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IU Southeast gearing up for first NAIA World Series trip

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University Southeast has been oh-so close to punching its ticket to the NAIA Baseball World Series in recent years.

In 2021, the Grenadiers finally made it and will be in Lewiston, Idaho for the 10-team event, which begins May 28 and runs through June 4.

“We’ve been moving vertically over the last decade,” says Ben Reel, IU Southeast’s 13th-year head coach. “We’ve learned what wins and what doesn’t to win the big game you’ve got to have a lot of resiliency, chemistry and poise.

“That’s what we’re looking at from a recruiting standpoint — those intangibles.”

The Grenadiers have a roster with 20 players from Indiana high schools. In the final game of NAIA Opening Round Kingsport Bracket, there were five of them in the starting lineup.

In that contest against No. 1-ranked Tennessee Wesleyan, this was Reel’s batting order: Lawrenceburg’s Clay Woeste (.371, 7 home runs, 50 runs batted in, 35 stolen bases) at second base, Drew Hensley (Bedford North Lawrence) .402, 0, 15) at first base, Brody Tanksley (Bedford North Lawrence) .355, 18, 69) at catcher, Marco Romero (Caracas, Venezuela) .370, 6, 55) in right field, Derek Wagner (Tri-West Hendricks) .314, 4, 25) in left field, John Ullom (Louisville, Ky.) .361, 5, 42) in center field), Ben Berenda (Lafayette Central Catholic) .247, 0, 32) at designated hitter, Jacob Scott (Huntington Beach, Calif.) .316, 5, 53) at third base and Daunte Decello (Hamilton, Ohio) .366, 1 29) at shortstop.

“I love homegrown players,” says Reel, a native of Dillsboro, Ind., and South Dearborn High School graduate. “There’s something to be said about development.

“This is a program.”

IU Southeast prides itself in having a team full of battlers at the dish.

“We’re definitely going to grind it out at the plate,” says Reel. “We’re tough to strikeout and fast on the bases.”

As a team, the Grenadiers are hitting .332, 62 homers and  526 runs (8.4 per game) with a .949 OPS (.434 on-base percentage plus .515 slugging average).

At 48-14 (including 26 in the River States Conference), the 2021 IU Southeast team has tied the school record for single-season victories set in 2017.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. 

Including being swept in a four-game home series Feb. 26-27 against Huntington (which wound up 33-16), the Grenadiers got off to a 5-10 start.

Since March 3, IU Southeast is 43-4 with win streaks of 18, 14 and six games (current).

After going 26-1 during the River States Conference regular season, the Grenadiers beat Point Park (40-16) to win the RSC tournament title.

The Kingsport (Tenn.) NAIA Opening Round saw IUS win one-run games against Warner (33-23) and No. 1-ranked Tennessee Wesleyan before another World Series berth-clinching win against the Bulldogs (53-6).

Along the way, IU Southeast has had to deal with injuries (RSC Player of the Year and New Lenox, Ill., native Matt Monahan, who hit 428 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs, went out with a season-ending ailment late) and then there’s been all the COVID-19 testing, virtual classes and other issues.

“We’ve been through a lot of trials and tribulations,” says Reel. “But it’s not about what people think you’re supposed to do, it’s about what you’re actually going to do. 

“We’ve focused on the little things. We’ve always tried to put our team in the best situation. You have to plan ahead or you’re going to plan to fail.”

The Grenadiers’ pitching strength comes from its depth. It’s not an insult to say “Johnny Wholestaff” is pitching today.

“Johnny’s alive and well down here,” says Reel. “That’s given us a lot of confidence.”

Left-hander Hunter Kloke (Henderson, Ky.) is 9-1 with a 3.01 earned run average and has made 17 mound appearances (14 starts).

Right-hander Cade Reynolds (Greensburg) is 5-2 with a 3.45 ERA with 15 appearances (13 starts).

Besides his first base duties, right-hander Hensley is 8-3 with a 5.21 ERA on the bump with 16 appearances (12 starts).

Lefty Trevor Reynolds (Greensburg) is 9-1 with a 2.81 ERA. All but three of his 22 games are in relief.

There are eight other pitches with at least 10 appearances.

The saves leaders are right-hander Jacob Frankel (Louisville, Ky.) with four at a 1-1 record, righty Brenden Bube (Lanesville) with three at 4-3 mark and right-hander Lane Oesterling (Batestville) with two and a 5-1 ledger.

“The moment has not too big for (our pitchers),” says Reel. “We’ve made some great plays defensively.

“When we need to make a play we’ve found a way to make it.”

While the NAIA World Series will be a first-time experience for Reel and his program, he will be among friends Idaho.

LSU Shreveport (La.) coach Brad Neffendorf is probably Reel’s best friend in baseball. They were groomsmen in each other’s weddings and Reel is the godfather to Kash Neffendorf.

Jeremy Sheetinger will have his Georgia Gwinett team there. Reel knows Sheets from his days at Brescia. 

Reel also counts Southeastern (Fla.) coach Adrian Dinkel as a buddy and he met Central Methodist (Mo.) coach Nate Breland this past year.

The field will also feature Concordia (Neb.), Faulkner (Ala.), Keiser (Fla.), Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) and Oklahoma Wesleyan.

Reel and his team are learning about all the travel details that goes with playing across the country.

Then there’s the fact that he came home to wife Morgan and newborn son Beckham (born April 24 and in NICU for the first seven days) and water issues at the house.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” says Reel. “I guess (my son) is my lucky charm.”

