Tag Archives: Murray State University

Scully says much goes into developing Ball State pitchers

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

As Ball State University develops baseball pitchers, one approach does not fit all.
Each individual is assessed and brought along while keeping in mind what is best for them.
“We’re not making a broad stroke,” says Larry Scully, the Cardinals pitching coach since August 2019. “Everyone is different in terms of their needs.”
Scully, who began his coaching career in 1992 and has mentored 16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections, uses the example of a freshman arriving on the Muncie, Ind., campus in the fall.
That hurler is introduced to Bill Zenisek, Ball State’s baseball strength & conditioning coach.
“He gets a measurement of movement for all the players,” says Scully. From this evaluation, which includes a TPI movement screening, specific exercises are prescribed that will help them become an efficient athlete.
Players are introduced to proper nutrition and the weight room and learn that terminology.
Rapsodo equipment is used during bullpen sessions and the motion-capture data is used for development as is Synergy slow-motion camera feedback.
Then there’s the throwing program.
“We get to see how the arm moves,” says Scully.
As a part of that there is long toss. Some will go long and high and up to 300 feet the day after they throw and others will focus on mechanics and toss on a line for distance.
Through it all, a pitcher’s delivery is checked for efficiency.
How does he start?
How does he drive down the mound?
How does he finish?
Since Scully is Driveline-certified, the Cardinals will use bands, PlyoCare Balls and mediBalls in training.
Bullpen sessions may be geared toward refining a certain pitch or location.
A pitcher’s workload — heavy or light in terms of innings or the number or intensity pitches — will also play into training.
Fall ball began at Ball State the first week of September and just recently concluded.
Pitchers worked alone the first two weeks and were then incorporated into team practices and scrimmages. Then adjustments were made during individual work.
Until Dec. 3, pitchers will work eight hours a week, including strength sessions and 45 minutes a day Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays with their pitching coach.
“We’ll try to maintain what they do well and get better to help us win,” says Scully.
Before coming to Ball State, Scully spent five seasons at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where he worked with Braves head coach Elvis Dominguez.
“We were one of the top academic schools in the Missouri Valley Conference,” says Scully, who also served as Bradley’s recruiting coordinator. the 2019 Braves led the MVC in earned run average (3.37), fewest hits allowed per game (7.21) and WHIP (1.27).
What drew Scully to the Cardinals?
“Ball State has a rich tradition in winning and developing pitchers,” says Scully.
At BSU, Scully joined head coach Rich Maloney, who became the 27th active NCAA Division I coach to earn his 800th career coaching win in 2019. To date, Maloney is 877-581-1 (546-337-1 in his second stint with Ball State) in 26 seasons. He has coached 65 players who were drafted 72 times. He’s coached six first-rounders with only one being drafted out of high school. The most-recent is right-hander Drey Jameson (34th overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019).
Maloney paid Scully a compliment during the interview process.
“Everywhere you’ve been the pitching staff has gotten a bump,” says Scully of Maloney’s words.
The 2021 MLB Draft was very satisfying for Scully.
Three pitchers who the coach helped hone his craft were taken in the first seven rounds — Ball State’s Chayce McDermott (fourth round by the Houston Astros) and Bradley’s Brooks Gosswein (fourth round by the Chicago White Sox) and Theron Denlinger (seventh round by the White Sox).
When looking at pitching potential, Ball State recruiting coordinator Blake Beemer is often drawn to athletes of a certain build.
“They are long and lean with loose arm action,” says Scully. “Others might not be that, but they may be left-handed and can get left-handers out.
“Blake does a good job of finding low-lying fruit. Here’s something we can probably fix (about the pitcher’s mechanics or pitch selection).
“There’s a lot of moving parts. Everyone sees the final product, but there’s a lot of work that goes into it.”
Prior to Bradley, Scully was pitching coach at Murray (Ky.) State University (2014), Lamar (Colo.) Community College (2010-13), assistant at Saint Louis University (2007), head coach at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo. (2000-06) and assistant at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa (1999) and Indiana Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa (1992-96).
Dan Skirka was a Murray State assistant when Scully was there and is now the Racers head coach.
Scully was born in Toronto and played at York Memorial Collegiate Institute in 1986. His head coach was Jim Ridley, who was later inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Ridley twins — Jeremy and Shayne — were teammates who wound up playing at Ball State and were both drafted in 2000 (Jeremy Ridley by the Toronto Blue Jays and Shayne Ridley by the Baltimore Orioles.).
“Jim was a tremendous influence on me,” says Scully. “He was a terrific coach and a terrific person.
“Some are just very lucky. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very good baseball people.”
A left-handed pitcher, Scully competed in the Junior Olympics at 18U and then played for and coached with Rick Mathews (now in the Colorado Rockies organization) at Indian Hills and played for Joel Murrie (now with the Los Angeles Angels) at Western Kentucky University.
Scully earned an English Literature from WKU in 1992 and master’s degree in Sports Administration from the United State Sports Academy in 1994. 
“It was my intent to be an English teacher and baseball coach,” says Scully. “I learned that’s tough gig. Both require a lot of time. Now I’m helping daughter now with her grammar.”
Larry and wife Shari have six children from 30 down to eighth-grader Ava. Shari Scully has taught for nearly 30 years and is employed as a sixth grade Language Arts teacher at Tremont (Ill.) Middle School.

Larry Scully (Ball State University Photo)

Wichman raises interest, expectations for Scottsburg Warriors

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

Brian Wichman has helped Scottsburg (Ind.) High School to many baseball successes since taking over the Warriors program.
When he came on board prior to the 2018 season, Scottsburg had not had not posted a record above .500 since 2004 and high school players were not involved in travel ball in the summer.
“We had to get back to the basics and get people interested in ball,” says Wichman. “I’ve tried to really push kids toward travel ball.”
Wichman’s Warriors went 15-13 in 2018, regressed to 9-19 in 2019 with a young squad (there were only two seniors and one junior), missed the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic then sported 19-10 mark in 2021 bolstered by the senior and sophomore classes.
There were 22 players to take on varsity and junior varsity schedules.
Scottsburg (enrollment around 770) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, North Harrison, Salem and Silver Creek).
In 2021, the Warriors were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, Madison Consolidated, North Harrison, Salem and Silver Creek (the 2021 host). Scottsburg has won six sectional crowns — the last in 1996.
Scottsburg plays on Warrior Field, an on-campus facility that was laser-graded four years ago and has Bermuda grass.
“It looks really good, especially when we get to May,” says Wichman.
Feeder systems include Scott County Youth League (T-ball through 12U) and a middle school team of seventh and eighth graders that play schools in the MSC and Hoosier Hills Conference.
Wichman, who teaches engineering and welding classes and is involved in Project Lead The Way at Scottsburg, has extensive coaching experiences at the high school and travel ball levels.
His first season was as a Columbus (Ind.) East High School assistant in 1995 while he was doing his student teaching. Wichman graduated from Ball State University with an Industrial Technology degree. He played baseball for one season (1991) at Indiana University Southeast before transferring to BSU.
Wichman served as an assistant at North Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind., in 1996 and 1997 and helped at Columbus (Ind.) North High School in 2007.
From 2004-14, he ran the Indiana Blazers travel organization and coached for the Indiana Prospects in 2015 and 2016.
Brian and wife Cathy have four sons and all played for the Blazers and other travel teams, including the Indiana Prospects, Cincinnati Flames
Evansville Razorbacks and Indiana Bulls, as well as at Columbus East.
Left-handed pitcher Brian “B.T.” Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2013) was at Murray State University, Gulf Coast Community College and the University of Indianapolis. Peyton Gray, a 2014 Columbus East graduate now in the Kansas City Royals organization, was a high school and GCCC teammate.
Defensive back/catcher Christian Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2014) went to Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Ky., for football and baseball then transferred to play baseball at the University of West Georgia (Carrollton, Ga.).
Defensive back Noah Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2016) played football at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.
Infielder Jonah Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2019) was on the baseball team at Butler University in Indianapolis in 2020 and 2021 and has transferred to St. Charles Community College (Cottleville, Mo.).
The past two summers, Brian Wichman has been an assistant in the College Summer League at Grand Park — in 2020 with head coach Joe Thatcher’s Park Rangers and in 2021 with head coach Kevin Christman’s Moon Shots.
A 1990 graduate of Seymour (Ind.) High School, Wichman played one varsity season for Owls coach Bob Bowman.

