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Traina building team chemistry with Merrillville Pirates

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

Joe Traina has three main points of emphasis as the new head baseball coach at alma mater Merrillville (Ind.) High School — commitment, playing together and team chemistry.
“We’re making sure we’re there everyday,” says Traina, who was born in Merrillville, graduated from MHS in 2013 and has been teaching and coaching in the school system since 2017-18. “We were not weightlifting and conditioning very much. We have a strength and conditioning coach at Merrillville now (Brady Willard) so they can lift even when I’m not around.”
There is a text group chat that keeps the team communicating and Traina emphasizes staying in constant touch with parents.
Team chemistry is built through activities that require athletes coordinating to accomplish a goal.
Paul Wirtz was Pirates head coach when Traina joined the staff. Wirtz instituted “Animal Kingdom” workouts where there were stations for throwing, baserunning, conditioning etc., and teamwork was necessary.
Traina has had his athletes doing the same.
“They have to work step by step together to accomplish the goal,” says Traina. “That’s going make us a much stronger team.”
Merrillville (enrollment around 2,100) is a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference (with Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso).
The Pirates are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side, Hammond Central, Hammond Morton, Hobart, Lake Central and Munster. Merrillville has won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2001. The Pirates were state runner-up in 1996.
Traina, who has taught at Merrillville Intermediate, Clifford Pierce Middle School and now Biology for freshmen at Merrillville High, was a junior varsity assistant to Connor Buxton then a varsity assistant when Buxton became head coach at Merrillville.
When Buxton stepped away Traina became head coach over the summer.
“It’s been a career goal to be the head of a program,” says Traina, 28. “I want to turn things around.”
The Pirates went 8-15 overall and 3-9 in the DAC in 2022.
Traina’s coaching staff counts Jose Carbajol as varsity assistant, Terrance Grayson as JV head coach and Juan Maldonado as JV assistant.
Merrillville started middle school baseball workouts at Bill Metcalf Field in July and games were played in the fall with Traina as head coach. High school players helped out.
“They were like bench coaches,” says Traina.
The first game was at Hanover Central, where Wirtz was serving as middle school coach.
Traina says the plan is for middle school baseball to continue as a fall sport.
Noting that Merrillville Little League no longer exists, Traina wants to work his way down the youth baseball ladder while building a feeder system for his program.
“We want to make sure kids have the opportunity to be exposed to the sport and get better,” says Traina. “We want to put a stop to getting pushed further behind (in development).”
Traina expects to have a young squad in 2023 with freshmen on the varsity.
Among the older players with college baseball aspirations are seniors Colin Early and Robert Richardson, who played both play varsity as freshmen, and junior Josh Magallon.
Pirates moving on to the college diamond since Traina has been coaching include Class of 2018’s Max Govert (Indiana University South Bend), Class of 2019’s Maldonado (Indiana Tech), Brandon Lucero (Earlham College) and Sven Strom (Saint Xavier University) and Class of 2021’s Dylan Coty (junior college).
Traina’s summer maintenance job includes taking care of the baseball field, where recent projects have included fixing the bullpens, adding dirt to mounds, turf to plate areas and dugout racks.
Traina played at Merrillville for Mark Schellinger.
“He’s one of the my favorite teachers and coaches,” says Traina of Schellinger. “When I got this job he reached out to offer any help I need. That meant a lot coming from a guy who had my back for four years here.”
He played at Merrillville Little League then travel ball for the Dave Griffin-led Indiana Playmakers then an Indianapolis-based team called the Indiana Irish. His parents — Frank Sr., and Michele — saw that he was shuttled two hours to Indy every week so he could have a new baseball experience and meet new people.
“I can’t thank them enough,” says Joe, the youngest of three children.
Frank Traina Sr., is retired from Siemens as an electronic engineer. Michele Traina is a school nurse secretary.
Ashley (Traina) Kendera (Merrillville Class of 2006) played softball for the Pirates, graduated from Ball State and now works as a page designer for The Times of Northwest Indiana. Her husband, Jason Kendera, is a former Merrillville girls soccer coach.
Frank Traina Jr., (Merrillville Class of 2010) played soccer and was a baseball manager for the Pirates during the Schellinger era. He now works as a bank teller.
After high school, Joe Traina went to Ball State University where he was a Sport Administration major and Coaching minor.
“I always wanted to go down the athletic director route,” says Traina, who got transition to teaching credentials through Calumet College of Saint Joseph. “Once I was in the classroom I decided to stick with teaching.”
He is also the head eighth grade boys basketball coach at Clifford Pierce.

Joe Traina. (Merrillville High School Photo)

IHSBCA coaches give opinions on IHSAA class baseball, tournament format

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

Has it really been a generation since Indiana widely adopted high school class sports?
Of course there were classes in football going back to the 1970s, but check the records and you will find that 1996-97 (when Jasper outlasted Carmel 10-8 for the IHSAA baseball championship) was the last year that other sports were in the all-comers category at state tournament time.
With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away the 2020 spring season, that makes 2023 the 25th year of class baseball in the Hoosier State.
In the multi-class era, 56 different schools have won state baseball championships.
Of that number, only Jasper, LaPorte and Penn earned titles prior to 1997-98.
There are 22 schools with multiple state runner-up finishes. That accounts for 60 red ribbons — all but 12 coming from 1997-98 forward.
Noting that some schools came about in recent years because of consolidation, unification or other reasons, those that won their first sectional championship during the multi-class era include 4A’s Elkhart (2021), Evansville Harrison (1999), Fishers (2017), Fort Wayne South Side (2012) and Michigan City (2002), 3A’s Angola (1999), Charlestown (1999) and Hamilton Heights (2006), 2A’s Austin (2002), Central Noble (2009), Clinton Central (2005), Covenant Christian of Indianapolis (2008), Delphi (2008), Fairfield (1998), Hanover Central (2011), Heritage Christian (2005), Illiana Christian (2022), Lewis Cass (2000), North Decatur (2011), Parke Heritage (2021), Sheridan (2004), South Knox (2004), Southwestern of Hanover (1999), Southwood (1999), Taylor (1998), Triton Central (2003), Whitko (2017) and Woodlan (2005) and 1A’s Argos (1998), Bethesda Christian (2008), Caston (2012), Christian Academy of Indiana (2004), Cowan (2004), Daleville (1999), Edinburgh (2009), Elkhart Christian (2013), Eminence (2005), Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian (2001), Fort Wayne Canterbury (2009), Greenwood Christian (2014), Hauser (2004), Henryville (1999), Indianapolis Lutheran (2017), Kouts (1998), Marquette Catholic (2002), Milan (1999), Monroe Central (2001), Morgan Township (2004), Morristown (1998), New Washington (1998), Northeast Dubois (1998), North Miami (2019), Oldenburg Academy (2003), Park Tudor (1998), Pioneer (2016), Randolph Southern (2010), Rising Sun (2002), Seton Catholic (2011), South Central of Elizabeth (2005), Southwestern of Shelbyville (1999), Tecumseh (2000), Traders Point Christian (2021), Trinity Lutheran (2009), Triton (2000), Washington Township (1999), Union City (2012), University (2012), Waldron (2001), West Washington (2021), White River Valley (2017) and Whiting (2008).
A quarter century in, there are still plenty of opinions in the Indiana high school baseball community about the system.
These questions were posed to several coaches around Indiana:

  • Is class baseball a positive or a negative?
  • Who benefits the most from class baseball?
  • If you could change anything about class baseball what would that be?
  • Anything else you’d like to say on the subject?

Some of the responses:

BRIAN ABBOTT (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Executive Director and IHSBCA Hall of Famer)

“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has allowed schools of all sizes to be recognized and have some success at the state level while increasing fan interest in our sport. The players and the communities truly benefit the most from class baseball, in my opinion.
“The IHSAA does a great job of administering the state tournament and ending each year at Victory Field allows our sport to be showcased on a big stage! However, the tournament format itself needs to be addressed, especially at the sectional level, and we can’t continue in a ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter format. Our sport is different than others and our tournament format needs to reflect that. Seeding, success factor, and travel also need to be looked at in light of the fact(s) that class sports are here to stay and there are geographical constraints/factors based on the location of the school(s).
“Baseball in general is changing for the better in Indiana … the IHSBCA and the IHSAA need to continue to work together on formats/philosophies/participation guidelines that foster growth in our sport and develop a mutual relationship where everyone’s input is valued. We, the IHSBCA, have several ideas to share about the state tournament format/setup and how we can better grow our sport, in general. We are all stronger when we are working together and my goal as the Executive Director is to help facilitate positive changes that will grow our sport and unify our coaches at the same time.”

DAN AMBROSE (Heritage Christian head coach)

“(Class baseball) is a positive.
“I assume that smaller schools are more likely to benefit so they play teams that are more competitive. 
“I would support adding a fifth ‘super class’ of the largest schools and then balance the rest of the four classes.”

