Tag Archives: Perry Meridian

Combs brings intensity, love for the game to Decatur Central baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Combs brought passion to the Decatur Central High School Hawks as a player and he’s still bringing it as he goes into his seventh season as head baseball coach in 2018.

Combs earned eight letters at DC in football, basketball and baseball. His head baseball coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Phil Webster.

“I loved him from the get-go,” says Combs of the fiery leader. “Webby is the best one I’ve been around as far as taking a player and developing him. I matched him beat for beat in intensity.

“He had this attention to detail and got me understanding the game.”

Combs was part of a 2000 squad that won Conference Indiana, sectional and Marion County championships.

Webster, who would see his Hawks win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, put Combs in center field and used the right-hander as a No. 3 pitcher behind 2001 IHSBCA All-Star John Tolson and Matt Elder.

“In all the years I played and have coached, Tolson’s still the nastiest curve ball I’ve ever seen,” says Combs.

A decade after playing for him, Combs joined Webster as his varsity assistant and followed him as DC head coach in 2012. The two still talk regularly and Combs leads his program at Phil Webster Baseball Complex — aka “The Web.”

Combs graduated from Decatur Central in 2001 and played four seasons for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University, receiving a secondary education degree in 2005.

Farley used Combs in the outfield with a few games on the mound and taught many off-field lessons.

“There’s more to being a baseball player than playing baseball,” says Combs. “There being a good human being and a good student.”

Farley pointed his players toward community service opportunities and got them to work youth camps.

Combs also learned to curb his on-field temper.

“I learned to control my emotions, which was always a problem with me,” says Combs. “If I slam down my helmet, I’ll find someone else standing at my position.

“I saw that it’s not all about me. It’s about the team.”

Not that he figured out all his coach was telling him right away.

“When I was playing for him, I was not smart enough to realize how good of a coach he was,” says Combs. “A couple years later, when I became a coach, I figured out Coach Farley was right.”

Combs and Farley stay in touch and he had his former Butler boss address his DC team last season.

Doing his student teaching at Westfield High School, Combs was invited by Shamrocks head baseball coach Ryan Bunnell to join his staff and he wound up serving three seasons as junior varsity head coach and two as varsity assistant. He was there when Westfield, featuring current MLB catcher Kevin Plawecki, finished as 2009 IHSAA state runners-up.

“(Bunnell) taught me the ins and outs and logistics of being a head coach,” says Combs.

If it were possible, Combs would like to see every player get a chance to be a coach. By explaining the game to others, it will help their own understanding of baseball.

Jason’s baseball passion was first stoked by his father, Steve Combs. The retired fireman was a fixture at Carnine Little League in Rhodius Park on the near west side of Indianapolis and did everything from coaching to cutting grass.

It’s in that atmosphere that Combs developed into a fierce competitor.

“We had people who taught us how to compete,” says Combs. “It was grown-men baseball at 10 and 11 years old. You had to fight and not give up no matter what.

“I still embrace that today.”

Donna Combs was also supportive of Jason’s athletic exploits.

“She was a loving, caring, awesome woman,” says Jason of the mother who passed away in February 2017.

Jason’s older brother Josh graduated from Washington High School in Indianapolis in 1995. When Jason was in the eighth grade, the family moved into the Decatur Central district.

Along the way, the youngest Combs gained an affinity for the history of the game.

“You respect what happened before you,” says Combs, who teaches social studies at DCHS. “You know it, learn it and love it.”

He received baseball books as gifts while growing up.

He came home from school and watched Chicago Cubs games on TV and heard famed announcer Harry Caray telling stories about the game’s past.

Combs has watched Ken Burn’s Baseball documentary series numerous times.

His favorite player was a tall shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr.

Decatur Central is part of the Mid-State Conference (along with Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland). Next year, Perry Meridian is to join the circuit.

“It’s a really good baseball conference,” says Combs. “It’s always been pretty even. It’s competitive and it will be again this year.”

MSC games are played in a Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series.

“You’ve got to prove it,” says Combs. “You can’t have one guy who can (pitch every conference game). You’ve got to have a team.”

