Tag Archives: NAIA Opening Round

Reel helps turn IU Southeast into respected NAIA baseball program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University Southeast’s baseball team will play in the NAIA Opening Round for the second straight season and the fourth time since 2010.

The 21st-ranked Grenadiers are in Kingsport, Tenn., for a five-team double-elimination event Monday through Thursday, May 15-18.

The winner out of No. 1 seed Keiser (Fla.) (39-18), No. 2 Tennessee Wesleyan (39-18), No. 3 Indiana University Southeast (45-13), No. 4 Talladega (Ala.) (36-22) and No. 5 Marian (Ind.) (29-21) advances to the 10-team NAIA World Series May 26-June 2 in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Grenadiers are slated to play Tennessee Wesleyan in Game 2 Monday afternoon. Kingsport is where IUS used to go for their conference tournament. Upon arriving Saturday night, they learned that former Grenadier Shane Weedman had pitched a no-hitter for the Evansville Otters of the independent professional Frontier League.

Other Indiana schools in the Opening Round are Huntington and Indiana Tech.

After losing seven starters from 2016, IU Southeast reloaded in 2017.

“It’s definitely been a year to remember,” says IUS head coach Ben Reel. “This team has been very competitive. When they show up everyday, they work.”

With Opening Round appearances in 2010 and 2011 as Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference conference champions and at-large berths in the KIAC and new River States Conference the past two springs, the Grenadiers have established a respected program.

It’s been a progression that’s taken time to achieve.

When Reel took over as head coach for the 2009 season at age 24 (he followed Joe Decker, who decided to go back to Silver Creek High School), the coaching staff was paid with stipends.

“We were like starving artists,” says Reel. “And nobody knew where we were.”

For the record, the school is in New Albany, just across the Ohio River from downtown Louisville.

“We had to crawl before we could walk and walk before we could jog,” says Reel, now 33 and still one of the younger head coaches in college baseball. “We’re starting to run a little bit. We’re starting to get some momentum and it’s taken a decade.”

Reel, who played at South Dearborn High School in Aurora and Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College before transferring to IU Southeast, led his first team to a 32-24 mark and saw the Grenadiers turn the corner in 2010.

That’s the year IUS went 39-20 (setting a school record for wins), NAIA second team All-American Kyle Lenn smacked 24 home runs and the program produced its first Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selection — Cameron Conner to the Kansas City Royals in the 20th round.

“Once that happened, everything started rolling,” says Reel. “That’s what put us on the map in our region.”

With IU Southeast, the University of Louisville (NCAA Division I), Bellarmine University (D-II) and Spalding University (D-III) all within 10 miles of each other, teams are competing for talent.

“You have to be very competitive,” says Reel, who looks at a roster with 15 players with Indiana hometowns and five from Kentucky. “But once prove you can mentor and develop players, you’ll start getting some better athletes.”

That’s not easy when you only have one scholarship to offer (11 below the NAIA limit).

“That puts us in bottom 10 percent out of the 198 (NAIA) teams in the country,” says Reel. “We take a lot of kids who are raw and help them find a niche.

“We get a lot of guys here who want to be coached. Myself and my staff do a lot of player development. We coach the heck out of them.”

Andrew Stanley, a high school teammate of Reel’s, has been with him since the beginning. The young coaching staff also features Jarret Young (second season), Brian Coffman (first season) and student assistants Justin Franz (fourth season) and Logan Coughlin (first season).

“We roll up our sleeves and get in (the batting cage) with them,” says Reel, who considers his communication skills (he’s talk to just about anyone for hours) and practicality as strengths. “That’s how I was raised. I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’m going to show you what to do. That’s what we believe as a staff.

“We go the extra mile. Our biggest selling point is these kids will be coached.”

Reel grew up on a farm near Prairie Creek in Vigo County, spent his middle school years in West Virginia then came back to Indiana and landed at South Dearborn.

With the Knights, he was a catcher for head coach Jay Malott.

“He was a fierce competitor,” says Reel of the former Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis coach. “He was a perfectionist. Nothing was ever good enough. We were never done practicing. We were just relentless. I learned that sense of dedication in high school.”

At Cleveland State, Reel played for Mike Policastro.

“Coach Poli taught me a sense of professional,” says Reel. “He was very calm and very businesslike. He was organized and concise. He would be very honest and open with you about what you needed to do to get to the next level and be a man.”

Reel saw coaching in his future and behind the plate — where he did not make a an error as a sophomore (matching the feat of his senior high school season) — helped prepare him for the profession.

“As a catcher, you’ve got to get to know all these pitchers,” says Reel. “You get to know a bunch of strangers at the collegiate level.”

Relationships have always been important to Reel. One of his best friends — who he met through coaching — is Tennessee Wesleyan assistant Brad Neffendorf (they were in each other’s weddings).

“This game has some of the best people that Planet Earth has to offer,” says Reel. “They just truly love the sport and the people in it.

“That’s the most memorable part of doing this, it’s the people that you meet.”

Reel notes three major things IUS has going for its in community support, education and location.

“We fundraise $50,000 a year,” says Reel. “I takes $70,000 year to run a college baseball program. Our budget is $33,000. You have to have synergy to do that.

“We’re offering an IU degree. We have a tutor on the bus. It’s a big time education.”

Being so close to Louisville is very helpful. There’s so much to do there and there is easy access to an international airport.

BENREEL

At 33, Ben Reel is in his ninth season as head baseball coach at Indiana University Southeast. He has the Grenadiers in the NAIA Opening Round for the fourth time in 2017. (IU Southeast Photo)

McWilliams has Indiana Tech baseball back in NAIA Opening Round

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kip McWilliams is taking Indiana Tech to the NAIA Opening Round baseball tournament for the seventh time in his 10th season as Warriors head baseball coach.

With plenty of experience back from the 2016 Opening Round qualifier, 18th-ranked Indiana Tech (41-12) has been assigned as the No. 2 seed at the five-team Bartlesville, Okla., site. The winner of the double-elimination event scheduled for Monday through Thursday, May 15-18, will have their ticket punched to the 10-team NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.

Indiana Tech plays No. 3 Bryan (Tenn.) (37-18). No. 1 Oklahoma Wesleyan (48-9), No. 4 Midland (Neb.) (40-18) and No. 5 St. Ambrose (28-23) will also be competing in Bartlesville for a berth in Lewiston.

Indiana Tech, conference tournament champion Northwestern Ohio and tournament runner-up Davenport (Mich.) are three Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference teams in the Opening Round — Northwestern Ohio at Lima, Ohio, and Davenport at Bellevue, Neb.

Other Indiana schools in the NAIA tournament are Huntington, Marian and Indiana University Southeast.

McWilliams credits a roster full of players used to winning with the ability to focus on the task at hand has Indiana Tech back in championship contention. The Warriors will have scouting reports on the opponent, but are more concerned with what they do best.

“We focus on ourselves,” says McWilliams. “The game of baseball is very interesting. It’s the best teams, not the most talent that gets you there. We work well together. We focus on the fundamentals. We look to execute the pitch or execute the play.”

Tech executed well enough in 2017 to surpass the 40-win plateau for the third straight year and this came against a super-strong schedule inside and outside the WHAC.

“We’re not trying to go through the season perfect,” says McWilliams. “You can go 50-5 or something by scheduling lesser opponents. We want to be challenged. We want our guys to expect a fight.

“If I’m going to go down south, I want play southern schools that have already been outside for awhile. Many times before conference we’re .500 or below because of the strength of our schedule. I’d much rather lose a game 1-0 to the best team in the country than win 35-2.”

Fast-paced practices get the team ready for what might come.

McWilliams recalls dialing up the curveball machine to throw a “Chris Sale slider.”

The players protested, saying they’ll never see that in a game.

McWilliams’ response: “You never know.”

With a coaching staff that includes Gordon Turner (eighth season), Zach Huttle (third season), Bryant Mistler (third season), Pat Collins-Bride (third season) and graduate assistant Cody O’Neal (first season), McWilliams leads a 2017 roster with players from seven different states and three Canadian provinces. There are 14 with Indiana hometowns (most near the Fort Wayne campus), seven from California and one each from Florida and Texas. Some of them are transfers. Tech has a strong relationship with many junior college coaches.

Having a successful background gives players a better chance of landing with the Warriors.

“We’re recruiting kids that can compete at that tournament level,” says McWilliams. “If we’re looking at Player A and Player B and they are both about the same in talent, we may look at their experience in the postseason to see who we might actually offer that scholarship.

“There’s something about those guys who are winners. We can get them come to Indiana Tech and have a great experience.

“My father (the late David McWilliams) gave me some great advice: Get good players and stay out of the way.”

The Tech experience also includes an education and McWilliams is careful to give his players a chance to hit the books, experience collegiate life and be fresh for the diamond. After all, the NAIA season, including fall and spring periods, is 24 weeks, not including the postseason.

“It’s like a full-time job,” says McWilliams. “We give guys enough rest time so they can focus on being a student-athlete.

“We give them some time off and time away so we’re not at each other’s throats.”

McWilliams is a Bloomington South High School graduate. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Grier Werner and Indiana Football Hall of Famer Mo Moriarty were his coaches.

“I was not very good at baseball, but I loved it and I loved it because of Coach Werner,” says McWilliams. “He held me accountable. He pushed me to be the best teammate I could be.

“(Moriarty) taught me just how important the leaders on the team are. I remember my senior year. The team had a bad day at practice. Mo called us captains into his office and jumped on us. It was all our fault. We’ve got to be there to hold the other teammates accountable. Everybody has a job to do.”

McWilliams played baseball and football for two seasons at Franklin College. His baseball coach was Lance Marshall, who taught him much about the mental and physical aspects of pitching.

Coaching came into McWilliams’ life when he went to Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and worked with Brian Donahue and Mark Flueckiger (now at Huntington).

Before landing at Tech, McWilliams was at Marian College (now Marian University) in Indianapolis for eight seasons (six of which ended with the Knights making the NAIA tournament). His head coach was Kurt Guldner, who reached the 500-win plateau during his career.

“It’s not just coaches you coached with, but coaches you coached against,” says McWilliams. “When I went against Sam Riggleman at Spring Arbor I knew I was going to walk away learning some things.

“Coaching college baseball is such a nice fraternity. We share ideas all the time. Everything we do is taken from other coaches.”

From his own experience, McWilliams learned in his first year as a head coach that he didn’t want captains. He had 15 seniors, named three as captains.

“The other 12 don’t lead because they don’t think that’s their job,” says McWilliams. “Seniors do help with the team culture.”

At Tech, that means making sure every player is welcomed and the attitude stays positive. College is hard enough.

“When we have practice we don’t know how their day’s been going,” says McWilliams. “If we start riding them and riding them, they are going to shut down. We want to keep trust in each other.”

KIPMCWILLIAMS

Kip McWilliams is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at Indiana Tech. The Warriors are heading into the NAIA Opening Round for the seventh time under his leadership. (Indiana Tech Photo)