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Bedford North Lawrence coach Callahan wants his Stars to know their roles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An athlete knowing and accepting their place can go a long way toward the success of a team.

Bedford North Lawrence High School head baseball coach Jeff Callahan firmly embraces this philosophy and passes it along to his Stars.

“We are working with athletes to understand their role,” says Callahan, who is in his 15th years as BNL athletic director and entering his fifth season in the baseball coaching role. “Everyone wants to start, play shortstop and bat third. We can’t have that to have the best team possible.”

Callahan talks with players about team expectations.

“We’re putting the team first and individual accolades second,” says Callahan, who coached the Stars to an IHSAA Class 4A sectional championship in 2017 — the first for the program since 1994.

As baseball coach, Callahan meets with his parents to talk about team rules and player roles.

As AD, he encourages the other coaches in the BNL athletic department to do the same.

“It’s never going to eliminate all issues or possible conflicts,” says Callahan. “As parents, we all want what’s best for our kids.”

He also wants those youngsters to know that things won’t always go the way they want and that it is helpful to know how to accept and adjust during times of adversity.

“There are a lot of life lessons can be taught to kids in high school athletics,” says Callahan.

As a shortstop and pitcher playing for BNL 1984-87, Callahan learned the importance of fundamentals from Stars head coach Mike Short.

“He was very detail-oriented,” says Callahan. “We worked a lot on the defensive side and on situations. It helps knowing the game of baseball inside and out as a player.

“Pitching and defense is where you’re going to win games and win championships.”

Coach Callahan spends time at every practice on bunt coverages and all kinds of other possibilities. It’s hoped that this repetition will trigger muscle memory during games.

The 2017 Stars said goodbye to 11 seniors, including eight starters.

Two varsity pitching innings return this spring.

“We have a lot of kids battling for positions,” says Callahan. “Early in the season, we may have several different lineups looking for the right combination of players.”

Callahan tends to keep 35 to 40 players in the program. With all the seniors leaving, he says there may be days he has 18 players with the varsity. There are likely to be around a dozen with the junior varsity 10 to 12 freshmen.

While he is still looking to hire a freshmen coach, Duane Higgs and Reggie Joslin are varsity assistants and Dennis Kissinger will coach the JV for BNL in 2018.

Moving on to college baseball from the Class of 2017 were the coach’s oldest child Brandt Callahan (Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo.) plus Drew Hensley (Indiana University Southeast), Austin Long (Indiana University), Tanner McBride (Indiana University Kokomo), Brody Tanksley (Indiana University Southeast) and Michael Underwood (Marian University).

“If a kid wants to go play (college baseball), we give them an idea of what it takes and what it’s like to be recruited,” says Callahan. “We help them make sure they’ve got all their ducks in a row. We make them understand that school is more important that the baseball program.”

There’s also things to consider like cost, distance from home and overall fit with the school’s culture.

“A lot of factors go into it,” says Callahan.

Other recent BNL graduates to head for collegiate diamonds include Caleb Bowman (Taylor University), Dillon Hensley (Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill.), Kyler Sherrill (Blackburn College) and Tanner Tow (Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky).

BNL plays in the Hoosier Hills Conference (along with Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated, New Albany and Seymour). Because the HHC is spread out, all teams do not meet during the regular season. There is a conference tournament, slated for Monday, Wednesday and Friday, May 7, 9 and 11. All teams plays three games to determined places 1 through 8.

BNL’s fourth annual Orval Huffman Invitational is scheduled for May 19. Besides the host Stars, the four-team event named in honor of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and former BNL coach Orval Huffman will feature Northview, Silver Creek and Speedway.

A year ago, Huffman and members of the Stars’ 1977 State Finals team addressed the current BNL squad.

The rotating sectional is scheduled to move from Bedford in 2017 to Jeffersonville in 2018. Besides BNL and Jeffersonville, the field is to include Floyd Central, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour.

