Tag Archives: Mike Gustin

Willard follows father as Eastside Blazers head coach

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

Eastside Junior/Senior High School athletics has been a big part of Cade Willard’s world all of his 23 years.
His parents — Aaron and Kerri Willard — have both been employed by DeKalb Eastern Community School District.
Cade played baseball and basketball for the Butler, Ind.-based Eastside Blazers — Jason Pierce for the first two years (2014 and 2015) and his father for the last two (2016 and 2017) on the diamond and Ryan Abbott on the hardwood.
A right-handed pitcher, Willard played three seasons at Purdue Fort Wayne (2019-21). He redshirted in 2018. He appeared in 92 games (all in relief) for the Mastodons. His head coach the last two seasons was Doug Schreiber.
“Throughout my career I’ve been blessed with good coaches,” says Willard.
Graduating in 2021 as a Business Management major and Marketing minor, Willard went to work at Eastside teaching Business and Computer Science and joined his father’s baseball coaching staff.
After an IHSAA Class 2A state runner-up finish in 2021, Eastside won another sectional title in 2022. The Kelly Green & White went 26-7 in ’21 and 21-8 in ’22.
Eastside (enrollment around 380) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview).
The Blazers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Central Noble, Churubusco, Prairie Heights, Westview and Whitko. Eastside has won seven sectional titles.
Aaron Willard was a North coach and Owen Willard — little brother of former volleyball/softball athlete Madison (Willard) Shelter (Class of 2014) and Cade — was the MVP at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.
At the end of the season, Aaron Willard kept his athletic director tag but passed the head coaching baton to Cade.
His decision to pursue business or education and coaching was made during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I grew up around Eastside my whole life,” says Cade. “It seemed right.
“It makes it more special being in your hometown.”
Aaron and elementary P.E. teacher Kerri now have more time to see right-hander Owen pitch at PFW.
Cade is also an assistant to Ed Bentley on the Blazers varsity boys basketball staff. Willard found time to lead IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activities (two days a week for two hours) in the fall and will do so again in the winter, beginning Dec. 5. He will roll right from basketball to baseball on some days.
“In the fall, we got better, got in a routine and got our hitting philosophies down,” says Willard, who had eight to 10 high schoolers at each session along with a handful of junior high players. “On paper, we had our starting infield out there.
“It’s important to get kids in before the holidays. We can see what numbers we have.”
Cade wants the ones who are able to attend to get used to his practice structure.
“The past few years we’ve been successful,” says Willard. “It’s about keeping the tradition alive.
““We’re always a scrappy team. I want to get our guys ready to compete. We have a few spots to fill. We were super senior-heavy last year.
“For some it will be the first time playing varsity baseball. Toward the end of the season we’ll be alright.”
Besides Owen Willard, Class of 2022’s Nick Snyder moved on to college baseball at Indiana University Southeast.
Willard has a mixture of seasoned and younger assistant coaches.
“I think it’s important to bring on experienced guys who know what to do in different situations,” says Willard.
Eastern graduate Tony Emenhiser — who coached with Pierce and Aaron Willard — is back. Alum Gary Kaiser was also on Pierce’s staff.
Conner Dove is junior varsity head coach and is assisted by Mike Gustin. Dove was an Eastside classmate of Willard. He was a teammate of Prairie Heights graduate Gustin at Trine University (Angola, Ind.).
Willard expects to have around two dozen players for varsity and JV squads. Among returnees is Class of 2024’s Loden Johnson and Ryder Reed and Class of 2025’s Jace Mayberry.
Pitchers will be asked to throw strikes and keep the ball low and away from he middle of the plate.
“Free bases hurt,” says Willard. “You can throw two pitches for strikes and get away with it and be effective with three.
“In our non-conference games we’ll see who can throw and who cannot throw. It’ll get us ready for rather get ready for conference in the later weeks.
There will be a lot of juggling (of positions) this year for sure. We want to put the best lineup out there for conference.”
Eastside plays home contests on-campus at Michael D. Fieldler Field. The diamond played host to a fall league and has had its dugouts upgraded with other projects in the works.
Bobcat Youth League locations at Butler and Riverdale-St. Joe develop players that end up at Eastside. Fifth and sixth graders travel to play area teams, including in Hicksville, Ohio. Butler is about four miles from the Indiana-Ohio line.
The non-conference high school season tends to include Ohio opponents like Archbold, Edgerton and Fairview.
A youth camp is planned at Eastside for the spring.
“It is important to get youth kids enjoying and playing baseball
doing it the right way,” says Willard. “Dad — being AD — says that’s an area you could blossom in with time over the long run.”

