Tag Archives: Midwest Astros Academy

Coughenour stresses life lessons, competition for Eastern Hancock Royals

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

“We all live life.”

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

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

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

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

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

Jacob Low is a police officer in Terre Haute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The season champion receives a plaque.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’ve got to be ready for it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ulrey’s diamond passion is a big HIT

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chris Ulrey has a knack for teaching the game that he loves.

As a professional hitting instructor, the former college player and Major League Baseball draftee works with more than 150 baseball and softball athletes a week at The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind. It was formerly the home of Dream Big Baseball.

Those athletes come from as far away as Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan and all over the state of Indiana.

Ulrey has been involved in youth travel sports as a coach, mentor and instructor since 2010.

In 2015, the New Palestine High School graduate founded the Midwest Astros Academy. In 2018, the academy fields 31 baseball and softball travel teams in age divisions 8U to 17U with players from Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

Ulrey handles the day-to-day baseball operations, facility operations, college consulting, instruction and Ben Taylor handles the softball operations and scheduling.

“I am thankful to have a guy like Ben within our academy,” says Ulrey. “Ben puts a lot of time and work into the operations of the Midwest Astros.”

As a player, Ulrey helped New Palestine to a 2004 IHSAA Class 3A state championship. In his senior year (2006), the left-handed swinging and throwing outfielder was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 33rd round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Because of an injury Ulrey made the choice not to sign and went to college.

He played two years at NJCAA Division I Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and one each at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University and the NCAA Division II University of Indianapolis.

His head coaches were Mitch Hannahs at Lincoln Trail, Jim Schmitz at EIU and Gary Vaught at the U of I.

When Ulrey concluded his college playing career in 2010, he took his first coaching job at Beech Grove High School and opened up his first indoor training facility.

At BG, he helped lead the Hornets to their first winning season since 2004 and first sectional title since 2005 when they went 13-9-2 in 2012.

From there, he served assistant coaching stints at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College for head coach Todd Post and Marian University in Indianapolis for head coach Todd Bacon.

At the same time, Ulrey was coaching summer travel teams.

The Yard Sports Complex is the fifth he’s had since 2010 and the only one he runs since moving away from his last facility in Beech Grove.

With the academy based at the Greenfield complex, Ulrey is able to serve his hitting students and oversee the whole operation.

Ulrey tries to manage his schedule so he can interact with as many of the academy’s teams as possible and to watch them play.

“I want to show support,” Ulrey, 30. “But not only that, I love the game of baseball. Every week — seven days a week — I’m either training, coaching or watching our teams practice at the complex or in games on the weekends.

“It’s my life.”

Ulrey is also an associate scout for the Texas Rangers and works under area scout Michael Medici.

The organization continues to grow and have success on and off the field, however; Ulrey doesn’t take all the credit.

“It’s been a blessing,” says Ulrey. “I’ve had a lot of help along with the way. None of this would be possible without great coaches, directors, instructors, players and the support of the parents.”

Christian Montgomery, a Lawrence Central High School graduate and a former New York Mets minor leaguer, works with pitchers.

Nick Ulrey, brother of Chris and assistant coach at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, travels to Greenfield to instruct catchers.

Ulrey leaves tournament scheduling up to his coaches.

The youngest teams tend to stay in Indiana. As they reach 10U or 11U, they may take out-of-state trips.

At 12U or 13U, the teams tend to travel a little more. The 13U Majors team, coached by Chris Emberton, goes all over the country to compete in elite tournaments.

Emberton has been with Ulrey since the beginning and has continued to progress and compete at a high level every year.

“It’s nice to get out of Indiana every once in a while and play some different teams,” says Ulrey.

The Midwest Astros’ 15U through 17U Showcase teams, including the Tom Ancelet-coached 17U squad, play in tournaments attended by college coaches at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and other locations around Indiana as well as top-level events in places like Nashville, Louisville, Michigan, Georgia and Florida.

“It’s fun watching your older age groups play because you see guys who have developed already,” says Ulrey. “It’s not so much the coaching. It’s like managing with the older teams. They know how to play. You expect them to go out there and do their job and make plays.

“You get to sit back and watch some really good baseball. These are guys you’ll be seeing at the next level.”

As a coach and instructor, Ulrey gets to work with a wide range of ages.

“We try to teach the basics at 8,” says Ulrey. “They take in as much as they can. Off-speed pitches, mental approach and hitter and pitcher counts, a lot of that stuff is for the older age group kids.

“You try to make it fun for an 8-year-old while still trying to teach them the basics. You’re not trying to teach the older guys — high school, college, professional level — how to stand and how to hold the bat. When they feel there’s something wrong with their swing, you put your opinions in an make adjustments.”

Ulrey wants to relate to everyone on a personal level.

“What a lot of people lack in this profession is the relationship you build with the hitter and the parents,” says Ulrey. “For a kid to trust in what you’re teaching and what you’re saying, they’ve got to believe in you. They’ve got to want be there.”

So as work goes into making the complex ready to host tournaments, Ulrey and the rest of his staff will stay with the plan that has helped the academy grow.

“I feel like we’re doing all the right things right now,” says Ulrey. “Our teams are competing well. Our coaches are doing a good job.

“We’ll keep bringing in quality coaches and players and putting in the work.”

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Chris Ulrey is founder and president of Midwest Astros Academy, which operates out of The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind.

 

Diamond expectations high for Miller’s Greenfield-Central Cougars

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greenfield-Central stood toe-to-toe with the team that went on to go undefeated and hoist the 2017 IHSAA Class 4A state championship trophy.