PATRICK ANTONE (Former Boone Grove and Columbus North and current Roncalli head coach)

“Class baseball is definitely a positive thing. It levels the playing field for teams when it comes to player depth and facilities. 
“For example, a school with an enrollment of 2,200 has a lot more players to work with and pull from than a school with an enrollment of 300. Both teams can be good and have good players, but the bigger school is very likely going to have more depth. The smaller school is likely to have one really good pitcher where the bigger school is likely to have two, or even three really good pitchers. As a result, the bigger school would have a big advantage in the sectional and regional.
“The other way it levels the playing field is when it comes to facilities. Bigger schools tend to have nicer facilities to train and practice in during the off-season where some schools, usually the smaller ones, don’t have anything close to the facilities of larger schools. Many schools either can’t get access to the facilities they have during the off-season because other in-season teams are using them for practice or games, or they just don’t have the facilities or space period.
“It can put teams at a big competitive disadvantage when they can’t train or practice the way they want to and need to during the off-season, and I think class baseball helps in this regard because schools that have similar enrollments tend to have similar facilities. 
“Everyone benefits from class baseball. The smaller schools obviously because of what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question, but also the larger schools. When you’re competing for anything, let alone a state championship, you want it to really mean something and be a challenge. It’s what competing is all about. It’s not going to mean as much when a school with an enrollment of 2,200 plus kids goes up against a school with an enrollment of 300 plus kids and beats them in a sectional or regional. They should be able to do that again referring back to what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question.
“Not only would they win but they wouldn’t have to throw their No. 1 pitcher to do so and would have them available for the next game, where the smaller school would likely need to throw their best pitcher in that situation. And if they did win, do they have a pitcher that could compete and win against another team with a large enrollment…not likely.
“There are two things I would change about class baseball, and one of them is being talked about right now. First, I would seed the postseason. It’s frustrating when you have teams that have done really well during the regular season and they meet in the first or second round of the sectional, and there are teams that didn’t fair as well in the regular season getting a bye in the first round and/or playing another team that didn’t do as well in the early rounds.
“It’s something I feel wouldn’t be too difficult to do or set up and it would make the postseason better and provide even more meaning to the regular season. I like that everyone makes the postseason because you can have something happen with injuries and get a player back, or a team hasn’t quite figured things out yet but later in the year they do and are still in it.
“But, there needs to be something in place for teams that do better in the regular season. I think seeding the sectional would be really good for Indiana high school baseball.
“The other thing I would change is going from four classes to five classes. Again, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned previously. Many times there’s such a large gap between the teams in 4A. I think going to five classes would help this and it’s something the IHSBCA and IHSAA are talking about and looking into.
“The success factor has worked well and is set up well. How they have it set up is good and I think it’s accomplishing what they wanted it to.”

RYAN BERRYMAN (Former Northwestern and current Western head coach)

“There’s no doubt that class sports have provided more opportunities for athletes, coaches, schools, and communities by creating a level of fairness with classified state tournaments. I understand the traditional approach of one class and experienced it as a player as we advanced to the semistate finals as a small school (at Western) in ’93 and ’94. But as a coach, the class system allows for accomplished small school teams to aspire to be state champions instead of hoping to win a sectional in a one class system.
“All stakeholders of a school’s baseball program (benefit most from class baseball). Having ranked teams and winning championships builds a greater sense of tradition within communities and raises interest amongst school children, faculty, and administration. Players and coaches benefit from the sense of accomplishment by developing a highly competitive team within a post-season setting.
“I would make the tradition factor a four-year stay in an elevated class — not just two years. Those who are state champion caliber teams seem to continue to dominate the current landscape. Also, if a team moves up in class and wins a sectional, regional, etc., a system needs to be created to keep them in that class because they are showing the ability to compete.
“We need to restructure our tournament. Six-team sectionals and format need to be uniformed. Only the sectional final should be played on Memorial Day. We’d have two-team regionals, four-team semistates and seed the tournament.
“We are the only sport that, based on pitching restrictions (pitch counts and days rest) and may not have our best lineup on the field in a championship setting. Too many sectional championships are decided by Team 1’s ace dominating vs Team 2’s bullpen because of weather, graduation or the draw. Basketball will always have their point guard.”

DAVE BISCHOFF (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and New Haven head coach)

“There have been a lot of positives (with class baseball). There have been some very good smaller schools that have gotten the chance to experience state tourney runs that might not have happened in areas where there were perennial large school programs had too much depth for the smaller schools. I think that has been a good thing for Indiana high school baseball. 
“Small schools with open enrollments and the ability to reach out from beyond what would be considered a normal attendance area have done extremely well (in class baseball). This, however, is not entirely the fault of class sports. Open enrollment and increased club and travel athletic teams have opened up a whole different experience for high school athletes today.
“High school athletes are far more likely to travel further, meet and become friends with new teammates outside of their own school in the off-season and subsequently more likely to travel further away to attend a school of their choice. In a way I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, that choice often comes with a greater financial obligation and not all athletes and their families can afford to do so. Smaller schools have benefited in some areas directly. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the class sports, it’s the trend and we aren’t going to a one-class tourney.”

RYAN BUNNELL (Westfield head coach)

“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. At times, schools being up a class or down a class will dictate how successful they can be.
“The smaller schools probably benefit most (from class baseball). Winning a sectional would be a huge feat for a small school (during the one-class era). I know it was for us (at Northwestern) when we played in the sectional with Kokomo).
“There’s talk of the IHSAA going to a five-class system. I’d probably be in favor of that. If you’re going to do class might as well break it up a little more.
“How are sectionals are being distributed and seeding of the tournament would take much more priority over how many classes there are.
“Let’s set up a season where the regular season is more meaningful and the better teams are meeting at the end (with semistate- and state-caliber games at those stages rather than at the sectional level).
“I like the way Ohio (has seeded). The way I understand it, teams have been ranked off their MaxPreps ranking. Head coaches have a meeting. If you’re ranked No. 1 you pick your sectional. If you’re No. 2 you pick your sectional and you’re probably not going to put themselves in the same sectional as the No. 1 team.”

JAKE BURTON (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former McCutcheon, North Newton and current Twin Lakes head coach)

“(On the positive side,) class baseball provides more kids, coaches, and communities an opportunity to be a state champion. (On the negative side,) prior to class baseball we were used to minimal travel. We’ve also lost the local rivalries because of class baseball. 
“Good smaller programs who were fundamentally sound yet they usually didn’t have the pitching to advance deep into the tournament (benefit most from class baseball).
“I would place all private schools into Class 4A or 2A. The success factor has helped every two years, but you still have those schools who dominate every two years they move down.
“I’ve coached at the 4A and 3A level and even though I am at a 3A school, I would still rather compete against local rivalry teams rather than class baseball. However, we will never return to a one class system and I understand why!”

MATTHEW CHERRY (Fishers head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive and helps balance the playing field. Since I’ve been coaching, I believe all but just a few schools that have made the State Finals in 4A are in the top 32 in enrollment in the state. 
“Baseball is a game where you are not always putting your best 9 or best team on the field depending on pitching rotation and availability of arms. 
“The larger enrollment typically means there are more available players trying out, which creates a greater opportunity to development quality depth in your pitching staff. That is one advantage that bigger schools have. So, the idea of class baseball helps to control some of the variables on both sides of the field. It is not perfect, but it is a way to try and help control some of the unique variables that are different in baseball than other sports.
“I believe the top half of each class benefits the most from class baseball, especially at the 3A and 4A levels because the range of enrollment is so much bigger from the smallest school to biggest school in those classes.  The range in enrollment in 1A and 2A is much closer from top to bottom. 
“I don’t really want to go down this path, but the private schools also benefit from class baseball, especially in 1A, 2A, and often 3A. Private schools are not limited to school district lines and are able to draw from a wider range of students compared to the smaller enrollment schools in 1A and 2A.
“Not really answering the question, but if I could change anything about the IHSAA tournament, I would make the regular season matter and seed the tournament (or at least seed the teams that feed into the regionals). 
“You might not be in the same sectional each year if you are seeded from the regional level. I would also create double-elimination rounds at the different levels (sectional, regional, etc.). Similar to the thought above that you are not always putting your best team on the field depending on pitcher availability, a double-elimination tournament would help to insure the best team advances and not just the team with the best pitcher and the best blind draw.
“Classes need to be set by a specific enrollment range and not try to keep every class the same size. I would add a fifth or even a sixth class and set the range for the enrollment so that each school in the class is close to the same enrollment size. If that means that one class only has 32 teams, another class has 48, another class has 64, and another class has 96, then that is what should be done and would help make the tournament as fair as possible.”

JOE DECKER (Silver Creek head coach)

“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. It has given a lot of smaller schools a chance to be successful and show some of these coaches at smaller schools can really coach.
“Smaller schools definitely benefit the most (from class baseball). Some of the teams that have won state championships would never make it out of their sectionals if we were one class.
Nothing against them but when schools have 2,000 students to pick from they are going to have a lot more athletes and in the sports that require more players like baseball and football that makes a big difference.
“(I favor putting) private schools in their own class. I think they have such a huge advantage. Not because they recruit or anything like that, but they tend to get the players that are more apt and able to do the extra things such as lessons, travel ball, etc.
“Overall (class) been good for sports in Indiana. I know Silver Creek has won three state championships in boys and girls basketball in the past four years and made we have made some long runs in baseball. Not sure we would have been able to do that in one class. If you ask any of those kids that were on the state championship team and I am sure they could care less whether it was one class or four.”

GREG DIKOS (IHSBCA Hall of Famer at Penn head coach)

“I have no issues with class baseball. I like competing against other schools my size because they have the same issues (positive and negative) that I have.
“(Class baseball) definitely helps the smaller schools being able to compete against other schools their own size.  
“Baseball is a sport where a dominant pitcher can have a great bearing on the game. I remember playing Bremen in the semistate in ’94. (John Glenn head coach) John Naldony has had some very good teams that can compete against larger schools.
“As far as changes, a double-elimination sectional would be interesting.  I am not sure if a five-class baseball system could accommodate that.”

BRIAN DUDLEY (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and Wapahani head coach)

“Wapahani is in favor of class sports. I believe it makes sports a more even playing field. We won the state in 2014 in 2A, that would not have happened if there was one class.
“Our girls volleyball just won state, which is a big deal for small communities, they lost to Yorktown twice and HSE (Class 4A finalists) all were sweeps and not really close.
“Even though our team in 2014 and our girls last week were very good, competing against the bigger schools in the tournament would be very difficult. That being said, our State Championships are still a very big deal for our community, school, and students.
“Therefore, class sports are a positive. As little league participation in small communities keep losing kids to travel ball and other activities small school numbers are seeing less kids playing baseball and softball unless they have a successful program which is a minority. 
“Small schools at least feel like they have a chance to win in the tournament and maybe even a state championship when they are playing schools close to their same size. Very few 1A or 2A teams can compete in the tournament with the bigger schools, once they realize that kids quit playing or go to another sport where they might have a chance to win. 
“The current format is fine for the tournament. Adding additional classes or a class would benefit big schools only in my opinion.
Four classes has been a success. Can you tweak things? Maybe. But why change if it is not broken?”

