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Hardy coaches Irvington Prep Ravens in baseball, life

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A relationship that began with the diamond has gone much deeper.

Davon Hardy is the third-year head baseball coach at Irvington Preparatory Academy on the near east side of Indianapolis.

Hardy teaches his youngsters how to play the game. But the teaching and the mentoring to does not end with a game or practice.

“I’m very involved with the boys,” says Hardy. “I’m not just a coach between the lines. I’m their coach all the time.

“I’ll help in any way.”

Hardy has his own remodeling business and he has some of his players help with cleaning up job sites, painting, drywalling and other handy skills.

“It keeps them out of trouble,” says Hardy. “We’re constantly stressing the importance of being a good person.

“It’s God, family, baseball and the classroom. It’s the total package.”

For players wishing to go to college, he will do what he can to make that happen.

“I’ll help in getting them tutoring,” says Hardy. “We stress the student-athlete.”

Former major league pitcher Justin Masterson, who lives in Fishers, Ind., came by practice last week to talk about faith, family and baseball with the IPA crew.

Hardy has watched his players come so far in the time he has been at Irvington Prep.

“Now that my (original class of) freshmen are juniors, I’m seeing a pay-off,” says Hardy. “That’s my satisfaction.

“That’s a W in my book.”

The inner-city high schools in Indy include Indianapolis Public Schools Arsenal Tech, Crispus Attucks, Shortridge and Washington. Besides Irvington Prep, others include Herron, Howe, Manual, Providence Cristo Rey, Purdue Poly and Tindley. This spring, Howe and Washington did not field a baseball team.

What is now known as Irvington Prep Academy opened in 2006 as Irvington Community High School. The original location was on East Pleasant Parkway and is now home to Irvington Community Middle School on East Pleasant Run Parkway. IPA is housed in the former Children’s Guardian Home on University Avenue.

Baseball and softball teams play about three miles away in Irvington Park on Raymond Street.

Hardy was an 18U regional all-star coach for the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program last summer. The squad went unbeaten in Pittsburgh and lost to Cleveland in Detroit.

Before landing at Irvington Prep, Hardy was an assistant to Jerry Giust at Broad Ripple.

The IPA Ravens went against the Broad Ripple Rockets a couple times before the latter IPS high school was closed.

Giust was the one who suggested that Hardy look into becoming a head coach.

“He knew I had been around the game for a long time and saw the enthusiasm I approach the game with and my knowledge,” says Hardy of Giust. “I loved him for it.”

Hardy graduated from Broad Ripple in 1997 after moving from South Bend, where he grew up. He went to South Bend Washington High School for three years and was drawn to swimming to fight his asthma. He was also drawn to baseball. He competed in summer ball before leaving for Indianapolis. Washington’s varsity and junior varsity both won summer titles.

“I loved the way the game was broken down,” says Hardy, who played as a sophomore and junior in a program then led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski, who learned much from South Bend coaching legends like Jim Reinebold and Len Buczkowski and LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber.

“The knowledge T gave us was phenomenal,” says Hardy. “He told us everybody has a job to do.”

Players at each position were supposed to know the duties of the other players on the diamond.

When his schedule allows, Hardy plans to return to his hometown to help Mark Haley at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and with South Bend Cubs Foundation youth baseball activities.

Irvington Prep (enrollment around 310) charted a 2019 schedule with Anderson Prep Academy, Arsenal Tech, Eminence, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Manual, Indianapolis Shortridge, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Knightstown, Liberty Christian, Morristown, Providence Cristo Rey, Tindley, Traders Point Christian, Triton Central and Waldron.

Rain in the first half of the season means IPA will be trying to make up many games leading up to the postseason.

The Ravens are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Eastern Hancock, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Knightstown and Triton Central. Irvington Prep has been competing in the tournament since 2013 and has not won a sectional title.

Hardy and fiancee Sandi have been together for seven years. They have one child together — Isaiah. He has three other children (Josiah, Iyanah and Ariyana) and she has two (Sylvanna and Gianna). Josiah plans to play baseball next year at Herron.

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Davon Hardy (foreground) is the head baseball coach at Irvington Preparatory Academy in Indianapolis.

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Former major league pitcher Justin Masterson delivers the baseball during an Irvington Prep Academy practice.

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Former major leaguer Justin Masterson visited coach Davon Hardy and his Irvington Prep Academy baseball team to talk about faith, family and the game.

