Tag Archives: National Junior College Athletic Association

Conner teaching lessons about baseball, life at Concordia University Chicago

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

Kolin Conner is doing his best to get Concordia University Chicago back to the lofty heights the Cougars baseball program had become accustomed.
From 2008-19, CUC posted an average record of 35-11 including 40-15 in 2018 and 42-10 in 2019. Conner was the Cougars head assistant (2016-19) — years in which the school won four Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference regular-season titles and made NCAA Division III World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. During the span, CUC was ranked No. 1 in the nation and Conner was named 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year.
A graduate of Indianapolis North Central High School (2009) and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2013), Conner took over as head coach at the private school in River Forest, Ill., in the summer of 2019. The Cougars went 5-5 during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 11-25 in 2021.
NCAA D-III rules allow for 19 total weeks of organized baseball activity — four in the fall and 15 in the spring. Concordia practiced four times a week during the fall.
“We did a lot of teaching. developing and evaluating where our guys are on the depth chart,” says Conner. “After last year, there was a little bit of re-establishing priorities for us.
“The work we put in now leads to success in the spring. It’s about holding everybody accountable. The overall success is much bigger than one individual.”
Conner says the most-important time comes when players are away from coaches in between fall and spring and must motivate themselves and stay on top of their academics.
“Here’s a 17-year-old freshman,” says Conner. “How’s he going to be when no one’s watching? That’s when good leaders and good people are made.”
Conner and his coaching staff of head assistant/pitching coach Matt Smith, assistant Abe Paz Agudello, assistant Connor Nelson and graduate assistant Kevin Garcia are getting players to create lifelong habits that will transfer into their lives beyond college.
“They get into the world world and (employers and co-workers) can trust these guys,” says Conner, who is currently busy recruiting, doing office work and getting ready for the return of players to practice after the Christmas break.
CUC baseball earned an ABCA all-academic team certificate, sported seven players with a 4.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale last spring while posting a 3.2 team GPA — the best among the school’s nine male sports. The Cougars typically have 10 to 12 academic all-conference selections.
The roster — currently at 36 — has 22 from the Chicagoland area plus Indiana’s Ben Collins (Chesterton), Elijah Hickman (Rensselaer Central), Brody Mariotti (Yorktown) and Westin Stutzman (Fairfield), six from Arizona (CUC recruits there each fall), two from California and one each from Colorado and Utah.
“We get a lot of good and smart kids that don’t have schools to go to,” says Conner. “(Chicago recruits) are used to cold weather and facilities and proud of the city they’re from.”
Conners says most players get some sort of aid — packages largely being dependent on grades and test scores — that takes away around half of the annual $42,000 tuition.
“It’s important that we’re getting the good character kid who wants to work and wants to win,” says Conner. “Those type of kids are usually pretty good academically.
“It’s no coincidence that are best players are usually are best students.”
A typical recruiting class is 10 players and Conner says he likes to have five or six signees around Christmas.
Conner played for Phil McIntyre at North Central, making varsity as a sophomore and representing the Panthers either as a catcher or outfielder and making long-time friendships.
He credits assistant/teacher Andy Noble for helping him in the classroom.
“He helped me find my way and who I was as a kid,” says Conner of Noble.
Conner was a catcher and first baseman in college. He played two seasons at National Community College Athletic Association member Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for Statesmen head coaches Mitch Hannahs (2010) and Kevin Bowers (2011).
Hannahs, who is now head coach at Indiana State University. was “very, very good at getting you conditioned mentally and getting the most out of people as players.”
Current LTC head coach Bowers brought Conner into the program.
“He really, really cares about the kids,” says Conner of Bowers. “He’s got a strong relationship with everybody he recruits.”
At Saint Joseph’s, Conner earned an Educational Studies degree with a Communications minor and played two seasons (2012 and 2013) for Pumas head coach Rick O’Dette.
“He’s the greatest guy ever,” says Conner of O’Dette, who became head coach at Saint Leo University in Florida when SJC closed its doors after the 2017 season. “He’s the reason I have a job in college baseball.
“He’s an unbelievable guy, a great mentor and cares about people.”
Conner played two summers of independent professional baseball after college with the 2013 Mike Braymen-managed Joliet (Ill.) Slammers and 2014 Andy McCauley-managed Evansville (Ind.) Otters — both in the Frontier League.
Kolin met future wife Lyndsey at Lincoln Trail. The Conners now have two children — son Leo (3) and daughter Layla (4 months).

