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Stevens making baseball important again at Bethesda Christian

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Raising baseball’s profile.

It’s the goal of Tom Stevens as the third-year head coach at Bethesda Christian School in Brownsburg, Ind.

Stevens took over the Patriots just a few months before the 2019 campaign, got through a year without games because of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020) and expects up to 20 players in 2021 at a private school of about 85 students.

“I’m trying to make this program relevant again,” says Stevens. “Baseball has been an afterthought for awhile.”

Bethesda Christian’s junior high baseball coach for a few seasons, Stevens was asked to head up the varsity in January 2019.

“We had to circle the wagons and get some practices going,” says Stevens. “We had no equipment and no set routine for the varsity schedule.

“We started building it basically from scratch.”

The school has replaced its rickety press box and Stevens would like to get a new backstop. 

The Patriots began workouts for 2020-21 in October and just finished the latest IHSAA Limited Contact Period for bat-and-ball activities. Players are now using a speed and agility routine devised by strength and conditioning expert Zach Dechant and a throwing strength training course put together by Jason Taulman, a former college coach who runs the Indy Sharks travel organization.

“I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made in the speed on my baseball team,” says Stevens of Dechant’s system. “It really works.

“I use (the throwing program) with the entire team. We use med balls and J-bands and do core work.”

With Bethesda’s basketball teams getting first priority on gym time in February, a handful of baseball players were at the school a 6 a.m. Friday workout. 

Stevens’ assistant coach is Bethesda Christian graduate Josh Stroud.

Besides the junior high team, Stevens would like to establish a feeder system at the elementary level.

“I want to get them younger if I can,” says Stevens. “You have to build a program from the bottom up.”

Bethesda Christian is a member of the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Preparatory Academy, Central Christian Academy, Greenwood Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic and University). Since Stevens has been involved, CCA and International have not fielded baseball teams.

PAAC teams are set up in two divisions and play each other one time.

The Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Indiana School for the Deaf, Irvington Preparatory Academy, Providence Cristo Rey, Tindley and Traders Point Christian. Bethesda won sectional titles in 2008 and 2011.

A 1994 graduate of Southmont Senior High School in Crawfordsville, Ind., Stevens ran the Walnut Township youth league then headed Southmont Little League when it joined the national organization.

“Before that Southmont played Crawfordsville and North Montgomery (school system players) and that was it,” says Stevens, who helped the league branch out to find a variety of competition around Indianapolis.

Tom and wife Christy’s daughter, Madi, transferred to Bethesda when she was a ninth grader. She’s now an elementary education major at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

When their sister changed schools, brothers Garrett and Wyatt — who began playing T-ball at Southmont — decided to also make the switch. 

Garrett Stevens is now a Bethesda senior. Bethesda is preparing to put stage “Beauty and The Beast” in March and Garrett is to play The Beast.

The Patriots’ top pitcher touches 90 mph on the radar gun, Garrett will be a teammate of freshman Wyatt. 

Garrett is committed to play baseball at Anderson (Ind.) University.

“(Ravens head) Coach (Matt) Bair knows baseball, but he’s a good mentor and cares about the boys,” says Stevens. “I’m more interested in these boys become good young men and that they become all-stars at leaders in their communities and their families.”

Bethesda Christian graduate Brayden Sayre is on the baseball roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.

Stevens is a licensed electrician, but has not worked in that field for about five years. He had a home improvement company in Crawfordsville. For the past three years, he’s been an apprentice to his wife in Winding Creek Ranch, a Crawfordsville-based dog breeding business specializing in Goldendoodles and Labradoodles.

Stevens has coached travel ball, but he’s partial to the community leagues for younger players.

“Travel ball has no place for any kid below the junior high level and that’s pushing it,” says Stevens. “Let’s play ball locally.”

The Stevens family (from left): Madi, Garrett, Tom, Christy and Wyatt. Tom Stevens is head baseball coach at Bethesda Christian School in Brownsburg, Ind., and both his sons are on the team in 2021.

Owens leading Bellarmine into NCAA D-I era

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Larry Owens was playing baseball for Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School in the mid-1980’s, he had no sense of his future in the game.

Red Devils coach Don Poole, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, helped Owens see what could be.

“He opened my eyes to what was possible in baseball,” says Owens of Poole. “I didn’t have any clue I could play baseball beyond high school.”

Poole let the young left-handed pitcher know that the coach and some of Owens’ teachers could open some doors with their recommendations.

“I thank God for him,” says Owens of Don Poole Sr., who died in June at 82. “He helped me see I can have a job in baseball. That’s cool.”

Owens also appreciated Poole’s steady demeanor as a coach.

“(Coach Poole) never got too high and he never got too low,” says Owens, who was a classmate and teammate at Jeff of 2021 IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Chris McIntyre (the long-time head coach at New Albany High School).

Owens, who graduated from Jeffersonville in 1986, went on to play in college and briefly in the pros and has been a baseball coach since the spring of 1992. 

