Tag Archives: Lead-off hitter

Grand Valley State gold glover Nelson a student first, but he still loves being an athlete

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Spencer Nelson enjoyed a comeback baseball season for NCAA Division II Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Mich.) in 2022.
After missing the 2021 campaign while recovering from surgery for a torn left hip labrum, South Bend, Ind., native Nelson started in all 50 of GVSU’s games and .325 (67-of-206) with eight home runs, six triples, 17 doubles, 35 runs batted in and 49 runs scored.
The righty-swinging lead-off hitter posted a .969 OPS (.386 on-base percentage plus .583 slugging average) and was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Midwest all-region second team and all-Great Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference second team. He enjoyed four-hit games against Wayne State and Davenport and produced 20 multi-hit contests.
A center fielder, Nelson also collected an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award while completing a bachelors degree in Information Systems.
“I’m a student first and an athlete second,” says Nelson. “School and athletics is sometimes hard to balance out.”
He was on a Pre-Med track while also playing baseball then made a switch.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep on Sundays with a lot of stress and sacrifices,” says Nelson. “I decided to devote myself to developing myself as a player and a teammate.
“I love baseball and I was not not ready to give it up.”
Nelson, 23, plans to pursue a masters in Computer Science while playing for the GVSU Lakers in the spring of 2023.
His role in 2022 was often as center fielder and lead-off hitter.
“You’re in-charge out there (in center field),” says Nelson. “You can roam wherever you want. It’s a fun little area to hang out.”
Playing the outfield, communication becomes key when tracking the ball and making relay throws.
“Everybody in the outfield should be aggressive to catch it,” says Nelson. “This year I had a lot of trust in my guys as I tend to do every year.
“In college, covering the gaps is extremely important. I’m always telling the left fielder and right fielder no to play straight up and eliminate extra bases when possible.”
As for leading off, Nelson also gets to use his speed.
“It’s more about contact than power,” says Nelson. “But I’m I’m very adjustable to wherever I play. I’ve batted in the 3-hole.
“Wherever you put me I will adjust to that role.”
Nelson helped Grand Valley State go 30-22 in 2022.
“We definitely played our hearts out,” says Nelson. “But with talent we have we can definitely do better.”
Jamie Detillion is the Lakers head coach.
“He definitely vouches for his guys,” says Nelson of Detillion. “He’s a very very caring guy and wants to be a winner.
“He’s aways listening to input and adjusts to our liking (as players) while maintaining his role.”
Born and raised in South Bend, Nelson first fell for the game as a T-ball player at South East Side Little League.
He played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers, South Bend Silver Hawks and Hitters Edge.
He played varsity baseball for four years at John Adams High School in South Bend, where he earned the all-academic award four times and was a three-time team MVP, two-time team captain and first-team all-Northern Indiana Conference as a senior.
Mike Cass was the Eagles head coach when Nelson graduated in 2017.
“(Cass) wanted to win and develop the program,” says Nelson. “He made calls for me to (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) and that helped quite a bit.
“It’s about being respectful to those above you so they can show respect back to you.”
Nelson played for the Kellogg Bruins in 2018 and 2019.
“I had two amazing coaches (head coach Eric Laskovy and assistant head coach Jim Miller),” says Nelson. “It was tough love. They taught me a lot on and off the field.”
Now 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Nelson left high school weighing about 170.
“I was pretty scrawny,” says Nelson. “Kellogg is a blue collar athletic program and school. You’re taught to work hard.
“Eating right was the No. 1 thing. I think I worked out for three or four years without missing a day (minus Sundays)
“It helped me become a little bigger and made my body as healthy as it’s been.”
Nelson played in the South Bend men’s league each summer from 2017-21. He was with the Mishawaka Brewers until joining the South Bend Royals in 2021.
In 2022, he played 21 games with the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Muskegon (Mich.) Clippers and hit .293 with four homers and 16 RBIs before coming home to earn some money for college.
Spencer is the youngest of Bill and Sheila Nelson’s five children. Indianapolis-based educational administrator Naomi is the oldest, followed by consultant to medical companies Tiara and IBM employee Madison in California and software engineer Connor in Arizona. Bill Nelson is a retired salesman. Sheila Nelson is a hairdresser.

