Tag Archives: NECC

Guthrie, Prairie Heights baseball embrace technology for training

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

“Kids just love playing video games. They’re playing video games at practice and they love it.” — T.J. Guthrie, head baseball coach at Prairie Heights High School

Always looking for ways to develop his players, Guthrie added Virtual Reality to the Panthers’ practice regimen by bringing in a WIN Reality system which helps hitters with things like pitch recognition.
Athletes don a headset and get a fully-immersive experience, seeing realistic pitches in what looks like a professional stadium.
“I’m constantly scouring the Internet and social media to see what is out there to better our kids,” says Guthrie, who introduced WIN Reality when players returned from winter break in January. “I like to mix up our training routines.
“Some days we don’t get the gym with the batting cage and we can still get in live work. We’re getting that cognitive intuition we need on a much better scale.”
With the WIN Reality, players go through graduated sequence of eight drills. The first is basic, recognizing fastball, curveball and change-up. They are also tracking the pitch. This is done by asking the hitter to point the controller to where the ball ended up in the strike zone.
Later comes the “disappearing pitch” drill where the pitch might go away at 50 feet or less and hitters are still asked to recognize it.
“It really starts to challenge guys,” says Guthrie. “They see their averages at the end (of drills) and the begin competing against each other.”
Guthrie notes that the technology is not new and is used by numerous pro and college teams. Now it has come to Brushy Prairie, Ind.
Using the VR trainer offers an efficient way to see more pitches in less time than would be possible with the traditional methods alone.
“We’re certainly not taking away from the live BP,” says Guthrie. “We’re adding to it in a risk-free environment.”
While identifying these WIN Reality pitches, no swings are taken. Hitters pull the trigger on the controller. The system tells them when they made that decision and if it was in the optimum window of when they could hit the pitch.
“You’re not training your body,” says Guthrie of the VR work. “We’re using this to train the brain.
“We’re using cage to train the body on the proper fundamentals.”
WIN Reality does include an optional bat attachment and collects data on swings.
Guthrie, a 2011 Fremont (Ind.) High School graduate who had his college career ended by injury, embraces tech.
He uses smart baseballs that track spin rates, velocity and movement. There are Blast Motion sensors on his players’ bats to give feedback.
“We’re getting video of guys all the time,” says Guthrie, who likes to shoot 4K at 60 frames-per-second. “We go frame-by-frame and make sure we’re not missing anything.”
A phone app called Coach’s Eye allows for comparative side-by-side videos. It’s helpful for pitchers trying to make all their pitches look the same coming out of their hand.
Guthrie says that pitch recognition training when he was a player involved a VCR.
“We’d see a one-second clip of a ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand,” says Guthrie. “But it did not mix it up like the real pitcher does.”
Guthrie has used YouTube videos for this purpose. There is also a phone app called GameSense Pitch-IQ.
With Guthrie and varsity assistants Mike Gustin (pitching coach), Tyler Christman and Ryan Fulton, junior varsity coaches Gene Smith (head coach), Dave Priestley (pitching coach), Shane Richards and JV statistician Reese Smith, Prairie Heights is preparing to compete in the Northeast Corner Conference (which also includes Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, West Noble and Westview) and IHSAA Class 2A in 2022.
“The NECC seems to be going in a high-velocity direction,” says Guthrie. “We’ve got a lot of great pitchers in this conference. It was bound to happen because of the push for travel ball. The kids want to get better day in and day out.
“We need to know how we improve at the plate. You’ve got to score runs to win games. The velocity is one thing. It’s the curve balls, sliders and change-ups that are beating us.
“Recognizing the pitch is half the battle.”

Prairie Heights High School baseball uses Virtual Reality technology with a WIN Reality system.
A WIN Reality Screenshot.
A WIN Reality Screenshot.
A WIN Reality Screenshot.

Hard work, fun mix for Richards, Garrett Railroaders

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Diligence and amusement don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Not the way Garrett (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Richards sees it.