 

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Franklin Community, Hanover grad Miller now coaching at Tusculum

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Todd Miller’s baseball coaching path has taken him to the eastern part of the Volunteer State.

A graduate of Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2002 and Hanover (Ind.) College in 2006, Miller is in his first season as an assistant at Tusculum University, an NCAA Division II school in Greeneville, Tenn.

Recruiting coordinator and assistant coach is charge of hitting, base runners and infielders are duties for Miller, who was hired in the summer of 2018.

He joined Brandon Steele, a former Tusculum assistant who was promoted when Doug Jones resigned as head baseball coach to concentrate on his duties as Pioneers athletic director.

Associate head coach Todd Ireland and graduate assistants John Topoleski and Hayden Pewitt round out the coaching staff.

Tusculum (24-14 through April 4) is part of the South Atlantic Conference (with Anderson of South Carolina, Carson-Newman, Catawba, Coker, Lenoir-Rhyne, Lincoln Memorial, Mars Hill, Newberry, Queens of Charlotte and Wingate).

The Pioneers play home games at Pioneer Park, a stadium owned by the school and also used by the short-season Appalachian League’s Greeneville Reds (Cincinnati Reds affiliate).

“We have, arguably, the best facilities in Division II baseball,” says Miller. Tusculum has indoor covered batting cages. A clubhouse, weight room, video lab and coaches offices are all underneath the stadium. A nearby building is used for defensive work.

Prior to Tusculum, Miller served four seasons as an assistant to Chris Anderson at Belmont (N.C.) Abbey College and four campaigns as an assistant to Jim Gantt at Cattawba College (Salisbury, N.C.).

Anderson played for Gantt at Catawba and joined Miller in turning the Crusaders’ fortunes around.

“We had a lot of success there,” says Miller.

After going 25-25 in 2015 (Miller’s first season), Abbey was 40-14  with a No. 2 national ranking (best in program history) in 2018 (Miller’s last).

“(Gantt) is one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around — bar none,” says Miller. “He’s got a fantastic program. He does a great job of developing players. He’s truly winner.”

Miller was a part of winning teams for the Indians. During his time there, Catawba won three conference titles and qualified for regional play three times. The program’s first regional crown and D-II College World Series berth in Cary, N.C., came in 2012.

He was an assistant at his alma mater, Hanover, and helped head coach Shayne Stock in 2009 and 2010. Those were also the junior and senior seasons for brother Adam Miller (Hanover Class of 2010). Their sister, Jessica (Class of 2012), was also a student there at the time.

Two seasons at Bluffton (Ohio) University, where James Grandey was head coach, came right after Miller graduated from Hanover.

In March 2007, Miller was involved in a tragic highway accident in Atlanta. Bluffton was on its way to Florida on its southern trip when a crash took the lives of seven people, including five players.

“I was thrown from the bus,” says Miller. “I went through the front windshield.

“I had four broken bones in my back, a skull fracture and a broken jaw.”

Head coach Grandey was hurt even worse and stayed weeks in a hospital before going back to Ohio.

At 22, Miller became temporary head coach.

“I was talking to guys about losing their best friend and roommate,” says Miller. “We had a team meeting after all the funerals. We said we can play this year if you’d like or not. Nobody is going to judge you either way.

“The team decided it wanted to play and do its best. We played the rest of that season with heavy hearts.”

The first game after the fatal accident was a loss, but the Beavers scored five runs — one for each lost player.

“That was symbolic,” says Miller, who recalls that the outreach locally and nationally was tremendous.

After a month after the accident, Tiffin University (located about 45 minutes from Bluffton) held a Purple Day (in honors of Bluffton’s school colors) and raised $13,000.

He was still dealing with physical and mental issues when Miller met one of the Tiffin students that were a part of the effort. A year later, they went on a date and are now married with three children.

Todd and Leigh Miller have Madeline (6), Brooks (3) and Boone (almost 10 months).

“It shows you that even through that tragedy, there can be a silver lining,” says Miller.

Bluffton is where Miller received his masters degree in business administration and formed a bond with Grandey.

“He’s been a teacher, mentor and friend to me through the years,” says Miller.

He played four seasons at Hanover — the first three for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dick Naylor and the last for Shayne Stock.

“I enjoyed Coach Naylor very much,” says Miller. “He was very organized and demanded excellence everyday — not only in the game but it practice.