Brian Wichman (Eyes Of The Heart Photography)
The Wichman family (from left): Noah. B.T., Cathy, Brian, Christian and Jonah.
The Wichmans (from left): First row — Cathy and Brian; Second row — Noah, B.T., Jonah and Christian.
Cathy and Brian Wichman.
Brian and Cathy Wichman.
Cathy, B.T. and Brian Wichman.
Brian, Jonah and Cathy Wichman.

Indiana Nitro grows from one team into successful travel ball organization

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

Indiana Nitro — a travel baseball organization launched in the central part of the state — has had 164 college commits and five Major League Baseball draft selections since 2014.
Among Nitro alums who went on to pro baseball are Zach Britton (Toronto Blue Jays system), Matt Gorski (Pittsburgh Pirates), Niko Kavadas (Boston Red Sox), Devin Mann (Los Angeles Dodgers), Tommy Sommer (Chicago White Sox) and Zack Thompson (St. Louis Cardinals).
The Nitro fielded more than 20 teams — spring, summer and fall — at the 8U to 17U levels in recent seasons. The group has earned many victories and championships and competed in multiple states.
It all began with a single 11U team that took to the diamond in 2010.
Tim Burns, whose sons Brendan and Brock were playing travel ball, was exploring diamond opportunities for his boys when he was approached by some fathers about coaching a team.
With the idea of being able to control development and practice schedules, the elder Burns agreed and led that first Nitro squad, featuring Brock.
Most of the players were from Hamilton County — one of the exceptions being Batesville’s Britton. Brock Burns is now on the football team at Ball State University as an outside linebacker while Brendan Burns was a right-handed pitcher for BSU baseball; Tim Burns is a graduate of Ball State where his major was Telecommunications.
Both Burns brothers are Hamilton Southeastern High School graduates — Brendan in 2014 and Brock in 2017.
Most games in 2010 were played in central Indiana and the team went 50-5 with five tournament titles. Eleven of the 12 players on that first team went on to play at the collegiate level.
Tammy Burns, Tim’s wife, told him that he did not have the time to head a travel organization. Yet momentum kept on building.
“Kids wanted to play,” says Burns.
Parents and players gathered and voted on a team name — Burns presented around 300 choices found on Google — and team colors. The Nitro wound up donning Athletic Gold and Cardinal Red and uses explosive terms like Bombs and Gas on social media.
In 2011, the Nitro had four teams. The number went to seven in 2012 then 11 in 2013. It jumped to 20 in 2014 (the first year the organization had a high school age team).
“The snowball got big,” says Burns. “It took on a life of its own.”
The mantra of the Nitro is “Advancing players to the next level.” That came to mean grooming them to play high school baseball and then — for those who wished to do so — college baseball.
“It’s a very complex recruiting process that we came up with over the years,” says Burns, a 1982 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., who grew up on the diamonds of Goodland, Ind., and counted Tracy Smith (who went on to coach at Miami University-Middletown, Miami University, Indiana University and Arizona State University) as a teammate. “You dive deep into it and build relationships with college coaches and recruiters.
“Learning how to help these kids get recruited was important to our board (of directors) and and organization.”
Nitro staffers work the phones on behalf of their players and are constantly seeking talent and getting ready for the next thing.
“It’s a year-round job,” says Burns, who is employed in sales for Bally Sports Indiana (the Indiana Pacers TV Network). “There’s so much behind the scenes in the off-season. It keeps the board and volunteers busy.”
Randy Poiry has been on the board since the beginning. Two sons — catcher Rutger Poiry (Lincoln Trail College and Eastern Kentucky University) and right-handed pitcher Carter Poiry (Murray State University and Quinnipiac University) — played for the Nitro.
Directors are Chris Poland (daily operations and high school age teams) and Dan Rodgers (ages 8-14). Jared Poland, son of Chris, is at the University of Louisville. Nathan Rodgers (Carmel High School Class of 2024) played for his father on the Nitro 14U Gold team in 2021.
Burns, who coached the Nitro 16U Gold team to a 26-9-1 mark in 2021 and will move up to coach the 17U Gold squad in 2022, gets players from near and far.
“We don’t care where they come from,” says Burns. “We want good kids from good families who want to put in the work.”
Nitro players train at Pro X Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus in Westfield, Ind. A membership is included with fees.
Burns counts four nephews — South Newton graduates Jarrett Hammel and Jay Hammel and Benton Central High school alums Payton Hall and Conner Hall — among former Nitro players. Former Saint Joseph’s College and Valparaiso right-hander Jarrett Hammel is now head baseball coach at Benton Central. Jay Hammel is a righty pitcher at Quincy (Ill.) University. Payton Hall is an outfielder at Oakland City (Ind.) University after transferring from the University of Southern Indiana. Former middle infielder Connor Hall is an Aviation Management student at Indiana State University.

