When it comes down to crunch time, that’s when Gavin Knust wants the baseball. The left-handed pitcher likes to be called on in the latter innings to get out of a jam or nail down a victory. He’s done it for the past two seasons at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. “I enjoy being the guy the team relies on,” says Knust, 20. “I want to help the team in any way possible to win a ball game.” In 2022, he made 22 relief appearances (16 of them scoreless) and went 4-0 with two saves, a 3.60 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and nine walks in 30 innings. The Grenadiers finished the season 40-15 overall and 20-4 in the River States Conference. The campaign ended in the NAIA Opening Round. As a true freshman in 2021, Knust came out of the bullpen 20 times and went 2-0 with a 3.50 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 12 walks in 36 innings. IUS (50-16, 26-1) earned its first trip to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, in 2021 and Knust appeared in three of four games. Knust was 18 and pitching on one of college baseball’s biggest stages. And this after missing his senior season at Forest Park Junior/Senior High School in Ferdinand, Ind., because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 6 1/3 innings in Idaho, he yielded four hits and two runs while striking out nine and walking two. Older guys like Daunte DeCello, Hunter Kloke, Marco Romero, Derek Wagner (a Tri-West Hendricks High School alum) and Clay Woeste (Lawrenceburg) pushed Knust to be his best. “They were huge role models,” says Knust. “They took me under their wing and took care of me.” All the while, the Grenadiers fed off the words of head coach Ben Reel. “Coach Reel is a huge believer in ‘control the controllables’ — that’s all you can worry about. He tells us to play ‘our’ baseball. Don’t try to be anybody else.” After a 5-10 start, that 2021 team went into the postseason at 40-13. “We were the hottest team in the nation,” says Knust. “That’s all baseball is about — riding the hot streak.” Brandon Mattingly was the pitching coach at IU Southeast in 2022. “He’s a big believer in the mental aspect of baseball and breathing correctly,” says Knust of Mattingly. “He want you doing the same thing every pitch. Baseball is a game of repetition. “It’s a game where you don’t want to make it more complicated that it really is.” As a bullpen arm throwing between three-quarter and over-the-top, Knust relies mostly on a four-seam fastball, two-seamer and curveball. His four-seamer got up to 88 mph in the spring. “(The two-seamer) runs away from the barrel,” says Knust. “The curveball is more like a slurve.” After spending the summer of 2021 with the Ohio Valley League’s Madisonville (Ky.) Miners, Knust is now relieving for the 2022 Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks. Through games of July 20, the southpaw had made 15 appearances (10 scoreless) and was 2-1 with a 2.60 ERA, 15 strikeouts and eight walks in 17 1/3 innings. “It’s more about hitting my pitches, working on my spots and just becoming a better pitcher this summer,” says Knust of his in-game goals. Caleb Lang, an assistant at Concordia University Nebraska is Battle Creek’s manager. IU Southeast faced Concordia in Lewiston in 2021. Away from the diamond, there is also bonding and fun on a BC squad made up largely of NAIA players — including Concordia’s Joey Grabanski and Jacob Lycan and Indiana University-Kokomo’s Patrick Mills — with a few D-1’s sprinkled in. “We’re almost getting to the point where we’re a big family now,” says Knust. A few times, host families have allowed some of the Battle Jacks to use their boat to chill on the lake followed by cornhole and a cookout at their house. Knust was born in Jasper, Ind., and grew up in nearby Saint Anthony. He played T-ball at Pine Ridge Elementary in Birdseye. His only summer of travel ball came during high school with the Louisville-based Ironmen Prime. At Forest Park, Knust played football for head coach Ross Fuhs and baseball for Jarred Howard. “(Fuhs) was more of an understanding coach,” says Knust. “You could talk to him about anything in life. He’d always be there for you. “(Howard) got the most out of every player and he tried to make you a better person.” Knust, who has two years of playing eligibility left, is a Marketing major with a Professional Sales minor. “An IU degree in marketing is one of the best you can get,” says Knust. “I enjoy talking and getting to know people.” Gavin is the youngest of Steve and Melissa Knust’s three sons. Ethan Knust (27) works for a concrete company. Eli Knust (25), who played baseball at Huntington (Ind.) University and against Gavin in 2021, works at Memorial Hospital in Jasper and assists Ethan with a concrete side business. Steve Knust is a plumber. Melissa Knust is an oncology nurse at Memorial Hospital.