A 1-0 eight-inning loss to Indianapolis Cathedral in last season’s Decatur Central Regional semifinals is enough for the toes of GC players to hit the floor early while preparing for 2018.

“I’ve got 30 kids coming in at 5:45 in the morning,” says Greenfield-Central head coach Robbie Miller. “It’s the only time we can get the gym. That shows how dedicated they are.

“I demand a lot of them. After last year, they see the rewards when we put the time in.

“We can’t just be happy getting there. We’ve got to expect to be there every year. We’ve got to be able to compete at that level to get to the ultimate prize.”

Cougars right-hander Drey Jameson did not allow a hit while striking out 14 over the first seven innings against Cathedral. But the ace bound for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and a spot on the Ball State University roster hit the new pitch limit of 120 and had to leave the mound.

The Irish plated the winning run on a Jake Andriole single with two outs in the top of the eighth. Cathedral went on top Roncalli, Columbus North and Penn on the way to a 29-0 record and a 4A state crown.

“Baseball is a game of inches,” says Miller of the narrow loss to Cathedral. “We had a guy on third base and one out in the bottom of the sixth and our guy hit a one-hop shot to the shortstop. If it’s an inch one way or another we win the ball game in seven innings.”

Miller, who enters his fourth season as GC head coach in 2018, is always talking to his players about high expectations.

Miller’s message: “Everyday you walk on the field it’s a battle. You’ve got to expect to win every time you take the field. You can’t just show up and win. You’ve got to expect and play to win the game.”

A 1997 New Palestine High School graduate who played baseball for coach Lance Marshall at Franklin College, Miller joined the GC coaching staff in 2001. He took two years off just before taking over as head coach.

Miller’s first stint as a varsity assistant at Greenfield-Central came with C.J. Glander. He was a straight shooter with his players and Miller operates the same way.

“You have to be honest with kids and call a spade a spade,” says Miller. “That’s how I look at. It seems that the kids respect that.”

Before and after each season, Miller meets one-on-one with all the players in the program and talks to them about their roles for the coming season or how the just-completed season went.

“Sometimes they like what they hear. Sometimes they don’t like what they hear,” says Miller. “But I’m not going to be one of those that’s going sugarcoat anything with them.”

The 2017 team was filled with players who understood and accepted their roles.

Miller embraces “small ball” and and “quality at-bats” and wants his players to buy into the team concept. The 2017 Cougars went 18-11 while hitting just .245 as squad.

“When we get a sacrifice bunt down, I want everyone in the dugout to go and give him ‘five,’’ says Miller. “He just gave away his at-bat for his team to help us move a runner.

“You should be happy going 0-for-4 and winning vs. going 4-for-4 and losing. That’s about being a team.”

An eight-pitch at-bat that results in a strikeout is still considered a quality at-bat. So is moving the runner with a grounder to the right side of the infield.

Miller also spent one summer coaching with the Indiana Bulls travel organization and a staff that included Glander and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dennis Kas.

“(Kas) used to say that baseball is a game of when. When do you get the hit? When do you make the error?

“People have got to understand that. It’s OK not to have the .500 batting average. I’d rather they hit .280 with 40 RBIs.”

Miller wants his athletes to hold each other accountable.

“If a person next to you is taking a play off, you need to yell at them,” says Miller. “You can do it in a respectful way. But you need to tell them to get their act together.

“Some of the best teams I played on, we were ready to fight. When practice or the game was over, we were best friends.”

While Jameson has moved on and the 2018 Cougars will have plenty of underclassmen with pitching talent, the expectations have not been lowered. Besides that, GC will be defending sectional champions (GC reigned at Pendleton Heights in 2017) and a target to the teams on their schedule.

“It comes with the territory,” says Miller. “I’m trying to get the program from ‘Yay, we played Greenfield!’ to ‘Oh no, we play Greenfield!’”

The Class of 2018 is small but Miller appreciates the leadership. Catcher Braxton Turner is drawing collegiate interest.

Miller’s 2018 assistants will include Mark Vail (former Eastern Hancock head coach), Harold Gibson (father of Minnesota Twins pitcher and 2006 GC graduate Kyle Gibson), Brent Turner and Brandon Plavka. Others are expected to join the staff. Miller says the Cougars could field varsity, junior varsity and freshman/C-teams this spring.

Greenfield-Central belongs to the Hoosier Heritage Conference (along with Delta, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).

The Cougars are grouped in a 4A sectional with Anderson, Connersville, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, Muncie Central, Pendleton Heights and Richmond.

All-time, GC has won 13 sectionals and one regional (2006) and are looking for their first semistate and state titles.

Fenway Park in Boston has it’s “Green Monster.” Molinder Field at Greenfield-Central has a smaller version. The 22-foot high barrier which is about 305 feet from home plate down the left field line was recently re-furbished.

Because of a road down the left field line, the dimensions of the field can’t be expanded to any great extent.

“Anyone who comes there is going to try to hit it over the wall,” says Miller. “We’re trying to get them change their approach at the plate. It just puts a different touch on it. Before, it was just a chain link fence.”

Feeder programs for the high school include Greenfield Youth Baseball Association and travel organizations including two with operations in town — the Indiana Bandits (started by Harold Gibson in 1996) and the Midwest Astros Academy (which established a training facility in Greenfield last fall).

There are also seventh and eighth grade baseball teams at Greenfield-Central Junior High School.

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Robbie Miller enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at Greenfield-Central High School in 2018. The 2017 Cougars won the IHSAA Class 4A Decatur Central Sectional. (Steve Krah Photo)