Tag Archives: Lions

Hanover right-hander Alter already getting coaching experience

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

Matthew Alter can see a future in baseball coaching at the collegiate level.
He’s already gotten a head start by assisting in travel ball while also a college player himself.
The 2019 graduate of Indianapolis Lutheran School with two years of eligibility remaining at Hanover (Ind.) College is in his third summer with the Indiana Bulls.
He assisted with Scott French’s 15U Bulls Black squad in 2020. That team featured Class of 2023 standouts Max Clark (Franklin Community) and Andrew Wiggins (Heritage Christian).
Alter aided (former Anderson University assistant) John Becker with the 15U Bulls Grey squad in 2021 and is now helping Becker’s 16U Bulls Grey team. By summer’s end the group will have played about 40 games with tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., LakePoint Sports in Emerson, Ga., and Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo.
“After college the plan is to be a college baseball coach,” says Alter, who turned 22 in May. “The quickest way to be an assistant is to be a pitching coach. But I’m also interested in being a graduate assistant.”
Matthew’s cousin, Jared Broughton, is a college baseball coach. He most recently served for three years at Clemson (S.C.) University.
Dick Alter, Matthew’s father, retired from Indianapolis Lutheran following the 2019 season after 40 years of coaching (about the last 25 years of that as a teacher).
“There’s so many thing he taught me,” says Matthew of the shared wisdom shared. “The biggest thing my dad taught me is that baseball is the game of life.
“It doesn’t matter what you did today, it’s what you do tomorrow and the next day.”
Born in Carmel, Ind., Matthew the son of Dick and Karen Alter (who is president of Borshoff, a public relations and advertising agency in Indianapolis).
The Alter family moved to the south side of Indianapolis when their son was 3.
He played at what is now Franklin Township Little League (located behind the former Wanamaker Elementary School) and then was in travel ball with the Indiana Prospects and Indiana Pony Express.
Alter played football, basketball and baseball (for his father) at Lutheran then went to Piedmont College in Demorest, Ga., where Broughton was associate head coach.
Matthew says going to college to play baseball meant “going from being an only child to having 40 brothers.”
He counts slugger Alex Christie (Center Grove) among his good friends on the team.
As a right-handed pitcher, Alter made six relief appearances during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season and went 1-0 with a 2.65 earned run average, nine strikeouts and six walks in 17 innings for the Piedmont Lions.
Alter decided to transfer to another NCAA Division III school in Hanover. Grant Bellak is the Panthers head coach. Until leaving for another job, Thomas Murphy was HC’s pitching coach.
“(Coach Bellak) and I have a great relationship,” says Alter. “He focuses more on hitters and infielders.”
Murphy helped Alter in 2020-21 by helping him build up his lower half to utilize his power and increase velocity. Using a Core Velocity Belt and throwing weighted PlyoCare Balls with Driveline Baseball exercises were part of the routine.
“(Murphy) helped us pitchers with the mental aspect of the game,” says Alter. “He is big on visualizing success and always trying to stay positive. It’s about keeping composure and maintaining positivity and self talk.”
Alter pitched in 11 games (eight starts) in 2021 and went 5-0 with 45 strikeouts and 33 walks in 52 1/3 innings. In 13 contests (11 starts) in 2022, he was 5-5 with 45 strikeouts and 29 walks in 72 innings.
The Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference plays Saturday and Tuesday doubleheaders and Alter was the Saturday morning starter.
“A lot of the teams (in the HCAC) are very similar,” says Alter. “They have a few good pitchers. But it relies solely on hitting.
“That was evident in our conference tournament. There were a lot of high-scoring games.”
Alter spent just over two weeks with the 2022 summer wood-bat Coastal Plain League’s Lexington County (S.C.) Blowfish before shutting it down for the summer with a tender shoulder.
“It was from overuse,” says Alter, who did not play on any summer teams in 2019, 2020 and 2021. “But I did not tear my labrum.”
Using a three-quarter arm slot, Alter throws two kinds of fastballs (four-seam and two-seam) plus a slider, change-up and curveball.
He topped out at 87 mph with the four-seamer this summer.
“The two-seamer is one of my best pitches,” says Alter. “It definitely moves. It starts at the middle of the plate and ends up outside to a lefty. It moves so much I’m able to fool hitters.”
Alter employs a “circle” change and a 12-to-6 curve that he is able to throw for a strike in any count.
A Communication major, Alter is on pace to graduate at the end of his fourth year in 2023.
If he takes a fifth year, he says he will likely pursue a masters in Communication. Hanover does not have a graduate program in that subject.