Spencer Nelson (Grand Valley State University Photo)
Spencer Nelson (Kellogg Community College Photo)
Spencer Nelson (Grand Valley State University Photo)

Bickel making memories in first season at Purdue Fort Wayne

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Bickel had a decision to make after playing junior college baseball for two seasons.
The infielder from South Bend, Ind., with two years of eligibility remaining could take another year at the JUCO level allowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Head coach Kyle Forbes invited him to stay at Palm Beach State College.
“I was ready to move on to a four-year school and play at the (NCAA) Division I level,” says Bickel, who chose Purdue Fort Wayne over East Tennessee State, New Orleans, Alcorn State and Savannah State.
Why the PFW Mastodons?
“I was sold on Coach (Doug) Schreiber and his history at Purdue University,” says Bickel. “I knew he was coming here to turn the program around.
“He’s awesome. His knowledge for the game is through the roof.”
Bickel appreciates Schreiber not only for what he can do for him on the diamond, but away from it.
“He shows you how to carry yourself off the field and be a man,” says Bickel, 22.
As a player, Bickel has gone from third base to shortstop and settling in as Purdue Fort Wayne’s starting shortstop and lead-off hitter.
His double play partner is redshirt sophomore second baseman Brian Erbe.
“He has a confidence and swagger he brings everyday,” says Bickel of Erbe. “We kind of feed off that energy.”
Going into an April 27 non-conference game at Michigan State, righty swinger Bickel was hitting .259 (38-of-147) with five home runs, 12 doubles, 19 runs batted in, 18 runs scored and a .306 on-base percentage. He collected a season-best four hits April 3 against Wright State and drove in a season-high three runs April 16 at Northern Kentucky.
Bickel even pitched 2/3 of an inning Feb. 27 at Cal Baptist.
Though he was not in the middle of either, two memorable moments for Bickel came with walk-off wins March 20 against Youngstown State and April 22 vs. Northern Kentucky.
Away from the field, Bickel likes to hang out with teammates. He also likes to play golf and go fishing.
“I’m an outdoorsy person,” says Bickel. “I don’t like to be inside that much. I love to fish.”
A St. Joseph River dam near campus gives him a chance to pull in catfish and bass. In the warm climes of Florida, he liked going on the ocean and catching snook.
Bickel grew up a few minutes from Notre Dame and Bickel got to play against the Irish April 20, going 1-for-4 with an RBI.
“I’ve always been a Notre Dame fan since I was little,” says Bickel. “Going back there and playing them was pretty special.”
ND is No. 3 behind Tennessee and Dallas Bapist in the D1Baseball.com RPI.
Bickel assessed the Link Jarrett-coached Irish.
“They’re very well put-together and do all the little things,” says Bickel. “They’re well-coached. They are good at situational hitting and have very good (pitching) arms.”
Currently fifth in the Horizon League, the Mastodons are looking to finish in the top six to earn a berth in the conference tournament May 25-28 with games hosted by the top seed. The last HL series wraps May 14. The regular season is to end May 21.
Enrolled at Purdue Fort Wayne as a General Studies major, he has been taking mostly Business classes.
Bickel plans to spent the summer with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. Mastodons pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Brent McNeil managed that team a few years ago. Chris Willsey, Bickel’s head coach two years ago in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., is slated to guide the Aviators in 2022.
A 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishwawaka, Ind., Bickel played for Joe Turnock. The Knights won an IHSAA Class 3A Jimtown Sectional title in 2016.
In 2019, Bickel played 41 games for Miami Dade College. He did not play in the spring of 2020 — the COVID-19 season.
That summer, Bickel was with the Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League’s Mishawaka Brewers as well as the CSL’s Snakes and Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose, hitting .271 with a .403 OBP in 16 games. He played for the Bismarck Larks in 2021 with a OBP of .321 over 112 at-bats.
Jarrett is the middle son of Joe and Megan Bickel. Tyler Bickel (24) is working toward becoming a fireman. Xavier Bickel (18) is a Marian senior. Cousin Trey Bickel is head baseball coach at Marian University’s Ancilla College — a junior college in Donaldson, Ind.

