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Indiana Wesleyan’s Benjamin affirms priority of coaching communication

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin has been the head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University since the 2016 season.

His Wildcats have gone 123-105-1 overall and 62-47 in Crossroads League play during Benjamin’s tenure with a CL tournament title in

2016 and a 2018 CL Regular Season Championship leading to two NAIA Opening Round appearances in 2016 and 2018.

A big part of the culture revolving around the IWU program involves improving communication each year.

Benjamin, who was head coach at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., for eight seasons, winning eight championships before taking over in Marion, addressed communication’s impact on coachability at the American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler University.

The full presentation can be ordered through the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics Video Library.

“Guys come in on Day 1 and they seem very coachable,” says Benjamin.

Benjamin says coaches may notice some players that are a little standoffish or hard to influence while others are coachable throughout the entire experience.

In many cases, players have a personal instructor, adding more voices to the room.

“You’re trying to navigate all those variables,” says Benjamin. “The vision is the allow the player to play competent-unconscious.”

That vision comes with a set of values.

The first is asking open-ended questions (coach to coach, coach to player, player to coach and player to player) and minimizing statements.

Why is this done?

“I’m trying to develop the awareness and self-awareness of the player by asking him an open-ended question.

 “By slowing things down, conversations with players become much more of a dialogue instead of a one-way statement.

“You know a lot more about your players because you’re getting a lot more feedback.”

The player is given a chance to do some self-discovery by answering the open-ended questions.

Benjamin says if a player doesn’t have awareness (knowing what is going on around you) and self-awareness (knowing what you are experiencing), they cannot effectively implement information.

“If anytime they’re stuck  they’re looking for a statement, they will have the inability to self-diagnosis pitch-to-pitch during competition.” says Benjamin.

“It’s Strike 1 and they look down to third base and say, ‘Coach, what now?’ You can’t do that. You’ve got to learn how to talk to yourself.

“Most young players talk to themselves in statements instead of open-ended questions. Most statements are negative and not positive and solution-driven.”

Benjamin has found that as players develop they ask themselves open-ended questions, they find a solution the vast majority of the time.

“The coach is there as a sounding board, a facilitator, a counselor, awareness raiser and available when the player gets ‘stuck’ to offer a suggestion,” says Benjamin, who wants his players to own the process.

“If they own it, the ceiling is them. If I own it, their ceiling is me. If their ceiling is me, they’re never going to hit a curveball because I couldn’t do it.”

The relationship becomes a partnership.

“It’s not a threat and it’s not a power struggle,” says Benjamin.

The additional value of communication helping coachability is the coaching staff being aware of the person before the player. Assistant coaches are vital in this area as the front lines of knowing the room.

“There’s death in the family,” says Benjamin. “Girlfriends, adjusting academically, or something going on in the home.

“Nobody on the coaching staff should ever be surprised about what’s going on in a player’s life; it gives you a clearer picture of all the influences in that person’s life when they enter training.”

As a coaching staff, There are typically two individualized meetings a week in which, as a staff, we go down each name on the roster discussing who has what needs that we may be able to meet through various aspects of the program.”

The Indiana Wesleyan staff has players focus on one objective at a time (approach, plan or skill). By showing restraint, they can avoid information overload.

“It is impossible to play unconscious and knowledgeable if we’re carrying all these different things into our performance time,” says Benjamin. “If you’re trying to balance two or three different things, it becomes impossible to execute one.”

At IWU, that one thing for a player might take the entire fall. They focus on the objective, they achieve it and then they move on.

Benjamin desires the coaching staff to over communicate with each other, to be open and always seeking growth.

Benjamin admits that investing in assistants development was not a strength earlier in his coaching career.

Having operated during the first half of his career with just one volunteer assistant, who worked during the day, Benjamin’s ability to understand the value and importance of investing into his assistants was behind. “The last two years, I’ve grown in the ability to delegate, mentor, and invest daily in our assistant coaches.

By doing so, the atmosphere and the productivity is up.”

Benjamin looks to provide a safe atmosphere for his assistants to ask questions.

“That’s how we get better,” says Benjamin. “We talk about players needing to be coached-up, but so do coaches.”

“As a coaching staff, we have blind spots. But if we ask each other open-ended questions, it’s not a threat. It’s an opportunity to grow.”

Benjamin says, “In coaching, time is maybe the most valuable aspect.”

As a coaching staff preparing for this Fall training season, Benjamin and his staff noticed that the areas in which we failed the most in coaching, was coaching a player inside too tight of a time restraint.

Benjamin says a coaching session must provide clarity by the coach and the player, because that often requires time, coaches needed to decide when the best time was to address a coaching opportunity.

Because it negatively impacts trust, the idea is to avoid “Drive-By coaching.”

IWU coaches witnessed this the most in the side cages during Batting Practice rotations.

Rotations may be 8-15 minutes depending on the day.

If four hitters arrive in the side batting cages with limited time, then we found ourselves making a lot of statements since we did not have the time capacity to create the amount of clarity as you would in a different segment of training, early work, or post work.