Matthew Alter (Hanover College Photo)
Matthew Alter (Hanover College Photo)
Matthew Alter (Piedmont College Photo)

Haendiges heading into working world, but he’s not leaving baseball behind

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

Baseball has been kind to a young man from Salem, Ind.
It’s given him moments of joy and relationships and helped him earn a college degree.
Xavier Haendiges (pronounced X-avier Hen-dig-us) says he will keep the game in his life even though his playing days are behind him.
“It’s been fun,” says Haendiges, a 2019 Salem High School graduate who redshirted one year, played three seasons at Ohio University and earned a Business Analytics and Marketing degree with a sales certificate this spring. “I met a lot of people I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.
“Being able to play the game of baseball and compete everyday has been awesome.”
Haendiges has one year of eligibility left, but has opted to move on.
“I don’t think my arm could handle playing another season,” says Haendiges, who has also dealt with an ailing back.
A righty-swinging middle infielder, he started in 30 of the 31 games he appeared in for the 2022 OU Bobcats. The 6-foot, 170-pounder hit .299 (26-of-81) with one triple, five doubles, six runs batted in and 20 runs scored. In three years, he played in 47 games and hit .252 (31-of-123).
Haendiges, who turned 22 on June 15, plans to move to Cincinnati in a few weeks and begin a job as a remote account executive with InSight — an IT solutions company.
“Being in marketing and sales keeps me in that competitive mindset,” says Haendiges. “I have to compete for customers and against other salesmen.
“I want to be able to challenge myself everyday.”
He’s recently taken to golf to help scratch his competitive itch.
Growing up in Salem, Haendiges played in the local youth league then began travel ball around 11 with the Indiana Bulls.
“It’s a great organization,” says Haendiges. “I’ve had so many opportunities.
“It’s led me through so many doors.”
With the Salem High Lions, Haendiges played for head coach Brett Miller.
“To be a coach you have to have a good personality and love the game,” says Haendiges. “He was a great mentor and a great coach.”
Haendiges also played point guard for the Salem basketball team.
Xavier is the youngest of Ron and Pam Haendiges’ two sons. Trey Haendiges is 10 years older than Xavier and runs Haendiges Insurance Solutions in Salem and recently made his brother into an uncle and his parents into grandparents.
Trey’s affection for the Boston Red Sox has rubbed off on his little brother.
“I follow the Red Sox heavily,” says Haendiges. “I’ve been watching the College Word Series. When I move to Cincinnati, I plan to catch some Reds games as well.”
Ron Haendiges works at State Farm Insurance in Salem. Pam Haendiges is a former first grade teacher at Bradie Shrum Elementary — the same school that Xavier attended.

Xavier Haendiges (Ohio University Photo)

