Tag Archives: North Miami

Family comes first for North Miami baseball’s Floor

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

Shannon Floor has been coaching baseball for more than three decades.
He began in the Wabash (Ind.) Little League and Junior/Senior League and later led travel teams with the Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers and seventh and eighth graders at North Miami Middle/High School in Denver, Ind.
He was asked to join the varsity coaching staff and 2021 was his first season as Warriors head coach.
Floor credits three men for getting him to where he’s at as a coach — Carl Pace, Mark Delagarza and Troy Hudson.
“They’ve been tremendous mentors to me,” says Floor.
Pace, who is now head softball coach at Southwood Junior-Senior High School in Wabash, led Little League teams with Floor as his assistant.
Delagarza is the founder of the Summit City Sluggers and has run the organization since 1996. He counts Floor as a 17U head coach.
Hudson, the North Miami athletic director, ran the Warriors baseball program and brought Floor on board when Hudson moved up from assistant to head coach for 2017.
The 2022 season will be Floor’s fifth at North Miami. In 2018, he guided middle schoolers in the spring and then took players into Babe Ruth ball in the summer and finished as state runner-up to New Castle and placed fourth at the Ohio Valley Regional in West Virginia.
The following spring (2019), North Miami won its first-ever IHSAA sectional championship, besting West Central, Caston and Northfield to win the Class 1A tournament at Caston.
Hudson stepped down after what would have been the 2020 season (canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and Floor was installed as head coach.
Floor holds three things dear while guiding his team.
“No. 1 is family,” says Floor, himself a married man with three ball-playing three sons. “No. 2 is team fundamentals and development. We want to rely on each other and make each other accountable. We also want to be succeeding in academics.
“Then we work on playing good ball on the field.”
North Miami had just over 20 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in 2021.
“We could have 28 to 30 (for 2022) if everything holds up,” says Floor. “(Winning) has spring-loaded our program. It’s the first time the excitement has been at that level and the numbers started growing.
“We want to keep going in that direction.”
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period went from Aug. 30-Oct. 16 and the Warriors took full advantage of it.
“We had a very good turnout,” says Floor. “We averaged 16 to 18 guys (in twice-weekly two-hour sessions) — about triple from last year.”
Since North Miami is a small school with many fall athletes, one of the sessions was held on Saturday afternoons so it did not interrupt football activities.
North Miami (enrollment around 290) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).
Based on the IHSAA Portal, Maconquah and Peru are the largest TRC schools with around 660 students reach, followed by Tippecanoe Valley (around 570), Rochester (around 510), Manchester (around 500), Wabash (around 470) and Whitko (around 450). Below North Miami are Northfield (around 275) and Southwood (around 230).
“For a 1A school it’s one of the tougher conferences,” says Floor.
In 2021, the Warriors were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North White, Northfield, Pioneer, Southwood and West Central.
Warrior Field — on the North Miami campus — has received upgrades in recent years, including new layers of soil. Last year, a nine-inning scoreboard and flagpole was installed. This year warning tracks, dugouts and bullpens are getting facelifts.
The setting includes pine trees circling much of the outfield.
“Its come a long way,” says Floor. “It is one of the most beautiful fields you can play on.”
Floor’s assistants are Peru graduate Josh Donathan and North Miami alums Pat Masters and Chad Wright. Masters is a senior at Manchester University. Wright lead the JV Warriors.
Besides the middle school teams, North Miami Youth League, a Town & Country Baseball-sanctioned organization in Denver, feeds the high school.
The diamond is in Floor’s blood.
“My entire family has been a baseball family,” says Floor, a 1988 graduate of Manchester High School in North Manchester, Ind.
While he did not play the game in high school, Shannon did suit up until 16 and began coaching at 20.
Shannon (51) is the oldest of three sons born to Gene (now deceased) and Rita (now known as Rita Slater and living in North Manchester) and is six year older than Shawn and eight older than Shane.
Shawn Floor, who coached with Shannon, has two boys who played at Wabash High School and the next level — Jordan Floor at Jackson (Mich.) College and Trevor Floor at Indiana Wesleyan University.
Shane Floor played, but has not done much coaching. He has girls who are not into sports.
For as long as he’s coached baseball, Shannon Floor has been a cattle farmer — the last 15 years with his own farm.
Shannon and wife Amy have been married of 17 years. Their sons are junior Kolton (17), eighth grader Karter (14) and fifth grader Keaton (10). Kolton Floor has been with the Summit City Sluggers since 8. The other two play baseball and other sports.

The scoreboard and flagpole at scenic Warrior Field at North Miami Middle/High School in Denver, Ind.
Assistant coach Pat Masters, senior Tyler Bauer, head coach Shannon Floor, senior Alex Masters and assistant coach Josh Donathan at the 2021 North Miami Middle/High School baseball awards program.

Littlejohn emphasizes fun, aggressiveness for Tippecanoe Valley

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

Just six seasons after playing his last baseball season at Tippecanoe Valley High School new Akron and Mentone in Indiana, Jarred Littlejohn became the Vikings head coach for 2021 after two years as junior varsity coach on Greg Prater’s staff.
As he prepares for 2022, the former four-year outfielder tells what is important to him while leading the Valley program.
“Our biggest thing is to make sure the kids are loose and having fun,” says Littlejohn. “If they’re tight, they’re not going to perform.
“On offense, we want to be aggressive and get the pitch we’re looking for. On every pitch, we have an approach. We know we’re not going to be perfect.”
And then there’s the moundsmen.
“Pitching last year was the best part of our game,” says Littlejohn. “We knew what was working and stayed with it. Work ahead and don’t get behind in the count.
“We had a good defense behind us. (Pitchers) knew we could make the plays in the field.”
Littlejohn played for three coaches in high school — Ryan Moore his freshmen year, Brandon Cody as a sophomore and junior and Justin Brannock as a senior.
“There has not been much stability in the baseball program,” says Littlejohn. “We’re going to try to bring that back.”
Assisting Littlejohn, a machinist at Craig Welding & Manufacturing in Mentone, is Anthony Newcomer and Mike Bowers.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period opened Aug. 30 and closes Oct. 16. Littlejohn has been conducting open fields and weightlifting program that has consistently had six to 12 participants.
Tippecanoe Valley (enrollment around 570) has many baseball players involved in fall sports.
In 2021, there were 26 players taking part in varsity and JV games. The varsity went 12-12.
The Vikings are a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with along with Maconaquah, Manchester, North Miami, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Wabash and Whitko).
Last season, Valley was part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Wawasee and West Noble.The Vikings have won five sectional titles — the last in 2012.
Tippecanoe Valley is fed by youth leagues in Akron and Mentone. Those organizations are a part of Town & Country Baseball of Indiana.
Tanner Andrews, who is now a pitcher in the Miami Marlins organization, is a 2014 graduate who was selected in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Purdue University.
Littlejohn says right-hander Owen Kirchenstien (Class of 2022) is expected to commit to junior college baseball.

