Notre Dame has one of the oldest lineups in NCAA Division I college baseball. After a second-straight regional championship, the Link Jarrett-coached Fighting Irish (40-15) beat No. 1-ranked and overall top seed Tennessee 2-1 in the three-game super regional held in Knoxville, Tenn. (8-6 win June 10, 12-4 loss June 11, 7-3 win June 12) to earn a berth in the 2022 College World Series. The event runs June 16-27 in Omaha, Neb. The Notre Dame starting lineup in the super regional clincher featured righty-swinging left fielder Ryan Cole (22), switch-hitting second baseman Jared Miller (23), righty-swinging first baseman Carter Putz (22), designated hitter Jack Zyska (22), righty-swinging catcher David LaManna (23), third baseman Jack Brannigan (21), righty-swinging shortstop Zack Prajzner (22), righty-swinging right fielder Brooks Coetze (22), switch-hitting center fielder Spencer Myers (23) and right-handed pitcher Liam Simon (21). Cole, Miller, LaManna and Myers are all graduate students. Putz, Prajzner and Coetze are seniors. Brannigan and Simon are juniors. Ace John Michael Bertrand (24) started Game 2 against Tennessee. Usual No. 2 weekend starter Austin Temple (22) took the ball for Game 1 to keep Bertrand on his usual rest. Lefty-hander Bertrand and righty Temple are both graduate students. On Wednesday, Bertrand, Brannigan and ND left-hander Jack Findlayreceived All-American honors — Bertrand second team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, Branigan third team by Perfect Game and Findlay second team by PG. The last time Notre Dame went to Omaha was 2002 when the Irish went 2-2 and were eliminated by semifinalist Stanford in a year when Texas won the national championship. Bertrand, who was born in 1998, was not yet 4. Texas (47-20) is Notre Dame’s opponent in CWS Game 2 of Bracket 1 at 7 p.m. Friday, June 17. The Longhorns won the Greenville Super Regional with a Game 3 starting combination against host East Carolina featuring four redshirt seniors, two redshirt juniors, three redshirt sophomores and one sophomore. Texas A&M (42-18) plays Oklahoma (42-22) in Game 1 of Bracket 1 at 2 p.m. Friday. In Bracket 2 on Saturday, June 18, it’s Stanford (47-16) vs. Arkansas (43-19) at 2 and Ole Miss (37-22) vs. Auburn (42-20) at 7. The double-elimination phase goes through June 23 with the best-of-three finals June 25-27. Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate Michael Early is the Texas A&M hitting coach. Jarrett is in his second season leading Notre Dame. He began establishing his system in the fall of 2019. He has continued to share his ideas about building complete hitters and has talked about what it means to be a coach. College World Series games will air and be streamed by ESPN.
Dawson Estep counts it a privilege to play baseball. So even though he considers himself a middle infielder, he’ll go wherever coaches want to use him. “I don’t write the lineup,” says Estep, a 2019 graduate of University High School in Carmel, Ind., who is preparing to return to Connors State College in Warner, Okla., in mid-August. “I’ll play anywhere as long as I’m on the field having fun. “I’m just excited to be out on the field playing.” This summer, the 21-year-old has been primarily been used at second base by Moon Shots head coach Kevin Christman in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Estep and Christman go way back. “I’ve know him known since before I was 10,” says Estep. “He’s watched me grow up. “It’s fun playing for him in the summer.” Christman, a retired San Francisco Giants scout, has helped Chris and Sue Estep at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield and the Indiana Mustangs travel organization and is very familiar with the Estep children — Tron, Dawson and Jasmine. RoundTripper/Mustangs founder Chris Estep is a master instructor and University High head coach. He played at the University of Kentucky. Sue Estep was a cheerleader at UK. Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate Tron Estep played football at Elon (N.C.) University, where he has earned underrate and masters degrees, and is about to go to U.S. Army National Guard boot camp. Competitive dancer/cheerleader Jasmine Estep is heading into her senior year at Carmel High School. “She’s probably the best athlete in the family,” says Dawson of his sister. “She can do 10 straight back flips.” Cousin Chase Estep, who played with Dawson on the Indiana Mustangs, played his second season at Kentucky in the spring and is with the Northwoods League’s Kenosha (Wis.) Kingfish this summer. Dawson Estep helps out at RoundTripper when he’s not working out, honing his skills or playing in the CSL. At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Estep has added about 15 pounds of muscle since going to Connors State in January. A catalyst for University’s IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up and state championship teams in 2018 and 2019, Estep went to Rend Lake College in Ina, Ill., and played for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Warriors in the spring of 2020, a season shortened to 12 games by the COVID-19. After the shutdown, Estep took online classes and worked out back in Indiana. When there was a change in the Rend Lake coaching staff and uncertainty about the 2021 season, he began looking for other opportunities. “We were at the height of COVID and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” says Estep. “I didn’t want to get stuck and not have a place to be.” Estep posted Twitter videos of himself on offense and defense and Connors State reached out. He visited and ended up going with the Perry Keith-coached Cowboys. “I’ve found myself as a ballplayer,” says Estep. “It’s the right spot for me. “I’m in the right environment where I can grow as a player and a person.” Keith has been at Connors State for more than three decades and amassed more than 1,600 wins. His teams have made five JUCO World Series appearances. “He’s a legend in the coaching world,” says Estep of Keith. “He’s one of those coaches that makes you go the extra mile. He gets the best of everybody. He’s honest even if you don’t want to hear it. “He’s the guy you want to go to battle for and he’ll go to battle for you.” Estep credits Keith for helping him mature and grow. Estep has embraced the “JUCO Bandit” approach to baseball. “You’re on your own but you’re not on your own,” says Estep. “You have to grow up fast. “You use the resources you have and come up with things on the fly. You have a lot of ingenuity and use what you have. When I’m back home I have a lot more things at my disposable. It makes makes me appreciate them.” Estep says junior college baseball — for those who work at it – provides a chance to play right away and find their niche in the game. In his first season Connors State, he worked out at many infield positions in a utility role. In 17 games, he hit .324 (11-of-34) with seven runs batted in, 11 runs scored and two stolen bases as the Cowboys went 37-18. In the fall, JUCO players are often at the field up to 10 hours a day. “The fall is where the boys become men,” says Estep. “It’s the grind. “Once they move on to a four-year school they’re prepared for anything.” Since he was 14 or 15, Estep has been a switch hitter. “I liked hitting left-handed when I played wiffle ball with my friends,” says Estep. “I started becoming comfortable (in baseball).” Estep explains the advantage of hitting from both sides of the plate. “I don’t have issues hitting a breaking ball,” says Estep. “Everything comes into me. I go after the fastball and stay back on the change-up. “I don’t see lefties a lot. I’ve had maybe 10 at-bats right-handed this summer. So I work even harder on the right side.” For either side, Estep does plenty of tee work and sets the pitching machine at high velocity to get ready for game speed. He does drills that concentrate on his lower half. “I sometimes get antsy with my feet and try to kill the ball,” says Estep. “I try to be a fundamentally-sound as possible.” He likes to take the same amount of cuts righty and lefty since he does not know who is coming out of the bullpen if the starter should leave. Dawson was born in Indianapolis and spent his whole life in Carmel. While he and his father probably talk about baseball everyday, there’s also conversations about school. After he gets his basic classes completed and lands at a four-year school, Dawson sees himself pursuing a degree in sports management or business. “I want to get into coaching and help younger kids,” says Dawson of his post-playing ambitions. “This game has helped me so much. “I might as well do that for the rest of my life.”
Through hills and valleys, the right-handed pitcher persisted and persevered until he finally stood on a major league mound at 28 and its those kind of lessons he passes along to the next generation with his baseball/softball business — Demand Command.
