Andrew Morlen sees a future in public service — perhaps as a police officer or detective. That’s why he is pursuing a Criminology degree. “My dad is a first responder,” says Andrew of Greg Morlen, a firefighter in Fishers, Ind. “I have a lot of respect for the men and women in black and blue. “If I can contribute to and protect the city where I live I feel like I’m doing my part.” As a college baseball player, Andrew Morlen contributes now as a right-handed pitcher. Morlen, a 5-foot-11, 190-pounder, spent the 2022 season at Delta State University — an NCAA Division II program in Cleveland, Miss. He made 10 mound appearances (all in relief) with five scoreless outings while posting a 1-0 record with one save and a 3.75 earned run average. In 12 innings, the righty struck out eight and walked nine. After competing for the Bag Bandits during the 2022 season of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Morlen plans to return to Delta State in the fall. He still has two years of eligibility and will consider his possible graduate school options based on how the 2023 season goes. He landed in Mississippi after the DSU Statesmen were attracted by a video posted by the coaching staff at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., where Morlen pitched during the springs of 2020 and 2021. Andy Rincker, pitching coach and recruiting coordinator, reached out to Morlen and brought him in for a visit. “I just fell in love with the campus and atmosphere,” says Morlen. “We have a really good coaching staff (led by Rodney Batts) to go along with it.” Delta State went 32-17 with an appearance in the NCAA D-II South Regional in 2022. After spending the summers of 2019 and 2020 training — much of the time with Greg Vogt at PRP Baseball in Noblesville — Morlen hurled for the CSL’s Turf Monsters in 2021. Born and raised in Fishers, Morlen played local rec ball and then travel ball with the Indiana Nitro from ages 16 to 18. His head coach was Craig Huls (who is now pitching coach at Fishers High School). A 2018 graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Morlen played for then-Royals head coach Scott Henson. “He made sure you did the little things right,” says Morlen of Henson. “If we take care of the little things it will take care of the bigger things down the road.” Morlen was at NCAA D-III Anderson (Ind.) University in 2019 before transferring to National Junior College Athletic Association Division I member Lake Land. In the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, he got into five games and was 0-0 with four strikeouts and four walks in 4 2/3 innings. Playing for Lakers head coach Julio Godinez and pitching coach/recruiting coordinator Gordon Cardenas, Morlen started five times out of nine games in 2021 and went 3-1 with 4.81 earned run average. He fanned 33 and walked 17 in 24 1/3 innings. Throwing from an arm slot between three-quarter and over-the-top, Morlen uses a four-seam fastball (which has been recorded at 89 mph) with arm-side movement. “My slider is my go-to pitch (for swing-and-miss or light contact),” says Morlen. Greg and Susan Morlen have two sons — Andrew (22) and A.J. (19). Susan Morlen is a senior credit analyst for Delta Faucet in Fishers. A.J. Morlen, a 2021 HSE graduate and former baseball player, attends Purdue University.