“I do demand a lot from my players,” says Richards, who spent a decade of coaching in the Railroaders softball program then took over the baseball post prior to the 2020 season which was taken away by COVID-19. “At the same time, baseball has to still be fun for everybody.

“We want to still work hard for our goals.”

Richards was a softball assistant to Scott Bishop for eight seasons before leading the Garrett team in 2018 and 2019.

“(Bishop) demands perfection,” says Richards. “You’re only going to get that through hard work.”

Prior to Garrett, Richards was a baseball assistant at Central Noble for head coach Jim Sickafoose and baseball assistant Eastside for head coach Jason Pierce.

Richards says Sickafoose has an “old school” way of doing things.

“We had a good team,” says Richards, who helped the Cougars win an IHSAA Class 2A LaVille Sectional title and compete in the Whiting Regional in 2012. “(Coach Sickafoose) wanted to get the most out of everything you can do each day.

“(Coach Pierce) brought a fire for the game. He kept the kids on their toes, letting them know they can’t just go through the motions.”

A 1996 Churubusuco (Ind.) High School graduate, Richards played for Mark Grove.

“(Coach Grove) demanded perfection and hard work,” says Richards. “He was no-nonsense.”

Before class baseball, ‘Busco won Warsaw Sectional and Plymouth Regional crowns and competed in the Fort Wayne Semistate championship against eventual state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran at Fort Wayne’s Memorial Stadium in 1995. 

Richards went on to be a student at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, where he earned a Education degree with a focus on middle school Social Studies and Science and later gained a School Counseling masters from the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.

An attendee of several coaching clinics, Richards likes to run an organized practice. 

Everyday players show up they know everything is thought out and in a certain order.

“Anything after 2 1/2 hours and you start to see bad habits,” says Richards. “In 1 1/2 hours, we can get in there, word hard, get good habits formed and have fun.”

Garrett (enrollment around 580) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (along with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview). NECC teams play each other once apiece plus there’s a conference tournament.

“I hope we have a season,” says Richards. “I think we have a lot to look forward to.

“We should be competitive in a really competitive NECC.”

The Railroaders are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Angola, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Leo and New Haven. Garrett has won three sectional titles — the last in 1973. In recent years, the Railroaders have been rotating as a sectional and regional host.

At its size, the multi-sport athlete is the norm at Garrett. Many baseball players are on the football team and Richards is an assistant in program led by Chris DePew. That means Garrett had just a few participate in practices during fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period for baseball.

Winter workouts — bat and ball activities plus speed and agility and weight work — have regularly been drawing about 17 with the others involved in winter sports. Richards expects to have around 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams.

Last March, Garrett was two days away from its first official day of practice when the pandemic caused a shutdown and loss of the 2020 season.

“What a crazy year,” says Richards. “We had like four kids play travel ball last year and no (Garrett Youth Baseball for ages 5-16). 

“COVID can really hurt a small program.”

A third year as a guidance counselor at Garrett Middle School (he was a science teacher prior to that), Richards gets to see student-athletes grow and mature for six years — grades 7-12.

“I build a relationship with them in middle school and earn that trust,” says Richards. “In high school, we get them what they need.”

Richards counts Rudy Fuentes as a varsity assistant coach for 2021. Other assistants are Clay Evans, Steve Orth, Bobby York and Cody Camp. Joe Fuentes (Rudy’s son) is GYB president.

The youth league will base its draft on performance at camps held at the high school in February.

“We work really well together,” says Richards of the accord between GHS and GYB.

Garrett graduate Tristan Taylor is a freshman on the baseball roster at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. Current Railroaders senior Gage Smith is expected to make a college baseball commitment and a number of juniors also have college diamond aspirations.

Jason and wife Emily Richards have three children — Kierra (19), Trey (16) and Brady (8). Kierra Richards is a softball player and Exercise Science major at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. Trey Richards is a junior football and baseball players at Garrett. Third grader Brady Richards, who tuns 9 next week, is involved in football, wrestling and baseball.

Jason Richards is head baseball coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School. He is also a guidance counselor at Garrett Middle School.