“He was a winner. He was always able to get the best out of you. He was hard on you. But you had to read through the message a little bit. It was what he said not how he said it.”

Miller also played football at Hanover. He was a three-sport athlete in high school, spending his winters with basketball.

At Franklin Community, Miller’s baseball coaches were Jeff Mercer Sr. and Mark Pieper.

Jeff Mercer Sr. is the father of Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer Jr., a Franklin Community graduate and two years younger than Todd Miller. The Miller and Mercer families are long-time friends.

Miller is an American Baseball Coaches Association member and regular attendee of the ABCA Convention in January (the 2020 event is slated for Nashville).

“The ABCA is a must-attend for anybody serious about baseball,” says Miller. “I pick up something new every year.

“It’s relevant for all stages of coaching — youth, high school, college and professional.”

Miller also coached three summers with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization, leading a 14U squad for two years and a 15U team for one. Brother Adam assisted for all three seasons. He also got help from Ben Kleber, who is now head coach at Trinity Christian High School in Seymour, Ind.

One of the players on those Bulls team was Drew Ellis, who went on to play at Jeffersonville High School and the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization (he begins 2019 at Double-A Jackson, Tenn.).

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Todd Miller (left), a graduate Franklin (Ind.) Community High School and Hanover (Ind.) College, is in his first season as an assistant baseball coach at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn. (Tusculum University Photo)

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Todd Miller is an assistant baseball coach at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn. His duties include recruiting coordinator and he is in charge of hitters, base runners and infielders. (Tusculum University Photo)

Todd entering second season in charge of Wes-Del Warriors baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Defense is a priority for head coach Bob Todd and his Wes-Del Middle/High School baseball team.

Entering his second season in 2019, Todd is emphasizing defensive communication and execution at the school in Gaston, Ind., northwest of Muncie.

“If you’re defense is bad, it’s hard to win even if you do hit,” says Todd. “We try to limit the free 90’s and win that battle every game.

“That gives us a chance to at least be in the game.”

During this IHSAA limited contact period, Todd’s Warriors have been in the small middle school gym on Wednesday or Thursday nights and Saturday mornings.

“We usually have stations for defensive reps or conditioning for an hour then do hitting and flat-mound bullpens for an hour,” says Todd. “We keep them working. Everybody is doing something. We don’t want anybody standing around. We’re getting a lot of things accomplished and getting better at all times.”

Todd counts himself as a proponent of the arm care program discussed by the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

In the future, Wes-Del baseball may benefit from a new auxiliary gym in the works at the Delaware County school.

Wes-Del (enrollment around 280) is in the Mid-Eastern Conference (with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union-Modoc and Wapahani).

MEC teams play each other once at various times during the spring to determine a conference champion.

Todd says it has been announced that beginning in 2021 conference games will be played every Tuesday and Thursday with schedules being laid out around those days.

Non-conference opponents include Alexandria-Monroe, Anderson Preparatory Academy, Blackford, Delta, Eastbrook, Elwood, Frankton, Liberty Christian, Madison-Grant, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic, Southern Wells, Union City and Yorktown. The Delaware County tournament is slated for May 7 and May 11.

The home field is located behind the school on North Yorktown-Gaston Pike (North 600 West).

The Warriors are in an IHSAA Class 1A grouping with Anderson Prep, Cowan, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells and Tri-Central. Wes-Del last won a sectional title in 2011.

Todd is assisted by Ken Zvokel (varsity) and Zach Tanner (JV) with occasional help from other volunteers. Mary Helen Bink has been a scorekeeper for Wes-Del for more than three decades.

A year ago, Wes-Del had 20 players in the program. Nine of those have graduated and two others are not expected back. Based on call-out meetings, Todd says he may have as many as 24 this spring.

The first official day of practice is March 11. Spring break for Wes-Del Community Schools is March 22-29. The baseball team is slated for open its season April 2 and have six games scheduled in the first eight days.

“Players have 10 practice to get before spring break,” says Todd, referring to the IHSAA rule for participation. “It’s imperative that they come to all practices.”

Wes-Del Youth Athletic Association provides baseball and softball for T-ball through age 12.

To provide baseball opportunities for middle schoolers, a team has been organized for Wes-Del boys that plays in the spring and summer.

Others Wes-Del athletes participate in the summer in the East Central Indiana League and in travel baseball.