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)
Kelcey Mucker grew up in the southern part of Indiana and excelled at multiple sports. Born in Washington, Ind., and moving to Lawrenceburg, Ind., around 18 months, Mucker would go on to shine at Lawrenceburg High School. The 1993 graduate played in the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Boys Basketball Series as well as the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and the Indiana Football Coaches Association North/South All-Star Game. At the time, he was told he was the first to ever pull off that three-sport feat. One of his teammates in the Indiana-Kentucky and IHSBCA North-South games was Jasper’s Scott Rolen. Both were named to the 2018 Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Silver Anniversary Team. Mucker, who swang the bat from the left side and threw the baseball and the football with his right arm, was headed to Indiana University on a football scholarship with plans to also represent the Hoosiers in basketball and baseball when his path turned to professional baseball. Selected in the first round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins, all-state outfielder Mucker did not sign right away and had time for those summertime all-star appearances. One day before he was to begin classes at IU — Aug. 9, 1993 — the 6-foot-4 athlete signed with the Twins. “The offer was good and I weighed my options,” says Mucker, the Lawrenceburg High School Athletics Hall of Famer. “I feel like I could’ve played baseball a lot longer than the other sports.” Basketball was his favorite and he excelled at football. He did not put the time into baseball he did the other two. “It was something I could do,” says Mucker, who went on to play 597 pro games, including 109 with the 1995 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards. Mucker played in the Twins system 1993-99 — seeing time at Double-A the last two years. He hooked on with the Cleveland Indians organization as a minor league free agent in 2000 and was released in April. The Oakland Athletics hired him as a scout and assigned him to a Deep South territory. He first moved to Metairie, La., outside New Orleans. He was in Baton Rouge, Fla., for 14 years and three years ago moved 20 miles east to Denham Springs, La., where he lives with wife Lisa. Mucker, who is beginning his 22nd year with the Athletics, is responsible for knowing the baseball talent in Louisiana, Mississippi and southeast Texas (Houston area). At this time of the year, Mucker is spending much of his time getting ready for the spring season. He meets with potential signees through in-home visits or (since the COVID-19 pandemic) sometimes over Zoom calls. “Getting into homes was pretty big for us as area scouts — that face-to-face contact,” says Mucker. “That’s still challenging going into 2022. “I like talking to parents and kids at the ballpark. It’s not so impersonal.” Mucker’s job is tied to being organized. “It’s knowing my area and what’s going on on a daily basis — not only for me but my supervisors and everybody above me so they can get that second look,” says Mucker. “We all can evaluate a player. What ballparks are we going to get in?” Emails let him know when there are changes in games and he’s always on top of the forecast. “I feel like I’m a weatherman,” says Mucker. “Rain is not good for a baseball game.” But — generally speaking — the weather is good and baseball can be played 12 months a year in Mucker’s area. In the winter months, that is often a workout or showcase. “Kids are always working out — sometimes a little bit too much,” says Mucker. “From the draft (now in July during the MLB All-Star break) until start of the season, we’re getting ready for 2022. “I try to see everybody we can prior to next spring so we have an idea.” Unlike Indiana when the snow might still be flying in April, high school baseball in Mucker’s territory tends to start the third week of February. Mucker also keeps tabs on players’ social media accounts. “They might Tweet something they shouldn’t and be a bigger risk,” says Mucker. “For us as scouts that’s part of the equation.” Not all MLB organizations bring their scouts together during the draft. With the exception of 2020 with travel restrictions, Mucker and his colleagues go to Oakland during that time. Mucker is vice president of the Southeastern Scouts Association — a group made up of scouts living in the Deep South and representing all 30 MLB teams. “We meet once a year and talk about initiaves and giving back to the game within our region,” says Mucker, who has also been part of the Buck O’Neil Professional Baseball Scouts & Coaches Association. Mucker notes that there is some uncertainty about what will transpire in baseball until the current lockout is resolved. Scouting has always been competitive, but now that the draft has been cut down to 20 rounds (it was 40 in 2019 and five in 2020) it is even more important to know as much information as possible about players and also what other organizations think about him. How much do the Reds like that player? Can we wait until the third round or take them in the second? “It’s another way — on a bigger scale — to be organized within your territory,” says Mucker. Though he’s lived away from Indiana more than two decades, Kelcey Adair Mucker still has family ties there. His father — retired Indiana State Police trooper of 30 years — Hubert Mucker Jr., is just outside Lawrenceburg. Brother Stacy Mucker and son Kelcey Aaron Mucker live in Lawrenceburg with many other family members in Washington or Indianapolis.
