Tag Archives: Lincoln Trail College

Valparaiso U.’s Hannahs contributes with glove, bat

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

Kaleb Hannahs has a purpose when he puts on his glove and trots out to his position in the infield.
Support the man on the mound.
“I’m trying to get my pitcher to trust me,” says Hannahs, who has completed two baseball seasons at Valparaiso (Ind.) University. “It makes them so much more comfortable attacking hitters when they know you’ll take care of balls put in-play. They’ll throw more strikes for you.
“I let my hands do the work.”
A shortstop throughout his days at West Vigo High School in West Terre Haute, Ind., Hannahs played shortstop, second base and third base this summer for the Coastal Plains League’s Peninsula Pilots (Hampton, Va.) and spent all but one game at third base for the Brian Schmack-coached VU Beacons in the spring.
Hannahs was named to the all-Missouri Valley Conference defensive team in 2022.
With the bat, the righty swinger hit .275 (55-of-200) with four home runs, 15 doubles, 25 runs batted in, 36 runs scored and seven stolen bases over 48 games (all starts). His OPS was .751 (.341 on-base percentage plus .410 slugging).
He enjoyed 16 multi-hit games — including four with three RBIs in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Indiana State — where father Mitch Hannahs is the head coach. Kaleb tied for the team lead with seven multiple-RBI games.
“My dad’s always been my mentor when it comes to baseball,” says Kaleb. “He’s just always guided me along the right path. I’ve grown to completely trust what says and the knowledge he has.
“It’s extremely helpful for me to have that connection.”
Kaleb sees in his dad — who played at Indiana State and in pro baseball before launching into a coaching career — a combination of Old School and New School.
“He’s figured out stuff that will always work,” says Kaleb. “He does a good job of teaching those things.”
The younger Hannahs was born in Terre Haute and started school in Robinson, Ill., when his father was head coach at Lincoln Trail College.
Kaleb, who is now 20, was 12 and in the sixth grade when he moved to Terre Haute. From Grades 7 to 11, his summers were spent with the Indiana Reds travel ball organization.
Hannahs played for Culley DeGroote at West Vigo in 2020 — the year the COVID-19 pandemic took away the season, which would have been his fourth on varsity.
“The whole DeGroote family take care of the West Vigo baseball program,” says Hannahs. “They do it well. You learn how to play the game.
“With Culley, everything was always in-line. He kept our heads pointed in the same direction.”
Hannahs also earned four high school letters each in football and basketball and was all-Western Indiana Conference in both sports.
In 2020, Hannahs was part of the first season for the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., helping the Turf Monsters to the championship. Alex Thurston, who would be his roommate at Valparaiso U., was also on the team.
Hannahs enjoyed a super 2021 spring that included being honored as the MVC Freshman of the Year, all-MVC second team and Valpo’s 2020-21 co-Male Newcomer of the Year.
In 51 games, Hannahs hit .296 (55-of-186) with three homers, six doubles, 22 RBIs, 22 runs and four stolen bases. His OPS was .776 (.389/.387).
He was in 41 games with the 2021 Prospect League’s Terre Haute Rex and hit .293 (46-of-157) with two homers.
Hannahs explains his offensive approach.
“What I try to do is keep my mind as empty as possible,” says Hannahs. “It’s a one-on-one battle against the pitcher.
“My dad presented that to me. It’s best for me to keep it competitive.”
Hannahs was usually in the No. 2 spot in the batting order with Kyle Schmack (.292, 7 HR, 27 RBI) hitting behind him.
“I know I’ll get a lot more pitches to hit,” says Hannahs. “They’re not going to pitch around me to get another good hitter.”
Schmack and Hannahs were teammates at Peninsula before both returned to Indiana for the rest of the summer.
Hannahs hit .306 (26-of-85) with two homers over 24 games.
“It was a great league with great competition,” says Hannahs of the CPL. “You can tell the area is invested in that league.
“It was packed every night.”
A Civil Engineering major his first year at Valpo U., Hannahs, who turns 21 in February, has changed to Integrated Business and Engineering.
Kaleb is the youngest of Mitch and Robinson (Ill.) High School English/Social Studies teacher Amy Hannahs’ three children. Former second baseman Derek Hannahs (30) played at Ohio State and Indiana State (even before his father coached there). He now lives in Indianapolis and sells insurance. Kylee Hannahs (25) resides in Greenwood, Ind., and is a social worker.

Kaleb Hannahs (Valparaiso University Photo)

Kaleb Hannahs (Valparaiso University Photo)

Kaleb Hannahs (Peninsula Pilots Photo)

Kaleb Hannahs (Peninsula Pilots Photo)

Hamilton Southeastern, Eastern Kentucky grad Poiry considering future on, off diamond