Bob and Felicia Todd have two children — McKenzie (20) and Zack (15). Zack Todd is a freshman baseball player at Wes-Del and plays with the Indiana Nitro during the travel ball season.

Bob Todd is a 1996 graduate of Muncie South Side High School, where he played freshmen baseball when Larry Lewis was head coach.

Before taking the job at Wes-Del, Todd had coached in area travel ball organizations, including the Indiana Mojo.

Todd is employed as a general manager for American Pest Professionals, which has offices in Muncie and Marion.

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FELICIAZACKBOBMCKENZIETODDThe Todd family (from left): Felicia, Zack, Bob and McKenzie. Bob Todd is head baseball coach at Wes-Del High Sch

Baseball Academics Midwest emphasizes the six-tool player

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing the six-tool player is the focus for Baseball Academics Midwest, an Indianapolis-based travel organization which will field 19 baseball and softball teams in 2019.

“We have the five physical skills of baseball (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average, hitting for power), but the most overlooked part is the mental skill,” says BAM president and co-founder Jake Banwart. “We maximize physical performance through mental training.

“We do classwork as well as visualization. We take what they learn mentally and implement that into physical performance (through drills, done at the Extra Innings Indy South indoor training facility).”

Off-season training is broken into two semesters — positional training (middles, corners, outfielders, pitchers, catchers and base running) and team training.

“We do it in a way that keeps their attention, keeps it interesting and keeps them engaged,” says BAM vice president and co-founder Adam Gouker. “Practice plans are designed to take what we learn in the classroom and immediately take it out in the indoor facility.

“We’re still teaching the physical and making sure they’re getting all the training they need there,” says Banwart. “We’re just adding that sixth element to it to make sure they understand.

“We’re teaching physically how to do it, but also mentally how to approach it.”

BAM players are taught the concepts of baseball philosophy, how to be a good teammate, positive body language and self talk, offensive approach to hitting defensive relays and cut-offs, pitching and pitch calling and base running.

All those areas span six or seven weeks and build on each other throughout that winter.

BAM coaches have been trained so it’s consistent language from the time they’re 8 through 17.

“When we talk hitting approach, I can talk to anyone in our organization with that same language,” says Banwart.

There’s no need to re-start each season.

“We teach each age group one year ahead of where we should be teaching them,” says Banwart. “If our expectations are higher, their expectations for themselves will match that. We teach our 9’s like 10’s and so on.

“We’ve seen good results from that.”

Gouker sees players grasping more about baseball earlier in life.

“They’re learning at a lot younger age there’s a lot going on in the game,” says Gouker. “They’re focused on where they’re supposed to be without the baseball, where they’re supposed to back up, where they go with the ball in certain situations.”

Banwart is a graduate of McHenry High School in the Chicago suburbs. He played baseball through his junior year.

“I had decent (college) offers,” says Banwart. “But I was so fed up with travel ball and coaching, I hated baseball for about five years of my life and I stopped playing.”

Banwart attended Anderson (Ind.) University and played tennis for a few seasons. That’s where he met Gouker, who went to Alexandra-Monroe High School and then played one season of baseball at AU.

The two later found themselves coaching together in travel ball. They eventually decided to start their own organization and do things their way.

After a stint as assistant to Terry Turner at Daleville (Ind.) High School (the Broncos won an IHSAA Class 1A title in 2016) and head coach at Liberty Christian School in Anderson, Ind., Banwart is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis in 2019 with a staff of Gouker, Nathan Latimer and Cortez Hague (all of whom are also BAM coaches and utilize BAM concepts with the Falcons).

“It’s a culmination of what we’ve learned from other coaches, research and data collection,” says Gouker, who have talked about mental skills training with Diamyn Hall and hitting with Ryan Fuller among others. “We’re teaching kids a language.

“We’re pushing the academic portion a lot. We feel like we know the physical side as well as anybody.”

The idea is for players to understand the game. This is especially valuable for players who are being recruited by colleges. BAM had its first season in 2015 and has had 23 college commitments in two groups of graduating classes, including 2019.

“Coaches will get your 60 time, exit veto, throwing velocity and all those pieces but the one thing they don’t get to see very often is your baseball smarts or I.Q,” says Banwart. “If they’re there for one game, they might not see you make a play.