Hines comes back from kidney transplant ready to coach, teach

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

Adam Hines knew there was a history of kidney disease in his family.
When Adam, a 1993 Evansville (Ind.) North High School graduate, was in college his father, Craig Hines, had a kidney transplant.
When Adam was about 35, he began getting kidney scans.
Now 46, the head baseball coach at Henderson (Ky.) High School is three months out from his own kidney transplant.
“I was not diagnosed (with Polycystic Kidney Disease) until five or six years ago,” says Hines. “I knew in the back of my mind it was a possibility.
“There’s no fixing it. You deteriorate over the years. Cysts form and there’s nothing you can do about it.
“They have drugs now that can delay it. None of that was available when I was younger.”
Hines continued to teach and coach, but over time, he became more tired and sick. Toxins were not being filtered from his blood and was vomiting to get rid of them.
More than a year ago, wife Lindsay (the Hines will celebrate six years of marriage July 5) made an appeal for a donor on Facebook. About 10 people were tested and none were matches. Brother Josh — three years younger than Adam — has shown no kidney disease symptoms.
Adam Hines went through Henderson County’s first few 2020-21 scrimmages. He went out to hit infield/outfield.
“Halfway through I said, ‘I’m not going to make it,’” says Hines. “I was huffing and puffing. I got through hitting to the outfield and walked off the field and sat in a chair.
“That’s when it hit just how bad it was.”
Since kidneys also regulate body temperature, Hines was starting to have trouble in hot weather.
Lindsay Hines made another online appeal. Then David Gustafson came into the picture.
Gustafson had been a student of Adam’s mother, Carolyn Hines, when she taught at Evansville Bosse High School and kept in-touch over the years even when Gustafson and his family moved to New England. He proved to be a match and volunteered to be a donor. The surgery was done March 23 in the University of Louisville Health Jewish Hospital Trager Transplant Center.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and his condition, Hines had been the lead virtual teacher at Henderson County and had been running software for students since August 2020. He came back to teaching about two weeks after his surgery and to coaching after about six weeks.
“I still still struggled at the start stamina-wise,” says Hines. “I learned what I could and could not do. I still had a little bit of the pain.
“I had to get used to the physical part of it.”
The Henderson County Colonels went 22-15 in 2021. The team won a District 6 title and lost to Lyon County in the Region 2 championship. Kentucky does not have classes for baseball. Trinity of Louisville beat McCracken County of the state crown June 19 in Lexington.
Hines was hired at Henderson County (enrollment of about 2,050 students in 2020-21) in the fall of 2017 after five seasons as head coach at Owensboro (Ky.) Catholic High School (2020-21 enrollment of about 450). He taught Family Consumer Science at Owensboro Catholic and moved to Henderson County where he would be closer to family in Evansville and be able to teach in his preferred area — Physical Education and Health.
“It’s a better fit for me,” says Hines, who enjoyed his time at Owensboro Catholic and still stays in-contact with many former players. “And it was a chance to move to a bigger school (one of the biggest in Kentucky) and chance to work with more kids on a regular basis.”
Because of its size and location, Henderson County played five games against Indiana schools this spring — Evansville Mater Dei, South Spencer, Castle, Evansville Reitz and Evansville Central.
Hines counted 12 ranked teams on the 2021 schedule.
“I really don’t care what our regular-season record is,” says Hines. “I like to play a tougher schedule (to prepare for the postseason).
“(Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association) rankings don’t really matter since everyone makes the tournament. It’s all going to come out in the wash.”
Kentucky High School Athletic Association has district, region and semistate leading up the eight-team State Finals, where the champion must win three games. That means depth is key.
Practice seasons are open in the Bluegrass State.
“We can coach year-round if we want to, but we don’t,” says Hines. “I will typically start sometime in September with fall workouts (typically for five weeks). We take a month off for Christmas and come back and get ready for tryouts.”
This year, Hines had a few football players and one basketball player on his varsity team.
“I have no problem with kids playing other sports,” says Hines. “It makes them well-rounded.”
He says basketball players tend to take a little time to get into baseball shape since they run much of their weight off and don’t get the amount of throwing time in during the winter as other baseball players.
Hines was a right-handed pitcher at Evansville North, where Dan Sparrow was his coach and Jeff McKeon was a teammate, and in college. He played the 1994 and 1995 seasons at Southeastern Illinois College (a junior college in Harrisburg, Ill.) and the 1996 and 1997 campaigns at Murray (Ky.) State University.
His SIC coach was Jay Burch (now athletic director at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind.).
“I love Coach Burch,” says Hines. “I’ve talked to him quite a few times over the years.
“He’s a great leader and a great personality. He has a little bit of humor and a little bit of sarcasm. That fits my personality. I learned a lot from him.”
Mike Thieke was head coach of the Murray State Racers when Hines was in the program.
“He had a compassionate demeanor and was kind of soft-spoken,” says Hines. “That’s the way I am with coaching.”
After his playing days, Hines became a graduate assistant at Murray State while beginning to pursue a masters degree in Education.
Near the end of his college days, Hines talked with his parents (Craig Hines was a teacher at Oak Hill in Evansville) and decided that was the best path for him.
After his GA stint at Murray State, he joined Burch’s staff at Southeastern Illinois and then became Falcons head coach for five years.
When former Murray State assistant Bart Osborne took over the head coaching post at Union College (Barboursville, Ky.), he brought Hines in as pitching coach. That’s where Hines finished his masters degree. He was with the Bulldogs for eight years.
“We had some good runs there,” says Hines. Union won a conference title and went to the NAIA World Series in 2008.
Since the season ended at Henderson County, Hines has been focused on rest and relaxation and good lab numbers.
“I feel like I need to completely rest before we go back to school,” says Hines. “We’ll go to see my wife’s family Alabama. We have not seen them because of COVID-19.
“I’m going to go back into teaching. That’s what I love to do.”

Adam and Lindsay Hines.
Adam and Lindsay Hines.
Adam and Lindsay Hines.
Adam Hines, a 1993 Evansville (Ind.) North High School graduate, is the head baseball coach at Henderson (Ky.) County High School.
Adam Hines had his kidney transplant March 23, 2021 at the University of Louisville Health Jewish Hospital Trager Transplant Center.
Adam Hines and kidney donor David Gustafson.

Former Yorktown catcher Tanner uses his experiences as instructor, coach

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zeth Tanner was 6 when he got his first baseball lesson.

He received the foundation that led him to play in high school, college and, briefly, independent professional ball.

Tanner, 26, is now an instructor at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and 5 Tool Academy in his hometown of Yorktown, Ind., as well as a coach with the Indiana Nitro travel organization.

Over the years, Tanner has soaked up diamond knowledge from Kevin Long (current Washington National hitting coach), Mike Stafford (former Ball State and Ohio State assistant), Mike Shirley (Chicago White Sox amateur scouting director), Michael Earley (Arizona State hitting coach), Mike Farrell (Kansas City Royals scout), Kyle Rayl (former Muncie, Ind., area instructor) and more.

“I believe in doing things the right way,” says Tanner, who primarily a catcher and designated hitter in the collegiate and pro ranks. “I don’t like kids talking back to the umpire. Treat people with respect.

“If the umpire makes a bad call, learn from it and move on.”

Playing for former head coach Mike Larrabee at Yorktown (Ind.) High School, Tanner learned the value of hustle. 

The coach gave his biggest praise to the power-hitting Tanner the day he hit a routine pop fly that resulted in him standing on second base when the second baseman mishandled the ball because he took off running at impact.

“You’ve got to work hard,” says Tanner, who was head coach of the 16U Nitro Cardinal and assisted by Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate and NCAA Division I Murray State University pitcher Carter Poiry in the spring and summer and is now an assistant to organization founder Tim Burns with the 16U Nitro Gold. “I’m not a fan of people who just show up to play and don’t do anything in-between the weekends.”