Jarred Littlejohn.
Jarred Littlejohn.

Hardy counts honesty, positivity among core values for Pioneer Panthers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh Hardy is in his first season as head baseball coach at Pioneer Junior-Senior High School in Royal Center, Ind.

The core values that Hardy teaches to his Panthers were borrowed from his college football coach, Colin Bruton of Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wis.

They are honesty, selflessness, relentlessness, competitiveness and positivity.

“On the baseball side, we stress offense and being aggressive,” says Hardy. “We’ve got to score runs to win games.”

A 2012 graduate of Logansport (Ind.) High School where he won two letters each in football, wrestling and baseball, Hardy credits two former Berries head baseball coaches — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr. plus Jim Turner Jr. — as well as current Logansport bench boss Dan Frye, Craig Crozier and Jon Vernon for adding to his diamond knowledge.

“I’ve learned that the main thing is to be patient with players and even other coaches,” says Hardy. “And to study the game.”

Hardy has received plenty of pointers from Turner Sr., on how to run a practice.

Prior to taking over the Pioneer program, Hardy coached in the Logansport Lookouts travel organization.

In Hardy’s first season, Pioneer has 32 players for varsity and junior varsity squads. 

Assistant coaches include Jacob Hardy (Josh’s younger brother), Cory Harmon, Darrell Couch and Miles VonTobel.

Jacob Hardy, who played baseball at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind., works with pitchers and catcher. He is a Logansport alum as are Harmon and Couch. VonTobel is a 2020 Pioneer graduate.

Pioneer (enrollment around 300) is a member of the Hoosier North Athletic Conference (with Caston, Culver Community, Knox, LaVille, North Judson-San Pierre, Triton and Winamac).

HNAC teams play each other twice — usually on back-to-back weekdays or in Saturday doubleheaders.

Following this format places an emphasis on pitching depth rather than riding one arm to a conference championship.

“We’re fortunate to have a pretty decent amount of arms,” says Hardy. 

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston (the 2021 host), Northfield, North Miami, North White, Southwood and West Central. Pioneer won its lone sectional crown in 2016.

Pioneer’s home field is on-campus. There are plans to add a new batting cage and to improve the playing surface.

The Panthers’ program is fed by the middle school (one seventh/eighth grade team) plus the Pioneer Youth League in Royal Center and a Pioneer team in the Logansport Babe Ruth League.

Hardy earned a business management degree from Lakeland in 2016 followed by a masters in business in 2018. He also helped coach the Muskies when his four years as a pass catcher were done.

He now teaches business and computer science at Pioneer while also assisting head football coach Adam Berry. 

The Panthers are 64-5 over the past five gridiron seasons with a state runner-up finish in 2016, state championships in 2017 and 2018 and a regional crown in 2020.

Josh Hardy (right) is head baseball coach at Pioneer Junior-Senior High School in Royal Center, Ind. One of his assistant is brother Jacob Hardy (left).

Leadership development priority for Kindig’s Argos Dragons

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing leadership is an emphasis as the Argos (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School baseball program comes back from a season without games with a familiar face leading the Dragons.

Joe Kindig, an assistant in 2017 and head coach in 2018 and 2019, has adopted Bill Walsh’s Standards of Performance as part of Argos baseball.

Copies hang in the Dragons dugout and a point or two is highlighted on a daily basis during practice. 

“You only get to do sports for so long and then you are put into the working world, I would like to see my players be good men in society,” says Kindig, who has two sons — junior Dylan and freshman Jackson — on the team and another — Ian (pitching and catching coach) — on a staff that also features Chris Lacher (bench coach) and Todd Montgomery (assistant head coach and father of Dragons batboy/manager Brady). “This helps with that foundation, not just by talking for a few minutes but emphasizing that is also carries over into the classroom as well.

“It is a very good approach and if you live, breathe and adopt those 19 standards not just in baseball but work/job, any other leadership role they have later in life, then they are going to be great contributors to society and leaders down the road.”

Kindig notes that leadership is not just for captains, it’s for everybody.

And it’s not just about bats and balls at Argos.

“We take academics serious, we follow up with kids who may be struggling with grades and try to get them help if needed via tutoring, or any other program that may help them get a better understanding of the subject matter,” says Kindig.

The 2021 Dragons have 17 players — three with previous high school experience — for a varsity-only schedule.

“We’re trying to understand how the game works, situations and things like that,” says Kindig. “We’re basically trying to build everything from the ground up.

“We want to get kids started (playing baseball) as young as we can and bring them up through the ranks. We want to make things as fun as possibly and see if we can start competing again for those sectional and regional titles.”

Argos (enrollment around 150) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy, Career Academy of South Bend, Lakeland Christian Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Career Academy is not fielding a team this spring. LCA and Trinity do not have baseball programs.

The Dragons are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Culver Community, LaCrosse (the 2021 host), Oregon-Davis, South Central (Union Mills) and Triton. Argos won its lone sectional title in 1998.

Besides conference and sectional foes, the ’21 schedule includes Caston, Covenant Christian, John Glenn, Kouts, LaVille, North Miami, Tippecanoe Valley and West Central.

Argos plays its home games behind the school building. The wish list for the field is new bullpens, a fresh coat of paint on the dugouts plus new dirt for the infield.

During the summer, Argos enters a team in the wood bat Plymouth Junior League. There’s also an Argos Youth League for younger players.

There has been talk of establishing an Argos American Legion Post 68 team for high school age players.

Post 68 was going to field a team in 2020 until COVID-19 came along.