“If we’re able to win the 50/50 recruiting by providing opportunities for players to actually show off their mental skills and training, we’re giving those players an opportunity to be more successful or get to the highest level they’re capable of (attaining).”

There’s another piece to the puzzle.

“If you’re in a game and you’re over-prepared mentally then you’re able to transition what you’re doing to subconscious thought versus conscious action,” says Banwart. “We want players to know something well enough to feel like they’re just reacting.

“They’re not having to process and consciously think through those actions. It’s subconscious action that takes over.”

BAM, which operates with the help of several key partners, uses many of the same drills as high-level coaches.

“When we go into those we make sure players are aware of what the intent of that drill is,” says Banwart. “We’re not focused solely on result training. We break it down with intent so the mind can connect to the body.”

Banwart notes that professional athletes seem to rise to the occasion late in a game while some players sink to the level of their training.

“The better trained they are, the better they’re going to perform late in games or in tough situations which will give that visual appearance that they’re rising when, in reality, they’re playing with the same level they were earlier in the game,” says Banwart.

High school level players take into consideration things like the score, inning, number of outs, speed and direction of the ball and speed and position of the runners.

Banwart notes that the average time between pitches in Major League Baseball is 21.5 seconds.

“In those 21 1/2 seconds players are going to be thinking no matter what,” says Banwart. “They’re going to be thinking something. We just want to change their thinking and point it to what they should be thinking about.

“When they step in the (batter’s) box, they’re proactive with a plan instead reactive to a pitcher. We want to give our guys the feeling they’re in control of that at-bat versus they’re at the mercy of what the pitcher does.”

BAM players are encouraged to win the games within the game and things like swing count, average distance in the zone, max hand speed, max barrel speed and more are tracked on single-season and career leaderboards. Hits, stolen bases, saves etc. are also tracked.

BAM coaches are in the process of gathering baseline data and developing a Baseball Academics Rating (BAR) that can be used to show a player’s knowledge.

“It’s not catered to our program,” says Gouker. “It’s things anyone playing baseball or softball anywhere should know if  they want to be as successful as possible.

“We’re finding some pro guys are missing some things they should know.”

They have also developed a metric — WIN (Worth In Numbers) — to valuate players.

WIN takes out everything out of a players control and counts how many runs they create total or average per game. Each base is treated like a quarter of a run.

“Players with a third of a run per game or more are typically high level players,” says Banwart.

By running the numbers for the last three seasons, the MVP winners and Cy Young Award winners in the American League and National League were the ones that should have won based on WIN.

BAM coaches talk about metrics and more on their YouTube Channel.

Latimer, who played at Perry Meridian and one season at the University of Indianapolis and coached with Andy Gossel at Covenant Christian before joining the staff at his alma mater, has totally bought into the BAM way.

“We can’t have academic in our name if we don’t teach it,” says Latimer. “We want you to be baseball smart.

“If you have the sixth tool that makes you a more complete player.”

Banwart and Gouker says BAM teachings have spread across the Indianapolis area and the organization is exploring expansion possibilities.

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Representing Baseball Academic Midwest are (from left): vice president and co-founder Adam Gouker, president and co-founder Jake Banwart and Nathan Latimer. Banwart is also head coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis and Gouker and Latimer are among his assistants. (Steve Krah Photo)

Building a winning culture a priority for Ambrose, Heritage Christian Eagles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In more than two decades guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Ambrose has learned that the X’s and O’s are important.

But in the last decade of so, Ambrose has begun to place his emphasis on building and maintaining a winning culture. He wants opponents to notice the way his Eagles go about warming up, how they hustle on and off the field and how they treat each other.

“That’s a big part of my coaching now,” says Ambrose. “I want to have a culture that is strong and healthy.”

The 2019 season will mark Ambrose’s 23rd at Heritage Christian School on the northeast side Indianapolis. He spent his first two seasons as junior varsity coach. Before that, the Cleveland, Ohio, native spent three seasons at Heritage Christian in Milwaukee.

Ambrose’s Indy-based program has won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) while always being competitive in the Circle City Conference (which along includes 3A Brebeuf Jesuit, 2A Covenant Christian, 3A Guerin Catholic, 3A Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and 4A Roncalli).

Heritage Christian (a pre-kindergarten through senior school with a current enrollment about 460 in the top four grades) has appeared in the last three city championship games against Indianapolis Cathedral, winning once.