Last weekend was the first of the fall season for the Nitro, which will play most events at Grand Park in Westfield, and close out with a Canes Midwest tournament.

Tanner, who was born in Muncie and raised on a 40-acre horse farm in Yorktown, played for the Nitro when he was 18 after several travel ball experiences, including with USAthletic, Pony Express, Brewers Scout Team and Team Indiana (for the Under Armour Futures Game). 

Tanner has witnessed a change in travel ball since he played at that level.

“There are more team readily available,” says Tanner. “It used to be if you played travel ball you were good. Now it’s more or less watered down.

“You’ll see a really good player with kids I don’t feel are at his level.”

While the Indiana Bulls one of the few elite organization with multiple teams per age group, that is more common these days.

Older brother Zach Tanner played for the Bulls and went on to play at National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Lincoln Trail College (Robinson, Ill.), NCAA Division I Wright State University (Dayton, Ohio) and in the American Association with the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and the Grays of the Frontier League before coaching at NJCAA Division III Owens Community College (Perrysburg, Ohio) and NAIA Indiana Wesleyan University.

Zeth Tanner began his college baseball career at NCAA Division III Anderson (Ind.) University, redshirting his sophomore season (2015). David Pressley was then the Ravens head coach.

In 2016, Tanner helped Sinclair Community College (Dayton, Ohio) to its first NJCAA Division II World Series berth. The Steve Dintaman-coached Tartan Pride placed third. It’s the furthest Sinclair has gone in the JUCO World Series to date.

Tanner stays in-touch with Dintaman.

“He’s a very good coach and very into the mental game,” says Tanner of Dintaman. “He taught me a lot and has a lot to do with the path that I’m on.”

From Sinclair, Tanner went to NCAA Division II Urbana (Ohio) University and played two seasons (2017 and 2018) for Blue Knights head coach Jake Oester (son of former Cincinnati Reds middle infielder Ron Oester).

“He knows a lot of baseball,” says Tanner of the younger Oester. “He’s a very passionate guy.”

Urbana closed its doors at the end of the 2020 spring semester.

Tanner graduated Magna Cum Laude in Management from Urbana and then signed a professional contract with the Santa Fe (N.M.) Fuego of the independent Pecos League. 

“I really liked it,” says Tanner. “It was 100 degrees almost everyday. But it was a dry heat.

“The ball the flies out of the park like nothing.”

Tanner launched several homers in practice and one in the lone official game that he played.

He was dealt to the White Sands Pupfish (Alamogordo, N.M.). When he was sent to a third Pecos League team — Monterey (Calif.) Amberjacks — he decided it was time to come back to Indiana.

He finished the summer of 2018 playing with his brother on the Portland (Ind.) Rockets and played with that amateur long-established team again in 2019.

Tanner ended up as a Pro X Athlete Development instructor for baseball and softball offering catching, hitting and fielding private training sessions through a Nitro referral and interview with Jay Lehr

Former Muncie Northside High School and University of South Carolina player Mark Taylor is owner of 5 Tool Academy, where Zach Tanner (31) is also an instructor.

Zeth Tanner, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate, swings the bat for Urbana (Ohio) University, where he played baseball and earned a Management degree.
Zeth Tanner swings during 2016 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Wold Series home run derby. Tanner and Sinclair Community College (Dayton, Ohio) placed third in the tournament.
Zeth Tanner (right) gives catching instruction. Tanner teaches baseball lessons at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and at 5 Tool Academy in Yorktown, Ind.
Zeth Tanner (foreground) teaches a catching lesson. Former Yorktown (Ind.) High School catcher Tanner teaches baseball lessons at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and 5 Tool Academy in Yorktown.
Zeth Tanner is a coach in the Indiana Nitro travel baseball organization. He has been working with 16U teams.
Zeth Tanner, a graduate of Yorktown (Ind.) High School and Urbana (Ohio) University, is a baseball instructor and coach. He gives lessons at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., and 5 Tool Academy in Yorktown and coaches with the Indiana Nitro travel organization. He played high school, college and pro baseball.

Columbus East, Franklin College grad Claycamp gets pro ball opportunity in The Battle of the Bourbon Trail

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Claycamp began playing baseball at 3.

The Columbus, Ind., native had a pretty good idea might be on the diamond at 23.

But when his workouts before professional coaches and scouts did not yield an offer, he figured his baseball would come in an adult amateur league.

Claycamp played in a few games in one such circuit in Indianapolis when a unique pro opportunity arose.

He completed a paid internship in the purchasing department at Faurecia USA from the fall of 2019 to the spring of 2020. In December 2019, he earned his degree in History.

More than a year after his college eligibility ran out and eight months after getting his degree Claycamp signed to participate in The Battle of the Bourbon Trail — a co-op pro league. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing cancellation of the independent Frontier League and Low Class-A South Atlantic League seasons for 2020, a league was formed with two teams each in Lexington (Legends and Leyengas) and Florence (Y’alls and Freedom).

The Battle rages Aug. 1-Sept. 13 with games contested Wednesday through Sunday at Florence’s UC Health Stadium and Lexington’s Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

Claycamp, who commuted from Columbus to begin the season, has made arrangements for an Airbnb in Lexington. When the Legends play in Florence, he stays with family friends in the Lawrenceburg/Sunman, Ind., area.

Other Indiana players in The Battle include Drew Ellis, Jeff Thompson, Walker Talcott, Will Baker, Joe Dougherty and Nick Floyd.

Ellis, a Jeffersonville High School graduate, played at the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. The third baseman plays home games only for the Legends and Leyengas.

Thompson (Floyd Central) is a 6-6 right-hander who was at Louisville and in the Detroit Tigers organization. He was in indy ball at Sussex County in 2019.

Right-hander Talcott (McCutcheon) last pitched for Earlham College in 2019.

Outfielder Baker played at Ball State University and was in independent ball in the American Association in 2019 (Texas and Kansas City).

Righty Dougherty (Morgan Township) pitched for Grace College before taking the mound in the United Shores Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich.

Floyd (Jimtown) was at Ball State University and the righty hurled for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats in 2019.

So far, Claycamp has played left field, third base and first base for the 2020 Lexington Legends, who counts Eddie Brooks as manager with former pro scout Steve Chandler as well as Chad Martin and Dom Fucci as coaches.

While his primary position growing up and through college was shortstop, Claycamp has moved around the field.

“I’ve been a utility player my whole life,” says Claycamp. 

At Columbus (Ind.) East High School, where he graduated in 2015, he was a shortstop as a freshman, shortstop and second baseman as a sophomore, third baseman as a junior and third baseman, shortstop and second baseman as a senior.

He played those same three spots in his one season at the University of Dayton (2016) and then was locked in at short in three campaigns at Franklin (2017-19). He helped the Grizzlies win back-to-back Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference titles in his final two campaigns.

Claycamp was invited to pre-Major League Baseball Draft workouts by the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies in, but was unable to attend with Franklin making the school’s deepest ever postseason run, reaching the regional final in Sequin, Texas.