For the Dubois County Bombers of Huntingburg, Ind., it’s about serving the community and providing opportunities for college baseball players in the summer. A member of the summer collegiate wood bat Ohio Valley League, the Bombers play at League Stadium, where the movies “A League Of Their Own” (1992) and “Soul Of The Game” (1996) were filmed and where Southridge High School plays its home games in the spring. For the first film, the stadium was expanded from a capacity of 800 to 2,783 and given an antique look (the original grandstand dates back to 1894). In 2019, the Bombers drew 998 fans per game — among the highest attendance figures in the team OVL, which had nine teams at the time and now sports 10 (besides Dubois County, there’s Kentucky’s Hoptown Hoppers, Owensboro RiverDawgs, Madisonville Miners, Fulton Railroaders, Paducah Chiefs, Muhlenberg County Stallions, Henderson Flash, Franklin Duelers and Full County Rhythm). “We’re fortunate because Columbia Pictures left us a stadium that we can put that many fans into it,” says Mike Uebelhor, a Huntingburg native who is a principal owner and managing partner for a group that purchased the team in 2012. “We just wanted to make sure that the team stayed here in Dubois County.” The Bluff City Bombers of the Central Illinois Collegiate League moved to Huntingburg in 2005 and were renamed the Dubois County Bombers. The CICL then merged with the Prospect League. As the Prospect League has a larger geographical footprint, the Bombers moved to the Ohio Valley League as of the 2013 season. According to Uebelhor, the previous owner was planning on moving the team to another venue. “We just wanted to make sure this this stadium was not going to sit here and rot,” says Uebelhor. “And so that’s why we kept it here.” There are 33 season employees. Mike’s wife and daughter — Mary and Ashley — put the whole package together. Mick Uebelhor, a sophomore on Southridge’s IHSAA Class 3A state champions in 2021 is Mike and Mary’s son and a Bombers intern. “We all have our second separate job opportunities and job descriptions and it all works,” says Mike Uebelhor. There’s both an electronic and manual scoreboard. Bombers players where throwback-style uniforms and Peaches — a nod to the All-American Girls Baseball League’s Rockford Peaches — greet fans, help run on-field contests. There are “Musical Chairs” for kids and adults. The opposing teams participates in the “Dizzy Bat Spin.” Peaches and fans dance to “Cotton-Eyed Joe” in the fifth inning. Many little girls at the park don the same pink outfits as the Peaches. Girls can get eye pink and boys eye black. One youngster was heard to say after his blacking, “I’m a professional baseball player.” There’s a vintage bus parked in front of the stadium with Rockford Peaches on one side and Bombers on the other. Promotional dates include ’60s Night, Shark Night and Faith & Family Night. The regular season of fun began began June 4 and runs through July 24. “We’ve always promoted this as 50 percent baseball and 50 percent entertainment,” says Uebelhor. “Most folks would not remember tomorrow what the score was, but they remember they had a good time and they come back. And that’s how we grew up being able to grow our attendance along with a lot of corporate sponsors.” There is an outfield sign for set designer Harold Collins, who customarily destroys sets after use but agreed with Connie Kay Nass (Huntingburg mayor 1988-96) to keep the improvements to League Stadium. According to Uebelhor, Budweiser paid $1 million for its permanent sign. Coca-Cola paid $500,000.