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

Armed with experience and his undergraduate degree, Rutger Poiry is looking for his next collegiate baseball experience.
“I’m looking at all options, all opportunities and just seeing what’s out there and what’s coming my way,” says Poiry, a catcher who is looking to be a graduate transfer after earning a bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from Eastern Kentucky University and appearing in one game with the NCAA Division I EKU Colonels in 2022 (he redshirted in 2021 after appearing in 36 games over two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.).
Poiry, a 5-foot-10, 194-pounder, is weighing his options while playing for the third straight year in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He was with the Moon Shots in 2020 and 2021 and is with the Local Legends in 2022.
Grand Park is about 18 miles from Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, where he graduated in 2018.
Two of his classmates were right-hander Sam Bachman (now pitching in the Los Angeles Angels system) and lefty Carter Lohman (who pitched the past four seasons at the University of Lousville).
Scott Henson — then the HSE Royals head coach — also used Poiry on the mound.
“He pushed us work hard in whatever we’re doing,” says Poiry of Henson.
Carter Poiry — Rutger’s brother — graduated from Hamilton Southeastern in 2016 and was also at Lincoln Trail. He pitched for Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Ct., as a graduate student in the spring of 2022.
Priory considers work ethic and a team-first mentality to be his top attributes as an athlete.
“It’s just being a great teammate,” says Poiry. “You know, helping any team I’m involved with in any way I can.”
To make himself better in the batter’s box, Poiry has been working for the past two-plus years with Benny Craig of Feel Good Hitting in Carmel, Ind.
“He’s helped me change my mental game,” says Poiry of Craig, a San Diego native who played D-I and pro baseball and coached in the Cape Cod Baseball League. “He puts a big emphasis on the classroom. It’s thing you can do to be proactive towards hitting without hitting.
“He gives you a couple of little things to just focus on. He does what works best for certain guys because every guy’s different.”
Poiry was born in Naperville, Ill., and moved to the HSE area as he was starting school.
He played for the Cats during his first days of organized baseball then was one of the of the first Indiana Nitro travel teams.
Rutger is the youngest of Randy and Rhonda Poiry’s four children (two girls and two boys), following Taylor, Harper and Carter.
“I was always in the back seat on my way to a sporting event,” says Rutger of his childhood in an athletic family. “My parents have always just been very supportive of all their kids. They wanted us to try every sport that we could.
“I enjoy being the youngest. I’m thankful that I had some older siblings kind of shape me and develop me as a person.”
Randy Poiry is regional sales director for Boulart, based in Quebec. Rhonda Poiry, a Saint Joseph’s College graduate, is a nurse.
Taylor played soccer at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and graduated from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Harper was on the soccer team at Ball State University and graduated from Indiana University.
Rutger, who is considering a masters degree in criminal justice, victimology, business or business administration, became interested in law enforcement by being around a Fishers police officer while at junior high.
“He just made this impression,” says Poiry, who could see himself as a police officer, state trooper or FBI agent.

Rutger Poiry (Eastern Kentucky University Photo)
Rutger Poiry (Steve Krah Photo)

Right-hander Maynard brings ‘bulldog mentality’ to the mound

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

Johnny Maynard is not yet sure where he’ll throw his next regular-season collegiate pitch.
But he is certain how he will approach baseball. The way he always has — with a strong work ethic and bulldog mentality.
“It’s how I raised by my parents,” says Maynard, who turns 22 today (June 30). “Whatever you start you have to finish. I never quit anything ever. Always go full-out.
“I really don’t care who I’m competing against, I know they’re not going to beat me. I’m a 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher. I’m usually one of the smaller guys on the team. I have to work harder to the get the results and earn respect.”
Maynard (rhymes with Play Hard), a 2019 Griffith (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School graduate who is now in the Transfer Portal after two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., (2020 and 2021) and one at NCAA Division I Radford (Va.) University. The Sports Management and Marketing major hurled 5 1/3 innings in six appearances for the 2022 Highlanders.
Alex Guerra was hired as Radford head coach after the season.
This summer, Maynard is pitching for the Coastal Plain League’s Jeremy Knight-coached Asheboro (N.C.) ZooKeepers.
Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Maynard uses on four-seam fastball, one-seamer, curveball and change-up.
The four-seam sits 87 to 89 mph and has been up to 92.
“The one-seamer (finger on just one seam) I learned this year,” says Maynard. “My two-seamer was not moving the way I wanted it to. (The one-seamer) gets pretty good movement away from a lefty and has pretty good sink to it. It works off my (circle) change-up (which is generally thrown 82 to 84 mph.”
Maynard employs a curve that is 1-to-7 on the clock face.
“It drops off the table pretty well,” says Maynard.
Born in Munster, Ind., Maynard moved to Griffith as a sixth grader. He played in Munster and Griffith youth leagues then went into travel ball and suited up for the Northwest Indiana Shockers, Steelheads, Cobras, Slammers, Hammond Chiefs and 18U Midwest Irish.
At Griffith High, Maynard played four years for Panthers coach coach Brian Jennings, starting as a freshman.
“He’s a great guy,” says Maynard of Jennings, who retired after the 2022 season.
Lincoln Trail coach Kevin Bowers allowed the righty got to close some games for the Statesman. One of his highlights is slamming the door on highly-ranked John A. Logan during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Maynard split the summer of 2019 between the Irish and Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen. He also got in a few innings with that Whiting-based team in 2020. He was with the Tropics of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2021, which allowed him to work at home and then commute two-plus hours to games.
Johnny’s mother, Jen Maynard, is a cardiac tech in northwest Indiana. Father Mike Maynard is recently-retired and living in Florida. Sister Lauren Maynard played and coached softball at Purdue Northwest and is now in nursing school.

