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Former McCutcheon, Purdue hurler Wittgren finds his groove in Cleveland bullpen

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A change of baseball addresses meant a change in change-up approach for Nick Wittgren.

The 6-foot-3 right-handed reliever was traded from the Miami Marlins to the Cleveland Indians in February 2019.

The Tribe made a request of the former Purdue University closer and three-sport standout at McCutcheon High School — also in West Lafayette, Ind.

“When I got to Cleveland they told me my change-up plays pretty well and to throw it more to right-handers than I did in the past,” says Wittgren, who recorded a career-high 12 holds in 55 appearances and 57 2/3 relief innings. His 2.81 earned run average was 19th-lowest among American League relievers. “Roberto Perez was behind the plate and loved calling it.

“I almost felt like I threw my change-up more than I did my slider.”

Close.

According to Statcast data, Wittgren’s pitch arsenal included four pitches in 2019. He threw his four-seamer 66.4 percent of the time, slider 18.8, change-up 14.7 and curve 0.1.

“I was in my groove last year,” says Wittgren, who turns 29 on May 29. “I had my head where I needed it.”

With Miami in 2018, Statcast actually has Wittgren with a higher percentage of change-ups (15.7) as compared to sliders (12.8). Besides the four-seamer (62.7), there was also the sinker (7.5) and cutter (1.3).

With all the movement, Wittgren refers to his pitch repertoire as fastball, change-up and breaking ball.

Wittgren pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle. He throws across his body with his glove flaring out and whips around to deliver the baseball.

“I don’t know when I started,” says Wittgren of his mechanics. “In college I did it. It just works for me. I get the most force toward home. It’s really tough to pick up the baseball.

“To a righty I’m started with my arm behind them. It works in my favor.”

Wittgren favors sliders and four-seamers in on the hands with change-ups down and away.

“I started manipulated that pitch a little more last year,” says Wittgren of the change-up.

Indians pitching coach Carl Willis, assistant pitching coach Ruben Niebla and bullpen coach Brian Sweeney will often remind Wittgren to use that pitch.

With Cleveland, he occasionally got a chance to deliver that pitch and others to a familiar target.

Kevin Plawecki, a college teammate, was a back-up catcher with the Indians in 2019 (the Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox in January).

“It was kind of cool taking it back to the good old Purdue says,” says Wittgren. “We still clicked.

“I didn’t have the change-up in college. I didn’t need it.”

Wittgren played shortstop and pitched at McCutcheon for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

As a Mavericks senior, Wittgren was an MVP in tennis in the fall and earned the same recognition for basketball in the winter.

Following brother Kyle’s lead, Nick took up tennis as a freshman.

“It was a good way to stay active for basketball and baseball,” says Wittgren. “It helped with footwork and conditioning and hand-eye (coordination).”

Rick Peckinpaugh was Wittgren’s head basketball coach.

“(Peckinpaugh) brought the most energy and talent out in you,” says Wittgren. “We had a group that played together really well. He was there for every single person, trying to get us better.

“It was a pleasure and a joy playing for him.”

With no college baseball offers coming in, he was thinking about bypassing his senior year on the diamond and focusing on basketball.

“I was just looking for a way to pay for college,” says Wittgren. “I was not looking at the whole picture.”

Wittgren had his sights on teaching math and coaching — either at the high school or college level.

“My mom (Lisa) is a (fourth grade) teacher,” says Wittgren. “I love kids. I love numbers.”

Burton let Wittgren know that he had baseball potential past high school.

He said, ‘you have something special, don’t waste it,’” says Wittgren of Burton’s advice.

Besides that, Burton emphasized that Wittgren was part of a large senior class and he owed it to the guys he’d been playing with since sixth grade to finish high school strong (born in Torrance, Calif., and raised in Long Beach and Cypress, Nick moved to Indiana as a sixth grader; father Andy lives in San Juan Capistrano; Nick’s other brother is Jack).

“If Jake didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here,” says Wittgren. “He saw something in me.”

A few days ago, the player and his former coach connected via FaceTime and Burton got to see Nick and Ashley Wittgren’s 14-month old son Jackson.

At McCutcheon, shortstop/pitcher Wittgren’s velocity topped out around 85 mph for most of the his senior season.

“I never took reps off in high school,” says Wittgren. “I need to do this to get better.”

His arm was tired from the workload.

With a few days off prior to sectional, Wittgren was touching 90.

Wittgren pitched in the Colt World Series in Lafayette and was scouted by McCutcheon graduate Matt Kennedy, then head coach at Parkland College. He got Wittgren to come to the junior college power in Champaign, Ill.

Seeing that the Cobras were in need of a Sunday starter, Wittgren pitched an idea to Kennedy.

He wanted to only pitch.

Wittgren recalls the response of the man he calls “KY.”

“He said that might be one of the best decisions you ever make,” says Wittgren a decade later. “I brought you in as a pitcher. I wanted you to figure it out.”

The lanky right-hander went 10-0 with 54 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings for a Parkland that placed fifth in the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.

In the fall of his sophomore year at Purdue, Wittgren had an ulnar nerve transfer.

Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber wanted him to be the team’s closer in the spring of 2011.

“Whatever puts me out on that field is what I want to do,” says Wittgren, who finished 24 games and appeared in 29 with a Big Ten Conference-leading 12 saves to go with 55 strikeouts in 51 innings.

Schreiber (who later was head coach at McCutcheon and is now head coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) and assistants Ryan Sawyers and Tristan McIntyre (now head coach at McCutcheon) implored him to “trust your stuff and pound the strike zone.”

“They got me to throw certain pitches in certain counts,” says Wittgren.

He could change the batter’s eye level with fastballs up and sliders down. If he  pitched up and in, hitters would not be able to extend their arms.

Wittgren was named second-team all-conference and then went to play for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks that summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Schreiber asked Wittgren to be a closer again in 2012.

He pitched in 26 games, finishing off 25 and racked up 10 saves, setting a new Purdue all-time high with 22. He fanned 39 batters in 41 innings and was named third-team all-Big Ten. His two-year earned run average for the Boilers was 2.54.

Wittgren selected in the ninth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Marlins and made his major league debut for Miami in 2016.

On the Cape is where Wittgren first met Ashley Crosby. She was part of the media department for the elite summer circuit.

A few years later, strength trainer Ashley did an internship with Cressy Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and she began dating Nick, who was training in south Florida with the Marlins. The relationship blossomed. The married couple now lives near Miami.

During the COVID-19 quarantine, Wittgren works out in his garage gym.

“It’s a full set-up,” says Wittgren. “There’s anything you need.

Eric (Cressy) writes my program. My wife implements them.”

Ashley Wittgren has wealth of knowledge with an MS (Master of Science) degree and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Precision Nutrition (Pn1) and TPI accreditations. She is there to help her husband correctly perform the movements and get the most out of them.

“She could apply for a big league strength job if she wanted,” says Nick of his wife. “She walks and talks me through a lift so I can get as strong as I possibly can.”

During quarantine, Wittgren throws into a backyard net. On bullpen days, he throws to catchers living in the area brought together by CSP.

During the off-season, Wittgren long tosses. But as the season approaches, he gets dialed in to pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches.

“I want my release point during the season to stay the same on everything,” says Wittgren. “I keep it on a line the whole entire time and hit (the catcher’s) knees every single time.”

NICKWITTGRENINDIANS

Nick Wittgren, a McCutcheon High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University, is now a reliever for the Cleveland Indians. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 2016 with the Miami Marlins. (Cleveland Indians Photo)

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Nick Wittgren, who played at McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, delivers the baseball for the Cleveland Indians. He excelled as a set-up reliever for the Tribe in 2019. (MLB Photo)

 

Grove appreciates how Churubusco values baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Grove retired as head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School in 2015.

But that hasn’t stopped him from being a regular around “Turtle Town” diamonds.

Grove has helped out with the high school program, now led by 2011 graduate Jordan Turner, and has crossed Churubusco Community Park to watch youth league games.

“Baseball’s important in Churubusco,” says Grove. “It really is.

Grove, a graduate of Bluffton (Ind.) High School and Ball State University (1977), started coaching baseball at Churubusco in 1980 as an assistant to Jerry Lange (who was head football coach at the school 1985-91) and took over the Eagles in 1985. He went on to earn 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. Churubusco won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (reigning four times in the NECC tournament) on his watch and two Allen County Athletic Conference titles.

