.

In his second stint as head baseball coach at LaCrosse (Ind.) High School, Snyder expects his Tigers to say “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’am” and to keep their hair neat and jerseys tucked in. They must stay on top of their studies.

“Today’s society shies away from discipline,” says Snyder, who led LaCrosse for five seasons (2000-04 with IHSAA Class 1A top-10 rankings in four of those seasons and a West Central Sectional title in 2002) then took time off to raise his children. “There’s a way to win and it does take discipline.”

During his first Tigers tenure, 18 players went on to college baseball in five years. 

“I push extremely hard with grades,” says Snyder. “That’s part of the discipline factor. I want people to say that’s a baseball player at the school.

“They know we’re different.”

Snyder derived this approach from the men he encountered along his baseball path. A 1986 graduate of South Central High School at Union Mills, Ind., he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Schellinger and later coached with him. He also coached C-team boys basketball and was involved in Hanna youth baseball.

Snyder was on the Satellites high school baseball staff for 11 years before taking over the reins at LaCrosse.

While still a player, Snyder was on a world champion Junior Olympic team that featured IHSBCA Hall of Famers Ric Tomaszewski and Len Buczkowski plus Jim Dermody among the coaches. These men all ran extremely disciplined high school programs — Tomaszewski at South Bend Washington, Buczkowski at South Bend Adams and Dermody at Warsaw. 

Teammates included LaPorte High School’s Scott Upp and Greg Perschke. Upp went on to be head coach at LaPorte, following legend Ken Schreiber and Perschke the head coach at Trine University in Angola, Ind.

One of Snyder’s best friends in coaching is Washington Township’s Randy Roberts. They share similar styles.

“I had a good upbringing,” says Snyder, 52. “I’m very appreciative of all the people that came into my life.”

While he came back to just in time to have the 2020 season taken away because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are plenty of positives surrounding LaCrosse baseball.

Nearly $60,000 — most of it donated — has been poured into the improvement of Tiger Field, which is located less than a mile northeast of the school building.

“It’s going to surprise a lot of people,” says Snyder of an ongoing project at the Dewey Township-owned facility that has added a new net back stop with a four-foot brick wall inside and stone outside plus updated dugouts, mound and plate areas and an infield sprinkler system with more to come.

Snyder is approaching 19 years with North Star Stone in Valparaiso, Ind. The company manufactures and installs stone products.

Snyder expects as many as 28 players (including 13 freshmen) this spring, meaning the Tigers will be able to field a junior varsity team for likely the first time ever.

Helping Snyder coach are Brian “Chico” Lipscomb, J.T. Snyder and Dan Snyder. Lipscomb was a standout at LaPorte who played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. J.T., Eric’s son, and Dan, Eric’s nephew, played at South Central. Dan Snyder, who pitched and was the athlete of the year at Purdue University Northwest, is LaCrosse’s pitching coach.

Other former college or pro players have come in to help teach the Tigers.

Feeding the high school program is the Southwest County Conference — a youth league for ages 5 to 12 with teams feeding schools at LaCrosse, Wanatah, Clinton, Hanna and Union Mills. LaCrosse uses the softball field near Tiger Field.

“I’m a big part of that,” says Snyder. “I want to teach them everything I need them to know (at the high school level).

“We teach them how to bunt, lead off and steal. We treat the youngest kids just like they were freshmen.”

LaCrosse (enrollment around 105) is a member of the Porter County Conference (with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, Morgan Township, South Central, Washington Township and Westville).

PCC schools field junior high teams and Snyder is there to guide the LaCrosse squad for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

The Tigers are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Argos, Culver Community, Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy, South Central (Union Mills) and Triton. LaCrosse has won three sectional titles — 1976, 1989 and 2002.

In coaching LaCrosse fifth and sixth grade boys basketball players this winter, Snyder took over a team with a 1.7 grade-point average. By season’s end it was 3.1.

“That’s why I’m involved at the lower levels,” says Snyder.

LaCrosse conducted fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period workouts and is just getting started with winter conditioning/practice given that so many baseball players also play basketball.

Eric and Sara Snyder have five children (two girls followed by three sons) — Alex (26), Danielle (25), J.T. (23), R.J. (21) and Eli (10). The four oldest were all South Central athletes — Alex in volleyball, basketball and softball, Danielle in softball, J.T. in baseball and basketball and R.J. in baseball and basketball. R.J. Snyder is an outfielder at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.