Johnny Maynard (Asheboro ZooKeepers Photo)
Johnny Maynard (Anne Bowers Photo)
Johnny Maynard (Anne Bowers Photo)
Johnny Maynard (Lincoln Trail College Photo)
Johnny Maynard (Lincoln Trail College Photo)

Carroll graduate Kuhns honing catching chops in Texas

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

Sebastian Kuhns is growing as a baseball catcher and the northeast Indiana native is doing it in northeast Texas.
The 2020 graduate of Carroll High School in Fort Wayne is a “COVID” freshman at Paris (Texas) Junior College, which is about 100 miles from Dallas.
Through the Dragons’ first 17 games of 2022, Kuhns was hitting .400 (10-of-25) with five doubles and nine runs batted in over eight games while splitting playing time with freshman Zach Munton.
Kuhns, who missed his senior season at Carroll because of the pandemic, Kuhns split his time in the summer of 2020 between the Chad Hines-coached Indiana Prospects travel team (he played for the Prospects in 2019, too) and the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He ended up with the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers.
Kuhns was at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for the 2021 season and hit .268 (11-of-41) with one home run and 13 RBIs in 18 games.
He did not play in the summer of 2021, but trained at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind. He did overall and throwing with Greg Vogt, Anthony Gomez and Justin Hancock, hitting with Quentin Brown and Noah Niswonger and strength workouts with Michael Hammerstand, Christian Sullivan and Bram Wood.
Kuhns is considering another summer of training at PRP Baseball while possibly playing in the CSL.
When Kuhns made it known that he would be transferring from Lincoln Trail, a couple of schools reached out. Among them was Paris, which had three catchers moving on.
“I shot Coach (Clay) Cox a message,” says Kuhns. “He responded and now I’m here. I really enjoyed my phone call with him. I could tell everything he said was genuine.
“I can’t not say enough about Coach Cox. He’s one of the top motivational coaches I’ve had. He knows what to say to get us fired up. He made it clear what the expectations are. Last year (Paris) had like 3.8 team GPA. They do things right here.”
Kuhns signed at Paris — a National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Region 14 member — in mid-June. He he arrived Paris in the fall he was given No. 47.
Any significance to to those digits?
“Not really. Most of our class had already signed,” says Kuhns. “Maybe my arm’s like an AK-47?”
Kuhns is on pace to earn an Associate Degree in Business Management while he hones his skills behind the plate.
“There’s so many games within the game that I love,” says Kuhns, who moved from first base to catcher around age 12. “I take pride in picking up mannerisms of all my pitchers. It’s different for every guy.”
Kuhns appreciates the engagement of the position.
“You’re part of every pitch,” says Kuhns. “My arm is one of the tools that helped me getting into college. I was good at blocking, but my receiving wasn’t great.
“(Receiving) is one of the biggest adjustments for me moving from high school to college, where there is a smaller strike zone. You try to steal strikes for your pitcher and keeps strikes as strikes. I’m working on that art. The strike zone in Texas is even smaller.”
Kuhns talks about the junior college baseball life.
“People throw around JUCO like an adjective,” says Kuhns. “Guys really embrace that. We’re just some gritty guys working hard. That’s one aspect I really like. It really is good baseball. Down here (in Texas) it really is no joke.”
Kuhns played at Carroll for head coach Dave Ginder, who stressed all the situational things like first-and-third and bunt coverages.
“I didn’t fully appreciate everything he did until I got into college,” says Kuhns. “He knows the game really well and he’s really good at passing it on to his players.”
“I see similarities with Coach Cox and Coach Ginder. (Cox) let’s us do our thing. He’s not going to fix it if it ain’t broke.”
As a Chargers sophomore, Kuhns was a third-stringer on a catching corps led by Hayden Jones (who is now in the Cincinnati Reds organization).
“I can’t say enough about Hayden and what he helped me with in high school,” says Kuhns. “He helped me grow up and mature and with baseball in general.
“He comes from a great family. I worked with his dad for a long time.”
Kuhns went to Ken Jones (now assistant at Purdue Fort Wayne) at World Baseball Academy for catching and hitting lessons. The player was also at Wallen Baseball Softball and with the Fort Wayne Cubs/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks.
Born in Auburn, Ind., Kuhns grew up in the Fort Wayne/Huntertown area. His parents are Brian Kuhns (stepmother Sherri Foster) and Kimberly Kuhns. His siblings are Josh Kuhns, Olivia Kuhns, Kesley Foster, Eric Foster, Chris Kiger, Cassandra Kiger and Kyle Kiger.

Sebastian Kuhns (Paris Junior College Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns (Lincoln Trail College Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns catches for Paris (Texas) Junior College. (PJC Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns catches for Paris (Texas) Junior College. (PJC Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns throws for Paris (Texas) Junior College. (PJC Photo)