Callahan played baseball for two seasons at Vanderbilt University. Roy Mewbourne was the Commodores head coach. The VU coach who recruited Jeff Callahan — Gary Burns — is now leading Brandt Callahan as Rockhurst head coach.

Rockhurst is an NCAA Division II school and member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

During Jeff Callahan’s time at Vandy, the Southeastern Conference featured stars like Frank Thomas at Auburn University and Ben McDonald at Louisiana State University. Vanderbilt was not yet the powerhouse it has become in recent years with Tim Corbin as head coach.

Callahan graduated from the Nashville-based school in 1991 with a double major in human resources and secondary education.

After college, Callahan taught and was assistant baseball and football coach at Norcross High School in Gwinett County, Ga. His wife, Paige, grew up in Atlanta. The couple met at Vanderbilt.

Moving back to Bedford, Callahan became a U.S. History teacher and assistant in football, basketball and baseball. For a few seasons, he was the Stars head football coach.

Besides Brandt, Jeff and Paige have a freshman son Whitt and eight-grade daughter Merritt.

Bedford North Lawrence became a school in 1974, a consolidation of Bedford, Fayetteville, Heltonville, Needmore, Oolitic, Shawswick and Tunnelton.

Many Indiana basketball fans know BNL’s Damon Bailey is from Heltonville. He played baseball for the Stars as a freshman. That was Jeff Callahan’s senior season.

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Celebrating a 2017 IHSAA Class 4A Bedford North Lawrence Sectional baseball championship for the host school are the Callahan family (from left): Merritt, Jeff, Brandt, Paige and Whittt. Jeff, who is married to Paige, enters his fifth season as the BNL Stars head coach in 2018. Brandt is now in college. Whitt is freshman. Merritt is an eighth grader.

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Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

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Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)

 

Nguyen teaching life, baseball at Lawrence Central

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Consistent message and accountability of ballplayers.

Those are concepts Harrison “Harry” Nguyen had reinforced during his assistant baseball coaching days at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and it helps form his foundation as a coach and educator at Lawrence Central High School.

“Players — teenagers — they need that,” says Nguyen of the benchmarks. “They don’t necessarily see the value in it when they’re going through that. It can really be tough in the day-to-day. It can be uncomfortable. But it’s what students need. It’s what baseball players need.”

It’s what Nguyen gained from spending 15 seasons (2002-16) on the Cathedral staff led by Rich Andriole, who goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Jan. 27 and is preparing for his first season as head coach at Guerin Catholic High School in 2018.

“Sometimes (athletes) need to be called out if they are not meeting certain standards,” says Nguyen, who speaks with Andriole on a weekly basis. “Rich is really good at that. We try to instill that in our kids here at Lawrence Central.

“We want to take care of our student-athletes. If we can teach them a little baseball along the way — great — but if we can teach them life, that’s better.”

Nguyen began his coaching career on the staff of Anthony Lowborn at his high school alma mater, Arsenal Tech. Lowhorn went on to coach at Triton Central and sent Luke Stephenson on to college baseball. The right-hander pitched in 2016 and 2017 at Indiana University.

As a youngster, Nguyen played at Lowell Little League in Warren Township and was coaching there when umpire Rick Wagner suggested he look into a coaching opportunity at Cathedral. He met Andriole in the summer of 2001 and began coaching Fighting Irish freshmen and later got to work with standout players like Tommy HunterDillon Peters and Ashe Russell.

“It was a really fun ride,” says Nguyen of his Cathedral tenure. “I coached a lot of good kids and met a lot of good people.

“The X’s and 0s get us into baseball, but what keeps us in it is the people.”

Nguyen, an Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis graduate who got his start in education with schooling at Butler University taught at Indiana Connections Academy, Cathedral and Franklin Central High School before that, is in his second year teaching math in the LC freshman academy. J.R. Shelt is his administrator. Shelt was his junior varsity baseball coach at Arsenal Tech.