Kolin Conner (Concordia University Chicago Photo)

Bickel now in charge of baseball at Marian University’s Ancilla College

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

Attacking games and practices with passion.
That’s what Trey Bickel expects as the new baseball head coach at Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
“It’s business out there,” says Bickel, 27. “In baseball you have to be 100 percent focused.
“There has to be 100 percent intensity and focus or they’re wasting time.”
Bickel, who came to the Chargers as an assistant in the fall of 2018, took over the three weeks ago when Chris Woodruff left to become Assistant Athletic Director/Compliance Director at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College.
At the moment, Bickel is a one-man show. He is seeking at least one assistant.
“I have feelers out with buddies I played with,” says Bickel. “I want to make sure I get someone who fits in with our guys and gets us where we want to be.”
Bickel relinquished his athletic groundskeeper duties when Marian University came into the picture and hired a company to handle that, leaving the coach free to focus on baseball.
That includes recruiting.
“If you’re not getting that offer from your dream school don’t shut down any other options,” says Bickel. “Junior college is the route to go for a majority of guys if you don’t have those dream schools calling.”
There are currently 21 on the Marian University’s Ancilla College roster, including four pitcher-only players and a number of two-way players. Ideally, Bickel would like 25 to 30 athletes.
“Next spring I hope to have 15 to 20 pitchers rostered,” says Bickel.
Outside practices are now short and intense. When the team goes indoors its at the LifePlex in Plymouth.
This fall, the school formally known as Ancilla College took to the diamond to play five games against outside competition with others cancelled for COVID-19 reasons.
The Chargers were in 9-inning contests against Bethel University and Purdue Northwest and a doubleheader (two 7’s) against Indiana University South Bend.
The spring portion of the schedule is to begin Feb. 12-13 for a four-game series at Southeastern Illinois College. The first on-campus game is slated for March 19 vs. Morton College.
Marian University’s Ancilla College is a member of the Michigan Community College Athletic Association and National Junior College Athletic Association District 12.
Bickel finished his playing career at IUSB in 2018. The 2012 Mishawaka (Ind.) High School graduate went to Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., of the fall of 2012.
While he was not around the following spring then Cobras head coach Matt Kennedy (now a Butler University assistant) made an impression on him.
‘He’s a go-getter,” says Bickel of Kennedy, who he encountered again in the 2021 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. “He knows how to bring out intensity in his coaching. It shows in a (NJCAA) national championship (at Parkland in 2009 with a fifth-place finish in 2010). I definitely enjoyed the intensity he had as a coach.
“He attacks it. That’s what I’m looking to do.”
With a gap year mixed it, Bickel played two years at Holy Cross College for Brian Blondell before that program ceased and two at IUSB for Blondell, Mike Huling and Jon Koepf.
“They all brought something to the table to help me,” says Bickel, who was a right-handed pitcher. He threw a no-hitter in the Titans’ first-ever home game in 2016.
At Mishawaka, Bickel had John Huemmer as a head coach and Chadd Blasko as a pitching coach.
“(Huemmer) is one of the most genuine people I know,” says Bickel. “He’s a very nice guy and he’s there for his players and building relationships.
“He’s very good at that.”
Bickel spent a couple of seasons picking the brain of Blasko, who was selected 36th overall in the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs out of Purdue University.
Born in South Bend, Bickel spent parts of his elementary school years in Goshen, Elkhart and Mishawaka and was in the latter city from Grades 6-12. Trey is from a big family. He has two older brothers and one older sister plus one younger sister and one younger brother.

Marian University’s Ancilla College baseball coach Trey Bickel (left) in third base box.
Marian University’s Ancilla College baseball coach Trey Bickel.

East Noble’s Risedorph drawing eyes on national showcase circuit

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

Pardon the pun, but Brayden Risedorph is on the rise on the national baseball showcase scene.
A fireballing right-handed pitcher from Kendallville, Ind., Risedorph took part Saturday, Sept. 25 at the Baseball Factory All-America Game at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium.
The event featured 40 invitees from around the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.
Taking the mound for the National team in the eighth inning, Risedorph produced a 1-2-3 frame with two groundouts sandwiched around a strikeout.
On Aug. 2-5, Risedorph was a part of the East Coast Pro in Hoover, Ala. He was assigned to the Reds for that showcase.
Risedorph, who is in the East Noble High School Class of 2022, was at the invitation-only Prep Baseball Report Pro-Case Midwest July 6 at Triton College in River Grove, Ill., where his fastball was clocked at 95 mph and sat at 93 to 95 during his simulated inning.
This fall, the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder is playing for the Cincinnati Reds Scout Team with tournaments in central Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin and the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association World Championship slated for Oct. 7-11 in Jupiter, Fla.
Risedorph drew some notice before, but really began turning heads in recent months.
“I was always pretty decent, but this summer is where I took my biggest step,” says Risedorph, 18. “I just kept making a lot of little jumps and kept getting invited to bigger and bigger things.”
After one of the games of the East Coast Pro, Risedorph was approached by Ben Simon, an advisor/agent based in the Cleveland suburb of Moreland Hills, Ohio.
Knowing the reputation of developing pitchers by head coach Jon Goebel, Risedorph committed last fall to play at National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., beginning in 2022-23, but has been getting interest from larger schools.
Risedorph is a two-way player at East Noble, manning one of the infield corners when not pitching.
In 2021, he hit .329 (24-of-73) five home runs, one triple, six doubles, 25 runs batted in and 19 runs scored in 26 games for Knights head coach Aaron Desmonds.
In eight mound appearances, Risedorph was 3-3 with 2.00 earned run average, 60 strikeouts and 18 walks in 35 innings.
As a pitcher-only with 5 Star Midwest National. Risedorph went to PBR tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and LakePoint Baseball Complex in Emerson, Ga., and racked up five shutouts.
Throwing from a low three-quarter overhand arm slot, which gives him much natural run, Risedorph throws a four-seam fastball which has maxed out at 96 mph. He also uses a slider, change-up and, sometimes, a curve or splitter.
“It goes straight left with a lot of horizontal break,” says Risedorph of his slider. “It ooks like a fastball then at the last second it dives to the left.”
It’s a “circle” change that Risedorph throws when taking something off his hard stuff.
His curve is of the “11-to-5” variety. He uses his middle and index fingers and throws his splitter like his fastball and it dives at the plate.
Born and raised in Kendallville, Brayden is the youngest of Randy and Iolet Risedorph’s four sons, behind A.J., Ryan and Eric.
Former Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne pitcher A.J. Risedorph is the head baseball coach, assistant boys basketball coach and dean of athletics at NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind.