Jarrett Bickel (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)
Jarrett Bickel (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)
Jarrett Bickel (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Michigan middle infielder Bertram spending summer with Lafayette Aviators

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Riley Bertram is spending the last summer before his final college baseball season in the same town where he began playing the game as a boy.
The 21-year-old switch-hitter has been leading off and playing shortstop for the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators at new Loeb Stadium.
Through 17 games for head coach/manager Michael Keeran’s Aviators, Bertram was hitting .273 (15-of-55) with two doubles, eight runs batted in, 12 runs and four stolen bases.
Bertram, a 2018 Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate who has played three seasons (2019-21) at the University of Michigan (he started 31 of the 37 games in which he played in 2021 at second base), was born in Noblesville, Ind., and introduced to the game while father Vince Bertram was the principal at Lafayette Jefferson High School.
“I’m a middle infielder,” says Riley. “I play both second base and shortstop — whatever position the team I’m on needs.”
A year ago, Bertram was with the Josh Galvan-coached Tropics in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
Riley is the youngest of Project Lead The Way president and CEO Vince and Western Governors University advisor Jill Bertram’s four boys, behind Josh, Ryan and Drew.
Josh Betram played basketball and baseball at Lafayette Jeff.
Ryan Bertram played three baseball seasons at Evansville (Ind.) Harrison High School and one at Zionsville Community. He was part of the University of Southern Indiana’s NCAA Division II national championship team in 2014 and later an assistant coach at Southern Illinois University and director of operations at Campbell University in Buis Creek, N.C.
Drew Bertram played at Purdue and was a manager for the Boilermakers when Mark Wasikowski was head coach. Drew is a Purdue graduate and is going to graduate school at the West Lafayette school.
It was in the back yard with his brothers that Riley first experimented with switch-hitting. He has been doing it in games since about 13.
At Michigan, Bertram has played in 70 games (49 as a starter) and is hitting .236 (43-of-182) with 14 doubles, 26 RBIs, 30 runs scored and 12 stolen bases. On defense, he has 95 putouts, 136 assists, five errors and a .979 fielding percentage. He led the team in stolen bases in 2021, swiping eight in nine attempts.
Bertram has played three seasons for Wolverines head coach Erik Bakich and assistant Nick Schnabel. Pitching coach Steve Merriman and volunteer coach Brandon Inge joined the staff for the 2021 slate.
“I’m very fortunate to have this coaching staff,” says Bertram. “They know what they’re talking about.
“Coach Bakich is awesome to play for. He is trying to find the best for you. He knows everything about your family. He has your back. He’s someone you could reach out if you need to get something off your chest. He does a good job of building a culture.”
Schnabel works with Michigan infielders, including Bertram.
“He knows the game at a higher level than a lot of people,” says Bertram of Schnabel.
Merriman has made a point of bonding with all UM players and not just pitchers.
“At the college level you need to have at least a baseline relationship with all players if you want to have a culture,” says Bertram. “Everytime Coach Inge talks you have to listen because whatever he’s going to say is going to beneficial to your performance.
“He keeps things loose. He’s bought into the culture Coach Bakich and Coach Schnabel have built.”
Bertram is on pace toward a Communication and Media degree from Michigan in the spring of 2022. He was named Academic All-Big Ten in 2021.
Riley played Little League baseball in Evansville, Ind., when his father served as superintendent of schools. After the family moved to Zionsville, he played for Zionsville Baseball Club and was with the Indiana Bulls travel organization from 15U to 18U, playing for teams with Dan Held, Sean Laird, Jered Moore and Jeremy Honaker as coaches.
Bertram played four seasons for Moore at Zionsville Community and was part of IHSAA Class 4A sectional champions in 2016, 2017 and 2018, regional winners in 2016 and 2017, a semistte title-taker in 2016 and state runner-up in 2016.
In 2018, Bertram was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Honorable Mention All-State selection and IHSBCA North-South All-Star as a third baseman as well as a Rawlings-Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American.
“I’ve always been close with Coach Moore and his family,” says Bertram. “Jered was not only was my coach, but I’ve reached out to him for many things.
Last week I texted him about hitting facilities in (the Lafayette) area and he hooked me up.
“It’s a really strong relationship.”