Cade Willard.
Cade Willard.
Aaron Willard (left) and Cade Willard.
Owen Willard (left) and Cade Willard.
Cade (left), Owen, Kerri and Aaron Willard.

Guthrie, Prairie Heights baseball embrace technology for training

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

“Kids just love playing video games. They’re playing video games at practice and they love it.” — T.J. Guthrie, head baseball coach at Prairie Heights High School

Always looking for ways to develop his players, Guthrie added Virtual Reality to the Panthers’ practice regimen by bringing in a WIN Reality system which helps hitters with things like pitch recognition.
Athletes don a headset and get a fully-immersive experience, seeing realistic pitches in what looks like a professional stadium.
“I’m constantly scouring the Internet and social media to see what is out there to better our kids,” says Guthrie, who introduced WIN Reality when players returned from winter break in January. “I like to mix up our training routines.
“Some days we don’t get the gym with the batting cage and we can still get in live work. We’re getting that cognitive intuition we need on a much better scale.”
With the WIN Reality, players go through graduated sequence of eight drills. The first is basic, recognizing fastball, curveball and change-up. They are also tracking the pitch. This is done by asking the hitter to point the controller to where the ball ended up in the strike zone.
Later comes the “disappearing pitch” drill where the pitch might go away at 50 feet or less and hitters are still asked to recognize it.
“It really starts to challenge guys,” says Guthrie. “They see their averages at the end (of drills) and the begin competing against each other.”
Guthrie notes that the technology is not new and is used by numerous pro and college teams. Now it has come to Brushy Prairie, Ind.
Using the VR trainer offers an efficient way to see more pitches in less time than would be possible with the traditional methods alone.
“We’re certainly not taking away from the live BP,” says Guthrie. “We’re adding to it in a risk-free environment.”
While identifying these WIN Reality pitches, no swings are taken. Hitters pull the trigger on the controller. The system tells them when they made that decision and if it was in the optimum window of when they could hit the pitch.
“You’re not training your body,” says Guthrie of the VR work. “We’re using this to train the brain.
“We’re using cage to train the body on the proper fundamentals.”
WIN Reality does include an optional bat attachment and collects data on swings.
Guthrie, a 2011 Fremont (Ind.) High School graduate who had his college career ended by injury, embraces tech.
He uses smart baseballs that track spin rates, velocity and movement. There are Blast Motion sensors on his players’ bats to give feedback.
“We’re getting video of guys all the time,” says Guthrie, who likes to shoot 4K at 60 frames-per-second. “We go frame-by-frame and make sure we’re not missing anything.”
A phone app called Coach’s Eye allows for comparative side-by-side videos. It’s helpful for pitchers trying to make all their pitches look the same coming out of their hand.
Guthrie says that pitch recognition training when he was a player involved a VCR.
“We’d see a one-second clip of a ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand,” says Guthrie. “But it did not mix it up like the real pitcher does.”
Guthrie has used YouTube videos for this purpose. There is also a phone app called GameSense Pitch-IQ.
With Guthrie and varsity assistants Mike Gustin (pitching coach), Tyler Christman and Ryan Fulton, junior varsity coaches Gene Smith (head coach), Dave Priestley (pitching coach), Shane Richards and JV statistician Reese Smith, Prairie Heights is preparing to compete in the Northeast Corner Conference (which also includes Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, West Noble and Westview) and IHSAA Class 2A in 2022.
“The NECC seems to be going in a high-velocity direction,” says Guthrie. “We’ve got a lot of great pitchers in this conference. It was bound to happen because of the push for travel ball. The kids want to get better day in and day out.
“We need to know how we improve at the plate. You’ve got to score runs to win games. The velocity is one thing. It’s the curve balls, sliders and change-ups that are beating us.
“Recognizing the pitch is half the battle.”

Prairie Heights High School baseball uses Virtual Reality technology with a WIN Reality system.
A WIN Reality Screenshot.
A WIN Reality Screenshot.
A WIN Reality Screenshot.

Guthrie eager to get going with Prairie Heights Panthers

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

T.J. Guthrie was just hired as the head baseball coach at Prairie Heights Community High School near LaGrange, Ind.

Guthrie and his coaching staff are young and eager to work with the Panthers.

“There’s not a staff out there more excited to get going,” says Guthrie, who at 26 is the oldest in a group that also includes Prairie Heights alums Tanner Perkins (who played at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne), Mike Gustin (who played at Trine University in Angola, Ind.) and Zach Smith. “We’re young and connected to the community.

“We have to have the youngest aggregate age in the state.”