Hancock finally dons Indiana State University uniform — as a coach

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

A decade ago, Justin Hancock was planning to play baseball at Indiana State University.
When the 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher was selected in the ninth round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres out of Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Hancock decided instead to go pro rather than transfer to ISU after his two years of junior college, playing first for Statesman head coach Mitch Hannahs and then Kevin Bowers.
Pitching for pay took fireballing Hancock through parts of seven seasons in the Padres system — some of 2012 and 2013 was spent with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps — and three in the Chicago Cubs organization, including 10 games at the big league level in 2018. He went 0-0 with a 1.46 earned run average in 12 1/3 innings — all out of the bullpen.
Hancock was a starter until shoulder surgery in 2016 and then became a reliever.
Non-tendered in November 2018, Hancock signed on with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League for 2019 before retiring as a player.
“It was a good experience,” says Hancock. “My wife and daughter came (to Japan). Baseball over there is how baseball was in the ’80s and ‘90s here. There’s not too much power. They hit the ball in the gap and it’s fast-paced.
“It’s tough to strike out guys in Japan.”
Overall, Hancock saw action in 193 games during his professional career, including 96 starts on the mound. He finished with a 29-37 record, 450 strikeouts and a 4.07 ERA over 579 innings.
Hancock was reunited with Hannahs (who returned to his alma mater as ISU head coach in 2013) when he was hired in July 2021 as Indiana State’s pitching coach. The man who recruited Hancock — Brian Smiley — is associate head coach for the Sycamores.
“Mitch is just a very good influencer of the players,” says Hancock, 31. “He does a good job of getting the most out of the talent that comes here.
“He gets the guys to work hard and become better men. He’s just a really good person.”
While Hannahs, Hancock and Smiley share in rounding up players, much of it is coordinated by Smiley.
“Smiley does an awesome job,” says Hancock. “He’s a very good recruiter.”
While a few players have stayed on-campus, most have gone home and will not be back in Terre Haute until the second week of January. That’s when the Sycamores will really begin ramping up for the 2022 season opener Feb. 18 against Brigham Young in Port Charlotte, Fla.
Hancock helps his pitchers develop a daily routine and understand their place on the team.
“It comes down to knowing your role and doing that role very, very well,” says Hancock. “And it starts right now. We send these guys home for a winter break. You call them throughout the time they’re gone, but you don’t know what they did while they’re gone.
“You can see the guys who have bought in and those who haven’t (when they get back to campus). This time is very crucial.”
Being a first-time coach and new to the program, Hancock took the fall to evaluate his staff.
“I had not seen any of them throw live,” says Hancock. “I saw how they pitch and what some of their stuff does.
“At the D-I level, most of these guys have the stuff. We need to refine it.”
That means developing a secondary pitch that the pitcher can put int he strike zone.
“We want them to be able to throw a fastball down and away and to trust their stuff,” says Hancock. “You believe you can get ahead (in the count) with the stuff and get hitters out.
“With one or two good pitches, you can be a really good college pitcher.”
There are 22 pitchers on the roster now. He says that number will likely be 13 or 14 in the spring.
Hancock left Lincoln Trail with a fastball between 92 and 95 mph and increased his velocity over time with added strength.
“I was more of a late bloomer,” says Hancock. “I refined my craft and worked at it. It was about knowing my body and what it could do.”
A 2009 graduate of Defiance (Ohio) High School, Hancock learned about pitching fast from Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and three-time state championship coach Tom Held.
“I touched 90 (mph in high school),” says Hancock. “Coach Held does an awesome job. Defiance has that reputation of always having ’90’ arms.
(Bulldogs pitchers) want to be that next ’90’ arm and prove people wrong just like I did.
Besides Hancock, graduates of the “Definance Way” to pitch in the majors include Jon Niese and Chad Billingsley.
Justin is married to a Terre Haute Vigo High School graduate (and former Lincoln Trail College and Marshall University basketball player) Tessa (Johnson) Hancock. The couple have a daughter — Ivy (who turns 3 in January). Tessa’s father — Howie Johnson — played basketball at ISU with Larry Bird and was also a softball teammate of the Hall of Famer.

Justin Hancock records first big league strikeout.
Justin Hancock 96.4 MPH slow motion mound mechanics.
Justin Hancock pitches for the Chicago Cubs in 2018 (Chicago Cubs Photo)
Justin Hancock (Chicago Cubs Photo)

Gouker putting Indianapolis Lutheran players, coaches to the ‘test’

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

Promoting retention of concepts taught, Indianapolis Lutheran High School head baseball coach Adam Gouker is testing his players as they prepare for the 2022 season.
“People talk about the five tools of baseball (speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and arm strength),” says Gouker, who was hired prior to the 2020 season canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic and led the Saints on the field for the first time in 2021. “Baseball I.Q. or Baseball Awareness is the most under-taught part of baseball.
“We put players through mental training.”
Ramping it up in January, players will witness presentations on various parts of the game and then take an exam which produces a metric — a Baseball Academics Rating (BAR).
“We are by no stretch of the imagination the most athletic team, but we understand what to do with the ball (on defense),” says Gouker. “It makes us extremely competitive.
“It’s my favorite thing to teach. The guys eat it up and it builds passion.”
As co-founder and vice president of BAMFAM (Baseball Academics Midwest/Fastpitch Academics Midwest) and owner/operator of Extra Innings Indy South, Gouker has been testing players’ knowledge for years.
“I’m involved in a lot of instruction,” says Gouker. “Baseball is life.”
Gower also insists that his assistant Lutheran coaches get certified through Dugout Coalition.
“It’s a a really useful tool to make sure we’re all teaching accurately the same things,” says Gouker. “There are lot of coaches out there in the world that have been involved in baseball in the past and not enough recognition if those coaches are staying up with the latest and greatest in the sport.”
In getting Dugout Coalition-certified, coaches take in about 44 hours of online training and then must pass an exam.
Lutheran assistants for 2022 are Zach Akers, Tyler Danner, Josh Meaney, Russell Parker and Jonas Akers. Danner, Meaney and Parker are also BAMFAM coaches. Jonas Akers, son of Zach, is a former Lutheran player now attending Wabash College.
Another emphasis for Gouker’s Saints is base running. Players able to attend fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period practices (many others were involved in fall sports, including the state championship-winning Lutheran football team) worked on base running (reading pitchers, getting leads) and there will be more of the same when the next LCP window opens Dec. 6 along with arm strengthening, velocity care, defensive fundamentals, batting practice, weight training and — of course — mental training.
Lutheran’s high-octane running program produced 143 stolen bases in 2021 with four players in double digits for a squad that played 27 games.
Senior Sean Moore, a commit to Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio (where former University of Indianapolis assistant Landon Hutchinson is head coach) is coming off a 22-steal season as is senior Cade Tabit. Senior Cole Perkins swiped 19 in ’21.
“We had a pretty solid offensive year,” says Gouker. “We want to make sure their defensive side is as high as we can have it.”
The Saints play home games on-campus. The facility has recently had its mound and home plate areas re-built and lean bars added in the dugout.
“We want players up and engaged in the game,” says Gouker.
There’s also been talk of upgrading the backstop with padding and new netting.
Recent Lutheran graduates that moved on to college baseball include Matt Alter (Piedmont University in Demorest, Ga., and now at Hanover College) and Noah Wood (Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and now at Franklin College).
Lutheran graduate Jared Broughton was once a Piedmont assistant and is now a volunteer assistant at Clemson University.
A feeder system for the high school are the Junior Saints junior high team (formerly coached by Greg Hughes), which had about a dozen seventh and eighth graders taking on area teams in 2021.
Lutheran (enrollment around 220) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Beech Grove, Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Monrovia, Scecina Memorial, Speedway and Triton Central).
Conference games are played in home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“I like that format,” says Gouker. “This way you’re not facing the same pitcher each time and you can make adjustments from the first game to the second.”
In 2021, the Saints were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Edinburgh, Greenwood Christian Academy, Morristown, Southwestern (Shelbyville) and Waldron. Lutheran has won 13 sectional titles — the last in 2019.
Lutheran’s social media includes Facebook and Instagram.
Gouker is a 2007 graduate of Alexandra-Monroe Junior/Senior High School who played at Anderson (Ind.) University. He has been married to high school sweethart Hannah since 2014. The couple has a son — Odin (10 months).