There has been discussion in going to Friday night doubleheaders like the Hoosier Heritage Conference.

“I like the way we do it,” says Combs.

There are 35 players in the program this spring for varsity and junior varsity games. The coaching staff features Alan Curry (pitching coach), Ben Ferrell and Jeff McKeon with the varsity and Brandon Curry (Alan’s son) and Brayton Lake with the JV. Curry joined Combs in his second season as DC head coach and Ferrell in his third. McKeon was head coach at Plainfield High School and head coach of the South squad at the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars in Muncie last summer.

Recent Decatur Central graduate Jack Wohlert is a pitcher for Indiana University Southeast. Current seniors Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and Alex Mitchell (Indiana Tech) have made commitments and Austin Mitchell (twin brother of Alex) and Devin Gross are among those Combs expects to play college baseball.

The Hawks are scheduled to open the season with three games at historic Bosse Field in Evansville against Evansville Reitz, Evansville North and Indian Creek. Other 2018 non-conference opponents include Beech Grove, Ben Davis, Franklin Central, Homestead, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport, Speedway and Warren Central.

Decatur Central plays in a Class 4A sectional group with Ben Davis, Perry Meridian, Pike, Roncalli and Southport. The host rotation lands on Ben Davis this year.

Phil Webster is helping son and Pike head coach Todd Webster  this spring.

The Hawks last won the sectional in 2015 and the games were played at Decatur Central.

“I like to play a tough schedule,” says Combs. “You’ve got to get ready (for the IHSAA tournament) somehow. You’ve got to see what you’ve got.”

Located less than 10 miles apart, Decatur Central and Mooresville are backyard rivals.

Thanks to Webster and current Pioneers head coach Eric McGaha, the two baseball programs play each spring for the “Battle of 67” trophy.

The school that holds the trophy — currently Decatur Central — must be beaten on their own field to have it taken away. That means the “trophy” game in 2018 will come when Mooresville visits DC.

Mooresville is heading into its second season with artificial turf, causing many in the Decatur Central community to ask, “Are we next?”

Combs knows of no immediate plans for that kind of investment.

The coach is thankful for the assistance of Hawks athletic director and close friend Justin Dixson. They went to Decatur Central and Butler together and were in each other’s weddings.

“Within reason, he does just about anything I want,” says Combs.

Helping to feed the high school program are seventh grade and eighth grade teams at Decatur Middle School.

“I’m going to do that as long as we can,” says Combs. “There’s something to playing middle school baseball. We try to teach them our system. Plus they have to act right in school and stay eligible.”

Add Decatur Central Little League at Southeastway Park and travel baseball and some seventh graders are playing games with 60 feet between bases then 70 then 90 — sometimes in the same week.

“But the more you play, the more chances you have to get better,” says Combs. “We let the kids play where they feel comfortable.”

Jason and Jamie Combs reside in Decatur Township with daughters Amelia (5) and Josie (2).

JASONAMELIACOMBS

Decatur Central High School head baseball coach Jason Combs (left) embraces with oldest daughter Amelia following a game against Whiteland in 2017. DC graduate Combs heads into his seventh season as Hawks head coach in 2018.

 

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It’s all about being positive for Webster, Pike Red Devils baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With a coaching staff always looking for the silver lining in every cloud, Pike High School faces the challenges of playing in baseball-rich Indianapolis.

Pike — one of the biggest schools in Indiana with an enrollment of around 3,300 — belongs to the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (along with Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis and Warren Central) and is in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Ben Davis, Decatur Central, Perry Meridian, Roncalli and Southport.

“The MIC is the toughest conference in Indiana in my opinion,” says fourth-year Pike head baseball coach Todd Webster. “Our out-of-conference schedule is fairly tough, too.

“We we think it’s important that we stay positive. We have to tell the kids that they’re getting better.”

It’s about building them up and not beating them down.

Before landing at Pike, Webster was an assistant to Aaron Kroll at Ben Davis — a school fed by Little League programs like Ben Davis, Eagledale and Speedway.

“They had a treasure trove of kids who had skill and were real gutsy and scrappy,” says Webster. “At Pike High School, it’s a little different. Our kids come from a very small Little League (Eagle Creek) and need a lot of development.”