Ambrose, who also teaches social studies at the high school level, has used different key words over the years and currently centers his team philosophy around the acronym E-A-G-L-E-S.

E — Each other.

A — Attitude.

G — God first.

L — Little things are Big things.

E — Effort.

S — Service to others.

The idea is to be both competitive between the while lines while still embracing and displaying Christian values.

“If you don’t care about winning, it’s easy,” says Ambrose. “But can i hold onto to my Christian character traits in the midst of an intense competitive situation?”

Ambrose had this in twins David and Ryan Ledbetter, who helped Heritage Christian to a football state title in the fall of 2008 and baseball state championships in the spring of 2009 and 2010.

First acquainted with the Lebetter boys as junior high youth group members at church, Ambrose later got to coach them when they transferred from Hamilton Southeastern to Heritage Christian after their sophomore year.

The Eagles go on a Dominican Republic mission trip every other year and the Ledbetters went that first year and bonded with their new teammates.

“We were a good team without them,” says Ambrose. “We were a great team with them.

“They were the icing on the cake.”

Both twins went to Cedarville (Ohio) University — Ambrose’s alma mater — and then pitched in the Texas Rangers organization. Ryan pitched through 2016, David through 2018.

“They were high energy, which can drive a coach crazy,” says Ambrose of the Ledbetter twins. “But I’d much rather pull back on a thoroughbred than kick a mule.

“They added that winning edge. Their teammates loved them.”

Team building is also done through a World Series party (scheduled for Friday, Oct. 26) and a leadership retreat for juniors and seniors and other events.

Looking ahead to the 2019 season, Ambrose sees a young team with plenty of freshmen and sophomores in the mix. The Eagles will field two high school teams — varsity and junior varsity.

With Rob Barber going to part-time status, he is looking for another top varsity assistant to pair with Nick Hibner, who is also head JV coach. Gary Vaughan is a JV assistant. Bryan Baker heads up the middle school program (Grades 7-8) with help from Jonathan Baker and Travis Willman.

Ambrose does have a veteran returning in Cooper Williams. The senior right-hander has already verbally committed to Xavier University in Cincinnati.

In order to get him used to being a college closer, Ambrose is thinking of using Williams in short starting stints of about 35 to 50 pitches, where he can use all his arsenal in the first inning if he so chooses.

Circle City Conference games are played at Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series. CCC coaches have been talking about adding an end-of-season conference tournament.

With the help of director of athletics Michelle York, Ambrose builds a non-conference schedule that includes as many sectional opponents as possible (HC is grouped with Eastern Hancock, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Irvington Prep Academy, Knightstown and Triton Central) plus neighboring rival Park Tudor as well as Faith Christian, Liberty Christian and Traders Point Christian.

Dan Ambrose graduated from Parma (Ohio) Senior High School in 1989, where he played for varsity coach Conrad Pokorski and JV coach Tim Tomc (who later took over the Redmen varsity).

Ambrose credits Tomc for teaching him the importance of an organized, focused practice.

“Baseball wasn’t just taking BP while people stood in the outfield,” says Ambrose. “(Tomc) was very structured.”

A full-squad Heritage Christian practice usually features multiple stations with players doing something different at each one.

“Every minute, every kid is doing something,” says Ambrose. “(Baseball coaches) gained a lot from football coaches. With so many kids in football, you have to be organized.”

During the fall, Ambrose had about eight or 10 players two hours two days a week to get in individual skill work while others were occupied with a fall sport. The same will be true in the winter, when the IHSAA practice window re-opens the first week of December.

“I encourage guys to play another sport,” says Ambrose.

Heritage Christian plays its game on-campus. A few years ago, a clubhouse was built near the baseball field and the net backstop — higher than the previous fence — was added last year.

“We lose a lot of foul balls in the neighborhood,” says Ambrose, who raises money for the upgrades through donations, the sale of hats and the Heritage Christian Youth Baseball League.

Started about a dozen years ago, the league for pre-K through fourth grade meets twice a week in the summer on the HC softball field. It is coach-pitch and score is not kept.

“My main goal is to allow kids to get a taste of baseball and realize how fun it can be,” says Ambrose. “If I’ve them them well and they keep playing, I hope they’ll come back to me in the seventh grade.”

Most seasons, the majority of Heritage Christian’s high school players take part in summer travel baseball.

“There’s a big difference when a kid plays the game all summer long,” says Ambrose. “His instincts are better.”