Alum Carpenter takes lead role with Bremen Lions baseball

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

Ryan Carpenter wants to win games as the new head baseball coach at his alma mater — Bremen (Ind.) High School. But there’s more to it than that.
“I’m a competitive guy,” says Carpenter, a 2010 BHS graduate. “But I also want to make kids better people through baseball. High school athletics is a great way to do that.”
Using accountability and taking a genuine interest in players, Carpenter wants to help build today’s students into citizens, husbands and fathers of the future.
“When kids know you care about them on that level they are willing to listen and learn,” says Carpenter, who returns to the Lions coaching staff after two years away. He was head junior varsity coach in 2014 and 2015 and a varsity assistant 2016-19 before spending more time with his growing family.
Ryan and Andrea Carpenter went to high school together and have been a couple for 14 years — the last seven as husband and wife. Their children are Hailee (who turns 3 next week) and Colton (8 months).
One of the first things Carpenter did when he was hired was meet with the board of Bremen Youth Baseball, which starts at T-ball and goes through a 14U travel team. He wants to connect the youth and high school programs and establish the expectations at the upper level. He plans to invite the youngsters to workouts have Little League Days where those players get to share the field with high schoolers.
“They idolize these guys,” says Carpenter.
Carpenter played baseball for four years at Bremen — three on varsity. His head coach was Bo Hundt.
“Bo had very high expectations,” says Carpenter. “His baseball knowledge is about as good as it gets.”
Hundt (Class of 1993) was a three-sport start for the Lions and was selected in the 1995 Major League First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of John A. Logan College in Carterville, Ill. A switch-hitting outfielder and corner infielder, he played in the minors until 1998 and now runs Pirates Elite Travel Baseball.
Carpenter began his coaching career on Hundt’s staff.
“Coaching with him you appreciate some of his toughness,” says Carpenter, “You start to understand the why.
“Bo has been very gracious in offering his assistance. He’s a good mentor for me going forward.”
In Hundt’s last two seasons in charge (2015 and 2016), Bremen won back-to-back IHSAA Class 2A sectional titles.
Carpenter also coached Lions boys basketball for four years (2016-19) — one as head freshmen coach and three as varsity assistant.
His baseball coaching staff features Taylor Coquillard and Danny Hostetler with the varsity. Aaron Perch returns as JV coach.
Home contests are played on a diamond a few blocks from the school. During the off-season, it has gotten new bullpens on the home and visitor sides. The game mound has been resurfaced and realigned. Infield lips have been fixed. In the works is a new batting cage near the first base (visitors) dugout.
Bremen (enrollment around 510) is a member of the Northern Indiana Conference (with Elkhart, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley, South Bend Saint Joseph and South Bend Washington).
All NIC baseball teams see each other once during the regular season. Overall and division champions are crowned.
In 2021, the Lions were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Central Noble, Fairfield, LaVille, Prairie Heights and Westview. Bremen has earned 11 sectional crowns.
Reece Willis, a 2020 Bremen graduate, played at Goshen College. A few current players — senior shortstop Micah Burkholder and junior pitcher Evan Lopez — have attracted interest from colleges.
Carpenter earned a Sport Administration degree from Ball State University in 2014 and is now head of purchasing at Forest River Diesel in Elkhart.

Ryan Carpenter.
Ryan and Andrea Carpenter with daughter Hailee and son Colton.

Hafele, Rock Creek Academy just getting started

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

Rock Creek Community Academy in Sellersburg, Ind., fielded its first baseball team in 2021.
The Jay Hafele-coached Lions played at the junior varsity level and did not participate in the IHSAA tournament. RCCA ended the season with 13 players. More than half of the team had played little or no organized baseball.
“A lot of people came out because they wanted to try it,” says Hafele, who expects the numbers and Baseball I.Q. to climb.
“I think we’re going to have 20 this year,” says Hafele, a 1998 Evansville Harrison High School graduate who played three years of college baseball and is teaching Physical Education, Health and Life Skills to high school and middle school students at the K-12 institution (it became a charter school in 2010). “We’ll have more knowledgeable people than we’ve ever had that played Little League and (baseball’s) been a part of their life.
“We don’t have a field (on-campus) yet, but that’s in the works.”
Rock Creek played and practiced last spring at Silver Creek Township Park, which is less than a mile from the school.
Two public high schools — Silver Creek and Charlestown — are 1.3 and 6.1 miles away, respectively.
More participation means the possibility of more pitchers which will help with the IHSAA pitch count rule.
“Our rule of thumb is let the hitter get himself out,” says Hafele. “Throw strikes. That’s all we need.”
Other concepts that the coach sees as important are sportsmanship, leadership, fun and the ability to move on from mistakes.
“We’re not letting the last play effect your next play,” says Hafele. “I can’t emphasize that enough.
“Just get the next out.”
Hafele hopes his team — which again play a JV slate in 2022 — will be able to scrimmage Charlestown in the preseason to more-prepared for games.
B.J. Paro is one of his assistants and Hafele hopes to have more.
The Lions’ 2021 schedule included Indiana’s Cannelton, Columbus Christian, Crawford County, Henryville, Jennings County, Lanesville, Perry Central, Providence, Scottsburg, Shawe Memorial, Springs Valley and West Washington and Kentucky’s Whitefield Academy.
Rock Creek Community Academy (enrollment around 180) is an independent with no athletic conference affiliation.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. With Rock Creek’s size (about 180 in the top four grades) and many players in football (seven of nine 2021 baseball starters played that sport and Hafele has been on the coaching staff) or soccer, the Lions have not worked out in the fall.
RCCA’s football team practices on-campus, but rents space at Woehrle Athletic Complex, which is five miles from campus in Jeffersonville, Ind., for home games.
An outfielder as a player, Hafele played for head coach Andy Rice at Harrison then for one season for Mike Goedde at the University of Southern Indiana before transferring to John A. Logan College, a National Junior College Athletic Association member in Carterville, Ill., and played one season for Jerry Halstead.
From there, Hafele went to NCAA Division I McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., but never suffered a shoulder injury and never played for the Cowboys.
He played his final college season for Rick Parr at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, where he earned a bachelor’s degree.
Jay and wife Jill, who also teaches at Rock Creek, have three children — son Cooper (12), daughter Skylar (7) and son Chase (2).