Brayden Risedorph with Cincinnati Reds Fall Scout Team at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
Brayden Risedorph in 2021 East Coast Pro in Hoover, Ala.
Brayden Risedorph in 2021 East Coast Pro in Hoover, Ala.

Wilkins wants ‘selfless’ players at Ivy Tech Northeast

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

It’s a team-first concept that Connor Wilkins is emphasizing as the new head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind.
In June, Wilkins took over the Titans program started by Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Lance Hershberger.
“Be a selfless player and put your team ahead yourself,” says Wilkins, who turns 29 in October. “It’s a team approach. It’s never individual goals. Are you willing to do what is necessary for your team to succeed even if you fail?”
Wilkins has this in mind when looking for players to compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II program.
“We are very strict about how we recruit,” says Wilkins. “We see how they interact with their parents and their teammates. We coach the entire person. The results on the ball field take care of themselves.”
With games and practices at Shoaff Park, Ivy Tech is currently engaged in fall ball. They have had six scrimmages and could wind up having as many as 28 — most of them on the road at such four-year schools as the University of Northwestern Ohio, Indiana Tech, Indiana Wesleyan University and Taylor University.
The Titans went 1-0-1 in the recent Puma JUCO Classic — a Prep Baseball Report showcase at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
There are nearly 40 players honing fundamentals and getting down the details of Ivy Tech’s offensive and defensive systems.
“We start working on things now so that come spring time their mechanics and bodies are locked in,” says Wilkins, who is working toward a Masters in Exercise Science and Wellness with a concentration in Fitness and Performance through Liberty University.
Wilkins’ assistant coaches are Scott Bickel, Drew Buffenbarger, Javier DeJesus and Mark Flueckiger. Buffenbarger was Ivy Tech’s first baseball captain. DeJesus, who played for the Fort Wayne Wizards, is the Titans pitching coach. Flueckiger, who played at Huntington College (now Huntington University), has high school and college coaching experience.
A 2011 graduate of Concordia Lutheran High School, catcher Wilkins played for Steve Kleinschmidt as Cadets freshman and his last three seasons for Hershberger.
Wilkins went to Rick Smith-coached NJCAA member Jackson (Mich.) College then transferred to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, where an L5 (fifth Lumbar Vertabra) injury on top of a preexisting back issue ended his playing days in the fall of 2013.
His original career path was to follow grandfather Harry Wallace’s footsteps and become a chiropractor before he got the teaching and coaching bug. Wallace (who died in 2006) practiced for 60 years around Ligonier and Fort Wayne.
Wilkins transferred from Indiana Tech to Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and changed his major to Secondary Education through Indiana University.
In the spring of 2014, he was on the baseball staff of Fort Wayne Northrop High School head coach Matt Brumbaugh.
Before becoming head coach and an advisor at Ivy Tech, Wilkinson spent three years at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, where he taught History, Health Sciences and Strength & Conditioning.
Connor is the youngest of Dan and Beth Wilkins’ four children after Danielle Molter (36), Matthew Wilkins (34) and Brianna Kompara (32). Dan Wilkins is a retired IT specialist at GTE (now Verizon) and Beth Wilkins is in customer service at Parkview Hospital Randallia.
Connor and wife Alana will celebrate three years of marriage in October. Alana Wilkins is a Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School graduate and an insurance underwriter. The couple have a daughter — Rey (2).

The Wilkins family (from left): Rey, Alana and Connor.
The Wilkins family — Matt, Alana and little Rey.