An Indiana team earned baseball hardware last weekend in the Sunshine State. The Indy Heat reigned in the 35-and-over division at the 2021 National Adult Baseball Association Lou Palmer Memorial Florida World Series Nov. 11-14 in Cocoa and Melbourne. The team made up of Hoosier Townball Association and Indiana Baseball League players from around the central part of the state went 6-1 – 4-1 as the No. 1 seed in pool play – to take the title in the wood bat event. Formed early in 2021 and playing in exhibitions against the Jasper (Ind.) Reds and IBL 18-and-over Rays at new Loeb Stadium in Lafayette, Ind., and in a Labor Day tournament at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., the Indy Heat is co-managed by catcher Paul Staten (46), center fielder/pitcher Chad Justice (38) and pitcher Gabe Cuevas (41). Staten was the oldest in Florida. The youngest was catcher Trevor Nielsen (34). Rules allowed two players no younger than 33 who were not used as pitchers. Most Indy Heat players have experience in high school and beyond. Some play in both the HTA and IBL. Staten played at North Forrest High School in Hattiesburg, Miss., and one year at Jones College in Ellisville, Miss. Justice played at New Castle (Ind.) High School, graduated from Shenandoah High School in Middletown, Ind., ran track on scholarship and also played baseball for Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Jerry Blemker at Vincennes (Ind.) University. Cuevas played at South Bend (Ind.) Washington High School and Triton College in River Grove, Ill. “Playing against the Jasper Reds gives us a good dose of baseball early in the season,” says Staten, whose team was competitive in four losses to the long-established organization. “We gave them a ball game. “We’re going to continue exhibition with those guys.” Adult baseball players tends swing wood. “Some of these guys can still create quite a bit of exit velocity with aluminum and composite bats,” says Staten. “The (Men’s Senior Baseball League) tries to adhere to MLB rules as much as possible,” says Justice. Sixteen Indy Heat players were able to make the Florida trip. About half of the team entry fee was picked up by sponsors. Players arranged hotels or airbnb accommodations. The Indy Heat beat the Angels 16-0 in Game 1. John Zangrilli pitched a complete-game shutout. Game 7 was a 15-7 loss to the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Phillies. That’s when the Indiana team opted to scrap their gale blue jerseys for black ones accented by gale blue and laser fuchsia and wore those the rest of the tournament. “We’re not superstitious,” says Staten. “Dirty or not, we were wearing our black jerseys.” The Heat concluded pool games by topping the Dallas (Texas) Redbirds 8-3, Northwest Indiana Royals 6-1 and the Dade City (Fla.) Brewers with Mitch Brock tossing a shutout in the latter contest. The field of eight was cut to four after pool play with overall record being the top criteria for semifinals seeding. Runs against was the first tiebreaker followed by runs scored. The Heat outscored pool play opponents 48-16. The Indy Heat bested the Chattanooga Phillies 14-6 in the semifinals. Yasidro Matos came on in long relief of Zangrilli for the Indiana winners. A rematch with the Dallas Redbirds — a team with players who’ve been together for years — in the championship game resulted in a 4-3 Indy Heat win Cuevas pitching a nine-inning shutout. The tournament started with games having a three-hour time limit, but rains caused that to be cut to two hours in games leading up to the final one. “Hats off to the pitching staff,” says Staten. Indy Heat managers employed a bullpen strategy in Florida. By holding pitchers to about 60 pitches they had fresher arms at the end of the tournament. “Other teams were dying out and we had three good arms going into the finals,” says Justice. “I didn’t guys want to throw more than 60 pitches and seeing (the opposing) lineup more than two or three times.” Restrictions were lifted later in the event. “That’s the time you leave it on the line,” says Staten. “There’s nothing going on after that.” What’s next for the Indy Heat? ‘I don’t foresee us playing in anything competitive between now and spring,” says Staten, who notes that players will keep sharp in batting cages and keep sharp with a few practices before that time. “We’ve got guys that are ready to go now. They’re pumped coming off a championship.”