Ben Reel (Indiana University Southeast Photo)

McWilliams has Indiana Tech baseball back in NAIA Opening Round

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kip McWilliams is taking Indiana Tech to the NAIA Opening Round baseball tournament for the seventh time in his 10th season as Warriors head baseball coach.

With plenty of experience back from the 2016 Opening Round qualifier, 18th-ranked Indiana Tech (41-12) has been assigned as the No. 2 seed at the five-team Bartlesville, Okla., site. The winner of the double-elimination event scheduled for Monday through Thursday, May 15-18, will have their ticket punched to the 10-team NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.

Indiana Tech plays No. 3 Bryan (Tenn.) (37-18). No. 1 Oklahoma Wesleyan (48-9), No. 4 Midland (Neb.) (40-18) and No. 5 St. Ambrose (28-23) will also be competing in Bartlesville for a berth in Lewiston.

Indiana Tech, conference tournament champion Northwestern Ohio and tournament runner-up Davenport (Mich.) are three Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference teams in the Opening Round — Northwestern Ohio at Lima, Ohio, and Davenport at Bellevue, Neb.

Other Indiana schools in the NAIA tournament are Huntington, Marian and Indiana University Southeast.

McWilliams credits a roster full of players used to winning with the ability to focus on the task at hand has Indiana Tech back in championship contention. The Warriors will have scouting reports on the opponent, but are more concerned with what they do best.

“We focus on ourselves,” says McWilliams. “The game of baseball is very interesting. It’s the best teams, not the most talent that gets you there. We work well together. We focus on the fundamentals. We look to execute the pitch or execute the play.”

Tech executed well enough in 2017 to surpass the 40-win plateau for the third straight year and this came against a super-strong schedule inside and outside the WHAC.

“We’re not trying to go through the season perfect,” says McWilliams. “You can go 50-5 or something by scheduling lesser opponents. We want to be challenged. We want our guys to expect a fight.

“If I’m going to go down south, I want play southern schools that have already been outside for awhile. Many times before conference we’re .500 or below because of the strength of our schedule. I’d much rather lose a game 1-0 to the best team in the country than win 35-2.”

Fast-paced practices get the team ready for what might come.

McWilliams recalls dialing up the curveball machine to throw a “Chris Sale slider.”

The players protested, saying they’ll never see that in a game.

McWilliams’ response: “You never know.”

With a coaching staff that includes Gordon Turner (eighth season), Zach Huttle (third season), Bryant Mistler (third season), Pat Collins-Bride (third season) and graduate assistant Cody O’Neal (first season), McWilliams leads a 2017 roster with players from seven different states and three Canadian provinces. There are 14 with Indiana hometowns (most near the Fort Wayne campus), seven from California and one each from Florida and Texas. Some of them are transfers. Tech has a strong relationship with many junior college coaches.

Having a successful background gives players a better chance of landing with the Warriors.

“We’re recruiting kids that can compete at that tournament level,” says McWilliams. “If we’re looking at Player A and Player B and they are both about the same in talent, we may look at their experience in the postseason to see who we might actually offer that scholarship.

“There’s something about those guys who are winners. We can get them come to Indiana Tech and have a great experience.

“My father (the late David McWilliams) gave me some great advice: Get good players and stay out of the way.”

The Tech experience also includes an education and McWilliams is careful to give his players a chance to hit the books, experience collegiate life and be fresh for the diamond. After all, the NAIA season, including fall and spring periods, is 24 weeks, not including the postseason.

“It’s like a full-time job,” says McWilliams. “We give guys enough rest time so they can focus on being a student-athlete.

“We give them some time off and time away so we’re not at each other’s throats.”

McWilliams is a Bloomington South High School graduate. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Grier Werner and Indiana Football Hall of Famer Mo Moriarty were his coaches.

“I was not very good at baseball, but I loved it and I loved it because of Coach Werner,” says McWilliams. “He held me accountable. He pushed me to be the best teammate I could be.

“(Moriarty) taught me just how important the leaders on the team are. I remember my senior year. The team had a bad day at practice. Mo called us captains into his office and jumped on us. It was all our fault. We’ve got to be there to hold the other teammates accountable. Everybody has a job to do.”

McWilliams played baseball and football for two seasons at Franklin College. His baseball coach was Lance Marshall, who taught him much about the mental and physical aspects of pitching.

Coaching came into McWilliams’ life when he went to Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and worked with Brian Donahue and Mark Flueckiger (now at Huntington).

Before landing at Tech, McWilliams was at Marian College (now Marian University) in Indianapolis for eight seasons (six of which ended with the Knights making the NAIA tournament). His head coach was Kurt Guldner, who reached the 500-win plateau during his career.

“It’s not just coaches you coached with, but coaches you coached against,” says McWilliams. “When I went against Sam Riggleman at Spring Arbor I knew I was going to walk away learning some things.

“Coaching college baseball is such a nice fraternity. We share ideas all the time. Everything we do is taken from other coaches.”

From his own experience, McWilliams learned in his first year as a head coach that he didn’t want captains. He had 15 seniors, named three as captains.

“The other 12 don’t lead because they don’t think that’s their job,” says McWilliams. “Seniors do help with the team culture.”

At Tech, that means making sure every player is welcomed and the attitude stays positive. College is hard enough.

“When we have practice we don’t know how their day’s been going,” says McWilliams. “If we start riding them and riding them, they are going to shut down. We want to keep trust in each other.”

INDIANATECHWARRIORS

KIPMCWILLIAMS

Kip McWilliams is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at Indiana Tech. The Warriors are heading into the NAIA Opening Round for the seventh time under his leadership. (Indiana Tech Photo)