Grove produced 25 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state selections and six players selected for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Devin Peters (2015), Bryan Brudi (2008), Brad Vaught (2007), Brad Dell (2003), Todd Fleetwood (1997) and Travis Rehrer (1995). Grove was an assistant to North head coach Erik Hisner during the 2015 series.

Peters went on to play for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national champions at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College (2017) and participate in the NCAA Division II World Series with Ashland (Ohio) University (2019).

Right-handed pitcher Fred Ransom Jones, a 2004 Churubusco graduate, was selected in the 33rd round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees out of the University of Evansville.

Grove’s 1995 squad lost 7-1 to eventual single-class state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci, in the championship game of the Concordia Semistate. Bill Sharpe was the plate umpire in the title games of the Warsaw Sectional, Plymouth Regional, Concordia Semistate and State Finals in ’95.

The ’Busco battery of right-hander Rehrer and catcher Shawn Targgart wound up playing for Richard “Itchy” Jones at the University of Illinois.

Right-hander Brent Gaff represented Churubusco in the majors. He was chosen in the sixth round of the 1977 MLB Draft by the New York Mets and spent parts of 1982-84 with the big club.

“A small town kid from Churubusco can make it to the bigs,” says Grove. “This town is proud of the product they turn out on the baseball field.”

Whether or not an Eagles’ season included any postseason accolades, Grove got a kick out of fitting the pieces of the puzzle together.

“I enjoyed the whole preseason part and working out in the gym,” says Grove. “I moved kids around so we could be the most competitive we could be.”

After games, Grove went home and studied charts to see how to pitch to returning players for the next opponent.

“That was a lot of fun,” says Grove.

He also appreciated the rapport with his players and the camaraderie with his assistant coaches.

“I’ve got to see (players) grow up and become fathers,” says Grove. “You’re only going to be as good as your assistants.”

Business teacher Terry McManama was hired at Churubusco at the same time as Industrial Technology teacher Grove and coached volleyball and softball before he was lured to the baseball staff, where he served for more than two decades.

Math teacher Monte Gerig, who was Eagles head coach from 1973-77, and Chemistry teacher Jim Folland (a former Fort Wayne Elmhurst head baseball coach) were also Grove assistants. When Trent Gerig (Class of 1996), was a player, his father was lured back to coaching baseball.

Coaches in the Churubusco athletic department knew that they needed to share athletes in order for their teams to be competitive so multi-sport athletes were the norm.

“Everybody worked together,” says Grove. “We kept our kids active. We were there for the kids.

“The more sports they play, the more it makes them a rounded athlete. They tend to stay away from injuries because they don’t use the same muscles over and over again until something gives.”

Grove, McManama and Gerig can often be seen together on the golf course.

To stay close to football, Grove and McManama walk the sidelines and keep statistics for Churubusco football, which is now led by Paul Sade.

A former defensive coordinator, Grove was an Eagles assistant from 1979-99. He coached football at Lake State Edison briefly before coming to Whitley County.

Grove is still active with the IHSBCA, helping with registration at the State Clinic each January and assisting with the Class 2A poll. He was a district representative for many years and has served on the North/South All-Stars Series committee and was co-chair of the Baseball Strikes Out Cancer project with former executive director Bill Jones. The campaign raised more than $25,000 for the American Cancer Society.

“The most satisfying committee I ever worked on with the IHSBCA,” says Grove.

He is grateful for the impact of mentors like Hall of Famers Jones (who coached at DeKalb), Masucci, Don Sherman (Huntington North), Chris Stavreti (Fort Wayne Northrop) and Bill Nixon (Plymouth).

“I was skinny young coach,” says Grove. “I really looked up to those guys. The smartest thing I’ve ever done is that I kept my mouth shut and learned from them.”

At Bluffton, Grove was an outfielder and right-hander pitcher. Fred Murray was the Tigers head coach.

As a thank you to Murray, some member of the Class of 72, including Mike Pettibone, Bruce Hirschy and Jeff Penrod, initiated a reunion a couple of summers ago. Playing on old Wilson Field, Bluffton won its own sectional in 1972.

“Bluffton was a great place to grow up,” says Grove. “there was something going on for kids all the time.”

A summer recreation program provided chances to learn about baseball, swimming, tennis and more.

Denise Milholland, who went to another Wells County high school — Norwell — was introduced to Grove by Jim Watson and they later wed. Eric Milholland, brother of Denise, played in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Mark and Denise Grove have two married daughters and two grandsons — Jennifer, who works for Child Protective Services, and Derek Hupfer with Payton (9) and Brittany, an occupational therapy assistant, and Brennon Moughler with Evan (11).

Jennifer played volleyball, a little basketball and softball at Churubusco then softball at Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.). Brittany played volleyball, a little basketball and tennis for the Eagles. The Hupfers reside in Bluffton and the Moughlers near Butler, Ind.

One of Grove’s hobbies is collecting antique tools and tool boxes and fixing them up. One Christmas, he gave a tool box to each grandson and then let them and their fathers take turns picking out tools.

In January 2020, Grove received a call from Steve Warden on behalf of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association. Grove was selected for induction into the NEIA Hall of Fame with the banquet moved from the spring to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18 at Classic Cafe Catering & Event Center, 4832 Hillegas Road, Fort Wayne, because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

“That was a happy day at the Grove house,” says Grove, who was on the IHSBCA Hall of Fame ballot in 2020. “It validates the kind of program we had here at Churubusco.

“We had a lot of support from the administration and community. You don’t win without that.”

The NEIBA will also induct Northrop head coach Matt Brumbaugh and World Baseball Academy Chief Executive Officer Caleb Kimmel and present awards to Tom Knox and Tom Clements. Tickets are $25 each. Mail payment and the number of attendees to NEIBA, P.O. Box 12733, Fort Wayne, IN 46864.

MARKGROVE1

Mark Grove was head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School from 1985-2015 and earned 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. He is to be inducted into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame Oct. 18.

 

Kennedy joins Butler Bulldogs coaching staff

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Kennedy is back home again in Indiana after spending a few years coaching baseball in Florida.

The Lafayette native joined the staff at Butler University in Indianapolis in January. He is instructing catchers, infielders and hitters, helping pitching coach Ben Norton with recruiting, assisting with camps and clinics and office duties.

“It’s a group effort here,” says Kennedy. “We make sure we are all on the same page.”

Head coach Dave Schrage’s Bulldogs open the 2020 season Feb. 14-16 in Lexington, S.C., with two games each against North Carolina A&T and George Mason. Butler is a member of the Big East Conference.

Kennedy appreciates that Schrage values player development and promotes a family atmosphere.

“It’s about getting guys better and fundamentals,” says Kennedy of Schrage. “He’s a pitching and defense guy and believes in attention to details. He emphasizes base running, which a little bit of a lost art.

“We have a family feel within our clubhouse. He wants to make sure you get home and spend time with your kids. He knows how important that is, especially with the season right around the corner.”

Kennedy has has three children in West Lafayette. Son Karson Kennedy (16) is a junior catcher at Harrison High School, where Pat Lowrey is head coach. Daughter Emilyne (13) is a gymnast and a seventh grader at Battle Ground Middle School. Daughter Jolee (9) is a third grader at Battle Ground Elementary.

The 2018 and 2019 seasons saw Kennedy on the staff of Rick O’Dette at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He had served three different stints with O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. ((2005, 2007-08, 2016-17). The school closed its doors after the 2017 season.

“Rick is phenomenal,” says Kennedy. “He believes in the importance of work ethic and that blue collar feel.

“It’s made (going to Butler) an easy transition for me. (O’Dette) was so family-oriented with the team. Players were caring for each other playing for each other. He knew the importance of team and not the ‘I’ factor. He demanded a lot, but you see the rewards of that.”

That’s the way it was at Saint Joseph’s, where alum O’Dette was head coach for 17 years.

When Kentucky Wesleyan College graduate Kennedy came to the Pumas, there was immediate acceptance.

“I’m one of them,” says Kennedy. “(O’Dette) is instilling that culture down at Saint Leo.”

Kennedy began his high school baseball career at Lafayette Central Catholic High School. He was bumped up from the junior varsity to the varsity, took a baseball to the face which required reconstructive surgery and ended his freshmen season early.