The future head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., was on the Jeffersonville High staff of Jerry Rusk (1992) and Al Rabe (1993).

Entering the college coaching ranks, Owens was as assistant to Warriors head coach Scott Rendel at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 1994 and 1995. 

In the fall of 1995, Owens was a volunteer at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) with Keith Guttin as Bears head coach and Paul Evans as pitching coach.

When Mike Snyder left the University of Louisville as pitching coach, Owens got the job and served with Cardinals head coach Lelo Prado in 1996 and 1997.

The 1999 and 2000 seasons saw Owens as pitching coach for Governors head coach Gary McClure at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

That was follow by a four-year stint (2001-04) as Tigers head coach Dave Anderson’s pitching coach at the University of Memphis.

In the summer of 2005, Owens got his first taste of pro coaching. He was pitching coach for the independent Golden League’s San Diego Surf Dawgs with manager Terry Kennedy, who had played in the majors with Anderson. It was also the last season as a player for a 46-year-old Rickey Henderson.

“It was awesome,” says Owens of his season in San Diego. “We played National League rules with no DH. That changes how you run the game quite a bit with double-switching. It’s about getting through a game and not crushing your bullpen.”

Owens learned that managing at the pro level was as much about managing personalities as game situations.

“It was a way to deal with people that I appreciated,” says Owens. “There’s a skill to it. You’re trying to get people to do things.

“That’s the approach I take at Bellarmine. We’re marrying both sides — amateur and pro.”

Owens was an area scout with the Boston Red Sox in 2006.

The 2021 season will mark Owens’ eighth as head coach at Bellarmine. It will be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I after years at the NCAA D-II level.

Owens played his freshmen college season at Bellarmine for coach Kevin Kocks.

“He was on the cutting edge with a boatload of passion,” says Owens of Kocks. “He believed in doing things fast and intense.”

One of Owens’ teammates was sophomore lefty Scott Wiegandt, who went on to a stellar diamond career and then became Bellarmine’s director of athletics. 

When the time was right, Owens accepted Wiegandt’s invitation to come “home” from a baseball odyssey that saw him hold coaching jobs in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, California, North Carolina and Virginia. He was a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox system from 2007-13, spending four seasons with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators and three with the Bristol (Va.) White Sox. His managers included Chris Jones, Nick Capra, Ernie Young, Pete Rose Jr., and Bobby Magallanes.

“I didn’t leave professional baseball just be in college,” says Owens, who turns 52 on Dec. 31. “It had to be the right fit for me to leave what I was doing and this is right fit.”

Owens notes that each time he moved in baseball it was to better himself. Coming back to his home area also meant being closer to family. A bachelor for his first four decades, he got married in 2008. Larry and Kelley’s blended family now includes four children — McKenna (22), Dawson (19), Grayson (11) and Easton (9).

Owens, who was featured on the Dec. 7, 2020 Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV and hosted by Jeremy Sheetinger, is leading Bellarmine’s move to D-I baseball. He cut his term as American Baseball Coaches Association NCAA D-II chair short when his program made the switch.

The northern-most team in a southern league, the Knights are now in the ASUN Conference (along with Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson.

“It’s exciting,” says Owens of the process. “There’s a transition period that happens. I want to have what my opponents have in terms of player development and facilities. We don’t have those things yet.

“There’s so much value in player development. To me, it is many, many things — not just the just the physical, mechanics, measuring things or getting in the weight room,” says Owens.

Bellarmine is hoping to break ground soon on a new baseball complex.

“I’m excited for our returning seniors that were allowed to come back and play a Division I schedule,” says Owens, who welcomes back six of seven players who had originally assumed the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign was their last. The coach says four of those returnees have a legitimate chance at pro baseball.

After his one season playing with Bellarmine, Owens transferred to Vincennes (Ind.) University and played for Trailblazers head coach Jerry Blemker (National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007).

“He was a great man,” says Owens of Blemker. “He taught us how to grow up and be a man in a variety of ways.

“He was demanding, but fair. He wasn’t for everybody, but if you paid attention to the right things you were certainly going to learn a lot.”

Blemker held his student-athletes accountable. They were accountable to their teammates. They were expected to be a good person — on and off the field.

“Coach has some standards,” says Owens. “We’re on the team. We have to live up to them.”

At the time, junior college baseball was not restricted in number of games so Vincennes played around 45 games in the fall and 85 in the spring. The 1998 Blazers won more than 50.

“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.

On top of that, he had to take more than a full load in each semester and then six hours during the summer while playing in the Cape Cod League to be eligible for a four-year school.

That ended up being Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga., where Lebanon, Ind., native Joe Roberts was the Pirates head coach.

“Joe gave us a chance to play,” says Owens. “He figured out how to build a roster and put guys in the right spots.”

Armstrong State went from NCAA D-I in 1987 to NCAA D-II in 1988 and went to the D-II World Series that first year and several times after that.

Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.

