Tag Archives: North Newton

Vernon brings ‘culture change’ to Benton Central Bison baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball players are buying what Jon Vernon’s selling at Benton Central Junior-Senior High School in Oxford, Ind.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have some good athletes and good players,” says Vernon, who is heading into his fourth season as BC head coach in 2019. “They’ve bought into my system.”

The Bison have improved its record in each of Vernon’s first three seasons in charge, going 10-17 in 2016, 17-9 in 2017 and 19-6 in 2018.

Benton Central lost 9-2 to Western in the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A West Lafayette Sectional championship game.

BC bowed out of the state tournament series with a  3-2 loss to Maconaquah on a seventh-inning wild pitch in the first round of the 2018 3A Peru Sectional.

“We changed the culture a little bit,” says Vernon, whose current seniors have been varsity since freshmen year. That group includes three who have signed for college baseball —

Center fielder Payton Hall (University of Southern Indiana), right-handed pitcher/third baseman Alex Stout (Bethel College) and first baseman/left-hander Matt Taylor (Anderson University).

Right-hander Taylor Varnado, BC’s probable No. 1 starting pitcher in 2019 and a third baseman, is expected to sign soon. Junior shortstop Alex Thurston is verbally committed to Valparaiso University.

Vernon says he expects to have about 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring. The JV went 11-6 in 2018.

Benton Central (enrollment of about 580) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division).

Teams play a home-and-home within their division then a crossover game with the corresponding regular-season placer in the other division.

BC is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

The Bison roam on-campus at Darrell Snodgrass Field, a facility that recently received new fencing and upgraded dugouts and sound system. The worked on the diamond in the fall, doing things like edging.

A unique feature is the sounds of wind turbines. Benton County is home to wind farms.

With all that breeze, Vernon says it is best to be conservative field conditioner in the like in the autumn.

“You put too much stuff down in the fall, it won’t be there in the spring,” says Vernon.

Vernon’s 2019 assistants include Denny Musser and pitching coach Brad Goffinet with the varsity and Tyler Marsh with the junior varsity. Musser, the uncle of former Benton Central and professional left-hander Neal Musser, was a JV coach at BC on the staff of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary DeHaven.

Neal Musser pitched 18 games for the 2007 and 2008 Kansas City Royals.

The southpaw was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets.

Goffinet pitched at Indianapolis Marshall High School and Butler University in the 1970’s. Marsh is a former North Newton High School assistant.

Right-hander Jayson Best graduated from Benton Central in 1985 and played at Milligan College in Elizabethtown, Tenn., before signing with the Minnesota Twins in 1989. He reached the Double-A level in 1992 and 1993 and hurled for the independent Lafayette (Ind.) Leopards in 1996 and 1997. He was pitching at Goshen College 2000-04 (one season for Todd Bacon and four for Brent Hoober) and Maple Leafs head coach in 2005.

Benton Central baseball is largely fed by travel baseball organizations, including the Lafayette Lightning and Indiana Nitro. In the past, teams have played Pony League and Babe Ruth.

Vernon is a 1989 graduate of Logansport (Ind.) High School. He played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr.

Turner’s Berries lost 6-2 to Evansville Memorial in the 1989 IHSAA state championship game. Vernon was his left fielder and lead-off hitter. It was the first of Logan’s three straight Final Four appearances. The Berries 7-3 in the state semifinals to eventual champion LaPorte in 1990 and beat Marion for the state title in 1991.

What was it like to play for Turner Sr.?

“It was a great experience,” says Vernon. “He knows more about baseball is his little pinky than I do in my whole body.”

Turner Sr., who was assisted for many years by Larry “Butch” Jones and Rich Wild, established a winning culture and a program.

“You didn’t want to let coach down,” says Vernon. “He trusted his players. A lot of people revere him.”

As a coach, Vernon learned from Turner Sr. that “you always have to play the best players” and it doesn’t matter what they’re family name is what grade they’re in.

“Sometimes that makes people happy and sometimes it doesn’t,” says Vernon. “If you want to win, that’s what you have to do. Sometimes you have to make those tough decisions.”

After a season of club baseball at the University of Kentucky, Vernon went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Huntington University and master’s degree from Ball State University. He was head baseball coach at Delphi (Ind.) High School from 1994-2000 and assisted Jim Turner Jr. at Logansport for one season in the mid-2000’s and ran Turner’s summer programs.