DAVE GINDER (Fort Wayne Carroll head coach)

“I like the one-class system but also know that class sports are not going anywhere so we can take the positives from it and live with it.
“It is probably the small class schools and communities that benefit the most as they typically have a greater opportunity to advance when playing similar size schools.
“Class sports are here to stay so one change I’d like to see for baseball would be the tournament run in some way that has a series feel to it as baseball is not a sport that is suited for a ‘one and done’ tournament.”

TERRY GOBERT (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and Jasper head coach)

“I’m fine with class sports but concerned about the impact of some private and parochial schools that seem to put great emphasis on athletic success which can make it difficult for public schools to compete on an annual basis.
“Class sports are here to stay but this situation and the number of transfers at public schools are the next challenges for the IHSAA.”

DAVE GOODMILLER (Norwell head coach)

“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has created more excitement for more schools and their fans. 
“Probably the smaller schools feel as if they have a better chance to experience sectional and regional championships than when it was one class. 
“The only drawback (in class baseb all) I could see is you may have farther travel but in your sectional pairings than when it was one class. When I played in the single class, your sectional would be more local. It would have teams of various sizes, but we seemed have greater rivalries because many times you played against those teams in the regular season or against those players in your summer leagues. 
“As a coach today, I want to play the best schools we can (no matter the size). I want to prepare ourselves for our conference and sectional. When I was a player, we wanted to be able to compete with Logansport, Kokomo, Marion and LaPorte. Today, we want to compete with Andrean, Jasper, Brebeuf and Southridge.”

KEVIN HANNON (Knox head coach)

“(Class baseball) is a positive. I witnessed first-hand what the state tournament does in small communities. The student-athletes have a more balanced playing field.
“The benefits go to the teams that advance the furthest in the tourney.  Without class baseball a 1A could defeat a 3A or 4A school in the tournament on a given day. However, in most cases those smaller schools don’t have the depth, especially with pitchers.
“We are at the point that we need to look at the number of classes. I would be in favor of adding a fifth class. The current disparity in school sizes is extremely large in the upper class. With the growth and addition of smaller, private schools, other mid-size schools are being bumped up.  
“The biggest problem facing our tournament currently is the number of schools in the sectionals. Host schools have roughly a week to host a sectional tournament. 
“Depending on your sectional, you could have anywhere from 5-8 teams in that sectional. Huge difference between five and eight. In a five-team sectional the winning team would have to win two or at most three games, and could possibly do that with two pitchers. In an eight-team sectional, the winning team would have to win three games and would possibly need three if not four pitchers in that 5-7 day window for the games.”

ERIK HISNER (Former Whitko and current Eastern of Greentown head coach and athletic director)

“(Class baseball) is a positive. It levels the playing field for all schools, especially the ones that are not in that top quarter or so.
“The smaller schools and even the medium-sized schools benefit the most.
“The thing that football did with the Top 32 (being in the largest or super class), I’d like to see that in the other sports. There are different things you could do with the other four (in a five-class system). You could divide it up evenly. There’s been discussion of capping 1A at 128. There’s a big discrepancy right now between the bottom of 4A and the top of 4A.
“(The Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) has talked about running data and see how people would fall. There would not be (an) equal (amount of) schools in every class. We’re still in the process of gathering information. The IHSAA was at our last two athletic directors conferences and present for those discussions.”

JOHN HUEMMER (Mishawaka head coach)

“Class baseball will have a positive effect on high school baseball. I think that it levels the playing field for the state tournament. Also, having class baseball will allow more schools the opportunity to earn a state title just like with football’s six classes.   
“I believe that the smaller schools will benefit.”
“It would be fun to see all state title teams play in a small tournament to see who is the best of all of the classes.”
“Even with the change to class baseball, there are very good teams at each class level. It will still not be an easy road to get the opportunity to play at Victory Field.”

DENNIS KAS (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former Clinton Prairie and Noblesville head coach and current Lafayette Jeff assistant coach)

“Had class sports been in place (when I was at Clinton Prairie) I may have never left. One of the things class sports does is that you can achieve everything positive you want to achieve from a goals standpoint.
“Class sports kind of levels the playing field during the state tournament.
I had some terrific teams back at Prairie. In five years, we won two sectionals.
“A disadvantage for class sports is that when you get to a bigger school like Noblesville there’s no ceiling on the enrollment.
“Believe it or not once we went to class sports Noblesville had the smallest enrollment in our sectional at 1,250 (Clinton Prairie was around 300).
“If I were at Clinton Prairie I’d welcome it as a smaller school. I might have one really good pitcher that could help me compete against anybody, but in most years would have a drop-off in pitching depth.
“At Noblesville — a larger school — I have the chance to have more depth.
In baseball it always comes down to pitching. You can be good in a lot of areas of the game. If you have a question on the mound you’re going to struggle.”

DARIN KAUFFMAN (Fairfield head coach)

There’s positives and negatives for everything, but it’s good for baseball to have class.
“If we expand to another class it’s going to be even better. It makes everyone feel like they have a chance. If you’ve got the right group of guys you can win.
“At the State Finals you see a difference between the 1A game and 4A game. The lineups are deeper at the bigger level. The 4A game is little more of a college game than a high school game.
“The smaller schools probably benefit more (in class baseball) than the bigger schools).
“In baseball, it’s how the pitching lines up.
“I like how Iowa does it. They don’t start baseball until the end of April and their tournament’s in July. I don’t know if that will ever happen here.”

JUSTIN KEEVER (Noblesville head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive (but classification should be addressed) … The number of schools in each class doesn’t need to be the same.
“Breakdown of each class needs to be more than an arbitrary enrollment number. There needs to be thought into why the lines of demarcation are made (spread, standard deviations, range). Athletic department size (percentage of the student body participating in each sport should be used for classes) could be used to determine classes.
“Many large schools have very small baseball programs. Some small schools have very large baseball programs in terms of numbers. The class system should be used to place a school into its appropriate level of competition, not just for the number of students that attend a school. There are many other variables to consider.”

KEVIN KINNISON (Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian head coach)

“I don’t know if (class baseball) is a positive or a negative per say. I played when there wasn’t any classes and I think the class system has taken away for the local rivalries. Now depending on your class and the location of your sectional, you may have to travel up to an hour to play in sectionals, although more teams have the opportunity to win a state championship, a win over a neighborhood rival might mean more, bragging rights.
“There are eight teams every year who have the opportunity to play in a state championship game so that’s a benefit (to class baseball). More players, coaches, and schools who have a chance to experience a state championship game.
“I’m not sure that I agree with the success factor movement (for all schools), aside from private schools you may be punishing kids who aren’t even in high school because current classes are winning. In small towns you may have a group of kids who all hit at once and then the next year they have nothing, those young men, in the current format are being punished for the success of prior classes.
“For me it comes down to the local excitement, the rivalries, the competition between kids who know each other, who’ve grown up playing each other since little league. That’s what’s I believe is missing with the class system. Coming from a coach at a small school I know that if there wasn’t a class system the likelihood of us winning a sectional would go down dramatically, but just think if we would ever knock off one of the local big boys, it would be remembered forever.”

BRIAN KIRCHOFF (Former Northeast Dubois head coach and current Jasper assistant coach)

“Overall you can’t make a real argument that (class baseball) is a negative. You’re putting more kids and more schools in successful situations. I get that part.
“We were fortunate enough to win eight sectionals (at Northeast Dubois) which wouldn’t have happened in single-class.
“That being said, I’m not sure its been a positive for small-school athletes as far as recognition goes (for all-star consideration or scholarships).
“The smaller schools were the target when this all started 25 years ago.”
“There are private schools that have it better than other private schools (some have thrived and others have had a hard time fielding a team).”

KYLE KRAEMER (Terre Haute South Vigo head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive for the most part. The obvious plus is that there are more ‘winners.’ The big negative in my opinion is that schools lose local rivalries. Pre-class era, we had great rivalries with all the local schools because you were going to potentially play one of them at the sectional or regional level. Those teams and games are now just another game on the schedule unfortunately, especially in my neck of the woods. 
“Terre Haute South and Terre Haute North are on a ‘big school island.’  We have to travel at least 50 miles to play another 4A baseball team.  It was much easier to have a rivalry with say a West Vigo, South Vermillion, Sullivan, etc. before class baseball because we would most likely see them in the state tournament. It is difficult to have a rivalry with a school that is located in or around the Indianapolis area.  
“The IHSAA can expand to five classes for baseball — that’s fine. But, in my opinion, the private schools need to have their own class/classes.”

BRIAN KUESTER (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and South Spencer head coach)

“I think class baseball has been positive even though I was a little skeptical when it first started.
“Class baseball probably benefits the smaller schools the most because it gives them a realistic chance in the tournament.
“The biggest thing that I think that could help class baseball would be looking at creating a separate parochial school class.”

DEAN LEHRMAN (Heritage head coach)

“Having been a high school football coach for 40 years and a head high school baseball coach for 45 years, I have seen the ‘evolution’ of class sports here. My connection to friends and relatives in neighboring Ohio and Michigan has also allowed me to ‘watch’ the evolution of class sports there. In my early years (1981), I was part of Leland Etzler’s Woodlan football staff that went to the Class A state championship game vs. Hamilton Southeastern. There were three classes of football at that time compared with the six we have now. The game was played outdoors in a blizzard on November 20, 1981 (the night before my wife and I were married). It was an awesome experience for everyone connected to the small town communities of Woodburn and Harlan, Indiana. That puts my vote on the positive side of class sports in general and class baseball in particular.
“In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Class 2A baseball championship game at Victory Field with my Heritage Patriots. We came up short to a powerhouse from South Spencer, but once again it was a tremendous experience for the communities of Monroeville and Hoagland.  Players, parents and fans were the biggest beneficiaries in both cases.
“I have seen point systems both here and in Ohio. I have seen other limited entry systems where not everyone gets to participate. I have seen ‘seeded’ systems (currently in Ohio) where top seeds are given regional choice and early round home games. Later rounds are played at ‘neutral’ sites. There are good and bad characteristics to all of these hybrid systems — depending on where you fall in the ‘rankings.’ I feel that things continue to evolve and therefore should only get better in the future — as long as we keep all kids in mind.”