Now, if we get a coaching opportunity in the cages, we ask ourselves if the player has the foundational awareness and self-awareness to find a solution in the limited amount of time without transferring ownership of the hitter’s development.

If there is not enough time to effectively coach that player in that session, we will act on the coaching opportunity post practice or early work the next day.

“We want to create opportunities for growth so there’s time to land that plane,” says Benjamin.

Practices for the Wildcats are divided into training zones and performance zones.

Training zones entail many reps and a lot of teaching.

“Nothing’s really being measured,” says Benjamin. “It’s a zone where you can make mistakes and experiment.”

Benjamin notes that baseball players in general are training now more than ever.

“Guys are hitting all the time. They’re training all the time,” says Benjamin. “They become really, really good at training.”

That’s where the performance zone comes in, where there is competition with some kind of award or consequence.

“You have to win,” says Benjamin. “We’re transitioning from the training zone where you’re allowed to think, to the performance zone where you shut this thing (points to head) off, get unconscious and just try to win the moment.

“You just try to go beat the other guy.”

This fall, a typical Wildcats practice has three competitions (performance zones) and one learning moment (training zone), in addition, early work is designed as a training zone.

IWU also emphasizes peer-to-peer competere.

“It’s the Latin word for competition and it means to strive together,”

says Benjamin. The personal best comes out by competing with another person.

It does not happen overnight, but it can be healthy for two players to be vying to be the starting shortstop.

It’s often been found that one wins the job and the other ends up starting, too, perhaps at second base or third base.

“Competition is an opportunity and not a threat,” says Benjamin. “We have to have competition. It’s the only way we’ll find out what our personal best is.”

Benjamin invites players to join the IWU program based on three factors — humility, motor and skill.

“They have the confidence to say ‘I’m really good’ and the humility to say ‘I need to get better.’ That’s vital.

“In psychology, they say your self-confidence shows up before your self-awareness does.”

Motor means the ability to work hard with intention each day.

“Skill can always be developed if the first two exist.” says Benjamin.

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Rich Benjamin is the head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion. His first season leading the Wildcats was 2016. (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)

 

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Culture of caring, accountability propels NAIA World Series-bound Indiana Tech

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana Tech’s baseball team has gotten strong pitching, timely hitting, well-placed bunts and taken plenty of extra bases during its 2019 postseason run.

The Warriors (41-14-1) have outscored opponents 30-16 in the Wolverine-Hoosier Conference tournament and 24-12 in the NAIA Opening Round.

Head coach Kip McWilliams says it’s team culture that has Tech in the program’s seventh NAIA World Series appearance and first since 2003. The squad was to leave for Lewiston, Idaho today (May 21) and face Bellevue (Neb.) at 11:30 a.m. EDT Friday (May 24).

“These guys care about each other and hold each other accountable,” says McWilliams. “Culture is the most important thing.

“It starts with the seniors. It’s a great group of guys. They’ve helped molding our freshmen and underclassmen.”

Catcher Glen McClain, third baseman Brandon Dossen, second baseman Javier Castaneda, right-handed pitcher Nate McBroom are among the Warriors’ senior leaders.

McClain, a redshirt senior and graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School, is Tech’s all-time hit leader with 337. He goes to Idaho hitting .431 with 17 home runs and 54 runs batted in.

Heritage High School graduate Dossen carries a .370 average with five homers and 49 RBIs.

Castaneda hails from Miami, Fla., has made 70 assists and participated in 11 double plays on defense.

Wichita, Kan., product McBroom is in the mix to start of relieve in Lewiston. He is 6-3 with a 3.58 earned run average. Tech’s other top pitchers include redshirt junior right-hander Seth Sorenson (9-1, 2.22), junior left-hander Charles Dunavan (9-3, 2.60) and freshman right-hander Hayes Sturtsman (4-1, 5.47).

Sorenson is from Payson, Utah, Dunavan from Sterling Heights, Mich., and Sturtsman is a Manchester High School graduate.

During the run up to the World Series, the lineup has featured junior right fielder Jacob Alvidrez (.315-3-30) at lead-off, followed by junior center fielder Reese Olden (.323-0-28), catcher McClain, third baseman Dossen, freshman first baseman Jake DeFries (.368-3-42), junior designated hitter Spenser McGhee (.338-3-17), second baseman Castaneda, redshirt junior shortstop Jake Ritson (.299-0-30) and junior left fielder Jashaun Simon (.209-1-11).

Alvidrez is from Sacramento, Calif., Olden from New Haven, Ind., DeFries from Crown Point, Ind., McGhee from Virginia Beach, Va., Ritson from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Simon from Kennewick, Wash. Kennewick is less than three hours from Lewiston.

McWilliams, who is in his 12th season at the Fort Wayne school, credits his assistant coaches who take the time to work with the athletes and build trust in the player/coach relationship.

Brent Alwine is in charge of infielders and is key to the Warriors’ defensive positioning.

Pat Collins-Bride works with hitters and helps with recruiting.

Marshall Oetting is the pitching coach and works closely with McWilliams on that aspect of the game.

Miguel Tucker leads the outfielders, helps with recruiting and puts together a scouting report for the rest of the coaching staff. McWilliams says the data helps with positioning and pitch calling and sequencing.