Adam Gouker (Indianapolis Lutheran High School Photo)

Conner teaching lessons about baseball, life at Concordia University Chicago

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

Kolin Conner is doing his best to get Concordia University Chicago back to the lofty heights the Cougars baseball program had become accustomed.
From 2008-19, CUC posted an average record of 35-11 including 40-15 in 2018 and 42-10 in 2019. Conner was the Cougars head assistant (2016-19) — years in which the school won four Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference regular-season titles and made NCAA Division III World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. During the span, CUC was ranked No. 1 in the nation and Conner was named 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year.
A graduate of Indianapolis North Central High School (2009) and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2013), Conner took over as head coach at the private school in River Forest, Ill., in the summer of 2019. The Cougars went 5-5 during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 11-25 in 2021.
NCAA D-III rules allow for 19 total weeks of organized baseball activity — four in the fall and 15 in the spring. Concordia practiced four times a week during the fall.
“We did a lot of teaching. developing and evaluating where our guys are on the depth chart,” says Conner. “After last year, there was a little bit of re-establishing priorities for us.
“The work we put in now leads to success in the spring. It’s about holding everybody accountable. The overall success is much bigger than one individual.”
Conner says the most-important time comes when players are away from coaches in between fall and spring and must motivate themselves and stay on top of their academics.
“Here’s a 17-year-old freshman,” says Conner. “How’s he going to be when no one’s watching? That’s when good leaders and good people are made.”
Conner and his coaching staff of head assistant/pitching coach Matt Smith, assistant Abe Paz Agudello, assistant Connor Nelson and graduate assistant Kevin Garcia are getting players to create lifelong habits that will transfer into their lives beyond college.
“They get into the world world and (employers and co-workers) can trust these guys,” says Conner, who is currently busy recruiting, doing office work and getting ready for the return of players to practice after the Christmas break.
CUC baseball earned an ABCA all-academic team certificate, sported seven players with a 4.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale last spring while posting a 3.2 team GPA — the best among the school’s nine male sports. The Cougars typically have 10 to 12 academic all-conference selections.
The roster — currently at 36 — has 22 from the Chicagoland area plus Indiana’s Ben Collins (Chesterton), Elijah Hickman (Rensselaer Central), Brody Mariotti (Yorktown) and Westin Stutzman (Fairfield), six from Arizona (CUC recruits there each fall), two from California and one each from Colorado and Utah.
“We get a lot of good and smart kids that don’t have schools to go to,” says Conner. “(Chicago recruits) are used to cold weather and facilities and proud of the city they’re from.”
Conners says most players get some sort of aid — packages largely being dependent on grades and test scores — that takes away around half of the annual $42,000 tuition.
“It’s important that we’re getting the good character kid who wants to work and wants to win,” says Conner. “Those type of kids are usually pretty good academically.
“It’s no coincidence that are best players are usually are best students.”
A typical recruiting class is 10 players and Conner says he likes to have five or six signees around Christmas.
Conner played for Phil McIntyre at North Central, making varsity as a sophomore and representing the Panthers either as a catcher or outfielder and making long-time friendships.
He credits assistant/teacher Andy Noble for helping him in the classroom.
“He helped me find my way and who I was as a kid,” says Conner of Noble.
Conner was a catcher and first baseman in college. He played two seasons at National Community College Athletic Association member Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for Statesmen head coaches Mitch Hannahs (2010) and Kevin Bowers (2011).
Hannahs, who is now head coach at Indiana State University. was “very, very good at getting you conditioned mentally and getting the most out of people as players.”
Current LTC head coach Bowers brought Conner into the program.
“He really, really cares about the kids,” says Conner of Bowers. “He’s got a strong relationship with everybody he recruits.”
At Saint Joseph’s, Conner earned an Educational Studies degree with a Communications minor and played two seasons (2012 and 2013) for Pumas head coach Rick O’Dette.
“He’s the greatest guy ever,” says Conner of O’Dette, who became head coach at Saint Leo University in Florida when SJC closed its doors after the 2017 season. “He’s the reason I have a job in college baseball.
“He’s an unbelievable guy, a great mentor and cares about people.”
Conner played two summers of independent professional baseball after college with the 2013 Mike Braymen-managed Joliet (Ill.) Slammers and 2014 Andy McCauley-managed Evansville (Ind.) Otters — both in the Frontier League.
Kolin met future wife Lyndsey at Lincoln Trail. The Conners now have two children — son Leo (3) and daughter Layla (4 months).