Eli Snyder, a baseball and basketball player, is Wanatah School. There are plans in the Tri-Township Consolidated School Corporation to change the high school location eight miles north to Wanatah.


Tiger Field is the home of the LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball program. There have been many upgrades to the facility in the past year. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
New stone graces the dugout at Tiger Field, home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball —  has gotten quite a facelift since Eric Snyder returned as Tigers head coach leading into the 2020 season, which was canceled because of the pandemic. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
Baseball players — young and old alike — work to get better at LaCrosse (Ind.) High School. The Tigers’ head coach is Eric Snyder. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
A new backstop and wall is part of the upgrades at Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
Another view of Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
The press box at Tiger Field — LaCrosse (Ind.) High School’s baseball home. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
Youngsters in the LaCrosse (Ind.) baseball program are taught the skills they will need when they reach high school. Eric Snyder is the Tigers head coach. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
There was plenty of work done at Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball — in 2020. Nearly $60,000 — mostly donations — was and will be put into the facility, (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
A view of the area behind home plate at Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
There’s been plenty of sprucing up at Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
The new brick wall extends from dugout to dugout at Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
Laying new sod is part of the upgrades to Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
Eric Snyder, a 1986 graduate of South Central High School in Union Mills, Ind., is in the second year of his second stint as head baseball coach at LaCrosse (Ind.) High School. He first led the Tigers 2000-04 with an IHSAA sectional title in 2002. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)

Alum McTagertt keeps growing the game at Lafayette Jeff

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott McTagertt paid his dues before becoming head baseball coach at his alma mater.

A 1986 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, McTagertt was still a Purdue University student when he became a Jeff assistant for the 1988 season.

He has been bringing baseball knowledge to Bronchos ever since. 

McTagertt played for head coach Mark Strader and served on the staffs of Tony Primavera, Ed Gilliland and Kevin Maxwell before taking the reins of the Lafayette Jeff program for the 2008 season.

“(Strader) is probably the best athlete that ever came through Lafayette Jeff,” says McTagertt. “He was very demanding. We respected the guy because you knew what he knew in baseball.

“We put so much intensity into practice. (Strader) got (to play for and) coach with (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul) “Spider” Fields. (Strader) brought some of that fire to us.”

A shortstop and pitcher at Jeff, McTagertt was on the Purdue team for one season behind future big leaguer Archi Cianfrocco while working toward what would be an Education degree from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI).

As a young coach, McTagertt marveled at Primavera’s game management skills.

“I don’t know if there was anybody better than him,” says McTagertt. “He knew everything in the game was going to happen before it happened.

“He was fun to learn from.”

Gilliland had played for and coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber at LaPorte High School.

“(Gilliland) was a disciplinarian,” says McTagertt. “This is the way we’re going to do it. He had set routines. The kids worked hard for him. 

“He liked to ride his top two pitchers a lot. It was the LaPorte Way.”

In a decade with Maxwell, McTagertt witnessed a strong organizer.

“(Maxwell) ran very structured practices,” says McTagertt. “Everything was written out. The kids had to know the practice plan.”

Along the way, McTagertt has continued to have a growth mindset. He has learned much about the game from networking, attending clinics and — in this pandemic year of 2020 — Zoom meetings and other online resources.

“We’re probably the most sharing group of coaches you’re going to find in any sport,” says McTagertt. “Tthere are so many ways to teach in baseball.

“You can always steal an idea or two.”

McTagertt was born in Greenwood, Ind., and came to Lafayette as a fourth grader. That first day in town he attended the Colt World Series at Loeb Stadium.

“It was a big place for my family,” says McTagertt, who started working at Loeb in 1988 and did so until the facility dedicated in 1940 was torn down to make way for the New Loeb Stadium.

Teaching fifth grade STEM at nearby Sunnyside Intermediate, McTagertt drops by regularly to see the progress of the ballpark adjacent to the Columbian Park Zoo that mimics Kokomo Municipal Stadium (home to Kokomo High School, Indiana University Kokomo and summer collegiate Kokomo Jackrabbits) and is oriented the other way from the old Loeb (left field faces the pool and right field is closet to the zoo).

