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First-year coach Mirizzi has Indian Creek Braves setting their baseball goals high

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball expectations have risen at Indian Creek High School.

After a sectional championship drought of 43 years, the Braves earned sectional crowns in 2016 and 2017 at Danville.

Indian Creek lost to eventual state champion Northview in the finals of the 2016 Crawfordsville Regional and Tri-West Hendricks in the semifinals of the 2017 Brebeuf Regional.

With a new head coach, new sectional site and seven returning starters, the Braves are aiming high in 2018.

“We have some lofty goals we want to accomplish when the state tournament rolls around,” says Steven Mirizzi, who takes over the Indian Creek program after five seasons as a Danville assistant. “We have a deep pitching staff. If we can get it going offensively, I really like our chances.

“We’re hungry for something bigger and better.”

Top Braves arms include junior right-handers Trevor Ankney, Dustin Sprong and Wyatt Phillips and senior right-hander Jared DeHart.

Ankney is a Purdue University commit. Sprong and Phillips are receiving attention from NCAA D-I schools. DeHart is one of the Braves’ captains. Junior Devin Parr is a soft-tossing left-hander.

Senior third baseman/right-hander Dawson Read is a Kalamazoo College commit.

Indian Creek, located in the Johnson County town of Trafalgar, moves to a 2018 IHSAA Class 3A sectional hosted by Bishop Chatard and also featuring Beech Grove, Herron, Indianapolis Broad Ripple and Indianapolis Manual.

The Braves lost to the Sullivan in the 2017 Western Indiana Conference crossover championship game.

A WIC title is on the IC 2018 goals list. The rotation goes back to the East Division this year, meaning the Braves would host the conference championship game if they get there.

Besides Indian Creek, the WIC East includes Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood and Owen Valley.

The WIC West consists of Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo.

The Braves are to open the season this weekend in Evansville with games against Martinsville, Evansville North and Decatur Central either at North or historic Bosse Field.

The Indian Creek slate also features a spot in the Northview Invitational. Depending on WIC crossovers, the Braves could play as many as 12 games against Class 4A opponents.

“That will benefit us later in the season and at tournament time,” says Mirizzi.

His last season at Danville, Mirizzi served on a staff led by Pat O’Neil.

“He’s a very knowledgable coach,” says Mirzzi of O’Neil, who played for and coached with 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber at LaPorte High School. “He’s really good with pitchers and very good with situational management

“He motivates you want to be better and do your game the right way.”

Before landing at Danville, Mirizzi spent two seasons on the coaching staff at Princeton Community. Austin Rhoads, who was an assistant at Lakota West High School in West Chester, Ohio, near Cincinnati, when Mirizzi played there, was head coach of the Tigers. Rhoads has since become athletic director at Springboro (Ohio) High School.

Mirizzi was a four-year starter at Lakota West, helping the Firebirds to the regional finals in his sophomore and senior seasons (2004 and 2006).

Lakota West, coached by former Cincinnati Reds minor league catcher Bill Dreisbach, won an Ohio High School Athletic Association Division I state championship in 2007.

A district split into two high schools in 1999 also saw Lakota East win a Division I state baseball crown in 2011.

Mirizzi remembers Dreisbach for his professionalism and ability to motivate.

“He wanted his guys to buy in and commit,” says Mirzzi. “He had a good way of getting that out of us.

“He pushed us to be better than we really were.”

In that 2004 season, Lakota West lost to what Dreisbach considered a lesser opponent and conducted a post-game practice that lasted well into the night. The Firebirds went on a 15-game win streak that took them into the regional.

“He got our attention,” says Mirizzi. “He knew we were better than we were playing.”

The 2004 Lakota West team lost to eventual state champion Cincinnati Moeller, a team featuring two future big league pitchers.

Right-hander Andrew Brackman was was Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft first-round selection by the New York Yankees in 2007 and left-hander Eric Surkamp a sixth-round choice of the San Francisco Giants in 2008.

Like Mirizzi — who treks daily from Avon to Trafalgar — Dreisbach way from the high school.

After high school, Mirizzi played two seasons each at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.

Mitch Hannahs, who is now head coach at Indiana State University, was leading the Lincoln Trail program when Mirizzi was there and taught the future coach about the mental side and how to manage a game.

Mirizzi has assembled a coaching staff of Curtis VanDeVenter and Craig Hoskins at the varsity level and Donovan Britt with the junior varsity. VanDeVenter, a former University of Indianapolis catcher, and Britt are Whiteland High School graduates. Hoskins went to Brown County.

