Tag Archives: National Junior College Athletic Association

Even though program’s slated to fold, Ivy Tech Northeast baseball moving forward

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

Ivy Tech Community College Board of Trustees voted 8-1 April 7 to discontinue athletics at the Northeast campus in Fort Wayne, Ind., after 2022-23.
Titans baseball (established in 2017-18 by Lance Hershberger) is moving forward with the 2022 season and is looking to the 2023 slate, which appears it will be the school’s last.
Ivy Tech Northeast is 15-18 heading into a doubleheader Saturday, April 30 at Indiana Tech JV. After that comes a May 3 twin bill at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College followed by a National Junior College Athletic Association Region XII sub-regional May 5 in Sandusky, Ohio. The Titans must win two games in the four-team single-elimination event featuring the Nos. 2-4 seeds from the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference to advance to regional play.
“I’m enjoying the public response and fight to keep the program,” says Ivy Tech head coach and dual-credit advisor Connor Wilkins, 29. “I’m doing my part. (The board is) pretty dead-set on not having athletics. It comes down to financials and Title IX (gender equity).”
Wilkins describes the mood of the team.
“There’s a little defiance there,” says Wilkins, a Fort Wayne native. “We’ll show you how good we are and lay everything on the line representing our college. It’s frustrating as a coach knowing what we’ve built as a program and serving the community.
“In my opinion, northeast Indiana needs a junior college program.”
The Fort Wayne campus is the only one in the statewide Ivy Tech system with sports. An Ivy Tech Northeast volleyball team folded when the coach left and players followed after the COVID-19 year.
There are currently three junior college baseball programs in the state — Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson and Vincennes (Ind.) University.
Ivy Tech’s 2022 baseball team has 38 players with 22 on-target to graduate from the two-year school this spring. Some of that number have indicated that they will come back for a third year (granted because of the pandemic).
Six players — right-handed pitcher Matt Peters (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School graduate) to NCAA Division I Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), twins outfielder Conner Beatty and catcher Alec Beatty (Augusta, Mich.) and catcher/outfielder Joel Deakins (Heritage) to provisional NAIA start-up Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, infielder Brayden Dockery (Continental, Ohio) to the NCAA D-II University of Indianapolis and Coby Griffith (Papillion, Neb.) to NAIA Huntington University — have made commitments to their next school and others are expected to make that announcement soon.
This summer, fireballer Peters is to play in the MLB Draft League. Other Ivy Tech players are bound for the Great Lakes, Jayhawk and Florida circuits plus the local Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League.
Two players whose only college offers coming out of high school were from Ivy Tech Northeast are Grant Lashure (now a starting catcher at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University) and Zach Haefer (a right-handed pitcher at NCAA Division II Davenport University in Grand Rapids).
There are also 13 recruits coming to the Titans in 2022-23.
“We still have next year,” says Wilkins. “The recruits are still coming. It’s a testimony to our staff that they wanted to develop and leave after that.
“We’re going to do right by them. It’s our job to get them on to four-year or two-year schools.”
Besides Wilkins, the 2022 coaching staff features Scott Bickel (who is heading to IUPUC as part of Crimson Pride head coach Zach McClellan’s staff), recruiting coordinator Drew Buffenbarger (a member of the “Dirty Dozen” — Ivy Tech’s first team and an assistant admissions director at the school), pitching coach Javier DeJesus and hitting coach Mark Flueckiger.
Without conference membership, the Titans schedule this spring has been on-the-fly and inclement weather has not helped. NJCAA Region XII has a rule that teams are not supposed to play when the “Real Feel” temperature dips to 35 degrees.
Ivy Tech Northeast plays home games at Shoaff Park. The diamond is owned by the city, but is maintained by coaches and players.
“We take care of it,” says Wilkins. “We mow it. We weed-and-feed. We do it as a team.”
Fundraisers and donors have made it possible to do things like laser-grading the infield.
“It was hard to get donations during the COVID year,” says Wilkins.
And if the Titans are heading into their final days, the coach wants them to go out with their heads held high, representing their institution and community.
Says Wilkins, “We’re going to finish it out and hopefully make them proud.”

Gavin Smith makes a throw at third baseball for Ivy Tech Northeast baseball.
Gavin Smith swings the bat for Ivy Tech Northeast baseball.