PAT LOWREY (Lafayette Harrison head coach)

“I believe it to be positive for the student-athletes throughout the state as class baseball has provided opportunities for schools of all sizes to compete with more of a level playing field. Being at a smaller school for five years (Delphi) and now at a bigger school for the last 11 (Harrison), I have been lucky enough to see several outstanding programs and coaches at all levels. 
“While at Delphi, we were fortunate enough to advance to the 2010 2A state championship game. While I would like to say we’d compete well in a one-class system, the truth of the matter is, we would have struggled to compete against bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional) due to the differences in depth of our roster in comparison to bigger schools. 
“At Harrison, we have been lucky enough to have several arms that we could run out in an elimination game. At Delphi, that number is quite smaller, which would have really hurt us if we were to play vs. bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional). That is a huge competitive advantage for the larger schools and something that is beyond the control of smaller schools. When class baseball started, it provided schools of all sizes the ability to compete on a level playing field in each of the four classes.

CHRIS MAY (Gibson Southern head coach)

“I really see (class baseball) as a positive for the lower classes. Class A and AA have the opportunity to get a State Championship and not have to butt heads with the larger schools. In Class AAA and AAAA, there’s not as big a difference in talent.”

ANDY MCCLAIN (Former Brebeuf Jesuit, Norwell and Lawrence Central and current Indianapolis North Central head coach)

“Class baseball is both positive and negative in my mind. You lose some of the regional rivalries although you could still play local/smaller and larger teams on your regular season schedule. We certainly have more sectional champions and more kids are able to enjoy success playing baseball so that is a huge plus. It leaves more kids with positive experiences while in high school and playing our great game.
“I would have to think that the smaller schools benefit the most from class baseball with all respect to them. Our state has tremendous coaches and programs at all levels. Again the opportunity for kids at those schools to be able to compete in the state tournament and enjoy success is a great benefit.
“I’m not sure there is much to change for the better — possibly a Champions Tournament but on the flip side it may be rough to win a title and then turn around and possibly get beat. Basketball got away from it, obviously. Some schools have to travel quite a bit for sectional play, but again not sure if there is a way around that.
“Baseball at the 3A level on a whole rivals the baseball being played at 4A. Jasper and Andrean’s success when they bumped up is a testament.”

MARCUS MCCORMICK (Speedway head coach)

“As in other sports, classification was created to level the playing field keeping schools with similar enrollment sizes within the same bracket and to also create more winners per sport. 
Classification has added hope to teams who may otherwise not have it if they are put into a sectional with bigger schools.  To be perfectly honest most of the time the bigger schools just have access to more choices, such as players, facilities and money.  
“The smaller schools benefit the most from classification. It has allowed talent to grow and flourish, as having an opportunity to win a sectional breeds hope, which makes it easier to get kids out to play. 
“I would create a separate class for private schools, the advantage that they have can not be matched by the public school. I will say open enrollment has helped, but the private schools have distanced themselves a lot especially in baseball.  
“I like where we are at with baseball in the state of Indiana. The training facilities and opportunities that our kids have after high school has grown since I have been in the game the last 20 years.”

JEFF MCKEON (Former Plainfield and South Putnam head coach)

“I am somewhat of a traditionalist, so a single class had a little soft spot in my heart. That said, there are some benefits to a class system. The class system allows for: 1. More state winners, 2. A chance for smaller schools to compete at a high level, 3. It helps promote the game of baseball in the state.
“I would say the smaller schools and the schools that fall just under the class limits (benefit the most from class baseball). What I mean by that is if the top 101 enrollments go to 4A, school number 102 has an advantage because they are playing in 3A. The private schools also benefit from the class system.
“If we are to stay in the class system (which we will), I would say that for baseball there needs to be five classes instead of four.
“Another change I would enact would be to not separate by an equal number. If there are 400 schools, it doesn’t need to be 100 in each class of four. 
“A final change would be the success factor rule. The requirements need to be adjusted, mainly the length at which they must stay up a class should be longer.
“One thing that class baseball hurt (along with class basketball) was the community sectionals. I graduated in ’93 when it was still one class and I remember that all the sectionals in every sport were heavily-attended. The attendance has gone down in terms of sectionals.”

BLAKE MOLLENKOPF (Caston head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive thing, especially for schools with lower enrollment. It helps create a somewhat even playing field for tournament play. Class sports have allowed for multiple smaller enrollment schools to have teams thrive and have success that may not happen if class sports didn’t exist.
“Class baseball has allowed our kids to compete against schools of like enrollment. It has allowed our school to enjoy tournament success.  It has allowed our school and community to host sectional and regional tournaments, whereas without class sports, we may have not had these opportunities.   
“I understand the log jam in class sports that occurs at the 4A level, especially in larger city schools. Oftentimes top teams match up early in a tournament, which I am sure is frustrating for those programs.  
“Overall, class baseball has been a positive thing, especially from the Caston baseball programs perspective. We feel as though it provides parity for our kids, and it gives them a chance to be successful in tournament play. Like in any system, there are pros and cons, but our feel is this has more pros than cons for our student athletes.”

KEITH NUNLEY (Former Monroe Central and current Guerin Catholic head coach)

“(Class baseball) is positive overall
“Smaller schools who make runs (benefit most from class baseball). 
“Sectional and maybe even regional could be seeded.”

PAT O’NEIL (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former Brownsburg and current Danville Community head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive thing. Teams get a chance to play vs comparable sized teams, better chance for success in state tourney.
“The lower classes (benefit most from class baseball) as they all have a legitimate chance for tourney success.
“My thoughts about change, which I presented to LaPorte AD, Ed Gilliland, over five years ago is this: All classes play their sectionals. Winners would then meet up in a demographic regional competing with those winners meeting in a four-team semi and finally in a final four State Championship tournament. I actually broke it down statewide with who goes where potentially each stage. This give each class a chance for a sectional title and a tourney overall state champion. I also put this idea for basketball as well.
“IHSBCA has done a tremendous job in supporting high school baseball. Baseball and basketball are sports where small schools can compete vs. larger schools. My format would appease all schools with a chance for a sectional trophy, but let’s see one overall state champion.”

JASON RAHN (Westview head coach)

“(Class baseball) is a positive.
“Smaller public schools definitely benefit the most from class ball.
“I don’t feel there is anything wrong with our classification system. There will always be some argument that private schools should perhaps have their own division.”

JOEL REINEBOLD (Former Bremen, South Bend Adams and current South Bend Clay head coach)

“I am from the group that favors the one-class system when it comes to the tournament. I think in baseball you can still be competitive with bigger schools if you are a smaller school.
“If you have four or five classes then you really don’t have a ‘state champion.’ You have four or five ‘state champions.’
“If you want a true state champion then, let the class winners compete against each other a week later and really come up with a ‘state champion.’ Until then, you just have ‘class champions.’”
“If you are going to have class state champions, why are big schools and little schools playing during the regular season?”

A.J. RISEDORPH (NorthWood head coach and dean of athletics)

“Class baseball is a positive thing. I would say I grew up as a traditionalist and loved the single-class basketball era; however, I’ve grown to appreciate the advantages/disadvantages that come with the size of schools.
“Classifying baseball is something that benefits all programs, schools and communities. At the end of the season, eight communities get to compete for the state title at an amazing stadium. Maybe that will soon expand to 10!
“I am excited to see the potential of a fifth class built into the state tournament. This would help create more balance among the classes once it is all said and done. It would be interesting to see how things would shake up if multipliers were given to various things like private/public schools, free/reduced percentages, etc. I’ve heard arguments for the success factor to be implemented differently as well. I am not sure it’s entirely fair that the success of graduated juniors and seniors determines the fate of the rising freshman and sophomores who were not directly a part of that success.
“I would love to see consistent sectional/regional alignments across as many team sports as possible. I feel this would enhance the rivalry aspect of the state tournament from a sectional/regional standpoint.”

RANDY ROBERTS (Washington Township head coach)

“For us, class baseball has certainly been a positive. Realistically we don’t have the manpower to compete in a tournament with the larger schools. It gives us something to shoot for, and a legitimate chance to win tournament championships. 
“All small schools benefit from class baseball. Even at the state tournament there is a very noticeable difference in the talent level between the class A game, and the Class AA game. Larger schools have 4-5 times more kids try out for their team. Valpo has over a hundred, we typically get 20 boys out per season.”

GARY ROGERS (Former Fort Wayne Bishop Luers and current Leo head coach)

“(Class baseball) has been a real positive for high school baseball. Although every once in awhile you have a team you feel can compete in any class, the class system gives teams a level playing field on a more consistent basis.
“The kids and community benefit most (from class baseball). At the end of the day when you are a state champion, none of those kids or community identify as a class state champ, they identify as a state champion and the memories from that success.
“Baseball should be a double-elimination tournament in order to get a true team champion. A team can eliminate a really good team in a single-elimination tournament with a dominant pitcher.
“In 2008 we had Tyler Watts and Kevin Kiermaier get seen by the Parkland College coach because we had the opportunity to advance in the state tournament in Class 2A. They both went to Parkland and Kevin is having a pretty good major league career.”

SCOTT ROST (Former Elkhart Memorial and current Elkhart head coach)

“In our area, the vast majority of schools are 3A and 4A. I’m not sure it makes a ton of difference one way of the other. I’m sure for many small schools, (class baseball) provides some positive benefits.
“(Class baseball) is beneficial for some of the smaller schools that may not have a chance for success against bigger schools. 
“There should be other factors involved in the equation when classifying schools. You’re not always comparing apples to apples when you look at enrollment numbers. You can compare similar-sized schools and athletes in one district that do not necessarily have the same opportunities and resources that athletes in another district do.”