After getting into eight games at NCAA Division I Dayton (two starts), Claycamp transferred to D-III Franklin and played in 128 contests for the Grizzlies. He hit .354 (174-of-491) with 20 home runs (tied for No. 9 in program history), 46 doubles (No. 5 all-time), 133 runs batted in (No. 6) and 143 runs scored (No. 4).

Lance Marshall is Franklin’s head coach.

“Coach Marshall’s awesome,” says Claycamp. “He’s very much a player’s coach.

“He lives and breathes baseball. He gets very in-depth with a lot of things. He’s talked more about the little things in baseball than anybody I’ve ever been around.”

But as important as the sport is, it’s not the top thing on Marshall’s list.

“From Day 1, he makes it very clear that it’s faith, family, baseball then school,” says Claycamp.

At East, Claycamp played for Olympians head coach Jon Gratz.

“It was a good program,” says Claycamp. “We always had a lot of good talent. They were guys I grew up playing with.”

Among them were Peyton Gray, Cam Curry, Will Anderson, Brian Wichman and Christian Wichman.

Right-handed pitcher Gray went on to Florida Gulf Coast University, the Colorado Rockies organization and is now in independent pro ball with the Milwaukee Milkmen.

Right-hander/outfielder Curry started at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When SJC school closed, he went to Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Anderson, a 6-foot-8 righty, pitched at Northern Illinois University.

Left-hander Brian Wichman was at Murray State University then hurled for the University of Indianapolis.

Catcher Christian Wichman played briefly at Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Ky., where he was also a football player.

Claycamp played in both Bartholomew County Little League (weekdays) and travel baseball (weekends) until he was in high school. Bartholomew County (now Youth Baseball of Bartholomew County) won a state title when he was 12 and lost in the Great Lakes Regional championship. The winner went on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Early travel ball teams were the Columbus Crush, Indiana Blazers and BCLL All-Stars. In high school, Claycamp donned the jerseys of the Indiana Redbirds, Indiana Outlaws and Johnson County/Indiana Jaguars.

Besides baseball, Sam played football until middle school. He was on the school basketball team through eighth grade then played intramural and church hoops.

His falls were dedicated to deer hunting.

David and Tammy Claycamp have two sons — Sam and Kobbe (22). David Claycamp is machine shop manager at Innovative Casting Technologies in Franklin. Tammy Claycamp is a teacher at Faith Lutheran Preschool in Columbus. Kobbe Claycamp played baseball and football at Columbus East. He was on the IHSAA Class 5A state championship team in 2017 and state runner-up squad in 2016. He also played club rugby in high school.

The Battle of the Bourbon Trail is a baseball co-op between Florence and Lexington in Kentucky. (Florence Y’alls/Lexington Legends Image)
Sam Claycamp played three baseball seasons at Franklin (Ind.) College, landing on the all-time Top 10 in several offensive categories. (Franklin College Photo)
Sam Claycamp played shortstop at Franklin (Ind.) College for three seasons (2017-19). He is a graduate of Columbus (Ind.) East High School. (Franklin College Photo)
Sam Claycamp was a .354 hitter in his three baseball seasons at Franklin (Ind.) College (2017-19). The Columbus (Ind.) East High School and FC graduate is now playing in The Battle of the Bourbon Trail pro league with the Lexington (Ky.) Legends. (Franklin College Photo)

‘Stubborn approach’ has Evansville’s Owen at Triple-A level with Pirates

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hunter Owen was playing in his fifth game since being promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis.

The Evansville, Ind., native was facing a knuckleball pitcher for the first time.

After grounding into a fielder’s choice in his first plate appearance on Thursday, July 18, Owen belted the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the third inning from Syracuse right-hander Mickey Jannis for a two-run home run and the Indians went on to beat the Mets 9-1 at Victory Field.

“You can’t prepare for (the knuckleball),” says Owen. “You have to be willing to battle and stick to your stubborn approach.”

Owen, who swings from the right side, says that when he’s going good he looks for a pitch in a particular location and doesn’t miss it.

That kind of pitch recognition comes with repetition.

“The majority is experience — a lot of at-bats at each level,” says Owen. “The higher up you go, the better the stuff is.

“(Experience) allows you to progress as a hitter — visually and physically.”

Owen was selected out of Indiana State University in the 25th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He experienced 187 at-bats for the short-season West Virginia Black Bears in 2016. In 2017, he had 12 AB’s with the Black Bears, 291 with the Low Class-A West Virginia Power and 10 with the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates.

There were 401 at-bats with the Advanced-A Bradenton (Fla.) Marauders in 2018. He opened 2019 with 235 more for the Double-A Altoona (Pa.) Curve.

Owen hit .257 with five homers and 34 runs batted in for 2016, .284 with 13 and 49 in 2017 and .262 with 18 and 60 in 2018.

At Altoona, his numbers were .298, 15 and 44 before his promotion.

The biggest difference between Double-A and Triple-A?

“The pitching,” says Owen. “Guys can throw three to four pitches wherever they want it.

“They have a better plan of how to attack you.”

Owen really learned how to play in attack mode from his head coach at Evansville Mater Dei High School and with Funkhouser American Legion Post 8Jeff Schulz (who played 40 games in the majors with the Pirates and Kansas City Royals).

“What sticks with me is the aggressiveness mentality,” says Owen. “You’re going up to the plate to do damage.

“You also want to be as much of a well-rounded player as a you can be.”

Growing up, Owen was mostly a shortstop. In high school, he was also used at second base and third base (and was also honorable mention all-state on the football field).

Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs told him to embrace versatility and Owen is comfortable in the infield, outfield or behind the plate.

“Any ability to crack the lineup and be versatile for my team,” says Owen. “(Hannahs) made me the ballplayer I am today — for sure.

“More than anything, he helped me grow mentally. He takes pride in having ballplayers with a lot of character that are good people.”

While he’s got 52 minor league homers, Owen does not classify himself as a pure home run hitter.

“I have gap-to-gap power,” says Owen, who is 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds. “I have the ability to drive the baseball over the wall (with a combination of bat speed and strength).”

Owen notes that every hitter has a launch angle — that’s just physics.

He sticks with the approach that’s more conducive to his swing.

“I’m hitting down through (the baseball),” says Owen, who also has 70 doubles and 12 triples in three-plus minor league seasons.

Owen, who resides in Fishers, Ind., in the off-season, began training last winter with Mike Robertson at Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (IFIT) to increase his mobility, overall strength and speed.

“They help you maximize your physical potential,” says Owen.

Now that he’s playing home games in Indianapolis, Owen has had many family and friends in the stands and expects to see more.

“It’s super humbling to have so many people reach out who are interested in my career,” says Owen, who turns 26 Sept. 22. “The big support system behind me makes it super special.”

The youngest of former University of Evansville baseball player Steve and wife Kena Owen’s five children (following Michael, Leslie, Tyler and Mandi), Hunter took advantage of the lessons that position afforded him.

“It was awesome,” says Hunter. “I really took hold to my two brothers.”

Tyler Owen played four years of NCAA Division I baseball at Murray (Ky.) State University.