Ivy Tech Northeast right-hander Peters now hitting triple digits

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

Matt Peters has not only unlocked the door to pitching velocity, the Fort Wayne, Ind., right-hander has kicked the door in and the baseball world is taking notice.
The 6-foot-4, 215- pound sophomore at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne has been clocked as high as 101 mph.
There are seven to nine pro scouts at all of Peters’ mound starts.
He nows gets mentioned among the nation’s hardest throwers, including University of Tennessee righty Ben Joyce, who has fired it at 104 mph.
Peters was on the cover of Collegiate Baseball.
The first time 101 came was March 5 against Lincoln Trail College at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Peters did that again as recently as Monday, April 11 as the Titans played the Trine University junior varsity in Angola, Ind.
A Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) commit, Peters has made a significant jump since the summer of 2021. 
“I worked a lot on my mechanics last fall with Coach Javi,” says Peters. “When I got into my legs my arm slot came up (to mid to high three-quarter overhand).”
Ivy Tech pitching coach Javier DeJesus helped Peters reorganize his mechanics to make him move more efficiently.
“Matt has confidence in how his body moves,” says DeJesus. “He can trust himself to throw the crap out of the ball and just where to put it.
“The first (bullpen) pitch out his hand in the spring was 99 mph. I thought, ‘what did I just create?’”
DeJesus gauged Peters’ deliveries last Aug. 16 and the speediest pitch came in at 93 mph.
DeJesus, who was an All-American at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, pitched professionally for 10 seasons and has instructed many young arms, put his Titans hurlers — Peters included — through a grueling training program he created 15 years ago that he calls “Hell in the Cell.”
“It is just as bad as it sounds,” says DeJesus of the routine that includes plenty of medicine ball work, long toss and sprinting to increase explosiveness.
“You get your quick-twitch muscles going,” says Peters. “Coach Javi knows how to teach. He makes me think. He’s taught me a lot about the game.”
After about six weeks of training with DeJesus, Peters attended a fall junior college showcase at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Miami pitching coach Jeff Opalewski saw Peters blaze them in at 98 mph and signed the hurler for the Danny Hayden-led RedHawks in 2022-23.
Peters follows another gas-throwing Indiana native in Sam Bachman. The Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate was selected in the first round of the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft by the Los Angeles Angels.
Bachman and Peters were on competing travel teams when they were of that age.
A general studies major, Peters says he needs summer credits to complete his associate’s degree.
Peters has been assigned to the MLB Draft League’s Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), where ex-big leaguer Homer Bush is the manager, former 14-year major league lefty Ron Mahay in the pitching coach and Craig Antush the assistant pitching coach. That season begins
Besides DeJesus, Peters is also thankful for mentoring by Ivy Tech head coach Connor Wilkins and Titans assistant Scott Bickel.
“(Coach Wilkins) is great role model,” says Peters, 21. “He’s helped me become a more mature person. He is a great example.
“(Coach Bickel) was the person I really looked to when my parents (Matt and Laurie) got divorced.
“I’ve had a lot of people who’ve helped me. My brother (David Peters) has pushed me very hard.”
Matt is the youngest of three with sister Rachel being the oldest.
Drew Buffenbarger and Mark Flueckiger are also Ivy Tech coaches. The program was established by Lance Hershberger, who was head coach from 2018-21.
Because of the savings, Peters transferred to National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Ivy Tech from NJCAA D-I Hillsborough Community College (Tampa, Fla.) where he spent the spring of 2021 after being at NJCAA D-III Oakton Community College (Des Plaines, Ill.) in the fall of 2020. It was while throwing at an indoor facility during winter break that Peters was spotted and presented with the opportunity to play in Florida.
A starter for Ivy Tech, he was a reliever for the Hillsbourgh Hawks and Oakton Owls.
Peters did not pitch during the summer of 2020 and was with the College Summer league at Grand Park’s Snapping Turtles in 2021. Robb Wicks was the head coach.
At Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School, Peters was on the baseball team as a freshman, sophomore and senior and was cut as a junior.
“My flip of the switch was when I didn’t play on my Senior Night,” says Peters.
Then he graduated in 2019, he was 5-9 and 160 when he graduated then hit my growth spurt his year of college.
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Peters played for the Indiana Prospects at 11 and 12 then for Indiana Baseball Factory from 13 to 17. The latter team was coached and organized by his father. The Prospects were started by uncle Mark Peters. The organization once included cousin Dillon Peters, who is now a left-handed pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Matt Peters’ four-seam fastball has the most giddy up.
“I get a lot of arm-side run with the two-seamer,” says Peters. “My change-up is a slower version of my two-seamer with more depth.
“My slider is good because I can throw it hard and it still has depth.”
He threw one slider at 90 mph with the rest at 87 to 89 Monday at Trine.
DeJesus showed him grips let him try to execute.
“Matt has been an absolute joy to work with,” says DeJesus. “I have not called one single pitch of Matt’s
“Pitchers and catcher have to work together. That’s how the they learn the game. They get a feel what they’re doing and give me the feedback.
“A young man has a mind and he’s got to use it.”

Ivy Tech Northeast’s Matt Peters’ delivery in slow motion.
Matt Peters (Ivy Tech CC Northeast Photo)
Matt Peters in 2021 with the Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (CSL Photo)
Matt Peters on the front page of Collegiate Baseball.

