Tag Archives: New Palestine

Ulrey now leading Warren Central Warriors on diamond

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

Chris Ulrey enjoys a challenge and he and a staff of experienced assistant coaches are taking one head-on at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis.
Ulrey, a 2006 New Palestine High School graduate who was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2006 and has been running the Midwest Astros Baseball and Softball Academy in Greenfield, Ind., and instructing hitters from youth through pro for the last 11 years, was hired to head up the Warriors program at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.
“I love a challenge,” says Ulrey. “You get to see how good your coaching staff is at developing guys.
“(Athletic Director Isang Jacob) allowed me to bring in guys I thought would be essential.”
Ulrey’s staff features pitching coach Morgan Coombs, infielders coach Jeff Cardenas and operations/outfielders coach T.J. Schooley at the varsity level with Zac Capps and Josh Ott with the junior varsity squad.
Coombs is a West Vigo High School graduate who pitched for Ball State University and in independent and Australian pro ball.
Fort Wayne native Cardenas played at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College (when Ulrey was hitting coach and recruiting coordinator there) and the University of Northwestern Ohio and in independent pro ball.
Schooley is a longtime Ulrey assistant and brings many years of knowledge and coaching to the Warren Central staff at the varsity level.
Ulrey plans to field two competitive teams — varsity and JV — in 2022.
Fall and winter practices plus weight workouts have allowed Ulrey to get to know the talent level of his players.
“Our expectations are high,” says Ulrey. “It comes down to how much these guys want to work, buy in and commit to changing the culture of Warren Central baseball.”
Warren Central had 21 players in the program in 2021 and it’s been more than a decade since the Warriors won 10 games.
There was a Black and Gold World Series in front of parents and fans that allowed players to have fun and compete.
“It was very good for us,” says Ulrey. “We got to see from a live pitching standpoint what we have going into (2022).”
To make it work, there must be buy-in and commitment from the athletes. Some workouts have been at 6 a.m.
Fall sessions averaged 30 to 40 players with many returning starters missing because of football and soccer commitments.
There were 35 to 50 at the beginning of off-season weights and conditioning.
Ulrey is also an assistant strength and conditioning coach to Keith Swift at Warren Central and teaches Athletic Weights, which gives him the chance to work with all of the school’s athletes including baseball players.
Warren Central (enrollment around 3,800) is part of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (with Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Indianapolis North Central, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North and Pike).
In 2021, the Warriors were in IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Franklin Central, New Palestine, Perry Meridian, Roncalli and Southport. Warren Central has won nine sectionals — the last in 1991.
Seven varsity players and a talented junior and senior class return from 2021.
Among the returnees are junior right-handed pitcher Eli Shaw, junior right-hander/infielder John “JayJay” Calmes and sophomore center fielder/right-hander Joshua James. All have attracted college interest.
“We are young with a lot of arms,” says Ulrey. “We have a good freshman class as well with some good pitching and big bats that may have opportunities to get some varsity time.”
Warriors Baseball Club has been established to help run camps for elementary and middle school players (nine elementary schools and four middle schools feed into Warren Central) throughout the year and support the high school program.
Gavin Deberry (Warren Central Class of 2021) moved on to play at Purdue Northwest. He was coached by Ulrey with the Midwest Astros and trained with him since age 12.
Ulrey and company are running the Warriors like a college program — from the way the players act to the way they handle themeslves.
“Academics are first and sports are second,” says Ulrey. “We are preparing ourselves for after sports.
“As coaches, we plan to do our part and develop and guide these young men in the right direction. These guys have worked hard up to this point and made the commitment and bought in to this team and program to show what they can do this spring.
“Our motto this year is ‘Prove Your Worth.’ It’s been a long time since Warren Central baseball has done anything and these boys are preparing themselves this off-season and working hard to prove to our school, the community and our opponents they can play and compete with anyone if they work for it.”

Chris Ulrey.
Warren Central High School’s varsity baseball coaching staff (from left): assistants Jeff Cardenas, T.J. Schooley, Morgan Coombs and head coach Chris Ulrey.
Warren Central High School’s varsity baseball coaching staff (from left): assistants Jeff Cardenas, T.J. Schooley, Morgan Coombs and head coach Chris Ulrey.
Warren Central players learn from the coaching staff.
Weight room part of process for Warren Central baseball.
Warren Central players at practice.
Medicine balls are used by Warren Central in baseball workout.
Warren Central players train to get better.
Warren Central head coach Chris Ulrey addresses his players.
Warren Central players do work.
Warren Central players in training.
Warren Central coach Chris Ulrey (right) at practice.
Eli Shaw.

Wapahani, Ball State graduate Wilburn takes over Delta baseball program

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

The way Devin Wilburn sees it, life is about timing.
Just when he and his wife were looking to move closer to home and family for the arrival of their first child, a job opportunity opened up.
Teacher Devin and nurse Maddie Wilburn were living in Florida when the chance to come to come back to the Muncie, Ind., area came as daughter Tatum was on the way.
Tatum is now 2 months old and Devin (who turned 30 on Sept. 18) is the head baseball coach and a physical education teacher at Delta High School.
Delta (enrollment around 800) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).
In 2021, the Eagles were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Delta has won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2016.
The Wilburns reside in Selma, about 10 minutes from both sets of grandparents and in the same town where they graduated from Wapahani High School.
Devin went 24-9 and struck out 309 batters while while walking 79 in 203 1/3 innings while playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley and graduating in 2010.
“A lot of stuff fell in place,” says Devin Wilburn, who comes to the Eagles after spending the 2021 season as an assistant to head coach Kyle Gould at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., after one spring season (2020) as head coach at Countryside High School in Clearwater Fla.
Wilburn, who holds a Sport Administration degree (2014) and Masters in Sport Administration (2016) from Ball State University, was an assistant to head coach Rich Maloney at BSU in Muncie in 2019 after spending the fall of 2018 on Matt Bair’s staff at Anderson (Ind.) University. He was the pitching coach at Taylor 2015-18.
A left-handed pitcher, Wilburn played three seasons for head coaches Alex Marconi (2011 and 2012) and Maloney (2015).
At 20, Wilburn had a colon procedure and spent the better part of two years recuperating then returned to the diamond with the Cardinals.
“It was a cool ending to my career,” says Wilburn. “I working out with my best friend, Jon Keesling (who played at Wapahani then Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion).
“My ball was moving pretty good. Maybe I’ll give (a comeback) a shot.”
Wilburn made the team and in 27 mound appearances (26 in relief) went 4-2 for a 33-25 squad that played in the Mid-American Conference championship game in 2015.
“That last year I got to play changed my life in so many ways,” says Wilburn. It was through Ball State volunteer assistant Rhett Goodmiller that he was connected with Taylor.
The summer before joining the Trojans, Wilburn was the head coach of the Indiana Prospects 17U national travel team. The talented club featured future Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft first-round pick J.J. Bleday plus two others now in the minors — Gianluca Dalatri and Sean Mooney — with the help of father Bryan Wilburn.
Wilburn has formed his coaching philosophy through the men he played for and coached with — Dudley, Maloney and Gould — and more.
“Along the way you make it yours,” says Wilburn. “You learn from coaching conventions and podcasts and put your own spin on it.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some really good baseball teams and coaches.
“Coach Dudley and I have a real good relationship. He just does things the right way. He was my first mentor. I learned so much from him.
“He had such a high expectation for us. He let us shine with what we were good at.”
Devin, the only child of Bryan and Missie Wilburn, moved from Muncie to Selma in the fourth grade and his first teacher was Jason Dudley, Brian’s son and a longtime Wapahani baseball assistant.
“I was part of those good traditions that shape your life in so many ways,” says Wilburn, who counted three former Wapahani teammates in the wedding party when he married Maddie a little over three years ago. “I’m so grateful to go through that program.
“I look back fondly on my high school days.”
A youth baseball coach for several decades, Russell Wilburn had a field named in his honor in Muncie’s Chambers Park when Devin was a young boy.
Bryan Wilburn and brother Dan both played baseball at Muncie Central High School and Bryan went on to the diamond life at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and Dan to Valparaiso University.
After being recruited by Greg Beals, playing for Marconi and then Maloney, the latter hired him as an assistant.
“I wore many hats,” says Wilburn. “I got to work with catchers and some with outfielders. My end goal was to find a head coaching job at small college or high school.
“I wanted to be a well-rounded coach.”
Wilburn is appreciative of Blake Beemer, who was a Cardinals teammate and then a coaching colleague.
“I’m grateful for his mentorship,” says Wilburn of Beemer. “I also coached with Dustin Glant. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever heard talk about pitching.”
Gould gave Wilburn his first crack at college coaching.
“He is probably the best mentor in my life,” says Wilburn. “I’ve learned so much from him from the baseball and the life perspective
“He opened my eyes in so many different ways. I could not be more grateful for the time I spent over there learning from him. (Taylor) is a wonderful place.”
It was at Taylor that Wilburn also got to be on staff with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson and Justin Barber.
“Coach A forgot more about baseball than what I knew,” says Wilburn. “Justin and I had a good relationship when we recruited his players when he was with the Indiana Chargers.”
At Delta, Wilburn has hired former Ball State teammate Scott Baker as his pitching coach with other assistant hires pending school board approval.
The Eagles play on Veteran’s Field.
“We’ve got a couple of projects,” says Wilburn, whose been assessing Delta’s baseball needs since taking the job. “We’ve got a nice facility and a real supportive booster club.”
Feeders for Wilburn’s program include Delta Little League in Royerton and East Central Indiana junior high league run by Jason Dudley.
Current senior left-hander Nick Crabtree has committed to Taylor.
And Wilburn continues his love affair with the game.
Says the coach, “Baseball is what keeps me sane in life and forget the daily stress.”