Rock Creek Community Academy’s 2021 baseball team coached by Jay Hafele (back right) and B.J. Paro (back left). (Lowe Sports Media Photo)
Rock Creek Community Academy’s Kendrick Payton and Chris Graham in 2021. (Lowe Sports Media Photo)
Rock Creek Community Academy’s Jonah Cannon in 2021. (Lowe Sports Media Photo)
Rock Creek Community Academy’s Johny Knuckles and Kendrick Payton in 2021. (Lowe Sports Media Photo)
Rock Creek Community Academy’s Jaleb Treat in 2021. (Lowe Sports Media Photo)
Rock Creek Community Academy’s Chris Graham and head baseball coach Jay Hafele in 2021. (Lowe Sports Media Photo)
Rock Creek Community Academy’s Brenden Short in 2021. (Lowe Sports Media Photo)

Greenlee establishing baseball culture at Liberty Christian

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

Tab Greenlee is trying to change the way baseball is perceived at Liberty Christian School in Anderson, Ind.
“It’s all about culture change and getting them excited,” says Greenlee, who was hired before the 2020 season taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic, finished the 2021 campaign with 14 players and is preparing now for 2022. “I have 100 percent buy-in from the parents and it’s amazing.”
How much buy-in? A recent field day brought out 50 people.
“It was the coolest thing to watch,” says Greenlee.
Baseball began at the school in 2006 and the Lions have yet to post a record over .500 or win a sectional title.
“There’s been no consistency in coaches throughout the years,” says Greenlee, who spent 2021 setting the tone for the Lions, presenting a detailed practice plan while insisting the players also achieve in the classroom.
“You get an F, you don’t play,” says Greenlee, who had to let five go last spring because of grades. “If you can’t be excellent in the classroom, I can’t trust you to be excellent on my field.”
Greenlee, who teaches high school biology and middle school math, gets players the help they need to excel in academics.
While four Lions graduated last spring, Greenlee is seeing progress.
“We will be a lot stronger this next spring,” says Greenlee. “We have a foundation on how we play this game. We’re understanding the why.”
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16.
Off-season workouts were drawing up to 13 and that’s with soccer and cross country going on this fall at Liberty Christian (enrollment around 130).
The Lions are part of the Pioneer Conference (with Anderson Preparatory Academy, Bethesda Christian, Central Christian Academy, Greenwood Christian, Indianapolis Crispus Attucks, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Muncie Burris, Park Tudor, Seton Catholic and University).
In 2021, host Liberty Christian was part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Anderson Prep, Cowan, Daleville, Southern Wells, Tri-Central and Wes-Del.
Greenlee, who is assisted by Jamie Woodyard, has two seniors who have been drawing interest from college baseball teams — Beckham Chappell and Tyler Houk. Both are three-sport athletes — soccer, basketball and baseball.
“We encourage that,” says Greenlee. “Scouts want to know grades and they want to know if they play other sports. College sports in year-round.”
At a school the size of Liberty Christian, multi-sport participation and cooperation is vital.
“We are at each others’ games,” says Greenlee. “We’re there to support each other.”
Besides boys soccer, boys and girls cross country and volleyball in the fall, LC has boys and girls basketball, boys and girls swimming and boys and girls archery in the winter and boys and girls track track and softball in addition to baseball in the spring.
Liberty Christian plays its home games on a field rented from the city that’s adjacent to the Columbus Avenue campus where grades 7-12 meet. Preschool through Grade 6 meet in a building on Hillcrest Drive.
To help feed the high school, Greenlee established a junior high baseball program at Liberty Christian last spring with 13 players – many of whom had never played the game. The plan is to add fifth and sixth graders this spring and third and fourth graders in the future.
Greenlee, a 1985 Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School graduate who played baseball for Mike Klauka at Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing, Mich., was at Toledo (Ohio) Christian prior to coming back to Indiana to be closer to family and to be a pastor at Tri-County Christian Church in Middletown.
In seven years at Toledo Christian, he was head baseball coach for five and football offensive coordinator for four. When he took over in baseball he was the fourth head coach for the seniors. That team went 21-7 and won sectional and district titles. The next year, the Eagles won 24 games and also took sectional and district championships.
Tab and wife Heather have three children — Taylor (26), Zach (22) and Calyb (12).
Taylor and husband Christian Beck have a daughter, Harper Grace. Calyb is a Liberty Christian sixth grader who plays soccer, basketball and baseball.