Coaching takes Gobert to Walters State Community College

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

Nick Gobert’s baseball coaching career has taken him from a powerhouse in the Midwest to an elite program in the South.
The graduate of Jasper (Ind.) High School and the University of Southern Indiana has gone from Indian Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa, to Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tenn., which is located between Knoxville and Johnson City.
The 44-16 IHCC Warriors and 61-7 WSCC Senators both participated in the 2021 National Junior College Athletic Association Division I World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
Married in June 2021 to the former Haley Brun, Nick followed her to Tennessee when she took a job at Colgate-Palmolive in Morristown. The Kansas State University graduate had worked at the company’s plant in Richmond, Ind., while having a long-distance relationship with Gobert. The couple was introduced by a mutual friend.
When relocating, Gobert looked for a new baseball home.
“I wanted to get to a competitive place,” says Gobert. “(Coaching) wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t (Haley) believing in me. She’s been a sports fan her whole life.
“It took two years to fully understand the time commitment.”
Gobert is a volunteer assistant on the staff led by David Shelton, who earned his 400th career victory in February.
“I do a little bit of everything,” says Gobert. “I’m in charge of base running and help with infield play and hitters.”
How does his last team differ from his current one?
“Indian Hills is a pitching and defensive-minded program though we did have guys who could hit a little bit,” says Gobert. “Walters State is more offensive-minded. We have the ability to drive the baseball with guys who can impact the game with doubles and home runs.
“It’s a place kids want to come to because of the great tradition.”
Since 1984, the Senators have made 10 NJCAA World Series appearances with one championship (2006), a runner-up finish (2018) plus finishing third outright (2003 and 2015) and tying for third (2019). Former WSCC head coach Ken Campbell went into the NJCAA Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020.
While Walters State has a home field with a turf surface and many other amenities and played a fall game at the home of the Tennessee Smokies (Double-A South), there still a junior college baseball mindset.
“We still have the JUCO grind-it-out kind of guys and atmosphere,” says Gobert. “We practice quite a bit. Our mentality is that nothing is every given to us. We have to earn everything we have.”
Gobert, who turns 28 in May, appreciates the amount of time allowed at the junior college level for one-on-one instruction and evaluation.
“It’s that amount of hands-on time you get with each player,” says Gobert. “You’re watching everything and working with them. You get to connect with your players better.
“You make adjustments as needed because of those relationships.”
When Gobert is not involved with baseball activities or his wife, he earns a little extra cash as a Walters State mail courier.
Walters State, which heads into the weekend at 20-2, carries a roster of around 50 players. Among those are redshirts and players who took an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19.
“It’s an older bunch,” says Gobert. It’s big to have those guys around to help the younger (players).”
The Senators tend to use a wide variety of players in mid-week games with those competing for spots in weekend Tennessee Community College Athletic Association Region VII contests.
Gobert was an assistant to Matthew Torrez at Indian Hills. Torrez played for Tracy Archuleta at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Archuleta is now head coach at USI.
Nick is the son of Terry Gobert, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer with more than 800 victores, five state titles and four state runners-up to his credit. The two were featured together in the American Baseball Coaches Association Podcast hosted by Evansville, Ind., native Ryan Brownlee in October 2021.

Nick Gobert (Walters State Community College Photo)
Nick Gobert (Walters State Community College Photo)
Aerial view of the Walters State Community College baseball field in Morristown, Tenn. (Walters State CC Photo)

Carroll graduate Kuhns honing catching chops in Texas

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

Sebastian Kuhns is growing as a baseball catcher and the northeast Indiana native is doing it in northeast Texas.
The 2020 graduate of Carroll High School in Fort Wayne is a “COVID” freshman at Paris (Texas) Junior College, which is about 100 miles from Dallas.
Through the Dragons’ first 17 games of 2022, Kuhns was hitting .400 (10-of-25) with five doubles and nine runs batted in over eight games while splitting playing time with freshman Zach Munton.
Kuhns, who missed his senior season at Carroll because of the pandemic, Kuhns split his time in the summer of 2020 between the Chad Hines-coached Indiana Prospects travel team (he played for the Prospects in 2019, too) and the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He ended up with the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers.
Kuhns was at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for the 2021 season and hit .268 (11-of-41) with one home run and 13 RBIs in 18 games.
He did not play in the summer of 2021, but trained at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind. He did overall and throwing with Greg Vogt, Anthony Gomez and Justin Hancock, hitting with Quentin Brown and Noah Niswonger and strength workouts with Michael Hammerstand, Christian Sullivan and Bram Wood.
Kuhns is considering another summer of training at PRP Baseball while possibly playing in the CSL.
When Kuhns made it known that he would be transferring from Lincoln Trail, a couple of schools reached out. Among them was Paris, which had three catchers moving on.
“I shot Coach (Clay) Cox a message,” says Kuhns. “He responded and now I’m here. I really enjoyed my phone call with him. I could tell everything he said was genuine.
“I can’t not say enough about Coach Cox. He’s one of the top motivational coaches I’ve had. He knows what to say to get us fired up. He made it clear what the expectations are. Last year (Paris) had like 3.8 team GPA. They do things right here.”
Kuhns signed at Paris — a National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Region 14 member — in mid-June. He he arrived Paris in the fall he was given No. 47.
Any significance to to those digits?
“Not really. Most of our class had already signed,” says Kuhns. “Maybe my arm’s like an AK-47?”
Kuhns is on pace to earn an Associate Degree in Business Management while he hones his skills behind the plate.
“There’s so many games within the game that I love,” says Kuhns, who moved from first base to catcher around age 12. “I take pride in picking up mannerisms of all my pitchers. It’s different for every guy.”
Kuhns appreciates the engagement of the position.
“You’re part of every pitch,” says Kuhns. “My arm is one of the tools that helped me getting into college. I was good at blocking, but my receiving wasn’t great.
“(Receiving) is one of the biggest adjustments for me moving from high school to college, where there is a smaller strike zone. You try to steal strikes for your pitcher and keeps strikes as strikes. I’m working on that art. The strike zone in Texas is even smaller.”
Kuhns talks about the junior college baseball life.
“People throw around JUCO like an adjective,” says Kuhns. “Guys really embrace that. We’re just some gritty guys working hard. That’s one aspect I really like. It really is good baseball. Down here (in Texas) it really is no joke.”
Kuhns played at Carroll for head coach Dave Ginder, who stressed all the situational things like first-and-third and bunt coverages.
“I didn’t fully appreciate everything he did until I got into college,” says Kuhns. “He knows the game really well and he’s really good at passing it on to his players.”
“I see similarities with Coach Cox and Coach Ginder. (Cox) let’s us do our thing. He’s not going to fix it if it ain’t broke.”
As a Chargers sophomore, Kuhns was a third-stringer on a catching corps led by Hayden Jones (who is now in the Cincinnati Reds organization).
“I can’t say enough about Hayden and what he helped me with in high school,” says Kuhns. “He helped me grow up and mature and with baseball in general.
“He comes from a great family. I worked with his dad for a long time.”
Kuhns went to Ken Jones (now assistant at Purdue Fort Wayne) at World Baseball Academy for catching and hitting lessons. The player was also at Wallen Baseball Softball and with the Fort Wayne Cubs/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks.
Born in Auburn, Ind., Kuhns grew up in the Fort Wayne/Huntertown area. His parents are Brian Kuhns (stepmother Sherri Foster) and Kimberly Kuhns. His siblings are Josh Kuhns, Olivia Kuhns, Kesley Foster, Eric Foster, Chris Kiger, Cassandra Kiger and Kyle Kiger.