Three years after graduating from Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Hayden Jones is bigger and stronger and more mature. Jones, who signed last week as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds out of Illinois State University, says his biggest growth since his prep days has come on the mental side. That’s why he wanted to go to college first instead of pursuing his pro career right away. “I put the dollar amount so high no one was going to sign me (out of high school),” says Jones, who turned 21 on April 27. “I’ve learned to accept failure when it comes, knowing its not going to be the end of the world.” Hayden, whose father Ken Jones was drafted as a catcher by the San Diego Padres in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now a Purdue Fort Wayne assistant coach and grandfather Bill Jones (who died in November 2015) was a founding member and longtime executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and selected as an IHSBCA Hall of Famer in 1982, played for Dave Ginder at Carroll. The lefty swinger and earned four letters while garnering IHSBCA all-state honors three times and being selected as MVP of the 2018 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series. Hayden’s uncle, Brad Jones, lettered in baseball at Ball State University. His son, Tyler Jones, played at the University of Dayton in 2021. Cousin Chris Menzie was a baseball letterwinner at Huntington (Ind.) University. Jennifer Jones is Hayden’s mother. Hayden Jones spent his freshmen season at Mississippi State University in 2019, appearing in 27 games (14 starts) and hitting .224 (11-of-49) with one home run, four doubles, five runs batted in, five runs scored and a .636 OPS (.269 on-base percentage plus .367 slugging average). His fielding percentage with the Chris Lemonis-coached Bulldogs was .971 with 64 putouts, three assists and two errors. Because of NCAA Division I transfer rules, he had to sit out the 2020 season. In 2021 at Illinois State, he played in 38 games (31 starts) and hit .230 (28-of-122) with five homers, two triples, six doubles, 28 RBIs and 15 runs. His OPS was .730 (.296/.434). He also fielded at a .990 clip with 182 putouts, 21 assists and two errors. “I loved Mississippi State,” says Jones. “My girlfriend (Savannah Shinn) still lives down there. It just wasn’t a fit (baseball-wise).” At ISU, Jones worked with Redbirds head coach and former big league catcher Steve Holm. Jones’ mechanics were changed back to where he had been while working with his father in high school. “It all clicked from there,” says Jones. “I was growing and maturing and understanding the game at a faster pace.” To Jones, blocking, receiving and controlling the opponents’ running game are important. But overall baseball knowledge is a major key to catching. “My dad and grandpa gave me that big piece,” says Jones. “You need that support staff. Now they can let go and let the Reds do the magic. I text my dad every single night. He’s learning from me now.” Playing 18 games this summer in the new MLB Draft League with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), Jones hit .237 (9-of-38) with one homer, one double, seven RBIs, six runs and .725 OPS (.383/.342). He learned from manager Coco Crisp and coach Ron Mahay — both former big leaguers. While he still has years of eligibility left, Jones decided now was the time to move forward as a baseball player. “I was ready,” says Jones, who was draft eligible three years out of high school. “I wanted to get my career going and get my foot in the door.” Jones’ name was not called during the 20-round 2021 MLB Draft. The phone did ring five minutes after its conclusion with his agent telling him that Reds senior director of player personnel Jeff Graupe wanted the catcher. In short order, he was traveling to Goodyear, Ariz., to take a physical and sign his contract with scouting supervisor Andy Stack. “It was not the money I was expecting, but you don’t make your money until you get to the big leagues,” says Jones, who has began training. He and other free agents and draftees will see if the Reds assign them to the Arizona League, send them out to an affiliate (Low Class-A Daytona, Fla., Tortugas, High Class-A Dayton, Ohio, Dragons, Double-A Chattanooga, Tenn., Lookouts, Triple-A Louisville, Ky., Bats) or just keep working at camp. “Nobody knows what to expect,” says Jones. “It’s where they need help in the organization.” Jones spent the summer of 2020 with the Brent McNeil-coached Turf Monsters in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Among those running the CSL were Phil Wade and Blake Hibler, who coached Jones on Team Indiana in the Fall of 2016 and 2017. Outside the all-star series, Jones was at Mississippi State in the summer of 2018. He was the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Newport (R.I.) Gulls in 2019. Jones was pursuing a Recreation and Park Administration at Illinois State. He says he could complete it in another year.