Columbus North alum Maddox soaking up diamond knowledge at Iowa Western Community College

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

Parker Maddox is soaking up baseball knowledge and life lessons as he heads into his third collegiate season.
A right-handed pitcher and 2019 Columbus (Ind.) North High School graduate, Maddox spent 2020 at NCAA Division I Ohio University and 2021 at Iowa Western Community College (Council Bluffs, Iowa) and is back with the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I program in 2021-22.
Practice began Aug. 16 and the Marc Rardin-coached Reviers have worked out each day since that.
“I’ve been able to take it all in and gain knowledge,” says Maddox, 20. “Junior college has prepared me for whatever happens next. Coach Rardin is preparing us for life. He wants us to be respectable young men and be ready for the real world.
“He’s definitely helped me mature since I’ve gotten here.”
Maddox admits he was “not doing well at the academic side” while at Ohio while playing for then-Bobcats head coach Rob Smith.
“Things were moving too fast,” says Maddox, who went to Athens, Ohio, soon after the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South Series to take a summer class and to hit the weight room. “I wasn’t focused. I was immature, honestly.
“COVID gave me a re-start.”
He made the decision to transfer to Iowa Western, where he joined a JUCO powerhouse. The Reivers went 50-10 in the 2021 and saw the season end in the NJCAA Region XI Championship Series.
Maddox, a 6-foot, 195-pounder, made four mound appearances (one start) with a 3.38 earned run average. In 5 1/3 innings, he produced two strikeouts and four walks.
An IHSBCA honorable mention Class 4A all-stater in 2019 for Bull Dogs coach Ben McDaniel, Maddox identifies three qualities that define him as a ballplayer — Baseball I.Q., strength and athleticism.
The first part often manifests itself in pitch sequencing.
“I’ve learned how to throw to batters in certain counts and about hitters’ tendencies,” says Maddox. “I’m abel to watch the game and see the little things that hitters do and where to go (on defense) when the ball is in play.”
When coming in from the bullpen, Maddox will use what he’s learned by observing how other pitchers on his team attacked the opposing lineup.
“You can use what your teammate did as a blue print,” says Maddox. “If (the hitters) was late on an inside fastball, why throw a breaking ball and put them on-time?”
In the weight room, Maddox has gained muscle and the mastery of certain moves like the barbell split squat, sumo deadlift (replicating the landing position for pitchers), kettle bell press (for shoulder stability) and Swiss bar bench press (with hands closer and tighter to the body to relieve shoulder stress) that he has been able to teach to other players. He did that while serving as an intern this past summer at PRP Baseball at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. He also trained there in the summer of 2020 and played for PRP founder Greg Vogt during his travel ball days.
“They know what they’re talking about (at PRP),” says Maddox, who commuted each weekday between Columbus and Noblesville. “I gained a lot of knowledge. I got to help coach in the weight room. The internship helped me. It was worth the drive.”
The previous summer, pro players were the interns.
“I learned from Tristen Polley on pitch sequencing side,” says Maddox of the former Brownsburg High School and Indiana State University left-hander now in the Texas Rangers organization.
Maddox, who played right field, first base and designated hitter when not pitching in high school, says his athleticism helps him field his position on the mound.
Maddox throws three pitches from a mid-three-quarter arm slot — four-seam fastball, slider and change-up.
His four-seamer has sat at 88 to 90 mph. His change-up is thrown with a two-seam grip taught to him by Iowa Western pitching coach Dillon Napoleon.
“My fingers are shaped like a box around the ball,” says Maddox. “It has a sinker action if you throw it right. You let the grip do the work. It will change speeds for you.”
Maddox was born in Columbus and moved to Louisville when he was very young. He then lived in Madison, Ind., moving to Columbus right before his freshmen year of high school. He played his first organized baseball at Walter R. Rucker Sports Complex in Madison. He played for the Indiana Bulls from 11U to 17U. His father — Jason Maddox — was his head coach for two seasons. Besides Vogt, he was also on Bulls teams led by Mike Helton, Dan Held and Sean Laird. In the fall of his senior year, he was with Team Indiana, coached by Phil Wade and Blake Hibler.
Jason and Lisa Maddox have two children. Besides Parker (who turns 21 in February), there’s Paige Maddox (17). She is a senior swimmer at Columbus North.

Parker Maddox (Iowa Western Community College Photo)
Parker Maddox.
Parker Maddox.

Parker Maddox.