Another way to build up and spark interested in the sport is through winter camps.

Sam Rowe, a 2020 Argos graduate, is on the baseball team at Bethel University in Mishawaka. 

A Bethel graduate — Eric Stults — graduated from Argos and pitched in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves and in Japan with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

Kindig grew up in Mishawaka, Ind., and played in the Inter-City Catholic League. In 1998, he graduated from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School, where he ran track and played football. He lives in Argos with wife Amy and sons and is a cost account for Valmont Industries in Plymouth.

Argos (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School baseball coaches (from left): assistant Chris Lacher, head coach Joe Kindig and assistants Todd Montgomery and Ian Kindig. (Steve Krah Photo)

Relationships driving force for Carroll Cougars’ Parkhurst

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For Camden Parkhurst, it’s not just about the baseball. It’s about the people.

“It’s the relationships with kids,” says Parkhurst, the head coach at Carroll Junior-Senior High School in Flora, Ind. “That’s why I do this.”

Parkhurst is in he third year since coming back to lead the program he helmed 2013-15 (Kerry Yoder was head coach in 2012). He was Carroll’s athletic director 2011-19 then became business manager for Carroll Consolidated School Corporation.

A 2002 graduate of Clinton Central Junior-Senior High School in Michigantown, Ind., where he played two years for Dan Swafford and two for Rick Helbie, Parkhurst began coaching while attending Indiana State University, where he graduated as Physical Education/Health major in 2007. 

“I had a real good relationship with (Swafford and Helbie),” says Parkhurst. “I was a catcher. I learned a lot from both of them. You pick up a lot of things you don’t realize.

“I still call Coach Helbie for advice about handling players and parents. I have a lot of respect for both of them.”

Student teaching for Parkhurst was done at Western High School in Russiaville with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ty Calloway.

Parkhurst was on Helbie’s Clinton Central staff then an assistant at Cowan (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School before serving as Blackhawks head coach for four seasons (2008-11).

At 23, Parkhurst was physical education teacher and the head coach for an IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up team.

“I’m still close with kids from Cowan,” says Parkhurst. “I get invited to their weddings.

“They say you can have an impact on the lives of kids, but you don’t realize the impact they have on yours.”

Parkhurst has particularly enjoyed working with the past couple Carroll teams.

“It’s been a great experience,” says Parkhurst, who is assisted in 2021 by former Carroll and Saint Joseph’s College player Seth Eldridge, Chris Seward (on his Cougar staff in both stints), Dan Butcher, Paul Redmon and Dave Mann.

The 2021 Carroll Cougars have 21 players to fill a varsity and junior varsity schedule. Parkhurst says some players will float between the two teams.

While no current players have made college baseball commits, junior Will Eldridge is among those being recruited. 

Feeding the high school program is Flora Youth Baseball (T-ball through junior high).

Carroll plays its home games on-campus on a lighted diamond that recently got new dugouts and backstop and, a few years ago, an overhauled infield and irrigation system. The school has been 1A regional host for the last several years.

Serving mainly students from Flora and Burlington, Carroll (enrollment around 330) is a member of the Hoosier Heartland Conference (with Clinton Central, Clinton Prairie, Eastern of Greentown, Rossville, Sheridan, Taylor and Tri-Central).

The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lewis Cass, Manchester, Rochester, Wabash (the 2021 host) and Whitko. Carroll has won six sectional titles — the last in 2015.

Besides conference and sectional foes, Carroll’s regular-season schedule includes games with Delphi, Faith Christian, Frontier, Maconaquah, North Miami, North White, South Newton, Tri-County, West Central, West Lafayette and Winamac.

Camden and Robin Parkhurst have been married since October 2007. The couple have two children — Kylie (8) and Cooper (4). 

Cooper joined dad at a recent Carroll practice.

“He enjoyed every minute of it,” says Parkhurst.

Camden Parkhurst

Beasley guides Career Academy South Bend baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Phil Beasley faces some challenges as head baseball coach at Career Academy South Bend (Ind.).

As he goes into his fourth season leading the program at the tuition-free public charter school serving grades 6-12, Beasley is met with issues like getting enough players and retaining those.

The school, which opened in August 2011 with grades 7-9 before expanding, presented its first baseball team in 2014. The Trailblazers became eligible for IHSAA tournament play in 2017 — the year before Beasley became head coach.

“The first year we went into most games with 10 players,” says Beasley. “The second year, it was 13 or 14. Last year, we were in good shape with decent numbers then we did not play (because of the COVID-19 pandemic).”

As the 2021 slate approaches, Beasley has been getting a handful out for winter conditioning. He hopes that number will go up at the end of basketball season and when more students begin coming for in-person instruction.

One of the reasons participation is down is because some students take all their classes online and don’t appear at the campus on the northwest side of South Bend just below the Indiana Toll Road. The school has enrollees from all over the area.

“I don’t get to interact with those kids and that’s where a lot of the recruitment comes from,” says Beasley. “Losing the baseball season really hurt because (students and staff) are not talking about it.

“If doesn’t matter if you never played before. Come out and we’ll have some fun. I’m not going to force a kid to come out and do it.”

These novices — some who have never played or have not been on a diamond since Little League — face a varsity high school schedule with experienced opponents. Some of those will go on to play college baseball.

“Retention is hard,” says Beasley. “Many of them do not come back the next year. 

“That’s our biggest hurdle.”

There is currently no feeder system for CASB baseball, though Beasley is hoping to develop a middle school team in the next couple years. Career Academy has a second South Bend campus — Success Academy — which serves grades K-5.

Career Academy South Bend (enrollment around 360) is a member of the new Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy and Trinity Greenlawn). LCA and Trinity Greenlawn do not currently field baseball teams.

Beasley, who is assisted by Dustin Saunders and Josh King, says plans call for conference games to be played on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Trailblazers practice and play at Boland Park, a public facility about three miles from the school.

Career Academy South Bend is part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Argos, Culver Community, LaCrosse, Oregon-Davis, South Central (Union Mills) and Triton. The Trailblazers have won not won a sectional title. SBCA participated in three IHSAA tournaments — 2017 at the LaVille Sectional and 2018 and 2019 at the South Bend Career Academy Sectional (played at South Bend Clay).