Webster, a 1982 North Central graduate, served several years as a coach and on the executive board at Westlane Delaware Trails Little League — the largest Little League in Washington Township. His board tenure includes time as president.

Something Webster witnessed many times was the formation of travel teams, taking the best players in a given Little League division and putting them on one squad. The fathers of these players would follow and that would reduce the pool of knowledgeable coaches.

Several players come to Pike as freshmen with very little baseball training.

Pike High School & Freshman Center, Pike Career Center and Pike Preparatory Academy serves the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township, which also includes three middle schools (Guion Creek, Lincoln and New Augusta Public Academy North) and several elementary schools (Central, College Park, Deer Run, Eagle Creek, Eastbrook, Fishback Creek, Guion Creek, New Augusta South, Snacks Crossing and the Early Childhood Program).

Todd Webster, who saw the Red Devils win five games in 2017, has father Phil Webster, Mike Sloan and Andrew Lawrence on his coaching staff.

Phil Webster won more than 600 games as a high school head coach. His 27-year run at Decatur Central include a 4A state championship in 2008. He was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.

“We just kind of let him do his thing,” says Todd Webster of his father, who began his coaching career in the late ‘60s and joined his son last spring. “It’s an unbelievable wealth of knowledge that he brings.

“It’s just nice having him around. He throws batting practice. My dad’s 77 going on 50. Baseball will keep you young.”

Sloan is a former North Central assistant. Lawrence is a social studies teacher at Pike.

The Pike staff keeps looking for things to complement to build up their players and they just keep plugging.

“We have some very good baseball players at Pike High School,” says Todd Webster.

That group includes junior left-handed pitcher Damon Cox (a verbal commit to Northern Kentucky University), senior left-hander Chase Hug (an Olney Central College commit) and uncommitted seniors in center fielder/right fielder Jordan Garrett and catcher Malachi Hamblin. As a junior, Garrett received all-state votes and was on the all-MHIC and all-Marion County teams.

To get seen and signed by colleges, exposures is key.

“Kids these days put a lot of stock in travel baseball,” says Webster. “Certain organizations get a lot of exposure and certain organizations don’t. It’s really important if you have an upper-level baseball athlete that they choose their travel teams and summer programs very wisely.

“Showcases are also very important.”

Pike is proud to call Hildebrand Field home. The complex has two lighted diamonds with new infields and banners and permanent wind slats and toppers on the outfield fences .

“It’s really a beautiful, beautiful field,” says Webster. “I’ve had some college guys say this high school field is better than ours. Our outside facilities are almost second to none.”

When the Devils are inside, they share gym space with many other groups at Pike and have sometimes access to one drop-down batting cage.

“That’s one of the obstacles we have to try to overcome,” says Webster.

One other way Pike players get in some indoor swings is by borrowing a lobster from Pike’s tennis program. Hitters are able to hit tennis balls in the gym and a net is not necessary.

“You have to be as creative as you can,” says Webster.

A Little League player while growing up, Webster got involved with construction trades classes in high school and did not play baseball at North Central.

“We were building our own houses,” says Webster. “I went into the field right out of high school. Back then the money was too good to pass up. He now a general contractor and owns Webster Commercial Contracting and Webster Home Improvement.

Between general contracting and coaching baseball, Webster considers himself as a man with two full-time jobs.

How does he pull it off?

“I own the business and know the boss really, really well,” says Todd, who is also the son of Carolyn Webster and sibling to brother Channing and sister Grey. “The key to coaching baseball and having your own business is you have to surround yourself with good people. If you get yourself into a pickle, you have people there you can trust.

“My assistant coaches on the baseball team are really good, knowledge and reliable. It is not necessary to micro-manage at all.”

In program history, Pike has won 10 sectionals — the last in 2010 — and one regional (1968).

No fewer than three former Red Devils outfielders have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — Jim Watkins in the fifth round by the Boston Red Sox in 1979, Dallas Williams in the 42nd round by the Red Sox in 2003 and Jordan Cheatham in the 43rd round by the Chicago White Sox in 2006. All three had brief minor league careers.