Ben Davis graduate Avery takes versatility to LSU Shreveport

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

Zyon Avery is known for taking several tools with him to the baseball field.
A self-described “utility” player, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder from Indianapolis grew up with catcher as his primary position, but he has also been used as a corner infielder/outfielder and more.
“I move very well for my size,” says Avery, 21. “I move my feet and have very fluid hands. It allows me to play a lot of different positions. In travel ball and high school I played all over the place.
“Coaches take advantage of my athletic ability.”
Avery was a varsity starter at third base his first two years at Ben Davis High School and the top catcher his last two. He also saw time at shortstop and on the mound.
The versatile athlete will call a new place his baseball home when he reports this weekend to NAIA member Louisiana State University Shreveport. He landed with the Brad Neffendorf-coached Pilots after spending the 2021 season at National Junior College Athletic Association affiliate Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.).
Making most of his starts at first base, the righty swinger hit .355 (44-of-124) with 13 home runs, one triple, nine doubles, 45 runs batted in, 43 runs scored, four stolen bases and a 1.245 OPS (.487 on-base percentage plus .758 slugging average) for a team that went 36-17 under Cobras head coach Jon Goebel.
Not able to get the credits to transfer to an NCAA Division I school, Avery decided to follow former Parkland teammate Trevor Burkhart to LSU Shreveport.
“It’s the best fit for my family,” says Avery, the son of Dana and Kimberly and older brother of Jahmir (15). The Averys moved to Indy’s west side when Zyon was 6.
Dana Avery is a maintenance, repair and operations buyer for Keihin. Kimberly Avery is a cargo shipment organizer for BDP International. Jahmir Avery is a freshman basketball player at Ben Davis, where Zyon graduated in 2018.
Avery earned four baseball letters and was a three-year captain at Ben Davis. He was an Under Armour Preseason All-American and rated as the No. 2 catcher in the state of Indiana by Prep Baseball Report as a senior. As a junior, he led the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference with 22 doubles and 30 walks, earned All-Marion County and All-State honors and was named a Perfect Game Underclass All-American. As a sophomore, he was chosen as a Perfect Game Underclass All-American.
After playing at Ben Davis — the last three seasons for Giants head coach David Bear — Zyon went to Ohio University where Edgewood High School (Ellettsville, Ind.) graduate Rob Smith was Bobcats head coach.
Appearing in 25 games, Avery hit .192 with a .591 OPS (.283 on-base percentage plus .308 slugging average) as a freshman in 2019 and redshirted in 2020 following shoulder surgery. For a few months he was bound for Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., but wound up at Parkland.
Avery played for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Southern Ohio Copperheads (Athens, Ohio) in 2019, spent the summer of 2020 rehabilitating and split 2021 between a temporary contract with the Propsect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans and the Kernels Collegiate League (Normal, Ill.).
Born in Los Angeles, Zyon began playing at Ben Davis Little League after moving to the Indianapolis area. He played travel ball for Tony Page and the Indiana Mustangs at 10U and 11U, John Keller, Mike Wade and the Indiana Bulls at 12U to 15U, Eric McGaha and the Indiana Outlaws at 16U, Trent Hanna and the Cincinnati Spikes at 17U and Jeremy Johnson and the Evansville Razorbacks at 18U.
Avery, who between redshirting and COVID-19 has three remaining years of college eligibility, was a Physical Activity and Sport Coaching major at Ohio. That degree was not offered at Parkland. He says he will begin at LSUS in General Studies. He turns 22 in October.

Zyon Avery (Parkland College Photo)
Zyon Avery.
Zyon Avery.

