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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.
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Hardesty brings passion to diamond for Knightstown Panthers

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Daren Hardesty played for a passionate coach in high school and looks to bring some of that intensity in his role as head baseball coach at Knightstown (Ind.) High School.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt led the program at Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, Ind., when Hardesty was there.

“He’s just a student of the game,” says Hardesty of the now-retired Stoudt. “He’s always reading and learning and passes that stuff on to former players who are coaching now.

“He just never stops. He loves the game of baseball.

“He’s a competitor to the extreme. I loved playing for Coach Stoudt. He got so fired up. Doing things the right way was so important. His passion and drive was infectious. I hope my players get that from me from time to time.”

The 2019 season will be Hardesty’s sixth as Knightstown’s head coach. An impact player expected back from a 15-11 team is senior right-hander/shortstop Jose Olivo. The athletic Olivo is currently the starting quarterback on the Panthers football squad and Hardesty says he will likely be the school’s No. 1 pitcher in the spring.

Knightstown (enrollment around 380) is an IHSAA Class 2A school which has been in a sectional pairing with Eastern Hancock, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Scecina, Irvington Preparatory and Triton Central.

Despite being a smaller school, the Panthers have been able to develop some quality pitching depth with Hardesty in-charge and he looks to beef up the non-conference schedule with bigger schools when possible.

“We’re blessed to have three of four quality starters,” says Hardesty. “We have good enough pitching to keep us competitive.

“We stress, stress long toss, arm bands and arm strengthening.”

The Panthers are members of the Tri-Eastern Conference (along with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester). Union County, Hagerstown and Knightstown placed 1-2-3 in the TEC in 2018.

“It’s competitive,” says Hardesty of the conference. “Everybody’s good.”

The Panthers have sent players on the college baseball in recent years, including Drake Peggs at Eastern Michigan University.

“He was our shortstop  and difference maker,” says Hardesty of Peggs. “He has great hand-eye coordination.”

Hardesty graduated from Pendleton Heights in 2013 and played four seasons at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., where he earned his diploma in 2007 and his head baseball coach was Mark DeMichael (now IWU’s athletic director).

“He was short-staffed for a college staff,” says Hardesty of DeMichael. “He did an excellent job of organizing practices.

“He is a Godly man who valued his relationship with his players and exhibited a good, Christ-like demeanor.

“Indiana Wesleyan athletics are getting better and better and it doesn’t surprise me a bit with Mark in charge.”

Hardesty joined the Wildcats as a corner infielder and pitcher and became a set-up man on a pitching staff led by future major leaguer Brandon Beachy, who was one year behind Hardesty.

“I had to really learn how to pitch to be effective,” says Hardesty, who ate up many relief innings. “That’s why I love to be a pitching coach. Learning a good change-up was huge for me.”

Hardesty began his coaching career at Greenfield-Central High School. He served five years as pitching coach to Pendleton Heights graduate Travis Keesling then spent one season with head coach Keesling at PH before landing at Knightstown.

He has really come to appreciate what it means to be a coach and educator at that size school.

Hardesty teaches math at KHS.

“We have small class sizes and the kids all work hard,” says Hardesty. “I’ve fallen into a really good situation here.”

His baseball coaching staff includes Knightstown graduate and former Hanover College catcher Nolan Hall plus teachers Nic Murray (a former Eminence assistant) and Darren Kessler.

In 2018, the Panthers played all their home games on a new on-campus field which Hardesty had the chance to help design.

“It’s awesome,” says Hardesty of a facility which includes a net and brick backstop, open-concept dugouts and fan-friendly berms around the field. “They don’t have to look through chain link fences.

“It’s got some unique features like Pendleton Heights and Wapahani. It’s not a cookie-cutter field.”

The former varsity field is located about about two miles from campus at what is now Knightstown Intermediate School.

Hardesty says the new field should have lights installed by next fall with the hopes Knightstown, which moved into its newer high school building on U.S. 40 in 2004, will be able to become an IHSAA postseason tournament host.

Since Hardesty took over the program, the Panthers have won three of their six all-time sectionals (2014, 2015 and 2016) and two of three regional crowns (2015 and 2016).

Daren and Morgan Hardesty celebrated four years of marriage this year. The couple have two children — son Bridger (2) and daughter Elliott (6 months).

DARENHARDESTY

Daren Hardesty, a graduate of Pendleton Heights High School and Indiana Wesleyan University, is heading into his sixth season as head baseball coach at Knightstown (Ind.) High School in 2019. (Knightstown Photo)