Devin Wilburn (Delta High School Image)
The Wilburns (from left): Maddie, Tatum and Devin.
Devin and Maddie Wilburn with daughter Tatum.
Devin Wilburn (red pullover) with Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney (2), assistant Blake Beemer (24) and the Cardinals in 2019.
Devin Wilburn (right) coaches at Taylor University.
Devin Wilburn and the Taylor University baseball team celebrate a victory.
Devin Wilburn (second from left) with mentor and Taylor University head baseball coach Kyle Gould.

Vosburgh guiding storied Pendleton Heights program

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

Matt Vosburgh is now the man in charge of Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School baseball and he considers it a privilege.
Vosburgh enters his 11th year in the program in 2022. He has been Arabians head coach since before the 2020 season that was canceled because of COVID-19.
After graduating from Purdue University with a Social Studies Education degree in 2011 and taking a teaching job at Pendleton Heights Middle School, Vosburgh reached out to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and longtime PH head baseball coach Bill Stoudt.
“He told me to come on out and gave me all the opportunity in the world to be part of something special at Pendleton Heights,” says Vosburgh, a 2006 graduate of Tri-County Junior-Senior High School in White County town of Wolcott, Ind. “I wanted his blessing more than anything else. (Coach Stoudt) is still very much a part of the program. He cares more about the program than anybody else.”
Vosburgh, who was a junior varsity assistant in 2012, quickly saw Stoudt’s love for the game and his players. The school corporation returned the love by naming the place where the Arabians’ diamond Bill Stoudt Field.
From 2013-19, Vosburgh was head JV coach on the staff of Travis Keesling. He stepped away to watch his children in their sports and activities, but is still involved with the baseball program at his alma mater.
“He understands family priorities,” says Vosburgh of Keesling. “He told me, ‘I understand the rigors of being the head coach in this program. I’ll come out and mow (so you can spend time with family.
“People have no idea how hard he worked for the program. He did so many things behind the scenes.”
Vosburgh and wife of eight years, Claire, have three kids — kindergartener Elizabeth (5), pre-K student Evelyn (4) and David (2).
Matt Vosburgh is in his second year as eLearning specialist for South Madison Community School Corporation. He started at Purdue as a History major with a Pre-Law minor. A summer spent teaching English in rural Thailand ignited a passion for education and he changed his path.
“It opened my eyes,” says Vosburgh.
Right now his baseball vision has been focused on athletes participating in fall workouts. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. The Arabians have been doing baseball activities two days a week and speed and agility work a third day.
“We’ve had good numbers so far,” says Vosburgh. “We don’t have a lot of fall athletes, but are getting 24 to 26. We expect that number to double at minimum in the spring.”
Beginning Sept. 9, Thursdays will be for a two-hour Green-White game with Tuesdays being for practice and another for speed and agility. After the Limited Contact Period ends, conditioning work will continue.
Vosburgh’s coaching staff includes first base/infield coach Rene Casas, pitching coach Brad Schnepp, JV coach Ryan Jones, Freshmen coach Eric Pierzchala plus Austin Price and Shane Cox.
Pendleton Heights (enrollment around 1,430) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Shelbyville and Yorktown).
In 2021, the Arabians were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Anderson, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, Muncie Central and Richmond. Pendleton Heights has won 17 sectional crowns — the last in 2018.
Pendleton Junior Baseball — with Todd Miller as president — helps prepare future PHHS players as does the Indiana Arabians travel team and other travel teams in the community.
“It’s a such a huge asset,” says Vosburgh. “Those people work really, really hard.
“Baseball is such an important part of Pendleton. People take a lot of pride in that.”
While no current Pendleton Heights players have made college baseball commitments, there are several recent graduates who have taken that route, including right-handed pitcher Chayce McDermott (2017 PHHS graduate who played at Ball State University and was selected in the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Houston Astros).
There’s also Arturo Casas (Manchester University), Rene Casas Jr. (Anderson University), Mitchell Cobb (Manchester University), Corbin Cox (Heartland Community College and University of Indianapolis), Evan Douglas (Ivy Tech Northeast), Wyatt Douglas (Ivy Tech Northeast and Taylor University), Kamden Earley (Wabash College), Jake Harris (Danville Area Community College), Philip Lawson (Anderson University), Maverik Mollemkopf (Manchester University), Ben Richards (Texas Post Grad), Eston Stull (Indiana University Kokomo and Southeastern University), Walker Stull (Anderson University), Matt Vetor (Hanover College) and C.J. Williams (Manchester University).
Vosburgh played two varsity season for coach Jeff LeBeau at Tri-County.
“He took as much pride in the field as anybody and instilled a work ethic and discipline,” says Vosburgh of LeBeau. “We had high standards and still had fun while we were playing.”

Matt Vosburgh (Cam Pippin Photography).