Dan and Amy Ambrose (a Brownsburg, Ind., native who went to Bethesda Christian) have three baseball-playing sons.

Jadon Ambrose is a freshman at Cedarville. Seth Ambrose is a 6-foot-6 sophomore first baseman. Will Ambrose is in the sixth grade.

Coaching for USAthletic (a travel organization started by Barber), Ambrose began coaching Jadon in the summers when he was in junior high and plans to do the same with Will’s 12U team next summer.

Ambrose’s rule of thumb with travel ball is one out-of-town tournament per season.

Heritage Christian graduate Joey Butz is also joined the college baseball world with Huntington (Ind.) University.

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Dan Ambrose is the head baseball coach at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis. His Eagles have won eight sectionals, three regionals, two semistates and a pair of IHSAA Class 2A state titles (2009 and 2010) during his tenure. (Heritage Christian School Photo)

 

Aggressive style has Estep, University Trailblazers baseball in 1A semistate

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chris Estep, his coaching staff and players have built a culture of confidence for the University High School baseball.

“The kids have bought into what we’re trying to do as a program,” says Estep, the head coach that has his Trailblazers (27-6) meetings Tecumseh (20-9) in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate at 1 p.m. EST Saturday, June 9. “When we run out on to the field we can play with anybody.”

What is the root that confidence?

“It’s how we’ve structured practices,” says Estep. “We make practices run faster.”

In practices — and games — University pushes the limits on offensive and defense.

“We want to be very, very aggressive,” says Estep. “The last thing we want to see is a kid afraid to make a mistake. The more aggressive you are, the more chance you’ll have to make aggressive plays.

“You can not expect a kid to make a great play if they don’t practice making great plays.”

University, a private school of just under 300 students located in Carmel which played in its first IHSAA tournament in 2007, won the University Sectional and the Morristown Regional to find itself one win short of going to Victory Field in Indianapolis for the 1A state championship game.

Estep, who is supported by assistants Reid Andrews, Michael Thompson and Steve Nerney and athletic director John Walls, points to the regional to show how his players are prepared deal with misfortune on the diamond.

The Trailblazers were up 2-0 in the semifinals against Indianapolis Lutheran only to find themselves down 4-3 in the next inning. They came back with a 9-4 victory.

The championship game was tied 0-0 going into the seventh inning. Estep saw a pinch-hitter foul off pitches to get to a full count and University went on to score three runs in the top of the frame and then hold Hauser for a 3-0 win and the regional crown.

“If you can’t handle adversity, you can’t be a champion,” says Estep. “We put them into as many adverse situations as we can and ask them to go out and make a play.

“You never know when it’s going to be your time and you better be ready to answer the bell.”

The aim is to play as close to flawless as possible and make up for any mistakes that do happen.

“There’s really no such thing as a perfect game,” says Estep. “But if we try, we will give ourselves the opportunity to win.”

There are 18 players in the program in 2018.

University is a member of the Pioneer Conference (along with baseball-playing schools Anderson Preparatory Academy, Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg, Greenwood Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge, Liberty Christian in Anderson, Muncie Burris and Seton Catholic in Richmond). The Traliblazers went 7-0 this spring to win the conference title.

Top University pitchers include senior right-hander Cade Carlson (committed to Northwood University in Midland, Mich.), junior right-hander Brock Moore and senior right-hander Garrett Hill (Purdue Fort Wayne commit). When not pitching, the three rotate between first base and third base.

Hill, junior shortstop Dawson Estep (the coach’s son), Moore, freshman left fielder and senior center fielder Ryan Williams (committed to Morehouse College in Atlanta) are among the Trailblazers’ leading hitters.

Coach Estep calls No. 9 hitter Williams “a major catalyst” with “speed to burn.”

Estep watched junior catcher Kolton Stevens fight through hot conditions to shine in the regional.

“He caught best two games I’ve ever seen a kid catch,” says Estep. “I can’t tell you how balls he blocked.

“Nobody ever notices that position until there is a mistake.

“He was absolutely phenomenal.”

It’s phenomenal plays or games that earns players the right to wear the “U chain”.

Borrowed from the University of Miami football “turnover chain,” Andrews brought the motivating bling to University baseball in 2017.

“Miami’s ‘The U’ and we’re the ‘The U,’” says Estep. “It’s been (Andrews’) baby. He hangs the ‘U chain’ on the fence before games. He awards it to a kid and pictures are taken. Kids are excited for whoever gets the ‘U chain.’”