After leaving Cathedral, he was not sure where he would land then got contacted by then Lawerence Central athletic director Jeff Irwin, who shared the vision of the school district.

“It all came together really, really fast,” says Nguyen.

The 2017 season was Nguyen’s first as head baseball coach at Lawrence Central. The Bears went 12-16, beating Columbus North and Zionsville and suffering five one-run losses along the way. LC lost to eventual IHSAA Class 4A state champion Cathedral in the semifinals of the Warren Central Sectional.

“We lost some heartbreakers,” says Nguyen. “But we were pretty competitive.”

The junior varsity went 16-4 in 2017 and several players from that squad are looking to make noise at the varsity level in 2018.

“We bring back a lot of seniors,” says Nguyen. “We have had a lot of spirited workouts this off-season.”

The 2017 Bears participated in the I-65 Classic at Purdue University and McCutcheon (along with host McCutcheon, Lake Central and Zionsville). This year, a similar event is planned with Lawrence Central, Brebeuf Jesuit, Hobart and Perry Meridian, perhaps at Grand Park in Westfield.

LC is also waiting to see if it qualifies for the late-season Victory Field Classic, held at the site of the IHSAA State Finals and home of the Indianapolis Indians.

Lawrence Central is a member of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (along with corporation partner Lawrence North plus Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Pike, North Central of Indianapolis and Warren Central).

The Bears were Marion County champions in 2015. LC last won a sectional title in 2004, the same year they took a state title.

Nguyen expects Bryan Peters and Greg White to return to his LC coaching staff in 2018. A year ago, the Bears had three teams — varsity, JV and freshmen. It’s not likely the numbers will be high enough for a freshmen team this spring.

“Though I have no scientific evidence, it seems that 13 is where the numbers are getting lost,” says Nguyen. “That’s when many kids go from 46/60 fields to full-size diamonds. In New Palestine, where my son (Ryan) plays in an 11-12 league, it’s 50/70.

“Travel teams start a lot younger these days. It’s harder to know where your home Little League is. There are so many boundaries and choices for parents. Travel ball has become an arms race.”

Besides travel organizations, talent is fed to the high school through Belzer Middle School, where Orion Ogg, is the coach, as well as Lawrence Township youth leagues — Skiles Test, Fall Creek, Oaklandon and Lawrence Lions.

Lawrence Central plays on-campus at Challis-Pauszek Field. In recent years, the facility has added bleachers stretching from dugout to dugout, put in a new press box and did work on the sod. Plans for the spring include new bullpens.

The LC high school program does quite a bit of fundraising to keep participation prices reasonable (it was $73 in 2017 and much of that is township-mandated transportation).

“We have not had kids who could not play baseball here because of cost,” says Nguyen.

Former Lawrence Central players currently in college baseball include J.J. Montgomery (University of Central Florida), Kenny Ogg (Ohio University) and Matt Burleton (Marian University).

LC graduate Jared Ruxer pitched at the University of Louisville and is now in the Kansas City Royals organization.

Current Bears senior Allan Augustus has committed to play baseball and football at Marian. Others who hope to play on a college diamond include senior catcher Drew Prather, 6-foot-7 pitcher Zach McGee and sophomore outfielder Anthony Steinhart.

Besides Ryan, Harry and wife Heather have three other children. Morgan (17) and Tanner (16) are at Franklin Central High School and Hannah (14) is as Franklin Township Middle School-East.

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Lawrence Central head baseball coach Harry Nguyen (right) talks with Zach Rogers during the 2017 season — Nguyen’s first leading the Bears. (Black Rocket Photography, LLC Photo)

Delta’s Paul focused on mental toughness, fundamentals

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seth Paul is a student of baseball.

The former Cowan High School and University of Indianapolis catcher has taken several perspectives on the game and made it his own while enjoying on-field success.

In his six seasons as a high school head coach so far — three at Cowan (2012-14) and three at Delta (2015-17) — half his teams have won a championship of some kind.