“He helped me through my high school and college career,” says Hunter of Tyler. “Picking my brother’s brain was super helpful.”

Hunter attended St. Philip Catholic School through the eighth grade and played for the school teams as well as the Southern Indiana Bombers prior to high school. He played a summer with the Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks before heading off to ISU.

As a Sycamore, Owen was redshirted in 2013 then played from 2014-16. He hit .342 with nine homers and 59 RBIs, including .350, six and 47 as an all-Missouri Valley Conference outfielder in 2016.

At the time he began his pro baseball career, Owen was working toward and sport management degree and plans to complete it at some point.

Right now, he’s battling and being stubborn in his approach.

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Hunter Owen, an Evansville (Ind.) Mater Dei High School graduate who played at Indiana State University, is now with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. (Indianapolis Indians Photo)

 

Eye disease can’t stop Plymouth, Murray State grad Elliott

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brandon Elliott may not view the world the way he once did.

But the former standout ballplayer is not letting a rare eye disease keep him from living life to its fullest.

A three-sport athlete in the Plymouth (Ind.) High School Class of 2009 (he captained the football and baseball teams as a senior and also played basketball) who went on to play NCAA Division I baseball at Murray (Ky.) State University.

Brandon, the son of Todd Elliott and Julie and Dave Shook, was born in Munster, Ind., and played youth baseball in nearby Schererville before moving to Plymouth in 2003. His brother is Tyler Shook. His sisters are Shannon Elliott, Andria Shook and Allie Shook.

He was a college graduate and working at his dream job when Brandon began to notice something wasn’t right with the vision in his left eye.

Trying to get some answers, he went to optometrists and opthomalogists in Kentucky.

It was the opinion of Dr. Landen Meeks in Paducah that Brandon likely had Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) — a sudden, painless loss of central vision. The condition typically starts in one eye and progresses to the other eye within eight months.

Meeks had never diagnosed LHON before. Brandon underwent a spinal tap done to rule out other things.

“He was a straight shooter and Brandon liked that,” says Julie Shook. “He told him there is no cure (for LHON).”

Meanwhile, central vision in the right eye was also going cloudy. Though blurry, Brandon could see shadows and movement in his peripheral vision. He described looking straight ahead like looking into the hole of a donut.

Julie Shook found Dr. Sophia Chung, a neuro-opthalmologist with SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, and took her son to St. Louis. Only genetic blood tests would determine the cause of Brandon’s vision loss so he went through eight hours of testing.

Several weeks went by. On May 10, 2016, the call came. A 25-year-old Brandon Elliott was diagnosed with LHON.

The condition is an inherited form of vision loss. This inheritance applies to genes contained in mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria produce most of the energy that cells need to function and these inherited mutations disrupt the mitochondria and cause cells in the retina to stop working or die.

LHON is a maternal hereditary disease, which means it is passed from the mother. Shannon Elliott was tested and she is a carrier. It is more prominent coming out in males in their mid- to late-20’s. It is not as common to come out in females.

“It is rare,” says Julie Shook. “Everyday they’re learning more. It’s hard as a mother when you find out something they have is something you gave them. But I had no idea.”

After learning of his condition, Brandon let it be known that his life was in Murray, Ky., and he had no intention of returning to Plymouth.

“That was hard,” says Julie Shook, who is dean’s administrative assistant at the University of Notre Dame Law School. “I also know you need to let people make their own decisions on their own time.

“I needed to be strong for him and listen to what he wanted.”

After the tests in St. Louis, the ride back to Kentucky was quiet at first. Then Brandon asked his mother a question.

“He said , ‘How do you go from seeing a 90 mph fastball to not being able to see it?,’” says Julie Shook. “‘It is what it is. God gave it to me for a reason. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’m strong and maybe I can help someone somehow.

“‘I just have to go on with life. This is what I’ve been given. I have to go on and enjoy life.’”

That life includes marriage and children, a fulfilling occupation and plenty of support from family and friends.

About six months after graduating with a business administration degree from Murray State in 2013, Elliott went to work for Sportable Scoreboards in Murray.

The family-owned company started in 1986 by Mike Cowen serves clients all over the place and has one of their boards at Johnny Reagan Field — home of Murray State baseball and the place where Elliott earned Freshman All-America honors in 2010 and finished his four-year career with a .323 average, six home runs, 35 doubles, 85 runs batted in and 135 runs scored in 180 games (171 as a starter).

Brandon was employed in the customer service department and one day a new employee came along — digital designer Meagan Cowen. He soon learned that she was Mike and Joyce Cowen’s granddaughter.

While Brandon and Meagan knew each other before the diagnosis, they began dating after it. They did not tell their grandparents until they had become serious. The young couple was married April 14, 2018 in Paris, Tenn.

“It was an emotional day,” says Julie Shook. “He told me in the morning of that day, ‘Mom, you don’t need to worry about me anymore. This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.’

“What a statement for a 27-year-old to make who lost their vision at 25.”

When she walked down the aisle to become Meagan Elliott, Brandon took out a pair of binoculars to see her when she first appeared.

“That brought everybody to tears,” says Brandon Eggenschwiler, whose Murray State career parallels Elliott’s. “It’s truly amazing. He hasn’t missed a step in his daily life. He still goes on golf outings.

“He’s been a real champ about this whole situation.”

Shannon Elliott expresses her gratitude for Meagan coming into her brother’s life.

“Brandon thought he would never get another girlfriend again,” says Shannon, a 2011 Plymouth High School graduate who played tennis at Saint Mary’s College, graduating in 2015, and earned a mortuary science degree from Vincennes University in 2017. “Mom and I prayed he’d find someone who would accept him for who he is.

“It’s a touching thing.”

While the 25-year-old works for a funeral home in Austin, Texas, sister and brother remain very close.

“He’s my best friend,” says Shannon of Brandon. “I talk to him and his family in Kentucky probably three times a week.

“Meagan been there for him. It’s been unbelievable. I can’t imagine being in her shoes. She has to drive everywhere. I couldn’t be more thankful for what she does for him.”

Brandon and Meagan expect to welcome a baby girl on Thanksgiving Day.

Shannon has been raising money and awareness of her brother and LHON through a website — howhesees.org. She sells bracelets with the inscription “VI510N” — which tells the date his brother was diagnosed.

Brandon and Meagan wrote their own wedding vows. Brandon also wrote vows to Meagan’s young son, Bentley (who would turned 5 in September).

The wedding party was quite large and included Tyler Shook, Brandon Eggenschwiler, Ty Stetson and Reed Thompson.

Three of them had been the top three batters in the Murray State Racers’ lineup at the end of 2013 — left fielder Stetson (Carmel, Ind.) leading off, followed by third baseman Elliott and designated hitter Eggenschwiler (Lexington, Ky). First baseman Michael Kozolowski (Crown Point, (Ind.) was the clean-up hitter. Those four were also roommates in 2012-13.

“Brandon has so many wonderful friends,” says Shook. “That’s just a tribute to Brandon. He’s just such a sweet kid. He has a big heart. People are just drawn to him.