McClellan, who stands 6-foot-5, earned three letters at Indiana University (1998, 1999 and 2000). He pitched in 41 games, starting 22 with five complete games and one save. In 159 1/3 innings, he posted 111 strikeouts and a 4.58 earned run average while playing for Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan — a man he credits as much for what he did in stressing education as what he did between the white lines.
Long before that McClellan started giving back. He started the Zach McClellan School of Pitching in Bloomington, Ind., in 2002.
Zach and future wife Sarah met at IU. She is from nearby Ellettsville, Ind., and a graduate of Edgewood High School.
During his pro off-seasons, Zach was a student teacher during the day and gave lessons at night during his off-season.
With the growth of the business, McClellan began looking for a new name and a suggestion came from one of his pupils who noted how he was constantly telling them, “Don’t just accept control, demand command.”
McClellan says the difference between control and command is that with control you can throw to a general area and command is being able to execute your pitches to the catcher.
The two main aspects of pitching as McClellan sees them are how hard you throw and can you locate it. In other words: Velocity and command.
“I try to marry those two things,” says McClellan, who notes that location becomes very important when it comes to getting good hitters out.
Believing that training should be fun and challenging, McClellan began getting his young pitchers to play H-O-R-S-E baseball style.
While in the basketball version, a player has to replicate a made shot or take a letter, McClellan’s baseball variation requires one pitcher to execute a pitch — say a fastball to the outside corner — and have the next one up replicate that or take a letter.
The first Demand Command T-shirts McClellan ever had made asked: “Can you play H-O-R-S-E on the mound?”
“It was an inside joke between the instructed kids, myself and their parents,” says McClellan. “People would ask the question about what it meant.
“We were doing something kind of unique and kids were actually executing pitches. What I’ve noticed through the years is that if they have to call the pitch, it’s even better. Now they’re not just throwing a ball in the generally vicinity.”
McClellan never wants training to be drudgery for his players.
“If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it becomes more of a job,” says McClellan. “It’s not a job, it’s an opportunity. It’s fun. If you’re going to come to me it’s not going to feel like work.
“You have to make sure that the kids are enjoying what they’re doing, but learning at the same time.”
Since he began offering instruction, McClellan has preferred small-group lessons of three of four players.
“I say make sure kids aren’t just doing solo private lessons,” says McClellan. “A lot of parents want their kids to work one-on-one with a coach, but when they go on a field they have eight other teammates.
“At the end of the day there’s nobody behind the mound holding your hand and telling you how to correct yourself in a game. You have to have a feel on the adjustments you’re making.”
Every now and then, McClellan likes to match 17-year-old prospect with an 8-year-old learning how to pitch.
“The 17-year-old learns how to teach,” says McClellan. “The more you learn how to teach the better you get at your craft.
“(The teen is) learning how other people receive the information which makes them more receptive of the information.”
Now that he has been at it this long, another McClellan goal is coming to fruition.
“I’ve always wanted to create a community of baseball players that became future leaders,” says McClellan. “Kids that played for me or took lessons from me are now coming back to be coaches for me.”
Matt McClellan played at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., and pitched in the Toronto Blue Jays organization (Toronto selected the right-hander in the seventh round of the 1997 MLB Draft) and for the independent Newark (N.J.) Bears and Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones.
The DC website states the mission: “Demand Command was built on the principles that baseball and softball are teaching mechanisms for more than just the games.
Baseball and Softball have many life lessons within the games. Some examples are leadership, hard work, determination, discipline, working together with many types of people, dealing with success and failure and good character.
“The goal is to teach people the value of Demand Command life principles through baseball and softball. Demand Command stands for much more than commanding pitches or at bats. Demand Command is a way of life.”
Numerous DC alums have gone on to college and pro baseball. Among them is Dylan Stutsman, who pitched at the University of Indianapolis and then pitched for the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers.
Former Texas Rangers draft pick Renton Poole is now a senior pitcher at Indiana University Kokomo.
Zach and Sarah McClellan live in Columbus and have three athletic daughters — Mia (14), Miley (12) and Emery (10).
The McClellan brothers — Jeff (46), Matt (44) and Zach (42 on Nov. 25) — are the offspring of former college athletes.
Father Dave a basketball player at the University of Michigan and Mother Diane a track and field athlete at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.
Jeff played baseball at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.
Zach’s nephew, Sebastian McClellan, is a freshman basketball guard at Lawrence Technical University in Southfield, Mich. Niece Mallory McClellan recently signed a letter of intent to play softball at Fordham University in New York.
Gary Vaught did not see himself leading another college baseball program.
When he retired a head coach at the University of Indianapolis in 2018, Vaught wanted to spend more time with his ailing mother back in Norman, Okla., and was secure in the knowledge that UIndy was in good hands with his former Greyhounds assistant Al Ready.
He had agreed to be head coach/general manager for the Hoptown Hoppers, a summer collegiate wood bat team in Hopkinsville, Ky., then Lake Eric College, a private school and NCAA Division II school in Painesville, Ohio (30 miles northeast of Cleveland) came calling.
Vaught was on vacation with friends when former LEC athletic director Kelley Kish (who had been in the compliance office at UIndy) reached out.
With so many former assistants in coaching, including Jordan Tiegs (now in the Texas Rangers system), Vaught was glad to recommend a candidate or two to the Storm.
Vaught was invited to the Lake Erie campus and met with president Brian Posler (who had served at Kansas State University and the University of Southern Indiana).
The job was offered to Vaught and he took it in January.
“I fell in love with the people up there,” says Vaught, who works for athletic director Mollie Hoffman.
Vaught led the Storm to a 3-6-1 mark in a COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. All but one of the losses came in the final inning.
The virus caused the Hoppers season to be called off and the veteran coach spent much of his time between Indianapolis and Oklahoma.
Vaught’s career mark at the NCAA D-I or D-II levels to 978-672-2.
Then there’s the 305 victories Vaught racked up at the beginning of his coaching career at Connors State College in Warren, Okla.
Vaught, 69, is back in Indianapolis with the Lake Erie closed down because of COVID, but he’s still coaching the Storm.
His fire was reignited last spring and continues to burn.
“I’ve got a lot of energy,” says Vaught. “I love the game. It’s been a big part of my life. Hopefully we’ve made changes in kids’ lives.”
Each year around Christmas, Vaught receives and makes calls to former players. He also reaches out to mentor Gary Ward, who enjoyed so much success at Oklahoma State University and is a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
“It doesn’t take anytime to pick up the phone and say thank you,” says Vaught. “Treat people how they are supposed to be treated. That’s how to try to do everyday as a coach.
“The Lord’s blessed me in so many ways.”
The veteran skipper has so many “baseball brothers” that he appreciates in the baseball fraternity. Among those are Tracy Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Rick O’Dette (Saint Leo Universty), Larry Owens (Bellarmine University) and Josh Rabe (Quincy University).
And the list goes on.
Vaught says he looks forward to bringing his team to UIndy for a April 14, 2021 doubleheader, where he can take the field against former players now coaching the Greyhounds Ready (whose son Cam is a godchild to Vaught) and Trevor Forde. UIndy AD Scott Young was Vaught’s assistant for 14 years.
Former Greyhounds AD Dave Huffman hired Vaught in 1994 and the coach also worked with Sue Willey in her tenure as AD.
The 2018 and 2019 seasons saw him work as pitching coach/recruiting coordinator at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. Before he shined at the university of Michigan and was drafted by the Houston Astros, outfielder Jordan Brewer played at Lincoln Trail.
Gaskill played for Dave Fireoved then two years for Tim Gaskill (with assistants Adam Swinford and Timon Pruitt) as a Wayne General.
“(Coach Gaskill) is one of my biggest influences,” says Glant. “His practices were individualized and focused on results. He was ahead of his time. He showed that each player is different. It was not a cookie cutter system.
“You also don’t have to do fire and brimstone to get results.”