King, Mt. Vernon Marauders making history in 2021

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

Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind., carries the nickname Marauders.
Head baseball coach Brad King has another monicker: Trailblazers.
The 2021 squad has made history along its path to the one-game IHSAA Class 4A Jasper Semistate on Saturday, June 12 against Jasper (29-2). The winner of the 4 p.m. game moves on to the State Finals either Monday or Tuesday, June 21 or 22 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
At 26-6, Mt. Vernon has surpassed the previous school record for single-season victories by five.
The 2021 Marauders won their first outright Hoosier Heritage Conference championship (Mt. Vernon shared the HCC title with New Palestine in 2009). Other HCC members are Delta, Greenfield-Central, New Castle, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown.
In winning sectional and regional crowns, the Marauders broke through at those stages for the first time since 2011 and 1971.
“It’s a big deal playing in semistate,” says King, who was hired in the fall of 2019 after 23 seasons — the last 16 as head coach — at New Castle and is coaching his first Mt. Vernon season on the field after the COVID-19 pandemic took he 2020 campaign away. “There will be a lot of electricity at Jasper. But the kids won’t be overwhelmed. We just beat (Indianapolis) Cathedral (in the regional championship game).
“We’re trying to go through the best to be the best.”
Mt. Vernon opened the season by going 2-1 in the Noblesville Invitational, playing Noblesville, Columbus North and Franklin Community and went on to go 12-2 in the conference and play a solid non-conference schedule.
“These kids have kept gaining confidence as the season has gone on,” says King, whose squad is 15-1 in its last 16 games.
At the Pendleton Heights Sectional, the Marauders blanked Muncie Central 19-0 and Pendleton Heights 8-0 then downed Franklin Central 6-2 and Cathedral 6-3 to take the Plainfield Regional. This brought Mt. Vernon’s all-time totals to eight sectional titles and two regionals. The Marauders have never won a semistate or appeared in the State Finals.
Led by seniors Hunter Dobbins (.560, 10 home runs, 39 runs batted in) and Joel Walton (.485, 5 HR, 38 RBI) and sophomore Eli Bridenthal (.366, 15 stolen bases), Mt. Vernon hits .321 as a team and averages 8.6 runs per game.
Junior Landon Clark (.297, 44 runs, 17 stolen bases) sets the table table as the Marauders’ lead-off hitter. Senior A.J. Swingle (.276, 23 RBI) hits No. 2, puts the ball in play and moves runners. Senior Jake Stank (.308, 4 HR, 28 RBI) is the clean-up hitter.
“We’re just really solid offensively, field the ball at 95 percent and have four or five really good (pitching arms),” says King. “We’re really blessed.”
Senior left-hander Swingle (9-0, 1.60 earned run average, 80 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings) and senior right-hander Eli Clodfelter (8-1, 3.29 ERA, 81 K’s, 51 IP) are Mt. Vernon’s leaders on mound.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series selection Dobbins is bound for Ball State University.
Other seniors with college commitments are Walton (Trine University), Stank (Anderson University), Clodfelter (Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tenn.), Carson Augustinovicz (Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio) and Nate Weaver (Concordia University in Seward, Neb.).
Recent Mt. Vernon graduates with college baseball programs include Nolan Bowser (Saint Louis University), Griffin Garwood (Manchester University), Matt Lood (Indiana University South Bend), Shaun Shipley (committed to Florida Gulf Coast University after playing at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla.) and Jake Stadler (Purdue University).
King’s coaching staff features Tony Gregory, Wayne Graham, Jerry Grill, Scott Blanchard and Shane Douglas. Varsity assistants Gregory and Graham were with King throughout his head coach run at New Castle. Grill leads the junior varsity team with the help of Blanchard. Douglas is the C-team coach. Mt. Vernon were 25-1 at the JV level and 8-7 in C-team contests this spring.
The last day of school was June 8 so the team has been keeping something a normal schedule during the postseason. King says Marauder practices have been brief.
Mt. Vernon’s feeder system includes Mt. Vernon Optimist (T-ball through age 13), the Marauder Baseball Club (a travel program for Mt. Vernon players through 14U and Mt. Vernon Middle School (seventh and eighth grade teams).
King, who is still Dean of the Freshmen Academy at New Castle, stepped down as baseball coach because of health issues in his family.
“After those issues went away it opened up the possibility for me to get back into coaching,” says King.
Since New Castle had hired a new head coach, King looked for nearby opportunities.
Mt. Vernon intrigued him.
Athletic director Brandon Ecker served in the same capacity during part of King’s coaching tenure at New Castle.
King was approved for hire with the Marauders in August 2019 and had players attending their first workouts in September. Because of the shutdown he never got to lead a talented team in 2020.
“We thought we were going to be very good,” says King. The prevailing feeling outside the Mt. Vernon camp was that the team would be “a little down” in 2021.
“I didn’t feel that way at all,” says King. “That’s the way we approached our offseason workouts.
“The guys were focused and had the same goals as the previous years (win conference, sectional, regional and maybe more). So far they’ve done what they wanted to accomplish.”

It’s been an historic baseball season in 2021 for the Brad King-coached Mt. Vernon (Fortville) Marauders. The team has set a school record for wins and won its first outright Hoosier Heritage Conference title and first sectional and regional crowns since 2011 and 1971.

Miller-led Knightstown Panthers win first sectional since 2016

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Robbie Miller experienced postseason as a head baseball coach at Greenfield (Ind.)-Central High School, helping the Cougars to an IHSAA Class 4A sectional title in 2017.

Miller, who led the GC program from 2015-18 and then assisted at New Palestine for the 2019, was hired at Knightstown (Ind.) Community High School for the 2020 campaign, which was taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Knightstown won the 2021 Class 2A Heritage Christian Sectional crown, beating Triton Central 9-6 and Heritage Christian 7-4 for the right to play Saturday, June 5 in the Cascade Regional. The 17-12-1 Panthers meet Parke Heritage (15-10) in the second semifinal. The first game at 11 a.m. features University (21-9) against Centerville (23-5). 

Miller has his team focused inward.

“I don’t care who’s in the other dugout,” says Miller. “I worry about us. If we do the things we’re capable of doing, we’ll be successful.

“Just be us and we’ll be fine.”

The Knightstown-Triton Central sectional game featured former Franklin (Ind.) College teammates as head coaches — Miller with his Panthers and Justin Bergman with his Tigers.

Miller called on senior workhorse Mason Muncy to take the mound against Triton Central.

“He threw a great game and he got big hits throughout the lineup,” says Miller of the comeback win. “We scored three in the first and gave up five in the top of the second.

“But the kids never quit.”

Muncy was able to pitch again in the Heritage Christian game. The Panthers faced sophomore Andrew Wiggins (an Indiana University commit) and were down 1-0. 

Senior Ben Newby hit a two-run home run and senior 8-hole hitter Robert Porter produced two clutch hits for Knightstown.

Then there was senior Aaron Reagan.

“He might be one of the best baserunners I’ve ever coach,” says Miller of Reagan. “He ade a great slide that put us ahead 6-3 in the sixth. We executed a suicide squeeze on the next pitch (for a 7-3 lead).”

The Panthers fields a team with experienced seniors and a mixture of freshmen and sophomores. Junior Carson Smith is the starting shortstop.

Knightstown (enrollment around 360) is a member of the Tri-Eastern Conference (with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester).

TEC teams play each other one time in 2021 as it worked into their schedules. 

With the most-recent title, Knightstown has won seven sectionals. Three of those came back-to-back-to-back (2014, 2015 and 2016). The Panthers were regional victors in 2015 and 2016, losing to eventual state champion Providence in the Plainfield Semistate.

Miller, who resides in Greenfield with wife Allison and daughters Ella and Abbi and works for Anthem, enjoyed his time as a volunteer coach at New Palestine (he is a 1997 graduate) with Dragons head coach Shawn Lyons.

“I learned a lot from him,” says Miller. “I had been coaching against him for like 15 years.

“New Pal’s a great program. (Lyons) does things the right way. He wants to win as much as anybody and he prepares better than any coach I’ve ever been around. His other assistants are phenomenal. They made me feel wanted from Day 1.”

Miller wasn’t looking for another coaching gig when he was told about the opening at Knightstown. A basketball official in the winter, he happened to be going to Knightstown a few weeks after learning about the opportunity. He was hired in January 2020 by Panthers athletic director Matt Martin.

When the season was taken away and workouts were then allowed in July, Miller took the opportunity and had 10 or more at each session while sharing athletes with football and basketball.

“I was still trying to get to know the kids when they said baseball was done (in March),” says Miller. “The good news is a lot them played travel ball and I tried to see as many games as possible.”

Miller’s assistant coaches are John Walters, Nic Murray and Jim Kayajan.

Knightstown had 20 players in uniform this spring. The junior varsity schedule was clipped because of COVID contact tracing.

The Panthers play on a field that’s part of a complex that’s just a few years old.

“It’s a really nice facility,” says Miller.

High school baseball is fed by Knightstown Youth Sports and a middle school program. Those Knightstown Intermediate School students use the old varsity diamond.

Knightstown (Ind.) Community High School head baseball coach Robbie Miller with his wife Allison and daughters Ella and Abbi and the 2021 IHSAA Class 2A Heritage Christian Sectional trophy.
Allison and Robbie Miller with the 2021 IHSAA Class 2A Heritage Christian Sectional trophy won by Robbie’s Knightstown team.
The Miller home team: Robbie, Allison and daughters Ella and Abbi.
Knightstown won the 2021 IHSAA Heritage Christian Sectional baseball title. It was the first sectional crown for the Panthers program since 2016.

Clark looking to build interest in the game at Union (Modoc)

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball has been an on-and-off activity at Union Junior & Senior High School Modoc, Ind.

After a few years off the diamond, the Rockets played a varsity schedule in 2015 with Brian Clark as coach and endured many “mercy rule” losses.