“He’s an inspiration.”

Tyler Shook, a 2010 Plymouth graduate, played baseball and football with stepbrother Brandon in high school and was also an American Legion teammate.

“He was one of the best athletes I’ve ever played with or against,” says Tyler. “He was just good at everything and a quick learner.”

There was competition for competitive bragging rights around the Shook/Elliott household. But never any animosity.

“We all got along really well,” says Tyler. “we still do. Brandon was pretty humble for the skill he had. He wasn’t going out and telling everybody about it. It was always about the team.”

One the football field, defensive end/linebacker Brandon and safety Tyler were called the “Bash Brothers” for their ability to hit on defense even though they wore casts on their hands much of the 2008 season as the John Barron-coached Rockies went 10-1.

“My dad (Dave) raised us with the mindset of ‘tough it out,’” says Tyler. “For lack of better words, ‘If your legs aren’t broken you walk yourself off the field, play through it for the team’ kind of mindset.

“(Brandon) had the grit and was not afraid to stick his nose in there. They called him ’Squirrel’  because he was one of the smallest guys on the field — maybe 5-10, 170. He was not a big guy, but definitely played like one.

“He’s always been incredibly competitive whether it be team sports, golf, video games, you name it. He just has the biggest and strongest heart and drive of anyone I know. I think that mentality is what has helped him through the ups and down of the last few years.”

Thompson, an outfielder from Cheyenne, Wyoming, did not play with Brandon. But he lived near him and was around when his vision began to change and has witnessed how he has adjusted since the LHON diagnosis.

“He can still move around just fine,” says Thompson. “He just has a hard time seeing fine details. His work has been awesome for him. They’ve gotten him a 40-inch flat screen as computer monitor.

“He loves that job. That’s why he stayed in Murray.”

Tony Plothow was both head baseball coach at Plymouth High School and manager for Plymouth American Legion Post 27 when Brandon was a player. Plothow also coached Brandon in basketball at PHS.

Brandon played for Post 27 each summer after his four years of high school and first year of college.

“(Brandon) started for us as a freshman,” says Plothow. “He came in with a lot of confidence and he fit in pretty well. He became a mentor to younger kids.

“He was one of those kids you didn’t have to motive. As he got older, he was a great leader in the locker room.”

Brandon hit .438 with three homers, 22 RBIs and 42 runs scored as a Plymouth senior  and was named MVP of the 2009 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. In Legion ball, he shined against tough competition and got the the attention of Murray State, where he played for head coach Rob McDonald.

Mike Hite was an assistant coach for PHS and Post 27 when Brandon was a player.

“As an athlete, he was a competitor,” says Hite of Brandon. “He was a winner. He was a perfectionist. He always wanted to be the one that came through in the clutch. That was pretty special.”

As Plymouth parks superintendent, Hite employed Brandon for several summers. Allie Shook, Brandon’s stepsister, works for Hite now.

“(Brandon) wanted to excel in whatever he was doing — cutting grass, pulling weeds or going deep in the hole to turn a double play (at shortstop).

“He’s used to succeeding in everything he does and he still is.”

Former Plymouth head basketball coach John Scott recalls Brandon’s contributions in 2007-08, a season that saw the Pilgrims go 22-4 and make it to the Class 3A Warsaw Semistate.

“Brandon was so very athletic,” says Scott. “He was a very streaky shooter. We played NorthWood just before Christmas. He hit some huge 3-pointers for us that night on the road. He, along with a great game from Nick Neidlinger, got us off to a good start in the (Northern Lakes Conference).”

Scott is also assistant athletic director and longtime public address announcer for Pilgrims/Rockies sports.

Evan Jurjevic got to know Brandon as a fellow middle infielder for Plymouth Post 27. Shortstop Elliott was the lone Plymouth High product surrounded by three LaPorte Slicers — second baseman Jurjevic, first baseman Shawn Rogers and third baseman Jake McMahan.

“(Brandon) was an incredible baseball player,” says Jurjevic. “He was extremely hard-working and talented. He played with a lot of energy and heart.

“He was an overall great guy, a good team player. He was always pushing others to get better.”

Jurjevic, a part-time strength coordinator and instructor for the Indiana Chargers travel organization who is pursuing a physical therapy doctorate at Trine University-Fort Wayne, sees his old friend meeting his condition head-on.

“Baseball is easy compared to something like this,” says Jurjevic. “It’s puts things into perspective.

“It’s definitely a challenge and an obstacle he had to overcome.”

While he must sit very close to view television and uses a large monitor at work, Brandon tries to lead as normal a life as possible. He bowls, plays golf and has fun in the backyard with Bentley.

“He doesn’t want people to know,” says Julie. “He was very hesitant about seeing someone about visual needs.”

Dave Shook spent a week with his stepson and they met with Kentucky Visual Aid. Brandon told them he could not take the aids because they were too expensive.

Then he was asked: “Do you pay taxes?”

His answer: “Yes.”

The reply: “You’ve paid for it.”

For more information on Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, visit lhonsociety.org.

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Brandon Elliott, a Plymouth (Ind.) High School graduate, hits the baseball for Murray (Ky.) State University, where he graduated in 2013 after four seasons. (Murray State University Photo)

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Brandon Elliott finished his four-year baseball career at Murray (Ky.) State University with a .323 average, six home runs, 35 doubles, 85 runs batted in and 135 runs scored in 180 games (171 as a starter). He earned Freshman All-America honors in 2010. (Murray State University Photo)

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Brandon Elliott, a 2009 Plymouth (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the school’s athletic Wall of Fame for being named MVP of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. He also excelled at football and basketball at Plymouth.

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Meagan and Brandon Elliott on their wedding day — April 14, 2018.

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Brandon, Meagan and Shannon Elliott share a moment during Brandon and Meagan’s wedding on April 14, 2018.

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Brandon Elliott, who was diagnosed in 2016 with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) — a sudden, painless loss of central vision — uses binoculars to see his bride, Meagan, during their wedding April 14, 2018. The couple met at Sportable Scoreboards in Murray, Ky. Her grandfather, Mike Cowen, founded the company.

 

With emphasis on fundamentals, Gratz has Columbus East Olympians in the regional

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Placing a premium on fundamentals, Columbus East finds itself playing in an IHSAA baseball regional in 2018.

Under the direction of seventh-year head coach Jon Gratz, the Olympians beat Columbus North 7-6 Monday, May 28 to win the Class 4A Shelbyville Sectional and are headed to the Evansville Reitz Regional at Bosse Field on Saturday, June 2.

Columbus East (20-7) plays Castle at 10 a.m. CST, followed by Franklin Central vs. Jeffersonville. The regional final is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST.

Gratz, who was a junior varsity and freshman coach for the Olympians for five years before taking over the program, is a 2001 Manchester High School graduate.

At Manchester, he gained an affinity for “playing the game the right way” from Squires head coach Jack Rupley.

“He believed in playing hard and taking care of the little things,” says Gratz. “We’ve had great pitching all year long and very good defense. We’re not necessarily the fastest team, but we run the bases well.