Guthrie’s hiring was approved by the school board too late for the fall Limited Contact Period. The next window for baseball activities opens in a little over a month.

“I’m counting down the days until Dec. 9, I know that,” says Guthrie. That’s when teams can have two-hour blocks twice-a-week for baseball activity. He plans to precede that with an hour of weight lifting and conditioning, putting  as baseball practice at 7:30 p.m. after winter sports practices.

“I want to give everybody an opportunity to get on board early,” says Guthrie.

Why conditioning before practice and not after?

“I want to see them perform when their legs are not fresh,” says Guthrie. This equates to being able to make plays late in games when they’re worn out.

Perkins pitched at Indiana Tech, where head coach Kip McWilliams ran practices with a fast tempo. Guthrie plans to adopt that style for his Panthers.

“I want to see how they (perform) in bottom of seventh when they’re worn out,” says Guthrie. “When you practice at a high pace, once you get in a game everything seems to slow down.”

Building Heights up from the bottom will be a priority.

“We’re going to make sure we focus on the little things a lot,” says Guthrie. “As part of part of our warm-up routine, infielders will be working on their hands and footwork every single day. Outfielders will be doing drop steps and sprinting to the baseball.

“We want to start from the ground up and make sure everything fundamental is correct. We want to make sure we play the game the right way.”

Guthrie also intends to use plenty of technology and metrics, using Blast Motion to measure launch angle and exit velocity.

“We’re top of the cage enthusiasts,” says Guthrie. “We’ll do a lot of weighted-bat training. We’ll work on our hit path and getting the barrel on a plane. It’s rotational hitting.

“We want to lead the conference and, ideally, the state in doubles and home runs.”

This is Guthrie’s second stint on the Panthers staff. He wound up a run after the 2017 working with Nick Pfafman, who left to join head coach Greg Perschke at Trine.

A 2011 Fremont (Ind.) High School graduate who played for Eagles head coach Justin Bock, Guthrie went to Trine to be a pitcher and first baseman. He blew out his elbow in the first couple of practices and opted to focus on his studies and earn an accounting degree which he now puts to use with marketing and sales for his parents’ business, Casey’s Cove Marina on Crooked Lake in Angola.

Guthrie got his coaching start in the Sandy Koufax League in Fremont and coached in travel ball with the Indiana Elite and Sturgis, Mich.-based Hitters Edge.

Prairie Heights plays on-campus at Kellett Field, a facility that has been recently edged and is going through infield work. There are now double-barrel bullpens on both sides of the field. A year ago, the field got new fencing. The playing surface and irrigation system went in five years ago. There are no lights.

“The field is going to play very nice,” says Guthrie. “We have maintenance staff ready to help us out.”

While he has a young squad and no current college baseball commitments, Guthrie has players with those aspirations.

“I’ll put a big emphasis on trying to get guys to the next level,” says Guthrie. “I’m working hard to develop relationships with a lot of these area junior colleges (including Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., and Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne).”

Recent Prairie Heights graduate Jacob Heller also played baseball at Trine.

Four communities with their own youth leagues — Stroh, South Milford, Ashley-Hudson and Orland — feed into Prairie Heights and Guthrie intends to become a familiar face to those players and coaches.

“A number of players are in travel baseball,” says Guthrie. “I want wake sure I’m getting involved with the guys that are staying local and get them ready for high school.”

Prairie Heights (enrollment around 410) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, West Noble and Westview).

Each team plays each other once with the home team alternating from year to year. There’s also an in-season tournament. Teams are guaranteed two games. Most weekday games are played at 5:30 p.m.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Bremen, Central Noble, Fairfield, LaVille and Westivew. Prairie Heights has won two sectional titles — 1977 and 1984.

T.J. and Cheyene Guthrie were high school sweethearts. The couple, which resides in Angola, celebrated four years of marriage in September.

TJGUTHRIE

T.J. Guthrie is the new head baseball coach at Prairie Heights Community High School near LaGrange, Ind. He has recently been coaching travel ball for Hitters Edge.

TJGUTHRIEHITTERSEDGE

T.J. Guthrie (right) stands with a trophy he won in a coaches home run derby at a Gameday USA travel tournament with Hitters Edge. Celebrating with him are former player T.J. Vanderkuyl and assistant coach Jacob Summers. Guthrie is a 2011 Fremont (Ind.) High School graduate who recently became head baseball coach at Prairie Heights Community High School near LaGrange, Ind.

TJCHEYENEGUTHRIET.J. and Cheyene Guthrie take in a baseball game. T.J. Guthrie is now head baseball coach at Prairie Heights Community High School near LaGrange, Ind.