“We were not able to build some confidence,” says Clark. “We’d have three quick outs then be in the field for the next 30 minutes.”

Clark left the school for a few years and there was no team. When he came back, Union fielded a squad in 2019 and competed against a few varsity opponents and was planning on playing in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the season for all Indiana schools.

The aim in 2021 is for the Rockets to play a junior varsity schedule while building up interest in the sport at elementary and junior high ages to get those boys playing in youth leagues in Monroe City and Farmland. 

“A couple of guys from two years ago are still here,” says Clark. “We’ll be focusing on the fundamentals to make sure they can catch, throw and hit before we move on to anything else.

“It would be good to get something going (at younger levels).”

Union, located in Randolph County, is not expected to compete in the Mid-Eastern Conference (which also includes Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Wapahani and Wes-Del) pennant chase or in an IHSAA sectional this spring.

So far, Clark has had 13 sign up and he hopes to get some more. The first official IHSAA practice is March 15 and the first contest date is allowed March 29. Union’s first game is April 14.

“That’ll give us a decent amount of time to build up arms,” says Clark. “If they can throw the ball somewhat over the plate and not balk, I’ll put them on the mound.”

Pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) also come into play. 

With a lack of depth and the fact that some ballplayers will also be on the track or golf teams, the Rockets will not have a full baseball slate.

“We had to schedule a few less games than what we’d like,” says Clark. “We’ll have them specify what their main sport would be (in the case of conflicting dates).”

Among opponents Union has scheduled are Connersville, Daleville, Hagerstown, Union County and Purdue Polytechnic of Indianapolis.

Union plays its home game on-campus. With no games and no funds allotted to materials for field upkeep in 2020, Clark and company will be working to get the diamond ready.

Clark, who counts Kenny Ellis as his baseball assistant, wears many hats at Union, which has about 85 students in the top four grades. He teaches Food and Consumer Sciences and Physical Education for high schoolers and is also assistant athletic director, assistant volleyball coach, assistant boys basketball coach and junior class sponsor.

A 2011 graduate of New Palestine (Ind.) High School, Clark played four years of tennis, three years of baseball and two years of basketball for the Dragons.

Al Cooper was the baseball coach.

Clark recalls Cooper’s willingness to work and to push his players.

“There was always stuff in the fall and winter,” says Clark. “There was nothing that could come up in a game that we hadn’t practiced already.”

Clark and Lyndsea Burke have been in a relationship for seven years.

Brian Clark is the head baseball coach at Union Junior & Senior High School in Modoc, Ind.

Franklin Central’s Schoettle promotes pride, accountability

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There are a few things that Greg Schoettle holds dear as head baseball coach at Franklin Central High School on the southeast side of Indianapolis.

Schoettle values the relationships he builds with his student-athletes. He expects them to take pride in being a Franklin Central Flash while being accountable for everything they do — on and off the diamond.

“It’s wanting to be part of the program and doing what is expected to be successful at this level,” says Schoettle, who joined the Flashes staff in 2010 and has been in charge since 2019. “We play in the toughest baseball conference in the state.

“It’s eye-opening for our kids.”

Franklin Central (enrollment around 3,000) is a member of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville). 

The HCC has accounted for four state championships — Brownsburg in 2005, Noblesville in 2014, Fishers in 2018 and Hamilton Southeastern in 2019. Franklin Central was state runner-up in 1992. Other runner-up finishes include 2003 and 2004 for Brownsburg, 1998 and 2009 for Westfield and 2016 for Zionsville.

Since 2010, the conference has combined to win 17 sectionals, seven regionals and four semistates.

Conference teams play each other in a two-game home-and-home series in the same week.

The Flashes are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with New Palestine, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport and Warren Central. Franklin Central has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2018 — the season the Flashes joined the HCC.

Schoettle is a 1985 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Wirtz

At Franklin Central, Schoettle was an assistant to head coach John Rockey and was on the same staff with John McCormick.

Schoettle credits Wirtz, Rockey and McCormick for teaching him valuable lessons.

From Wirtz, he learned the importance of fundamentals. From Rockey, he gained a grasp on everyday coaching situations.

McCormick, an Indianapolis Cathedral graduate who had also coaches at Bishop Chatard, Lawrence Central and Noblesville, died of brain cancer in 2016 at 44. He left an impression on many with his knack of making you think you were the most important person on the planet.

“Everybody that knew John loved John,” says Schoettle. “I only knew him for three years, but I felt like I lost a brother.”

Schoettle earned a business degree from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI) and worked several jobs before deciding to go into education. This is his 16th year of teaching for the FCHS math instructor. 

Prior to coaching baseball at Franklin Central, Schoettle coached football with Mike Harmon at Brebeuf Jesuit and guided son Jackson’s in travel baseball team.

It was just a few days before tryouts in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down — and then wiped out — the season.

“It was heartbreaking,” says Schoettle. “We had 12 seniors on our roster last year.

“But everybody was in the same boat (losing the season.

“We’re excited to see who’s going to step up (in 2021). It’s up for grabs. The kids know that.”

Right now, Schoettle has 50 to 60 kids coming to off-season conditioning. They are working on flexibility, endurance and speed.

“We want to get in the best shape we can right now,” says Schoettle. “The beauty of it is I have great assistant coaches.”

At 30, Devin Anderson is the oldest of 53-year-old Schoettle’s helpers and is a varsity assistant. He is an Evansville Harrison High School graduate.

Ben Kennedy is the junior varsity head coach. He is assisted by Tom Rockey (son of John Rockey). Brett Massengale is the freshmen coach. Kennedy, Rockey and Massengale are all Franklin Central graduates.

The Flashes tend to have about 45 players in the program for their three teams.

There are two baseball fields on-campus that are adjacent to one another. The varsity diamond has lights.

“It’s nice having fields next to each other,” says Schoettle. “We can have four-team tournaments or the varsity and JV can play at the same time.”

While Schoettle would like to have turf on the baseball field, his players have been able to practice occasionally on the football turf on the other end of campus.

The high school program at Franklin Central is fed by Franklin Township Little League and Franklin Central Junior High. The latter fields seventh and eighth grade teams.

Senior Sam Mettert has committed to play baseball at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill.

Recent Franklin Central graduates on college rosters include Austin Carr (Grace), Cade Fitzpatrick (Ball State), Jarod Gillespie (Indiana University Kokomo) and Austin Snider (Manchester). Matt Hall and Corey Jeanor came on the FC committed to Ashland (Ohio) University. Kameron Leach committed to the University of Indianapolis then developed arm issues and was then unable to play.

Greg and is married to Roncalli graduate Liz. The couple have two children — Jackson (22) and Lucy (14). Jackson Schoettle pitched one year at Roncalli and ran cross country for four years. Lucy Schoettle is a Franklin Central freshmen and a dancer.

Greg Schoettle is head baseball coach and a math teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis.

High school assistants make impact around Indiana

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Head coaches of high school baseball programs across Indiana have enjoyed help from some longtime assistants.

Here are some of their stories:

Rhett Welliever (Crawfordsville)

Going into his 36th season in 2021, Rhett Welliever has been the pitching coach at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School for his whole run.

“I’m a humongous believer in owning that inside part of the plate with the fastball,” says Welliever. “It seems to have worked.

“If you can throw the inside fastball, every other pitch is available to you.”

Welliever wants his hurlers to employ solid mechanics. But he is also unique in today’s deviating from today’s prevelant approach.

“My pitchers are always working on stuff, stuff, stuff,” says Welliever, who knows his players enjoy throwing hard. “Most people work on location, location, location.”

Welliever has his catchers set up on the inside black for bullpens about 60-70 percent of the time. Many of his hurlers go hard in and soft away though some have done the opposite.

“It’s OK if once in awhile you hit a batter,” says Welliever. “Don’t get upset.”

Breaking balls are also thrown hard.

“We’re trying to create as much spin on that ball so it breaks as late as possible and the hitter has the least amount of time to react to it,” says Welliever. “I think that’s the best way to do it.”

Welliever has his pitchers build arm strength with long toss and with burnouts aka pulldowns.

The 2008 Crawfordsville pitching staff racked up 397 (No. 3 in the IHSBCA Record Book; No. 1 Lafayette Jeff fanned 450 in 43 games in 1971).