As of this writing, the DePauw staff features fifth-year head coach Blake Allen (who is in charge of pitchers and catcher) and Pustay (who is responsible for infielders, outfielders and hitters plus recruiting).
Pustay asks his infielders in particular to be aggressive.
“I want them making mistakes on their toes rather than making mistakes on their heels,” says Pustay. “I don’t want them to get in bad position and let ball play them.
“A rule we’ve tried to instill the last two years is for infielders try to say four words between each pitch (encouragement to the pitch or something strategic). It’s so they’re engaged and not waiting for something to happen.”
Outfielders are expected to make the play that’s “smart, controlled and correct.”
“Their aggression is a little more controlled,” says Pustay. “They have to be 90 percent sure to throw to the lead base. Otherwise, cut your losses and get the ball to second base (to keep the double play in order).”
Hitting is based on keeping things simple and playing to the athlete’s strengths.
“You win with who you are a a hitter,” says Pustay. “There’s a million different ways to win a ballgame. We’d like nothing better than putting a bunch of crooked numbers on the board, but there’s noting wrong with winning with a hundred paper cuts.
“We make sure we know ourselves as hitters. We are allowing guys the freedom to swing away if they feel that’s their game and really helps us.
“We want to make a good swing and hit the ball hard. We try to compete like heck on every pitch.”
In keeping the approach simple, the shorter the pre-swing thought the better.
“If you’re speaking to yourself in full sentences, you have to get out of the box,” says Pustay. “We want to use one or two words.”
As a two-man crew, Pustay and Allen conducted fall practice in September and October.
As a social distancing measure and so each student could have a solo dormitory room, only freshmen and sophomores were on-campus while juniors and seniors took online classes. Ballplayers worked out on their own or in small groups away from DePauw.
“It was sort of a blessing and curse all at the same time,” says Pustay. “For the freshmen, it was a great fall. They had a lot of great individual time — one-on-one development with the coaches.
“We had 12 position players on-campus. It was a nice crash course for freshmen for sure.”
Having the others off-campus was not ideal, but coaches and players made it work with plenty of Zoom meetings and phone calls. Pustay and Allen regularly checked in with their student-athletes.
“What I missed most this fall was the daily interaction with players walking by my office on the way to class or the weight room,” says Pustay. “As (DePauw head men’s basketball coach Bill Fenlon says), it’s a relationship business.
“You have to care for these guys on and off the field. You find out what’s important to them. It’s a mentorship.”
Pustay has been with Allen for the past four seasons after spending six with Jake Martin at the head of the Tigers program.
“The thing I really appreciate about Blake is that character counts with him,” says Pustay. “You win with the right people.
“Personally, not only has he given me a lot of responsibility but he also commands results. We’ve got to keep working. We can’t have time where we’re patting ourselves on the back for too long.”
As a father of three, Allen has also passed along lessons about balancing family life and baseball. Matt and Laura Pustay live in Indianapolis with daughter Ellie (3) and son Joey (1).
“It’s important to take time for your family during a pretty demanding coaching schedule,” says Pustay.
“It was a graduate course — essentially — in baseball,” says Pustay. “I could talk for days about Mike Roberts. He taught myself and the other assistants about how to treat people. He really taught us how to make everybody around the park feel like they were a part of it. That whole community lived for the Kettleers.
“It was a very family-friendly experience.”
Pustay got to know the names of a lot of dogs and kids.
“Mike Roberts taught me how to be a better person and trust myself,” says Pustay. “He’s a class act.”
Through Allen’s Vanderbilt University connections, Pustay has worked four fall camps at the NCAA D-I powerhouse (2015-19). Tim Corbin is the Commodores head coach.
Pustay has also worked camps at Notre Dame during the tenure of Mik Aoki and and Kentucky when Gary Henderson was head coach.