MARK SCHELLINGER (New Prairie head coach)

“(Class baseball is a) very positive thing. Enrollment is definitely not the only factor, but it does make a big difference. It’s not realistic to think that small schools can compete consistently with the higher enrollment schools. The depth that the larger schools have because of numbers and the in-team competition that brings gives them a major advantage. Larger schools often have more resources — including indoor facilities and more coaches that is also advantageous for them.
“The benefits from class baseball can be seen throughout all classes.  The idea is that schools are competing against similar schools is good for all.  
“I would actually like to see five classes. The descepancy between the biggest schools in 4A and the smaller schools in 4A is very large. We have schools with over 3,500 students competing against schools that have less than 1,500 students. That is a major difference that brings some big advantages for the larger schools.”

BRAD SCOTT (Rossville head coach)

“At Rossville, we benefit from class baseball. I cannot speak for any other coaches or programs but my guess is most would say that smaller schools and/or private schools benefit from the most. With that said, sectionals are generally aligned by geographical location so my guess is a 4A Sectional in the Indianapolis area might not see significant change if we had one class. I could be wrong though. 
“I would love to see baseball do something like basketball did for a short time with the Tournament of Champions. Baseball — unlike basketball or football — has what I consider to be an equalizer with pitching. It would be neat to see it played out. 
“I am a fan of the old school single-class system as well. I don’t know what it feels like winning a sectional in a single-class system and I do not want to undermine how special winning a sectional championship is. It is a great accomplishment and there is a great amount of pride felt from the program, school and community.
“With that said, I would think winning one in a single-class system would feel different for small schools because of the enrollment differences with the teams you would have to beat.”

CORY STONER (Jimtown head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive. It creates an opportunity for more competition across the board.
“Smaller schools with fewer arms benefit the most from class baseball. Larger schools with more pitchers only are at a great advantage over the smaller schools whose best position players are typically also their best arms and usually have far fewer pitcher-only type players.
“I would love to play three-game series in the postseason rather than the one-and-done model. I’m not sure it is even possible and have no idea how they could arrange it but I think it better fits baseball. You would get the better TEAMs winning sectionals as opposed to the team with the best arm or two winning them.”

STEVE STRAYER (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and Crown Point head coach)
 

“(Class baseball) is mostly positive. It gives hope for many of the smaller schools to earn a sectional, regional, semi-state ,and state championships. “The negative would be private schools seem to be earning most of these championships.
“Private schools (benefit most from class baseball). In the lower classes, private schools have been piling up the state championships. “I would like to have three classes of public schools and one or two classes of private schools.”

TIM TERRY (South Vermillion head coach and athletic director)

“I am old-fashioned, I began coaching when it was a one-class system. I liked the rivalries and going to the local areas to play the sectional games (playing at home or in Terre Haute or Brazil against Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo or West Vigo).
“The reason I bring it up, I felt that it was some Hoosier Hysteria in baseball. It was the local teams playing in a sectional and no one had to travel a great distance.


“It is a benefit for a smaller school to advance farther in the (class baseball) tournament. It takes away the big upsets, but more have a chance to reach the state.”

TED THOMPSON (Tecumseh head coach)

“Class sports has worked out to be a good thing for everyone involved.  The competitive nature of each class is relative and that gives everyone the opportunity to see different teams in different years be successful. 
“The smaller schools most definitely benefit the most due to the shear numbers that are limited they have to choose from. This allows them to compete against like size schools and provide a great experience for the athlete.

“I think the way the IHSAA has it set up is good and there’s not really much to change.”

CRAIG TROUT (Northview head coach)

“Overall class baseball is a positive. It allows for a more-even level of competition. If we look at the schools with larger enrollment it is more common (especially now with pitch count rules) for them to compete with schools their size who have a similar pitching staffs. 

“(Who benefits the most from class baseball is a two-pronged answer. On one hand you have smaller schools 1A, 2A, even 3A who have had more of a chance to compete and have success against schools their size. Again, looking at depth of pitching on those levels it creates a more even playing field. Second answer would be the private/parochial/preparatory schools. They have had more success than most public schools in the tournament, yes they fluctuate in classes because of success factor, but also they have the advantage of being able to set an enrollment where public schools do not.

“Maybe add one more class, I’d like to see just what that would look like. Northview is at the top of the 3A scale so that may move us to the bottom of 4A. I don’t know how that would effect everyone. Also maybe look at a multiplier for the private/parochial/preparatory schools in sports like other states have done. Other states have done it and I think it does create a more even system.

“Overall I think class baseball is great. I think however we could all look back to the days of the David vs. Goliath matchups which brought in huge crowds. I would also like to say that I’m not trying to bring anyone down in this because right now I would argue the state of Indiana has as much baseball talent as any state in the Midwest. The coaching in our state has been really great. I enjoy competing against these coaches from all the different classes and I think baseball in Indiana is as good as it has ever been and I think with the classes we’ve seen some great tournaments and will continue to do so in the future.”

TONY UGGEN (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former Northfield and current Blackford head coach)

“I think (class baseball) is a positive. I was fortunate to have some teams make deep runs in the tournament during my career that likely would not have happened under a one-class system. In fact, one of my best teams at Northfield was during the one-class era and we were beaten by what is now a 4A school. Had that been a class season, we may have had a chance to win state, minimally, made a deeper run. It provides a few more teams the chance to finish as champions thanks to a more level playing field. 
“More communities (benefit from class baseball). When we came back into town after our first championship years ago, there were thousands of people in the Kmart parking lot waiting for us. Then we took the fire engine ride through town and spent the next week getting treated like royalty … That was a great experience for the community of Wabash and the players and their families. All have a memory that will last a lifetime. In the one-class era, very few small communities got to experience the state level.
“(Class baseball) is pretty good overall, but I would like to see a more consistent schedule set at the sectional level for all sites as much as possible. That is hard to do since some sectionals have lights, others don’t, and trying to work around graduations. But host schools have the slight advantage of setting a schedule that best suits their pitching staff. Of course, weather can play havoc to the best of schedules and no matter how the schedule is set, someone will still likely be unhappy. 
“There’s some talk about a slight revamp of the class system to help break down the large enrollment gap between the top and bottom 4A schools. Like most, those at the bottom of 4A just want to have a more balanced system. I appreciate the IHSBCA and IHSAA exploring possible options.”

Cunningham now in charge of Wheeler Bearcats

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

Sean Cunningham is now in charge of the baseball program at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso, Ind., after two seasons as an assistant coach.
Cunningham held a call-out meeting with the Bearcats Thursday, Sept. 1. About 20 attended with several more involved in fall sports.
It is hoped that Wheeler will field varsity and junior varsity teams in 2023.
“We have a lot of incoming freshmen,” says Cunningham. “It will depend on numbers in the spring.”
Two points of emphasis for Cunningham as he gets Wheeler ready are off-season conditioning and pitching.
“With our weight lifting and running, players got a little lackadaisical last year,” says Cunningham. “They were not pushing themselves very hard. In hotter games last year the guys dragged a little bit.
“Pitching was a weak point for us last year. We have a lot of talent on the mound. I don’t think its been utilized yet.”
To help with that, Cunningham has brought Paul Lipski in as pitching coach.
Lipski and Cunningham served together on head coach Cory Mack’s staff at Morgan Township in 2017. The Cherokees registered several earned run averages below 3.00 and went 15-12 in 2017 and 20-6 in 2018, winning an IHSAA Class 2A sectional title in the latter season.
Lipski, Mack and Wheeler graduate Alex Hutman (Class of 2021) make up Cunningham’s Bearcats staff.
Cunningham coached three seasons with Jeff Rochowiak at Michigan City (2018-20).
Jeff Enright (now athletic director at Wheeler) was head baseball coach with Cunningham as an assistant.
“I liked his whole off-field philosophy and mindset,” says Cunningham of Enright’s approach. “We work as a team. I plan to continue that same exact kind of field in the locker room and in the dugout.”
Wheeler alum Rex Stills (Class of 2021) pitched in 17 games as a Purdue Fort Wayne in 2022.
Mason Leckrone (Class of 2023) is currently weighing his college options.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period began Aug. 29 and goes through Oct. 15.
Wheeler (enrollment around 440) is a member of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, and Whiting). There are 12 GSSC games with some teams meeting twice and other once.
The Bearcats were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Bowman Leadership Academy, Hammond Bishop Noll, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison and Whiting. Wheeler, which calls Richard Wendt Field home, has won six sectional titles — the last in 2021.
Cunningham was born in Oak Lawn, Ill., and moved to Valparaiso at 5. He played baseball for four years at Valparaiso High School — two for Todd Coffin then two for Mickey Morandini.
“Todd Coffin was a small-ball coach,” says Cunningham. “We learned how to play small ball the right way.
“(Mickey Morandini) was a good person.”
Cunningham graduated from Purdue North Central in 2014 and began teaching elementary school in Michigan City. He is now a sixth grade math teacher at Union Township Middle School.
He has also been an instructor at Triple Crown Baseball and Softball Training Center in Valparaiso though he has not worked in a few months.
Sean and wife Kristen Eleftheri-Cunningham had their first child — Oliver Eleftheri-Cunningham — in June.

Sean Cunningham and son Oliver Eleftheri-Cunningham.