Riley Bertram (University of Michigan Photo)
Riley Bertram (University of Michigan Photo)
Riley Bertram (University of Michigan Photo)
Riley Bertram (University of Michigan Photo)

Crews roams center field, leads off for Evansville Purple Aces

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like the buffalo that used to roam his family’s farm, Kenton Crews is drawn to the open expanses of the baseball field.

A center fielder since his days at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., Crews uses the handle @superbuffaloman on Twitter and rambles in the middle of the outfield as a University of Evansville redshirt junior.

“I love playing center field,” says Crews, a 6-foot-1, 187-pounder. “It’s the most fun thing of everything about baseball.”

Crews, 23, tends to play shallow for the Purple Aces and chases balls over his head.

“I feel more comfortable running back and catching balls over my shoulder,” says Crews, who used to do a similar thing as Heritage Hills football wide receiver. 

When Crews reached UE, his favorite number — 5 — was not available. It was the number worn by his father Michael, who was a center fielder and a football player at Ball State University.

Kenton decided to go with 15 in purple, orange and white because that’s the digit donned by fly-chasing center fielder Jim Edmonds with the St. Louis Cardinals. Kenton grew up rooting for the Redbirds and stars like Edmonds, Jasper, Ind., native Scott Rolen and slugger Albert Pujols.

Speed put Crews in the outfield and made him effective in the lead-off slot with the Aces at-bat.

“One thing that we really focus on is that when the lead-off hitter each inning gets on base your chances of scoring go up,” says Crews. “A lot of (lead-off hitters) will take pitches. But if you can get a hittable pitch you should swing at it — especially fastballs early in the count instead of swing at the pitcher’s pitch.

“I’m usually pretty aggressive when I’m hitting lead-off.”

Going into a Missouri Valley Conference series April 23-25 against Illinois State, Crews is hitting .393 (35-of-89) with three home runs, four triples, eight doubles, 22 runs batted in, 21 runs scored and 6-of-9 in stolen bases. He sports a 1.145 OPS (.471 on-baseball percentage and .674 slugging average) in 28 games (24 starts).

For his career — which includes a redshirt season due to injury in 2019 — Crews is hitting .295 (161-of-545) with 11 homers, eight triples, 32 doubles, 79 RBIs, 81 runs and 33-of-42 in stolen bases. His OPS is .793 (.349 on-baseball percentage and .444 slugging average) in 143 games.

The righty swinger has 10 multi-hit games in 2021. He hit for the cycle (homer, triple, double and single) March 21 against visiting Butler. His 4-for-5 day produced four RBIs and two runs scored.

During his cycle, Crews tripled to left center in the bottom of the first inning, doubled to center in the third, homered to left in the seventh and singled in the eighth.

“Teammates were talking about it at a whisper,” says Crews about the Evansville dugout. “People didn’t know how to act.

“I was nervous about it. I didn’t want to let everybody down.”

The first two cycles of Crews’ baseball life came as a grade schooler with a Dale (Ind.) Buffaloes. 

Born in Evansville, Kenton lived with father Michael, mother Kathleen and sister Sienna in a house in Lincoln State Park.

Kenton grew up catching snakes, frogs and turtles for the nature center where his father was — and still is — an interpretive naturalist. He was a football coach at Heritage Hills Middle School was a long stretch.

When Kenton was 7, the family moved to a 100-acre farm, where the Crews raised big, wooly mammals and ran a restaurant — Buffalo Run Farm, Grill & Gifts — for two decades.

Michael coached Sienna’s T-ball team (she is a year older than her brother). After the Buffaloes, Kenton played travel ball with the Southern Indiana Spikes from 8-13. He was with the HHMS and was on a Pony team in Tell City, Ind.

As a high schooler, Crews was an all-stater and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series MVP as a senior in 2016 and also a all-state and all-conference baseball and football players. 

Greg Gogel was then head baseball coach at Heritage Hills.

“I love Coach Gogel with all my heart,” says Crews of a longtime family friend and former teammate of cousin Cole Seifrig (who took a lateral from future pro quarterback Jay Cutler and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Cutler in overtime to lead Heritage Hills to a 27-24 victory against Zionville in the 2000 IHSAA Class 3A state championship game). “He taught me more lessons in life than anyone other than my dad.”