Non-conference and non-sectional opponents on the 2021 schedule include Culver Academies, Fremont, Lakewood Park Christian, Mishawaka, North Miami, South Bend Riley, South Bend Washington, Victory Christian Academy and Westville.

Beasley is a math teacher. This year he leads Algebra and Algebra Lab classes.

He grew up in North Liberty, Ind., and played baseball at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., graduating in 2005. Beasley’s freshmen year was John Nadolny’s first at Falcons head coach.

“He was the coach who taught me the most about all aspects of the game as opposed to just the physical part,” says Beasley. “He had those instincts during the game. Being around baseball his whole life, he did what his gut told him to do and it’s worked out for him.”

Beasley credits “Nud” for teaching him how to look at baseball’s mental side.

“How far I can hit the ball or how hard I can throw is not always the most-important part,” says Beasley.

At Ball State University in Muncie, Beasley played four years of club baseball, serving as president his last two years.

The club played intrasquad games in the fall and then a National Club Baseball Association schedule in the spring. Ball State played in the Great Lakes South Conference with club teams from Indiana University, University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and SIU-Edwardsville.

The student-run club was responsible for securing its own practice time and space — in the winter that meant 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. when the varsity teams weren’t using any of the BSU gyms.

Working with Muncie Parks & Recreation, the club played at Francis Lafferty Park. As president, Beasley had to lead fundraising efforts and put together a proposal to get financial help from the university. There was also making out the roster and other administrative duties that many don’t associate with coaching.

Before coaching at Career Academy South Bend, Beasley served as an assistant and junior varsity coach at South Bend Clay (2012-17). He got to work with baseball veterans like Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold and assistants Bill Schell, John Kehoe and Dan Kasper.

“It was very informative,” says Beasley. “(Reinebold) always had something that players could do to get better. I learned a lot from him.”

Beasley also learned how to run a team and craft a schedule.

This image was used while seeking potential baseball players at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy.
Phil Beasley is a math teacher and head baseball coach at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy. His first season in charge of the Trailblazers was 2018. His is a graduate of John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind. He played club baseball at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Indiana Tech’s Alwine gains new perspective on coaching

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana Tech’s 2019 season ended in Lewiston, Idaho, at the NAIA World Series. The Warriors went 42-16-1.

Tech concluded play in 2020 much sooner than planned because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

With a win against Viterbo March 11 in Georgia, the Warriors finished at 11-5.

Since then, the Tech team and coaching staff have been moving forward while social distancing.

“Everybody’s numb to how it happened,” says second-year assistant coach Brent Alwine of how the season was rolling and then came to a screeching halt. “We’ve got (players) doing workouts. We’re hoping a lot of guys get to play this summer.

“So much is unknown.”

What is known for Alwine is that he is not the same coach at 36 and married with three sons and with many different diamond experiences behind him than he was at 23 and just out of college.

“I used to think there was only one way to teach,” says Alwine, who works with infielders and hitters. “You learn to adapt to the personnel you have rather than philosophy that’s cut and dried.”

It has also become relational vs. transactional. It’s a point that has become clearer since Brent and Brandi Alwine, a physician’s assistant for Parkview Health in Fort Wayne, have had Beckett (7), Bode (5) and Brooks (8 months). All three have baseball ties to their names.

There are four reasons for Beckett — the sports card magazine, the ballplayer (Josh Beckett), the brand of boilers his father, Jim, sells, and the town in Massachusetts where he worked at a camp with former Indiana University head baseball coach Bob Morgan. The boy’s full name is Beckett Steven James Alwine. Brandi’s father Steve passed away in 2001. The other middle name to to honor Brent’s father, who has coached high school baseball at North Miami and Peru.

Bode’s middle name is Maddux as an homage for Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.

Brooks is a nod to former Western Michigan University catcher Brooks Beilke.

“I’m coaching someone’s kids,” says Alwine. “I want to win. But I would rather win and 10 years down the line have a relationship with the players I coached.”

Alwine joined head coach Kip McWilliams in Fort Wayne, Ind., having been an assistant to Billy Gernon at Western Michigan (2011 and 2012), Ed Servais at Creighton University (2009 and 2010) and Gernon at alma mater Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (2007 and 2008). He holds a bachelor’s degree from IPFW (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and a master’s degree from Indiana University.

He was head coach at Perry (Mich.) High School (2013) and a director for Prep Baseball Michigan and has coached with the Summit City Sluggers, leading 12U, 13U and then 17U travel teams and served as an associate scout for the Texas Rangers.

“You learn a lot when you coach younger kids,” says Alwine. “You have to really explain things and get them to buy into it.”

An attribute that Alwine appreciates about McWilliams is that he values the opinions of his assistants.

“He lets his assistant coach,” says Alwine. “He doesn’t micro-manage and he looks for our input.

“I trust him. In today’s world, it’s hard to trust everybody.”

Alwine has a few points of emphasis with his infielders.

“I want them to be athletic and take good angles to the baseball,” says Alwine. “It starts with our throwing program. Throwing and catching is the main thing in baseball.”

He makes it a point to observe when his fielders are playing catch to see that they are getting their footwork right and taking it seriously.

“When the pressure’s on, a good throw is going to win you a game,” says Alwine, who has his infielders practicing double players during between-innings warm-ups.

Alwine observes how organized McWilliams is, something that is vital when you carry a roster of more than 60 players — varsity and developmental.

“You have to be organized to get everybody involved,” says Alwine. “Year 2 helped me see that a little better than Year 1.”

The Warriors make a point of hustling all the time — even the coaching staff runs on the field.

“That’s the way it should be,” says Alwine. “(On game day), it sets a tone for your own team and the team you’re getting ready to play.

“These guys are here for business.”

Alwine says having the season stopped is likely to make the players more appreciative of the opportunity to play when fall camp rolls around.

“Fall can be a tough time to motivate because there’s nothing on the line,” says Alwine. “(Players) should be excited. They had baseball taken away from them.”

Alwine says 10 of 14 seniors this spring have opted to come back for an extra year of eligibility granted by the NAIA.

With the Indiana Tech campus closed to all but essential workers, students have been finishing their spring term online.