Paul guided the Cowan Blackhawks to a Mid-Eastern Conference crown in 2012 and helped the Delta Eagles take IHSAA Class 3A Yorktown Sectional and Bellmont Regional titles in 2016 and the Delaware County Tournament in 2017.

Mental toughness, a refusal to quit and grounding in the basics are the building blocks of Paul’s program.

“We’re never out of a game,” says Paul. “We never give up. It’s the old ‘Jim Valvano’ philosophy. The kids buy into that early.”

Paul often gets across his message across in classroom talks.

“It’s not college when you have them all year and have the time,” says Paul. “That doesn’t mean I’m a better coach. I just put more emphasis on it than other people do.”

Paul wants his players to have the know-how and ability to make the right plays.

“I’m a big fundamental and defensive guy,” says Paul, who was a four-year starter at Cowan (playing one season for Mike Estepp and three for Rick Pippin and graduating in 2003) before playing for Gary Vaught at UIndy. “It’s knowing the game, where to be and backing up bases.

“We try not to give anyone runs by our mental mistakes.”

Paul credits Estepp for teaching him about work ethic and preparation and keeping cool under pressure.

“He had this ability to stay calm at all times,” says Paul of Estepp, who later served on Paul’s Cowan coaching staff. “(Pippin) taught me that is was OK to have fun playing baseball. At that time in my life, I was taking it seriously all the time. He incorporated fun into everything we did and found ways to make me laugh.”

Estepp and Pippin imparted knowledge about fundamentals and Paul still uses a front-hand/back-hand soft toss taken from Estepp and a four-corner defensive drill from Pippin.

In college, Paul drew from Vaught as a player and then as an assistant coach.

“He is one of the smartest baseball minds I’ve ever been around,” says Paul of Vaught. “He’s from Oklahoma and has that toughness. I got that toughness from him.

“He does a really good job of wanting his players want to play for him. I still call Coach Vaught to this day. We talk about my lineup or his lineup or whatever.”

Paul has also gleaned much from his attendance at American Baseball Coaches Association national conventions (the 2018 version is Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis) and watched plenty of videos. Two of his favorite clinicians are brothers Greg and Todd Giulliams on the mental approach to hitting.

“(UIndy associated head coach) Al Ready uses that system and introduced me to that video,” says Paul.

Glenn Cecchini, head coach at Barbe High School in Lake Charles, La., spoke at the 2017 ABCA convention and got Paul’s attention.

“He’s all about mental approach and mental toughness,” says Paul. “I really like to follow what he says and does.”

A few years ago, Paul was in the audience University of Mississippi head coach Mike Bianco shared the system he learned from ABCA Hall of Famer and former LSU head coach Skip Bertman.

Paul has also taken to some of the methods of mental training expert Brian Cain.

“A lot of my coaching style has been molded from my own research,” says Paul. “I’ve definitely evolved.”

All of this is to help the Eagles face the challenges during the season.

“Our (Hoosier Heritage) Conference is ridiculously hard,” says Paul. “Delta is a very hard-nosed blue-collar school with athletics. It’s the kind of coaches they look to hire and the kinds of students that go here

“Football success (Delta has won 163 games on the gridiron since 2000) sets tone for every other sport in the school. I have very few baseball-only players here.”

Taking the “Friday Night Lights” atmosphere of football, the HCC (which also includes Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown) play Friday night conference doubleheaders. Teams take turns being the home team on the scoreboard.

“Everyone’s good,” says Paul of the conference. “Everyone is well-coached. It’s good, hard-nosed baseball. It reminds me of when I was coaching in college.”

Delta plays on-campus at Veterans’ Field — a facility that was completely overhauled last year. The playing surface, dugouts, backstop, press box and entrance were all new.

And — for the first time — the Eagles had a lighted field.

Paul says New Castle is now the lone HCC member without lights on its baseball field.

Delta is grouped with Blackford, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, New Castle and Yorktown at sectional time.

