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Coughenour stresses life lessons, competition for Eastern Hancock Royals

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Teaching life lessons and emphasizing competition, Chad Coughenour is heading into his 13th season as head baseball coach at Eastern Hancock Junior/Senior High School near Charlottesville, Ind.

“My faith is a big part of who I am,” says Coughenour aka Coach Coke. “I try to teach the young men more about life than I do about baseball sometimes.

“We all live life.”

Coughenour talks his Royals about things like being on time, doing their job, learning from failures and successes, standing by their word and working hard.

“The things that make you a better man,” says Coughenour.

Recent Eastern Hancock graduate Clayton White is on the baseball team at Anderson University and other current Royals have college baseball aspirations. Coughenour is proud that he has sent more young men on to the military and to be policemen and firemen.

Among those going on to the service are Alan Clark (Army Reserves), Kris Cushing (Navy, Dwight Duzan (Navy), Dustin Pettit (Marines and Army), Steven Stunda (Army), Devon Wagoner (Army) and Pedro Wilkinson (Air Force)

Recent graduate Tyler Blattner (Charlottesville) and Easton Fields (Greenfield) are volunteer firefighters and going through fire school.

Jacob Low is a police officer in Terre Haute.

Coughenour graduated from the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown in 1996. Life lessons were taught to him by Mountain Cats head coach Ken Keiper.

“He was a very moral man,” says Coughenour of Keiper. “He made sure everybody had a fair chance. It didn’t matter if they were a freshman or a senior.

“He made sure everybody was a part. He treated everybody the same and give them the same opportunities.”

Eastern Hancock players constantly get opportunities to compete — in practice and in games. There are thousands of chances during a school year.

Coughenour splits his team into small groups and has them compete for points in doing certain offensive or defensive skills. The group winner gets a piece of candy. Those with less points have to run.

The top three for a month get T-shirts — gold, silver and blue.

“The same kids don’t always win it,” says Coughenour.

The season champion receives a plaque.

The Royals averaged 16 to 17 players at fall practices, where they divided into teams and scrimmaged. Coughenour was the pitcher.

Some of the advantages to working as a team and not just the coach with a few players at a time is that things like bunt defenses and pick-off moves can be covered early and not just in the few weeks prior to the season opener.

In the off-season, there is school-wide conditioning program and also one that baseball players can use through a cell phone app.

“I give my boys off until after Christmas to hit the weight room,” says Coughenour.

In 2018, the Royals got off to a 1-7 start before finishing 13-15 and tied for second place in its first season as a Mid-Eastern Conference member. Eastern Hancock was the lone MEC school to beat champion Wapahani (1-0 in nine innings in Selma).

The rest of the MEC consists of Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc and Wes-Del. Union did not field a baseball team in 2018.

Before joining the MEC, Eastern Hancock spent a few years as an independent. Before that, the Royals were affiliated with the Mid-Hoosier Conference. Eastern Hancock was in the Big Blue River Conference when it split in 1989.

The Royals are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina, Irvington Prep Academy, Knightstown and Triton Central. Eastern Hancock mugged with the sectional championship hardware for the only time in 1976.

With the help of athletic director Aaron Spaulding, Coughenour builds a strong non-conference schedule.

“We try to find the best competition around,” says Coughenour. “Our sectional is not an easy one.

“We’ve got to be ready for it.”

The Royals play Greenfield-Central, Heritage Christian and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter during the regular season and participates in the John R. Howden Memorial Tournament at Mooresville, which has also featured Indianapolis North Central and Valparaiso. Coughenour gave lessons to John Howden’s son Riley when the latter was in high school.

Eastern Hancock graduated 10 players last spring. Coughenour expects to have 31 in the program for varsity and junior varsity teams for the 2019 season.

“We’ve been growing,” says Coughenour. “My first couple years, we had 23 or 24. In lean years, it was in the mid-teens. The last three years, we’ve had around 30 kids.”

There’s also a middle school team of seventh and eighth graders that play close to 20 games in the spring.

Varsity, JV and middle school squads share the same on-campus field that was christened in 2010. The Royals played all of their 2009 home games at the Bandits Yard in Greenfield, Ind. (now site of Midwest Astros Academy), while the facility was being completed.