“It’s new to a lot of these professors, too,” says Alwine. “Everybody’s going through the same thing. It’s brought a sense of community back.”

To stay connected the to the baseball community,  Alwine says Tech coaches have regular Zoom meetings. These have been done by class and within the staff, which also includes Gordon Turner, Miguel Tucker and Marshall Oetting, and will also include positions, incoming freshmen and transfers.

Alwine was born in Peru, Ind., and grew up in Mexico, Ind. He played soccer, a little basketball and baseball North Miami Middle/High School. John Burrus was the head coach for basketball and baseball. Alwine was a shortstop on the diamond.

At IPFW, he played second base for Gernon.

“He does things the right way,” says Alwine of Gernon. “He demands a lot of his players. He care for his players, too.”

Alwine went to Creighton to be a volunteer coach. Within a month of arriving in Omaha, Neb., a paid assistant position opened up and he took it. There, he was in charge of outfielders and catchers.

“It made me a better coach,” says Alwine. “I had to learn those positions in detail to make players better.”

Servais displayed an attention to detail and stressed the fundamentals.

“That’s why Creighton — year in and year out — leads the country defensively.”

Servais, the uncle of former big league catcher Scott Servais, did not get too high or too low.

“He’s very level-headed,” says Alwine. “He thinks forward — next player, next pitch, next at-bat.”

The Bluejays skipper has been rewarded with 745 career victories.

More than 20 players that have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including two at Creighton that made it to the majors — San Franciso Giants first baseman Darin Ruf and Baltimore Orioles left-handed pitcher Ty Blach.

Alwine coached infielders and hitters at Western Michigan. He was in the fall of his second year with the Broncos when he got into a very bad car accident on I-94 near Kalamazoo, Mich.

He was put into an induced coma with a traumatic brain injury. After a couple weeks at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, he was transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich. After about three weeks, he regained consciousness.

Among the first requests he had was for a second opinion on the plastic surgeon.

“I am very, very fortunate to be alive,” says Alwine. “God was looking out for me that day. The biggest thing is the amount of people who prayed for me.

“I had very positive people around me who supported me and got me through it. I get to coach baseball and see my kids grow up.”

BRENTALWINE2

Brent Alwine (left) observes players during Indiana Tech’s 2019 NAIA World Series appearance. It was Alwine’s first season on the Warriors baseball coaching staff. (Indiana Tech Photo)

BRENTALWINE1

Brent Alwine (center) is in his second season as an assistant baseball coach at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2020. He is a graduate of North Miami High School and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. (Indiana Tech Photo)

 

Indiana baseball teams coping with COVID-19 separation

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

UPDATE: Since this story was published, the spring sports season has been canceled by the Indiana High School Athletic Association. The announcement came shortly after Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced that there would be no more in-person classes for the 2019-20 school year.

This was supposed to be the first week of the 2020 Indiana high school baseball regular season.

But the game is on hold while the world deals with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic through social distancing.

In a landscape that is ever-changing, many states have already closed down for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has ruled that all Indiana schools be closed until May 1.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association has stated that there is hope for shortened regular season beginning with five required practices — rather than the usual 10 — after schools are allowed to re-open. The state tournament series would follow.

Right now, sectionals are slated for May 27-June 1 with regionals June 6, semistates June 13 and the State Finals June 19-20 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Futures Game and North/South All-Star Series is to be the next week in Evansville.

Time will tell if any of that happens.

How are some coaches and teams dealing with the quarantine?

Crawfordsville coach John Froedge has his Athenians working together though they are physically apart.

“Our players have been strongly encouraged to follow all local, state and federal guidelines in helping to not spread the virus,” says Froedge, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “We are beginning to ramp back up this week with anticipation of a May 4 start.”

The Athenians, ranked No. 3 in the IHSBCA Class 3A preseason poll, have been communicating via calls, texts and Zoom video conferences and had a meeting scheduled to share team and position workouts through Google Sheets that includes links to instructional and motivational videos, articles etc.

“The workouts are all the things they can do by themselves or with a brother or dad,” says Froedge. “The idea is that we’re all working in the same things remotely. They then long each day what they’ve done and share with teammates in various ways, short videos included.

“Our hope for the players — especially seniors in all spring sports — is that they will get some kind of season, however brief it might be. But even if we don’t have a season, we still have a team and are creating memories and imparting life lessons.”

Jon Gratz coached Columbus East to a 4A state runner-up finish in 2019.

He has communicated with his Olympians, ranked No. 3 IHSBCA 4A preseason poll, through texting. He suggests things players can do as individuals since school and other facilities are now off limits.

“It’s about getting creative,” says Gratz. “It’s tough to know what guys are doing.

The biggest concern is that if we have five days of practice and play games to know that guys are in shape to throw and do all that stuff.”

A math teacher, Gratz has been using a platform called It’s Learning three days a week to lead AP and lower level classes. He has made some videos and shared them with his students.

Remind is a platform that is used for group messages.

Gratz says he is taking advantage of the extra time at home to spend with his family and learn things about baseball that he normally would not have time to learn.

At 4A Lake Central, fourth-year head coach Mike Swartzentruber was a few days from beginning tryouts at a school of 3,300 when the shutdown came.

The Indians were return seven starters from regional finalist squad and is ranked No. 2 in the preseason 4A poll.

“You feel for the kids, especially the seniors who have put in so much time and done what you’ve asked them to do for four years,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s hard trying to find the words to say to kids.

“But, in the grand scheme of things, people’s health is greater than playing a game. The trend is not very good right now. But we’re trying to stay positive.”

Swartzentruber has shared workouts that players can do in their basement, garage or driveway. He asks them all to find regular cardiovascular exercise.

“It’s all up to them,” says Swartzentruber. “We say whatever you do, make sure you do don’t put yourself in jeopardy from a health standpoint.”

Swartzentruber teaches seven classes and is now doing that from home since Lake Central adopted eLearning. Assignments are given through the Canvas platform.

“Its a little tricky,” says Swartzentruber. “I know there’s going to be some things lost in translation when you’re not face-to-face.”

Shane Edwards, head coach at 3A Oak Hill and a member of the IHSBCA executive council, has kept plenty busy fielding questions from other coaches from around the state.