A native of Granville, Ohio, Pustay graduated from Granville High School in 2005 and earned three baseball letters at DePauw (2007, 2008 and 2009) as a catcher while playing for head coach Matt Walker (who is now head football coach at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls).
Pustay helped former high school teammate Sean Rainey with the Granville American Legion Post 398 team in the summer of 2009 then became an assistant at NCAA D-III Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and was with the Ryan Grice-coached Crusaders for 2010 spring season.
“Coach Grice gave me a pretty long leash,” says Pustay. “He handed the catching position over to me. It was the best thing to happen to me as a young coach, being given that much responsibility.”
Grice did not nit-pick, he just asked that Pustay keep him posted about what he was doing.
Martin, who was a DePauw assistant when Pustay played for the Tigers, had put in a good word for him at Capital.
When Martin became DePauw’s head coach, he brought Pustay back to Greencastle. The two have remained close even after Martin went down the road to become head coach at Wabash College.
“It’s not about the hitter or the umpire,” says Gaura, heads into his third season in 2020-21. “It’s competing against ourselves.
“We’ve got to be competitive with two to three pitches and try not to over-think it.”
The Aces are beginning their fourth week of team practice after four weeks focused on individuals that missed much of their spring season (Evansville played just 16 games when play was halted in March) and summer to COVID-19.
“We’re getting them into a competitive environment as much as possible,” says Gaura. “Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday we’re treating like a weekend series.”
That means starters are going four or five innings and relievers two our three. The goal is to have each arm get 18 to 20 innings by the end of fall ball.
After team practice, the plan is to go back to a week or two of individual training before Thanksgiving break.
As a COVID-19 measure, students will turn to online classes and testing and not come back to practice until the beginning of 2021. Baseball players will re-assemble in the middle of January — about a month before the start of the season.
“It’s going to be a big challenge this year,” says Gaura. “We’ll rely on guys to get in work on their own.”
Gaura (pronounced Gore-uh) is also UE’s recruiting coordinator. Because of the virus, there have not been many opportunities to see players perform in-person or have face-to-face meetings.
“It’s definitely a strange time,” says Gaura. “We work the phones to build relationships.”
That’s when coaches can get a sense of a potential recruit’s character.
Evansville’s campus is currently open to visitors who must go through a sign-in process. Academic tours are available.
Gaura is on an Aces coaching staff headed by Wes Carroll.
“Wes is an awesome guy to work for,” says Gaura, 28. “He brings energy every single day.
“He gives his assistants a lot of autonomy. He focuses on the culture of the program and allows us to coach the skill aspects of baseball. It’s a great work environment.”
From 2016-18, Gaura was at Mississippi State University, where he served as graduate assistant video coordinator, coordinator of player development and volunteer assistant/camp coordinator and headed up on-campus recruiting was responsible for the organization of all on-campus recruiting, the scholarship and recruiting database and video needs for both player development and advanced scouting.
During Gaura’s stay in Starkville, Gary Henderson was an MSU assistant then head coach. Henderson began his college coaching career in the late 1980’s.
Gaura gleaned much from the veteran coach about the intricacies of running a pitching staff and program on a day-to-day basis.
“He took me under his wing and taught me the dynamics of working with the coaches and players,” says Gaura. “With his experience, there’s so much that can be learned from him.”
Given the frosty temperatures in northeast Wisconsin, Gaura learned how to get better on the diamond from April to August and what it means to train indoors. His first travel ball came in the summer before his senior year at Bay Port. Before that, he played American Legion Baseball.
“It was a very pure baseball experience,” says Gaura, who has five players from Wisconsin and two from Canada on the Evansville roster. “What I know we’re getting there is blue collar kids from good families.
“Their best days are ahead of them. They find ways to eliminate the excuse of not being able to go outside for long toss. It’s about being creative. If you are really committed to getting better, there’s a million ways you can get your work in.”