Kolin Conner (Concordia University Chicago Photo)

Indiana Nitro grows from one team into successful travel ball organization

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

Indiana Nitro — a travel baseball organization launched in the central part of the state — has had 164 college commits and five Major League Baseball draft selections since 2014.
Among Nitro alums who went on to pro baseball are Zach Britton (Toronto Blue Jays system), Matt Gorski (Pittsburgh Pirates), Niko Kavadas (Boston Red Sox), Devin Mann (Los Angeles Dodgers), Tommy Sommer (Chicago White Sox) and Zack Thompson (St. Louis Cardinals).
The Nitro fielded more than 20 teams — spring, summer and fall — at the 8U to 17U levels in recent seasons. The group has earned many victories and championships and competed in multiple states.
It all began with a single 11U team that took to the diamond in 2010.
Tim Burns, whose sons Brendan and Brock were playing travel ball, was exploring diamond opportunities for his boys when he was approached by some fathers about coaching a team.
With the idea of being able to control development and practice schedules, the elder Burns agreed and led that first Nitro squad, featuring Brock.
Most of the players were from Hamilton County — one of the exceptions being Batesville’s Britton. Brock Burns is now on the football team at Ball State University as an outside linebacker while Brendan Burns was a right-handed pitcher for BSU baseball; Tim Burns is a graduate of Ball State where his major was Telecommunications.
Both Burns brothers are Hamilton Southeastern High School graduates — Brendan in 2014 and Brock in 2017.
Most games in 2010 were played in central Indiana and the team went 50-5 with five tournament titles. Eleven of the 12 players on that first team went on to play at the collegiate level.
Tammy Burns, Tim’s wife, told him that he did not have the time to head a travel organization. Yet momentum kept on building.
“Kids wanted to play,” says Burns.
Parents and players gathered and voted on a team name — Burns presented around 300 choices found on Google — and team colors. The Nitro wound up donning Athletic Gold and Cardinal Red and uses explosive terms like Bombs and Gas on social media.
In 2011, the Nitro had four teams. The number went to seven in 2012 then 11 in 2013. It jumped to 20 in 2014 (the first year the organization had a high school age team).
“The snowball got big,” says Burns. “It took on a life of its own.”
The mantra of the Nitro is “Advancing players to the next level.” That came to mean grooming them to play high school baseball and then — for those who wished to do so — college baseball.
“It’s a very complex recruiting process that we came up with over the years,” says Burns, a 1982 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., who grew up on the diamonds of Goodland, Ind., and counted Tracy Smith (who went on to coach at Miami University-Middletown, Miami University, Indiana University and Arizona State University) as a teammate. “You dive deep into it and build relationships with college coaches and recruiters.
“Learning how to help these kids get recruited was important to our board (of directors) and and organization.”
Nitro staffers work the phones on behalf of their players and are constantly seeking talent and getting ready for the next thing.
“It’s a year-round job,” says Burns, who is employed in sales for Bally Sports Indiana (the Indiana Pacers TV Network). “There’s so much behind the scenes in the off-season. It keeps the board and volunteers busy.”
Randy Poiry has been on the board since the beginning. Two sons — catcher Rutger Poiry (Lincoln Trail College and Eastern Kentucky University) and right-handed pitcher Carter Poiry (Murray State University and Quinnipiac University) — played for the Nitro.
Directors are Chris Poland (daily operations and high school age teams) and Dan Rodgers (ages 8-14). Jared Poland, son of Chris, is at the University of Louisville. Nathan Rodgers (Carmel High School Class of 2024) played for his father on the Nitro 14U Gold team in 2021.
Burns, who coached the Nitro 16U Gold team to a 26-9-1 mark in 2021 and will move up to coach the 17U Gold squad in 2022, gets players from near and far.
“We don’t care where they come from,” says Burns. “We want good kids from good families who want to put in the work.”
Nitro players train at Pro X Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus in Westfield, Ind. A membership is included with fees.
Burns counts four nephews — South Newton graduates Jarrett Hammel and Jay Hammel and Benton Central High school alums Payton Hall and Conner Hall — among former Nitro players. Former Saint Joseph’s College and Valparaiso right-hander Jarrett Hammel is now head baseball coach at Benton Central. Jay Hammel is a righty pitcher at Quincy (Ill.) University. Payton Hall is an outfielder at Oakland City (Ind.) University after transferring from the University of Southern Indiana. Former middle infielder Connor Hall is an Aviation Management student at Indiana State University.