“Coaches are nervous,” says Edwards. “They’re concerned and want to be informed.

“We’re kind of in the dark about where this is going.”

Edwards has stayed connected to his players with weekly emails to suggest workouts they can do on their own or with a parent or sibling. The Golden Eagles coaching staff uses group texts to stay on the same page.

“We still hold out hope that we’re going to play,” says Edwards.

With a late start and an abbreviated season, Edwards says many teams will be doing in May what they normally do in March and April.

“Usually by May, you feel comfortable with your lineup and pitching staff,” says Edwards. “So now do you try to get a lot of games in or make progress for when the tournament comes? It’s a delicate balance we’re all going to have to play.”

Oak Hill typically has in-season hitting sessions a couple of times a week during the season. Edwards says that time might be used to bring his young players up to speed on varsity baseball.

“You can’t replace game situations,” says Edwards. “I would want as much coaching time as I could have in those practice situations.”

Also an assistant high school principal, Edwards says Oak Hill is looking to supply some district students with laptops will begin online learning next week.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph is just three career wins shy of 800.

When he’s not home tending to projects ordering puzzles or watching TV with his wife, Gandolph has been going to Indianapolis Scecina Memorial High School two or three times a week to work on the Crusaders’ facility.

“I’m just by my lonesome,” says Gandolph, who has mowed grass and done work on Scecina’s new hitting building in the block house where the old weight room was located.

March 16 was supposed to be the first official day of IHSAA practice. During the Limited Contact Period, the Crusaders got a chance to work out on the grass.

2A No. 3-ranked Scecina’s first game was slated for this Saturday at the end of spring break.

Should the season begin in early May, Gandolph foresees his team hosting a Saturday doubleheader against Providence and then getting in one round of Indiana Crossroads Conference games before the postseason.

“I don’t get too hung up on planning,” says Gandolph. “It’s a day-by-day type thing anyway.”

He takes that same attitude about the milestone victory in his future.

“(No. 800) will come whenever it comes,” says Gandolph, who has been a his alma mater since the 2014 season after years at Center Grove, where he also taught for 40 years.

Gandolph says he has kept in-touch with players through texts and Twitter posts.

“I give suggestions to keep them busy and healthy and, hopefully, keep them positive,” says Gandolph.

While the team has not yet done any Zoom conferences, the Gandolph family has used the technology and is planning to do so this week to celebrate the seventh birthday of one of Dave’s grandsons.

Washington Township was 1A state runner-ups in 2019 with Randy Roberts as coach. The Senators are No. 1 in the IHSBCA preseason rankings.

Like many, Roberts has seen the levels of coronavirus restriction increase. Until the latest constraints were put in place, some players were going to the homes of teammates with batting cages at their homes and conducting their own practices.

“Parents are now following the guidelines that have been set down and keeping their kids at home,” says Roberts. “They’re in that better safe-than-sorry mode.”

Roberts says he has witnessed two extremes on social media regarding COVID-19.

“It’s not that big a deal and no more than flu and older people with prior health issues (are at risk) or on the other side, it’s serious, don’t mess with it,” says Roberts. “We’re expecting the worse and hoping for the best.”

Roberts says many of his players put in plenty of off-season work before the interruption.

“I keep hoping that this thing will level off and we can get back to school,” says Roberts. “Our boys and their parents were pretty devastated when they got sent home from school.

“If theres a glimmer of hope, the boys will start hooking up and getting in their time before I can be with them.”

Roberts has been home with two baseball-playing sons. Max Roberts is a pitcher in the Seattle Mariners organization. William Roberts is a 2019 Washington Township graduate who sat out a year while getting ready to go the junior college route.

Randy and William went to see Max, who was attending a Mariners “gas” camp in Arizona, when they began to shut things down and send players home as minor league spring training was about to start.

Roberts says some in his area have talked about playing two or three games a week prior to the sectional. If possible, he can see the Senators playing just about everyday leading into the postseason.

A teacher at Washington Township Elementary, Roberts has been instructing via laptop.

Having taken online classes himself, he is convinced of one thing: “Kids need to be in school.”

“You find yourself doing assignments just to get them done,” says Roberts. “Without the interaction, I never thought there was a whole lot of learning getting done.”

Daleville, with Terry Turner at the helm, is ranked No. 2 in the IHSBCA 1A poll.

“My heart goes out to all these high school seniors in all spring sports if they don’t have an opportunity to participate,” says Turner. “It’s just an awful feeling.

“I guess I’m being selfish here, but in the last four years I’ve won two (1A) state titles (in 2016 and 2018). We have the possibility of a third one (with six players, including five starters, from the 2018 team). I was really excited about it. We have right group of kids with the right mentality.

“I have my doubts we’ll even get to see what would happen.”

Turner has had little contact with his players since the lockdown began and has been doing his best to teach online to his pupils at Anderson High School.

“I’m bored out of mind,” says Turner. “I can’t get out to talk to these kids. That’s the worst part.

“Some of the kids have texted me. I have great senior leadership. They’ve gotten together a few times to go throw and stuff. I tell them to do the best they can to stay in baseball shape.”

Daleville was fundraising to pay for its overnight trip to Jasper, but for safety-sake, Turner put an end to that.

Turner had beefed up the Broncos schedule to get them ready for the state tournament.

“I wouldn’t have done that unless I felt like I had a team that could compete,” says Turner. “I said, ‘let’s have a challenge.’”

Regardless of what happens this year, Turner says he has decided that 2021 is going to be his last spring as a coach and teacher.

“I have grandkids I want to spend some time with,” says Turner. “I have a bucket list I want to do.”

At 4A Terre Haute South Vigo, the Braves were hoping to dedicate a full season to Brian Pickens, a 25-year assistant coach who died of throat cancer Jan. 28.

“I still think about him everyday,” says South Vigo head coach Kyle Kraemer. “It’s all perspective.

“The biggest thing is the fear of the unknown. There are so many what-ifs and unknowns. It’s just crazy.

“We are living through history. You’re talking about fighting something you can’t see.”

The Braves spent to winter building up a library of Hudl videos of themselves hitting and pitching that can now be used as references for at-home workouts.

“I’m trying to be prepared,” says Kraemer, who is hopeful that South Vigo might be able to play Conference Indiana opponents and some others prior to the postseason — if there is one.