Sebastian Kuhns (Paris Junior College Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns (Lincoln Trail College Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns catches for Paris (Texas) Junior College. (PJC Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns catches for Paris (Texas) Junior College. (PJC Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns throws for Paris (Texas) Junior College. (PJC Photo)

Now at St. Charles CC, Foster familiar with many levels of college baseball

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

Ryne Foster has first-hand knowledge of many forms of college baseball.
The 2004 graduate of Danville (Ind.) Community High School played for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dr. Don Brandon at NCAA Division III Anderson (Ind.) University.
Coaching stops have taken Foster to N’s Concordia University (Ann Arbor, Mich.), NCAA D-II’s Georgia Southwestern University (Americus, Ga.), National Junior College Athletic Association’s Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College, NCAA D-I’s Bowling Green (Ohio) State University and NJCAA’s St. Charles Community College (Cottleville, Mo.).
“It’s helped in the recruiting process,” says Foster of his familiarity with all those levels. “I kind of know what everybody’s talking about.”
The son of former Danville head baseball coach Rick Foster (and wife Alice) and older brother of current Cascade High School head coach Ty Foster (a 2007 Danville graduate who played four years at Manchester University for Spartans head coach Rick Espeset), Ryne Foster has been the St. Charles Cougars staff since 2018-19. He serves as associate head coach/hitting coach for head coach Jeff Bolen.
Foster, who was an assistant at Madison-Grant High School in Fairmount, Ind., before going into college coaching, was a volunteer/catchers coach for Danny Schmitz at Bowling Green, assistant/catchers coach for Mike Policastro at Cleveland State, assistant/outfielders for Bryan McLain at Georgia Southwestern and graduate assistant for Kyle Rayl at Concordia. Rayl is a former assistant at Anderson U.
NCAA D-I rules do not allow volunteers to recruit off-campus. Foster has participated in the process at all the other places he’s been.
“(Recruiting) is the most important part off the field in college baseball,” says Foster. “If you can get some good players you can do some good stuff.”
Junior college is generally a two-year experience. With the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Charles currently has 18 third-year players — 13 of which started their college careers with the Cougars.
With added years of eligibility in the NCAA and NAIA, it has many players staying in college baseball longer than anticipated. This — in turn — has trickled down to high schoolers looking for a place to play.
“There’s really quite a back log and then you put the transfer portal on top of that,” says Foster. “The talent is phenomenal at a lot of places. It seems all arms throw 90 mph or above.
“The thing that hurt the high school kids is an offer you would have gotten four or five years ago might not be there now.”
St. Charles, which is in NJCAA Division I Region 16, gets players kicking back from all levels, including NCAA D-I.
When Foster was in high school, he was aware of just one junior college baseball program in Indiana — NCJAA Division II Region 24’s Vincennes University. In 2022, there’s also NJC AA Division II Region 12’s Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson and Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne.
Missouri has 11 junior college programs (eight in NJCAA Division I and three in NJCAA Division II). Illinois sports 35 (10 in NCJAA Division I, four in NJCAA Division II and 21 in NJCAA Division III).
“Knowing what I know now I would have done everything I could to find a junior college out of high school,” says Foster, noting that there are fewer restrictions on the number of hours a week an athlete can practice or play, tuition is cheaper and there is a chance in two years to go to a school they may not have been able to attend out of high school.
“As coaches we’re able to be part of everything — academic monitoring, the weight lifting program and practice everyday with them,” says Foster. “There’s never a time other than family time I can’t work with you because you’re out of hours this week.”
“Juco Bandit” appears on many Twitter profiles. What does it mean?
“After being around it, it’s a term of pride for a lot of our guys,” says Foster. “It means a different level of toughness. Nothing handed to these guys and if it was, it was then taken away. It’s not the (NCAA) Division I life. There’s 2 and 3 a.m. leave times for a doubleheader.
“It’s a different mindset. The guys come out to play ball. That’s why they’re here.”
Foster and other St. Charles coaches do what they can to develop players for the next level.
“We move them on to good Division I and Division II programs when they’re done here,” says Foster. “We’re always making connections with coaches at that level and they’re helping us out.
“They know what kind of kids they’re getting out of junior college. They’re getting kids who are tough. It’s a big ask to come out of high school in play in the Big Ten, Big 12 or the SEC. There’s no substitute for experience.”
St. Charles plays 25 to 30 scrimmages in the fall with 56 regular-season games plus the postseason in the spring.
“We the fall for our sophomores to get exposure,” says Foster. “(Four-year school) come out and scout. We also get to see our freshmen and prepare for the spring.”
Besides his baseball duties, Foster is also in charge of the St. Charles athletic fields (baseball, softball and soccer). They are all grass.
“I starting learning with my dad being a high school coach,” says Foster. “It’s second nature. Many a spring break as a kid was spent out there getting the field ready.”
Rick Foster is head boys tennis coach and boys basketball assistant at Danville. He coached Warriors baseball almost 40 years and now helps Ty on the diamond at Cascade.
Ryne sees going into the profession as a natural.
“I couldn’t think of myself doing anything else,” says Foster. “I grew up with it. My dad was old school. You do things the right way and play hard. It’s the same way he grew up playing. Nothing too fancy.”
After playing tennis, basketball and baseball in high school (brother Ty played football, basketball and baseball), Ryne played both basketball and baseball his first two years at Anderson. In his fifth year, he came back to the Ravens basketball program.
“I love guys who play different sports (in high school),” says Foster. “They can develop so much when they can focus in one area. They have all kinds of potential.”
Foster relishes the chance to grow his baseball know-how and his network while attending the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, which meets each January (the 2022 version was in Chicago).
“You meet up with people from all over the country,” says Foster. “It’s a big fraternity. It’s pretty cool to be part of it.”
Baseball brought Ryne together with the woman he now calls his wife. He was working for Pastime Tournaments at an event in Nashville and met Nikki, who was attending down from Minnesota for a bachelorette party. Ryne and Nikki Foster were wed June 22, 2021 in a Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.
“She’s been with me through the coaching run in two different places,” says Foster. “She knows it’s not your normal 9-to-5 job.
“It’s hard to find someone who understands the work.”