There are 33 players in the program with 17 currently on the varsity roster. Mirizzi expects some to swing between varsity and JV depending upon need and performance.

Indian Creek plays its games on-campus.

While it is still in the planning stages, Mirizzi says upgrades to the athletic facilities could bring a new or renovated baseball field, new football field and a fieldhouse to the campus in the next few years.

First-year athletic director Derek Perry is in the middle of this process.

Mirizzi is very busy with baseball away from his duties at Indian Creek. He and former Danville assistant and personal trainer Nick Runiyon are partners at Hoosier Performance Factory in Indianapolis.

Based out of the facility is a travel baseball organization — the Indiana Braves. This year, they plan to field teams ages 12U through 18U.

Mirizzi and fiancee Tiffany Herr also do network marketing. The couple have two children — Jackson Mirzzi (4) and Mackenzie Mirizzi (15 months).

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Steven Mirizzi is in his first season as head baseball coach at Indian Creek High School. Mirizzi went to high school in Ohio and played college baseball in Illinois and Arkansas. He comes to the Indians off an assistant stint at Danville. (Daily Journal Photo)

 

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Alum Steimel now pointing way for Sullivan Golden Arrows baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A man who has been leading at the developmental levels of community baseball is now the head coach at Sullivan High School.

Tony Steimel, a 1990 Sullivan graduate, has spent the past decade in charge of the recreational Sullivan Baseball League, which begins with 4-year-olds who swing against pitches from coaches and play in games where outs are counted.

“We want to get kids used to real baseball as young as possible,” says Steimel, the SBL president. “We don’t challenge kids enough. They can handle more than we give them credit for.”

For the last five years, the owner of Steimel Communications in Sullivan has been a volunteer, spending much of his time coaching seventh and eighth graders in games all around west central and southern Indiana.

“That’s as key and important as anything we’ve done around here,” says Steimel of a non-school affiliated group which plays as far north as South Vermillion territory, as far south as Barr-Reeve and as far east as Edgewood. “What they do going into high school is really critical to your program.”

Those teams played “A” and “B” five-inning doubleheaders while using up to 10 different pitchers with an eye on the future.

“Anybody who has the mental capacity and the desire should be put on the mound,” says Steimel. “That’s the same way it is at the junior varsity level.”

This spring, Sullivan has schedule 20 dates for its junior high-aged teams and Shawn McKinney will coach those kids when not working with the junior varsity or varsity squads at the high school.

“It’s in good hands,” says Steimel of the junior high program. “We’ll be on the same field. We’ll definitely be talking.”

Steimel, who will also be assisted by newcomer Josh Wood and local baseball veterans Tom Hannon, Tom Hanks, Brian Pirtle and Brian Schulze, takes over a Golden Arrows high school program with a history of success.

Since 1985, Sullivan has gone 534-357-1 with 10 seasons of 20 wins or more.

Matt McLaren guided the Arrows for six seasons (2012-17) and went 110-62. The last three squads were 21-9, 20-9 and 21-6. He is now head baseball coach at Richland County High School in Olney, Ill.

Bob Mirkovich (1964 to 1981, 238-150-3) and Craig Grow (1995 to 2004 and 2010; 194-112-1) are two of the winningest Sullivan coaches over the years.

Current Sullivan athletic director Otto Clements was Steimel’s head coach in his senior season.

Mirkovich coached in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in 1976 and 1982 and Craig Grow coached the All-Stars in 2002.

Sullivan players in the series have been shortstop Jack Smith (1976), pitcher Charley Noble (1977), outfielder Greg Bender (1982), shortstop Greg Wood (1986), pitcher Jon Boothe (1987), shortstop Michael Rinck (1998), shortstop K.C. Grow (2001), pitcher Devin Jones (2002) and third baseman Korey Grow (2004).

Sullivan has won 16 sectionals (1970, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 2015), three regionals (1976, 1987, 1991) and one semistate (1976) and had one state runner-up finish (1976).

Thirteen times, the Arrows have reigned as conference baseball champions (1973, 1976, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1997, 1998  and 1999 in the old Tri-River Conference and 2017 in the Western Indiana Conference).

Sullivan is the WIC West Division with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam and West Vigo.

The East Division features Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley.

In 2018, WIC teams will again play a home-and-home series against divisional foes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with the first game counting toward conference standings. Crossover games will be played at the end with the top teams in each division meeting for the championship.