Gogel’s wife, Jenna, is Kenton’s chiropractor.

Crews played for the Louisville-based Ironmen Baseball Club then — the summer following his senior year at Heritage Hills — the Evansville Razorbacks.

After missing his 16U summer with a hamstring injury, Kenton decided to attend college where his sister Sienna ran cross country and track.

He also liked the sincerity displayed by Aces head coach Wes Carroll and his staff during the recruiting process.

“They came to me instead of me chasing after somebody else,” says Crews. “I appreciated that effort and that honesty.

“Coach Carroll knows what he’s talking about. He told me he can make me into a better baseball player. I hope we can be friends and have a relationship the rest of my life.”

Kenton is the fourth NCAA Division I competitor in the family.

“She’s the real athlete in our family,” says Kenton of his mother.

As Kathleen Beumel, she was a 10-time state champion in cross country and track at Apollo High School in Owensboro, Ky. After attending Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, she transferred to the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she was cheer captain. At 20, she experienced a crippling injury.

“She broke her neck and was paralyzed,” says Kenton. “She wasn’t supposed to walk again or have kids.

“It’s a miracle she was able to move again and she was able to run.”

Kathleen Crews is now a program assistant at Heritage Hills and involved in the community.

Kenton graduated from UE in December 2020 with a degree in Communication, Advertising and Public Relations and is now pursuing a Masters in Leadership. All the courses are online.

“We get to work at our own pace,” says Crews. “We’re now learning empathy and showing people better ways to do things.”

Crews spent the summers of 2017 and 2018 with the Northwoods League’s Mankato (Minn.) MoonDogs and after sitting out the summer of 2019 while recuperating he was with the NL’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Mac Daddies, where former Mankato teammate and Indiana State player C.J. Huntley was on the coaching staff and Greg Weyrich was the manager.

“He was a super nice guy and knew a lot,” says Crews, who has another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2020 spring season. “I’m waiting to see about this summer.

“I’d like to play another season if (Carroll) would have me.”

Kenton Crews (University of Evansville Photo)

Thixton going out with a bang at Indiana Wesleyan

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tye Thixton figures he was born to play baseball.

He is named for his great grandfather on his mother Amy’s side — Leonus “Tye” Goheen, a standout pitcher in Kentucky in the 1920’s and 1930’s who once was matched up against a young Hall of Famer-to-be Dizzy Dean

Goheen led the Dawson Springs Daylight Ball Club to the state championship in 1932 and an appearance in the Little World Series in Battle Creek, Mich., in 1937.

When Tye Thixton was but a tyke his father — Jeff Thixton — introduced his oldest son to the game with wiffleball and followed him all the way through youth and travel ball and college until his passing at 50 on Jan. 10, 2020 with wife Amy and sons Tye and Trey surviving. 

“We bonded a lot of the time through baseball,” says Tye, who was granted an extra year of eligibility at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind,, because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2020 season and is shining in 2021 (Trey Thixton, 20, is a sophomore on the IWU men’s tennis team). “I want to leave it all on the field for dad.”

Tye has his father’s initials — JLT — on his wrist tape and writes them in the dirt each time he comes up to bat.

Thixton’s Indiana Wesleyan team, which also features “COVID seniors” Tanner Killian, Austin Swift and Jon Young, goes into a Crossroads League series today (April 16) and Saturday (April 17) against visiting Huntington at 32-11 overall and 21-3 in conference play. The team has its sights on being the program’s first 40-game winner.

Center fielder and lead-off man Thixton is hitting .349 (60-of-172) with 11 home runs, one triple, 11 doubles, 45 runs batted in, 48 runs scored and is 15-of-15 in stolen bases. He sports an 1.039 OPS (.423 on-base percentage plus .616 slugging average) with 20 multi-hit games.

For his IWU career, Thixton is hitting .360 (151-of-419) with 21 homers, three triples, 28 doubles, 96 RBIs, 106 runs and is 29-of-32 in stolen bases. His OPS is 1.020 (.428 on-base percentage plus .592 slugging average).