He picked up pointers on organization and running practice from Turner Jr. Vernon was also head volleyball coach for the Berries.

After a brief stint in Florida, he came back to Indiana. He teaches business and computer classes at Benton Central has been BC’s head volleyball coach for three seasons.

Jon and Diann Vernon have been married for 25 years. They have four children — Matthew, Luke, Kailey and Karlee. Matthew works in finance for Amazon and lives in South Carolina. Luke is a dental student at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Kailey is in physician assistant school at Butler University. Karlee is 20 and works in Zionsville, Ind.

ALEXTHURSTONBENTONCENTRALAlex Thurston (right) bats for Benton Central High School. He is a junior in 2019 and a verbal commit to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.

MATTTAYLORBENTONCENTRALMatt Taylor (left) catches a ball at first base for Benton Central High School. He has moved on to the baseball team at Anderson University.

PAYTONHALLTAYLORVARNADOALEXTHURSTONMATTTAYLORALEXSTOUTHOOSIERNORTHBenton Central players Payton Hall, Taylor Varnado, Alex Thurston, Matt Taylor and Alex Stout represent Hoosier North in the 2017 Colt Harry Bradway Classic in Lafayette, Ind.

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The Vernon family in Key West, Fla., with spouses and children (from left): Matthew, Emily, Mary Katherine, Mason, Kailey, Karlee, Diann, Aubriel, Jon and Luke.

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Another Benton Central High School baseball signs to play in college (from left): First row — Father David Stout, Benton Central Alex Stout and mother Stephanie Stout. Back row — Bethel College assistant Kiel Boynton, Bethel College head coach Seth Zartman and Benton Central head coach Jon Vernon. (Benton Central Photo)

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Schlueter imparting knowledge with Baseball Directive

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sharing his knowledge, Ed Schlueter is looking to raise the quality of baseball played in his corner of the world.

That corner is located in Jasper County in northwest Indiana — about 20 miles south of Valparaiso and 75 miles southeast of Chicago.

Operating out of a rented 40-by-50 space in a pole barn near Wheatfield with one batting cage and enough room to throw the ball 60 feet, 6 inches, the former college player is passing along his knowledge.

Schlueter, a 2011 graduate of Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., was a teacher and head baseball coach at Rensselaer Central High School for three seasons (2012-14) then decided to become a commercial and residential painter.

Missing the game he loves, Schlueter started Baseball Directive and began providing private lessons. In the last calendar year, he has worked with about 50 individuals on hitting, pitching and catching.

“I want to spread more baseball to the people around me,” says Schlueter, who was a right-hander pitcher at Saint Joe and before that at Harlem High School near Rockford, Ill., before that. “I want to give direction.”

Schlueter’s lessons are directed to parents and players to “get them headed in the right direction.”

Besides the mechanics of baseball, Schlueter also imparts wisdom about the mental side of the game.

“It’s doing things the right way and being accountable,” says Schlueter. “They have to do more on their own. I give them homework (something to work on before the next lesson) and they spend 5 or 10 minutes a day on it.

“They have to buy into and trust what they’re doing in order to put the work in. A lot of them don’t realize the amount of training that goes into getting to the next level. It’s a mix of talent and hard work. It can’t all just be natural talent.”

It’s important with the younger players to get that work ethic started early.

“By the time they get to middle school or high school, it is instilled,” says Schlueter, who helps players in the Clinton Prairie, Rensselaer Central, Kankakee Valley, Lowell, North Newton school districts and more. A couple of his travel ball clients are the Outcast Thunder (Lowell) and North Central Cyclones (Francesville).

As a one-man operation, Schlueter can focus on each of his pupils.

“I like the whole one-on-one personal connection I can have with players and their parents,” says Schlueter. “They feel like they’re getting 100 percent of the attention all of the time.

“We’re not be rushed to get through everything. I’m providing that customer service.”

He also gets a chance to have quality time with his son. Ed and Meagan Schlueter’s boy — Lucas — is a 5-year-old ballplayer.

For Schlueter, it’s the people that make it worth being in baseball.

At Rensselaer Central, he inherited a good team that won 16 games before bowing to Andrean in the first round of the IHSAA Class 3A Kankakee Valley Sectional in 2012 then struggled the next two seasons.

“The best part of it was developing relationships with my players,” says Schlueter. “It was more about that bond.”

He still shares meals with his former Bombers and regularly communicates with them through phone calls and texts.

Schlueter was part of a tight-knit group at Saint Joe fostered by head coach Rick O’Dette.