TODDWEBSTER

Todd Webster is heading into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Pike High School in Indianapolis in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Nguyen teaching life, baseball at Lawrence Central

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Consistent message and accountability of ballplayers.

Those are concepts Harrison “Harry” Nguyen had reinforced during his assistant baseball coaching days at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and it helps form his foundation as a coach and educator at Lawrence Central High School.

“Players — teenagers — they need that,” says Nguyen of the benchmarks. “They don’t necessarily see the value in it when they’re going through that. It can really be tough in the day-to-day. It can be uncomfortable. But it’s what students need. It’s what baseball players need.”

It’s what Nguyen gained from spending 15 seasons (2002-16) on the Cathedral staff led by Rich Andriole, who goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Jan. 27 and is preparing for his first season as head coach at Guerin Catholic High School in 2018.

“Sometimes (athletes) need to be called out if they are not meeting certain standards,” says Nguyen, who speaks with Andriole on a weekly basis. “Rich is really good at that. We try to instill that in our kids here at Lawrence Central.

“We want to take care of our student-athletes. If we can teach them a little baseball along the way — great — but if we can teach them life, that’s better.”

Nguyen began his coaching career on the staff of Anthony Lowborn at his high school alma mater, Arsenal Tech. Lowhorn went on to coach at Triton Central and sent Luke Stephenson on to college baseball. The right-hander pitched in 2016 and 2017 at Indiana University.

As a youngster, Nguyen played at Lowell Little League in Warren Township and was coaching there when umpire Rick Wagner suggested he look into a coaching opportunity at Cathedral. He met Andriole in the summer of 2001 and began coaching Fighting Irish freshmen and later got to work with standout players like Tommy HunterDillon Peters and Ashe Russell.

“It was a really fun ride,” says Nguyen of his Cathedral tenure. “I coached a lot of good kids and met a lot of good people.

“The X’s and 0s get us into baseball, but what keeps us in it is the people.”

Nguyen, an Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis graduate who got his start in education with schooling at Butler University taught at Indiana Connections Academy, Cathedral and Franklin Central High School before that, is in his second year teaching math in the LC freshman academy. J.R. Shelt is his administrator. Shelt was his junior varsity baseball coach at Arsenal Tech.

After leaving Cathedral, he was not sure where he would land then got contacted by then Lawerence Central athletic director Jeff Irwin, who shared the vision of the school district.

“It all came together really, really fast,” says Nguyen.

The 2017 season was Nguyen’s first as head baseball coach at Lawrence Central. The Bears went 12-16, beating Columbus North and Zionsville and suffering five one-run losses along the way. LC lost to eventual IHSAA Class 4A state champion Cathedral in the semifinals of the Warren Central Sectional.

“We lost some heartbreakers,” says Nguyen. “But we were pretty competitive.”

The junior varsity went 16-4 in 2017 and several players from that squad are looking to make noise at the varsity level in 2018.

“We bring back a lot of seniors,” says Nguyen. “We have had a lot of spirited workouts this off-season.”

The 2017 Bears participated in the I-65 Classic at Purdue University and McCutcheon (along with host McCutcheon, Lake Central and Zionsville). This year, a similar event is planned with Lawrence Central, Brebeuf Jesuit, Hobart and Perry Meridian, perhaps at Grand Park in Westfield.

LC is also waiting to see if it qualifies for the late-season Victory Field Classic, held at the site of the IHSAA State Finals and home of the Indianapolis Indians.

Lawrence Central is a member of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (along with corporation partner Lawrence North plus Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Pike, North Central of Indianapolis and Warren Central).

The Bears were Marion County champions in 2015. LC last won a sectional title in 2004, the same year they took a state title.

Nguyen expects Bryan Peters and Greg White to return to his LC coaching staff in 2018. A year ago, the Bears had three teams — varsity, JV and freshmen. It’s not likely the numbers will be high enough for a freshmen team this spring.

“Though I have no scientific evidence, it seems that 13 is where the numbers are getting lost,” says Nguyen. “That’s when many kids go from 46/60 fields to full-size diamonds. In New Palestine, where my son (Ryan) plays in an 11-12 league, it’s 50/70.