Paul, who is 87-74 in his six seasons (40-35 at Cowan and 47-39 at Delta), has sent several players on to college baseball, including Cowan’s Aaron Wells and Joey Covington (both at Manchester University), Alex Delk (Indiana Tech) and Luke Miller (Indiana University) and Delta’s Cade Jones (DePauw University), Arian Coffey (University of Indianapolis), Mitchell Hahn (Marian University), Adam Paschal (Anderson University), Adisyn Coffey (Arizona State University), Jacob Van Pelt and Redon Henry (both at Manchester U.), Charlie May (Elmhurst College) and Andrew Shafer (University of Northwestern Ohio). There have been no college commitments yet this year.

Paul’s assistant coaches are Chad Hinds, Kevin Shafer (pitching coach), Spencer Matheny, Preston Phillips and Curt Howard. All are with the varsity during most games. Phillips and Howard coach the JV Eagles, which play HCC doubleheaders on Saturdays.

When Paul’s daughter Sloane (who is now 3) had a viral infection and had to go to Riley Children’s Hospital, Hinds stepped in and ran the team.

A holder of all grades health and physical education undergraduate degrees plus a masters in curriculum and instruction from the University of Indianapolis, Paul teaches health at Delta High School.

“I never anticipated coaching or teaching in high school,” says Paul. “But the opportunity came up and it made sense.”

And he will keep studying to make sense of the game with the bat and ball.

SETHPAUL

Seth Paul, who played at Cowan High School and the University of Indianapolis, and coached at his high school alma mater is heading into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Delta High School in Delaware County, Ind.

 

Hatfield asks Center Grove hitters to ‘know your zone’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With Keith Hatfield calling the shots, the Center Grove Trojans are looking to force the issue on the baseball field.

“I’m really aggressive,” says Hatfield of his coaching style. “That goes for hitting, pitching and base running.

“We don’t work a whole lot of counts (as hitters). We have a philosophy: the first fastball we see in the strike zone, we’re going to be swinging.”

Hatfield, who led CG to IHSAA Class 4A sectional crowns in 2015 and 2016 and is heading into his fifth season at the Johnson County school in 2018, spends a good deal of practice time talking with his players about “knowing your zone.”

“It’s knowing where you have the greatest chance to get a hit,” says Hatfield. “For some guys that might be the shins. For some guys that might be at the belt.”

Approach is dictated by game situation. What’s the score? What’s the count? How many outs? How many runners? What’s the inning?

“Our approach in the second inning a lot different than in the sixth inning (with two outs and a man on base),” says Hatfield. “Early, we’re swinging to drive the guy in. Later, we want to make a productive out if we’re going to make an out.”

Trojan moundsmen are encouraged to go after hitters.

“I’m not a fan of waste pitches,” says Hatfield. “Especially with the whole pitch count thing, a waste pitch is just a notch on the counter.”

Talented Center Grove pitchers have gotten a lot of swings and misses and strikeouts the past two seasons, but the intent is to get the hitter out in two pitches and not rack up a lot of K’s.

“When the defense knows we’re trying to make something happen in two pitches, they are not going fall back on their heels,” says Hatfield.

With runners on base, Hatfield looks to make things happen. While errorless games are not unusual at the professional and college levels, they are in high school.

“A lot of things have to go right in order for a baserunner to be thrown out (by the defense),” says Hatfield. “More times than not we’re going to make the defense make a play.

“We’re not going to wait to have three hits in a row. We’re going to push the envelope and put pressure on the defense.”

Hatfield came to Center Grove after four seasons at Roncalli, where he led the Rebels to an IHSAA Class 4A runner-up finish in 2012 with a 1-0 loss to Lake Central.

A 2003 Roncalli graduate, Hatfield played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer and top-notch in-game strategist John Wirtz.

“He was really good at pulling all the strings,” says Hatfield. “He was also good at relating to the kids. We loved him. He was really fun to be around. He’s a legend on the south side of Indianapolis.”

