By STEVE KRAH
Greenfield-Central stood toe-to-toe with the team that went on to go undefeated and hoist the 2017 IHSAA Class 4A state championship trophy.
A 1-0 eight-inning loss to Indianapolis Cathedral in last season’s Decatur Central Regional semifinals is enough for the toes of GC players to hit the floor early while preparing for 2018.
“I’ve got 30 kids coming in at 5:45 in the morning,” says Greenfield-Central head coach Robbie Miller. “It’s the only time we can get the gym. That shows how dedicated they are.
“I demand a lot of them. After last year, they see the rewards when we put the time in.
“We can’t just be happy getting there. We’ve got to expect to be there every year. We’ve got to be able to compete at that level to get to the ultimate prize.”
Cougars right-hander Drey Jameson did not allow a hit while striking out 14 over the first seven innings against Cathedral. But the ace bound for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and a spot on the Ball State University roster hit the new pitch limit of 120 and had to leave the mound.
The Irish plated the winning run on a Jake Andriole single with two outs in the top of the eighth. Cathedral went on top Roncalli, Columbus North and Penn on the way to a 29-0 record and a 4A state crown.
“Baseball is a game of inches,” says Miller of the narrow loss to Cathedral. “We had a guy on third base and one out in the bottom of the sixth and our guy hit a one-hop shot to the shortstop. If it’s an inch one way or another we win the ball game in seven innings.”
Miller, who enters his fourth season as GC head coach in 2018, is always talking to his players about high expectations.
Miller’s message: “Everyday you walk on the field it’s a battle. You’ve got to expect to win every time you take the field. You can’t just show up and win. You’ve got to expect and play to win the game.”
A 1997 New Palestine High School graduate who played baseball for coach Lance Marshall at Franklin College, Miller joined the GC coaching staff in 2001. He took two years off just before taking over as head coach.
Miller’s first stint as a varsity assistant at Greenfield-Central came with C.J. Glander. He was a straight shooter with his players and Miller operates the same way.
“You have to be honest with kids and call a spade a spade,” says Miller. “That’s how I look at. It seems that the kids respect that.”
Before and after each season, Miller meets one-on-one with all the players in the program and talks to them about their roles for the coming season or how the just-completed season went.
“Sometimes they like what they hear. Sometimes they don’t like what they hear,” says Miller. “But I’m not going to be one of those that’s going sugarcoat anything with them.”
The 2017 team was filled with players who understood and accepted their roles.
Miller embraces “small ball” and and “quality at-bats” and wants his players to buy into the team concept. The 2017 Cougars went 18-11 while hitting just .245 as squad.
“When we get a sacrifice bunt down, I want everyone in the dugout to go and give him ‘five,’’ says Miller. “He just gave away his at-bat for his team to help us move a runner.
“You should be happy going 0-for-4 and winning vs. going 4-for-4 and losing. That’s about being a team.”
An eight-pitch at-bat that results in a strikeout is still considered a quality at-bat. So is moving the runner with a grounder to the right side of the infield.
Miller also spent one summer coaching with the Indiana Bulls travel organization and a staff that included Glander and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dennis Kas.
“(Kas) used to say that baseball is a game of when. When do you get the hit? When do you make the error?
“People have got to understand that. It’s OK not to have the .500 batting average. I’d rather they hit .280 with 40 RBIs.”
Miller wants his athletes to hold each other accountable.
“If a person next to you is taking a play off, you need to yell at them,” says Miller. “You can do it in a respectful way. But you need to tell them to get their act together.
“Some of the best teams I played on, we were ready to fight. When practice or the game was over, we were best friends.”
While Jameson has moved on and the 2018 Cougars will have plenty of underclassmen with pitching talent, the expectations have not been lowered. Besides that, GC will be defending sectional champions (GC reigned at Pendleton Heights in 2017) and a target to the teams on their schedule.
“It comes with the territory,” says Miller. “I’m trying to get the program from ‘Yay, we played Greenfield!’ to ‘Oh no, we play Greenfield!’”
The Class of 2018 is small but Miller appreciates the leadership. Catcher Braxton Turner is drawing collegiate interest.
Miller’s 2018 assistants will include Mark Vail (former Eastern Hancock head coach), Harold Gibson (father of Minnesota Twins pitcher and 2006 GC graduate Kyle Gibson), Brent Turner and Brandon Plavka. Others are expected to join the staff. Miller says the Cougars could field varsity, junior varsity and freshman/C-teams this spring.
Greenfield-Central belongs to the Hoosier Heritage Conference (along with Delta, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).
The Cougars are grouped in a 4A sectional with Anderson, Connersville, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, Muncie Central, Pendleton Heights and Richmond.
All-time, GC has won 13 sectionals and one regional (2006) and are looking for their first semistate and state titles.
Fenway Park in Boston has it’s “Green Monster.” Molinder Field at Greenfield-Central has a smaller version. The 22-foot high barrier which is about 305 feet from home plate down the left field line was recently re-furbished.
Because of a road down the left field line, the dimensions of the field can’t be expanded to any great extent.
“Anyone who comes there is going to try to hit it over the wall,” says Miller. “We’re trying to get them change their approach at the plate. It just puts a different touch on it. Before, it was just a chain link fence.”
Feeder programs for the high school include Greenfield Youth Baseball Association and travel organizations including two with operations in town — the Indiana Bandits (started by Harold Gibson in 1996) and the Midwest Astros Academy (which established a training facility in Greenfield last fall).
There are also seventh and eighth grade baseball teams at Greenfield-Central Junior High School.
Robbie Miller enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at Greenfield-Central High School in 2018. The 2017 Cougars won the IHSAA Class 4A Decatur Central Sectional. (Steve Krah Photo)