“It was a family atmosphere,” says Schlueter. “I’m starting to see other programs envelope that.

“Kids are investing their time and money into college baseball. Ending up with a lifelong family is a huge pay-off.”

Schlueter speaks highly of O’Dette and still maintains contact with the man who has moved on to Saint Leo University in Florida after Saint Joe closed its doors at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

“He’s a great guy and a motivator,” says Schlueter of Coach O. “He pushes you to get the best out of you all the time. He was good at helping guys understand what the game is about. He was always at explaining this is why we do this and why we do that.”

While Schlueter was at SJC, he also encountered assistants Matt Kennedy (now a Saint Leo assistant), Josh Rabe (now head coach at Quincy University) and Jeremy Sheetinger (now American Baseball Coaches Association coaches liaison).

Schlueter’s head coach in high school was Doug Livingston, who has since retired with the most wins in Harlem program history.

Livingston got his players to take ownership and work hard.

With a core of players who grew up on diamonds together, Harlem won back-to-back Illinois High School Association regional titles (equivalent to the sectional in Indiana) in Schlueter’s junior and senior seasons (2005 and 2006).

In 2005, the Huskies became only the second team to go unbeaten in the Northern Illinois Conference (then known as the NIC-9). Schlueter went 7-0 with an 0.91 earned run average in 2005 and 10-2 with one save and a 1.20 ERA in 2006.

“We learned to play as a team,” says Schlueter. “It was not all about one individual. We had depth and learned to rely on one another.”

Baseball Directive is on social media — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Ed Schlueter (right) operates Baseball Directive out of a rented space near Wheatfield in northwest Indiana.

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Ed Schlueter, a graduate of Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and the former Rensselaer Central High School head baseball coach, is the founder of Baseball Directive. Baseball near Wheatfield, Ind., he provides instruction and information to area players and their parents.

 

Family life brings Neal closer to home with Attica Ramblers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball has taken Kyle Neal away from his home and it’s brought him back.

Neal is in his first season as head baseball coach at Attica Junior/Senior High School in Fountain County. He also teaches physical education and strength training.

The Neal family — Kyle, Christie, Carson (7) and Krew (9 months) — live in Veedersburg. That’s about 10 miles from the school.

When Royce Carlton left for Shelbyville, leaving an opening at Attica for a coach and teacher, Neal decided to apply for be closer to his wife and sons

The past four years, Neal has been making a commute of more than a hour each way to teach and to be head baseball coach — first at North Newton Junior/Senior High School in Morocco and then Frontier Junior/Senior High School in Chalmers.

Neal coached North Newton to 20- and 18-win seasons in his two seasons leading the program (2014 and 2015). The Spartans were put out of the IHSAA sectional both years by Lafayette Central Catholic.

In two seasons of guiding the Frontier Falcons, Neal saw the team win 15 and eight games.

As the Attica Ramblers get ready for the Class 1A Rockville Sectional, they look back on a 7-14 regular season. Attica and Rockville are paired in the first game of the sectional Wednesday, May 23. Other teams in the field are Covington, North Vermillion, Riverton Parke and Turkey Run.

Attica is in the Wabash River Conference (along with Covington, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Riverton Parke, Seeger, South Vermillion and Turkey Run).

Neal grew up in Ladoga in Mongomery County. His earliest baseball experiences came at Ladoga Little League.

Between his eighth grade and freshmen year, he played for the traveling Montgomery County All-Stars and also for the Southmont High School summer team.

Neal learned fundamentals from Mounties coach Jerry Long and logged a few innings on the mound as a freshman, gleaning much from a senior catcher.

In 1998, Neal was part of a Southmont team that lost to eventual 2A state runner-up Evansville Mater Dei in the semifinals of the Richmond Semistate.

His last two high school years, Neal attended Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg. At the time, the school was not affiliated with the IHSAA.

But Neal picked up plenty of know-how from coach Bill Sampen, a former major league pitcher.

“He was a huge part of my growth in baseball,” says Neal of Sampen, who runs the Indiana Expos travel organization and Samp’s Hack Shack training facility. “He was real big on thinking the game of baseball. He’s just a smart guy.

“We still talk today and share ideas.”

In the summer between his freshmen and sophomore years, Neal played more for Southmont plus the Indiana Vipers and Crawfordsville American Legion Post 72.

The next summer, he switched to the Indiana Bulldogs and also played for the other two squads.