Hatfield was a pitcher at the University of Indianapolis, making a record 66 mound appearances, and gained wisdom from Greyhounds head coach Gary Vaught.

“He was really good at bringing everybody together,” says Hatfield of Vaught. “He’s a really good motivator. He was good at getting 100 percent out of the guys.”

Hatfield, who graduated from UIndy in 2007, spent two seasons as the Hounds pitching coach prior to going to Roncalli.

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted a new pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

Hatfield sees a need to adjust the numbers.

“The quantities and days of rest are wrong,” says Hatfield. “They need to talk to a lot more people about it and something needs to be done for the tournament.”

During the regular season, Hatfield uses his starting pitchers once a week and gears the rotation toward home-and-home Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Where the pitch count has more of an impact on his squad and other Class 4A teams is with the relievers and whether they hit the thresholds that require one or two days of rest.

Then comes the postseason with the possibility of three sectional games in five days.

“Many of these guys will be playing their last game,” says Hatfield. “If rain pushes sectional championship to Tuesday, you are now making decisions that affect the regional. That’s crazy.”

Hatfield notes that when Roncalli made the run to the state championship game in 2012, Colin Hawk pitched is every single game of the tournament.

Hatfield would also like to see seeding at the sectional level in order to keep the two best teams out of the same side of the bracket.

“But it’s a lot harder than it sounds,” says Hatfield. “There’s not a Sagarin ratings system for high school baseball. There would have to be a central rating system. Prep Baseball Report would have to be involved. They have scouts seeing games all over the state.

“I’m not smart enough to have all the answers, but I know it’s wrong to have the two best teams playing each other in the first round of the tournament. I don’t like the blind draw. It makes non-conference, regular-season games a lot less important than they could be.”

Besides Center Grove, the MIC features Ben Davis, Carmel, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis, Pike and Warren Central.

The Trojans are grouped in a 4A sectional with Franklin Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville and Whiteland Community.

Hatfield goes into 2018 with a coaching staff that includes John Carpenter, Mike Grant and Joe Mack at the varsity level, Jordan Reeser and Jason Simpkins with the junior varsity and Jeff Montfort and Drew Garrison with the freshmen.

Player totals fluctuate with the number of pitcher-onlys in the program.

“This year is probably the biggest (total),” says Hatfield. “It could be 55 to 58). We’ll have nine or 10 pitcher-only.”

Hatfield, who also works for BSN Sports, has noticed a trend toward specialization in athletics and that includes pitching. But he will not pass up someone when he sees potential.

“If you have a good arm, you have to prove to me they can’t pitch,” says Hatfield.

Center Grove is well-represented in the college baseball world.

According to online rosters, there’s Ethan Brooks (Grace College), Jacob Cantleberry (San Jacinto North College in Texas and transferring to the University of Missouri), Joey Drury (Olney Central College in Illinois), Devon Hensley and Will Smithey (both at the University of Indianapolis), Eathan Stephen (Marian University) and Tye Thixton (Danville Community College in Illinois).

Current Trojans who have made college commitments are seniors Jacob Gilcrest (Wright State University in Ohio), Shawn Grider (Cincinnati Christian University) and Michael Wyman (Saint Leo University in Florida) and sophomore Bryce Eblin (Purdue University).

These players have various travel baseball affiliations in the summer.

“(Travel ball) is very important for a couple reasons,” says Hatfield. “There not going to get the exposure they need for recruiting during the high school season. It’s hard for college coaches to get out to see you because they’e playing as well.

“It’s good for guys to play for different people. Watch other people and how they do things — good, bad and indifferent. (Travel organizations) play at places the high school team couldn’t take them.”

Those are the pros. The Hatfield also sees a few cons.

“There’s a lack of competition in terms of winning and losing,” says Hatfield. “It’s very individually-driven. Teams are happy if they go 3-2 on the weekend. I don’t think that mentality if good for the kids.”