“I love the punch-out,” says the graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is fanning opposing hitters at a rate of 12.81 per nine innings for the 2019 season (102 K’s and 24 walks in 71 2/3 innings) and 12.09 for his collegiate career (240 whiffs and 82 freebies in 178 1/3 innings). “I’ve got pretty good breaking balls. I can expand the zone on them.”
Thompson, who employs a four-seam fastball that he can sometimes get up to 97 mph that he mixes with a cutter, change-up, curveball and slider, says he goes to the mound with two keys in his mind: Get a first-pitch strike and after that win the 1-1 battle.
“There’s such a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Thompson.
Currently the Saturday starter during weekend series for the Wildcats, the southpaw is 4-1 with a 1.88 earned run a 1.88 earned run average. Opponents are hitting .179 against him in 11 games (11 starts).
Since coming to UK, Thompson is 14-3 with one save, a 2.57 ERA and .188 opponent’s batting mark in 40 appearances (31 as a starter).
“It was just the right fit and has a very blue collar feel,” says Thompson. “My family (which includes father Bill, mother Jan and older brother Nick) can see games. They’re usually down here every weekend. And it’s in the (Southeastern Conference).
“The SEC has the best competition and best environment to improve.”
Thompson describes the atmosphere at conference road games as “incredible.”
He has gotten to stand on the bump on a circuit that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.
In the summer of 2018, Thompson played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, making three appearances with one start. He was 1.0 with a 0.00 ERA, eight strikeout, five walks and three hits allowed in 8 2/3 innings. Opponents, including Chinese Taipei, Japan and Cuba, hit .107 against the left-hander.
“That was just an awesome experience,” says Thompson. “I was representing my country and playing with the some of the best players and for some of the best coaches.
“I got to see how other people do it.”
Louisiana State University head coach Paul Mainieri was the USA CNT head coach. The pitching coach was University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor.
“Coach O is great,” says Thompson of O’Connor. “We worked on things in bullpen that translated to the game really well like his philosophies and pitch calling.”
Mainieri is a former head coach at Notre Dame, where O’Connor was his pitching coach.
Baseball America made the 21-year-old Thompson the No. 1 SEC prospect in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which is slated for June 3-5). D1 Baseball has him No. 2 on their list. He is also high in prospect rankings for MLBPipeline.com and Perfect Game.
“I try not to worry about it,” says Thompson of the MLB Draft. “It won’t matter if I don’t do my job on the mound.”
Thompson was born in Anderson, Ind., and grew up in Selma near Muncie. Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley at Wapahani.
“Brian was awesome and a great mentor,” says Thompson of Dudley. “He’s a great leader in the community.
“He sets his players up for success in the class room and on the field.”
Thompson was a National Honor Society student that led him to study business management in college. On the diamond, he put up eye-popping numbers.
On the mound, he went 23-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 405 strikeouts for 183 2/3 innings (15.43 per seven innings). As a sophomore, he helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2014 while going 13-0 with a 0.64 ERA over 87 innings as a pitcher and also hit .500 with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in.
High school summers were spent traveling with the Indiana White Sox or Indiana Bulls.
Thompson was selected in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, but opted not to sign and went to Kentucky.
Zack Thompson, a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is a junior left-handed pitcher at the University of Kentucky. (University of Kentucky Photo)
Zack Thompson is among the nation’s top pitching prospects for the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The left-hander is a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and has been racking up strikeouts in droves as a University of Kentucky junior. (University of Kentucky)
“I truly can’t wait to get started,” says DuBois, 28. “(Former Goshen head coach) Josh (Keister) made unbelievable strides in a short time.
“I want to keep the momentum going.”
While J.J. says the fast pace of basketball got much of his attention growing up, he came to enjoy the strategy and nuances of baseball. He appreciates the life lessons that it can help impart.
“It teaches you how to bounce back from failure,” says DuBois. “You get humbled real quick in baseball.
“Coaching — in any sport — can make a huge impact on kids.”