Coughenour coached the Bandits 17U team for five summers. He now coaches an Eastern Hancock summer team that plays in the Greenfield-based Babe Ruth travel league.

Those kids play their home games on the same field they occupy with the high school and middle school teams in the spring.

“We teach kids at a young age how to maintain it,” says Coughenour. “Taking care of the field is a habit. They have ownership in it. High school kids help the junior high kids.

“It becomes pretty seamless. It goes back to the service and building the tradition.”

Chad, who works as chief surveyor for the Hancock County Surveyor’s Office, has been married to Tiffany for 20 years. The couple have three daughters — Josie (16), Abigail (14) and Paige (9). Sophomore Josie and eighth grader Abigail attend Greenfield schools. Paige is home-schooled.

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The Coughenours (from left): Paige, Chad, Tammy, Abigail and Josie.

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The Eastern Hancock Royals pray prior to a game a few high school baseball seasons ago.

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Eastern Hancock High School head baseball coach Chad Coughenour (left) gets xxx to slide into third base in a 2018 game against Cowan.

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A.J. Muegge (left) rounds third base as Eastern Hancock High School head baseball coach Chad Coughenour points him toward home during a 2017 game against Knightstown.

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Plymouth’s Wolfe looks for players who are competitive, confident, comfortable

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Wolfe was fiery as a player. He got hot at the beginning of his coaching career.

The flame still flickers to the surface on occasion.

But the Plymouth High School head baseball coach has learned to control the flames a bit with time and experience.

Wolfe graduated from Hamilton High School in northeast Indiana in 2001. He was a four-year varsity player for the Marines, which won the IHSAA Class 1A Bethany Christian Sectional in 2000. He was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-star as senior.

Jim Sanxter was the coach.

A pitcher, Wolfe went on to Manchester College (now Manchester University) and played three seasons for Rick Espeset. The Spartans placed seventh in the 2004 NCAA Division III World Series.

“They had two totally different styles of coaching and both were effective,” says Wolfe of Sanxter and Espeset. “(Sanxter) had a huge influence on me. He was tough. He definitely didn’t go for excuses. He would challenge you and push you and he was very sincere. The more I coach, the more I understand some of the things he did.”

Wolfe came to see in Sanxter a passion and purpose for coaching. Not a teacher, the it was a selflessness that drove the man who coached 30 years, including 18 with Hamilton baseball and passed away in 2014.

“It was how he said things, when he said things and how he reacted to things,” says Wolfe. “I’m humbled to realize I learned from somebody like that.”

A calm demeanor is what Wolfe saw when he observed Espeset, who has led the Manchester program since the 1997 season.

“He had a way of staying even-keeled,” says Wolfe. “I never saw Coach Espeset really get upset.

“You knew he meant business, but he didn’t say it in a brash way. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”

Espeset helped his players understand the intricacies of the game and also gave them freedom.

“He let us learn from failure,” says Wolfe. “That’s what I try to do here. We’re not going to win every ball game.”

Wolfe’s post-game remarks after a Pilgrims loss is very minimal. He doesn’t want to harp on the negative.

“We want to get the kids to understand that baseball is much bigger than wins and losses,” says Wolfe, whose first season at Plymouth was 2013 (he was an assistant to Brian Hooker at Rochester High School in 2012 and head coach at West Central High School 2006-11). “We want competitors.”

Even Pilgrims practices — which generally include all 35 to 40 players in the program — have a competitive component. Players must earn a chance to take batting practice on Bill Nixon Field.

“It’s been phenomenal,” says Wolfe, who began combining squads for practice in 2015. “It brings a sense of unity. Our whole purpose is the same — to develop great young men through the game of baseball.”

Practices are broken into stations and one is devoted to work on routines. That’s how important it is to the Pilgrims.

Taking the teaches of mental conditioning and sports psychology expert Brian Cain, Wolfe and his assistant coaches (Brent Corbett, Kevin Garrity, Brian Schuler and Mitch Bowers) tell the players to “get back to green.”

There are green dots on the bats — a visual device that helps them relax and focus.

“We talk about breathing a lot and keeping our heart rate down,” says Wolfe. “We’re constantly talking about confidence.

“We want them to know their routine because a routine breeds confidence because it makes you comfortable.”