“I didn’t know if I’d ever see this place,” says McTagertt. “It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

With construction of the new Loeb (also home to the summer collegiate Lafayette Aviators), Jeff was going to spend much of 2020 playing road games. But the COVID-19 pandemic took away the season. The Bronchos were just days away from tryouts when what became lockdown began. Individual workouts were distributed via computer. 

In fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period practice, the focus was on individual skills and position development.

“We put a premium on teaching since we lost a season,” says McTagertt, who sent the Bronchos from the World Series to the weight room until Dec. 22 and expects to resume activities Jan. 4.

McTagertt’s 2021 coaching staff features John Ripke, Alex Igo and Sean McDonald as varsity assistants. Kevin Igo is the JV Red head coach and is helped by Brian McDonald and Matthew Koeppen. Tim Whitaker is the JV Black (or C-team) head coach and is aided by Daniel Nelson.

The Bronchos tend to have around 40 players in the program. On days when all three squads are in action, there might be 13 to 15 with the varsity, 13 with JV Red and the rest with JV Black.

Jeff (enrollment around 2,080) is in the Northern Central Conference (with Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon, Muncie Central and Richmond).

The Bronchos are in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport and McCutcheon. Jeff won the last of its 17 sectional titles in 2013. The program has also claimed 12 regionals, four semistates, two state championships (1969 and 1973) and one state runner-up (1971).

Two recent Jeff players — brother Justin Walker Jr. (Purdue) and Jacob Walker (Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) — have moved on to college diamonds. Current Bronchos Caleb Koeppen and Brady Preston have received college offers.

For years, Jeff and Lafayette Central Catholic developed young players through the Lafayette Lightning.

About eight years ago — wanting to get more Jeff-bound youngsters involved in competitive play — Junior Broncho Baseball was established. The group fielded 10U, 11U and 12U teams that first year and now has teams from 8U to 15U.

That first 12U team were freshmen in the spring of 2020.

The Junior Bronchos play often at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and Indianapolis Sports Park.

Elite players are encouraged to play for teams like the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Nitro.

“We take rest of the kids and run them through our practices and camps,” says McTagertt. “We get the best of both worlds.”

Utilizing diamonds at Armstrong Park and McCaw Park, Lafayette Youth Baseball is still going strong.

“There’s a wonderful working relationship city, parks department and baseball programs in Lafayette,” says McTagertt.

Scott and Fawn McTagertt (a McCutcheon High School teacher) have three children. Rileigh McTagertt is a junior Education major at Purdue who coaches tennis at Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette. She was in cheerleading, basketball and tennis at Jeff.  

Ashlynn McTagertt played golf, basketball and softball for the Bronchos and is now a freshmen softball player at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College. 

Drew McTagertt is a Tecumseh eighth grader who plays tennis, basketball and baseball.

Scott McTagertt is the head baseball coach at Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School — a position he’s held since the 2008 season. The 1986 Jeff graduated joined the Bronchos coaching staff in 1988.

Saint Francis assistant Lawhead wants his pitches to be relentless

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Lawhead was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

Thanks to baseball, Fort Wayne, Ind., became his Midwest home in the fall of 2012.

Born in Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle, Lawhead graduated from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., in 2010 and pitched for two seasons at Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College.

The right-hander played for Warriors head coach Dave Meliah and pitching coach C.J. Biagi and was named a first-team all-East Region relief pitcher and second-team all-Northwest Athletic Conference relief pitcher in 2012 while garnering six saves.

“Coach Meliah taught me a lot of physical and mental toughness and how to prepare at a higher level,” says Lawhead. “I learned how to attack and compete relentlessly and not have any fear.

“I played on two of the grittiest and most-competitive teams I’ve ever been a part of.”

Lawhead describes the juco experience.

“The days are long in junior college, but it helps you develop an appreciation of how much better you can get by working,” says Lawhead. “There’s a natural progression. You can speed up and expedite that process a little bit.”

Through an online recruiting database — FieldLevel — he caught the attention of Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and wound up signing with the Mastodons weeks before his junior year at IPFW. 

“Lucky for me, they needed arms,” says Lawhead. “I wanted to play at the (NCAA) Division I level as well. That’s the reason I went to junior college in the first place.”