Steven Rice fanned 198 batters in 2009 and finished his Athenians career (2007-10) with 521 K’s.

Welliever worked alongside brother-in-law and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge through 2020. 

“One of John’s strengths teaching the fundamentals of fielding,” says Welliever. “(Strong defense) helps pitchers.

“It gives them confidence to attack the hitters and throw strikes.”

Brett Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville graduate, is now Athenians head coach. Motz played at the University of Evansville, served as a graduate assistant at Purdue University and was head coach at North Putnam High School before returning to his alma mater, where he is also the strength & conditioning coach.

The Athenians won Class 3A state championships in 2008 (32-4) and 2011 (29-6).

What keeps Welliever coming back?

“It’s working with the kids and getting them to the point where they’re confident about themselves,” says Welliever. “It’s seeing them succeed in baseball and in life.”

He has witnessed many former players giving back to the community as coaches at the youth and high school levels.

“It is the most satisfying thing,” says Welliever, who grew up around New Market, Ind., and is a 1980 graduate of Southmont High School in Crawfordsville, where he played baseball for Mounties head coach George Davis and counted Froedge and the Taylor twins — Dave and Dan — as teammates. Dave Taylor went on to help found the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

“We played a lot of baseball together,” says Welliever. “It was a really special group of guys.”

Dan Welliever, Rhett’s father, taught junior high and was a wrestling head coach and an assistant in baseball, football and softball at Crawfordsville.

Jamie Welliever, Rhett’s brother, is retired from teaching and has spent two tenures each as head baseball and head wrestling coach at Southmont.

Landon McBride (New Palestine)

A middle school coach for five years (seventh and eighth grade teams often play up to 20 games while feeding the high school program), Landon McBride joined the New Palestine High School staff for the 2007 season. He is the Dragons infield coach and helps with hitters on a staff led since 2012 by Shawn Lyons

“The thing that jumps out at me the most about Coach Lyons is his absolute passion for his kids,” says McBride. “If you’re not in the inner circle you may not see that. But he does a great job of having his finger no the pulse of where our team is at and where each individual is at.”

McBride sees Lyons as steady.

“He doesn’t get too high; He doesn’t get too low,” says McBride. “He tries to keep our players on that even-keel, knowing there’s going to be ups and downs everyday.”

On game days, McBride serves as Lyons’ right-hand man, bouncing lineups off one another and trading ideas about strategy while also coaching first base.

McBride emphasizes fundamentals when it comes to his infielders fielding ground balls.

“We’re getting reps in every day — the way we think is the right way,” says McBride. “With hitting, we believe in going the other way. We’re utilizing our speed, bunt and steal bases when we can.”

McBride regularly throws batting practice.

“I’m 59 but I’m still chucking it in there,” says McBride. “I try to give them a little sense of velocity (by moving the L screen closer to the plate.”

When the varsity field is not available, New Pal baseball has been able to use the turf football field for long toss, tracking fly balls and taking grounders.

A 1980 graduate of Marshall High School in Indianapolis where he played three seasons for Bob Tremain and one for Brad Goffinet, McBride was a four-year player for Lynn Morrell at Marian University in Indianapolis — at the time an independent NAIA program.

McBride says he appreciates the discipline, structure and attention to detail that Tremain and Goffinet brought to Redskins baseball. 

“(Coach Morrell) liked getting the ball into play and swinging away,” says McBride. “It was the pure joy of being around the game.”

Landon, a partner in Indiana Property Services which gives him the schedule freedom to coach baseball, and wife Shari McBride have three children — Ryan (30), Angela (28) and Wes (24). The boys played baseball and Angela was also an athlete at New Palestine.

Mike Zeilinga (New Palestine)

A 1976 New Palestine graduate, Mike Zeilinga coaches Dragons outfielders and leads the junior varsity. 

Zeilinga began coaching boys basketball at New Pal in 1996 and led the freshmen for two seasons and the JV for four. He joined Al Cooper’s baseball staff in 2003. Cooper was a Dragons senior when Zeilinga was a freshman.

New Palestine earned a Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2003 and state title in 2004.

“The kids keep me young,” says Zeilinga. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching.”

Most Dragons practices begin with stretching and throwing followed by individual defensive position work and team drills (cuts, double cuts and knowing situations).

“Coach McBride is excellent about working with our infielders,” says Zeilinga. “He makes sure they are moving with every pitch.

“Coach Lyons trusts the coaches that he has. He and Coach McBride have coached together that they can read each other’s mind. They have that kind of chemistry.”

During the fall IHSAA Limited Contract Period (twice a week for two hours), 73 players were at workouts while participation was around 65 for recent winter sessions.

“All coaches at New Pal work very well with sharing athletes,” says Zeilinga. “That’s straight from the mentality of Coach (Al) Cooper (athletic director and former head baseball coach).

Zeilinga often works with New Pal outfielders and JV players.

Since varsity and JV teams tend to play on the same night, Zeilinga rarely sees the varsity once the regular season starts.

After each JV game, Zeilinga sends an overview of what his players did well or areas where they need improvement and share that with head coach Shawn Lyons and varsity assistant Landon McBride.

Like McBride, Zeilinga has noticed the head coach’s temperament.

“Coach Lyons doesn’t get real high or real low after a big win or a hard loss,” says Zeilinga. “He’s just a real gentleman of the game.”

Mike, who worked at Eli Lily & Company 35 years before retiring, and wife Susan Zeilinga have two children — Stephanie (a teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis) and Michael (who was the starting center fielder on New Palestine’s 2004 state championship team).

Kevin Hall (New Albany)

Kevin Hall is a 1986 New Albany High School graduate who was a scrappy middle infielder and lead-off hitter for John Buerger, but his association with Bulldogs baseball goes back to before he started school.

Hall, who credits his work ethic for being the youngest of 11, was a batboy for teams featuring older brother David and coached by Stan Sajko in the early 1970’s. Hall still has the tiny pinstriped uniform from those days.

“(Coach Berger) had an attention to detail,” says Hall. “John was very big on pitching and defense. He believed in the bunting game.”

With a few years off here and there, Hall has been on the New Albany baseball coaching staff since 1990. He has been Bulldogs head coach and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chris McIntyre’s top assistant for more than two decades.

“We both have the same philosophy on winning and we’re teaching these kids how to be young men,” says Hall, who leads infielders while also helping with outfielders, hitters and catchers. “When kids get out of school they’re probably not going to be their own boss. They need to learn to take direction.

“We understand that this is the game of failure. If you give us effort, we’ll never get on you about that.”

Hall coaches first base with McIntyre in the third base box.

“Coach McIntyre has a mind like nobody I’ve ever met,” says Hall. “He can process things. He’s analytical. He’s a math teacher. He loves the numbers.”

One day, Hall brought a stop watch to time runners without McIntyre knowing it and — counting in his head — the head coach was only off the actual number by about 1/10th of a second.

“Our program wouldn’t be near where it would be without Chris McIntyre.”

Hall calls baseball “the fairest game ever.”

“Each team gets the same number of outs, same number of opportunities and deals with the same conditions,” says Hall. “There’s no clock. 

“You just have to go play.”

Hall throws a good deal of batting practice to the Bulldogs.

“Our kids get a lot of live arms,” says Hall. “I just use aspirin and ice and go back and do it again the next day.”

When McIntyre was approaching New Albany’s all-time win mark, Hall helped organize a special night for him.

After the celebration, Mac pulled Hall aside and said, “Don’t ever do that again” and then thanked him the next day.

“He’s very humble,” says Hall of McIntyre. “He wants the kids to have that limelight and not him.”

With the loss of the 2020 season because of COVID-19, New Albany had time to upgrade its baseball field while also putting in a new softball diamond next door. 

Kevin, a plant operator at Grant Line Elementary School in New Albany, and wife Melia Hall have a daughter together — eighth grader Anderson (named for Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson). Kevin’s two older daughters are Samantha and Stephanie. Melia’s son is Aidan.

Steve Ford (Lewis Cass)

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Marschand has had Steve Ford on his staff for three-quarters of his tenure leading Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Ind.