“Travel teams start a lot younger these days. It’s harder to know where your home Little League is. There are so many boundaries and choices for parents. Travel ball has become an arms race.”

Besides travel organizations, talent is fed to the high school through Belzer Middle School, where Orion Ogg, is the coach, as well as Lawrence Township youth leagues — Skiles Test, Fall Creek, Oaklandon and Lawrence Lions.

Lawrence Central plays on-campus at Challis-Pauszek Field. In recent years, the facility has added bleachers stretching from dugout to dugout, put in a new press box and did work on the sod. Plans for the spring include new bullpens.

The LC high school program does quite a bit of fundraising to keep participation prices reasonable (it was $73 in 2017 and much of that is township-mandated transportation).

“We have not had kids who could not play baseball here because of cost,” says Nguyen.

Former Lawrence Central players currently in college baseball include J.J. Montgomery (University of Central Florida), Kenny Ogg (Ohio University) and Matt Burleton (Marian University).

LC graduate Jared Ruxer pitched at the University of Louisville and is now in the Kansas City Royals organization.

Current Bears senior Allan Augustus has committed to play baseball and football at Marian. Others who hope to play on a college diamond include senior catcher Drew Prather, 6-foot-7 pitcher Zach McGee and sophomore outfielder Anthony Steinhart.

Besides Ryan, Harry and wife Heather have three other children. Morgan (17) and Tanner (16) are at Franklin Central High School and Hannah (14) is as Franklin Township Middle School-East.

ZACHROGERSHARRYNGUYENROCKETPHOTOGRAPHYLLC

Lawrence Central head baseball coach Harry Nguyen (right) talks with Zach Rogers during the 2017 season — Nguyen’s first leading the Bears. (Black Rocket Photography, LLC Photo)

Alum Kluesner leading Bloomington South on diamond

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s be said that people are the sum of their added experiences and influences.

Phil Kluesner picked up some things from his high school coach and others from his college coach and others along the way and it has brought him to where he is — heading into his 10th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater, Bloomington High School South.

Kluesner, a 1990 Bloomington South graduate, was an outfielder and left-handed pitcher in a Panthers program led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Grier Werner and later spent three seasons (1998-2000) on Werner’s coaching staff.

“I learned a lot from him,” says Kluesner of Werner. “He was very demanding but also very caring.”

From Werner, Kluesner saw a consistency of work ethic and the importance of building relationships.

He uses the latter not only as a coach but as an educator. He is currently a U.S. History teacher at BHSS.

Kluesner’s college baseball experience was a couple of seasons at the University of Southern Indiana, where Mike Goedde (now head coach at Evansville Central High School) was leading the Screaming Eagles.

Listing the qualities instilled by Goedde, Kluesner lists intensity, work ethic and competitive drive.

“We had a lot of talent on that team,” says Kluesner, who was with the baseball team for two years. He would earn a mass communications degree from USI and a secondary education degree from Indiana University-Bloomington.

Kluesner’s first coaching go-round came in Babe Ruth League baseball in Bloomington.

“I really liked it,” says Kluesner. “Rex Grossman was on my team. He was a phenomenal baseball player. He was just a better football player.”

Grossman would later be Indiana’s Mr. Football and quarterback at the University of Florida and in the National Football League.

After Kluesner’s stint as a South assistant, he served two seasons as a Shelbyville High School assistant to Mike Hobbs and Scott Hughes and then was head coach at Columbus North High School 2003-08 before coming back to wear the purple and white.

Kluesner coached a travel team made up mostly of South players known as the Bloomington Wizards and is considering bringing it back just to keep his players together.

“We’ve got some pretty good young talent coming through,” says Kluesner. “Travel teams are like mushrooms when you get too much rain. So many of them pop up. It’s almost overwhelming.

“The big thing I’ve noticed chemistry is difficult with them playing all over the place. They don’t know each other. It makes it difficult with our high school team. Chemistry is the thing teams are lacking. It’s become highly individualistic. It’s a team sport.”

With control of his own high school players, Kluesner will have a say in development.