Thoughts of American Legion baseball keep Cruz going during COVID-19 battle

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

Antonio “Tony” Cruz Jr., came close to losing his life and the sport that occupies much of thoughts.
The COVID-19 virus struck the husband and father of three in the first half of 2020 and he spent 25 days of May in Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. — nine in the Intensive Care Unit. His oxygen level dropped to 55 and twice was not expected to make it.
One night he was visited by a doctor and nurse. Cruz recalls the doctor’s words: “Well, we’re not going to sugar-coat it. We’re going to be honest with you. You might die tonight. We’ve got a yellow legal pad right here. If there’s anything you might want to write to anybody, now’s the time.”
There was also plenty of support of his family — wife Ilka, sons Carlos and Santana and daughter Neveah and Amiyah, father Antonio Sr. (who also in the hospital with COVID but released before his son) and mother Lucy.
“It wasn’t your time,” is what Lucy Cruz told her son of why he survived and recovered.
Baseball also played a big part.
“Legion was always on my mind,” says Cruz, the manager of the South Bend American Legion Post 151 senior baseball team. “It gave me a reason to keep fighting and get out of there.”
Drawing strength from messages sent by coaching friends including John Kehoe, Joel Reinebold, Tom Washburn and Dennis Ryans.
“You don’t forget that stuff,” says Cruz. “It means a lot to me.”
While the pandemic caused American Legion Baseball to cancel its state, regional and national tournaments in 2020, Indiana teams were allowed to play games if they could provide their own insurance.
Cruz got out of the hospital and with air bottle in tow came to the place he considers his home away from home — the baseball field.
Jim Reinebold Field — named for the late Indiana High School Baaeball Coaches Association Hall of Famer —  is where the South Bend Clay High School Colonials play and Cruz serves as an assistant coach and home to Post 151, though COVID caused cancellation of the high school season and had the Legion team playing home games at South Bend’s Boland Park in 2020.
For his baseball foundation, Cruz looks back to his days at Maurice Matthys Little League, where his coach from 12 to 16 was Terry Cline.
“He is who I pattern my coaching style after,” says Cruz of Cline. “He was about caring and giving back.”
As a player at South Bend LaSalle High School, where he graduate in 1997, Cruz played for Lions head coach Scott Sill.
Cruz was a coach on Kehoe’s staff at South Bend Washington High School and also led the baseball program at Dickinson Middle School — going 23-1 in two seasons — then joined Joel Reinebold at Clay.
“Joel is so supportive,” says Cruz. “I’ve been blessed to be around him for so many years.”
Carlos Cruz (now 23) and Santana Cruz (21) both played for the Colonials, graduating in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Carlos attended Indiana State University for three years. Santana also played at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
Neveah Cruz (who turned 19 July 12) has been around Clay baseball from seventh grade until the present and has been a student manager, director of operations and coach. This summer, 2020 Clay grad and Sport and Recreation major at Trine University in Angola, Ind., is Post 51 Juniors (17U) team manager and assistant coach to her father with the Post 51 Seniors (19U).
“It’s a good bonding experience with my dad,” says Neveah. “I’ve met a lot of good people through baseball — role models.”
Being around teams has given Neveah something more.
“I have a lot of older brothers now,” says Neveah.
Youngest daughter Amiyah is 11.
This is the sixth year Tony Cruz has coached American Legion ball. When Lenny Kuespert was no longer able to manage South Bend Post 50, Cruz started Post 357. He was 357 manager for two summers and after guidance from former Bristol Post manager Jim Treadway and Legion baseball organizer Joe Kusiak and consulting with post commander Mike Vargo has led Post 151 since the 2018 season.
“Legion ball is good for families who can’t afford to play travel ball, which can be salty,” says Cruz.
Post 151 baseball is supported through $650 registration fees and fundraisers to cover things like insurance, uniforms, hat, socks, field rental, umpires and, in the advent of rain, field conditioner.
If there’s any money left over, Cruz use it to buy Legion shirts etc. for his players.
“I always give back to the kids,” says Cruz. “It’s not about me.”
Custom COVID masks were purchased as well a Post 151 visors for players’ mothers.
Believing that Legion baseball is also a tribute to veterans and patriotism, Cruz outfits his squads in red, white and blue uniforms.
American Legion teams are allowed to roster 18 players for the postseason. There is a total enrollment limit of 6,000 in the top three grades for the high schools that provide players.
Besides Santana Cruz at Ancilla, athletes who have played for Cruz and gone on to college baseball include Hunter Aker at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., Robbie Berger, J.P. Kehoe, Mason Ryans and Andrew Washburn at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Tyler Bortone at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Tyler Cuma at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Gabe Galvan at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Nathaniel Garcia at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Chris Gault, Cooper Lee, A.J. Klimek, Andy Migas and Lee Timmons at Trine, Colin Greve at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., Dylan Hensley at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Roman Kuntz and Bryce Lesher at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., Michael Payne at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., Hunter Robinson at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind., Cole Steveken at Ancilla, Chantz Stover at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Tony Valle at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., Cameron Waters at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Community College and Gabe Yonto at BCA College Post Grad in Knoxville, Tenn.
Both 151 teams played about a dozen regular-season weekday games in 2021.
Thursday, July 15 at 5 p.m. and following and Friday, July 16 at 5 (if necessary), South Bend Post 151 hosts Bristol Post 143 in best-of-3 Regional 3 at Jim Reinebold Field for a berth in the eight-team State Finals Friday through Tuesday, July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo.
Other feeder regionals are slated at Highland Post 180 Regional 1-2 (with Valparaiso Post 94, East Chicago Post 369/Lake Station Post 100 Region Legion Expos and South Haven Post 502), Regional 4 at Kokomo Post 6 (with Lafayette Post 11 and Muncie Post 19), Regional 5 at Terre Haute Post 346 (with Crawfordsville Post 72 and Sullivan Post 139), Regional 6 at Jasper Post 147 (with Washington Post 121) and Regional 7 at Rockport Post 254 (with Newburgh Post 44 and Boonville Post 200). As State Finals host, Kokomo will represent Regional 4 with the other highest finisher also advancing. The top two at Highland and the winner at the other sites will move on.
Vera Cruz Tree Service has tended to customers in the South Bend, Ind., area for four decades. Recently, Tony Jr. took over the running of the family business from his father.
Not long after the Legion season ends comes the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp (the instructional league is heading into its 27th year).
Between seasons and conditioning, Cruz is involved with baseball about 10 months a year.
The diamond — and what it represents — is his passion.

Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr. (Steve Krah Photo)
Tony Cruz Jr. and daughter Neveah.
Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr.
A regional title was won by South Bend American Legion Post 151 in 2018.
Tony Cruz Jr. battles COVID-19 in 2020. He was hospitalized 25 days in May, including nine in Intensive Care.
Tony Cruz Jr. had to go on high-flow oxygen during his battle with COVID-19 in 2020.
Out of the hospital after his COVID-19 battle, Tony Cruz came “home” to Jim Reinebold Field, home of South Bend Clay High School and South Bend American Legion Post 151 baseball.
Jim Treadway (left) and Tony Cruz Jr. bond over American Legion, high school baseball.

Right-hander Carlson comes back to the game, ready for future

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

Cade Carlson quit baseball. He was persuaded to come back with the help a friend.
Now Carlson is looking forward to new diamond adventures in a different place and at the NCAA Division I level.
A right-handed pitcher and 2018 graduate of University High School in Carmel, Ind., where he was the starter in the Trailblazers’ first state championship game appearance as a senior, Carlson went Northwood University in Midland, Mich., on a baseball scholarship.
For reasons Carlson doesn’t go into, he left the school and the game after the fall semester and enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and had every intention of transferring to IU-Bloomington as a sophomore.
Lukas Barnes, a Carmel High School graduate who Cade had known most of his life, convinced his buddy to give baseball another try and they became teammates at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio.
“I wasn’t that good of a pitcher, but I kept working and got one of those four starting spots,” says Carlson. “My first outing terrible (lasting less than two innings.”
The righty made three starts for the National Junior College Athletic Association-member and Steve Dintaman-coached Tartan Pride and was a winner in his last one, going 1-3 for the 2020 season, which was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That summer Carlson pitched in the first season for the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., not far from his Carmel home. He was with the A-Team coached by Kevin Christman.
The CSL gave Carlson the chance to see where he stacked up with good talent.
Due to COVID, Sinclair made the decision to suspend athletics through 2021-22 and Carlson went to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and outfielder Barnes landed at Danville (Ill.) Community College.
In 13 mound appearances (11 starts) for head coach Kevin Bowers and pitching coach Andrew Elliott, Carlson went 6-4 with a 2.72 earned run average. In 59 2/3 innings, he struck out 62 and walked 25.
“I thought I had a pretty good year,” says Carlson. “I started out shaky and got on a roll.
“I figured out how to pitch as games went on. I was not pitching to my advantage but the hitters’ disadvantage. That was big for my success this year.”
The NJCAA’s LTC Statesmen went 32-21.
East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., was impressed by Carlson and he agreed to join the NCAA D-I Buccaneers in 2021-22.
“(ETSU was) the first school to offer me in the fall,” says Carlson, 21. “I jumped at the opportunity. It’s a good school in a great area and the baseball is good.
“It’s a win-win.”
With three years of baseball eligibility remaining, Carlson plans to pursue a Sport Management degree.
“I’ll go to school and continue to work hard and baseball at higher levels,” says Carlson.
East Tennessee State is a member of the Southern Conference. With Joe Pennucci as head coach and Jamie Pinzino as pitching coach, the team went 24-25 in 2021.
Carlson throws five pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle — four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curveball.
He credits Lincoln Trail teammate/roommate Joey Perkins (a left-hander who hails from Lebanon, Ohio, and is bound for Virginia Commonwealth University) for teaching him the change-up which can be thrown from multiple grips.
Carlson’s slider (horizontal) and curve (vertical) move on different planes.
After going 2-0 in three outings during a temporary contract period with the State College (Pa.) Spikes of the MLB Draft League, Carlson is back in Carmel with father Tyce, mother Christine, brother Tyler and grandmother Carol Pinkley and plans to spend the summer training at RoundTripper Academy in Westfield to get ready for ETSU.
“I have not taken a break from throwing in about a year now,” says Carlson. “The first month of summer won’t be about throwing. I’ll be lifting to getting stronger and putting good weight on.”
Carlson wants to put about 20 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.
Born in Speedway, Carlson grew up in Carmel played rec baseball for the Carmel Dads Club. He played travel ball with the Indiana Mustangs for about a decade.
One of Cade’s teammates was Dawson Estep (University Class of 2019), son of Mustangs and RoundTripper founder Chris Estep. After two years at Carmel High School, Carlson transferred to University and played for Estep.
“What can I say about Chris?,” says Carlson. “I’ve known Chris forever. Chris puts the spirit of baseball into his players.
“If you don’t love baseball you wouldn’t play for Chris.”
Tyler Carlson also played baseball for Estep at University, graduating in 2014.

Cade Carlson