The 2021 season will mark Ford’s 31st with the Kings. He has always led the infield defense and helped with hitting instruction at Cass, which finished as Class 2A state runners-up in 2009 (20-9).

“It’s pretty collaborative in our program,” says Ford, who coaches first base and sits next to Marschand when the coaches are in the dugout. “We get a sense of the style of play we’re going to use and we coach each of the areas based on what we’re trying to do for that season.

“We we like to put pressure on the defense (on offense). You can do that a lot of different ways. If we have plodders (on the base paths), we can bunt them over. If we have rabbits, we can have more stolen bases, double steals and taking of extra bases.”

Kings coaches like players to play to their strengths and learn to do things like hit behind the runner and put the ball on the ground up the middle.

“We want them to be well-versed in the approach they are going to be taking at the plate based on the situation,” says Ford. “We would really like our players to learn the strategies and the options.

“In practice, we put runners in position and they decide how they are going to score the run.

“Once they have a broader knowledge of how to play, they are going to enjoy it more and be more successful.”

A big part of the Cass offensive blueprint is to get accumulate freebies with dirt-ball reads etc.

“Our approach at the plate has to be to hit hittable strikes,” says Ford. “Early in the count we’re not going to hit his pitch. We’re going to hit our pitch.”

A goal in batting practice is for each player to figure out which pitch he hits best.

BP goal – each player to learn to figure out which pitch he hits best

“Hitting a pitcher’s pitch is giving him a freebie,” says Ford. “Hitting our pitch is somewhat of a freebie for us.”

As part of its SAFE-T offensive plan, Cass wants to score the game’s first run.

Going for the long ball is not a priority, especially at home games where it’s 330 feet down the foul lines and 408 to center field.

“There’s a lot of outfield grass and we’re going to try to pepper it rather than try to hit it out of the park,” says Ford.

Kings defenders focus a lot of on momentum changers.

“One of he biggest on defense is the double play,” says Ford. “We work a lot on turns, feeds and throws to first base while trying to help our pitcher.

“At the high school level, pitching can be a huge variable. Defensive positioning os based on the speed of our pitcher. 

“I can’t tell (infielders) every pitch where to align so they have to be cognizant of signals between the pitchers and catcher and know what pitch is coming.”

The Kings also look to prevent opponents from taking the extra base by being in the proper position for cut-offs and double-cuts.

“We’re making sure to be in a good back-up position in case the throw isn’t perfect,” says Ford. “There are a lot of nuances in defense like where the first baseman takes the throw or where the third baseman goes based on the count. At the high school level, the drag bunt is a big strategy.”

Taking nothing for granted, Ford wants his infielders to back up throws from the catcher to the pitcher.

Ford, a 1970 Kokomo Haworth graduate played for for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Keith Slaughter. The 1970 Haworth Huskies were state finalists.

Bill Bright was middle infielder Ford’s coach at Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis).

Steve and wife Julia Ford have been married since 1974 and have two daughters — Amanda (a local farm wife with a son and two daughters) and Melanie (who played four years of basketball at the University of Charleston and is now associate athletic director, senior women’s administrator and NCAA compliance officer at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.). Amanda was a manager and Melanie a player for their father as a basketball coach.

Steve Ford was the girls basketball coach at Cass for 18 seasons, concluding in 2007-08.

Jim Kominkiewicz (Penn)

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos has been head coach at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., for four Class 4A state titles (1994, 1998, 2001 and 2015) and a state runner-up finish (2017). 

Jim Kominiewicz has been there as an assistant for all of them. The 2021 season will be Komo’s 31st on the Kingsmen coaching staff. He has been in education for 38 years — eight in South Bend and 30 in the Penn system.

The current staff has Dikos leading the catcher, Kominkiewicz the infielders, Tom Stanton the pitchers and John Westra the outfielders.

“Greg is one of the best catching coaches in the state,” says Kominkiewicz, noting that Penn has produced its share of college backstops. “Catching is one of the hardest things to do. You’re involved in every play.

“When have pitchers like Skylar Szynski or Ryan Lynch, you better make sure your catcher can catch the ball.”

Kominkiewicz applauds Dikos for his willingness to keep learning and incorporating them into the Kingsmen program.

“Every year we try to do something better,” says Kominkiewicz. “We never stay the same. We try to change things up and keep the kids excited about it. 

“Greg is always going to clinics. He’s the best.”

Kominkiewicz has noticed that many clinic speakers reinforce concepts already being taught by Penn coaches.

“It shows we’re doing things right,” says Kominkiewicz. 

As an infield coach, Komo stresses getting the palm to the baseball and fielding through it. Time is spent on back-handing and picking up short hops.

Kominkiewicz graduated from South Bend John Adams High School in 1972, where he played baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski.

Komo’s first baseball coaching post was at South Bend Washington High School on the staff of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski that also included pitching coach Larry Jackowiak.

“Rick was very intense,” says Kominkiewicz. “He’s a book. We spent a lot of time together. We’d come in on Saturday morning and leave at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. 

“I learned a lot of baseball from those guys. Both of them were great coaches.”

A popular drill during the indoor portion of the preseason was a game called “27 Outs.”

As fielders got closer to making it to the finish, balls off fungo bats got harder.

“That’s why (Tomaszewski’s) team were good,” says Kominkiewicz. “They competed every practice.

“We do the same things at Penn. We compete. We test for sit-ups, push-ups and longest throws. We rate their at-bats (4 points for a line drive, 3 for a hard ground ball etc.). Pitchers try to throw the most strikes — things like that.”

Ground balls and double plays are often timed.

Splitting the team into three groups, the Kingsmen go nine outs per round. Losers do extra running or clean up the field.

“A lot of times our practices are harder than the games,” says Kominkiewicz. “But it’s got to be good practice — not just practice. We want to do it right.

“Our theory is we want to good game of catch, put the ball in play (on offense) and pitchers have to throw strikes. That’s what we stress.”

After Washington, Kominkiewicz went to Adams to coach football, wrestling, baseball and and weightlifting then went back to Washington to coach baseball.

Then came the move to Penn, where he also coached football for two years. He has taught and coaches football and wrestling and served as athletic director at Grissom Middle School.

Jim and wife Beth Kominkiewicz have four children — Ryan (38), Brandon (32), Jill (29) and Matt (21) — and seven grandchildren ages six months to 9 years. 

Ryan, an engineer with Caterpillar, played baseball at Penn. 

Brandon played football at Penn and the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and coaches football at Fort Wayne North Side High School.

Jill is a dental assistant.

Matt played baseball and football at Penn and is on the football team at Saint Francis.

Kevin Fitzgerald (Noblesville)

A 1987 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis where he played two seasons each for former big league pitcher Russ Kemmerer and Richard Bender, Noblesville High School assistant Kevin Fitzgerald served in the U.S. Marine Corps 1989-94 then was an assistant to Duke Burns at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis (2000-02), Dave Mundy at Sheridan (Ind.) High School (2003 and 2004) and head coach at Sheridan (2005 and 2006).

“He was fantastic,” says Fitzgerald of Kemmerer. “There were so many lessons I learned that I didn’t realize I was learning at the time.

“For him, it was really teaching about life and baseball was just the tool. He said baseball is played on a six-inch field — the six inches between your ears. There are no such things as physical errors — they’re all mental. You weren’t prepared.”

Bender, who had big shoes to fill replacing the popular Kemmerer, is credited by Fitzgerald for the opportunity to explore leadership.

Fitzgerald joined Justin Keever’s staff at Noblesville in 2007.

The Millers won a Class 4A state championship in 2014.

Involved in all aspects of the program, Fitzgerald’s primary focuses is on hitters and outfielders. He also coaches third base and runs the Millers’ analytics.

“I take a lot of stuff off Justin’s plate,” says Fitzgerald. “Being an assistant coach at Noblesville High School is a better gig than a lot of head coaching jobs around the state.

“(Assistants are) all given specific areas (by Keever). Having that kind of trust and autonomy is one of the keys to the program

“He’s built an unbelievable culture in the program that was evident from Day 1.

“We have pretty intense discussions as a staff on direction. One of Justin’s gifts is to pull that together. When we walk out the door, it’s one voice. It’s a purely collaborative process.