He landed a McCutcheon High School. As a senior second baseman, Kennedy was part of coach Jake Burton’s 1999 IHSAA Class 4A state championship team.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Assocation Hall of Famer’s expectations were high for Kennedy and the rest of the Mavericks.

“He saw a lot more in me in what I thought I could do — both as a person and a player,” says Kennedy of Burton. “Jake was great for me. I owe that man a lot. Without his influence, I definitely wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.”

Kennedy learned to never be truly satisfied as a player and has carried that into his coaching career, holding himself and his athletes to a high standard.

“You can always learn, always get better,” says Kennedy. “You see there’s little more in there (with players). You have to figure out a way to get them out of them.”

Burton expected his players to work hard, be good people, follow the rules and be accountable for themselves and their actions. They had to make good decisions or they couldn’t be a part of the McCutcheon program.

“That put me in the right direction,” says Kennedy. “It put me with a good group of friends that I still talk to today.”

Kennedy played one season for coach Todd Post at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College and three at Kentucky Wesleyan — one for Greg McVey and two for Todd Lillpop.

McVey demanded much from his players and kept them on-task.

“He was a planner,” says Kennedy, who is among the Kentucky Wesleyan career leaders in fielding percentage and assists. “We knew everyday what we were doing. These are the goals of the day and this is what we want to accomplish.”

Like O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s, Lillpop became a college head coach at a young age and learned on the fly.

“He stressed the importance of working everyday and improving,” says Kennedy of Lillpop. “As a team, we had some success.”

The Owensboro-based KWC Panthers made their conference tournament for the first time in well over a decade and turned the program around.

Kennedy received his Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Kentucky Wesleyan in 2003. He began his coaching career as a KWC assistant in 2004.

After his first stop at Saint Joseph’s, he was an assistant to Bob Warn in the Hall of Famer’s last season leading the Indiana State University program.

“He cared so much for that place,” says Kennedy of Warn. “Everything he did was for the good of Indiana State baseball. His legacy there is going to be forever. Guys played hard for him and he was great to work for.

“As a young coach, you think you know more than you do. It’s good to keep your mouth shut and your ears open and you’re going to learn a lot more. (Warn) opened my eyes. There are a lot of different ways to do things.”

After his second tenure at Saint Joseph’s, Kennedy took over the reins at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. (2009-13). His first four teams went 49-9, 50-13, 43-11 and 40-20. The 2009 Cobras, featuring future Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, won the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Divison II World Series.

Kiermaier was primarily a shortstop when he came to Parkland. Kennedy, wishing to get some more repetitions for his infielders, asked Kiemaier to move to center field during a fall game. He later told him his path to the next level would be at that position.

Before being selected in the 31st round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Kiemaier was a two-time NJCAA All-American.

“His athleticism was unmatched,” says Kennedy of Kiermaier. “It was fun to watch him out there.”

From spring to fall of 2013, Kennedy was briefly an assistant at High Point (N.C.) University for head coach Chris Cozart.

With his parents in declining health, he decided to move back to the Midwest.

Kennedy knew Jeff Isom through Lafayette baseball circles and was introduced by Bobby Bell.

When Isom became manager of the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers, he invited Kennedy to be his hitting coach. He served in that role during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

“Pro ball is something that always intrigued me a little bit,” says Kennedy. “I checked it out for a couple years.

“I missed the college end of things.”

So he went back with O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s.

And now he’s back in Indiana, doing his best to develop players at Butler.

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Matt Kennedy, a Lafayette, Ind., native, has joined the baseball coaching staff at Butler University in Indianapolis. His previous job was as an assistant at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. (Butler University Photo)

 

McCormick coaching pitchers at Ave Maria U.

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael McCormick has made the transition from player to trainer to coach.

After pitching at Speedway (Ind.) High School, Parkland College, Eastern Illinois University and in professional baseball with the Chicago White Sox organization and independent Gary SouthShore RailCats, right-hander McCormick went back to Driveline Baseball headquarters in Kent, Wash., where he had been training in the off-season since 2016 and became an intern.

Less than two weeks ago, McCormick was hired as a the pitching coach at Ave Maria (Fla.) University, joining the staff of Gyrenes head coach Grant Desme.

“I pretty much knew all along that I wanted to be a coach,” says McCormick, 26. “There was never a time when I didn’t see myself involved in baseball in some capacity.”

Speedway head coach Marcus McCormick is Michael’s father.

“A lot of the lessons I learned as a player came from him,” says Michael McCormick. “I do my best to teach my guys in the same way by demanding more out of them on the field and off the field.

It’s about being a good person and Christian, taking care of schoolwork.

“It’s taking care of the things you can control in everything you do,” says McCormick. “Don’t worry about the things you can’t control.”

McCormick says he went to Driveline as a player and after his playing career with the idea of reaching his full potential.

Some of the key things McCormick learned at Driveline was how to put together an in-season and off-season throwing program for pitchers, tailoring it for the athlete’s individual needs.

He became proficient in the use of Rapsodo and the Edgertronic camera for pitch design — tools that are also used by Greg Vogt at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., with whom McCormick also trained as a player.

At Driveline, McCormick learned how to teach athletes to properly execute drills with PlyoCare Balls.

What is the advantage of using them?

“Cleaning up arm deficiencies,” says McCormick. “The differential weight will put the athlete in better positions while also gaining proprioception. That’s a fancy way of saying feel.

“It’s understanding how your body moves in space.”

At Ave Maria, a few players had used PlyoCare Balls while many of the 18 pitchers had never used them.

McCormick has also learned how to communicate what the data to the player so he can apply it.

“Each athlete has their own level of understanding,” says McCormick. “It’s important as a trainer and coach to understand that.”

Being hired so close to the start of the 2020 season (the Gyrenes open up Wednesday, Jan. 29), McCormick’s focus has been on using Rapsodo and getting pitchers in live situations against hitters.

Ave Maria, an NAIA program, plays three-game weekend series in The Sun Conference on Fridays and Saturdays. They are all 9-inning games, meaning having plenty of arms is helpful.

The Gyrenes program was started by a Hoosier. Penn High School and Bethel College graduate Shawn Summe was head coach for the first five seasons (2010-14).

Summe is now director of athletics at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo.

MICHAELMCCORMICKAVEMARIA

Michael McCormick, a Speedway (Ind.) High School graduate, is the new pitching coach at Ave Maria (Fla.) University.

Notre Dame’s Wallace explains recruiting process

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wanted: A baseball athlete who projects as a big league candidate who also has the skills to thrive in highly-competitive academic setting.

That’s sums up the wish list of new University of Notre Dame assistant baseball coach Rich Wallace.

Hired by new head coach Link Jarrett on a staff with pitching coach pitching coach Chuck Ristano, volunteer assistant Scott Wingo and director of baseball operations Steven Rosen, Wallace is charged with identifying and landing players that will fit the needs of the Fighting Irish as recruiting coordinator. He will also work with ND hitters and catchers.

Wallace shared his knowledge on recruiting and more at the first monthly meeting of the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club for 2019-20 on Monday, Nov. 18 at Four Winds Field.

“Our goal is to get Notre Dame to the College World Series,” says Wallace, who comes to the Irish from Jacksonville (Fla.) University, where he was Dolphins assistant in 2018 and 2019. “I’ve played against teams who did (go to the CWS). Those teams had (future) big leaguers.

“I’m looking for as many kids who want to be big leaguers as I can — not guys who just want to get drafted.

“It’s my job to find the guys who look like they actually could be big leaguers and mix them with the guys who want to be big leaguers and develop them the best that we can.”

Wallace says it is a necessity playing in a Power 5 league like the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“There’s no way for us to beat Clemson, Florida State, Louisville or Miami with guys that are just OK players,” says Wallace. “Coach (Jarrett) will coach them up. He’ll get them great. But there’s only so much you can do against those guys.”

What is the right kind of player for Notre Dame?

“One with a giant chip on their shoulder who wants to do something that’s really, really hard and they’re excited about that,” says Wallace. “It’s he not, he probably needs to go somewhere else. It’s just not going work.”

Pitchers must be good movers and have fastball command and/or an elite fastball or a premier secondary pitch (both is preferable).

“Give me at least one of the two,” says Wallace. “If you don’t have those in our league, you’ve got no shot.”