The Arrows are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brown County, Edgewood, Owen Valley and West Vigo.

Sullivan heads into the spring with a few familiar varsity faces and some new ones. There were around 24 players on the first day of practice Monday, March 12.

Some of those have less baseball experience than others. But Steimel welcomes them.

“There are teams that need players and players that need teams,” says Steimel. “We want to include kids that need to be part of something positive. There’s a lot of negative things kids can get into.

“It should set a good example for our star players as well.”

While graduation took six seniors in 2017 and five of nine position players and three of five starting pitchers are gone, the Arrows still have senior right-handed pitcher/shortstop Sam Steimel (a University of Evansville commit) and senior catcher Shane Garner. Both have been starters since they were freshmen.

Senior outfielder/left-hander Chris Taylor and junior corner infielder Jack Conner also returns.

“We’ve got a really young group,” says Tony Steimel. “Our sophomores are solid but unproven. Kids that played JV last year will be asked to step up this year.”

Sophomore right-hander Bray Foster slots in as Sullivan’s No. 1 pitcher behind Sam Steimel. Sophomore first baseman Max Mize is also in the mix.

While Sam Steimel has been playing for the Indiana Bulls, his father says many of his top players have played travel baseball with organizations based in Terre Haute, including the Indiana Havoc (a group Tony Steimel has coached) and Mad Dog. There’s also Sullivan American Legion Post 139.

Sullivan plays its games on-campus at a field that got new lights a few years ago. Plans have been drawn up and budgets made for upgrades in the next few years. That includes 35-foot high netting to replace the backstop and new handicap-accessible bleachers.

Tony and Alison Steimel, a Sullivan graduate, will be married 20 years in 2018. Besides Sam, they have another son. Freshman Eli is a left-handed pitcher and first baseman.

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The Steimels (from left): Alison, Tony, Eli and Sam. Tony Steimel is the new head baseball coach at Sullivan High School. Sam Steimel is a senior and Eli a freshman for the Golden Arrows.

 

Veteran Edgewood Mustangs coach Jones just keeps on learning

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

One of the many lessons a son has learned from his father is that of lifelong learning.

With more than 40 years as a business teacher at Edgewood High School in the Monroe County town of Ellettsville and upwards of 30 as head baseball coach, Bob Jones can draw on a deep well of knowledge.

Jones, who recently turned 66, has plenty of know-how. But the former student at Central Catholic High School in Vincennes (now Vincennes Rivet), Vincennes University and Indiana State University is not content with that wisdom alone.

“He sits in the first or second row at the (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association) State Clinic each year,” says Sam Jones, one of Bob’s sons (Jade is the other) and a member of his EHS coaching staff. “He doesn’t want to miss a word.

“The knife most used is the best-sharpened.”

Bob Jones has also been a regular at clinics hosted by Jasper High School.

He employs the same approach as an educator. To prepare for his personal finance and introduction to business classes, Bob takes his text book home every night and reads it over so he will know the subject when addressing students the next day.

“He’s definitely not going to settle for complacency,” says Sam Jones, a 2006 Edgewood baseball alum and himself a seven grade social studies teacher at Cloverdale. “And he’s always evolving with the game (of baseball).”

Bob Jones and his staff, which also includes Tom Anderson (pitching coach), Eli Mathers (strength coach), Mac Kido, Austin Chapman, John Cage, Kyle May (junior varsity), John Justis (junior varsity) view their baseball program as what Sam Jones calls “a living and breathing thing” that changes with the times.

When he saw the benefits, Bob Jones started having his players lift weights daily — even game days.

“We live and die by the weight room,” says Sam Jones.

When Jaeger Sports bands came along with J-Bands for arm care, Edgewood began using them.

With all the private lessons and travel organizations now available, the Edgewood staff knows today’s players are pretty smart.

“They can feel and understand what their body is telling them and make some adjustments,” says Sam Jones. “The last eight or 10 years, dad has also had a lot of success reaching to to (students at nearby Indiana University) who want to stay connected to the game.”

Those IU students come and work with the Mustangs on the diamond and influence them beyond it. Many have gone on to become business professionals.

“They give vision for these kids,” says Sam Jones. “They know what’s possible if they apply themselves.”

Bob Jones has led Edgewood to sectional baseball championships nine times (1987, 1991, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2014) and regional titles twice (2007 and 2011), all the while giving plenty of responsibility to his assistants.