“Clyde taught us how to pitch,” says Owens. “You were not just heaving things. You’re trying to navigate the game. It’s how you use your stuff. The pitcher’s job is to get people out. 

“There’s a really good time for a 3-2 breaking ball and there’s a really bad time for it. You have to pay attention to the game situation. It’s not as simple as lifting your leg and throwing it as hard as you can.”

Owens was selected in the 27th round of the 1990 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by he Atlanta Braves and played that summer for the Pulaski (Va.) Braves, but he knew his future was in coaching.

So after taking 1991 off, he launched into what has been a baseball coaching odyssey.

Larry Owens talks to Ryan Wheat (Louisville Legends Video).
Larry Owens, a 1986 graduate of Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. The 2021 season is to be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I. (Bellarmine University Photo)

Bellak looking for more than just ballplayers as Hanover College head coach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Grant Bellak jumped into his job as head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College with both feet.

Hired to his first head-coaching position on June 1, a few days later the former Franklin (Ind.) College assistant was already recruiting at an event in Cincinnati and spent the next few weeks looking for student-athletes.

Bellak says he expects to have 32 players in the fall and have recruiting classes of 10 to 12 players the next few seasons.

“I felt comfortable with the recruiting area,” says Bellak, who was the recruiting coordinator at Franklin. “Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college program.

“I want athletes who are big and strong. Power bats and power arms play. Power bats can change the game with one swing. Power arms give you more room for error. You don’t have to be perfect.”

Bella, 32, prides himself in finding value where others miss it.

“I plan on bringing that to Hanover and developing that over four years,” says Bellak. “We want mid-major Division I’s calling asking us to play.”

With the Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville and Evansville areas as a base, Bellak already has contacts he developed at Franklin that he can use at Hanover. Both are members of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference — an NCAA Division III circuit.

As a D-III school, Hanover (enrollment 1,100) does not give athletic scholarships. The liberal arts institution places a premium on academics.

“The thing I’ve been preaching on the recruiting trail is that fit matters,” says Bellak. “This is not for you if you are not 100 percent Panthers. You have to fit the academic profile, campus profile and athletic profile.”

Almost all of the seniors in his last three recruiting classes at Franklin had job offers prior to graduation.

Bellak is looking for young men coming to Hanover who want to be more than ballplayers. They have aspirations of pursuing careers as CEOs, lawyers, politicians etc.

“Here at Hanover, our focus is wanting guys who want more,” says Bellak. “What is your ‘why’?’

“We want difference makers.”

The Shayne Stock-coached Hanover Panthers went 8-25 overall and 5-12 in the HCAC.

“You can win a lot here,” says Bellak. “The rest of athletic department, that’s what they’re doing.

“It’s one of those opportunities I felt I couldn’t pass up.”

Hanover got Bellak’s attention the first time he arrived on the southern Indiana campus as a Franklin assistant.

“It’s got that ‘wow factor,’” says Bellak. “It’s the way it is back in the woods overlooking the Ohio River and the architecture. There’s lots of green space.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Dick Naylor Field at K.T. Young Ballpark, with its natural grass surface and old trees surrounding the outfield, is also picturesque.

At Franklin, Bellak served on a staff with veteran head coach Lance Marshall.

He saw the behind-the-scenes things that it takes to be a head coach — being an administrator and mentor.

“It’s a different mindset,” says Bellak. “Hours are not just devoted to player development, but developing a program as a whole.

“It’s more than just hitting fungoes and throwing BP. You’re engaging the alumni base and fundraising. It’s all the extras, things the outside world doesn’t see.”

Before Franklin, Bellak was a volunteer assistant at Concordia University Chicago in River Forest, Ill., in 2010 and 2011.

A 2004 graduate of Aurora (Ill.) Christian High School, the Big Rock, Ill., native played two seasons at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Ill., and two at Webster University in St. Louis, Mo.

Bellak was sixth in the National Junior College Athletic Association in stolen bases in 2006 at Waubonsee.

Webster, coached by Bill Kurich, came within six outs of going to the 2008 NCAA D-III World Series.

In 2009, Bellak worked as a student assistant to Kurich.

“Bill knows what it takes to win,” says Bellak of Kurich. “He has the unique ability to get the most out of you.”

Bellak coached three summers with the Prospect League’s Dubois County Bombers in Huntingburg, Ind., in 2009-11 — the last as field manager. One of his players was future major league pitcher Sean Manaea.

In 2009, Bellak graduated from Webster with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. He earned a masters degree in leadership and management from Liberty University’s online program in 2013. The latter is a precursor to a Masters of Business Administration.

“(The leadership and management masters) helped me take a different perspective to coaching,” says Bellak. “The business world isn’t that different than a team.

“The way a CEO motivates someone in the office is not much different than how a coach motivates someone on the field.”

Grant and wife Natasha Bellak have a daughter — Bexley (2).

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Grant Bellak is now the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College after seven seasons as an assistant at Franklin (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)