Thixton’s most-recent circuit clout came Monday, April 13 in Game 1 of a CL doubleheader against Taylor. The two-run shot in the fourth inning to left field cut through a steady cross wind and landed on the football stadium next to Wildcat Field.

“Off the bat I was thinking, ‘get on 2,’” says Thixton. “The fact that it got out gave us a lot of momentum and helped us get into their pen.

“My whole game has changed. I’m a little bit of a power threat this year. I think the COIVD year helped guys develop. We got to spend more time in the weight room and more time to work on the swing.

“Across the board players progressing and numbers on the pitching and hitting side a lot better.”

A center fielder and No. 1 hitter in the batting order since his days at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Thixton relishes both roles.

“I like being able to run the outfield,” says Thixton. “It’s fun playing gap-to-gap.

“I’ve always loved being a lead-off hitter — just being able to set the tone of the game.”

Thixton, 23, is finishing up his Business Management degree. Commencement at IWU is slated for May 1.

“I’ll be done,” says Thixton of his college days which began with two years at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, including a team MVP season in 2018. “Then I get on to the real world.”

Competing against NAIA No. 1-ranked Southeastern in Florida and No. 6 Faulkner in Alabama to begin the season in February, the Wildcats got off to an 0-7 start.

“We got walked off three times in seven games,” says Thixton. “But we knew we could compete with the highest level. We could’ve easily won three of four of those games.

“Nobody’s head was down. It was time to go on a win streak.”

And that’s just what IWU did. 

The Wildcats won their next 16 under the guidance of head coach Rich Benjamin.

“He loves all of his players,” says Thixton. “He’s done such a good job of bringing a team together and making guys want to play for each other and for him.

“We’ve got a good mix of all ages. Guys able to learn from each other. That’s really contributed to this year.”

Going through the uncertainty of the pandemic has also impacted the team’s outlook.

“We’ve played every game with the thought it could be our last,” says Thixton.

Born in Greenwood, Thixton started school at Clark Elementary in Whiteland and played at Whiteland Little League then moved to the Center Grove area as a third grader and he attended the former West Grove Elementary. 

He played in the Center Grove Little League then travel ball with a Center Grove team coached by Mike Chitwood that morphed into Indiana Elite Baseball and Pony Express Baseball, where his coaches were Kyle Beachy, Quentin Brown and Grant Bellak

“(Brown and Bellak) were a blast to be around,” says Thixton. “They helped me develop my game so much. 

Thixton graduated from Center Grove High School in 2016. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was in his final season with the Trojans while Thixton played on the junior varsity as a freshman. 

Keith Hatfield was Thixton’s varsity coach for three CG seasons.

What is Thixton’s impressions of Hatfield?

“It’s his passion for the game,” says Thixton. “We had so much fun playing with Coach Hatfield (in 2016).

“We had a talented group of seniors. We lost to (eventual IHSAA Class 4A state champion) Roncalli in the (Plainfield) Semistate.”

Clayton Hicks, who is now head coach at Danville Area, was an assistant when he recruited Thixton for the Jaguars and got him to play for head coach Tim Bunton.

“He’s the best baseball mind I’ve ever been around,” says Thixton of Bunton. “He took my game to a completely different level mentally.

“It was about winning every pitch and winning the little things in baseball.

“There are so many metrics now. But the game still comes down to the mental side and what to do when the ball is in play

“What you can do at-bat to help your team team?”

In two seasons at Danville Area (2017 and 2018), Thixton hit .376 (139-of-369) in 101 games (98 starts).

In the summers after his freshman and sophomore years, Thixton played for the Hicks-managed Hannibal Hoots in 2017 and the St. Louis Kats in 2018.

Tye Thixton (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)

Bixler providing power at or near top of Franklin College order

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Bixler smacked two home runs in Franklin (Ind.) College’s win on Saturday, April 10 and was named Monday, April 12 as the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Week for the fourth time in his college baseball career.

It wasn’t the first case of multiple-mashing for the Logansport, Ind., native.

The righty-swinging fifth-year senior right fielder lofted two dingers May 10, 2018 against Manchester, two April 17, 2018 against Rose-Hulman, three April 16, 2019 at Rose-Hulman and two March 1, 2020 against Heidelberg.