Ryne and Nikki Foster (Crockette’s Images)
Ryne and Nikki Foster
Ryne, Rick and Ty Foster (Crockette’s Images)

Shafer enjoys player development as Kankakee CC assistant

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

Bryce Shafer faces a distinctive challenge as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College baseball program.
A former right-handed pitcher at Northfield High School in Wabash, Ind., and Valparaiso (Ind.) University as well as in the Chicago Cubs system and independent pro ball (Frontier Greys and River City Rascals), Shafter is preparing for his seventh season at KCC — a two-year school and a member of National Junior College Athletic Association Region 4.
“Junior college is definitely unique,” says Shafer, 33. “You’re always recruiting and trying to get your guys recruited.
“Year to year, your roster changes so much.”
As the Cavaliers get ready for the 2022 season opener on March 4 at Southeastern Illinois College, four of Shafer’s sophomore pitchers — starters Kyle Iwinski (Purdue), Matt Lelito (Toledo), Dylan Wolff (Eastern Michigan) and reliever Gavin King (Eastern Michigan) — have already made commitments to NCAA Division I schools. Three others are close to declaring their next stop. Right-handers Iwinski (Griffith) and Lelito (Andrean) and left-hander King (Bluffton) are from Indiana high schools. Righty Wolff hails went to Joliet (Ill.) West.
Since 2016, Shafer has seen 25 of his pitchers move on to four-year schools or the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — Eleven to NCAA Division I; six to NCAA Division II; five to NAIA; and two (West Noble’s Waylon Richardson and Dylan Dodd) to the MLB Draft.
Richardson was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies (2018) and Dodd was selected 96th overall by the Atlanta Braves in the third round in 2021. Last spring, the Cavaliers pitching staff broke the KCC single-season strikeout record with 491.
“It’s really about development,” says Shafer. “We have something going the full year-round. “There’s pitchers’ strength and speed development in the off-season. Now we’re now getting them ready for competition.
“It’s all about developing players and getting the most out of them. Junior college is a stepping stone. We realize we’re not a destination.
Shater, who is on a staff with head coach Todd Post and hitting/catching coach Nick Ulrey (a New Palestine graduate), uses networking to find players to develop at KCC.
“As a junior college, you get told ‘no’ a lot,” says Shafer, who looks at a roster full of Illinois and Indiana players but also has a two from Canada, one from Missouri and a shortstop — Beyonce Paulina — from Curacao.
“It’s about the connections you make,” says Shafer of the recruiting process. “You watch film. Some numbers help. Velocity is always nice. We look at mechanics. Can we clean him up and make him better?
“We look at the body type. How does he move?
“We always talk to their coaches. We get their whole background and make sure there’s not any red flags.”
Kankakee coaches Shafer, Post and Ulrey all weigh in on player evaluations.
“I pride myself in being able to look at a limited amount of video to see if this kid can be successful at this level and what can we do to make them better,” says Shafer. “We want good kids from good families that get good grades and want to be better at baseball. My goal is to get our players at their highest level of baseball.”
That means teaching the physical and mental sides of the game.
“We try to put our guys in difficult situations and how to handle it,” says Shafer, who earned a Psychology degree at Fort Hayes State University. “We teach pitchers what they need to think about and to avoid things they can’t control, focus on the next pitch and the hitters’ weaknesses.”
It’s about handling adversity.
“We do a good job of that here,” says Shafer. “It’s definitely a priority.”
Shafer grew up around Wabash and played travel ball for the Summit City Sluggers, Jarrod Parker, Kyle Leindecker, Scott Woodward and Rhett Goodmiller. Parker pitched in the big leagues. Leindecker played at Indiana University, Woodward at Coastal Carolina University and indy ball and Goodmiller Central Michigan University and Taylor University.
At Northfield, Shafer helped the Norsemen to the IHSAA Class 2A Final Four in 2006, and graduated in 2007. Tony Uggen, who is now in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, was his head coach.
“He was always very professional,” says Shafer of Uggen. “We had to have our shirts tucked in and look and act like ballplayers. It was a disciplined system. The basics were always there. We did things right.
“If you stay focus and disciplined the whole time, you can have a pretty good high school team.”