Hatfield says there are still instances of overuse of pitching arms.

“A lot of travel coaches think a kid can start on Thursday and come back and start on Sunday,” says Hatfield. “I don’t think that’s right at all.”

Center Grove plays on-campus. Behind the plate at the facility, there is an indoor facility with three cages, locker rooms, coach’s office and meeting room. Last fall, the infield was re-done. A few years ago, a new building housing concessions, storage and restrooms was added to a place often referred to as Trojan Park.

CENTERGROVETROJANS

Schellinger looks for his New Prairie team to attack in every phase of the game

rbilogosmall

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Schellinger has set a standard since taking over as head baseball coach at New Prairie High School prior to the 2016 season.

“Most kids in the program know what we expect,” says Schellinger as he gets his players ready for 2018. “We get a lot of buy-in.”

Whether in a game, a practice drill or the weight room, Schellinger wants his Cougars to be in attack mode.

“We talk about attacking in every phase of the game,” says Schellinger. “We talk about attacking in every rep. We have that mindset. Even on defense, we want to be on the offensive.”

At game time, that aggressiveness leads to pressure on the other team.

“We want to take the game to our opponents,” says Schellinger. “In high school baseball, if you can create pressure, you can get a lot of good things to happen.

“You can put pressure on the defense in a lot of ways — either with the bat in our hands or on the base paths.”

Schellinger implores his pitchers to attack the strike zone.

“We want the at-bat over early,” says Schellinger. “We don’t want (opponents to have) five-, six-, seven-pitch at-bats.”

After at fall of open field and weight training, players who are not in winter sport are hitting the weight room.

The baseball program is full of mult-sport athletes. Only seven of 24 expected returnees from 2017 do not play more than one sport.

“It’s very important to play another sport,” says Schellinger, a 2002 LaPorte High School graduate who went on to play four seasons of football and two springs of baseball at Franklin College. “We push our guys to do that. It’s great from a competitive standpoint.”

“Guys not in-season are expected to be with us (in off-season conditioning).”

Since his playing days, Schellinger has witnessed an increased emphasis on strength and conditioning for baseball players.

“You can tell the difference,” says Schellinger. “Kids are bigger and stronger now. They are throwing harder and hitting the ball farther like they do at the big league level. It’s scaled down, but it’s trickled down to our level as well.

“We don’t want bodybuilders. We want guys with muscle. We do a stretching routine on a daily basis and help guys with that flexibility.”

New Prairie is coming off a 16-13 season in 2017. The Cougars were young with just three seniors. One — Kadin Abegg — is now on the baseball roster at Marian University in Indianapolis.

At various times, NP started seven sophomores and two freshmen last spring.

Schellinger looks for leadership in 2018 from seniors Bryce Bloode, Evan Knowlton, Parker Byard and Hunter Houser and junior Hunter Robinson. Bloode is a pitcher, outfielder and third baseman. Knowlton is an infielder, Byard an infielder/pitcher, Houser an outfielder/pitcher and Robinson a third baseman. All are right-handers.

New Prairie typically keeps around 30 and 34 for its varsity and junior varsity squads. Feeder programs include New Prairie Little League in New Carlisle and Rolling Prairie Baseball Association as well as various travel baseball organizations.

“I like carrying 16 at the varsity level (during the regular season) and dressing the full 20 at tournament time,” says Schellinger. “Sixteen works well for what I like to do. There’s a lot of competition in practice and we can have 8 on 8 or four groups of four.”

On game days, Schellinger and his assistants go in with a game plan that revolves around who is pitching and also takes into account who will be used as a courtesy or pinch-runner and who is able to handle the bat in certain pinch-hit situations.

“It’s a big puzzle that all fits together,” says Schellinger. “You maximize what you have personnel-wise on a certain day.”

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“I think it’s needed,” says Schellinger. “Mandated rest is important.