Character counts with new Portage head coach Prance

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

Shane Prance is emphasizing the “Three C’s” as new head baseball coach at alma mater Portage (Ind.) High School. They are: Character, Community and Competition.
Prance (Class of 2008) says his No. 1 focus is work ethic.
“We want to control the controllables,” says Prance. “We’ll look at attitude, effort, body language, things like that.
“From there the baseball skills and talent will take over.”
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 29-Oct. 15 and Prance looks forward to having players take part two days a week for two hours.
His agenda has attendees concentrating on arm health and long toss, proper catch routine and learning fundamental drills at each position. After those things comes intrasquad games so he can evaluate players.
“We want to get a good baseline to see where they’re at,” says Prance.
The off-season will be dedicated to strength and conditioning.
Portage (enrollment around 2,400) is a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference (with Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Valparaiso).
The Indians were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2022 with Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Lowell and Valparaiso. Portage has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2013.
Prance is a Health and Physical Education teacher at PHS.
In four seasons at Portage (the last three on varsity), Prance played for head coach Tim Pirowski.
“He came in when I was a freshman,” says Prance. “I saw how he was building a foundation. There were classroom learning sessions and we were taught baseball. It made you think more in-depth. It’s the basics that sometimes get brushed over.”
Born in the south side of Chicago, Prance moved to Portage early in his elementary school days. He played at Portage Little League through high school. As a high schooler, he was with the traveling Indiana Breakers.
Prance was a position player and pitcher until blowing out his knee while swinging the bat as a Portage senior.
John Weber was Prance’s head coach at Purdue North Central in Westville, Ind.
“He had a huge influence on me,” says Prance of Weber. “He’s one of the reasons I wanted to coach.”
One of Weber’s strengths was managing the people.
“He wanted them to be good high-character people,” says Prance.
As a four-year PNC pitcher, right-hander Prance set single-season program records for wins (7), complete games (8), innings (84) and strikeouts (95) — all during his senior campaign of 2012.
That summer Prance joined the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg Boomers. He went 1-1 in eight appearances (four as a starter) for the Jamie Bennett-managed club and was released in August.
He went back to PNC to finish his degree and joined Weber’s coaching staff.
“I always knew I wanted to coach,” says Prance. “I became pitching coach at PNC. The rest is history.”
When Weber took an administrative position, Prance became head coach in the fall of 2013 and spent three years in that position.
When Purdue North Central and Purdue Calumet merged into Purdue Northwest, Dave Griffin was named head coach and Prance associate head coach.
He was later assistant athletic director at Saint Xavier University in Chicago and helped the baseball team.
Prance got his coaching feet wet with the Eric Blakeley-led Diamond Kings Fall Baseball League. Blakeley is also the founder of the Crossroads Baseball Series and High School Fall Baseball League.
There has also been one-on-one training and travel ball coaching with the Region Playmakers for Prance.
As a former college coach, Prance brings that knowledge and long list of contacts to his Portage athletes.
“I want to give guys a chance to go play in college,” says Prance. “We want to find the right fit for them to play at the next level.
“If baseball gets them in the door to a university event if they don’t play all four years, they’re likely to stay and finish the degree.”
Recent Portage graduates to move on to college diamonds include Class of 2020’s infielder Scottie Hansen (South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill.) and left-handed pitcher Xavier Rivas (who went to the University of Indianapolis to the University of Mississippi), Class of 2021’s infielder Danny Puplava (Kankakee Community College) and Class of 2022’s right-hander/corner infielder Joshua Ortiz (Purdue Northwest).
Prance and girlfriend Christina have a 2-year-old son named Levi. A daughter is due in October.

Shane Prance.

Chesterton alum Peterson shining at UConn; others making D-I impact outside Indiana

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

Friday night starter Austin Peterson has been sitting batters down at a consistent pace so far in 2022.
The 6-foot-6 senior right-handed pitcher has made four starts for the University of Connecticut and was 2-0 with 44 strikeouts and five walks in 24 2/3 innings heading into the Week of March 14-20.
A 2018 Chesterton (Ind.) High School graduate, Peterson played at Purdue and Wabash Valley College before winding up at UConn.
Peterson is more than one of 120 players from Indiana high schools (or hometowns) on NCAA Division I rosters outside the state. Many are key contributors.
Freshman right-hander Casey Sorg (Floyd Central) sported a 1.59 ERA in five mound appearances for Bellarmine, a squad with nine Indiana products on a team led by Jeffersonville alum Larry Owens.
Sophomore outfielder Carson Husmann (South Central of Union Mills) was hitting .318 with two home runs and 11 runs batted in for Bradley.
Senior outfielder Damon Lux (Shelbyville) had driven in 12 runs for Duke.
Redshirt junior right-hander Blake Malatestnic (Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter) was 3-0 with a 2.82 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings for Eastern Illinois.
Sophomore second baseman Tim Borden II (Providence) was hitting .316 with four homers and 11 RBIs for Georgia Tech.
Freshman outfielder Jared Comia (Hanover Central) was hitting .283 with two homers and eight RBIs for Illinois.
Redshirt senior catcher/first baseman Nolan Metcalf (Penn) was hitting .306 with nine RBIs for Kansas.
Senior right-hander Jack Myers (Indianapolis Cathedral) had 16 strikeouts in 19 innings for Kennesaw State.
Sophomore left-hander Michael Dunkelberger (South Bend Saint Joseph) was 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA for Lipscomb.
Senior right-hander Jared Poland (Indianapolis Cathedral) was 1-1 with 1.38 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 13 innings for Louisville.
Redshirt sophomore J.J. Woolwine (Fishers) was hitting .439 with one homer and eight RBIs and freshman right-hander Luke Leverton (Seton Catholic) was 1-0 with 1.00 ERA and nine strikeouts in innings for Miami (Ohio).
Senior shortstop Riley Bertram (ZIonsville Community) was hitting .293 with one homer and 11 RBIs for Michigan.
Sophomore outfielder Roman Kuntz (New Prairie) was hitting .370 with three homers and 10 RBIs for Morehead State.
Freshman right-hander Landon Kruer (Providence) was 1-0 with 1.59 ERA for Navy.
Redshirt junior outfielder Trevyn Moss (Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran) was hitting .274 with one homer, one triple and 14 RBIs for Northern Kentucky.
Redshirt junior shortstop Xavier Haendiges (Salem) was hitting .353 for Ohio.
Junior right-hander Bayden Root (Kokomo) was 1.0 with a 2.61 ERA in six appearances for Oklahoma State.
Senior right-hander Cameron Pferrer (Carmel) was 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings for Saint Louis.
Freshman Nick Mitchell (Carmel) was hitting .357 with eight RBIs for Western Illinois.
Junior infielder/outfielder Matthew Meyer (Westfield) was hitting .260 with one homer and 11 RBIs for Western Kentucky.
Senior outfielder Ryan Missal (Lowell) was hitting .257 with four homers and 11 RBIs for Western Michigan.
Sophomore first baseman Julian Greenwell (Columbus East) was hitting .310 with one homer and nine RBIs.
There’s several more coaches with Indiana prep roots — head coach Billy Gernon (New Albany) and associate head coach Adam Piotrowicz (John Glenn) at Western Michigan, head coach Eric Wedge (Fort Wayne Northrop) at Wichita State and assistants Jared Broughton (Indianapolis Lutheran) at Clemson, Nick McIntyre (McCutcheon) at Toledo, Justin Parker (Fort Wayne Wayne) at South Carolina, Matt Reida (Western) at Alabama and Bobby Rinard (Mishwawaka Marian) at Dixie State.

INDIANA D-I PLAYERS OUTSIDE STATE
2022
Alabama
So. IF Bryce Eblin (Center Grove)
Volunteer Assistant Coach Matt Reida (Western)

Alabama State
Fr. RHP/IF Kyler McIntosh (Columbus North)

Bellarmine
Jr. RHP/IF Drew Buhr (Austin)
Sr. RHP Jon Cato (Floyd Central)
Sr. RHP/DH Ethan English (Jeffersonville)
So. RHP Cody Medley (New Albany)
Fr. RHP/IF Casey Sorg (Floyd Central)
Jr. RHP Adam Spalding (Floyd Central)
Jr.. LHP Steven Thom (New Albany)
Redshirt Fr. 3B Webster Walls (Clarksville)
Jr. RHP Joe Wilkinson (Providence)
Head Coach Larry Owens (Jeffersonville)

Belmont
Graduate Student RHP Dusty Baird (Perry Meridian)
So. IF Brodey Heaton (Castle)

Bradley
So. OF Carson Husmann (South Central of Union Mills)

Campbell
Redshirt So. UT Jack Ellis (Jeffersonville)

Cincinnati
So. RHP Max Bergmann (Hometown — Georgetown, Ind. — St. Xavier, Ky HS)
So. RHP Aiden Bradbury (Carmel)
So. RHP Jose Guzman (Ben Davis)
Fr. RHP Garrett Harker (Lebanon)
Redshirt Fr. IF Kerrington Cross (Brownsburg)
Fr. RHP Blake Lemmon (Chesterton)
So. LHP Conner Linn (Western)
Fr. LHP Andrew Neff (Mooresville)
Fr. LHP Tommy O’Connor (Mooresville)

Clemson
Redshirt Fr. OF/C Patrick Farrissee (South Bend Saint Joseph)
Volunteer Assistant Coach Jared Broughton (Indianapolis Lutheran)

Connecticut
Sr. RHP Austin Peterson (Chesterton)

Dallas Baptist
So. RHP Jacob Young (Bloomington South)

Dartmouth
So. RHP Shane Bauer (Brebeuf Jesuit)

Dayton
So. RHP Parker Bard (Westfield)
Redshirt Fr. IF Nick Lukac (Fishers)
So. OF Anthony Steinhardt (Lawrence Central)

Dixie State
Assistant Coach Bobby Rinard (Mishawaka Marian)

Duke
Sr. OF Damon Lux (Shelbyville)

East Tennessee State
So. RHP Cade Carlson (University)
Sr. C Kyle Richardson (Zionsville Community)

Eastern Illinois
Redshirt So. LHP Jalen Cardinal (Vincennes Lincoln)
So. LHP Aaron Chao (Angola)
Jr. OF Bryce Hayman (Michigan City)
So. C Grant Lashure (Fort Wayne Bishop Luers)
Redshirt Jr. C/1B Tarron Lawson (Danville Community)
Redshirt Jr. RHP Blake Malatestnic (Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter)
Jr. RHP Jesse Wainscott (Perry Meridian)

Eastern Kentucky
Redshirt So. C Rutger Poiry (Hamilton Southeastern)