On April 3, 2021 in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Franklin’s John P. McDowell Field against Hanover, Bixler’s eight-inning clout made the school’s all-time homer king.

The Grizzlies are 13-5 overall and in the HCAC heading into twin bills Saturday, April 17 vs. Rose-Hulman and Sunday, April 18 at Anderson.

The HCAC tournament (site to be determined) in May will include all 10 teams this year with the top five seeds serving as the home team in best-of-three series. A five-team finals will feature a double bye for the top seed. 

Bixler’s head-turning batting numbers so far for 2021 include a .449 (31-of-69) average with five homers, one triple, nine doubles, 25 runs batting, 31 runs scored and 5-of-6 in stolen bases. He owns a .576 on-base percentage and .826 slugging average.

“I look to do damage,” says Bixler of his offensive approach. “I just try to get the ball in the air or in the gap.”

While he has homered to center and right, he estimates that more than half of his long balls have gone out to left field.

During his Franklin days (Bixler played at Indiana Wesleyan in 2017 then transferred), he is hitting .354 (159-of-449) with 33 homers, nine triples, 34 doubles, 145 RBIs, 156 runs and is 32-of-38 in stolen bases. He sports a ..475 on-base percentage and .690 slugging average.

Bixler hit .321 with three homers, nine RBIs and 10 runs in eight games in 2020..

In 2019, he was first-team all-HCAC and third-team all-region by D3Baseball.

In 2018, he was the HCAC Offensive Player of the Year and conference tournament MVP. He was also honored as a third-team All-America pick by D3Baseball.com and was on the D3Baseball.com and American Baseball Coaches Association all-region.

Normally a 2-hole hitter, Bixler has been moved to the top of the Grizzlies order because of an injury to shortstop Quenton Welllington.

Bixler has had little trouble making the switch since he led off for four seasons at Lewis Cass Junior-Senior High School in Walton, Ind. (2013-16).

Is there a difference between 1 and 2?

“Maybe to start the game,” says Bixler. “As lead-off see as many pitches as you can for your teammates.”

Franklin coach Lance Marshall recruited Bixler while the player was in high school and welcomed him when he decided to transfer.

“Everyone respects him,” says Bixler of Marshall, FC head coach since the fall of 1997. “He knows how to win games.

“It’s a fun culture to be around for sure. This was the best fit for me.”

Bixler grew up playing baseball in Logansport and transferred to Lewis Cass after his eighth grade year. With the Kings, he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Marschand.

“He’s huge role model,” says Bixler of Marchand. “He took me under his wing and taught me almost everything I know today about baseball.

“He truly cares for each player. He is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met.”

Bixler was supposed to graduate in 2020. When granted another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to play another season and took a class while also working as a salesman for Warweg & Co., Irrigation in Franklin. He is slated to graduate this spring with a Public Relations degree and a minor in Business.

At 23, Ryan is the youngest of Brad and Kathy Bixler’s four sons. Josh is the oldest, followed by Justin and Brandon.

Ryan Bixler (Franklin College Photo)

Hamilton Southeastern grad Lang making impact for Purdue Fort Wayne

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The middle of the Purdue Fort Wayne baseball infield has formed a big 1-2 punch at the top of the Mastodons batting order.

Senior Jack Lang, a 2017 graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., is PFW’s primary shortstop and leadoff hitter. Batting second and playing second base is junior and Waterford (Wis.) Union High School product Aaron Chapman

In 2021, the pair flipped their offensive roles from 2020 when Chapman was lead-off on Mastodons head coach Doug Schreiber’s lineup card.

Heading into a four-game Horizon League series at Wright State April 9-11, the righty-swinging Lang is hitting .345 (29-of-84) with one triple, three doubles, 12 runs batted in, 13 runs scored and a .409 on-base percentage. He is 11-of-14 in stolen bases.

After leading the Summit League in hitting during the COVID-19 pandemic-shorted 2020 season at .382, Chapman is hitting .256 with two homers, one triple, two doubles, 15 RBIs, 13 runs, a .385 OBP and is 5-of-5 in stolen bases. Coming off a hand injury, Chapman went 8-of-18 last weekend against Northern Kentucky.