“In 10 innings, you can throw a lot of pitches. For the most part, it’s been a positive for Indiana high school baseball.”

Schellinger says the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association has been discussing the idea of making the limits for varsity and JV the same. As it stands now, JV count maximums are lower.

“Varsity takes priority. It’s double-edge sword for the JV. They run out pitching quicker at JV level. There has been worry about games getting canceled because of lack of pitching.

“The association knew going in it was going to be a trial-and-error thing.”

Schellinger’s assistants for 2018 are Neil Hackett (pitching coach) and Dave Ryans with the varsity and Al Williamson and John Ryans with the JV.

New Prairie (enrollment around 980) plays in the Northern Indiana Conference (along with 4A schools Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay and South Bend Riley, 3A teams New Prairie, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington and 2A member Bremen).

The NIC is divided into two divisions — New Prairie, Bremen, Jimtown, Glenn, Marian and Riley in the South and Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, Adams, Clay, St. Joseph and Washington in the North. Each team plays the other once in conference play and there are titles for overall and games won within the division.

“It’s a great conference,” says Schellinger, whose first season leading the Cougars was also the first of the new-look NIC with New Prairie, Bremen, Glenn and Jimtown joining and the old Northern State Conference dissolving. “Last year, we had two teams in the State Finals (St. Joseph reigned in 3A and Penn was runner-up in 4A).  There’s quality across the board. It’s very good baseball and very good athletic programs. It’s been a good move for us.”

Schellinger made his move to New Prairie after nine seasons at Merrillville High School — the last six of those years as head coach.

Before that, he was at Franklin College. His Grizzlies head coaches were Lance Marshall (baseball) and Mike Leonard (football). He played baseball for Scott Upp and football and his father, Bob Schellinger, at LaPorte.

“I’ve been very blessed in my life to be around a lot of good coaches,” says Schellinger. “I’ve taken a lot from each one.”

“(Marshall) taught me to play the game the right way, focus on fundamentals and the importance of building relationships.

“(Leonard) came to Franklin my sophomore year. He is one of the nicest guys off the field you’d ever want to meet. He treats his players with respect.”

“I’ve gotten to know (Upp) as a player and as an opposing coach. I’ve seen his ability to adapt. He does what needs to be done. It’s what is the best thing at the time for the team. He wants to find a better way. Some coaches are stuck in their ways. It’s a huge credit to him that he doesn’t do that.”

Bob and Lorri Schellinger have five children — Tricia, Rob, Mark, Kevin and Danny. The four boys all played football for their father.

Rob Schellinger is now a baseball assistant at LaPorte. Mark Schellinger is a member of the Slicer Football Hall of Fame.

Bob Schellinger, who coached high school baseball at South Central (Union Mills) and LaPorte, was honored at the State Finals as the 2017 IHSAA Baseball Umpire of the Year.

“It’s hard to hard to separate the two (father from coach),” says Mark. “I saw the relationship he had with his players from the time I was a little kid. I was my dad’s shadow. I could see the joy he took in job. We spend too much time out here for it to be dreadful.

“It’s a sport. It’s a game. It’s meant to be fun. When you enjoy it, it’s not work. I enjoy every second of it — planning for practice, going into the weight room or field work.

“We’re ultimately in the kids business and we want to make them better people.”

The people who greet Mark Schellinger at home and at the diamond are wife Heidi and four sons — Colton (5), Boyd (3), Titus (2) and Ripley (4 months).

Like he and his siblings did with his father, Mark has his boys hanging around with him and his team.

“They are around as much as they can be,” says Mark, who turns 32 Dec. 8 — two days before Boyd’s fourth birthday. “These are father-son moments a lot of people don’t get.”

MARKSCHELLINGER

Mark and Heidi Schellinger stand on the baseball field with the oldest three of their four sons —  Colton (in grey), Boyd (in blue) and Titus (in his father’s arms). Ripley was not yet born at the time the photo was taken.

 

Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

TRAYFLETCHER

T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)