The Greenlee family (from left): First row – Calyb Greenlee, Heather Greenlee and Taylor Beck; Second row — Tab Greenlee, Zach Greenlee, Zach’s girlfriend Lauren Reid and Christian Beck. The Becks also have a daughter, Harper Grace.

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.

Elkhart Lions — a combination of Central and Memorial — about to take the diamond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bringing the “City with A Heart” together, Elkhart (Ind.) High School has melded two high school baseball programs into one.

The Elkhart Lions are scheduled to open their inaugural season since consolidating athletic departments on Wednesday, March 31 against Concord at Elkhart West (formerly known as Elkhart Memorial’s Charger Field), where all baseball contests and practices are slated to take place this spring.

“We’re a one-school community now,” says Elkhart head baseball coach Scott Rost. “Everyone’s Elkhart.

“People have really bought into that.”

Elkhart (enrollment around 3,450) is a member of the Northern Indiana Conference (with Bremen, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley, South Bend Saint Joseph and South Bend Washington). 

In 2021, Washington will not field a team. Clay will play a junior varsity schedule.

The Lions are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Concord, Goshen, Northridge (the 2021 host), Penn and Warsaw. Elkhart Central won 12 sectional titles plus the 4A state crown in 2013. Elkhart Memorial was a six-time sectional champion.

Besides conference and sectional opponents, Elkhart is slated to meet Andrean, Angola, Chesterton, Edwardsburg (Mich.), Fairfield, Michigan City, Munster, NorthWood, Valparaiso and Westview.

With 36 players in the program, the Lions are planning to take on complete varsity and junior varsity schedules with some C-team games.

One set of Elkhart uniforms will feature blue pinstripes topped with a blue cap adorned by a gold “E.”

Former Memorial head coach Rost guides a staff featuring Brian Blondell, Bruce Baer, Jay Bashore, Steve Asbury, Matt Kloss and Cody Quier.

After the staff was assembled, a few players not in fall sports were able to get together after Labor Day.

When the fall season concluded and weight training and open gyms began Lions baseball really began to take shape.

“It went really smooth,” says Rost. “The seniors have done a really good job. They seem to all get along and work well together. They’ve set the tone for the younger guys in the process.”

Elkhart sports 10 seniors.

“We have some talented young men,” says Rost. “We’re really upbeat and high on that group.

“We have guys with varsity experience. But they have not played high school baseball for two years (because of the COVID-19 pandemic taking out the 2020 season) and our sophomores have not played high school baseball.”

Dylan Rost (Wisconsin-Whitewater). Collin Baer (Anderson University) and Bryce Blondell (Purdue Northwest) — all coach’s son — have committed to play college baseball. Vinny Ambrose and Graham Elli are both planning to play football at the University of Indianapolis.

Rost says Dominic Russo and Cameron Wiltfong are among those that could go on to collegiate diamonds if they make that choice.

While some have had to get used to the way Rost does things, the coach notes that the athletes have not gotten caught up in the Central vs. Memorial or East vs. West mentality.

Academically, students in Grades 9-12 attend Elkhart East or Elkhart West in 2020-21. For athletics and extracurricular activites, there is one entity: The Lions. In 2021-22, freshmen will be housed at East campus with Grades 10-12 at the West campus.

Bryce Blondell

Keeran to manage Lafayette Aviators at new Loeb Stadium in ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Corn is not involved. But there’s a kind of a reverse “Field of Dreams” thing going on in Lafayette, Ind.

“If You Build It, He Will Come” — in this case — refers to Michael Keeran.