While roles could change, J.J. DuBois says he expects to have the same men return to coach Goshen baseball in 2018-19, including Aaron Keister, Clay Norris, Troy Pickard, Tracy Farmwald, Chad Collins and Daniel Liechty.
Aaron Keister was the RedHawks pitching coach and Norris a varsity assistant in 2018. Pickard helped DuBois at the junior varsity level. Liechty served as elementary coordinator and a liaison to Goshen Little League.
After years at Rogers Park, the JV was moved to the Little League. DuBois says he wants to conduct camps for Goshen’s youth players.
The varsity plays on Phend Field, located across U.S. 33 from Goshen High School.
DuBois coached junior varsity baseball at Goshen the past two seasons and now gets to educate young people in his first job as a head coach.
“There’s nothing better than helping kids find out what they want to pursue and get the most out of them as an athlete and turn that into some wins,” says DuBois, who played baseball and tennis for four years and basketball for one at Jimtown High School in Elkhart, Ind., graduating in 2008.
DuBois was a first baseman and pitcher on the diamond for coach Mike Stout and a singles player on the court for coach Steve Fledderman.
“Coach Stout was the most calm anybody could ever ask for,” says DuBois of Stout, who spent in 25 seasons leading the Jimmies. “He never got in your face and screamed at you. I was never afraid to make a mistake. All he did was instill confidence in guys.
“He never let his emotions get the best of him. He respected you as a player and a person and cared for every single guy. He got a lot out of us because he let us be ourselves.”
Jimtown won a sectional baseball title when DuBois was a junior (2007) and were very good his senior year.
DuBois credits Fledderman for instilling discipline and self control. There was a certain way to act and “Fled” insisted upon it or there would be extra running or push-ups.
“In tennis, you have to have self control,” says DuBois. “I could not lose my mind out on the court.”
DuBois continued to learn about the X’s and O’s of baseball in four seasons (concluding with graduation in 2012) as a pitcher at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., where he played for head coach Seth Zartman and assistant Dick Siler (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer).
While at Bethel, DuBois did an internship in the athletic department at the University of Notre Dame. He enjoyed the experience, but missed interacting with athletes.
When wife Holly, who was an NAIA All-American softball player at Bethel, went to Hazelhurst, Miss., as part of the Teach for America program, J.J. enrolled in graduate school at Belhaven University in nearby Jackson, Miss., where he gained experience in game day operations and marketing. He also volunteered for the Blazers baseball staff, watching Belhaven go 37-21 in 2013 and 42-21 in 2014.
Belhaven is where DuBois encountered head baseball coach Hill Denson.
“He had the biggest influence in making me want to pursue coaching,” says DuBois of Denson, who made such an impact in his time at the University of Southern Mississippi that baseball field is called Pete Taylor Park/Hill Denson Field.
After a season as an assistant coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., DuBois came to Goshen to teach and spent one season with wife Holly on the softball coaching staff led by Brent Kulp.
Holly (Weaver) DuBois is a teacher at West Goshen Elementary and will guide first graders in 2018-19. The couple have a daughter (Hope) and will soon welcome a son (Owen).
Jim and Laurie DuBois (who worked for many years at Elkhart General Hospital) have four children — Zach, J.J., Sarah and Jessica.
Zach DuBois, 11 months older than J.J. and a Notre Dame graduate, is a country music artist (wife Katy performs with the trio Maybe April).
Sarah (DuBois) McMahon is a nurse at Memorial Hospital in South Bend. Her husband, Kevin McMahon, is a teacher at Jimtown Elementary and has been an assistant baseball coach for Jimtown High School.
Jessica DuBois is a recent Indiana University graduate who has been active in theater with Premier Arts in Elkhart.
J.J. DuBois teaches business at Goshen (Ind.) High School, where he was just named head baseball coach. (Goshen High School Photo)
J.J. DuBois, a Jimtown High School and Bethel College graduate, is now the head baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) High School. J.J. and wife Holly have a daughter Hope (shown above) and are expecting a son (Owen).