While he was barely 5-foot, 100 pounds, Shafer made varsity as a freshman.
“I thought I was getting cut,” says Shafer. “I had to out-work people because I was so small.”
By graduation he was 5-10 and around 150. In college, he grew to 6-1 and 185.
“I learned that you need to need to be big if you want to last,” says Shafer. “We play 56 games in 2 1/2 months at (KCC). Guys can break down if their bodies aren’t ready.”
At Valpo, Shafer played for head coach Tracy Woodson and pitching coach Brian Schmack (who is now VU head coach).
“He taught me to be calm, handle situations and embrace where you’re at,” says Shafer of Schmack. “Just remember the people — not necessarily the facilities.”
While attending the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago in January, Shafer gravitated to mental performance presenters like Brian Cain.
“I got a lot out of it,” says Shafer. “That is the most under-accessed part of the game. To succeed at the highest level need to be mentally tough.”
Some of the books read by Shafer lately are “The Mental ABCs of Pitching: A Handbook for Performance Enhancement” by Harvey Dorfman and “The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental Emotional Physical Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists” by James E. Loehr.
“It’s how champions think,” says Shafer. “If you can teach that to a young guy really, you’re doing something right.”
Bryce and wife Jill have two sons — Carver (4) and Callum (2).

Bryce Shafer (Kankakee Community College Photo)

Auburn Sports Park to bring baseball, so much more to northeast Indiana

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

Northeast Indiana is moving toward a large sports facility and baseball will be part of the mix.
Auburn Sports Group is bringing Auburn Sports Park — a $42 million 170-acre multi-sport complex plus 90 more acres for retail (restaurants, gas stations, hotels) — to land adjacent once owned by RM Auctions/RM Sotheby’s on the east side of I-69 .1 of a mile off Exit 11A.
Auburn Sports Park will be located about 30 miles south of the Indiana-Michigan line on I-69; about 20 miles to the heart of Fort Wayne, Ind.; about 60 miles west of Napoleon, Ohio; about 50 miles northeast of Warsaw, Ind.; about 120 miles southwest of Lansing, Mich.; about 100 miles southeast of Kalamazoo, Mich.; about 130 miles northeast of Grand Park in Westfield, Ind
Auburn Sports Group’s leadership team features co-owner Joe Fisher, president/co-order Rod Sinn, vice president/director of basketball Grant Sinn and director of operations/director of outdoor fields Cole Walker.
Brett Ratcliffe, assistant baseball coach at Trine University in Angola, Ind., and former head coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School, is the director of baseball/softball. Auburn Sports Park is to have eight turf fields suitable for high school/college baseball and softball.
“A multi-sport complete in northeast Indiana is something that’s needed,” says Ratcliffe of the place which has already had commitments to bring events to serve athletes from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and beyond. “This is another venue they can go to.”
Existing buildings will be used and there will be construction and renovation to bring indoor basketball and volleyball courts and a multi-purpose field for football, soccer and lacrosse. One building will house seven batting cages.
In addition, a 2-mile walking trail around the campus is planned as well as a splash pad.
“We want to make sure it’s a great experience for kids and a good memory for people who come here,” says Ratcliffe, who expects some of the facility to be ready for events by late summer.
Auburn Sports Park will be home to Prospect Select and Crossroads Baseball Series and the site of national championships.
Eric Blakeley, who played baseball at Indiana University and in the Seattle Mariners organization, is Crossroads Baseball Series CEO.
Jeremy Plexico, former pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Ball State University, is Prospect Select president.
Travis Keesling, who played and coached at Pendleton Heights High School, is Crossroads Baseball Series executive vice president.
Ratcliffe says entities like the DeKalb County Visitors Bureau have been supportive and other partnerships have been discussed with the World Baseball Academy, Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League and Empowered Sports Club —all based in Fort Wayne — plus the YMCA of DeKalb County in Auburn and Team Pineapple Volleyball Club/Ball Sports Academy of Angola.
With its location, Ratcliffe says Auburn Sports Park will be a great place for teams from NCAA D-I, D-II and D-III to NAIA and National Junior College Athletic Association schools to recruit.