The right-handed hurler two seasons (2013 and 2014) for head coach Bobby Pierce and pitching coach Grant Birely and made 41 appearances out of the bullpen with seven wins and nine saves.

“It was a great experience with Coach Pirece and Coach Birely,” says Lawhead. “They helped me see things in detail and that 90 percent of game can be controlled by that pitcher-hitter confrontation.

“They gave us a lot of freedom. There was no micromanaging. We took ownership of our own development.”

Many of Lawhead’s former teammates from the Fort Wayne area have remained very good friends.

“They are my Midwest family if you will,” say Lawhead, 29.

After his playing career, he served as a graduate assistant and then as paid assistant in the Mastodons program from 2015-19. 

Lawhead coached three All-Americans at IPFW — Evan Miller (who was selected in the 22nd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres and pitched for the Low Single-A Fort Wayne TinCaps 2016-18 and in Triple-A in 2019) and all-Summit League performers Greg Kaiser and Brandon Soat (who played for the 2017 independent pro Evansville Otters). 

All three are Indiana prep products — Miller from LaPorte, Kaiser from Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Soat from Homestead.

Along the way, Lawhead earned undergraduate degrees in General Studies and Public Policy and a masters in Organizational Leadership from IPFW/Purdue Fort Wayne.

In the summers of 2014 and 2015, Lawhead was head coach for 13U and 14U teams for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization, working alongside founder/general manager Joel Mishler and director of operations Justin Barber.

“Joel was another big influence in my life as a coach,” say Lawhead. “(The Chargers) are  youth organization so devoted to developing players and men.”

Barber is now the pitching coach at Taylor University.

Zac Mishler, Joel’s youngest son, was Lawhead’s teammate at IPFW.

Former Mastodons infielder and assistant coach Kristian Gayday was offered an opportunity to stay in Fort Wayne and join the coaching staff at the University of Saint Francis by Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher

Gayday was later joined at the NAIA and Crossroads League member school by Lawhead, who left IPFW (now known as Purdue Fort Wayne) when Pierce left to take to take an athletic administration job in Arizona.

“Coach Butcher is great to coach under,” says Lawhead. “Before I even got here, he had established a culture with good athletes and good human beings. There’s also that (relentless) mentality I spoke about earlier. It makes my job a lot easier.

“We can focus on the things that can help us win games in the heat of competition. (Butcher) gives his assistant coaches full autonomy. He does not micromanage. We have a really good relationship.”

At IPFW, Lawhead worked primarily with position players on defense and collaborated with Pierce on hitting.

As a Saint Francis assistant, he throws batting practice and helps out with defense whenever he can but Lawhead’s primarily responsibility is with the Cougars pitching staff.

He covers a variety of areas, but a competitive mentality is a key.

“We talked about body language, self talk and all the thing we can control,” says Lawhead. “We want to compete relentlessly with no fear.

“We want to get to that fight or flight response. We like our guys competing at everything they do and doing it to the highest of their abilities.”

Lawhead has his pitchers using their arms often to build up their tolerance. 

“We throw just about everyday, but not as hard as they can,” says Lawhead. “We want to be able to expose hitters’ weaknesses and get them out.”

COVID-19 restrictions did not allow Saint Francis to have any games with other schools during the six weeks of fall practice, but there was plenty of intrasquad action.

“In my opinion we accomplished our goal of pitchers learning their strengths and how they are going to attack hitters,” says Lawhead. “During week, (pitches) prepared to perform on the weekend. We had a plan in place to recover so we can do that again and again.”

Lawhead says its likely that the Cougars will not have mid-week games during the 2021 season with four-game weekend series in the conference (7- and 9-inning doubleheaders on Fridays and Saturdays).

Saint Francis finished the fall semester before Thanksgiving. Students, including ballplayers, are due back on-campus in January.

While the student-athletes are away, the coaching staff is recruiting and planning for the season.

“We’re working on how we’re going to attack practice as efficiently as possible when the guys get back,” says Lawhead.

Connor and Victoria Lawhead have a daughter who turns 1 on Dec. 31 — Avery. While Victoria is teaching sixth grade English at Woodside Middle School (a Homestead High School feeder), he is at home with the baby then often heads to the office.

Connor Lawhead, who played two collegiate baseball seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and holds three degrees from the school, is now an assistant coach at Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. (IPFW Photo)