Eight former major league players have played at League Stadium — Buddy Blemker, Jim Rushford, Bob Coleman, Steve Cishek, Mitch Stetter, Scott Rolen, Alex Graman, Sean Manaea and Daniel Johnson. Blemker, a 1955 Huntingburg High School graduate, Huntingburg native Coleman and Rolen (Jasper Class of 1993) are in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. A pitcher, Blemker played for the Kansas City Chiefs. Coleman played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians and managed the Detroit Tigers and Boston Braves. Third baseman Rolen played for the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds. Catcher Rushford played for the Dubois County Dragons in 1996 and later with the Milwaukee Brewers. Pitcher Cishek was with the Bombers in 2006. He has played for the Florida/Miami Marlins, Cardinals, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels. Southridge graduates Stetter (Brewers) and Graman (New York Yankees) pitched in the bigs. Oakland Athletics hurler Manaea was with the Bombers in 2011. An outfield with DC in 2015, Johnson was drafted by the Washington Nationals and has played for the MLB Indians. The 2021 Bombers roster features seven local players — pitcher Weston Allen (Asbury University), first baseman Connor Oxley (Oakland City University), outfielder/second baseman Tucker Schank (Indiana University) and catcher Chase Taylor (University of Evansville commit) of Huntingburg, outfielder Jared Sermersheim (West Virginia Tech) and pitcher Carter Stamm (University of Southern Indiana) of Jasper and infielder Simon Scherry (Heritage Hills High School of U. of Evansville) of Santa Claus — and the rest reside with 17 host families. There’s usually a waiting list to host players. Many in town have taken players in — Bombers or the independent Dubois County Dragons (1996-2002) — for years. Taylor, who helped Southridge to the 3A state title on Tuesday, June 22 (the same night that Jasper gave the county a second champion by reigning in Class 4A), was the starting catcher for the Bombers on June 24. In his debut, Taylor caught former Southridge teammate Allen and stroked a double and scored a run in his first at-bat. He threw out a would-be Franklin base-stealer in the fourth inning. Travis LaMar, an assistant coach for Southridge who played for the Bombers in 2007-09, has been on the DC coaching staff since 2017 and head coach since 2019. “It’s great for the community,” says LaMar of the Bombers experience. “The community really gets involved and really supports us. “You bring in these college kids and it gives them an opportunity to develop their skills and play the game every day and have a little bit of fun while they’re doing it.” LaMar is an Evansville Harrison High School graduate who was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 44th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The 6-foot-6 right-hander opted to pitch for Olney (Ill.) Central College and then Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He then played independent pro ball for the Lake Erie Crushers and Evansville Otters and was an assistant coach at Harrison. Travis and Kate LaMar have been married since 2018 and have nine-month old son named Drake. The LaMars reside in Holland, Ind. Travis also teaches physical education at Caze Elementary in Evansville. LaMar pulled double-duty during Southridge’s state run, going with the Raiders at practices and games and letting his Bombers assistants run the show when there was an overlap. “I was stretched pretty thin but, you know, it kind of all worked out and it just kind of goes back to the kind of the family atmosphere that we have,” says LaMar. “A lot of these players are from around here and they they understand the league or they’ve been in the league before. “So you know I can kind of put a lot of trust in that I can put the trust to my coaches.” Willie Poe, who played for the Bombers’ 2015 and 2017 OVL championship teams, is in his first season on the DC coaching staff. The Lexington, Ky., native pitched at Bellarmine University. He coached at Iowa Wesleyan University and Indian Hills Community College before joining former Bombers head coach Andy Lasher’s staff at Oakland City U. Bryce Wilz returns as a DC assistant after pitching for the Bombers in 2013. He played at Southeastern Illinois College and Brescia University. He is currently the pitching coach at SIC. He has coached in the OVL with Muhlenberg County (2018) and was to be with Madisonville in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic took the season away. Mark Peters is in charge of player recruitment for the Bombers. The Huntingburg native has been connected to high school and college baseball for more than two decades as both a coach and recruiter. Bombers home games air of WITZ 104.7 FM with Hall of Famer Walt Ferber on play-by-play and Roger Stuckey on color commentary.