“He empowers them to make decisions,” says Sam Jones. “We believe in building a tribe.”

Two years ago, Bob Jones was struck on the leg by a foul ball and a hematoma caused him to miss three weeks of baseball.

His assistants rallied in his absence and the Mustangs did not miss a beat.

Edgewood, an IHSAA Class 3A school with around 800 students, typically fields three teams. Last spring, there was a varsity and two JV teams.

Sam Jones says that is likely to be the case again in 2018.

“The new pitch count has forced us to spread out our games a little more,” says Sam Jones, who lays out the JV schedules, making sure to get a balance of 4A schools like Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo in with 1A and 2A competition. “We’re giving our freshman to compete against bigger and better competition right off the bat. We also do not wanted them to overwhelmed with teams that are above and beyond their skill set.”

The pitch count at levels below varsity is tighter than in is for varsity (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). There was discussion at the IHSBCA State Clinic of making one standard for all since many schools will use pitchers for varsity and JV games — sometimes in the same week.

Edgewood is a member of the Western Indiana Conference and is part of the East Division along with Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Indian Creek and Owen Valley. The West features Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo.

Each team plays home-and-home division series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with only the first game counting in the WIC standings. There are crossover games at the end of the season — East No. 1 plays West No. 1 and so on.

Bob Jones wants to see all sectional opponents during the regular season so Edgewood has Brown County, Owen Valley, Sullivan and West Vigo on its schedule.

The Mustangs plays home games on Ermil Clark Field, which is located between the high school and junior high buildings.

As part of a phase of athletic upgrades for Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corporation, the baseball field is scheduled to get new dugouts and a backstop after the 2018 campaign.

A few years ago, players, coaches and parents chipped in to eliminate the hill in right field.

During spring break, they laid the sod and put down the bricks needed to level the fence.

“There were a lot of man hours from our players to make that field playable,” says Sam Jones. “If we don’t have kids that are interested in our field or our purpose that doesn’t happen.

“We’re super grateful for that.”

While junior high baseball is currently on hiatus, Edgewood does have Richland-Bean Blossom Youth Sports feeding it program along with area travel teams including Tier Ten, Demand Command and Diamond Dynamics. These organizations have players from multiple high schools.

“It’s a cohesive baseball community here,” says Sam Jones. “We like to think Monroe County has some pretty good baseball.”

Edgewood currently has Tanner Kolbe (Taylor University) and Connor Morton (Franklin College) on college baseball rosters. Current Mustang Josh Chasteen committed to Campbellsville (Ky.) University.

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Celebrating an occasion together (from left): Sam Jones, Bob Jones, Jade Jones and Cris Jones. Bob is a longtime teacher and head baseball coach at Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind. Sam, a 2006 Edgewood graduate, is one of his assistants.

 

West Vigo baseball’s DeGroote wants to be role model to his players

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the son of coach and middle of three athletic brothers, Culley DeGroote soaked in plenty of knowledge on his way to becoming head baseball coach at West Vigo High School. He has led the West Terre Haute-based Vikings since the 2014 season after eight seasons serving under father Steve DeGroote.

The elder DeGroote was an assistant at Indiana State University to American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Warn 1980-85 joined the coaching staff at West Vigo and led the program from 1993-2013. His teams went 441-118 with 11 Western Indiana Conference titles, 10 sectional champions, five regionals, one semistate and one state runner-up finish (2009). In 2017, he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

“Ninety-five percent of what I do I learned from (my father),” says Culley. “I learned how you treat players. Dad was a master motivator. He got them to buy into something bigger than themselves.”

While the rules were the same for all players, Steve DeGroote knew how to relate to each one as an individual, something he picked up from his athletic career and his days as an ISU recruiter.

“They say that coaching is not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes and dad got the most out of those Jimmys and Joes,” says Culley. “He was genius at reading talent. He was one of those who could see a kid come in as freshmen and see the finished product. He could see potential in a kid that very few people could see.”

Culley saw his dad attracted to the student and the athlete who was on a straight path.

“He had that ability to read people,” says Culley. “He could pick up on people’s habits and their priority in life. He navigated toward kids who had their priorities straight like him. Dad doesn’t drink, smoke or party. His faith is important to him. He was the (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) director at West Vigo. He lived a clean life and lived by example.

“I’ve tried to role model that with my players. I know you’re not going to be perfect, but you need to be striving for perfection.”