“We had a dry spell early in the season, but we’re starting to hit the ball really well.”

Gratz, who teaches math at Columbus East, played his college baseball at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.

The Olympians’ top pitchers are junior left-hander Julian Greenwell, sophomore right-hander Cole Gilley, and senior right-handers Alec Burnett and Drew Hasson. When not pitching, Greenwell plays in right field, Gilley at third base, Burnett in left field and Hasson at first base.

The leading hitters are sophomore catcher Dalton Back, Gilley, Greenwell, Hasson and junior shortstop/lead-off man Jonah Wichman.

Greenwell and Gilley have committed to Indiana University, Hasson to Northern Illinois University and Wichman to Murray State University.

The Class of 2017 sent Jon Crawford to the University of Indianapolis, Jonathan Foster to Taylor University and Luke Hostetler to Jackson College in Jackson County, Mich.

Gratz, who teaches math at Columbus East, is assisted by John Major, Andrew Golinvaux (pitching coach), Jerry Schoen and Chris Fox at the varsity level with Levi Pollert and Nathen Swafford guiding the junior varsity.

Columbus East won its 18th all-time sectional this spring and first since 1999.

“We don’t really talk about that here,” says Gratz. “We’re concerned with this team, this year.”

For the record the other sectional titles came in 1973, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1997.

The Olympians will have a chance at the program’s 10th regional title Saturday, having won at that stage in 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1993 with semistate crowns earned in 1979, 1987 and 1989.

Columbus East has also won three semistates and appeared in the State Finals, bowing in the semifinals all three times (1979, 1987 and 1989).

The Olympians belong to the Hoosier Hills Conference. They finished as runner-up in 2018 to Jeffersonville. Other HHC members are Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated, New Albany and Seymour.

Columbus East plays its games on-campus. Gratz says he is hopeful that the facility will get a new scoreboard this summer.

Jon and Kathleen Gratz have two children — daughter Morgan (5) and son Michael (2).

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Columbus East High School head baseball coach Jon Gratz celebrates a 2018 sectional title with his family. Above is the seventh-year Olympians leader with daughter Morgan and son Michael. Below, Jon and wife Kathleen and kids mug with the trophy.

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Giesler going deep a lot in last season for Indiana State Sycamores

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana State University swept its weekend baseball series at Valparaiso University and now heads to Dallas for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

The Sycamores (29-22) go to “Big D” to play Southern Illinois University on Wednesday, May 23 with their own “Big D.”

Dane Giesler, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound redshirt senior first baseman, who smacked home runs in the first and third games against Valpo to raise his season total to 14 and his ISU career roundtripper mark to 32 and moving him into a tie for fourth place all-time Sycamores history with Tyler Thompson.

“I’ve been working with (head) coach (Mitch) Hannahs and my other coaches, trying to pay attention to the fine details and implement them into the game,” says Giesler, a left-handed swinger who takes a .298 average with one triple, seven doubles, 43 runs batted in with a .584 slugging percentage and .427 on-base percentage into the Valley tournament. “For the past couple of years, I’ve been getting pitched a lot tougher. I had to make some adjustments, figuring out pitches and what pitches I’m going to get thrown to me in different counts.”

With 31 homers the past two years, does the 2012 Jasper High School graduate consider himself a power hitter?

“I guess so,” says Giesler. “I’ve been around the game my whole life and being a big kid kind of helps.”

Hannah’s has watched Giesler improve at recognizing pitches and hitting them hard.

“He’s gotten better at handling all pitches and in all zones,” says Hannahs. “That’s where you’ve seen the jump in his power numbers.”

Giesler (proounced GEESE-ler), who played summer collegiate baseball for the Acadiana Cane Cutters (Louisiana) in 2016 and Terre Haute Rex in 2017, has been productive at the plate for years.

Playing for an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association  Hall of Famer in head coach Terry Gobert, Gielser helped Jasper to a IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish as a sophomore in 2010.

He represented the Wildcats in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series as a senior in 2012, the same year he was an IHSBCA honorable mention all-state selection and also counts the Indiana Prospects travel ball organization among his baseball stops.

Before landing in Terre Haute, Giesler spent the 2014 season at Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill., where he hit .365 with six homers, 13 doubles, 53 RBI and 49 runs scored while also earning Academic All-American honors for the Rob Fournier-coached Warriors.

So Giesler, 25, has understood what it means to play at a high level for a long time.

“That was bred into him before he ever left Jasper or ever left Wabash Valley,” says Hannahs. “We got the benefit of a guy who was mature when he came into our program.”

Hannahs says playing for Gobert helps players make the transition to college baseball.

“Terry’s guys learn very quickly to make a commitment and they compete,” says Hannahs. “It’s not a springtime deal down there in Jasper. It’s a year-round commitment. That’s important for guys going to college. We’re not going to jump out in February and play a few games. It’s a year-round commitment.

“The guys who have already had that in the high school setting are ahead of those who have not.”

What did Giesler gain at Jasper?

“Just the high expectations you have to play with there,” says Giesler. “Every team’s coming to beat you. It’s a well-known team throughout Indiana. Everybody knows who you are. You ain’t going to get a bad game from any team.

“You have to come ready to play everyday.”

Dane, the son of Jeff and Angie Giesler, has had family members who know the college baseball experience.

Older cousin Neil Giesler, who collected 138 hits for Jasper and played at the University South Carolina.

“I looked up to my cousin Neil quite a bit, watching him grow up,” says Dane Giesler of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Famer.

Neil’s father, Stan, played at Murray State University and mother Nancy, attended Indiana State.

Younger cousin Mark Giesler took to the diamond at the University of Dayton.

Fournier’s Wabash Valley clubs competed against those led by Hannahs when the current ISU head coach was in charge of the Lincoln Trail College Statesmen.

“He does a very good job with his club year in and year out,” says Hannahs of Fournier, who picked up his 900th career coaching win this spring.

“Rob taught me how to compete,” says Giesler of Fournier. “You go out and play because you love the game (in junior college baseball).

“There’s nothing pretty about it.”

Giesler, who graduated with a degree in business administration, has thoroughly enjoyed being a teammate at ISU.

“It’s the team camaraderie and getting to know new guys every year and they become best friends during the season,” says Giesler.

Giseler and his buddies are the No. 4 seed in the MVC tournament. Southern Illinois is No. 5. The event at Dallas Baptist University’s Horner Ballpark has two, four-team brackets in a double-elimination format. The winners of the two brackets will play in the championship game Saturday, May 26. The tournament will receive an NCAA Division I tournament bid.

And what about Giesler’s baseball career after college?

“If a (professional) team will give me a shot, I’d love to play,” says Giesler.

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Indiana State University’s Dane Giesler swings the bat against Purdue University in 2018. (Indiana State Athletic Communications Photo)

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Indiana State University’s Dane Giesler runs the bases against Missouri State University in 2018. (Indiana State Athletic Communications Photo)

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Indiana State University’s Dane Giesler addresses the pitcher against Western Illinois University in 2018. (Indiana State Athletic Communications Photo)