Auburn Sports Group runs Auburn Sports Park in Auburn, Ind.

Huff helping Purdue Fort Wayne in different ways in second year with baseball program

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

Justin Huff has a new role in his second year on the Purdue Fort Wayne baseball coaching staff.
His family came to Fort Wayne when wife Jenna Huff — who hails from Tecumseh, Mich. — was hired as news director at WANE-TV (Ch. 15) and he reached out to Mastodons coach Doug Schreiber.
A director of player development position was created for Huff for 2020-21 with the idea that something else might open up in the future. In that job, he was restricted from actual coaching so he kept charts, gave analytics insights and helped in the dugout during games.
In 2021-22, Huff is in the volunteer coach post with all its responsibilities.
“Coach Schreiber has empowered me to do a lot of the practice scheduling,” says Huff. “I would make sure transitions were efficient.”
On a staff that also features Brent McNeil and Ken Jones, Huff also helps with hitters and infielders, leads outfielders and is expected to coach first base when PFW — a member of the NCAA Division I Horizon League — opens its 2022 season Feb. 18 at Georgia State.
“The challenge is we’re not on the field,” says Huff, noting that the Mastodons last practiced outdoors in November.
At the beginning of the fall, the team took advantage of warmer temperatures and put in 20 hours per week of team practice.
“(Hitters) got 50 to 60 (at-bats) and (pitchers) 20 to 22 innings,” says Huff. “You got to figure out exactly what you have. This year we’ve got 19 new guys so we saw how they fit with the returnees.
“There were intrasquad games in the weekends and got the players accustomed to our system and our routines.”
Then came a four hours-a-week phase where coaches could break down player’s mechanics and make adjustments if necessary.
“It’s not like going 0-of-4 in scrimmage,” says Huff. “There’s no failure.
“They’re getting their bodies ready to go and getting their timing down.”
Hitters were going to face live pitching for the first time Thursday (Jan. 20) with 20 hours-a-week workouts starting back up Jan. 28.
Huff came to Indiana from Gordon State College in Barnesville, Ga., where he was interim head coach during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season. With just one assistant, he was charged with all positions except infielders.
A shortstop as a player, Huff is a 2003 graduate of Westover High School in Albany, Ga.
Huff also played five years of American Legion ball for Albany Post 30 and manager Larry Cook. Albany went to the Legion World Series in 2001 — the year Brooklawn (N.J.) Post 72 beat Lewiston (Idaho) Post 13 for the title in Yakima, Wash.
“He was a very strategic guy and super-competitive,” says Huff of Cook. “He never stopped coaching me. He challenged me and made me better.”
Huff made collegiate stops of two years at Darton College in Albany (now merged with Albany State University) and one each at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., and Valdosta (Ga.) State University. His head coaches were Glenn Eames (with assistant Jamie Corr) at Darton, American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary Gilmore (with assistant Kevin Schnall) at Coastal Carolina and National College Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Thomas at Valdosta State.
Huff credits Eames for showing him how to care for fields and Corr for his organization, practice plan and how to run a program.
At Darton, Huff played against Young Harris (Ga.) College featuring his cousin Charlie Blackmon. After playing for the Mountain Lions in 2005 and 2006, lefty-swinging outfielder Blackmon was selected in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Georgia Tech and made his MLB debut for the Colorado Rockies in 2011.
Gilmore led the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers to the 2016 College World Series title.
“(Gilmore and Schnall) are two of the best coaches in the country,” says Huff. “I sat and watched how they were planning out the game and their style of offense that really helped me down the road.”
An offensive-minded coach, Huff prefers aggressiveness and small ball tactics.
When Huff was on the team at Coastal Carolina, he was a teammate of Andy DeLaGarza, a product of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind. His father — Mark DeLaGarza — runs the Summit City Sluggers travel organization in Fort Wayne.
From Thomas, Huff says he learned how to care about players and build relationships.
Former big leaguer Phil Plantier was Huff’s manager with the independent South Coast League’s Macon (Ga.) Music in 2007 and witnessed the differences between the pro and college style.
“I worked with him on hitting stuff,” says Huff. “I wanted to pick his brain as much as I could.”
When he was done as a player, Huff went into the banking industry while completing his undergraduate and Masters of Business Administration degrees.
He helped coach at Deerfield-Windsor Academy in Albany and with Leesburg American Legion Post 182 before spending five years at Darton with head coach Scot Hemmings. The Cavaliers won their first Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association title in 2015.
“He had ways to motivate players and was very organized,” says Huff of Hemmings. “The development of players was incredible there.”
When Jenna took a job at station in Macon, Justin helped coach the varsity and was middle school head coach at Tattnall Square Academy. The Trojans won the 2016 Georgia High School Athletic Association Class A state championship.
Travis McClanahan was head coach when Huff joined the staff at Gordon State. The Highlanders went 50-9 and lost to Walters State in the National Junior College Athletic Association East-Central District in 2019.
Justin and Jenna Huff have been married for 10 years and have four daughters — Devon (8), Canon (6), Fallon (4) and Lennon (2).