“In the summer, it’s about showcasing yourself,” says Kluesner. “You get your hacks and sit down. I’m not going to discourage all kids from doing that. Some need (higher-profile travel baseball). But we could offer that with our Wizards and do it for less money. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just my opinion.”

Kluesner has produced Class 4A sectional championship teams in 2010, 2015 and 2016 and sent a number of players on to NCAA Division I college baseball.

There’s Joe Forney (Class of 2011) to Xavier (and is now director of baseball operations at Miami of Ohio), John Robertson (Class of 2011) to Miami of Ohio, Jake Kelzer (Class of 2012) to Indiana (and is now in the Philadelphia Phillies organization), Nolan Rogers (Class of 2013) to Vanderbilt, Gage Rogers (Class of 2014) to High Point in North Carolina (and is now at Indiana University Southeast) and Tyler Van Pelt (2017) to Indiana.

Alex Franklin (Class of 2018) made a verbal commit to Indiana as a sophomore and signed in early November.

Franklin has been a shortstop and a center fielder. With his BHSS head coach valuing versatility, he’s also in the pitching mix.

“The more pitchers the better,” says Kluesner. “I don’t have a lot of pitcher-onlys.”

While on the subject of pitching, what about the pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) adopted in 2017?

“I’m a pitching guy and I think it’s too lenient,” says Kluesner. “The pitch count should be a little more stringent. I’ve never pitched a guy 120 pitches in my life. We try to set our schedules week to week basis. My big arm will only throw once a week.”

It’s all about a lack of effectiveness.

“We need to teach kids to be efficient and not be so erratic,” says Kluesner, who has had hurlers throw complete games in 70 or fewer tosses. That’s the reason they pitch so many pitches.

“Kids are out of control. They’re over throwing. There’s so much emphasis on velocity nowadays. Kids can be effective if they’re competitive.”

Catchers are expected to rely on their own knowledge to help guide the pitcher.

“I’m big on teaching kids to call their own game behind the plate,” says Kluesner. “You know they get it when they cut you off and say, “I know, Coach. I know what to call.’

“Catchers are better ballplayers if they learn.”

Besides letting the players take ownership of the game, there’s a third dimension by being behind the dish that coaches don’t see clearly from the dugout. Catchers know if the pitch is in or out, up or down and can adjust the pitch selection accordingly.

Another teaching point for all players is not to argue with or complain to the umpire.

“It’s their job to adapt to the umpire,” says Kluesner. “They’re all different.”

Kluesner’s assistants for 2018 are Trevor McConnell (varsity), Eric Dodds (varsity), Mike Vaughn (junior varsity), A.J. Hartman (JV and freshmen) and Kevin Gross (freshmen).

South typically keeps 45 to 50 players for its three teams.

“We always seem to have some large freshmen classes,” says Kluesner. “The year we went to semistate (2015), we had 11 seniors. On average, we have six or seven.

“It’s hard to keep all those kids anymore,” says Kluesner. “The mentality has changed. It’s hard to teach them roles. Everyone wants to be the star.”

Kluesner says the ideal number of players for a single week-night game is around 14 or 15. That way he can get his bench players into the game as courtesy/pinch runners, defensive replacements, pinch-hitters or relief pitchers.

The varsity roster might swell near 20 for the weekend doubleheader as Kluesner and his assistants bring JV players to reward them for their performance.

The Panthers belong to Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

Panthers home games are played at Groh Memorial Field, which dates back to 1965.

“It’s the original field,” says Kluesner, referring to the split of Bloomington High School into South and North for the 1972-73 school year. “It’s hollowed ground to us.

“When you think you’re playing the same place as thousands of other players, it gives you goosebumps. I make sure the players know that and respect that.”

Kluesner is expecting a major overhaul of the facility soon and South could welcome lights for the 2018 season.

The Panthers belong to Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

In a format change for 2018, all conference teams will play each other once to determine the champion. Before, there were divisions with an end-of-season tournament.

PHILKLUESNER

Phil Kluesner, a 1990 Bloomington High School South graduate, is entering his 10th season as Panthers head baseball coach in 2018.

Columbus North’s McDaniel speaks out about travel baseball, recruiting

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Travel baseball continues to grow in Indiana.