Purdue Fort Wayne hit .299 as a team in 2020, ranking them 30th in the country. The ’21 Dons (9-14 overall, 6-10 in the Horizon League) are at .256.

“The numbers don’t reflect it, but we’re starting to make a little push with our offensive game,” says Lang. “Our pitching has improved phenomenally since last year.”

Lang, who hit .205 in 2018 and .206 in 2019 then .290 in 2020, credits Greg Vogt-led PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., and the help of hitting instructor Quentin Brown.

“He helped me turn my swing around,” says Lang of Brown, who played for the school when it was known as Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (IPFW).

The College Summer League at Grand Park’s Snapping Turtles featured Lang in 2020.

Lang, who was born in Carmel, Ind., and grew up in Fishers, was primarily a middle infielder in travel ball (with the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Raiders, Indiana Mustangs and Indiana Havoc) and high school. Two OLMC teammates — Carmel High grads Max Habegger (Lipscomb University) and Cameron Pferrer (University of Missouri) — are now pitching at the NCAA D-I level. Several Indiana Havoc mates are also playing college baseball.

With a little time in center field as a sophomore, Lang was mainly second baseman early in his college days with Fishers graduate Brandon Yoho starting at short through 2019. 

The past two springs, Lang has been PFW’s regular shortstop while getting guidance from Schreiber, who was head coach at Purdue University for 18 years before spending two seasons at McCutcheon High School — both in West Lafayette, Ind. — and taking over in Purdue in the fall of 2019.

“He has done a phenomenal job of turning this program around into something successful,” says Lang of Schreiber. “He has Old School method of how infielders are supposed to train.

“He tries to bring out the best player in you.”

Lang knew that Schreiber was a fiery competitor through friends who were recruited by Schreiber at Purdue.

Playing for passionate coaches growing up — including former HSE head coach and current Indiana University-Kokomo volunteer Scott Henson — Lang is drawn to that style.

“He has a fiery edge,” says Lang, a three-year varsity player for the Royals. “He was not afraid to get on somebody, but it was all out of love.

“It was the edge to help me succeed in the best way possible.”

Lang also got to be coached at Hamilton Southeastern by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ken Seitz (who led the Royals program for 25 years and came back to help after his retirement) and his son Kory Seitz and stays in-touch with both of them.

“The HSE program is what it is today because of the Seitz family,” says Lang.

While it came two years after his graduation, Lang was a Victory Field in Indianapolis when HSE won the 2019 IHSAA Class 4A state championship.

“We have a great tradition that seniors get to take their home white jerseys (after their senior season),” says Lang, who was donning his old No. 5 and rooting with three former teammates when the Royals edged Columbus East 3-2. “We were probably the loudest in the stadium.”

Current head coach Jeremy Sassanella, who had led the program at Brebeuf Jesuit, has connected with HSE alumni and that includes Lang.

The former Royals middle infielder has also developed a bond with Matt Cherry, who coached rival Fishers to the 4A state crown in 2018.

There was a transition going on when Lang entered college with Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne going by Fort Wayne for a time and then Purdue Fort Wayne.

The Mastodons head baseball coach his first two years was Bobby Pierce.

“Bobby was a great guy,” says Lang. “He came to a lot of my travel ball games and I never knew why. He loved my hustle. 

“He saw the good attitude in me and that I had a potential to be a good player for his program.”

At PFW, Lang has gotten to play with many players he played with or against as a younger athlete. He was roommates with HSE graduate Grant Johnston and Fishers alum Cameron Boyd.

Lang, 22, is on pace to graduate in May as a Business Management major with a Professional Sales Certificate.

“I eventually want to go into sales,” says Lang. “But I want to play as long as I can.”

Granted another year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Lang plans to return for 2021-22 while being work on his Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in the fall.

Jack is the oldest of Jeff and Dawn Long’s three children. Nicole Lang (20) plays softball and studies engineering at Rose-Hulman Institutute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind. Christian Lang (9) is a baseball-playing third grader.

“Family dad” Doug Pope — father of Justin Pope — has thrown many hours of batting practice to Jack Lang over the years.

Jack Lang (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)