Justin Huff (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Managing relationships key for UIndy baseball assistant Forde

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

Trevor Forde saw the game from behind the mask as a player.
The University of Indianapolis assistant baseball coach knows what makes catchers tick.
Evanston (Ill.) High School graduate Forde (pronounced Ford like the car) was a backstop and played for former catchers Nate Metzger at Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill., and Gary Vaught and Al Ready at UIndy.
After competing for Frank Consiglio and graduating from Evanston in 2011, Forde played for two National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series qualifiers (2012 and 2013) with Metzger.
“Coach Consiglio taught me to put in the work,” says Forde. “The guys that out-work you will have more success.
“(Metzger, who is now associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Wright State University) gave me my first look and passion for coaching college baseball. He’s a special human.”
Forde played for Vaught at NCAA Division II Indianapolis in 2015 and 2016 and then went right into coaching, beginning with as a graduate assistant in 2017 and 2018. He holds a bachelor’s degree and masters in Sport and Fitness Administration/Management from UIndy.
Former Indianapolis backstop and longtime assistant Ready became head coach of the Greyhounds beginning with the 2019 season.
“(Vaught and Ready) solidified that thought of coaching,” says Forde. “There’s a lot to be said why catchers get into the coaching realm. They see the whole field
“They are really good at managing relationships. They work with all the pitchers. That guy steps out on the mound and he believes in you. You have that connection.”
Forde says that ties in with coaching.
“You’re dealing with so many personalities and getting guys to trust you,” says Forde.
Many hats are worn by Forde the coach. He is in charge of Hounds catchers and also helps develop hitters and plays a big part in recruiting.
“Since catcher is my former position, I take a lot of pride it that,” says Forde. “We’ve got a pretty good catching core.
“In the simplest of forms I always tell catchers to make strikes strikes and we want to win the border line pitch. We’ve got to put ourselves in position to present the ball to the umpire well. We want to be on-time and have a subtle movement to manipulate the ball back to center.”
Forde says every college catcher has to be able to control the running game.
Throwing out would-be base stealers is one thing, but Forde shares the philosophy shared by Bellarmine University coach Larry Owens about limiting steal attempts.
“That resonates with me,” says Forde. “We can show arm strength. The word can get out (to runners). If you limit the amount of attempts, the number of stolen bases is going to be reduced.”
Forde says recruiting at this time of year is not as intense at the D-II level as it is in the summer and fall.
“We’re tying up loose ends with guys we’ve had contact with and late bloomers,” says Forde. “Next year’s recruiting class is pretty much wrapped up for us.”
In dealing with recruits, Forde tells it like it is.
“We’re going to be brutally honest at times with guys,” says Forde. “We won’t present ideas that aren’t realistic. The more honest you can be with the guy — and especially with their parents — the better.
“There are no grey areas. We are blunt at times.”
UIndy is part of the Great Lakes Valley Conference with teams in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. Those three states plus Ohio, Kentucky and Wisconsin are at the core of the Greyhounds’ recruiting territory though the 2022 online roster also lists players from Canada and Colombia.
“We’re doing a pretty good job getting in the right players who believe in what we’re trying to do,” says Forde. “We need guys who are the right fit.”
In this COVID-19 pandemic era with players taking extra years of eligibility, Forde says it is important to know the players’ intentions about coming back or moving on.
“He might (repeatedly) say ‘I’m coming back’ then he gets a job offer,” says Forde. “As baseball coaches we brought him into our institution to get a degree.”
Forde and Ready are seeking well-rounded players and place a premium on defense.
“Coach Ready said it best — we’ve got to play both ends of the game,” says Forde. “At some positions I’d take a lesser bat with a plus-glove. The game is meant to be pitching and defense. You’re only as good as that guy that you roll out on the bump.
“I want my pitcher to be confident. If the ball is in-play their defense is going to make the play.”
The Greyhounds go for moundsmen that understand how to pitch and that contact is not a bad thing.
“We’re looking for bulldogs — guys that aren’t going to shy away from the moment,” says Forde. “That stems from our preparation. We teach guys how to pitch and how to read swings.
“We want a complete pitcher.”
Adam Cormwell is UIndy’s pitching coach. Scott Holdsworth is a volunteer assistant. Jacob Christie is a graduate assistant. The support staff includes athletic trainer Makenna McAteer, strength and conditioning coach Andrew Fallon and sports information GA Brady Budke.
Indianapolis, which went 23-21 overall and placed second in the GLVC at 19-13, opens the 2022 season Feb. 18 at Greyhound Park against Notre Dame (Euclid, Ohio). A series at Lake Erie (Painesville, Ohio), where former UIndy assistant Landon Hutchison is now head coach, begins March 11.

Trevor and high school sweathart Emma were married in July 2020.

Trevor Forde (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Trevor Forde (University of Indianapolis Photo)

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)