“Justin Keever, to me, is the quintessential baseball coach. It’s truly a joy to be on his staff.”

Fitzgerald says Millers hitters are approach-driven.

“Two strikes and less than two strikes are the only two counts that matter,” says Fitzgerald. “With less then two strikes we’re looking to do damage.

“We want to grind pitchers up so we’re aggressively patient. We’ll give up a pitcher’s strike early in the count because it’s not one we can do damage with. But we’ll wait for a mistake.

“The best way to hit a breaking ball is to don’t miss the fastball.”

Points of emphasis for outfielders include trying not to let balls hit the ground and throwing the ball to the right place so runners don’t move up.

Fitzgerald keeps a freebies chart that tracks trail-runner advances.

“We look to win the freebie war every game,” says Fitzgerald. “We want to score plus-5 or more.”

Tools like FlightScope and Rapsodo are used to gather analytic metrics that can be studied and adapted to what Noblesville seeks to accomplish in individual player development.

“It’s not about maintenance,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s about being progressive and moving to the next level.”

Fitzgerald’s resume also includes a stint as executive director and coach for the Indiana Mustangs and working at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind.

Fitzgerald has gained an appreciation for where the Hoosier State stands in the diamond world.

“I don’t think Indiana high school baseball gets enough credit from the public for being as good as it is,” says Fitzgerald. “big-time college programs are always recruiting in Indiana. They know.”

When talking with a coach from a Southeastern Conference school, Fitzgerald asked the difference between players from warm-weather states and places like Indiana.

“He said that northern players are academy players,” says Fitzgerald. “They lack some of that instruct. They don’t play (as much as warm-weather players). 

“That’s our biggest challenge during the off-season (at Noblesville High). We try to be game-like with game speed and tempo indoors. We do anything we can to create instinct.”

Kevin works for Amazon and holds a Business Management degree and is working toward at Quantitative Economics degree from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

Brett Windmiller (Fort Wayne Carroll)

A 1991 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School, Brett Windmiller has been on the staff of head coach Dave Ginder at Carroll High School in Allen County since the 2003 season.

The Chargers were Class 3A state runners-up in 1999 and Class 4A state champions in 2010 and 2011.

“(Coach Ginder) understands the things to be good at,” says Windmiller. “His practice organization great and he’s very aware of time.

“If we’re not doing something right, we move on. We’re not going to beat a dead horse.

“As an assistant coach he’s great to work for. You truly feel like you have a say in things. He asks our opinion.”

Windmiller guides the Chargers’ catchers and infielders.

He expects catchers to learn how to run a game (Ginder and Windmiller do not call pitches).

“We teach our kids this is what we want in certain counts,” says Windmiller. “Practice is where we teach. Kids are freed up to play at game time.”

The Chargers talk about the mental game and preparing for each pitch as taught by Brian Cain.

“Players on our 2011 team were masters of the mental game before we emphasized it,” says Windmiller. “They flat out knew they were going to win. 

“It was an amazing group.”

Ginder played at Carroll (Class of 1991) for Chris Adams and at Anderson University for IHSBCA, Anderson U., and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon.

Windmiller played his freshmen year for IHSBCA/Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer Lance Hershberger and sophomore through senior seasons for his father and NEIBA Hall of Famer Larry Windmiller.

Brett played four seasons at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) for IHSBCA/NEIBA Hall of Famer Mike Frame, graduating in December 1995.

Before landing at Carroll, Brett was on his father’s Dwenger staff from 1996-2002.

Hershberger, who was an elementary physical education teacher for Windmiller, taught his players about focus and intensity.

“It started with him from the time you started playing catch until you got on the bus and went home,” says Windmiller. “All those things in between mattered. Not that you’re going to dwell on it afterward but this current pitch or at-bat is important.

“If you weren’t ready, you were going to hear about it from Lance.”

Hershberger reminded his players that there was a difference between baseball during the high school and summer seasons. There’s a finality to the high school season while the summer — though very important for development and exposure — is a series of games and unattached tournaments.

Brett did not feel the stigma of being a coach’s son.

“It may have just been the guys I played with,” says Brett. “In hindsight, it may be that dad handled it real well.

“I enjoyed playing for him. There were expectations with the way he wanted you to play. He was good at detecting an issue by watching you swing or throw.”

In his son’s eyes, Larry Windmiller was pretty even-keeled.

“He never got upset,” says Brett. “He was kind of in the middle all the time.

“He really let us play. We had a lot of kids with talent. We played loose and had a lot of success.”

The Dwenger Saints bowed out to Highland in the 1991 South Bend Semistate championship game.

At Huntington, Windmiller learned to play with intensity but not to let a mistake or a perceived bad call fester.

“The intensity of a baseball game is there,” says Windmiller. “It has to be. You learn the moments of the game where that’s appropriate. It cannot drive you into making a second mistake. You can’t carry your at-bat into the field. My red light was strike calls I didn’t agree with.

“Coach Frame was great as far as getting me to try to understand that I’m killing myself when I’m doing that. He helped me lose a little bit of the football mentality.”

Windmiller says he and his fellow coaches have matured over the years and tries set a good example for the players.

“When something bad happens, they are going to look at us,” says Windmiller. “We want to be cheering them on and saying let’s go to the next pitch.”

His first spring at Carroll, Windmiller coached junior varsity players with Mike Klopfenstein.

“JV’s great,” says Windmiller. “There’s no all-conference. There’s no media. It’s just young kids learning how to play baseball the correct way.”

At the JV level, win-loss record is irrelevant. It’s about developing. Between the spring and summer ball and getting in the weight room, a player can make big jumps from one season to the next.

Windmiller is a public address announcer for many Carroll sports, including football, boys basketball, girls basketball and wrestling. He has coached eighth grade football and seventh grade girls basketball in the system.

He is also an NEIBA board member and president of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation, running the Red Carrington League with Richard Brown. 

Brett took over the FWBF post after the passing of NEIBA Hall of Famer Dick Crumback in 2019. 

The NEIBA presents the Dick Crumback Player of the Year annually to an area ballplayer. The honor comes with a $1,000 donation ($500 from the Crumback family and $500 for the FWBF) to the program of the recipient.

“It’s a pretty tight-knit baseball community in Fort Wayne,” says Windmiller, who has also been a Wildcat League coach.

Brett, a sixth grade science teacher at Carroll Middle School, and wife Kara Windmiller (secretary to Chargers athletic director Dan Ginder) live in the Carroll school district and have two daughters — high school sophomore Ryli and seventh grader Hannah.

Brett’s sister Kari played volleyball and basketball at Dwenger.

Rhett Welliever is an assistant baseball coach at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School. (Susan Ehrlich Photo)
Landon McBride is an assistant baseball coach at New Palestine (Ind.) High School.
Mike Zeilinga is an assistant baseball coach at New Palestine (Ind.) High School.
Kevin (right), with wife Melia, is an assistant baseball coach at New Albany (Ind.) High School.
Steve Ford is an assistant baseball coach at Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Ind.
Jim Kominkiewicz is an assistant baseball coach at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind. (The Pennant Photo)
Kevin Fitzgerald is an assistant baseball coach at Noblesville (Ind.) High School.
Brett Windmiller is an assistant baseball coach at Carroll High School in Allen County, Ind.

Indiana U.’s Tucker gets summer ball opportunities on two fronts

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Some college baseball players did not get to have a summer season in 2020.

Indiana University’s Braydon Tucker pitched in two different leagues. The right-handed pitcher from Brazil, Ind., was in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., then accepted the invitation to hurl in the Coastal Plain League.

The 12-team Grand Park league sprung up when other circuits opted out because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Used mostly as a Tuesday starter (most CSL games were played on Mondays and Tuesdays with training at Pro X Athlete Development Wednesday through Friday), Tucker drove weekdays from Brazil to Grand Park to train or play for the Tropics, a team featuring Josh Galvan as manager and Ryan Cheek as an assistant coach.

As that season wound down, IU pitching coach Justin Parker let Tucker know about an opportunity with the Macon (Ga.) Bacon and the righty took it.