Also for the second year, the “U” took a southern trip at the beginning of the season. The Traliblazers played in Tennessee.

The squad got away and spent quality time together at the ballpark and the breakfast table.

“It’s really important for team camaraderie,” says Estep. “We went and played four games then released them to spring break. When they came back, we got back to work.”

Estep, 51, has been working as a baseball instructor for decades. His Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield is coming up in 25 years.

“It found me out more than I found it,” says Estep.

He grew up on the east side of Indianapolis and played wiffleball, basketball and football and, of course, baseball. Organized ball came at Christian Park, where he played for John Gannon.

“He was the greatest youth coach in the history of Little League,” says Estep of Gannon, who is expected to be at Saturday’s semistate. “He’s a legend. “He made sure we all stayed out of trouble. He was an unbelievable mentor to kids.”

A 1985 Carmel High School graduate (he played his first two prep seasons at Indianapolis Cathedral before his family moved), Estep was an outfielder at the University of Kentucky for two seasons and was selected in the 12th round of the 1988 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played at the Double-A level in 1991 and 1992.

While he was still a professional player, he was approached by a parent about giving lessons to one of their sons. They were impressed enough to bring another son to him. Before you knew it, Estep had a long list of students and less and less time to work out himself.

“Even though I didn’t hit very well, I understood the processes for hitting and defense,” says Estep, who now sees to the needs of many baseball and softball players. “The girls are quicker learners and they’ll do whatever they tell them. The boys will fight you on it.”

Roundtripper alums include Jeremy Hazelbaker, Tommy Hunter, Lance Lynn, Dillon Peters, Kevin Plawecki, Micah Johnson, Drew Storen and Chris Ulrey.

Extra-busy giving lessons and running the Indiana Mustangs travel organization, Estep put up a fight when he was approached repeated by a former University administrator a decade ago.

“He would not leave me alone,” says Estep. “He said, ‘If you don’t do it, these kids can’t play.’ That got me. I called my wife and begged for forgiveness that I took on another job.

When we first started I couldn’t have weekend games because of the workload. The school made it work. Now we play every weekend. The program’s worth it. I’m willing to pay a little extra price — my family is, too, though my wife doesn’t like me very well.”

Besides Dawson, Chris and Sue Estep have an older son (Chandler, who plays football at Elon University in North Carolina) and a younger daughter (Jasmine, a talented athlete who is headed into the ninth grade).

For Estep to be close to his business, University began playing its home games at Roundtripper and still does.

His first team was overmatched. The first game was a 32-0 loss.

“They were the the kids that always got chosen last,” says Estep. “But that team set the standard. This is where we built from. This present team has an attitude that they’re going to fight you to the bitter end.

“I love them for that.”

Estep does not love the IHSAA decision to suspend Indianapolis Scecina junior right-hander Mac Ayres (who is also in the Mustangs organization) for the 2A Jasper Semistate. Ayres went over the IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) in the Park Tudor Regional and the violation was self-reported by Scecina coach Dave Gandolph.

“It was a clerical/addition error,” says Estep. “(Scecina coaches) thought they were taking a kid out on 119 pitches for two games.

“There was no malice there. Now the kid is going to be penalized.”

If Estep had his way, pitch counts would be tracked in an official book in the press box and not with the home team. The scorekeeper would let the teams and umpires know how many pitches a player had going into the next game. When they got to 110, the coaches would be alerted.

“It should be a drop-dead (when the limit is reached),” says Estep. “You stop and make a pitching change.”

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

UNIVERSITYTRAILBLAZERS

REIDANDREWSCHRISESTEP

University High School head coach Chris Estep wears the “U chain” and assistant Reid Andrews holds the cake celebrating Estep’s 100th career win with the Trailblazers.

UNIVERSITYHSBASEBALL

University High School won the IHSAA Class 1A University Sectional and Morristown Regional and will play Saturday, June 9 in the Plainfield Sectional. Chris Estep is the head coach of the Trailblazers.

 

 

Conwell stays positive with his Cowan Blackhawks baseballers

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a game filled with moments of failure.

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

Ryan Conwell chooses not to dwell on the negatives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was always a lot of work on defensive situations.

What might happen next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cowan plays its games on-campus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COWANBLACKHAWKS

RYANCONWELL

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