Do pitchers have to be big and strong?

“I’d love for the guy to be 6-foot-5 and throw 92 (mph) and have a good breaking ball,” says Wallace, noting that pro ball might snap up that kind of player before Notre Dame ever gets a chance to put them on their roster.

Wallace says that Georgia Tech and North Carolina go after both taller pitchers with heat and shorter hurlers with top-notch breaking balls in case they can’t keep the tall flamethrowers.

“We look for both of those,” says Wallace.

The Irish are after explosive athletes.

Once they are on-campus, it will be up to the staff to make them better.

“You have to trust what you do development-wise,” says Wallace.

As one of the top academic institutions in the country, Notre Dame has admission standards higher than most.

Wallace talked about the basic NCAA Division I requirements.

The floor is a 2.3 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale). All D-I athletes must complete 16 core courses by the end of the their senior year.

Recently, the NCAA has required that 10 of those core courses have to be done before they start their final prep year.

Wallace notes that the top two revenue generators at the NCAA Division I tournament level are men’s basketball and baseball, yet D-I baseball offers 11.7 scholarships (athletic aid) and can carry up to 35 players (no more than 27 athletes on scholarship).

“We’ve got to be really smart about who we are going after,” says Wallace.

Players on athletic aid must receive at least 25 percent.

At Notre Dame, the plan is to carry a maximum of 33 players in the spring (there are 41 on the roster now) on a combination of athletic scholarship and institutional aid.

In addition, NCAA rules no longer allow contact with underclassmen — on or off-campus — until September of their junior year.

There are contact, quiet and dead periods in the recruiting calendar and part of those are at the same time as the season.

Notre Dame tends to play games Friday through Sunday (sometimes traveling on Thursday) with on-campus games Tuesday and/or Wednesday. This means coaches mostly seeing players close to campus on Monday or Thursday (if possible) or missing games or practices to do so.

It’s the high school season — more so than the travel ball season — when Wallace and company want to see players perform.

“We not only want to recruit good players, but winners,” says Wallace. “We want to see them play for their hometown and with their teammates and classmates/

“I’ve got to find guys who really like to compete. That’s hard to do that in a summer setting.”

There’s a one-month recruiting window from mid-September and mid-October and then camps become key to get underclassmen in front of coaches.

Of the nine players who have committed to Notre Dame since Wallace arrived, seven have attend Irish baseball camps. The Irish already have two verbal commitments for the Class of 2023.

“For us, the camps are a huge recruiting tool,” says Wallace. “We’ve got to be smart in the way we use them.”

Wallace notes that campers get a sense of how things are done by ND staff.

“The way we run our program, it’s aggressive. It’s blue collar,” says Wallace. “We present that in camp.

“If the kid is scared off by the way we run things in camp with the intensity and high pace, it might not be the place for him. That’s OK, too.”

Wallace recommends that whatever school a player is considering, it is advisable for them to attend the school’s camp to get a real feel for the program and coaching staff.

“Much of my time is spent on the phone talking to scouts and coaches I trust,” says Wallace. “I build that list so when I do go out I have a plan to go see everybody I need to see.”

Sometimes he likes a player on the other team better than the one he has gone to see.

Such was the case of outfielder Nate Roberts, who went from Northwestern University to Parkland College to High Point (N.C.).

As a High Point recruiter, Wallace got on the phone to head coach Chris Cozart.

“I want the Roberts kid?,” says Wallace of that conversation. “‘He’s playing right field for Parkland. Coach, he’s going to change our program.’

Cozart’s reply: “We need a center fielder. If he’s so good why is he playing right?”

“Wallace: “Because the center fielder is going to play in the big leagues.”

We end up getting the right fielder. He’s a fourth rounder. He led the country in on-base percentage and runs scored. He ended up as a first-team All-American. He pretty much changed the program at High Point.

“The center fielder we couldn’t get was (future big leaguer) Kevin Kiermaier. He turned out to be a pretty good baseball player.”

Notre Dame does not get many junior college transfers since those players must have met requirements to get into ND coming out of high school and have 50 percent of their credits toward Notre Dame degree (the NCAA requires 40 percent) transfer.

The Irish do get graduate transfers.

Wallace says some programs “over-recruit” to prepare for players who sign with pro teams out of high school or might go to another school late in the recruiting process.

“At Notre Dame, we’re not doing that,” says Wallace. “It’s tough to tell a kid to invest in Notre Dame, believe he’s going to get his degree here and before opening day, we chop their legs out (by cutting them from the team).”

When a scout or the player themselves says they are going pro, it’s ways to prepare for that.

“It’s the guy who nobody thinks is going to sign and somebody tries to sneak him in the 29th round for $10,000 and you’re caught,” says Wallace. “I can’t go out in June and find somebody that can get into Notre Dame. It’s not going to happen.”

Being realistic throughout the whole recruiting process is another piece of advice from Wallace.

Can that player really play there?

Does it fit what they want or are able to do academically?

Wallace appreciates the dialogue that he can have with a high school coach who knows the score.

“Some coaches will call and say that guy can play for you,” says Wallace. “I’ll say, ‘have you ever seen us play?’ The answer is no. ‘Have you ever seen us practice?’ The answer is no.”

“Once we get to know you guys as coaches and you’ve seen us play and practice, it’s real easy.”

Another thing that drives Wallace crazy as a recruiter is the campus visit from athletes and parents who are not prepared.

“I’m asking (the athlete) questions and he has no idea what he wants to do,” says Wallace. “Mom is walking around the campus on Facebook. They don’t know any better.”

That’s where coaches can educate them — ask them to do their homework on the school and program, sign up for the NCAA Eligibility Center as soon as they enter high school if they have plans of playing college sports.

“The sooner we can put this in front of kids and their parents the better it is,” says Wallace. “(The Eligibility Center) will give them a free profile.

“If you make your guidance counselor aware, they’ll start sending the stuff in for you.”

It’s also a good idea to send short videos to the top five schools on your wish list.

Wallace says the contacting of coaches should be done by the player and not the parents.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘My son Johnny wants to play for you,’” says Wallace. “Then Johnny probably needs to pick up the computer. I’m sure he’s probably never put his cell phone down. He can send an email.”

Wallace does also not want to see the name of another coach in the league on the subject line.

“They forgot to change the email,” says Wallace. “That one goes right to the trash.”

While taking with coaches on the phone, recruits should let them know what they expect at the end of the rainbow. What are their goals? What degree do they want to pursue?

“At Notre Dame, they have to have some sort of academic goal or it’s just not going to work,” says Wallace.

As a player, Wallace grew up in St. Louis and moved to Orlando for high school. His best college baseball fit was the hometown University of Central Florida, coached by Jay Bergman.

“Pure toughness,” is how Wallace describes Bergman, who won 1,183 games as head coach at Seminole Community College, the University of Florida and UCF. “He still has a giant chip on his shoulder.

“If you didn’t show up everyday ready to work, somebody else will take you job.”

When Wallace arrived at the school and its pro-style atmosphere, there were 62 players on the fall roster. He had to work to find his place with the Knights.

He also saw how much baseball Bergman knew.

“He was magical,” says Wallace. “He would see things a whole other level.”

One time at Clemson, where the Tigers had not lost a non-conference weekend series in about 15 years.

At the end of the game, with UCF down by a run and runners on the corners, Bergman predicts that his first batter will double into the gap to score one run and that the next two batters will safety squeeze to plate two more runs and give his team a two-run lead and that’s just what happens.

Another time against LSU, he asks his No. 2 hitter to bunt a batter to second with one out in the ninth to get scoring position. They did just that and the Knights won.

“He knew how that game was going to play out,” says Wallace of Bergman, who began his coaching career at UCF then served with Cozart at High Point (where he first coached against Link Jarrett), Ed Servais at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and Chris Hayes at Jacksonville.

Wallace graduated from UCF in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies. He and his wife, Alex, have two girls — Easton and Maxx.

RICHWALLACE3

Rich Wallace was an assistant coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University for the 2018 and 2019 baseball seasons before being hired at the University of Notre Dame. (Jacksonville University Photo)

RICHWALLACE2

Rich Wallace (center) was an assistant baseball coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University before being hired at the University of Notre Dame. He is a Central Florida University graduate. He coached at UCF, High Point University and Creighton University before landing at JU. (Jacksonville University Photo)

RICHWALLACE1

Rich Wallace is an assistant baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame on the staff of new head coach Link Jarrett. Wallace is the recruiting coordinator for the Irish and will also help with hitters and catchers. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

 

Byall, Homestead Spartans value preparation

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Potter and Steve Sotir emphasized the fundamental parts of baseball — making the routine play on defense, pounding the strike zone from the mound and following an approach from the batter’s box — as head baseball coaches at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Nick Byall, who played for Potter and coached with Potter and Sotir, is carrying on the tradition while adding his own spin as the man in charge of the Spartans.

“We want to be polished and prepared each day,” says Byall. “When you’re doing (the fundamentals) well it makes the game even more fun.

“At the high school level, we can be really successful doing that.”

Byall, a 2000 Homestead graduate, spent 10 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater (two on Potter’s staff and eight with Sotir) and is in his fourth season as head coach in 2019.

Being competitive is also important to Byall.

“We’re always looking to compete — in a drill or a game,” says Byall, who heads up a program with around 50 players for varsity, junior varsity (JV Blue) and freshmen (JV Gold) schedules.

“We have a smaller senior class and kept a larger freshmen class,” says Byall. “We have 18 on the varsity roster most of the time. Some guys will swing between varsity and JV.”

The coaching staff features Shawn Harkness plus volunteers Josh Brock, Maurie Byall (Nick’s father) and Greg Wehling with the varsity, Austin Plasterer and Kyle Plasterer with JV Blue and Brian Landigran and Dominic Schroeder with JV Gold.

Harkness is pitching coach for the Spartan. He was a JV coach when Byall was a Homestead player.

Brock played and coached at Manchester University.

It’s more than the game that keeps Byall around baseball.

“I want to be a decent role model for (the players),” says Byall. “That’s why we do it.

“I enjoy the kids and the coaches I work with. If not, I wouldn’t do it.”

Homestead plays its varsity games on its campus with the JV teams playing on that diamond or at a field near Summit Middle School.

Marching band is a big deal at the school and the band has its own turf practice surface near the baseball field. The baseball team sometimes uses it when it’s facility is too wet.

There is no middle school baseball at Homestead, but many players participate in travel ball.

“We’ve got a lot of kids who enjoy baseball,” says Byall. “They’re pretty fundamentally sound.”

Senior Kade Kolpien has committed to Taylor University. Senior Will Ferguson has garnered some college baseball interest. Junior Eli MacDonald and sophomore Kaleb Kolpien and Carter Mathison are among younger Spartans getting college looks.

Recent Homestead graduates now with college programs include Justin Miller at Purdue Fort Wayne, Isaac Bair at the University of Indianapolis and Nick Davit and D.J. Moore at Huntington University.

Catcher Rob Bowen was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins and made his big league debut with the Twins in 2003. He also played for the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Infielder Andre Jernigan went from Homestead to the Xavier University to the Twins organization.

Right-handed pitcher Taylor Kinzer played at Taylor then in the Los Angeles Angels organization.

Second baseman Ryan Wright played at he University of Louisville and in the Cincinnati Reds system from 2011-15.

Catcher Matt Singleton played at Ball State University and in the Athletics chain.

Outfielder Bobby Glover was a Parkland College, the University of Dayton and with the independent Windy City Thunderbolts (2012).

Left-hander Kyle Leiendecker went to Indiana University.

It’s IU and the allure of Hoosiers basketball that brought Byall to Bloomington.

He was a basketball manager for four years and got to see in the inner workings of big-time college sports and went to the 2002 NCAA tournament championship game with head coach Mike Davis. Byall’s first week on campus was Bob Knight’s last.

Byall earned an education degree from Indiana in 2005 and a masters in business administration from Taylor in 2010. He teaches Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics and U.S. Government at HHS.

Homestead (enrollment around 2,430) has charted a schedule that features Bellmont, DeKalb, Evansville Central, Fishers, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Hamilton Southeastern, Indianapolis Cathedral, Mississinewa, Norwell, Wapahani and Warsaw.

For several years, Homestead has made a southern trip during spring break.

“It’s a chance to get away and bond a little bit,” says Byall.

The destination the past few seasons has been Vincennes, Ind. Treks have also been made to Terre Haute, Evansville, Cincinnati and Knoxville, Tenn.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Huntington North. Homestead has won 14 sectionals — the last in 2016. A 4A state runner-up finish was earned in 2008.

Byall is single and lives in the Homestead district.

“I’m real close with my family,” says Byall, the son of Maurie and Rosi Byall and younger brother of Troy Byall. His father owns Byall Homes, Inc., and has been building houses for 40 years. His mother is the Homestead treasurer and also the statistician for her son’s baseball team.

With three children, chiropractor Dr. Troy and wife Erica Byall have made Nick a proud uncle.

NICKBYALLKADEKOLPIEN

Homestead High School baseball coach Nick Byall (left) slaps hands with Kade Kolpien. Byall is in his 14th season as a Spartans coach — fourth as head coach — while Kolpien is in his senior season in 2019.

NICKBYALL

Nick Byall is head baseball coach at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. He is a 2000 graduate of the school. (Homestead High School Photo)

 

 

Barney’s spent decade leading Vincennes U. baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Student-athletes are constantly coming and going. That’s the nature of junior college sports.

Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at one such two-year institution — Vincennes (Ind.) University.

“I enjoy the challenge,” says Barney. “I enjoy the aspect of recruiting. You’re always looking for the next best thing.”

A poor team can get better quickly with a solid recruiting class.

‘I’m often asked, what are you looking for in college baseball? Bats play. If you can swing the pole, you’re going to play at the junior college level.”

VU’s stated mission is “to provide associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of academic and occupational majors leading to entry to a four-year university or to the workforce.”

Vincennes serves more than 17,000 at its various locations with about a third of that number at the main campus.

“It’s not the typical junior college,” says Barney. “It has a mid-major collegiate feel.”

The goal of the baseball program is to place student-athletes with a place to play at a four-year college. As of last week, 96 Vincennes players had moved on during the decade that Barney’s been in charge, including 32 to NCAA Division I, many to NCAA D-II and NAIA and a few to NCAA D-III.

Barney sees players choose the junior college route for many reasons. Among them are cost, grade issues, level of play, the chance to play right away or be drafted by Major League Baseball and not have to wait to turn 21 or play three seasons like is required at four-year schools.

The Trailblazers’ core beliefs revolve around faith, family, school and baseball.

“It’s like a three-ring circus of academics, athletics and the social scene,” says Barney of Vincennes campus life. “You have to have self-discipline and time management skills. You prioritize where you want to spend your time and what you want to get accomplished out of college.

“You can obtain your full potential as a player. That’s what junior college offers guys.”

Junior college players are allowed to practice more often that those at other levels.

All the time with the team allows individuals to built work ethic, character and emotional stability and, hopefully, have a positive experience.

“It’s an opportunity to get better,” says Barney. “There’s always obstacles and challenges for guys, where it’s an injury, a class, a teammate or playing time. But they learn the fundamental game of baseball.”

School rules say Vincennes freshmen must stay in campus housing. Sophomores have the choice to live on-campus or off-campus. Barney says there’s about a 50-50 split for his current sophomore class.

Barney, who is assisted by Hank Lopez and Matt Goebel, started out with 37 players in the fall and took 31 into the spring.

Almost all of those have hometowns in Indiana.

Until a couple of years ago, Indiana was Barney’s recruiting base. Such scholarship money is based on in-state tuition.

With the favorable rates and so many Illinois junior college baseball programs as opposed to Indiana (which now has three — Vincennes, Ancilla College and Ivy Tech Northeast), plenty of Indiana players choose to play junior college baseball in Illinois.

But Illinois has been opened up so that VU can offer students there a cost similar to what they would get in-state.

“I hope to drive up the price of poker in Illinois for some of those guys,” says Barney of landing Illinois players for the VU program.

Rules allow junior colleges to play 20 games against outside competition in the fall. Vincennes also plays about 10 intrasquad games. There are 56 regular-season games in the spring.

That’s a lot of innings to cover so Barney typically carries 16 to 18 pitches, some of whom also play other positions.

“I love those guys,” says Barney. “If they can be successful at both, it’s well worth or time and energy to put the effort into that.”

The Trailblazers are in National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 24. The region is made up of nine Mid-West Athletic Conference members — Vincennes plus Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, Heartland Community College (Normal, Ill.), Illinois Central College (East Peoria, Ill.), John Wood Community College (Quincy, Ill.), Lewis & Clark Community College (Godfrey, Ill.), Lincoln Land Community College (Springfield, Ill.), Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.) and Spoon River College (Canton, Ill.).

Vincennes went into play April 3 at 15-12 overall and 4-4 in the conference.

There is a 32-game conference schedule. The top eight teams go to the MWAC tournament. The winner advances to the NJCAA D-II World Series (May 25-June 1 in Enid, Okla.).

“There’s a lot of positives in moving over to that region,” says Barney. “Before, we were independent in Region 12, which is Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Trying to find games in late March, April and part of May was a bear.”

Vincennes went to the World Series in 2010 and 2014 under the old qualifying format. Teams were required to make it through a sub-regional to get to an eight-team double-elimination tournament that sent the champion to championship series.

The Trailblazers play home games at Jeremy Blemker Field.

Huntingburg, Ind., native Blemker coached for 38 years, including 26 at Vincennes (1980-2006) and amassed a NJCAA-record 1,037 victories. He sent more than 180 players on to play at universities around the country and 27 signed professional contracts.

Blemker, who died in 2012, was an inductee of the NJCAA and Greater Evansville Baseball halls of fame.

The original Blemker Field was on the VU campus. It was razed to make room for Updike Hall Scienc Earth and Mathematics Learning Center and the Trailblazers moved to a new baseball complex on Old Terre Haute Road five years ago.

Barney says the university has continued to provide the team with the means to maintain the facility.

Before landing at VU, Orlando, Fla., native Barney has made several baseball coaching stops. He was assistant coach and recruiting director for 13 years at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

Barney, a graduate of Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, Tenn., has also served as head coach of the Quincy Gems and Springfield Rifles in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (summer) and was an assistant at Tennessee Wesleyan, Tusculum University (Greeneville, Tenn.) and St. John’s River State College (Palatka, Fla.) as well as serving on the summer staffs for the Frontier League’s Midwest Sliders (Ypsilanti, Mich.) and New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Vermont Mountaineers (Montpelier, Vt.).

Barney counts Mike Policastro, Tom Griffin, Mike Goedde and Mike Robins among his baseball mentors.

Barney played for Policastro (now head coach at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee) at Tenessee Weselyan and was a teammate and coached alongside Griffin (now head coach at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.) at that same school. Goedde (now head coach at Evansville Central High School) was USI head coach when Barney was on the staff. Robins led the squad at St. John’s River.

“You take a little bit from everybody,” says Barney. “You put your own personality on the program, too.

“It’s fun. The kids keep you young and always bring something new to the table.”

VINCENNESUBLAZERS

CHRISBARNEY

Chris Barney is in his 10th season as head baseball coach at Vincennes (Ind.) University in 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Long-time coach Lehr prepares pitchers through Power Alley Baseball Academy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What Jay Lehr enjoys most about coaching baseball is passing along his wisdom to pitchers.

So the seasoned instructor has decided cease fielding travel teams — he ran the Aces Baseball Club out of Hamilton County Sports Complex in Noblesville, Ind., for six years —  to focus on pitching instruction.

The Carmel, Ind., resident and president of Power Alley Baseball Academy, teaches individuals and teams at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville and at Mooresville (Ind.) High School

Lehr calls himself a “mechanical nerd.”

Factoring in body type and age, gets pitchers to repeat their deliveries and throw strikes by starting at the feed and working their way up.

Concepts like ground force, lift (balance point), direction with the hip (center of gravity), hand separation, release point and finish are covered.

“The goal is to have pitchers become their own best coach so they can fix themselves,” says Lehr. “Pitching’s boring. You have to do the same thing over and over again.”

Unlike hitters, who can swing the bats hundreds of times a day, pitchers have to build muscle memory using dry runs and reps without delivering the ball.

“It’s like tee work for hitters,” says Lehr. “You’re no good to anybody if you can’t get anybody out.

“And you need to make reps count. There are only so many bullets. You want a career or a season?”

While the baseball world is obsessed with velocity, Lehr would rather see pitchers who can establish the fastball and locate it.

“Throw 83 (mph) with sink and cut,” says Lehr. “I enjoy that. Hopefully, that will come back.”

Lehr likes to challenge his pitchers to throw no more than three pitches per batter.

When working with a group, he likes to end a session with a competition.

Sometimes, they play H-O-R-S-E.

“The first pitcher throws a fastball on the inside corner,” says Lehr. “Everyone else has to do it or they’ve got an ‘H.’

“You want to try to hit a spot and have a purpose every time you throw a ball.”

At the younger ages, Lehr teaches a four-seam, two-seam and no-seam fastball.

Generally, the four-seamer has glove-side movement and is elevated for the batter to chase it.

The two-seamer produces arm-side action.

The no-seam goes down in the strike zone.

If they can command the fastball, Lehr will mix in change-up grips.

“It’s a fine line to when you start the breaking ball,” says Lehr. “I won’t teach it until they can command the fastball and the change-up.”

For all pitchers, the idea is to upset the hitter’s timing.

This can be done through perceived velocity.

By hiding the ball and releasing it late, pitchers can deceive the hitter.

“It’s all about late movement and command,” says Lehr. “And the most important (ball-strike) count is 1-1. Whoever wins the 1-1 battle is way ahead. You’ve got to trust that process (as a pitcher). Commit to a pitch and finish it.”

Lehr says players should be leery about lifting weights too young and should be getting advice from someone who is certified or holds a degree in strength training.

A 1986 Carmel High School graduate, Lehr played one season at Chiplola College in Marianna, Fla., and three at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. His head coaches with the Pumas were Dennis Seitz and Mike Moyzis.

He was coach at the beginning of the Indiana Bulls‘ run and was an instructor when Chris Estep founded Roundtripper Sports Academy in 1993.

Lehr was Carmel pitching coach for seven seasons. He was on Eric Lentz’s staff, served one season as interim head coach then was an assistant to Dan Roman.

Mitch Roman, Dan’s son and a Chicago White Sox minor leaguer, is also a Power Alley instructor as is former big league corner infielder and current Philadelphia Phillies fielding coordinator Chris Truby, former Carmel and Notre Dame player Kyle Fiala and former Triple-A outfielder John Tejeck.

Last spring, Lehr was pitching coach for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Rich Andriole at Guerin Catholic High School in Carmel.

Jay is married to Amy and his two stepchildren — Brandon Stevens and Megann Blea.

Stevens played for Andriole’s IHSAA state champions at Indianapolis Cathedral in 2007. The catcher/pitcher went on to Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and the University of Indianapolis and dabbled in independent professional baseball. He is married with a 1-year-old and works as a roofing salesman in Jasper, Ind.

Megann is married to U.S. Army captain/engineer Dustin Blea and resides in Missouri.

Big league right-handers and Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduates Lance Lynn and Drew Storen have been working on pitching with Lehr since they were in grade school.

Lynn, 31, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2011 and pitched for the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees in 2018.

Storen, 31, first appeared in an MLB game in 2010 and pitched for the 2017 Cincinnati Reds. The Carmel, Ind., resident missed the 2018 season after having Tommy John elbow surgery. The free agent is exploring his options for 2019.

“Lance has God-given ability,” says Lehr of Lynn. “He’s loose and has the same delivery he’s had since 12 years old. It’s clean and simple.”

A move from the first base side of the rubber closer to the middle helped Lynn excel in the second half in 2018.

Lehr plans to meet Lynn and his strength coach this winter in Nashville, Tenn.

“Drew is very meticulous,” says Lehr of Storen. “He was smaller when he was young so he had to learn how to get people out.

“He did not throw hard until his junior year of high school.

“Once strength caught up to him, the velocity came.”

By then, Storen already knew how to repeat his delivery.

“Drew has a knowledge of the kinetic chain and how it works,” says Lehr. “He has has proprioception (the sense that deals with sensations of body position, posture, balance and motion).

Lehr says Pete Page and Bobby Pierce are the men who taught him the love of the game.

The late Page coached at the Carmel Dads’ Club started a travel program that became the Carmel Pups.

Pierce was head coach at Chipola and retired from Troy (Ala.) University.

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Jay Lehr is the president of Power Alley Baseball Academy and lead pitching instructor. He conducts individual and team lessons at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind., and at Mooresville (Ind.) High School. He has been working with big league pitchers Lance Lynn and Drew Storen since they were kids.

Here’s a look back at 2018 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in South Bend

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Series is in the books.

Despite wet weather in South Bend, Ind., many of the best players from around the state got a chance to show what they can do on the diamond —  first with the annual Junior Showcase Friday, July 21 and then the recent graduates took to Four Winds Field for three games following a Friday night banquet featuring keynote speaker Greg Kloosterman and the announcement of Roncalli’s Nick Schnell as IHSBCA Player of the Year.

A scheduled doubleheader Saturday became a rain-shortened game. That led to a 9 a.m. Sunday doubleheader.

Three IHSBCA founders were remembered during the weekend. There was a pregame ceremony Saturday to posthumously honor Jim Reinebold and Ken Schreiber.

Declaring, “This ones for you Grandpa!!” on Twitter, Fort Wayne Carroll’s Hayden Jones went out and took MVP honors for the North/South Series in memory of a Bill Jones.

The North coaching staff was head coach Steve Stutsman (Elkhart Central) plus assistants Steve Asbury (Elkhart Central), Shane Edwards (Oak Hill), John Huemmer (Mishawaka) and Lonnie Weatherholt (Elkhart Central).

Coaching the South was head coach Shawn Lyons (New Palestine), Jason Combs (Decatur Central), Zach Payne (Lanesville) and Curt Welch (Castle).

Ryan Fagan and Anna Roberts served as trainers.

Umpires were Tony Gaugler, Bob Lichtenberger, Jay Miller and Corey Stewart in Game 1, Mike Alberts, Terry Baker, Kevin Kirsch and Eric Erb in Game 2 and Laird Salmon, Zach Sliwa, Bob Schellinger and Steve Kajzer in Game 2.

The 45th North/South Series is planned for one week after the IHSAA State Finals in Madison, Ind.

2018 IHSBCA NORTH/SOUTH

ALL-STAR SERIES

(At Fort Winds Field, South Bend)

Saturday, July 21

North 8, South 4 (rain-shortened in 5th inning)

S 201 1 — 4 4 5

N 602 x — 8 6 4

Sunday, July 22

South 8, North 4

(Wood Bat Game)

N 000 040 0 — 4 5 2

S 130 040 — 8 12 0

North 8, South 0

S 000 000 0 — 0 4 0

N 214 010 x — 8 8 1

MVP: Hayden Jones (Fort Wayne Carroll).

Offensive Stats (AB R H RBI)

Pitching Stats (IP H R ER BB SO)

North

Kollyn All (McCutcheon HS/Butler) — G1 — DNP; G2 — C 2 0 0 0; G3 — C 1 0 0 0.

Chandler Banic (LaPorte HS/Ball State) — G1 — DNP; G2 — SS 0 0 0 0, P 1 0 0 0 0 2; G3 — P 1 0 0 0 0 0 3

Robbie Berger (John Glenn HS/Lincoln Trail CC) — Participated, but did not play.

Ryan Bolda (Crown Point HS/Indiana) — G1 — DNP; G2 — P 1 0 0 0 2; G3 — P 1 0 0 0 1 0

Ty Bothwell (Boone Grove HS/Indiana) — G1 — DNP; G2 — DNP; G3 — PR 0 0 0 0

Alec Brunson (DeKalb HS/Purdue Fort Wayne) — G1 — DH 2 0 0 0; G2 — C 1 0 0 0; G 3 — C 0 1 0 0

Eric Doyle (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger HS/Ivy Tech Northeast) — G1 — DNP; G2 — SS 2 1 1 1; G3 — SS 1 0 0 0

Justin Graves (Lake Central HS/Purdue Northwest) — G1 — DNP; G2 — 2B 3 0 0 0; G3 — 2B 2 0 1 0

Ashton Guyer (Western HS/Purdue) — G1 — DNP; G2 — P 1 0 0 0 2 1; G3 — PR 0 1 0 0, P 1 1 0 0 2 3

Jay Hammel (South Newton HS/Quincy) — G1 — DNP; G2 — 1B 1 0 0 1; G3 — 1B 1 0 0 0

Riley Hershberger (Logansport HS/Danville Area CC) — G1 — DNP; G2 — 3B 1 1 0 0; G3 — 3B 1 0 1 0

Hayden Jones (Fort Wayne Carroll HS/Mississippi State) — G1 — C 3 1 3 2; G2 — DH 3 0 1 2; G3 — C 1 0 1 1 (double)

Payton Kerr (Penn HS/IUPUI) — G1 — SS 3 1 1 2; G2 — SS 1 0 0 0; G3 — SS 0 2 0 0

Ethan Larason (Maconaquah HS/Indiana) — G1 — DNP; G2 — P 1 4 4 4 2 0; G3 — P 1 1 0 0 0 0

Jacob Marin (Lafayette Central Catholic HS/Marian) — G1 — P 1 1 1 1 2 1; G2 — DNP; G3 — DH 1 0 0 0

Ian McCutcheon (Huntington North HS/Huntington) — G1 — RF 2 1 0 1; G2 — PR 1 1 0 0;  G3 — RF 1 1 0 1

Matthew Meyer (Westfield HS/Sinclair CC) — G1 — 3B 2 2 2 2; G2 — 3B 0 0 0 0; G3 — 3B 2 0 0 0

Pat Mills (Western HS/Olney Central) — G1 — 1B 3 0 0 0; G2 — 1B 1 0 1 0 (triple); G3 — 1B 2 0 1 1

Benji Nixon (Plymouth HS/Indiana) — G1 — 2B 0 1 0 0; G2 — 2B 0 0 0 0; G3 — 2B 2 1 1 1

Tyler Owens (Noblesville HS/Northwood) — G1 — LF 3 1 0 0; G2 — DNP; G3 — LF 0 0 0 0

Riley Perlich (Fort Wayne Carroll HS/Wright State) — G1 — P 3 3 3 1 1 1; G2 — DNP; G3 — DH 1 0 0 0

Austin Peterson (Chesterton HS/Purdue) — Participated, but did not play.

Hayden Schott (Culver Military Academy/Cypress College) — G1 — DNP; G2 — RF 2 1 0 0; G3 — LF 2 1 1 1

Sullivan Swingley (Yorktown HS/Bethel) — G1 — DNP; G2 — P 1 2 0 0 0 1; G3 — P 1 1 0 0 1 0

Clay Thompson (Andrean HS/Oakland U.) — G1 — CF 2 0 0 1; G2 — LF 2 0 0 0; G3 — CF 3 1 0 0

Wes Transier (Oak Hill HS/Ivy Tech Northeast) — G1 — PR 0 0 0 0; G2 — CF 3 0 2 0; G3 — LF 2 0 1 0

Alex Voss (South Bend St. Joseph HS/Butler) — G1 —DNP; G2 — DNP; G3 — P 2 1 0 0 2 1

Landon Weins (Frankton HS/Morehead State) — G1 — PR 0 1 0 0; G2 — P 2 6 4 4 1 2; G3 — DH 1 0 0 0

South

Luke Albright (Fishers HS/Kent State) — G1 — P 2.1 5 8 2 3 3; G2 — DNP; G3 — DNP

Jake Andriole (Guerin Catholic HS/Purdue) — Participated, but did not play.