Leading into his junior year at Bethesda Christian, he again played for the Bulldogs.

He attended many camps before his senior year and wound up with a baseball scholarship to NCAA Division I Southeast Missouri State University. He was primarily a reserve second baseman in his one season in Cape Girardeau.

Mark Hogan was the Redhawks head coach. Neal credits SEMO assistant Scott Southard for teaching him the finer points of infield play.

“The coaches there were real supportive of a freshman in Division I baseball, where the speed of the game excelerates tenfold,” says Neal. “I learned to play at a higher pace and saw different kinds of pitching.”

Neal spent his last year college playing seasons at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, with Mark DeMichael as head coach.

“I learned perseverance and more on the spiritual side of things,” says Neal. “I learned how to handle myself on the field. It was a great experience.”

After his playing days, Neal spent a year gaining knowledge about the coaching profession as an IWU graduate assistant.

He then went into the work world for about seven or eight years, all the while teaching private lessons to stay involved in baseball.

Along the way, he got his teaching degree from Indiana Wesleyan, served three seasons as a Southmont assistant and then took his first head coaching gig at North Newton.

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Kyle Neal, the head baseball coach at Attica Junior/Senior High School, shares a moment with sons Krew (9 months) and Carson (7).

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The Neal family: Kyle and Christy with sons Carson (7) and Krew (9 months). Kyle Neal is in his first season as head baseball coach, physical eduction and strength training teacher at Attica Junior/Senior High School in Fountain County, Ind.

 

Selective offensive approach helps Steinhilber’s Hebron Hawks

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Working the count” is working for Hebron High School baseball.

This offensive approach has been good to the Hawks the past four seasons and has been key as Hebron (29-3) has advanced to the IHSAA Class 2A Kokomo Semistate opposite Wapahani (18-11) at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 10.

A batter who is patient and trying to “get ahead in the count” or get a pitch he can hit hard is often said to “work the count” or “work the pitcher.”

Seventh-year Hebron head coach John Steinhilber and his assistants — Sean Riley (first base), Chris Wiltfang (bench), Jake Wheeler (pitching) and Tim Joyce (preseason and outfield) — have been selling and the players have been buying.

“They’ve bought into our overall approach to hitting,” says Steinhilber. “We battle in counts.

“We wait to strike.”

Steinhilber and company have looked on in admiration at the number of pitches that recent Boston Red Sox batters have seen per at-bat.

Why not try to make it work on the Hawks’ level?

“(The Red Sox) see a lot of pitches. They make the pitchers work,” says Steinhilber. “We’ve done that over the last four years and it’s really hurt us.

“Guys don’t feel like they’re behind the 8-ball when they get behind two strikes. Our guys really relax. It’s something we really work on.”

Steinhilber said it is likely that more and more teams will be adopting the approach in the coming years and working the pitcher, especially in light of the new IHSAA 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).

“You want to make that guy throw extra,” says Steinhilber. “Getting into the other team’s bullpen, especially in high school, is really key.”

The count has also got pitchers and their coaches thinking about their approach.

“Now you get a kid 0-2, do you put him away to save your pitch count or work him like you normally would?,” says Steinhilber. “It’s probably a struggle with all high school teams in all states. Kids in high school think they’ve got to strike everybody out. They don’t trust their defense.

“Pitching to your defense is going to help you in the long run.”

Hebron won its first baseball sectional crown in 1976. No. 2 came in Steinhilber’s second season of 2012. That was also the year the Hawks won their first regional title.

“I played a small part in that,” says Steinhilber. “I have a great staff and we’ve had really great kids come through.”

Hebron’s Kyle Joyce was an IHSBCA All-Star in 2013.

Steinhilber played baseball and basketball at Boone Grove High School, where he graduated in 1986. He played baseball at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., then coached the sport for three while finishing his degree at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer.

Mike Moyzis was the Pumas head coach for a team that included Rick O’Dette, who just finished his 17th season as SJC head coach with the school and program closing up shop in 2017.

Steinhilber was an assistant for a few seasons with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean, the last in 1997 when the 59ers advanced to the championship game of the single-class semistate.

Basketball coaching called Steinhilber’s name and he was a head boys coach for 19 years, retiring at the end of the 2016-17 campaign. He worked six seasons at Calumet (1998-99 to 2003-04), six at South Central of Union Mills (2004-05 to 2009-10) and seven at Hebron (2010-11 to 2016-17) with sectional championships coming in his second seasons at both Calumet and Hebron.