The Bacon, with Jimmy Turk as manager and Josh Teichroew as pitching coach, operated as part of a three-team pod with the Savannah (Ga.) Bananas and Lexington County (S.C.) Blow Fish. Macon teammates included Indiana pitchers Ty Bothwell, Matt Litwicki, Connor Manous and Braden Scott.

Used mostly as a starter with some relief work on scheduled “bullpen” days, Tucker made one trip to Columbia, S.C. He made five mound appearances (three starts) with an 0-0 record, 4.97 earned run average, 14 strikeouts and seven walks in 12 2/3 innings.

His summer four-seam fastball was thrown at 90 to 93 mph, occasionally touching 94. That’s up from 89 to 92 and touching 93 in the spring and 89 to 91 and touching 92 as a freshman in 2019.

Thrown from a three-quarter arm angle like all his pitches, Tucker’s fastball is thrown with a split-finger grip and has sinking action. 

His slider moves from 1-to-7 or 2-to-8 on the clock face, meaning the movement (both horizontal and vertical) is in to the left-handed batter and away from a righty.

He throws a “circle” change-up.

He’s working to add two other pitchers to his selection — a curveball an cutter (cut fastball). 

“The curve plays off the slider,” says Tucker. “It is more vertical than horizontal.”

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Tucker was slated to spend most of June and all of July with the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats, but Keene did not get a chance to go after a second straight NECBL when the league elected to cancel the season.

Tucker, who has logged two springs with the Hoosiers (he has started four of his nine games and is a combined 2-1 with a 4.10 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 11walks in 26 1/3 innings) and played in the summer of 2019 with the Prospect League’s Terre Haute (Ind.) Rex. That team was managed by Tyler Wampler. Jeremy Lucas coached pitchers and catchers. The PL did not take the field this summer either.

A 2018 graduate of Northview High School in Brazil, Tucker helped the Craig Trout-coached Knights win an IHSAA Class 3A state championship in his sophomore year. When he was not on the mound during his prep career, he logged time at first base, second base, third base and all over the outfield.

There was an expectation with Trout of hard play and focus.

“He wanted us to have a loose practice and enjoy it, but if we didn’t execute in practice — like somebody missed the cut-off man — it was a waste of time,” says Tucker, using his own words.

Tucker committed to Indiana when Chris Lemonis was head coach. Most of the pursuing was done by former Hoosier assistants Kyle Bunn (pitching coach) and Kyle Cheesebrough (recruiting director). 

Soon after high school graduation, Tucker enrolled in summer school. By the fall, the coaching staff had changed and Jeff Mercer was in charge with Parker as pitching coach.

“I don’t have one single word to described what it’s like to describe working with them,” says Tucker of Mercer, Parker and the rest of the IU staff. “It’s very detailed and developmental. It’s structured to the point that you don’t need down time. You always have something to do.”

Even when pitchers are engaged in throwing bullpens, long toss or some other specific thing, they are expected to do something productive and help their teammates. The same is true for all of the Hoosiers.

Tucker was born in Terre Haute and grew up in New Palestine, Ind., moving to Brazil as he was starting high school. His father (Jim) grew up in Clay County and his mother (Tammy) was raised on the south side of Terre Haute.

Braydon started in T-ball in New Palestine and was 6 when he made an Indiana Bandits 9U travel team. He attended a camp at the old Bandits Yard in Greenfield, Ind., conducted by Harold Gibson (father of Texas Rangers pitcher Kyle Gibson). Jim Tucker retained the information and used it with Braydon.

After playing two more years with the Bandits, there were three summers with the Indiana Prospects (led by Shane Stout and Mark Peters) and one with the Hancock County-based Indiana Travelers (Mark Horsely).

From 13U to 16U, Tucker played for coaches Rick Arnold and Dan Metzinger with the Ironman Baseball out of Louisville. The 17U summer was spent with the Cincinnati Spikes. Trent Hanna was the head coach and was assisted by Aaron Goe, Stephen Rodgers and Joe Janusik.

Jim Tucker is a senior sourcing team leader at GE Aviation in Terre Haute. Tammy Tucker works is at Catalent Pharma Solutions in Bloomington. She had been in quality management at Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis.

Braydon (who turned 21 in July) has two brothers — Dakota (27) and Trey (19). Dakota Tucker played baseball and football at New Palestine then football at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, where he earned a mechanical engineering that he now uses at Ford Motor Company in Detroit. Trey Tucker is a sophomore at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. He played baseball and basketball at Northview.

Braydon Tucker, who is a Sports Marketing & Management major at IU, represented the Knights on the hardwood for three years. Now back at school, he is taking five classes this fall (all on online). Class begins Monday, Aug. 24. Tucker says baseball facilities are not to open until Sept. 17.

Brayden Tucker, a right-handed pitcher and 2018 graduate of Northview High School in Brazil, Ind., has played two baseball seasons at Indiana University. In the summer of 2020, he played in both the College Summer League at Grand Park and in the Coastal Plain League. (Indiana University Photo)

New Palestine grad Watson goes from Cornhusker to Sycamore

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keegan Watson is back in his home state for college baseball.

After playing at the University of Nebraska in 2018 and 2019, transferring and sitting out the 2020 season, Watson is eager to shine as a two-way player at Indiana State University.

The 2017 graduate of New Palestine (Ind.) High School made five appearances (three starts) as a corner outfielder and pitched in relief in six games in 2018 and took the field as a position player 24 times (17 as a starter) in 2019 while earning two letters for the Cornhuskers

Batting and hurling right-handed, Watson collected 15 runs batted in and logged 5 1/3 innings on the mound and entered the NCAA transfer portal after the 2019 fall semester. 

The 6-foot-3, 198-pounder considered going to an NCAA Division II school so he would not have to sit out, but ended up staying in D-I and was required to miss only a half year while coming back to his state of residence. 

Recruited by Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs while at New Palestine, Watson reached out to the Sycamores for a chance and was given one.

After moving to Indiana State, he was not eligible to play in the spring, but will be able to participate with the Sycamores this fall. Watson has two years of eligibility remaining.

“I work hard and show up in the weight room and at practice,” says Watson of his baseball strengths. “I’m a pretty intense guy when it comes down to it.”

He says his he used to let his emotions get the best of him, but he’s learned to get that under control.

Since entering college Watson has changed his major to Psychology and says he has at least three semesters left toward his degree.

While he did not play last summer, Watson was with the Tim Brown-coached Lake Erie Monarchs of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in 2018.

This summer, he is close to home as a member of the Local Legends in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield. Entering play on July 6, the team coached by Ben Norton and Jake Ratz is 5-4-1. 

Watson was tipped off about the 12-team loop by former New Palestine teammate Jason Hall-Manley, who goes to Anderson University and plays for the CSL’s Juice.

“See ball – hit ball,” says Watson of his hitting approach this summer. “I’m just trying to see pitches and get live AB’s.

“For me, cage work is locking in mechanics. In the game, you can only focus on so many things and your swing isn’t one of those. You have to trust muscle memory.”

Watson, 21, was born in Jasper, Ind., and moved to Fountaintown near New Palestine as he was entering seventh grade. Keegan is the son of Dan and Amy and the younger brother of Callee. The family moved when his mother took a job in the Indianapolis area.

He split his freshmen season between the junior varsity and varsity and was up with head coach Shawn Lyons for his final three springs with the Dragons.

“He knows what he’s taking about,” says Watson of Lyons. “He’s intense. He’s good a reading people. He’s not afraid to let you know when he thinks you’re not giving your best effort.”

Prior to high school, Watson played four years of travel baseball for the Indiana D-I Hoosiers, which had players from the Bedford, Ind., area.

His 16U and 17U summers were spent with the Indiana Bulls, where he was coached by Sean Laird. Watson was with the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U) before heading to Nebraska.

Watson is hoping Indiana State can use him out of the bullpen like he did with the Cornhuskers.

“I’m pretty confident in all my stuff,” says Watson. “I could pitch backwards or normal. 

“Whatever got the job done.”

Keegan Watson, a New Palestine (Ind.) High School graduate, played two baseball seasons at the University of Nebraska and has transferred to Indiana State University for 2020-21. He is with the Local Legends in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield. Ind. (University of Nebraska Photo)