Eastern Michigan
Fr. RHP Dom Anderson (Hagerstown)
So. IF Cory Taylor (Shelbyville)

Georgia Tech
So. IF Tim Borden II (Providence)

Illinois
Fr. OF Jared Comia (Hanover Central)
Jr./Sr. C Ryan Hampe (Hometown — Crown Point, Ind. — Sandburg HS)
Fr. RHP Calvin Shepherd (Lawrence North)

Illinois State
Redshirt Fr. OF Jonathan Sabotnik (Crown Point)

Illinois-Chicago
Jr. RHP Chris Torres (Chesterton)

Jacksonville State
So. IF Kody Putnam (Evansville Central)

Kansas
Redshirt Sr. C/1B Nolan Metcalf (Penn)

Kennesaw State
Sr. RHP Jack Myers (Indianapolis Cathedral)

Lipscomb
So. LHP Michael Dunkelberger (South Bend Saint Joseph)

Louisville
Fr. C Austin Bode (Columbus North)
Sr. LHP Carter Lohman (Louisville)
Sr. RHP Jared Poland (Indianapolis Cathedral)

Miami (Ohio)
So. C Dalton Back (Columbus East
Fr. LHP Tyler Galyean (University)
So. IF Easton Good (Lewis Cass)
Fr. RHP Luke Leverton (Seton Catholic)
Redshirt Fr. RHP/IF Aaron Massie (Evansville Reitz)
Redshirt Fr. RHP Patrick Mastrian IV (Indianapolis Bishop Chatard)
Fr. C/IF David Novak (Zionsville Community)
Redshirt So. OF J.J. Woolwine (Fishers)

Michigan
Sr. IF Riley Bertram (Zionsville Community)
Fr. MIF Camden Gasser (Southridge)
Sr. IF Jack Van Remortel (Carmel)

Michigan State
Jr. RHP/IF Conner Tomasic (Lake Central)
Redshirt Fr. C Christian Williams (Carmel)

Middle Tennessee State
So. RHP Dustin Sprong (Indian Creek)
So. C Mason McLeod (Greensburg)

Mississippi
Jr. RHP Matt Parenteau (Guerin Catholic)

Morehead State
Jr. RHP Luke Helton (Whiteland)
So. RHP Grant Herron (Center Grove)
So. OF Roman Kuntz (New Prairie)
Jr. RHP Joe Rotkis (South Bend Saint Joseph)

Murray State
Redshirt So. RHP Ryan Fender (Crown Point)
Fr. IF Kyle LaVanchy (North Posey)
Redshirt Jr. LHP Hayden Wynja (Heritage Christian)

Navy
Jr. C/IF Kiel Brenczewski (Fishers)
Fr. RHP Landon Kruer (Providence)

Northern Illinois
Jr. RHP Drew Hasson (Columbus East)

Northern Kentucky
Redshirt Jr. OF Trevyn Moss (Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran)
Jr. RHP Drew Switzer (Hamilton Southeastern)

Northwestern
First-Yr. RHP Grant Comstock (Valparaiso)

Ohio
Redshirt Jr. IF Xavier Haendiges (Salem)
Fr. RHP Brady Linkel (South Ripley)

Oklahoma State
Jr. RHP Bayden Root (Kokomo)

Quinnipiac
Graduate Student RHP Carter Poiry (Hamilton Southeastern)
Jr. OF Sean Swenson (Brebeuf Jesuit)

Radford
Jr. RHP Johnny Maynard (Griffith)

Saint Louis
So. C Nolan Bowser (Mt. Vernon)
Jr. LHP Grant Fremion (Guerin Catholic)
Sr. RHP Cameron Pferrer (Carmel)

South Carolina
Assistant Coach Justin Parker (Fort Wayne Wayne)

South Carolina-Upstate
Fifth-Yr. C Damon Maynard (Greenwood Community)

Southeastern Louisiana
Sr. OF/IF Tyler Finke (Columbus North)

Southern Illinois-Edwardsville
Jr. RHP Alex Scherer (Indianapolis Cathedral)

Texas A&M
Assistant Coach Michael Earley (Anderson)

Toledo
So. RHP Camryn Szynski (Penn)
Assistant Coach Nick McIntyre (McCutcheon)

Towson
Sr. IF Nolan Young (Mississinewa)
Head Coach Matt Tyner (Coached at Butler)

Vanderbilt
Jr. RHP Michael Doolin (Andrean)
Fr. OF J.D. Rogers (Carmel)

Virginia
Graduate Student LHP Brian Gursky (Granger, Ind. — IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.)

Virginia Military Institute
Fr. IF Nathan Bingman (Brebeuf Jesuit)

Virginia Tech
Sr. RHP Ryan Metz (Fishers)

Western Illinois
Fr. OF Nick Mitchell (Carmel)
Fr. IF/OF C.J. Richmond (Park Tudor)

Western Kentucky
Jr. IF/OF Matthew Meyer (Westfield)

Western Michigan
So. RHP Hayden Berg (Penn)
Redshirt So. IF/LHP Bobby Dearing (Lafayette Harrison)
Sr. OF Ryan Missal (Lowell)
So. RHP Ryan Watt (Mishawaka)
Head Coach Billy Gernon (New Albany)
Assistant Coach Adam Piotrowicz (John Glenn)

Wichita State
Head Coach Eric Wedge (Fort Wayne Northrop)

Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Redshirt So. IF Tommy Benson (Chesterton)

Wright State
Sr. RHP Aaron Ernst (Carmel)
Fr. RHP Chris Gallagher (Indianapolis Cathedral)
So. LHP/OF Julian Greenwell (Columbus East)
Fr. IF Parker Harrison (Columbus East)
Jr. RHP Riley Perlich (Fort Wayne Carroll)
So. OF Jake Shirk (Fort Wayne Carroll)

Xavier
Jr. RHP Cooper Williams (Heritage Christian)

Nelson returns to his roots with Portage Indians

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

Doug Nelson came home to teach and coach.
Following a stint at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatland, Ind., Nelson is now teaching health and coaching freshmen boys basketball and is the new head baseball coach at Portage (Ind.) High School. He graduated from the school in 1992.
“I enjoyed Kankakee Valley,” says Nelson, who was making the 45-minute commute from Portage to KV. “Great people. Very good facilities. They’re growing.
“This is just home to me.”
Nelson played baseball at Portage for Tom Levandoski, who died Aug. 26, 2021.
“That touched home with me,” says Nelson. “He meant a lot to me.”
Nelson took the basketball job first when good friend Bryon Clouse was hired as Indians head coach in that sport.
The baseball opportunity came later and Nelson took it for a chance to coach with son Nathan Ramian. The 2011 Portage graduate played four years of baseball for the Indians and is now Web Coordinator for Portage Township Schools. He will coach varsity infielders.
Other Nelson assistants include varsity pitching coach John Selman, junior varsity head coach Mike Bruner, JV assistant Dallas Milligan, freshman head coach Derek Logsdon and freshman assistants Bryan Bernacki and Tommy Mosley.
Selman was on the previous Portage staff. Bruner is a Portage and Purdue Northwest grad.
Milligan went to Chesterton. He has a journalism degree with an emphasis in sports broadcasting from the University of Kansas. He has worked for the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs, ESPN and Fox Sports. He is a radio and video production teacher at the Porter Career Center while working toward a masters in communication at Purdue Northwest.
Logsdon brings four decades of experience in coaching youth baseball in northwest Indiana. He graduated from Hobart High School and played football at Franklin College.
Bernacki teaches Business at Portage and is schooled in analytics.
Mosley finished his college playing career at Calumet College of Saint Joseph in Whiting, Ind.
Doug is married to Ann Marie and has a younger son named Kale Nelson, who is a senior at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.
Nelson, who has a career diamond record of 166-91, was able to work with the Indians on the diamond during the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period.
“I got to meet some of the guys and see them throw and hit,” says Nelson. “We had good numbers (35 to 40 at each session).”
And that’s not including athletes in fall sports.
When strength training sessions before school began, participation was also high.
“Quite a few of them have committed themselves to what we’re trying to do in the weight room — not just for baseball but for health reasons,” says Nelson. “This winter has been great (with 40 to 45 players per practice) and we’re beginning in the (batting) cage.
“Guys in college have come back to talk to guys about hitting or life after high school. Being a Portage grad myself, it’s gratifying to see that.”
Alums who went on to college baseball in recent years include Scottie Hansen at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., Danny Puplava at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College and Xavier Rivas at the University of Indianapolis.
Josh Ortiz (Class of 2022) recently committed to Purdue Northwest.
“We’re relatively young with a lot of freshmen and sophomores,” says Nelson.
Portage (enrollment around 2,400) is a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference (with Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Valparaiso).
DAC games are played as home-and-home series on back-to-back days — mostly Tuesday and Wednesday.
In 2021, the Indians were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Andrean, Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Lowell and Valparaiso. Portage has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2013.
To re-establish a feeder system, Nelson plans to meet with leadership in Portage Township to establish a program.
“We’re going to make it happen,” says Nelson. “There’s too many people not playing in the summer.
“We’re going to get that corrected.”
Plans also call for a middle school program to play games in the fall. While there is no middle school baseball in the DAC, Porter County Conference schools do have it and are likely Portage opponents.
“We’re in a time where you have to recruit your kids to stay at your own school,” says Nelson. “We have to do a better job of keeping them here in Portage. That starts with middle school baseball.”
The program will allow players to get onto the bigger diamond and use drop-three bats while playing on the same team with other Portage students.
“We can show the parents that we care of (their child’s) development and well-being.”

Ann Marie and Doug Nelson.
Kale Nelson (left), Nathan Ramian and Doug Nelson.

Howard highlighting importance of fundamentals with Hobart Brickies

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

Trent Howard has been a high school assistant or travel baseball coach for about a decade.
He assisted at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso, Ind., in 2021 and was with Portage (Ind.) High School during the 2020 season that did not happen because of COVID-19.
Howard, 32, has also coached in the Morris Baseball organization with teams from 13U to 18U.
He will take those experiences and that of playing for the Hammond (Ind.) Seminoles, Hammond Chiefs (now 5 Star Great Lakes), Hammond Clark High School, Central Michigan University and in the Baltimore Orioles organization to use them as the new head coach at Hobart (Ind.) High School. He was hired in August to lead the Brickies.
“I was very fortunate to have coaches that had several different philosophies that handled players in different ways,” says Howard, a 2021 Hammond Sports Hall of Fame inductee who played for Dave Sutkowski with the Chiefs, Gary Ridgely and Pat Montalbano at Clark and head coach Steve Jaksa and pitching coach Jeff Opalewski at Central Michigan and later served with Jeff Enright at Wheeler and Bob Dixon at Portage. “I saw how they developed a culture and I’ll take take bits and pieces from each of them.”
The first IHSAA Limited Contact Period in the fall saw Howard stressing fundamentals with his Brickies.
“We went back to the basics,” says Howard. “We want to make sure we’re laying a solid foundation for these kids.”
With winter workouts that recently began, it’s more of the same along knocking off the rust for players who have not swung the bat in awhile.
“We want to develop a hitting philosophy and go to the plate with a game plan,” says Howard. “We want to understand what the pitcher is trying to do.”
A former left-handed pitcher himself, Howard allowed his pitchers to rest their arms during the fall and the dead period that followed.
“We wanted to take the time for our arms to fully recover (from spring and summer baseball),” says Howard. “Now it’s about building up arm strength.”
Howard says bullpens will not begin until January.
“Then the keys will be consistency and throwing strikes,” says Howard. “We want them hitting spots and moving the ball around.”
Hobart (enrollment around 1,290) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster).
NCC teams play home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays with a new opponent for five straight weeks.
“We’re fortunate to be in a tough conference,” says Howard. “We play a pretty tough non-conference, too.”
Among those foes are Boone Grove, Chesterton, Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, New Prairie, Portage, Valparaiso, Washington Township, Westville, Wheeler and Whiting.
In 2021, the Brickies were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Andrean, Chesterton, Crown Point, Lowell, Portage and Valparaiso. Hobart has won six sectional titles — the last in 2014.
Howard’s coaching staff includes brother Trevor Howard (Clark Class of 2002), Scott Trcka (who was a pro scout for 27 years) and longtime Brickies assistant Bob Wineland with the varsity and Kyle Jenkins and Zak Pizer with the junior varsity.
Hobart plays its home game on-campus. The diamond’s mound was re-built and the infield was re-leveled in the fall.
Feeding and aiding the high school program are Hobart Little League, Hobart Baseball Club Storm, Hobart American Legion Post 502 Blaze and 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs.
“Kids are everywhere,” says Howard. “We make sure they are with good coaches and in a situation where they’re comfortable.”
Jaden Deel (Hobart Class of 2021) is now on the baseball team at Huntington (Ind.) University. Ivan Balboa (Class of 2022) has signed to play at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. Howard says he sees college potential is other Brickies.
Howard is a School Resource Officer at Portage. Trent and wife of seven years Alexandria live in Portage with sons Eli (5) and Ezekiel (2).

Trent Howard
Trent Howard
Trent Howard

While pursuing his own baseball goals, Coursel helps others with theirs

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

Robbie Coursel has learned a few things on his baseball journey and he’s sharing those lessons with others.
Born in Michigan City, Ind., Coursel is a right-handed pitcher who has played at the college and professional levels.
Through his business – Robbie Coursel Baseball — he provides instruction and helps players go after their goals.
Coursel played three baseball seasons at Michigan City High School for Wolves head coach David Ortiz and campaigns for football head coach Craig Buzea and finished his diamond prep career at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg, Fla., graduating in 2012.
His head coach with the Vikings was Rob Stanifer, who pitched for the 1997-98 Florida Marlins and 2000 Boston Red Sox.
In October of his senior year, Coursel was given the opportunity to move to Florida with longtime scout and roving instructor Ralph Bufano, who has worked with Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and many others.
“He saw that I had a strong arm and was a good athlete and that I had the chance to play pro ball,” says Coursel of Bufano. “He changed the trajectory of my whole life.
“Getting into player development has given me a greater reach than playing alone. I’m able to serve others. As a player I can entertain others and profit myself like Ralph impacted myself.
“They carve a path for themselves using baseball as a vehicle. (Helping others is) where my passion is. The more I’m able to learn from my abilities, the more I’m able to teach. I love what I do.”
Moving away from loved ones at 17 was not easy.
“I did not know anybody, but I met people through the game,” says Coursel, who is now 27 (he turns 28 in December). “It was definitely challenging. But they had courage to let me go.”
Coursel impressed enough at Northeast High to land a scholarship with St. Petersburg College and played two seasons for the Clearwater-based Titans, head coach Ryan Beckman and pitching coach T.J. Large, who hurled in the Red Sox and is now in player development for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“(SPC) has such a history of producing professional players,” says Coursel, who lived with Bufano during his first year in Florida.
After his junior college experience, Coursel moved on to NCAA Division I Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
John McCormack was — and still is — the Owls head coach. Pitching coach Jason Jackson is now at the University of Alabama.
“I loved playing for him,” says Coursel of McCormack. “I still stay in-touch with him to this day.”
During Coursel’s time there, FAU was ranked as high as No. 8 in the country and had six players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft both seasons.
Coursel was taken in the 26th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and went to the Appalachian League that summer followed by fall instructional league where he got to compete with players from all levels.
The righty spent two seasons in the Pirates system then signed with the independent American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and pitched for a team he rooted for when he was young. He was with the Greg Tagert-managed club 2018, 2019 and 2021. There was no AA season in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Coursel was released by the RailCats in July, he is hopeful to earn a chance to toe the rubber for Gary in 2022 and — perhaps — make his way back to an MLB organization.
He has nothing but praise for longtime baseball man Tagert.
“He is very intelligent, very hard-working, very professional,” says Coursel. “He knows what it takes to win. He believes in his methods to accomplishing that. I’m behind him 100 percent.
“I respect that wisdom and Baseball I.Q.”
Coursel addresses what he perceives as the differences between indy and affiliated pro ball.
“The players are more refined in the American Association,” says Coursel. “Most of these guys are fully-developed. They’re more experienced.
“But it’s ‘perform now.’ They want to win.
“(Affiliated ball) has raw talent and younger players and is very developmental-based.”
Both brands of baseball seek folks who bring more than just ball-playing abilities.
“They have players who are so valuable that they want good people around them — high-character individuals. That alone — along with ability — can get you a career in independent ball.
“Ability is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s not the main thing we focus on (at Robbie Coursel Baseball). It’s championship mentality in everything you apply yourself to. You can be successful in whatever they put their mind to.”
Coursel conducts his lessons at various locations around northwest Indiana. A training facility with indoor and outdoor areas is in the works. He has several places around the country to see what he wants for his place. He is also looking for instructors with hitting, pitching and strength training knowledge to add to his staff.
Robbie and high school sweetheart were married a little over a year ago in Florida and welcomed daughter Layla into the world Oct. 28.

Robbie Coursel.
Robbie Coursel.
Benea & Layla Coursel.

Cass enjoying success with South Bend John Adams Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

John Adams High School in South Bend, Ind., is enjoying quite a baseball season so far in 2021.

Under the direction of seventh-year head coach Mike Cass, the Eagles go into a Thursday, May 20 contest at Penn at 15-3 overall and 6-3 in Northern Indiana Conference games.

“It’s the best season we’ve had in years,” says Cass, who has witnessed steady pitching and defense and has shuffled his lineup to produce some offense. Of the three losses, two came down to the seventh inning.

“We’ve gotten lucky,” says Eagles pitching coach Taylor Neville. “We’ve got pretty good depth at the pitching spot. 

“We always try to develop (the young arms) and give them time at the JV level or in a intrasquad game or a doubleheader where we’re trying to get guys playing time. We see how they perform and what we can fix. We come up with a plan for them. 

“We’ve really had a lot of guys develop. It know it just doesn’t happen here but in summer ball.”

Neville cites Adams senior Bryce Martens as someone who has gotten better as his prep career has progressed.

“In his freshman came up with us (to varsity),” says Neville. “His first game pitching was against Jimtown and he was really struggling with the curve ball. We worked on that and got a very nice curve ball out of it.

“He’s just continued to develop.”

Neville is a graduate of Gahanna (Ohio) Lincoln High School.

C.J. Schwartz, another Adams assistant, graduate from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School and played baseball at Grace College in Winona, Lake, Ind.

What does Cass stress with his Adams players?

“Leadership, sportsmanship and fundamentals,” says Cass. “We want to do the little things in baseball like bunt coverage and being where you’re supposed to be (at your position) and those sorts of things.”

Prior to taking over the Adams program, Cass was an assistant to former South Bend St. Joseph head coach John Gumpf and before that an assistant to Scott Sherry at John Adams. 

He credits Gumpf for much about what he knows about coaching the game.

Cass coached at South Bend East Side Little League before his first stint at Adams.

Cass came to Indiana from Pennsbury Township, Pa. — west of Philadelphia where he rooted for the Philadelphia Phillies and his favorite player, Mike Schmidt.

Further educated at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Ind., and Indiana University South Bend, Cass has been a bookkeeper in the South Bend Community School Corporation for the past 20 years — mostly at John Adams.

Adams (enrollment around 1,950) is a member of the NIC (with Bremen, Elkhart, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington).

“We’ve got some good coaches in this conference,” says Cass. “You can tell they’re good coaches because they’re always there building a program.”

The Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka, Plymouth (the 2021 host) and Riley. Adams has won six sectional titles — the last in 2009.

Adams plays its home games at School Field, which is located about a mile off-campus next to the football field of the same name and Jefferson Traditional School.

Mike Cass (South Bend John Adams High School Photo)

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

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

“People have really bought into that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elkhart sports 10 seniors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bryce Blondell