Steinhilber is in his third year as Hawks athletic director, a position that gets especially crazy during the spring season.

“I have an athletic secretary (Susan Spurr) that is awesome,” says Steinhilber. “If I didn’t have her I’d be lost. I’ve also good pretty good coaches and a principal (Mark Lutze) that supports everything.”

The ’17 Hawks bested North Judson, North Newton and Boone Grove by a combined 32-1 to win the Boone Grove Sectional then earned 4-3 triumphs against Eastside and Hammond Bishop Noll to reign at the Whiting Regional.

Hebron and South Central both went 6-1 to tie for the regular-season title in the Porter County Conference, which generally played on Mondays and Fridays. The Hawks then bested the Satellites in the PCC tournament championship game played the day before the sectional opener.

Other members of the conference are Boone Grove, Kouts, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

To prepare for the turf at Kokomo, Steinhilber took his team to Lake Central for a practice. But the surface is not foreign to many of the Hawks.

“A lot of kids play travel and have played on turf,” says Steinhilber. “That’s a good thing for us.”

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John Steinhilber, with wife Melissa, is in his seventh season as head baseball coach at Hebron High School in Porter County. The Hawks play Wapahani in the Class 2A Kokomo Semistate at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.

 

Tiny Tri-County’s LeBeau stresses diamond details

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When you’re a small school, you learn how to make the most of what you’ve got.

That’s what Jeff LeBeau has done at Tri-County High School, an IHSAA Class 1A institution that houses about 250 students.

LeBeau, a 1995 Tri-County graduate, is in his 16th season as Cavaliers head baseball coach after one season as junior varsity coach under Denny Stitz.

Jeff began coaching local youth baseball as a high school junior. After high school, he began assisting his father Craig, a Wolcott High School graduate and former Butler University pitcher who spent 50 years as a player, assistant coach and manager for Remington American Legion Post 280 before retiring a few seasons ago.

The younger LeBeau played four seasons for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame at Huntington University before coming back to Tri-County, which is based in the White County town of Wolcott and also serves parts of Jasper and Benton counties.

Stitz, who helped Tri-County win a Class 1A state title by beating Joe Rademacher’s Barr-Reeve club in 1998, taught Jeff LeBeau how to be successful at a small school.

“Attention to detail is crucial,” says LeBeau. “The student-athlete needs to be able to perform the fundamentals correctly. The  selection pool is limited. You have to get the most out of your student-athlete’s ability.”

LeBeau recalls that Stitz was very organized.

“There was not a practice that went unscheduled or unplanned,” says LeBeau. “We were always active.”

Jeff watched his father take a group of 15 to 18 boys from spring rivals and mesh them into a cohesive summer team that won multiple sectionals and regionals and competed a few times in the Indiana American Legion State Finals. Post 280 has not sponsored a team since Craig LeBeau stepped away. Nearby Lake Village Post 375 does.

In Frame, Jeff saw another detail-oriented coach and one dedicated to teaching more than the game to a group of youngsters — many away from home for the first time.

“He was a great father figure to us,” says LeBeau. “He was good at using the game of baseball to teach us life lessons.

“He taught me a different style of running a baseball practice, breaking down the game action into minor details.”

Playing home games at Remington Community Park (about six miles off-campus), Tri-County carries about 18 to 22 players in all four grades. This year, the Cavaliers played a full junior varsity schedule. The majority of road games are an hour or less from home with some trips to the Lafayette area.

The 2017 season marked Tri-County’s second in the Hoosier Heartland Conference. In 2017-18, the Cavs will be part of the reformed Midwest Athletic Conference (with Frontier, North Newton, North White, South Newton and West Central).

Remington Community Park and Wolcott Community Park host Cal Ripken baseball for ages 7-12. Players from North White, Rensselaer and West Central also take part.

Babe Ruth baseball teams (ages 13-15) travel to other area parks.

The Cavaliers have drawn into Game 1 of the eight-team Tri-County Sectional on Wednesday, May 24. The hosts will be after the seventh sectional crown in program history and third during LeBeau’s head coaching tenure (the others came in 2007 and 2011).

LeBeau, an IHSBCA district representative, says the new pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA in 2017 (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) are bound to be felt during the postseason.

“It will definitely come into play during sectional,” says LeBeau. “How quickly can your No. 1 or No. 2 bounce back?

“It’s not going away. We’ll see what needs to be tweaked (in the future).”

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