When the IHSAA ruled this past winter that teams can have 10 summer practices with four contest dates, Kraemer says he didn’t think much about it.

“Now I think a lot of coaches are going to take advantage of that if possible,” says Kraemer.

Also a teacher, Kraemer says eLearning is to kick in Vigo County on April 6. This is spring break. There were eight waiver days prior to that.

Mark Schellinger, head coach at 3A New Prairie, has spent part of his days tending to eLearning — either from home or at the school — and has joined with his assistants in working on Harry “Bear” Tolmen Field.

“It was weird, knowing (players) could not be out there with us,” says Schellinger, whose Cougars are No. 10 in the 3A preseason rankings. (It’s tough for everybody, but it’s really tough for the kids.

“But we have to take a step back and see there is a bigger picture.”

Schellinger says safety and health are the first priority for players, followed by staying on top of their eLearning and then staying in shape, especially with throwing.

“We’re hoping to be proactive so we have a plan in place,” says Schellinger. “But it’s hard to make those decisions or make those plans.

“There’s just so much unknown right now.”

Should the season get started in early May, Schellinger says he favors playing as many regular-season games as possible.

“The kids want to play, especially in a short time span,” says Schellinger. “Hopefully our pitchers are ready for that.”

New Prairie does have pitching depth, though Schellinger hardly expects 100 from anyone out of the gate.

IHSBCA RANKINGS

(2020 Preseason)

4A

1. Penn

2. Lake Central

3. Columbus East

4. Crown Point

5. Hamilton Southeastern

6. Andrean

7. Columbus North

8. Center Grove

9. Carmel

10. Noblesville

Receiving votes: Avon, Carroll (Fort Wayne), Fishers, Homestead, Jasper, Jeffersonville, Munster, New Albany, Northridge, Westfield.

3A

1. Edgewood

2. South Bend St. Joseph

3. Crawfordsville

4. Western

5. Silver Creek

6. Brebeuf Jesuit

7. West Vigo

7. Yorktown

9. Lebanon

10. New Prairie

Receiving votes: Danville, Evansville Memorial, Griffith, Guerin Catholic, Hanover Central, Heritage Hills, Indian Creek, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, Kankakee Valley, NorthWood, Norwell, Providence, South Dearborn, South Vermillion, Southridge.

2A

1. Alexandria-Monroe

2. Lafayette Central Catholic

3. Indianapolis Scecina Memorial

4. Lewis Cass

4. North Posey

4. Speedway

7. Wapahani

8. Delphi

9. University

10. Linton-Stockton

Receiving votes: Blackford, Boone Grove, Covenant Christian, LaVille, Monroe Central, South Adams, Wheeler.

1A

1. Washington Township

2. Daleville

3. Tecumseh

4. Lanesville

5. North Miami

6. Shakamak

7. Rossville

8. Riverton Parke

9. Barr-Reeve

10. Kouts

Receiving votes: Clinton Central, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fremont, Hauser, Loogootee, North Daviesss, North White, Rising Sun, South Central (Union Mills), Trinity Lutheran, Wes-Del.

IHSAABASEBALL

Hudson helps North Miami Warriors win first sectional

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

How revved up are folks around Denver, Ind., about their North Miami Middle/High School baseball program?

The Warriors just earned the first IHSAA sectional title in that sport in the school’s history.

North Miami (9-16) bested West Central, Caston and Northfield to reign at the Class 1A Caston Sectional and earn a berth in the South Bend Regional on Saturday, June 1 at Four Winds Field. The Warriors take on Washington Township at 11 a.m., followed by Fremont vs. South Central (Union Mills) with the championship at 8 p.m. Washington Township and South Central are tied for No. 4 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association regular-season poll.

“There’s a lot of excitement going on right now,” says third-year North Miami head coach Troy Hudson. “We had unbelievable support at the sectional championship game.”

Warrior fans stood up at the end of the game which saw North Miami outlast Northfield 1-0 in eight innings.

The day after the championship, the team gave back to the community by helping with tornado damage clean-up.

Hudson says that the roots planted when he took over are beginning to blossom on the field, with the home field and the feeder system.

North Miami goes to South Bend with a pitching staff led by junior right-handers Nathan Musselman, Jackson Green and Braxton Beal.

The lineup features junior lead-off man Eli Henderson plus Green, Musselman, sophomore Tyler Bauer, senior Jackson Holland, freshman Parker Johnson, sophomore Alex Masters and Corey Collins and senior Austin Carter.

Hudson’s assistant coaches are Josh Donathan (pitching), Steve Holland (catching), Jake Green (infielders), Daryl Schanlaub (outfielders) and Steve Frank (head junior varsity).

Warrior Field is North Miami’s on-campus home. The facility has undergone a complete transformation the past three years. Bullpens have been added on each side of the field with a new batting cage on the home side. The mound has been reconstructed. Infield and outfield warning tracks have been installed. The inside of the dugouts have been re-done. The infield has been re-leveled with new grass and the field re-edged.

“It takes a lot of time and a lot of commitment,” says Hudson. “But our school is the baseball of the community and (the field) is a good representation of the community.

“It gets kids excited when they’re playing on something nice.”

Hudson has increased his involvement with the Town & Country baseball program at Denver (which begins with T-ball) and helped get junior high baseball established at North Miami.

A combination of junior high and Babe Ruth, there were 11 players the first year led by Schanlaub and two teams of 12 each the next year, guided by Schanlaub and Shannon Floor. Last summer, the 15U team placed second to New Castle in the Babe Ruth state tournament and participated in regional play in West Virginia.

This year, Floor and Josh Hershberger coach the junior high teams.

This summer brings a high school team schedule.

“It gives the kids a chance at more baseball and more baseball knowledge,” says Hudson.

While there are no college commits on the current team, North Miami has sent Patrick Masters to Manchester University. Shane Holden played a season at Ivy Tech Northeast.

North Miami (enrollment around 290) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).

The TRC features mostly 2A and 3A schools with North Miami, Northfield and Southwood being in 1A. Conference schools play each other once to determine a champion.

The Warriors are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North White, Northfield, South Newton, Southwood and West Central.