Gordon Turner also helps with infielders and recruiting and is the junior varsity coach.

Tech was one win away from getting back to the World Series in each of the past three seasons, but bowed out in the NAIA Opening Round.

The Warriors have used that as motivation for getting to the next level.

McWilliams, who has long used visualization in his training, has asked players to “close their eyes and remember the last game they played.”

Unless the season ended with a championship, they are know about the heartache of the last-game loss.

“When postseason baseball comes around, there’s only going to be one winner,” says McWilliams. “Even the incoming freshmen can take that feeling and feed off it, using it in their workouts.”

The coach also asks them to go back to their earliest days of baseball.

“Everyone was a star in Little League,” says McWilliams. “Just relax, go out there and have fun.”

It’s all about positivity.

“We have a question for them: What are they feeding their dog?,” says McWilliams. “Is it positive or negative?”

McWilliams was on the Marian University coaching staff the last time Tech made it to Lewiston, but he does maintain contact with former players.

“I’ve received several phone calls and texts,” says McWilliams. “I want them to know they are not forgotten.

“They’re the foundation of where we are today.”

McWilliams has brought in Ivy Tech Northeast head coach Lance Hershberger (who took the Warriors to the World Series in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003), former Indiana Tech athletic director Dan Kline and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and current Grand Valley State University assistant Sam Riggleman to address the 2019 team.

Riggleman was a head coach for 40 years and won 1,023 games at Wesley College, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Southern Illinois University, Bethel College, Dallas Baptist and Spring Arbor University.

As motivation, there’s also the images in McWilliams’ office.

Each time the Warriors has been fortunate enough to win a championship of some kind, a team photo has been taken.

“The poses are almost always the same,” says McWilliams. “They see (those photos) everyday. It’s hilarious. That’s a visual thing for them.”

It links everything together and helps feed the culture.

And culture is what it’s all about for the Indiana Tech Warriors.

 

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Javier Castanedia and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Glen McClain and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Head coach Kip McWilliams and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Javier Castaneda and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

Indiana Tech, IU Southeast, Huntington, Marian in NAIA Opening Round

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A quest for an NAIA baseball national title begins today (May 13) for four Indiana schools.

The double-elimination Opening Round begins at nine sites. Indiana Tech is the No. 2 seed at Williamsburg, Ky., Indiana University Southeast is No. 3 at Lawrenceville, Ga., Huntington is No. 4 at Macon, Ga., and Marian is No. 5 at Kingsport, Tenn.

Indiana Tech (38-14-1) takes on Lyon (Ark.) in its first game while IU Southeast (35-18) faces Georgetown (Ky.), Huntington (26-14) squares off against British Columbia and Marian (30-19) clashes with Madonna (Mich.).

Winners in the Opening Round, which is scheduled to conclude May 16, advance to the 63rd annual NAIA World Series May 24-31 in Lewiston, Idaho.

No. 3 seed Oakland City (21-13) will host the National Christian College Athletic Association Mid-East Regional and plays Hiwassee (Tenn.) today. The regional goes through May 16. The NCCAA World Series is May 22-25 in Easley, S.C.

By beating Rose-Hulman in the championship of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament, Franklin (28-13) earned a berth in the NCAA Division III regionals and were to learn where they go today.

In NCAA Division I, Indiana (33-18, 14-7) is in second place in the Big Ten Conference standings behind Michigan (37-13, 15-5). The eight-team conference tournament is May 22-26 in Omaha, Neb. Before that, the Hoosiers play host to Louisville Tuesday, May 14 then Rutgers in a Friday-Saturday-Sunday series.

Purdue (19-31, 7-13) is in 12th in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers play host to Xavier Tuesday, May, 14 then Ohio State for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Indiana State (34-14, 11-7) is in second in the Missouri Valley Conference behind Dallas Baptist (36-15, 12-6) and Illinois State (30-21, 12-6). The Sycamores host Bradley Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the eight-team MVC tournament May 21-15 in Normal, Ill.

Evansville (23-24, 10-8) is fifth in the MVC. The Purple Aces visit Belmont Tuesday and Illinois State Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Valparaiso (13-32, 6-12) is seventh in the MVC. The Crusaders plays host to Chicago State Tuesday then goes to Missouri State Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Ball State (33-17, 17-5) sits in second in the Mid-American Conference behind Central Michigan (39-12, 19-5). The Cardinals, coming off combined a nine-inning no-hitter by John Baker and Luke Jaksich, host Toledo Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The MAC tournament is scheduled for May 22-26 in Avon, Ohio.

Butler (25-23, 5-9) is fifth in the Big East Conference. The Bulldogs visit Eastern Illinois Tuesday and Georgetown Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Big East tournament is May 23-26 at a site to be determined.

Notre Dame (22-26, 12-15) is sixth the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division, which has its 12-team tournament May 21-26 in Durham, N.C. The Irish go to Northwestern Tuesday and Boston College Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Purdue Fort Wayne (6-42, 1-26 Summit League) is at Toledo Tuesday and at home with Western Illinois Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Summit League tournament is slated for May 22-25 in Tulsa, Okla.

Vincennes (25-28, 13-18 in the Mid-West Conference) play in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Midwest District May 16-20 in Normal, Ill.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through May 12

NCAA Division I

Indiana State 34-14 (11-7 Missouri Valley)

Indiana 33-18 (14-7 Big Ten)

Ball State 33-17 (17-5 Mid-American)

Butler 25-23 (5-9 Big East)

Evansville 23-24 (10-8 Missouri Valley)

Notre Dame 22-26 (12-15 Atlantic Coast)

Purdue 19-31 (7-13 Big Ten)

Valparaiso 13-32 (6-12 Missouri Valley)

Purdue Fort Wayne 6-42 (1-26 Summit)

NCAA Division II

Indianapolis 30-20 (19-14 Great Lakes Valley)

Southern Indiana 30-21 (21-12 Great Lakes Valley)

Oakland City 21-13

NCAA Division III

Franklin 28-13 (12-6 Heartland)

Rose-Hulman 27-12 (14-2 Heartland)

DePauw 22-15 (8-8 North Coast)

Wabash 22-19 (9-8 North Coast)

Anderson 21-16 (10-8 Heartland)

Earlham 16-21 (8-10 Heartland)

Hanover 15-19 (7-11 Heartland)

Trine 15-25 (8-20 Michigan Intercollegiate)

Manchester 14-23 (8-9 Heartland)

NAIA

Indiana Tech 38-14-1 (17-4-1 Wolverine-Hoosier)

Taylor 38-18 (15-12 Crossroads)

Indiana University-Kokomo 36-18 (19-8 River States)

Indiana University Southeast 35-18 (21-6 River States)

Marian 30-19 (17-10 Crossroads)

Huntington 26-14 (20-7 Crossroads)

Indiana Wesleyan 22-30 (15-11 Crossroads)

Purdue Northwest 21-27 (16-12 Great Lakes Intercollegiate)

Goshen 20-29 (12-15 Crossroads)

Grace 17-27 (10-17 Crossroads)

Indiana University South Bend 13-38 (11-19 Chicagoland)

Saint Francis 13-40 (7-20 Crossroads)

Bethel 11-29 (7-20 Crossroads)

Calumet of Saint Joseph 8-39 (1-27 Chicagoland)

Junior College

Ivy Tech Northeast 33-14

Vincennes 25-28 (13-18 Mid-West)

Ancilla 5-30 (4-24 Michigan Community)

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Sycamores earn another sweep; Tuesday schedule chock-full

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana State University swept its sixth weekend series of the 2019 college baseball season, topping Valparaiso University three times in Terre Haute Friday and Saturday, April 12-13.

The Sycamores (27-7) are scheduled to visit Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 16.

Also Tuesday, Ball State goes to Indiana with a 6:05 p.m. start at Bart Kaufman Field.

The Hoosiers (24-12) are riding a seven-game win streak, including a three-game weekend sweep of Evansville. The Cardinals (23-12) have won four of their previous five games.

NCAA Division III’s Rose-Hulman (17-8) is on a five-game win streak.

The Ivy Tech Northeast program in Fort Wayne recently got the thumbs up from its administration to get going with the program, which is in its second season as a pilot for athletics in the Ivy Tech statewide system.

The Lance Hershberger-coached Titans won 25 games in 2018 and already have 22 victories in 2019, including the 600th of Hershberger’s storied coaching career.

If weather cooperates, there will be plenty of collegiate diamond action around Indiana Tuesday, including (all times local):

NCAA Division I

Western Michigan at Valparaiso, 3 p.m.

Evansville at Murray State, 5 p.m.

Northwestern at Notre Dame, 6 p.m.

Ball State at Indiana, 6:05 p.m.

Butler at Purdue, 7 p.m.

NCAA Division II

Lake Erie at Indianapolis (DH), 1 p.m.

Kentucky Wesleyan at Southern Indiana, 6 p.m.

NCAA Division III

Wittenberg at DePauw (DH), noon.

Wabash at Ohio Wesleyan (DH), noon.

Bluffton at Anderson (DH), 1 p.m.

Defiance at Manchester (DH), 1 p.m.

Earlham at Mount St. Joseph (DH), 4 p.m.

Franklin at Rose-Hulman (DH), 4 p.m.

NAIA

Mount Vernon Nazarene at Saint Francis (DH), 1 p.m.

Taylor at Bethel (DH), 1 p.m.

Goshen at Spring Arbor (DH), 1 p.m.

Indiana Wesleyan at Grace (DH), 2 p.m.

Marian at Huntington (DH), 3 p.m.

IU Southeast at Lindenwood-Belleville, 3 p.m.

IU South Bend at St. Ambrose, 4 p.m.

St. Francis (Ill.) at Calumet of St. Joseph, 4 p.m.

Junior College

Sinclair at Ivy Tech Northeast (DH), 2 p.m.

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through April 14

NCAA Division I

Indiana State  27-7 (4-2 Missouri Valley)

Indiana 24-12 (7-2 Big Ten)

Ball State 23-12 (7-3 Mid-American)

Butler 18-15 (2-4 Big East)

Evansville 17-15 (5-1 Missouri Valley)

Notre Dame 13-21 (8-10 Atlantic Coast)

Purdue 11-23 (5-6 Big Ten)

Valparaiso 6-24 (1-8 Missouri Valley)

Fort Wayne 5-28 (0-15 Summit)

NCAA Division II

Indianapolis 23-14 (15-9 Great Lakes Valley)

Southern Indiana 21-14 (14-9 Great Lakes Valley)

Oakland City 19-11

NCAA Division III

Rose-Hulman 17-8 (6-0 Heartland)

Franklin 16-10 (5-3 Heartland)

DePauw 15-11 (2-4 North Coast)

Anderson 13-10 (4-4 Heartland)

Earlham 13-14 (5-5 Heartland)

Wabash 13-14 (1-6 North Coast)

Trine 11-15 (4-10 Michigan Intercollegiate)

Hanover 10-14 (2-6 Heartland)

Manchester 8-19 (3-5 Heartland)

NAIA

Taylor Trojans 29-13 (9-9 Crossroads)

Indiana University-Kokomo 28-13 (15-6 River States)

Indiana University Southeast 27-14 (15-6 River States)

Indiana Tech 25-13 (9-3 Wolverine-Hoosier)

Huntington 20-10 (14-5 Crossroads)

Marian 19-16 (11-8 Crossroads)

Indiana Wesleyan 17-24 (11-8 Crossroads)

Purdue Northwest 14-18 (9-5 Great Lakes Intercollegiate)

Goshen 13-24 (7-12 Crossroads)

Saint Francis Cougars 13-28 (7-12 Crossroads)

Grace 12-19 (8-11 Crossroads)

Bethel 9-23 (5-14 Crossroads)

Calumet of Saint Joseph 8-32 (1-19 Chicagoland)

Indiana University South Bend 8-32 (6-15 Chicagoland)

Junior College

Ivy Tech Northwest 22-11

Vincennes 18-18 (6-10 Mid-West)

Ancilla 5-18 (4-12 Michigan Community)

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Barney’s spent decade leading Vincennes U. baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Student-athletes are constantly coming and going. That’s the nature of junior college sports.

Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at one such two-year institution — Vincennes (Ind.) University.

“I enjoy the challenge,” says Barney. “I enjoy the aspect of recruiting. You’re always looking for the next best thing.”

A poor team can get better quickly with a solid recruiting class.

‘I’m often asked, what are you looking for in college baseball? Bats play. If you can swing the pole, you’re going to play at the junior college level.”

VU’s stated mission is “to provide associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of academic and occupational majors leading to entry to a four-year university or to the workforce.”

Vincennes serves more than 17,000 at its various locations with about a third of that number at the main campus.

“It’s not the typical junior college,” says Barney. “It has a mid-major collegiate feel.”

The goal of the baseball program is to place student-athletes with a place to play at a four-year college. As of last week, 96 Vincennes players had moved on during the decade that Barney’s been in charge, including 32 to NCAA Division I, many to NCAA D-II and NAIA and a few to NCAA D-III.

Barney sees players choose the junior college route for many reasons. Among them are cost, grade issues, level of play, the chance to play right away or be drafted by Major League Baseball and not have to wait to turn 21 or play three seasons like is required at four-year schools.

The Trailblazers’ core beliefs revolve around faith, family, school and baseball.

“It’s like a three-ring circus of academics, athletics and the social scene,” says Barney of Vincennes campus life. “You have to have self-discipline and time management skills. You prioritize where you want to spend your time and what you want to get accomplished out of college.

“You can obtain your full potential as a player. That’s what junior college offers guys.”

Junior college players are allowed to practice more often that those at other levels.

All the time with the team allows individuals to built work ethic, character and emotional stability and, hopefully, have a positive experience.

“It’s an opportunity to get better,” says Barney. “There’s always obstacles and challenges for guys, where it’s an injury, a class, a teammate or playing time. But they learn the fundamental game of baseball.”

School rules say Vincennes freshmen must stay in campus housing. Sophomores have the choice to live on-campus or off-campus. Barney says there’s about a 50-50 split for his current sophomore class.

Barney, who is assisted by Hank Lopez and Matt Goebel, started out with 37 players in the fall and took 31 into the spring.

Almost all of those have hometowns in Indiana.

Until a couple of years ago, Indiana was Barney’s recruiting base. Such scholarship money is based on in-state tuition.

With the favorable rates and so many Illinois junior college baseball programs as opposed to Indiana (which now has three — Vincennes, Ancilla College and Ivy Tech Northeast), plenty of Indiana players choose to play junior college baseball in Illinois.

But Illinois has been opened up so that VU can offer students there a cost similar to what they would get in-state.

“I hope to drive up the price of poker in Illinois for some of those guys,” says Barney of landing Illinois players for the VU program.

Rules allow junior colleges to play 20 games against outside competition in the fall. Vincennes also plays about 10 intrasquad games. There are 56 regular-season games in the spring.

That’s a lot of innings to cover so Barney typically carries 16 to 18 pitches, some of whom also play other positions.

“I love those guys,” says Barney. “If they can be successful at both, it’s well worth or time and energy to put the effort into that.”

The Trailblazers are in National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 24. The region is made up of nine Mid-West Athletic Conference members — Vincennes plus Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, Heartland Community College (Normal, Ill.), Illinois Central College (East Peoria, Ill.), John Wood Community College (Quincy, Ill.), Lewis & Clark Community College (Godfrey, Ill.), Lincoln Land Community College (Springfield, Ill.), Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.) and Spoon River College (Canton, Ill.).

Vincennes went into play April 3 at 15-12 overall and 4-4 in the conference.

There is a 32-game conference schedule. The top eight teams go to the MWAC tournament. The winner advances to the NJCAA D-II World Series (May 25-June 1 in Enid, Okla.).

“There’s a lot of positives in moving over to that region,” says Barney. “Before, we were independent in Region 12, which is Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Trying to find games in late March, April and part of May was a bear.”

Vincennes went to the World Series in 2010 and 2014 under the old qualifying format. Teams were required to make it through a sub-regional to get to an eight-team double-elimination tournament that sent the champion to championship series.

The Trailblazers play home games at Jeremy Blemker Field.

Huntingburg, Ind., native Blemker coached for 38 years, including 26 at Vincennes (1980-2006) and amassed a NJCAA-record 1,037 victories. He sent more than 180 players on to play at universities around the country and 27 signed professional contracts.

Blemker, who died in 2012, was an inductee of the NJCAA and Greater Evansville Baseball halls of fame.

The original Blemker Field was on the VU campus. It was razed to make room for Updike Hall Scienc Earth and Mathematics Learning Center and the Trailblazers moved to a new baseball complex on Old Terre Haute Road five years ago.

Barney says the university has continued to provide the team with the means to maintain the facility.

Before landing at VU, Orlando, Fla., native Barney has made several baseball coaching stops. He was assistant coach and recruiting director for 13 years at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

Barney, a graduate of Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, Tenn., has also served as head coach of the Quincy Gems and Springfield Rifles in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (summer) and was an assistant at Tennessee Wesleyan, Tusculum University (Greeneville, Tenn.) and St. John’s River State College (Palatka, Fla.) as well as serving on the summer staffs for the Frontier League’s Midwest Sliders (Ypsilanti, Mich.) and New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Vermont Mountaineers (Montpelier, Vt.).

Barney counts Mike Policastro, Tom Griffin, Mike Goedde and Mike Robins among his baseball mentors.

Barney played for Policastro (now head coach at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee) at Tenessee Weselyan and was a teammate and coached alongside Griffin (now head coach at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.) at that same school. Goedde (now head coach at Evansville Central High School) was USI head coach when Barney was on the staff. Robins led the squad at St. John’s River.

“You take a little bit from everybody,” says Barney. “You put your own personality on the program, too.

“It’s fun. The kids keep you young and always bring something new to the table.”

VINCENNESUBLAZERS

CHRISBARNEY

Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at Vincennes (Ind.) University in 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Indiana State, IU-Kokomo, IU Southeast, Taylor over 20-win mark

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Four schools have already reached or surpassed the 20-win mark on the 2019 college baseball season.

No fooling.

Going into April, NCAA Division I member Indiana State (21-4), NAIA schools Indiana University-Kokomo (24-9) and Indiana University Southeast (23-9) and NAIA affiliate Taylor (24-9) are leading the way in victories among Indiana teams.

In addition, Ball State (17-9), Southern Indiana (17-9), Butler (16-9), Indianapolis (16-10), Indiana Tech (16-10), Vincennes (15-8) and Indiana (15-10) have surpassed the 15-victory plateau.

At 12-3, IUK and IUS are tied atop the River States Conference standings.

The most recent rankings showed Southern Indiana receiving votes in NCAA Division II with Indiana Tech No. 16 and Taylor No. 20 in NAIA.

The longest current winning streaks for college programs in the state belong to Ball State (8), IU Southeast (8), DePauw (5), Evansville (5), Butler (4) and Purdue (4).

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

Records Through March 31

NCAA Division I

Ball State 17-9 (4-0 Mid-American)

Butler 16-9 (0-0 Big East)

Evansville 14-9 (3-0 Missouri Valley)

Fort Wayne 4-21 (0-9 Summit)

Indiana 15-10 (5-1 Big Ten)

Indiana State  21-4 (1-2 Missouri Valley)

Notre Dame 11-14 (6-6 Atlantic Coast)

Purdue 10-16 (4-1 Big Ten)

Valparaiso 5-18 (0-3 Missouri Valley)

NCAA Division II

Indianapolis 16-10 (7-6 Great Lakes Valley)

Oakland City 14-7

Southern Indiana 17-9 (10-4 Great Lakes Valley)

NCAA Division III

Anderson 8-6 (0-0 Heartland)

DePauw 12-6 (0-0 North Coast)

Earlham 8-11 (0-2 Heartland)

Franklin 10-8 (0-2 Heartland)

Hanover 8-7 (0-0 Heartland)

Manchester 5-13 (0-0 Heartland)

Rose-Hulman 10-16 (0-0 Heartland)

Trine 7-7 (0-2 Michigan Intercollegiate)

Wabash 10-8 (0-1 North Coast)

NAIA

Bethel 8-15 (4-6 Crossroads)

Calumet of Saint Joseph 6-20 (0-11 Chicagoland)

Goshen 10-17 (4-6 Crossroads)

Grace 8-11 (4-6 Crossroads)

Huntington 11-8 (7-3 Crossroads)

Indiana Tech 16-10 (3-1 Wolverine-Hoosier)

Indiana Wesleyan 9-22 (3-6 Crossroads)

Indiana University-Kokomo 24-9 (12-3 River States)

Indiana University South Bend 5-24 (3-8 Chicagoland)

Indiana University Southeast 23-9 (12-3 River States)

Marian 14-11 (6-3 Crossroads)

Purdue Northwest 9-13 (6-2 Great Lakes Intercollegiate)

Saint Francis 10-20 (4-5 Crossroads)

Taylor 24-9 (4-5 Crossroads)

Junior College

Ancilla 3-12 (2-6 Michigan Community)

Ivy Tech Northwest 10-10

Vincennes 15-8 (4-0 Mid-West)

 

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Gameday mentality fuels Frame-coached Huntington U. Foresters

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Huntington (Ind.) University baseball team can’t control the wintry weather and the fact that they have to do almost all of their practicing indoors so far in 2019.

But the Foresters won’t use that as an alibi.

Mike Frame, who is in his 35th season as HU head coach, won’t let that happen.

“We’re not going to use it as an excuse,” says Frame, who has had his players working out inside the Merillat Complex fieldhouse when it’s been too cold or wet to use Forest Glen Park. “It’s the hand that we’ve been dealt so we have to make the most of it.”

Years ago, Frame and close friend Tom Roy (who is now co-head coach at Grace College) came up with ACE. The acronym stands for Attitude, Concentration, Effort. It’s something the student-athletes can control everyday.

“For me, it goes beyond playing baseball,” says Frame, a member of the Huntington University Athletics, Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Northeast Indiana Baseball Association halls of fame. “We talk to these young men from the time we recruit them that attitude, concentration and effort is something take you with you when you leave. Someday you’re going to be an employee and the employer is going to want somebody with a great attitude, great concentration and great effort.

“Someday there’s going to be a young lady that would like to have a husband with those qualities and a little boy or little girl that would like to have a father with those qualities.

“Let’s control the things that we can control.”

The Foresters’ schedule called for first 20 road games to be played on the road.

Of that number, a dozen were contested and Huntington split them, including one win against NAIA No. 19-ranked University of the Cumberlands and two against No. 22 Taylor University. The home opener against Spring Arbor University was moved to the turf at Logansport High School, where a 6-5 win was achieved for 7-6 start to the campaign.

“We have to prepare to go out and play right away against really good competition,” says Frame. “We have to make sure what we do in (the fieldhouse) translates outside whether we’ve been on the field or not.”

Practices are conducted at a high tempo.

“We have to have a gameday mentality in all that we do,” says Frame. “That’s one of the reasons we practice with uniforms on, guys hit with helmets on.”

Because Frame believes baseball was not meant to be played indoors, player earn their positions in the fall. He does not play favorites.

“The best player is going to play.,” says Frame “What year you are in school doesn’t matter.”

What makes Crossroads League baseball so strong?

“There’s some stability at the top in terms of coaching,” says Frame, noting his own longevity and that of Mount Vernon Nazarene’s Keith Veale (30th season) and Taylor’s Kyle Gould (15th season). “Those coaches are working at it.”

Frame says the league is made up of similar schools in terms of resources, scholarship money and the like. Member schools tend to be faith-based with a strong focus on academics.

“We have to ask how they can handle things at a Christian school and academically before we ever look at (athletic) ability,” says Frame.

HU pitching coach Brian Abbott is in his second go-around at Huntington after a stint at league member Indiana Wesleyan.

“It’s a very competitive league,” says Abbott. “These teams compete at a very high level.”

The league has produced professional players and former IWU pitcher Brandon Beachy made it all the way to the big leagues.

Former Huntington player Dalton Combs spent the past two seasons as an outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization.

“You can get to professional baseball from a small school,” says Abbott, who is also executive director of the IHSBCA. “It might be a little easier as a pitcher. A position player needs to be outside with the at-bats and the ground balls that are harder (to come by) in this weather.”

The winner of the Crossroads League regular season (No. 1 seed in the tournament) and the winner of the Crossroads League Tournament will receive automatic bids to the NAIA Opening Round. If the winner of the regular season (No. 1 seed in the tournament) and the winner of the Crossroads League Tournament are the same team, the second place team from the tournament will be awarded the second automatic bid.

Senior outfielder Donovan Clark (Fort Wayne South Side High School graduate), senior right-handed pitcher D.J. Moore (Homestead), senior first baseman/designated hitter Adam Roser (Northfield), junior right-hander Mason Shinabery (Bellmont), junior left-hander Alex McCutcheon (Huntington North) are part of the current Huntington mix.

All come together for a common cause but with a different perspective.

Clark, who played high school baseball for head coach Sheldon Van Pelt, was on the football team at Indiana University before a back injury ended his career in that sport. With friends Will Coursen-Carr and Tyler Zimske playing baseball at Huntington, he decided to switch his focus to the diamond.

What is the difference between NCAA Division I football and NAIA baseball?

“Baseball — in general — is more mental,” says Clark, who went from defensive back to center fielder. “In football, if you don’t have a tackle, interception or impact the game in some way, you’re not considered the best player on the field.”

The Forester Way has a familiar feel to Clark, who is scheduled to graduate this spring with a business marketing degree.

“It’s a small school,” says Clark. “But the program here goes about things in a big school way. We have a strength coach (Scott Craft).”

With all the indoor workouts, Clark has been getting some reps with the infielders to stay busy and learn something new.

“It’s difficult to come inside and go outside and play a game,” says Clark. “But we’ve done a good job of adapting to it. I’m proud of the team.”

Moore, who played at Homestead for Steve Sotir, has noticed the change between high school and college baseball.

“There’s a big difference,” says Moore. “For one, the game speeds up tremendously. Everybody becomes bigger and stronger. Everybody has better eyes at the plate. When you first come in, you’re facing guys who are three or four years older than you.

“The biggest thing is execution and knowing I can’t just throw the ball over the plate without a purpose like I did in high school. I have to actually hit my spots and have a plan.”

The Crossroads League provides a challenge from top to bottom.

“You never know what’s going to happen in this league,” says Moore. “You’ll have ranked team. You’ll have teams receiving votes. You’ll have teams not even close to receiving votes that will still find a way to win. Any team can come out to play and win. There’s not any dominant team in this whole league.”

Moore has learned how to balance academics and athletics.

“It’s a difficult process, but it’s bearable,” says Moore. “It’s about getting your studies done before practice and keeping in-touch with professors. They understand how busy we are in the spring.”

Moore, a sport management major, says Frame encourages his players to take a heavier course load in the fall, maybe 16 or 17 hours and 12 in the spring with as many morning classes as possible.

Tradition attracted more to Huntington.

“Coach knows what he’s doing,” says Moore. “He’s coached here more than half his life. He’s got a great attitude about things and makes us work hard.”

Roser appreciates the approach and the time spent before practices working  ACE attributes.

“We go over Bible verses and examples of how we can be better with our attitude, concentration and effort,” says Roser. “In baseball, the best team doesn’t always win.

“If you have the right attitude and concentration and you put forth the effort, you can beat a good team no matter what kind of talent they have.”

College baseball requires a great time commitment. But Roser, who played for Tony Uggen at Northfield, knew that when he was being recruited.

“It takes awhile for people to adapt to this kind of culture with how much time we put into baseball and studying,” says Roser. “It’s like a 24-hour job almost.

“Coach Frame does a pretty good job of explaining to us what we’re getting ourselves into.”

Roser is slated to graduate this spring with a sports management degree.

Shinabery also played another position while at Bellmont, but is a pitcher-only for the Foresters. While he came out of the bullpen last summer with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers, he’s been used as a starter for Huntington.

“I have a routine,” says Shinabery. “I know when I’m going to pitch. I just make sure I’m ready to go that day.”

Having support is helpful for the pitching staff.

“Coach Abbott and Coach Frame have faith that all our pitchers can do it,” says Shinabery. “In certain situations, they don’t care who comes in. We can all throw strikes and get the job done

“Just them believing in us helps out me and our staff a lot.”

McCutcheon played his high school baseball in the same town, but began his collegiate career at Vincennes University. After a season, he transferred to Huntington and enjoys the baseball atmosphere.

“Coach Frame sets up the mentality the program has,” says McCutcheon. “We’re a blue collar team. We work hard. Coach Frame encourages toughness in everything. He makes us do things the right way.

“That’s what separates us.”

Assistant coach Thad Frame (Mike’s son) keeps practices humming by constantly reminding players at a swift pace. NAIA game rules call for 20 seconds between pitches and two minutes of warm-up between innings.

“When we pitch, Coach has a timer,” says McCutcheon. “We make sure we are always uptempo.

“Thad wants us to get out on the field as fast as we can. If the hitter is just casually putting his gloves on and we can get him off-guard. That’s an advantage for us if he’s not fully prepared.”

McCutcheon says he knows that two things important to Mike Frame are hustling and being mentally-prepared.

Each day after stretching, players are led through visualization.

“Coach Frame has us lay down for a minute or so and clear out everything,” says McCutcheon. “You see yourself walk everything you’re thinking about out the door and get ready for practice.

“He wants our mindsets to be there everyday. That’s the most important thing for him.”

HUNTINGTONFORESTERS1

MIKEFRAME

Mike Frame is head baseball coach at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

BRIANABBOTT

Brian Abbott is baseball pitching coach at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

DONOVANCLARK

Donovan Clark is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

DJMOORE

D.J. Moore is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

ADAMROSER

Adam Roser is a senior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

MASONSHINABERRY

Mason Shinabery is a junior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

ALEXMCCUTCHEON

Alex McCutcheon is a junior baseball player at Huntington (Ind.) University. (Huntington U. Photo)

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