Indiana native Estep finds himself while playing in Oklahoma

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

Dawson Estep counts it a privilege to play baseball.
So even though he considers himself a middle infielder, he’ll go wherever coaches want to use him.
“I don’t write the lineup,” says Estep, a 2019 graduate of University High School in Carmel, Ind., who is preparing to return to Connors State College in Warner, Okla., in mid-August. “I’ll play anywhere as long as I’m on the field having fun.
“I’m just excited to be out on the field playing.”
This summer, the 21-year-old has been primarily been used at second base by Moon Shots head coach Kevin Christman in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
Estep and Christman go way back.
“I’ve know him known since before I was 10,” says Estep. “He’s watched me grow up.
“It’s fun playing for him in the summer.”
Christman, a retired San Francisco Giants scout, has helped Chris and Sue Estep at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield and the Indiana Mustangs travel organization and is very familiar with the Estep children — Tron, Dawson and Jasmine.
RoundTripper/Mustangs founder Chris Estep is a master instructor and University High head coach. He played at the University of Kentucky. Sue Estep was a cheerleader at UK.
Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate Tron Estep played football at Elon (N.C.) University, where he has earned underrate and masters degrees, and is about to go to U.S. Army National Guard boot camp.
Competitive dancer/cheerleader Jasmine Estep is heading into her senior year at Carmel High School.
“She’s probably the best athlete in the family,” says Dawson of his sister. “She can do 10 straight back flips.”
Cousin Chase Estep, who played with Dawson on the Indiana Mustangs, played his second season at Kentucky in the spring and is with the Northwoods League’s Kenosha (Wis.) Kingfish this summer.
Dawson Estep helps out at RoundTripper when he’s not working out, honing his skills or playing in the CSL.
At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Estep has added about 15 pounds of muscle since going to Connors State in January.
A catalyst for University’s IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up and state championship teams in 2018 and 2019, Estep went to Rend Lake College in Ina, Ill., and played for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Warriors in the spring of 2020, a season shortened to 12 games by the COVID-19.
After the shutdown, Estep took online classes and worked out back in Indiana. When there was a change in the Rend Lake coaching staff and uncertainty about the 2021 season, he began looking for other opportunities.
“We were at the height of COVID and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” says Estep. “I didn’t want to get stuck and not have a place to be.”
Estep posted Twitter videos of himself on offense and defense and Connors State reached out. He visited and ended up going with the Perry Keith-coached Cowboys.
“I’ve found myself as a ballplayer,” says Estep. “It’s the right spot for me.
“I’m in the right environment where I can grow as a player and a person.”
Keith has been at Connors State for more than three decades and amassed more than 1,600 wins. His teams have made five JUCO World Series appearances.
“He’s a legend in the coaching world,” says Estep of Keith. “He’s one of those coaches that makes you go the extra mile. He gets the best of everybody. He’s honest even if you don’t want to hear it.
“He’s the guy you want to go to battle for and he’ll go to battle for you.”
Estep credits Keith for helping him mature and grow.
Estep has embraced the “JUCO Bandit” approach to baseball.
“You’re on your own but you’re not on your own,” says Estep. “You have to grow up fast.
“You use the resources you have and come up with things on the fly. You have a lot of ingenuity and use what you have. When I’m back home I have a lot more things at my disposable. It makes makes me appreciate them.”
Estep says junior college baseball — for those who work at it – provides a chance to play right away and find their niche in the game. In his first season Connors State, he worked out at many infield positions in a utility role.
In 17 games, he hit .324 (11-of-34) with seven runs batted in, 11 runs scored and two stolen bases as the Cowboys went 37-18.
In the fall, JUCO players are often at the field up to 10 hours a day.
“The fall is where the boys become men,” says Estep. “It’s the grind.
“Once they move on to a four-year school they’re prepared for anything.”
Since he was 14 or 15, Estep has been a switch hitter.
“I liked hitting left-handed when I played wiffle ball with my friends,” says Estep. “I started becoming comfortable (in baseball).”
Estep explains the advantage of hitting from both sides of the plate.
“I don’t have issues hitting a breaking ball,” says Estep. “Everything comes into me. I go after the fastball and stay back on the change-up.
“I don’t see lefties a lot. I’ve had maybe 10 at-bats right-handed this summer. So I work even harder on the right side.”
For either side, Estep does plenty of tee work and sets the pitching machine at high velocity to get ready for game speed.
He does drills that concentrate on his lower half.
“I sometimes get antsy with my feet and try to kill the ball,” says Estep. “I try to be a fundamentally-sound as possible.”
He likes to take the same amount of cuts righty and lefty since he does not know who is coming out of the bullpen if the starter should leave.
Dawson was born in Indianapolis and spent his whole life in Carmel.
While he and his father probably talk about baseball everyday, there’s also conversations about school. After he gets his basic classes completed and lands at a four-year school, Dawson sees himself pursuing a degree in sports management or business.
“I want to get into coaching and help younger kids,” says Dawson of his post-playing ambitions. “This game has helped me so much.
“I might as well do that for the rest of my life.”

Dawson Estep (Connors State College Photo)
Moons Shots second baseman Dawson Estep (College Summer League at Grand Park Photo)
Moon Shots infielder Dawson Estep (College Summer League at Grand Park Photo)
Moons Shots second baseman Dawson Estep (College Summer League at Grand Park Photo)
Switch hitter Dawson Estep (College Summer League at Grand Park Photo)