Hudson is a 2006 graduate of Peru High School, where he played for Chuck Brimbury. He tries to follow the lead of his mentor and bring those qualities to the North Miami program.

“I learned a lot from him,” says Hudson of Brimbury. “You try to get the best out of your players.”

Hudson is building a culture where the good of the group comes ahead of that of the individual.

“You play for the guy next to you,” says Hudson. “What they should really care about is what the team is doing.”

Troy is dean of students at North Miami Elementary. His wife of 9-plus years, Amy, is an oncology nurse in Rochester, Ind. The couple have two children — son Kolten (9) and daughter Skylar (5).

NORTHMIAMIDOGPILE

North Miami Middle/High School’s baseball team dogpiles after winning the school’s first IHSAA sectional baseball title in 2019.

 

TROYHUDSONJ

In his third season as head coach, Troy Hudson led North Miami Middle/High School near Denver, Ind., to its first IHSAA baseball sectional championship. The Warriors raised the 2019 trophy at the Class 1A Caston Sectional.

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For the first time in school history, North Miami won an IHSAA baseball sectional title. The 2019 Warriors won the Class 1A Caston Sectional.

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The Hudson family (clockwise from upper left): Amy, Troy, Skylar and Kolten. Troy Hudson is the head baseball coach at North Miami Middle/High School near Denver, Ind.

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North Miami Middle/High School won the 2019 IHSAA Class 1A Caston Sectional baseball title and earned a berth in the June 1 South Bend Regional.

 

Kiifner wants South Newton Rebels to be strong up the middle

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A border town will play more baseball in 2019 on the side of the state line where it plays its home games.

South Newton High School, located in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland, went 17-10 in 2018 and played 15 games against Illinois high schools.

After three seasons in the Illinois-based Sangamon Valley Conference (current members are Cissna Park, Clifton Central, Dwight, Iroquois West, Momence, Paxton-Buckey-Loda and Watseka), South Newton (enrollment around 190) is a member of the Midwest Conference (with Indiana schools Frontier, North Newton, North White, Tri-County and West Central).

Jim Kiifner, a 1984 graduate of Sheldon (Ill.) High School (now consulted into Milford Township), is entering his 10th season on the South Newton coaching staff — his third as head coach.

The 2019 Rebels — led by Kiifner and assistants Jason Krug (third season), Ricky Montemayer (fourth season) and Conner Ulmer (first season) — are scheduled to play 23 varsity and 13 junior varsity contests. Ulmer, a 2013 South Newton graduate, is a teacher while the others are lay coaches. Kiifner works in a warehouse for DuPont Corporation.

“My boss allows me to be a little flexible,” says Kiifner. “It also helps that I work in the Eastern Time Zone and coach in the Central Time Zone.

“I gain an hour.”

South Newon’s non-conference varsity opponents include Attica, Benton Central, Fountain Central, Frontier, Kankakee Valley and Seeger in Indiana and Cissna Park, Milford Township, Momence and Watseka in Illinois.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, Southwood and West Central. South Newton has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2017. That year, the Rebels advanced to the semistate for the first time, losing to eventual state runner-up Rossville at Plymouth.

“We’ve been pretty successful the last four years,” says Kiifner, 52. “We get a lot of fan support.”

Athletic budgets at the small school are supplemented through community fundraisers.

Kiifner was coaching in the Travelers Babe Ruth League when then-South Newton head coach Ron Benakovich invited him to join his staff. Benakovich led the Rebels from 2009-12 and Glenn Donahue from 2013-16 before Kiifner took over the as leader of the program in 2017.

“I want the kids to have the most fun as possible,” says Kiifner. “Discipline is a big thing. But I don’t like to be a brow beater.”

Program numbers are up to 23 with 11 newcomers.

“We’re working to get them up to speed on what we expect and do,” says Kiifner, who had a veteran team the past two seasons. The 2018 squad had six seniors and three juniors in the starting lineup.

Kiifner says he wants his teams to be strong up the middle on defense.

“Defend the middle first and work your way out,” says Kiifner. “(Pitchers are asked to) throw strikes and let the defense do the work behind them.”

With that in mind, South Newton has junior Austin Miller and sophomore Brandon Gilliam in the mix at catcher, senior Levi Sample and freshman Kayden Cruz at shortstop and Cruz and junior Terron Welsh in center field.

Senior left-hander Riley Patterson is the top returning pitcher who also plays first base. Senior Tyler Martell is at second base and freshman Kellen Krug at third base. Senior Ben Bryant is a candidate to play a corner outfield spot.

Offensive approach depends on personnel. Kiifner says the Rebels are transitioning from a power team to more of a small-ball squad.

The Hammel brothers have taken their pitching talents from South Newton to the college level.

Junior left-hander Jarrett Hammel started at Saint Joseph’s College and is now at Valparaiso University.

Freshman Jay Hammel was an all-state third baseman as junior, all-state first baseman as a senior and became the school’s second Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series player (Trent Smith was the first in 1990) and is now a freshman right-hander at Quincy (Ill.) University.

Trent Smith is the brother of Tracy Smith, a South Newton graduate who played at Miami University in Ohio and in the Chicago Cubs system before head coaching assignments at Miami University-Hamilton, Indiana University and Arizona State University. Smith’s 2019 Sun Devils were off to a 22-1 start.

Rebel Field, located on the South Newton campus, is a small non-lighted diamond with the distance down the foul lines at 272 feet to right field and 300 to left. Kiifner says there is talk about moving the fences back in the future.

With the school and field sitting in the midst of farm land, it is a breezy place.

“The are winds always blowing,” says Kiifner. “And it’s either too hot or too cold.”

Sheldon was a school of less than 100 students and baseball was a fall sport where there was no football team. Kiifner’s baseball coach was John Spezia, who has gone on to win more than 500 games as a basketball coach.

“He broke down fundamentals really well and brought it to your level,” says Kiifner of Spezia. “He tried not to overwhelm (his players).”

Jim and Madonna Kiifner have been married for 26 years. They have two sons who both played baseball at South Newton — William (24) and Luke (22).

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This is the 2019 South Newton High School Rebels baseball team.

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South Newton won a sectional and regional baseball title in 2017.

JIMKIIFNER

Jim Kiifner is the head baseball coach at South Newton High School in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland.