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Grubbs guides Goshen College pitchers during unprecedented time

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In a year that has been anything but conventional, Goshen (Ind.) College baseball pitching coach Justin Grubbs has been teaching his hurlers to embrace their routines.

The ninth-year GC assistant has certain things for pitchers to do six days a week while they each are encouraged to find what works best for them.

These are college athletes. It’s no cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all system.

“A lot of these kids when they get here never really focused on pitching,” says Grubbs. “If they were at a school where they played multiple positions they might play shortstop, come in and pitch and the next day they’re back at shortstop.

“One of our outfielders — a freshmen — said he never thought of himself as a pitcher through he was the No. 1 at his school. Here, you’ve got to put a lot more emphasis on it if you want to get better at it.”

Having an abundance of quality arms has long been important when playing a 55-game NAIA schedule. But with the Crossroads League going to 36 conference games and Friday and Saturday doubleheaders, it has taken on even more significance for the Maple Leafs.

“You have a really good chance of getting on the field as a pitcher. We need pitching,” says Grubbs. “With this many innings, there’s going to be opportunities.”

Grubbs spells out his points of emphasis.

“What we’re big on the most is being able to attack hitters, have command and be able to throw secondary pitches for strikes,” says Grubbs. “We’re pretty successful with that compared to some other programs. 

“A lot of times, we’ll pitch backwards to teams. We’ll always work off our fastball. But you’ve got to be able to mix speeds and change locations.”

In 2019, the GC staff set a school record for strikeouts (345). In the past four seasons, the top four team earned run averages in Goshen’s DakStats-era history have been posted.

“We’d like to pitch to weak contact at times, too,” says Grubbs, recognizing that strikeouts tend to raise the pitch count. “We have a nice core of veterans back that are going to be able to help us (in 2021).”

Now in the sixth of seven fall practice weeks, the Maple Leafs are looking to get better even as the COVID-19 pandemic took away or shortened the 2020 spring and summer seasons.

Goshen was 7-11 overall and 2-1 in the Crossroads and on a two-game win streak when the season ended soon after a March 7 doubleheader sweep of visiting Taylor.

Newcomers and veterans are getting roughly the same amount of playing time in intrasquad games so the coaching staff can see what the players can do.

“We try to even up teams so they get a fair crack at it,” says Grubbs. “They have an opportunity.”

In a typical non-pandemic year, Goshen would be playing outside competition in the fall. Not so in 2020.

“We’re getting a lot of reps against each other,” says Grubbs. “Some nights we have to grind through it a little bit.”

The Maple Leaf World Series — Purple vs. Black — is slated for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week.

“I’m hoping our guys’ perspective changed. We have an opportunity to be out here (on J. Harold “Sarge” Yoder Baseball Field). Every day, we should be thankful for after last spring.

“We talked about the mental and emotional side and getting through those struggles.”

Grubbs is part of a staff led by head coach Alex Childers and featuring Doug Wellenreiter and Brad Stoltzfus.

Right now, Childers is with his wife Amber and family at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis while Wellenreiter and Grubbs run the team.

“Alex is the type of coach that has given us so much responsibility and given us the reins to lead our components of the team,” says Grubbs. “He gives us that freedom to coach.”

During the season, Grubbs helps Childers with in-game decision-making and also handles much of GC’s recruiting.

The Leafs roster includes players from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. But it also features those from California, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada and Texas plus Alberta in Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

Once the pandemic hit, there was a slow start to recruiting for the 2021 class. But with the help of the admissions office, virtual visits soon became the norm.

“These were guys we’d already done research on,” says Grubbs. “We’d seen videos and texted back and forth. We had an idea of who they are and talked with their coaches.”

Following the school’s protocol and precautions, there was one short recruiting trip to Michigan in the summer. In most years, Grubbs would log many miles in pursuit of players.

Grubbs grew up just outside Bourbon, Ind., and graduated from Triton Junior/Senior High School in 1998. The Trojans won the old Northern State Conference title in 1997 and were perennial NSC contenders.

Eric Stults, who went on to star at Crossroads League member Bethel College (now Bethel University) and pitch in the big leagues, lived just a couple of miles away. In Justin’s final high school game — left-hander Stults hurled Argos to a 3-2 victory over Triton.

Landon Grubbs — Justin’s brother — was the starting right fielder and clean-up hitter on Triton’s 2001 IHSAA Class 1A state championship team.

Both Grubbs brothers were coached by Jim Shively.

“He got the best out of his players,” says Grubbs of Shively. “He had a lot of enthusiasm. He taught guys how to hit. I never knew how to hit until I got (to high school). I was also more of a pitcher type who hit at the bottom of the order.”

Grubbs ended up in the No. 2 hole on a squad featuring Kyle Gould (who is now the head baseball coach at athletic director at Crossroads League member Taylor University).

On the mound, Grubbs was 15-4 and a two-time all-NSC selection. He also played football and was academic all-state in 1997.

Grubbs was relief on the baseball team at Indiana Wesleyan University. Mark DeMichael was then head coach of the Wildcats. He learned lessons of pitching and spirituality from IWU pitching coach Mike Burchette.

“He talked about the side work and what a pitching program really looks like,” says Grubbs of Burchette. “He had a really good Christian twist to everything and would really lead us spiritually.”

After a couple years, Grubbs decided to begin his coaching career while working toward a Indiana Wesleyan degree he earned in 2002 (he got a masters in Administration of Physical Education and Sport). 

He was the freshmen coach at Marion (Ind.) High School then a freshmen coach at Kokomo (Ind.) High School

Grubbs then became varsity assistant and pitching coach to head coach Steve Shugart at Madison-Grant Junior/Senior High School in Fairmount, Ind. The Argylls regularly won 20 games as season and were state-ranked in Class 2A. M-G won a Central Indiana Conference championship.

After that, Justin and wife Emily (who also went to Triton and Indiana Wesleyan), opted to move closer to home to start a family (their daughters are Eliana and Maycee). 

The couple, married since 2004, settled in Bremen, Ind., and Justin took a job as a math teacher and assistant baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) High School. He was the varsity assistant for the Redskins (now RedHawks) for five years.

Grubbs continues to teach at Goshen and coach at Goshen College. When deciding whether to take the college job, Grubbs consulted with former GHS teacher and coach and GC coach DeVon Hoffman.

He also talked with GHS principal Barry Younghans, who makes it possible for him to teach and get to college games — sometimes the second half of a doubleheader.

“Alex is very flexible as a coach,” says Grubbs. “He’s even said there are times that I need you even more in practice than I do at the games because that’s where all of our work is put in and it’s just performance at the game.

“I’m thankful I’m around people that are really good people to work for at the high school and here at the college.”

Justin Grubbs is in his ninth year as baseball pitching coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. He is a graduate of Triton Junior/Senior High School in Bourbon, Ind., Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. He teaches math at Goshen High School.

Schellinger looks for his New Prairie team to attack in every phase of the game

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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.”

NEWPRAIRIECOUGARS

MARKSCHELLINGER

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.