Benedictine’s Castillo enjoying summer opportunity in Illinois Valley

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

Playing with and against players from bigger schools, Damen Castillo enjoys showing what he can do on a baseball diamond.
Castillo, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound righty-swinging/throwing first baseman, plays during the spring at NCAA Division III Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. This summer, the Highland (Ind.) High School graduate is with the Prospect League’s Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp in the team’s first season in Peru, Ill.
“It’s the competition level,” says Castillo, 21. “The pace of play is faster than what I come from.
“It’s fun being around guys from different schools like that.”
Of the 31 players listed on the team’s online roster, 18 are from Illinois with eight from California and one each from Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Castillo is one of six players from NCAA D-III schools (the others are pitchers Jake Dahl of Rockford University, Chandler Kerr of Concordia University Chicago and Justin Rios and Jason Shanner of North Central College and infielder Garry Maynard of Concordia University Chicago).
There are 20 from NCAA D-I, two from NCAA D-II and three from National Junior College Athletic Association institutions.
Teams on Illinois Valley’s schedule, which consists of squads from the Wabash River, Great River, Prairie Land divisions, boasts no less than 105 D-I players.
The Pistol Shrimp are owned and managed by John Jakiemiec, who co-owns a player development academy in Naperville, Ill., Evolution Athletics.
“He’s been great,” says Castillo of Jakiemiec. “When we play, it’s real serious.
“You get your work in and still try to win at the same time.
“It’s been a fun summer.”
Jakiemiec, who played baseball at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., uses his Ivy League education to throw out random facts during bus trips.
“We don’t always know what he’s talking about,” says Castillo. “But we laugh.”
Through 25 games with the Pistol Shrimp, Castillo was hitting .280 (23-of-82) with five home runs, four doubles, 14 runs batted in and 10 runs scored.
“One of my best qualities as a hitter is the ability to drive the ball to the right side of the field,” says Castillo. “I get pitched away and I get a lot of off-speed. Over the years I’ve gotten good at hitting the outside pitch.”
Adam Smith is the head coach at Benedictine.
“He’s been real supportive,” says Castillo of Smith. “He come to me with things he think I can change.”
Castillo appreciates how Smith keeps practices loose and competitive.
“Our team tends to do better when things are like that,” says Castillo, who helped the Eagles go 29-13 overall and 15-5 in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference in 2021. “We do competition things in practice. It’s better than taking mass ground balls or BP.
“It makes it fun.”
In 42 games (all as a starter), Castillo hit .347 (61-of-176) with nine homers, one triple, 18 doubles, 51 RBIs, 35 runs and a 1.009 OPS (.395 on-base percentage plus .614 slugging average).
The 2021 season was his third at Benedictine. In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he started all seven games and hit .217 (5-of-23) with one extra-base hit (a double), four RBIs, three runs and a .557 OPS (.296/.261).
As a freshman in 2019, Castillo played a little bit of third base before becoming a full-time first baseman. In 28 games (24 as a starter), he hit .323 (32-of-99) with four homers, six doubles, 21 RBIs, 16 runs and a .885 OPS (.380/.505).
With two years of eligibility left, Castillo is a year away from earning a degree in Management of Organizational Behavior through the Goodwin College of Business.
Castillo and his Eagles teammates are to report back to campus in late August and will get right to work for about eight weeks of workouts before “captain’s practice” where NCAA D-III rules limit contact by the coaching staff.
Born and raised in Highland to Damen and Jodee Castillo with little sister Angelica (a volleyball and softball athlete entering her senior year at Highland High in 2021-22), “D” played travel ball around his hometown until 12 and then went with the Dave Griffiin-coached Indiana Playmakers, Morris (coached by Jim Tucker), Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
When the Midwest Collegiate League shut down and Castillo was not able to play for the Southland Vikings in 2020, he assisted Brogan with the Irish.
“He has been the closest coach to me,” says Castillo of Brogan. The two talk every other day.
This year, Castillo helps Brogan out in practice when his schedule allows.
John Bogner was Castillo’s coach at Highland and had the third baseman on the varsity since early in his freshmen year with the Trojans.
“He was a great high school coach and I learned a lot from him,” says Castillo, who stays in touch with Bogner and dropped by practice during the end of 2021 season to hit with the Highland team.

Damen Castillo (Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Photo)
Damen Castillo (Benedictine University Photo)
Damen Castillo (Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Photo)

Tall right-hander Fulton finds ways to get outs

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

As Sam Fulton grew up around Cicero, Ind., the big orange pebbly ball kept coming up. Fulton preferred the little white one with the red stitches.
“I’ve had people on me about basketball my whole life,” says Fulton. “But I’ve always just loved baseball more. I’d rather do what I love.”
As a sophomore at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Fulton stood 6-foot-6. By his senior year (2019), he was 6-9 and the 20-year-old right-handed pitcher is now 6-10 and in his second season with the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. — about 20 minutes from Cicero.
While Fulton, who is playing for the CSL’s Adam Cornwell-coached Park Rangers in 2021 and struck out 10 in a start Monday, June 14, throws a four-seam fastball that clocks in between 86 and 88 mph and occasionally hits 90 and mixes it with a slider and a change-up — both with depth and side-to-side action when they’re on.
Fulton throws from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot.
“(Having long arms and legs has) been an advantage at times on the mound and it’s been a disadvantage,” says Fulton. “Overall, I think I move fairly well for someone my size.”
His length can cause issues for the batter in viewing the baseball.
“I’m sure the ball is getting released a little closer to the plate,” says Fulton. “There are places where they don’t have a good batters’ eye it’s coming out of the clouds sometimes (which works in my favor).”
But he does not cite these things when describing his best quality on the diamond.
It’s his willingness to compete.
“I just go out there and find ways to get the job done,” says Fulton. “There are a lot of things you can focus on but as long as you’re getting outs you’re doing your job.”
Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park has given Fulton the opportunity for a summer job. He’s also been working out at Pro X Athlete Development and training with pitching coach Jay Lehr. They’ve been working together since last summer after COVID-19 curtailed the 2020 spring season. Fulton was at the University of Tennessee but did not play for the Volunteers though he did make the First-Year Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll.
“It’s good to get back home to Indiana in the summer,” says Fulton, who posted a 2.00 earned run average and struck 36 and walked five in 27 innings for the Nighthawks during the CSL’s inaugural season of 2020. “It’s a good, competitive league
“I enjoy being able to come out here and have fun and be around the guys every week. Hopefully this summer I’ll get some good looks from different colleges.”
Fulton spent the spring of 2021 with National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Chattanooga (Tenn.) State Community College. In 10 appearances (six starts), he went 6-2 with one compete game and a 2.62 ERA. In 44 2/3 innings, the big righty fanned 37 and walked 14.
Fulton, who turns 21 on Aug. 7, intends to transfer for 2021-22 and has set about getting his general studies requirements in order to go back to a four-year school.
“I’m hoping wherever I end up next I can study ministry,” says Fulton.
Sam, the son of John and Christy Fulton and younger brother of Jake Fulton (who is is on pace to graduate from Purdue University after the fall semester) played on a local travel team with mostly Cicero kids at 8 or 9. At 12, he played for the Indiana Nitro. At 14 through the end of his high school days, he was with the Indiana Bulls. His head coaches were Michael Tucker, Ryan Berryman and Troy Drosche.
Fulton won three baseball letters at Hamilton Heights, playing the first two years in a program led by Matt Wallace and the last two by J.R. Moffatt. He was also on the Huskies football team.