A new Loeb Stadium is being built for the Lafayette Aviators baseball team. After discussions with owner Bill Davidson, Iowa native Keeran has been named as field manager for 2021.

Keeran, a 2012 graduate of Clear Lake (Iowa) High School and the holder of two degrees from Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa (a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Masters in Organizational Leadership with a Sport Management emphasis), welcomes the chance to bring his wife closer to family while also moving up in the baseball world.

“My wife is from Centralia, Ill.,” says Keeran. “I’ve coached near by hometown the past couple summers. (With the Aviators,) I get to coach in a very good league and I get two birds with one stone.”

Michael and Kaitlin Keeran are expecting their first child in December. Centralia is 220 miles from Lafayette and Kaitlin will be able to spend time there and also visit her husband.

“I always wanted to go to a bigger league. It’ll be a brand new stadium and a very good franchise. I thought it would be a good fit.”

The Prospect League is a 14-team college wooden bat summer circuit with teams in Indiana (Lafayette Aviators and Terre Haute Rex), Illinois (Alton River Dragons, Danville Dans, DuPage Pistol Shrimp, Normal CornBelters, Quincy Gems and Springfield Sliders), Ohio (Champion City Kings and Chillicothe Paints), Missouri (Cape Catfish and O’Fallon Hoots), Pennsylvania (Johnstown Mill Rats) and West Virginia (West Virginia Miners).

While 2021 Aviators assistant coaches have been consulted, the official word of their hiring is yet to come.

Keeran managed Pioneer Collegiate Baseball League champions in 2018 and 2019 — the Albert Lea (Minn.) Lakers followed by the Bancroft (Iowa) Bandits.

After one season as an assistant at Valley City (N.D.) State University (NAIA), Keeran became head coach at Bismarck (N.D.) State College (National Junior College Athletic Association Division II) for the 2020 season. The Mystics had played two games and were in Arizona to play 10 or 11 more when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the season to be halted.

“We were on a bus for 60 or 70 hours,” says Keeran. “It was awful.

“It’s tough to tell a bunch of young men that their season is over and it has nothing to do with wins or losses.”

While they could have taken an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Keeran encouraged his second-year players from 2020 to take their associate degrees and go to a four-year school.

“It’s not ethically right to hold on to those sophomores,” says Keeran. “I didn’t see the point. You’ve got your degree, now move on.

“We have a very new group (in 2020-21) and we’re very talented.”

With players taking a hybrid class schedule (some in-person and some online), Bismarck State played  few games this fall against four-year schools.

“We treated it like a test for what it’s going to be like in the spring with temperature checks and protocols,” says Keeran.

As a outfielder and pitcher, Keeran played four seasons at Waldorf while also beginning his coaching career. 

Since high school baseball in Iowa is a summer sport, Keeran was able to play college ball and be on the Clear Lake coaching staff for four seasons (2013-16) and helped the Lions win three state titles (2013 in 3A, 2015 in 2A and 2016 in 2A).

“It was pretty cool to be coach at a young age and be mentored,” says Keeran. “Baseball should be played in the summer when it’s warm. That’s why I like coaching in the summer.

“It feels so authentic.”

Keeran says a typical high school gameday would involve batting practice and field preparation around 1 p.m. and the players would come back for a 5:30 p.m. junior varsity game, followed by the varsity.

“It gives kids a chance to work morning jobs in the summer and they don’t have to worry about the stress of class,” says Keeran. “It gives athletes a chance to do other sports. One of my best friends was a four-sport athlete (football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring and baseball in the summer).”

While the pandemic wiped out high school baseball last spring in Indiana, there was season in Iowa. Four 2020 state champions were crowned Aug. 1 in Des Moines. 

In 2021, the Iowa High School Athletic Association has set the first practice date for May 3 with first of 40 allowed contest dates May 24 and state tournament concluding July 31. Showcase leagues ran by Prep Baseball Report and Perfect Game are typically conducted in the spring.

The 2020 baseball season was the first for head coach Michael Keeran at Bismarck (N.D.) State College, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II school. In the summer of 2021, he is to manage the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Bismarck State College Photo)
Michael Keeran, a graduate of Clear Lake High School and Waldorf University in Iowa and the head coach at Bismarck State College in North Dakota, has been named field manager for the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League in 2021. (Lafayette Aviators Photo)

Sheridan grad Crail driven on the diamond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Determination has helped Sam Crail enjoy success on the baseball diamond.