Zyon Avery (Ben Davis HS/Ohio U.) — G1 — C 1 1 0 0; G2 — DH 2 0 1 0; G3 — DH 1 0 0 0

Aaron Beard (Tecumseh HS/Danville Area CC) — G1 — PH 1 0 0 0; G2 — 2B 2 0 0 0; G3 — 2B 2 0 2 0

Riley Bertram (Zionsville HS/Michigan) —  G1 — 3B 2 1 2 1 (triple); 2 1 1 1 (double); 3B 2 0 0 0 0, P 1 0 0 0 0 0

Case Eisenhut (Northeast Dubois HS/Undecided) — G1 — 2B 1 0 0 0; G2 — PH 1 0 0 0; G3 — 2B 1 0 0 0

Ethan English (Jeffersonville HS/Indiana Wesleyan) — G1 — 1B 1 0 0 1; G2 — RF 1 0 0 0; G3 — 1B 2 0 0 0

Tyler Finke (Columbus North HS/Snead State) — G1 — PR 0 0 0 0; G2 — PR 0 1 0 0; G3 — PR 0 0 0 0

Drew Hasson (Columbus East HS/Northern Illinois) — G1 — DNP; G2 — P 1 2 2 2 2 0; G3 — PH 1 0 0 0

Eli Helton (Lawrenceburg HS/IU Southeast) — G1 — RF 2 0 0 0; G2 — RF 3 0 1 0; G3 — PH 2 0 1 0 (double)

Cameron Holycross (Lapel HS/Indiana State) — G1 — P 1 1 0 0 2 5; G2 — DNP; G3 — P 1 1 2 2 2 2

Chase Hug (Pike HS/Olney Central) — G1 — DNP; G2 — 1B 3 0 1 0; G3 — DH 2 0 0 0, P 1 2 1 1 2 1

Lucas McNew (Borden HS/Southern Indiana) — G1 — DH 1 0 0 0; G2 — C 1 1 0 0; G3 — C 0 0 0 0

Sam Meek (Hauser HS/Bluffton) — G1 — DNP; G2 — DNP; G3 — P 0.1 2 0 0 2 1

Caleb Meeks (Evansville Memorial HS/Evansville) — G1 — CF 2 1 1 0; G2 — CF 4 1 1 0 (double); G3 — CF 0 0 0 0

Zach Messinger (Castle HS/Virginia) — DNP; DNP; G2 — PH 1 0 0 0; G3 — DNP

Dillon Olejnik (Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter HS/Marian) — G1 — DNP; G2 — C 2 1 2 0; G3 — C 1 0 0 0

Matthew Panagouleas (South Vermillion HS/Indiana State) — G1 — DNP; G2 — PH 1 0 0 0; G3 — P 1.1 1 1 1 2 1

Alan Perry (Seymour HS/Cedarville) — G1 — DNP; G2 — 2 1 0 0 0 1; G3 — DNP

Ryan Robison (New Albany HS/Vincennes) — G1 — LF 1 0 0 0; G2 — 1B 1 0 1 0;  G3 — RF 2 0 0 0

Chase Springmeyer (Greensburg HS/Cedarville) — G1 — DNP; G2 — LF 3 1 2 1; G3 — LF 2 0 0 0

Sam Steimel (Sullivan HS/Evansville) — G1 — DNP; G2 — SS 2 0 0 0; G3 — PR 1 0 0 0

Joey Weller (Union County HS/Thomas More) — G1 — DNP; G2 — P 2 0 0 0 0 2; G3 — DNP

Jackson Wynn (Danville HS/Parkland) — G1 — DNP; G2 — PH 0 0 0 0, P 1 1 0 0 0 0; G3 — PH 0 0 0 0, P 1.1 2 0 0 1 3

Craig Yoho (Fishers HS/Houston) — G1 — SS 2 1 1 0 (double); G2 — SS 1 1 1 1 (double); G3 — SS 2 0 1 0

Trever Zink (Forest Park HS/Olney Central) — G1 — DNP; G2 — 3B 2 1 1 1; G3 — 3B 2 0 0 0

Scorekeepers: Bill & Sue Forgey of Huntington, Ind.

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Commemorative plague for founder Jim Reinebold at 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South Series in South Bend. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Commemorative plague for founder Ken Schreiber at 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South Series in South Bend. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Elkhart Central and North head coach Steve Stutsman makes his parting remarks at 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South Series in South Bend. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Making out the Game 3 lineup for Game 3 of the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South Series in South Bend are (from left): New Palestine’s Shawn Lyons, Decatur Central’s Jacob Combs, Castle’s Curt Welch and Lanesville’s Zach Payne. (Steve Krah Photo)

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A T-shirt to commemorate the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South Series in South Bend. (Steve Krah Photo)

McCormick teaching baseball, life skills to Speedway Sparkplugs ‘family’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Speedway (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Marcus McCormick wants his players to pick up the skills to be successful on the diamond.

But that’s not all.

Passing along life skills is very important to the coach and educator.

“It’s our goal to help the young men who come through our program reach whatever goal they’ve set,” says McCormick, who completed his 10th season of leading the Sparkplugs program in 2018. “We try to identify each goal and they try to work to get there.

“We also try to set things in motion so our kids will be great fathers and great husbands.

“The easy stuff is the baseball stuff. That’s pretty easy to teach.”

To be a part of Speedway baseball is to be part of a group that looks after its own.

“We’re one big family,” says McCormick, who had 27 players in the program in 2018 and went 12-12 at the varsity level. The team lost to Cascade in the first round of the IHSAA Class 2A Speedway Sectional.

The Sparkplugs have won eight sectional crowns, including three with McCormick at the helm (2012, 2013 and 2015). Speedway was 2A state runner-up in 2001 with Bruce Hutchings as head coach.

Besides Speedway, the Indiana Crossroads Conference featured Beech Grove, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina, Monrovia, Park Tudor and Triton Central in 2017-18. Each ICC team played one another once on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In the future, Cascade will replace Park Tudor.

Though none from the Class of ’18 made any commitments, recent Sparkplugs to go on to college baseball include Jacob Bryant (Franklin College), Bryce Pennington (Parkland College), Matt Turk (Marian University) and Jonathan Willoughby (Anderson University).

Besides McCormick, Speedway baseball is guided by assistants J.D. Clampitt (who played at Danville Area Community College in Illinois), Matt Burke (who played at Glen Oaks Community College in Michigan), Eric Mattingly (formerly the head coach at Brownsburg High School), David McCready and Ryan Neat (who played Butler University).

“That is arguably the best coaching staff in the state of Indiana,” says McCormick. “They all work their (posteriors) off from August to June.”

McCormick is a 1990 graduate of North Montgomery High School, where he played basketball for coach Bob Reese.

“He taught me how to prepare for games,” says McCormick of Reese. “He said, ‘if you’re not good enough, you need to be the gym.’ He talked about the little things and the extra stuff.

“But the person I learned the most from was my dad, Tom McCormick. He was the motivator. He’d say, ‘if you don’t like your playing time, then play better.’”

Marcus McCormick played basketball at Marian College (now Marian University) for coach John Grimes.

“He reinforced the work ethic part of it,” says McCormick.

Tom and Gina McCormick, who celebrated their 50th year of marriage in the spring, had three children — Marcus, Erick and Kara. Erick played football and basketball and Kara basketball, including at Marian.

“They were both better athletes than me,” says Marcus McCormick of his siblings. Erick McCormick died in 2005.

While he devoted much time to the hardwood, Marcus always had an affinity for the diamond.

“Baseball was always been my favorite sport growing up,” says McCormick.

He has coached travel baseball for two decades in the summer — first for the Indy Outlaws and now with the Indiana Pony Express.

After one season as a Speedway High assistant, he was encouraged by wife Kelley to apply for the head coaching post.

“Without her, I wouldn’t get to do what I do,” says Marcus of Kelley. “Her support is incredible.”

The McCormicks have two boys. Michael McCormick (24) pitched at Eastern Illinois University and is now in the Chicago White Sox system. Nicholas McCormick (22) was on the EIU baseball team with his brother before transferring to play at Arizona Christian University.

Marcus McCormick has enjoyed picking up coaching advice from other coaches. After attending his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January 2009, he approached Decatur Central coach Phil Webster after he spoke as a state championship coach from 2008.

“We went to breakfast one day and picked his brain for a couple of hours,” says McCormick of the man who was elected to the IHSBCA Hall of Fame in 2015. “Most coaches are willing to share, it’s just that nobody ever asks them.”

McCormick has developed opinions about pitching and the pitch count rule adopted by the IHSAA in 2017 (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 get the rule, but it’s disappointing we have to have something in place,” says McCormick. “You’d like to think all the coaches in the state have the kids’ best interest at heart.”

McCormick sees arm care as more of an overall development thing?

“Limiting the number of pitchers you throw is not a precursor for keeping you healthy,” says McCormick. “Why does Kid A get hurt and not Kid B? You have to be doing things to truly recover so the next time you go out you’re putting yourself in a good situation.

“I hope the state incorporates programs like Driveline to keep kids healthy and make them better.”

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Speedway (Ind.) High School baseball is a “family” under Sparkplugs head coach Marcus McCormick.