While his assistants hone in on hitting, pitching and fielding skills, Wolfe sees his role to develop his players’ mental sides.

“It’s an aspect of the game that’s left out,” says Wolfe. “We take time out of our day and do that.”

“It’s taken awhile for our kids to understand it’s a part of baseball. They’re high school kids. They don’t know how to handle failure. Are we perfect at it? No way.”

Wolfe and his staff are not trying to cram every player into the same mold.

“We are not cookie cutter,” says Wolfe. “We don’t have every kid hit the same or pitch the same. It’s about learning who you are as a player and what works for you.

“We’re trying to get the kids to take ownership.”

Like many coaches, Wolfe has taken concepts he has learned at clinics and American Baseball Coaches Association conventions and adopted them to the needs of his program.

Justin Dehmer has won multiple state titles in Iowa and has shared his knowledge through his line of 1 Pitch Warrior materials. Plymouth tracks B.A.S.E.2 (Big Inning, Answer Back, Score First, Extend the Lead, Score with 2 Outs, Quality At-Bat System). Wolfe knows that doing three of the five things on the chart often leads to victory.

The Pilgrims are looking for a K.O. — knocking the starting pitcher out by the fourth inning.

Other incentives are the Hit Stick (one each for varsity and junior varsity) and MVP jersey, which players can earn from game to game following a victory. Get the jersey the most times during the season — as voted on by the team — and that player is the season MVP.

“We’ve got to win to get anything,” says Wofle. “There’s nothing if we lose.”

Wolfe and his staff have crunched the numbers and witness enough success to be believers in their methods.

“This stuff does work,” says Wolfe.

Plymouth plays a double round robin in the Northern Lakes Conference (which also includes Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Warsaw and Wawasee) with games played Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

NorthWood went 14-0 in 2017, taking a pair of 1-0 wins against the Pilgrims. The game at Plymouth pitted NWHS senior Drake Gongwer against PHS sophomore Cam Dennie and was a classic.

“That’s one of the best high school baseball games I’ve ever seen,” says Wofle. “(The NLC) is very competitive. I like the format. In my five years, I have not seem the same pitcher start both games very often.”

Dennie is already verbally committed to Arizona State University, something he did before the 2017 season after showing well in Prep Baseball Report underclassmen games.

Wolfe sees it as his responsibility to engage in the recruiting process.

“I try to make as many connections as I can with college coaches around the area,” says Wolfe. “But I’m going to be honest with (players, parents and college coaches).

“I teach kids there’s a lot of levels of college baseball. You’ve got to show initiative and work hard in the class room also.”

Indiana alone has 38 programs — nine in NCAA Division I, three in NCAA Division II, nine in NCAA Division III, 14 in NAIA and three in junior college.

Wolfe, who also teaches social studies at PHS, lets his players and coaches know what is being sought by college coaches. He wants them to closely assess their situation and pay attention to the intangibles. On-base percentage and pitching velocity are easy to gauge.

But can they handle the grind of college baseball?

What kind if student are they?

What kind of teammate are they?

“These are the kinds of things we want here,” says Wolfe. “I have some of the longest parent meetings of all-time. But I try to be upfront.

“I don’t want to discourage kids from having those aspirations. I want them to reach their own potential and not compare themselves to other kids. You are who you are. It goes back to taking ownership of what you can do to reach that potential.”

Money has been raised to upgrade the playing surface at Bill Nixon Field, a facility named for the IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach. Wolfe says that project is to go forward after the 2018 season.

Tyler Wolfe — Ryan’s brother — really excelled at D-III Manchester and holds school pitching records for career wins, strikeouts, innings pitched and complete games.

Ryan and wife Tara Wolfe have two boys — fifth grader Preston and fourth grader Parker.

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Ryan Wolfe, a graduate of Hamilton High School and Manchester University, is entering his sixth season as head baseball coach at Plymouth High School.

 

Discipline, structure part of Nielsen’s Concord program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Regimented and respectful.

Those are concepts Eric Nielsen is establishing in his second season as Concord High School head baseball coach.

“I’m very structured,” says Nielsen, who followed the retiring Jim Treadway as leader of the Minutemen. “All our practices are planned out. We have times and we stick to those times. Guys hustle everywhere they go. We’re very disciplined and are going to play the game the right way. I teach them to respect the game. There’s no trash talking at all. I’m big on body language.”