As a Muskegon player, Glant spent two seasons with head coach Carl “Cap” Pohlman, who played in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
“Coach Pohlman taught me a ton about doing things the right way,” says Glant. “We would work work on mental side of things. You don’t worry about things you can’t control.”
Aurora coach Shaun Neitzel took a combination of players from differing background — junior college transfers and NCAA Division I kick-backs — and got them to jell.
“They would buy into the culture pretty quickly to have success,” says Glant. “It was knowing the recipe to cook things up.”
Glant learned the think outside the box in Montana.
“Weather changes tremendously,” says Glant. “You had to make sure guys were still doing something to get better. It was quality over quantity.”
He cites Marc Rardin at Iowa Western College for showing the way to success in a cold weather state.
“It’s more of a mindset and practice planning and having your guys doing something productive,” says Glant. “Midwest teams must have a little more of a chip on their shoulder and a blue collar work ethic.”
“It’s the toughest Division I JUCO conference in the Midwest,” says Glant, who sent Lincoln Trail against Wabash Valley, John A. Logan, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Kakaskia, Southwestern Illinois, Southeastern Illinois, Shawnee and Lake Land. “We would shake the trees and find the diamond in the rough.
“With the pitching staff, Coach Bowers let me sink or swim,” says Glant. “Fortunately, we had success. It set me up for where I am now, being a head coach.”
At Muskegon, Glant is a one-man band.
“We do not a big recruiting budget,” says Glant. “It’s good to have friends int he coaching industry and to bounce ideas off of them.
One resource for Nate is older brother Dustin Glant, who was pitching coach at Ball State University before taking a job in the New York Yankees organization after the 2019 season.
“Having Dustin as a brother is nice,” says Nate. “I can pick his brain and thoughts on things. He had a heck of a year at Ball State (the Cardinals went 38-19 and Drey Jameson was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks).”
When recruiting, Glant prefers to see players in-person.
“I want that eye test,” says Glant. “I can see the intangibles and how they interact with teammates.
Most players come from Michigan and many hails from the Grand Rapids and Traverse City areas.
“To me, it’s all about a fit,” says Glant. “I don’t like people writing off divisions because of the perception.”
He likes to have recruits work out for him and learn what makes them tick.
“I like the JC level,” says Glant. “I like the developmental side of it.”
Going to a junior college allows a player to grow athletically and academically.
While the NCAA has to abide by care hours, junior college players can work on their craft throughout the school year. They can play 20 games in the fall and 56 in the spring.
“They get a lot of game experience right away, which I think is big,” says Glant. “They are facing some of the best 17, 18, 19 year olds in the country.”
All his outposts have led Glant to be the coach he is.
“I’ve kind of been all over the place,” says Glant. “Getting into the coaching game so late has shaped my perception of connecting with a person regardless of age and working at a common goal.
“There’s no hierarchy here.”
Glant currently has 14 pitchers on his roster and would like to have 16 or 17 since he will take his arms into MCCAA doubleheaders on Fridays and Saturdays and mid-week non-conference games.
He is focused on arm care and keeping his hurlers healthy so they can go on to pitch at four-year schools and, perhaps, beyond.
“We don’t burn them up here,” says Glant. “We now know how the human body functions. Some guys are flexible. Some guys are not.”
Glant says he wants his players to understand the “why.”
“We want to execute,” says Glant. “Do not give an at-bat away. Control the running game. You’re trying to win games and get better. Throwing strikes and getting guys out is the name of the game
“How you do that shouldn’t matter.”
But it’s not all about the game for Glant.
“I want to mold these kids to be a good husbands, fathers, people down the road,” says Glant. “I want them be respectful and say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no mam’ and be productive members of society.”
It’s like the late University of Louisana-Lafayette head baseball coach Tony Robichaux often said: “Baseball is what they do. It’s not who they are.”
Nate Glant began his college baseball career at Muskegon (Mich.) Community College and he is now heading into his first season as the Jayhawks head coach.