The 2017 Sheridan (Ind.) High School graduate heads into his fourth collegiate season — his second at NCAA Division II Saint Leo (Fla.) University — in 2020-21 with a drive for even more.

“I’m a very hard-working individual,” says Crail, 22. “I’m very confident. My confidence allows me to go on the field and not to think about things that happened in the past.

“I move on to the next play.”

The lefty-swinging outfielder started in all 21 of Saint Leo’s games in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder hit a team-best .320 (24-of-75) with four home runs, three triples, three doubles, six stolen bases, 19 runs batted in and 17 runs scored.

Crail played two seasons at Indiana University (2018 and 2019) for head coach Jeff Mercer

“I really loved Indiana as a school,” says Crail. “The depth chart at my position was too deep.

“I needed a change in order to give myself an opportunity to play at the next level.”

Crail played in 55 games at IU and hit .229 with one homer, one triples, two doubles, two stolen bases, 13 RBIs and 16 runs.

Rick O’Dette, who played and coached at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., is head coach at Saint Leo.

Crail likes that O’Dette allows him the freedom to do his own way while offering advice to help him improve his game.

“He really gives all the players the flexibility to do whatever they want in technique and approach,” says Crail. “It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life and adding guidance along the way.”

Along with playing baseball, Crail is on target to earn a degree in Sports Business next spring.

Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate Amir Wright was at Saint Joseph’s when the school closed and he transferred to Saint Leo. After landing in Florida, Crail became fast friends with Wright.

“We connected right off the bat being Indiana guys,” says Crail of Wright. “He’s very good teammate to play for. 

“He’s showed me the ropes.”

Matt Kennedy, who coached with O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s, was the hitting coach at Saint Leo before coming back to Indiana to join the Butler University staff.

Kennedy was the head coach of the Snapping Turtles in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and Crail was on the team, hitting .297 (19-of-64) with two triples, four doubles, 12 RBIs and 13 runs.

Before the pandemic, Crail was supposed to play in the Valley League for the Covington (Va.) Lumberjacks.

When the Valley League canceled its season, Crail played in the circuit based about 15 minutes from home.

Crail went to IU to acclimate to the school and the program and did not play in the summer of 2017. He was with the Cody Piechocki-managed Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers of the Northwoods League in 2018 and the Eric Coleman-managed Danville (Ill.) Dans of the Prospect League in 2019. 

At Danville, Crail hit .368 (42-of-114) with seven homers, three triples, seven doubles, six stolen bases, 39 RBIs and 22 runs in 29 games.

Between the shutdown and the 2020 summer season, Crail joined friends — many former Indiana teammates — in working out and having live at-bat sessions at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield.

Crail has trained at RoundTripper since 10 and he began playing travel ball for the Indiana Mustangs.

“I have a good relationship with (owner) Chris Estep and all the guys at RoundTripper,” says Crail.

Born in Carmel and raised in Sheridan, Crail played baseball in the local recreation system before beginning travel ball at 9U with the Indiana Prospects. He went on to represent the Indiana Mustangs (10U to 12U and 17U), Indiana Outlaws (13U) and Indiana Stix (14U to 16U). Head coaches were Shane Cox with the Prospects, Nathan Habegger and Ken Niles with the Mustangs, Dwayne Hutchinson with the Outlaws and Ray Hilbert with the Stix.

Crail played four seasons at Sheridan High — three for Matt Britt and one for Larry Lipker. 

“(Britt) was a really fun guy to be around everyday,” says Crail. “He was a players’ coach. He was one of our friends.

“(Lipker) was the same way. He was one of our buddies. He taught me a lot of life lessons. He gave me some insight as to what baseball would like like at the next level. They were both very knowledgeable about the game.”

Sam is the oldest of Westfield firefighter Ray Crail and house cleaner/health supplement salesperson Christie Crail’s three children. 

Katy Crail (18) is a Sheridan senior who plays basketball and softball. Her softball travel team is the Indiana Shockwaves. Jack Crail (14) is a Sheridan freshman. His travel baseball team is the Indiana Eagles.

Sam Crail, a Sheridan (Ind.) High School graduate, is a baseball outfielder at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He played two seasons at Indiana Universuty before transferring to the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)

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

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

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

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

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