It’s taken some time, but players are starting to come around to Nielsen’s way of doing things.

“You are starting to see people buying into that,” says Nielsen. “They know what’s expected. Seniors will get on guys if they are not doing things the right way. That’s less that I have to do because that expectation is there.”

Nielsen was an all-state catcher at Elkhart Memorial High School, graduating in 2004. He went to be a regular behind the plate at Purdue University. His first high school head coaching stops came at Mt. Vernon (Fortville) and Knightstown before he moved back to north central Indiana.

Along the way, he has learned how to read his young athletes.

“I’ve learned really well how to manage the players,” says Nielsen. “I think that’s why (Chicago Cubs manager) Joe Maddon is so good at what he does. He’s not managing baseball, he’s managing people. In the olden days with (LaPorte coach) Ken Schreiber, it was this is the way it is and if you don’t like it ‘see ya!’ It was hard-nosed and it was tough.”

And while Nielsen considers himself a traditional, hard-nosed guy, he knows he has to motivate in a different way and keep his players engaged.

“If you know the game of baseball and you can build relationships, you’re going to be very successful, pending you have the talent,” says Nielsen. “I’ve seen teams that have the talent but they never go anywhere because they are so done with the season by the time the state tournament comes around. They’re cashed out.”

A syndrome that baseball and other spring sports face is a loss of focus because it’s the end of the school year. For 12th graders, they call it “senioritis.” But other grades — and even coaches — can get it, too.

Nielsen insists on holding out a carrot for his players.

“You’ve got to have them chasing something,” says Nielsen. “If you don’t, they’re going let up.

“How do you intrinisically motivate the player to want to compete? I tell them to get caught up in the process, don’t get caught up in the results.

“If I can get the process important to them then the results will come. If the process is not important to them, they don’t want to compete and there’s no reason for them to put in everything they have, you’re going to get that apathy.”

Nielsen looks at his 2017 team and sees pitching depth. At least nine of 12 varsity players can take the mound.

“The hard part is finding out who is my No. 1 and No. 2, who’s my best reliever,” says Nielsen. “We’re still in the process of finding that out.”

Along with pitching coach Mike McGregor, Nielsen looks at pitchers not only in terms of physical talent but what’s happening between the ears.

“We’re trying to teach mental toughness on the mound,” says Nielsen. “If we can have guys that will compete, saying ‘I’m going to strike this guy out.’ Even if they don’t, they are going to distinguish themselves from the rest of the players.”

What about the new pitch count rule?

“I thought it was going to be a bigger issue than it has been,” says Nielsen. “I traditionally don’t have guys throw that much anyway. I don’t push the 120 spot. As long as they’re under 80, I know how many days they need off.

“I thought I’d be juggling a lot. It hasn’t been too bad.”

Nielsen said the pitch count rule will likely be more of an issue during the IHSAA tournament series than the regular season.

“People are going to watch that really close,” says Nielsen.

Concord spends plenty of time at its regimented practices on “small ball.” The Minutemen work on moving runners with the bunt.

“We don’t have anybody on the team we can rely on to hit the long ball yet,” says Nielsen.

Something that Nielsen established in his first season at Concord was an Armed Forces Day (Concord Baseball Armed Forces Day on Facebook). It was such a hit, the Minutemen will be pay tribute to those who have served Saturday, May 6 when South Bend Adams visits for a 10 a.m. game.

Father Scott Nielsen (Army during Vietnam era) and grandfather Bob Burns (Air Force during World War II) and assistant coach Jason Paulson (Marines) are all people close to Nielsen with military ties.

As a social studies teacher at CHS, he also gets a chance to tell students about the importance of the military.

“It’s good to show the kids what these guys are doing day in and day out for our country and show them appreciation for the sacrifices that they make and have made for our freedom,” says Nielsen, whose other assistants are Sean Sears and Nic Minder.

The Minutemen compete in the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). The double round robin NLC race began this week.

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Eric Nielsen, a 2004 Elkhart Memorial High School graduate, is in his second season as head baseball coach at Concord High School. He was a catcher at Purdue University.