Sam Fulton of the 2021 College Summer League Grand Park’s Park Rangers. The 6-foot-10 pitcher is a graduate of Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

Right-hander Carlson comes back to the game, ready for future

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

Cade Carlson quit baseball. He was persuaded to come back with the help a friend.
Now Carlson is looking forward to new diamond adventures in a different place and at the NCAA Division I level.
A right-handed pitcher and 2018 graduate of University High School in Carmel, Ind., where he was the starter in the Trailblazers’ first state championship game appearance as a senior, Carlson went Northwood University in Midland, Mich., on a baseball scholarship.
For reasons Carlson doesn’t go into, he left the school and the game after the fall semester and enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and had every intention of transferring to IU-Bloomington as a sophomore.
Lukas Barnes, a Carmel High School graduate who Cade had known most of his life, convinced his buddy to give baseball another try and they became teammates at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio.
“I wasn’t that good of a pitcher, but I kept working and got one of those four starting spots,” says Carlson. “My first outing terrible (lasting less than two innings.”
The righty made three starts for the National Junior College Athletic Association-member and Steve Dintaman-coached Tartan Pride and was a winner in his last one, going 1-3 for the 2020 season, which was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That summer Carlson pitched in the first season for the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., not far from his Carmel home. He was with the A-Team coached by Kevin Christman.
The CSL gave Carlson the chance to see where he stacked up with good talent.
Due to COVID, Sinclair made the decision to suspend athletics through 2021-22 and Carlson went to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and outfielder Barnes landed at Danville (Ill.) Community College.
In 13 mound appearances (11 starts) for head coach Kevin Bowers and pitching coach Andrew Elliott, Carlson went 6-4 with a 2.72 earned run average. In 59 2/3 innings, he struck out 62 and walked 25.
“I thought I had a pretty good year,” says Carlson. “I started out shaky and got on a roll.
“I figured out how to pitch as games went on. I was not pitching to my advantage but the hitters’ disadvantage. That was big for my success this year.”
The NJCAA’s LTC Statesmen went 32-21.
East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., was impressed by Carlson and he agreed to join the NCAA D-I Buccaneers in 2021-22.
“(ETSU was) the first school to offer me in the fall,” says Carlson, 21. “I jumped at the opportunity. It’s a good school in a great area and the baseball is good.
“It’s a win-win.”
With three years of baseball eligibility remaining, Carlson plans to pursue a Sport Management degree.
“I’ll go to school and continue to work hard and baseball at higher levels,” says Carlson.
East Tennessee State is a member of the Southern Conference. With Joe Pennucci as head coach and Jamie Pinzino as pitching coach, the team went 24-25 in 2021.
Carlson throws five pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle — four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curveball.
He credits Lincoln Trail teammate/roommate Joey Perkins (a left-hander who hails from Lebanon, Ohio, and is bound for Virginia Commonwealth University) for teaching him the change-up which can be thrown from multiple grips.
Carlson’s slider (horizontal) and curve (vertical) move on different planes.
After going 2-0 in three outings during a temporary contract period with the State College (Pa.) Spikes of the MLB Draft League, Carlson is back in Carmel with father Tyce, mother Christine, brother Tyler and grandmother Carol Pinkley and plans to spend the summer training at RoundTripper Academy in Westfield to get ready for ETSU.
“I have not taken a break from throwing in about a year now,” says Carlson. “The first month of summer won’t be about throwing. I’ll be lifting to getting stronger and putting good weight on.”
Carlson wants to put about 20 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.
Born in Speedway, Carlson grew up in Carmel played rec baseball for the Carmel Dads Club. He played travel ball with the Indiana Mustangs for about a decade.
One of Cade’s teammates was Dawson Estep (University Class of 2019), son of Mustangs and RoundTripper founder Chris Estep. After two years at Carmel High School, Carlson transferred to University and played for Estep.
“What can I say about Chris?,” says Carlson. “I’ve known Chris forever. Chris puts the spirit of baseball into his players.
“If you don’t love baseball you wouldn’t play for Chris.”
Tyler Carlson also played baseball for Estep at University, graduating in 2014.

Cade Carlson