BY STEVE KRAH
Mark Schellinger has set a standard since taking over as head baseball coach at New Prairie High School prior to the 2016 season.
“Most kids in the program know what we expect,” says Schellinger as he gets his players ready for 2018. “We get a lot of buy-in.”
Whether in a game, a practice drill or the weight room, Schellinger wants his Cougars to be in attack mode.
“We talk about attacking in every phase of the game,” says Schellinger. “We talk about attacking in every rep. We have that mindset. Even on defense, we want to be on the offensive.”
At game time, that aggressiveness leads to pressure on the other team.
“We want to take the game to our opponents,” says Schellinger. “In high school baseball, if you can create pressure, you can get a lot of good things to happen.
“You can put pressure on the defense in a lot of ways — either with the bat in our hands or on the base paths.”
Schellinger implores his pitchers to attack the strike zone.
“We want the at-bat over early,” says Schellinger. “We don’t want (opponents to have) five-, six-, seven-pitch at-bats.”
After at fall of open field and weight training, players who are not in winter sport are hitting the weight room.
The baseball program is full of mult-sport athletes. Only seven of 24 expected returnees from 2017 do not play more than one sport.
“It’s very important to play another sport,” says Schellinger, a 2002 LaPorte High School graduate who went on to play four seasons of football and two springs of baseball at Franklin College. “We push our guys to do that. It’s great from a competitive standpoint.”
“Guys not in-season are expected to be with us (in off-season conditioning).”
Since his playing days, Schellinger has witnessed an increased emphasis on strength and conditioning for baseball players.
“You can tell the difference,” says Schellinger. “Kids are bigger and stronger now. They are throwing harder and hitting the ball farther like they do at the big league level. It’s scaled down, but it’s trickled down to our level as well.
“We don’t want bodybuilders. We want guys with muscle. We do a stretching routine on a daily basis and help guys with that flexibility.”
New Prairie is coming off a 16-13 season in 2017. The Cougars were young with just three seniors. One — Kadin Abegg — is now on the baseball roster at Marian University in Indianapolis.
At various times, NP started seven sophomores and two freshmen last spring.
Schellinger looks for leadership in 2018 from seniors Bryce Bloode, Evan Knowlton, Parker Byard and Hunter Houser and junior Hunter Robinson. Bloode is a pitcher, outfielder and third baseman. Knowlton is an infielder, Byard an infielder/pitcher, Houser an outfielder/pitcher and Robinson a third baseman. All are right-handers.
New Prairie typically keeps around 30 and 34 for its varsity and junior varsity squads. Feeder programs include New Prairie Little League in New Carlisle and Rolling Prairie Baseball Association as well as various travel baseball organizations.
“I like carrying 16 at the varsity level (during the regular season) and dressing the full 20 at tournament time,” says Schellinger. “Sixteen works well for what I like to do. There’s a lot of competition in practice and we can have 8 on 8 or four groups of four.”
On game days, Schellinger and his assistants go in with a game plan that revolves around who is pitching and also takes into account who will be used as a courtesy or pinch-runner and who is able to handle the bat in certain pinch-hit situations.
“It’s a big puzzle that all fits together,” says Schellinger. “You maximize what you have personnel-wise on a certain day.”
In 2017, the IHSAA adopted new 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).
“I think it’s needed,” says Schellinger. “Mandated rest is important.
“In 10 innings, you can throw a lot of pitches. For the most part, it’s been a positive for Indiana high school baseball.”
Schellinger says the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association has been discussing the idea of making the limits for varsity and JV the same. As it stands now, JV count maximums are lower.
“Varsity takes priority. It’s double-edge sword for the JV. They run out pitching quicker at JV level. There has been worry about games getting canceled because of lack of pitching.
“The association knew going in it was going to be a trial-and-error thing.”
Schellinger’s assistants for 2018 are Neil Hackett (pitching coach) and Dave Ryans with the varsity and Al Williamson and John Ryans with the JV.
New Prairie (enrollment around 980) plays in the Northern Indiana Conference (along with 4A schools Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay and South Bend Riley, 3A teams New Prairie, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington and 2A member Bremen).
The NIC is divided into two divisions — New Prairie, Bremen, Jimtown, Glenn, Marian and Riley in the South and Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, Adams, Clay, St. Joseph and Washington in the North. Each team plays the other once in conference play and there are titles for overall and games won within the division.
“It’s a great conference,” says Schellinger, whose first season leading the Cougars was also the first of the new-look NIC with New Prairie, Bremen, Glenn and Jimtown joining and the old Northern State Conference dissolving. “Last year, we had two teams in the State Finals (St. Joseph reigned in 3A and Penn was runner-up in 4A). There’s quality across the board. It’s very good baseball and very good athletic programs. It’s been a good move for us.”
Schellinger made his move to New Prairie after nine seasons at Merrillville High School — the last six of those years as head coach.
Before that, he was at Franklin College. His Grizzlies head coaches were Lance Marshall (baseball) and Mike Leonard (football). He played baseball for Scott Upp and football and his father, Bob Schellinger, at LaPorte.
“I’ve been very blessed in my life to be around a lot of good coaches,” says Schellinger. “I’ve taken a lot from each one.”
“(Marshall) taught me to play the game the right way, focus on fundamentals and the importance of building relationships.
“(Leonard) came to Franklin my sophomore year. He is one of the nicest guys off the field you’d ever want to meet. He treats his players with respect.”
“I’ve gotten to know (Upp) as a player and as an opposing coach. I’ve seen his ability to adapt. He does what needs to be done. It’s what is the best thing at the time for the team. He wants to find a better way. Some coaches are stuck in their ways. It’s a huge credit to him that he doesn’t do that.”
Bob and Lorri Schellinger have five children — Tricia, Rob, Mark, Kevin and Danny. The four boys all played football for their father.
Rob Schellinger is now a baseball assistant at LaPorte. Mark Schellinger is a member of the Slicer Football Hall of Fame.
Bob Schellinger, who coached high school baseball at South Central (Union Mills) and LaPorte, was honored at the State Finals as the 2017 IHSAA Baseball Umpire of the Year.
“It’s hard to hard to separate the two (father from coach),” says Mark. “I saw the relationship he had with his players from the time I was a little kid. I was my dad’s shadow. I could see the joy he took in job. We spend too much time out here for it to be dreadful.
“It’s a sport. It’s a game. It’s meant to be fun. When you enjoy it, it’s not work. I enjoy every second of it — planning for practice, going into the weight room or field work.
“We’re ultimately in the kids business and we want to make them better people.”
The people who greet Mark Schellinger at home and at the diamond are wife Heidi and four sons — Colton (5), Boyd (3), Titus (2) and Ripley (4 months).
Like he and his siblings did with his father, Mark has his boys hanging around with him and his team.
“They are around as much as they can be,” says Mark, who turns 32 Dec. 8 — two days before Boyd’s fourth birthday. “These are father-son moments a lot of people don’t get.”
Mark and Heidi Schellinger stand on the baseball field with the oldest three of their four sons — Colton (in grey), Boyd (in blue) and Titus (in his father’s arms). Ripley was not yet born at the time the photo was taken.