Steve DeGroote’s boys — Cory (West Vigo Class of 1991), Culley (1995) and Casey (1998) — were all three-sport athletes for the Vikings. Cory and Culley are both in the West Vigo Athletic Hall of Fame.

Cory DeGroote went to The Citadel to play basketball and baseball and then transferred to Indiana State, where he played baseball for three seasons. He coached multiple sports at North White High School and then served 12 seasons as head baseball coach at Mattawan (Mich.) High School. He is now president of Peak Performance, a travel sports organization based in Mattawan.

Casey DeGroote was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched as a professional until 2004. He served as general manager of the Terre Haute Rex in the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League and is now a train engineer.

Culley DeGroote earned the McMillan Award as the top male athlete in Vigo County and was an IHSBCA All-Star as a senior. He was a three-year starter in football, basketball and baseball and went on to be a three-year starter on both the hardwood and diamond at Franklin College.

His last baseball season was his junior year (he transferred to Indiana State to finish his degree). It was also the first as head coach for Lance Marshall, who still guides the Grizzlies.

“He cared about us as people,” says Culley. “He wanted to know your story and your background. I told myself that when I become a head coach, I hope my players in some way feel about me the way they felt about Coach Marshall.

“He was quiet and no-nonsense, but a super positive guy. You felt good about yourself after talking to Coach Marshall.”

Culley began his coaching career with a four-year stint on the staff of Scott Spada at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School. Before Spada, Derek Jeter played baseball for the Maroon Giants and went on to be captain of the New York Yankees. Future Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings did play for Spada.

Also the school’s head boys soccer coach, Culley heads in the 2018 baseball season with Zack Kent (varsity) and Kyle Stewart (junior varsity) as assistant coaches.

Steve DeGroote is still helping the Vikings baseball program as middle school director. The feeder program fielded two squads last spring — sixth and seventh graders combined and eighth graders. Playing 15 to 20 five-inning doubleheaders, the middle schoolers are heading into their third season in 2018.

“It’s an awesome thing,” says Culley. “It gives you a lot of flexibility and unity. It’s closed the gap between middle school and high school ball. We teach the same things. Getting coached in a lot of the little things that can win you a championship at a younger level.

“(Middle schoolers) get to play on the high school field and they love that.”

At a cost of more than $10,000, that field was upgraded in the fall of 2016 with more than 100 tons of infield dirt and artificial turf around the mound and home plate areas.

“That was the best idea I ever had,” says Culley. “We were getting in games (in 2017) we never got in before.”

Culley teaches physical education at the middle school and gets a chance to have a relationship with athletes as sixth graders.

West Terre Haute Little League, where Steve Shaffer is president, has three fields and four leagues (T-ball, minor and major).

“They are the lifeline of our program,” says Culley.

All of it has gone to help numbers at the high school. There were 15 freshmen baseball players at West Vigo in 2017 and 19 the year before that.

The varsity Vikings went 17-9 and lost to Edgewood in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 3A Northview Sectional.

West Vigo is in the West Division of the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam and Sullivan. Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley comprise the WIC East Division.

With about 1,023 students, Northview is the biggest school in the 2A/3A league with Cloverdale (370) as the smallest. West Vigo (581) is in-between.

Conference games are played five straight Tuesdays with a crossover game on the sixth Tuesday.

Since 1998, the Vikings have sent eight players on to NCAA Division I baseball and had three players drafted out of high school (Casey DeGroote by the Yankees in 1998, infielder Lenny Leclercq by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round in 2005 and Jeremy Lucas by the Cleveland Indians in the 12th round in 2009).

Right-hander Morgan Coombs, a 2006 graduate, played at Lincoln Trail College and Ball State University and went un-drafted before three seasons with the independent Gary SouthShore RailCats. He was the Australian Baseball League’s Pitcher of the Year in 2015 with the Adelaide Bite.

Middle infielder Tyler Wampler, a 2010 graduate, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Indiana State in the 17th round in 2014. He was head coach for the Terre Haute Rex in 2016-17.

Three of Culley’s players are currently at the D-I level — pitcher Davie Inman (West Vigo Class of 2015) at Coastal Carolina University, middle infielder Jordan Schafer (2016) at Indiana State and first baseman/pitcher Ty Lautenschlager (2017) at Northern Illinois University.

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Culley DeGroote, a 1995 West Vigo High School graduate, is entering his fifth season as Vikings head baseball coach in 2018. Before that, he was an assistant to father Steve DeGroote, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.