Player are increasingly aligning with organizations for the chance to play more games.

One of the reasons many high school-aged players go with travel teams is to get seen by college coaches who attend showcase tournaments during the college off-season.

As a long-time travel ball coach and head coach at Columbus North High School, Ben McDaniel knows both worlds.

Heading into his fifth season of leading the Columbus North Bull Dogs, McDaniel has been with the Indiana Outlaws and now it’s the Evoshield Canes Midwest. The Indianapolis-based Canes draw players from around Indiana plus Ohio and Kentucky.

One Canes player from the Class of 2021 — catcher Austin Bode — has already verbally committed to the University of Louisville.

“And he hasn’t even played an inning of high school baseball,” says McDaniel of North freshman Bode. “Kids are worried about (playing in college) at earlier ages. More and more, there are coaches at every game. It used to be that I didn’t used to have a roster with me (with contact information and grade-point). Now if you’re going to coach these players, you have got to play the game.”

If McDaniel has his way, the IHSAA rule of allowing coaches to work with just two players at a time three days a week out-of-season would be lifted.

“If the kids going to put the time in, it would be nice to provide the instruction,” says McDaniel, a member of the Indiana High School Coaches Association executive committee. “I think more high school coaches would coach summer baseball if it wasn’t so strict during the summer. The game could go completely to travel and that’s not good for high school baseball.”

McDaniel says the trend now is for recruiting to be handled more by travel coaches — who have more exposure college coaches — than leaders of high school programs.

“I’m very involved (with recruiting) as a high school coach,” says McDaniel. “I know all the (travel) coaches my (Columbus North) kids are player for. You have to work in-tandem. I believe it’s a high school coach’s job to build that relationship with the college coach.”

It’s also important to not over-sell a player. That’s a good way to burn a bridge.

“You come into this world with a few things — your last name and your word,” says McDaniel. “My kids know that if a coach calls me, they’re going to get an honest assessment.”

McDaniel says his No. 1 priority as a coach is getting players who want to play college baseball, the opportunity to do so.

Since becoming North head coach for the 2014 season and winning an IHSAA East Central Sectional title (he was Brian Muckerheide’s assistant in 2013), McDaniel has watched several players sign on with colleges, including ’14 graduate Christian Glass at Xavier University, ’15 graduates Cody Burton at Indiana State University, Evan Finke at Snead State Community College and Devin Mann at Louisville, ’16 graduates Collin Lollar at Ohio State University (he’s now at Wabash Valley College) and son Brice McDaniel at Purdue University (he’s now at Walters State Community College) and ’17 graduates Cooper Trinkle at the University of Evansville, Wade Rankin at Kankakee Community College, Kevin Thompson at Olney Central College and Nolan Wetherald at Marietta College.

Mann represented North as an all-state shortstop and IHSBCA North/South All-Star in 2015. Trinkle was an all-state shortstop as a junior and all-state second baseman as a senior. He and teammate Thompson were both IHSBCA South All-Stars.

Current senior Tyler Finke is to follow brother Evan’s foot steps to Snead State.

Parker Maddox (Class of 2019) and Casper Clark (Class of 2020) have both committed to Indiana University.

Jake Petrusky (Class of 2018) and Jakob Meyer (Class of 2019) have not yet made their college commitments.

McDaniel graduated from Westerville (Ohio) South High School in 1992. His job with Honda brought him to Indiana and it became home. He still works in the automotive industry with Faurecia.

As a baseball coach, he has come to put a lot of stock in mental toughness training.

“I’m firm believer in the mental aspect of the game,” says McDaniel. “It’s an area that is under-taught and underdeveloped.”

Especially on bad weather days when the Bull Dogs can’t get outside, they will spend time doing visualization exercises.

Brian Cain, Justin Dehmer and Indiana’s Dan Thurston (confidenceinbaseball.com) are some of McDaniel’s favorite mental conditioning professionals.

“We used (Thurston) last year and we’ll probably use him again,” says McDaniel. “He worked one-on-one with a pitcher of mine. I saw some of the results first-hand.”

Columbus North advanced to the Class 4A Plainfield Semistate. Before bowing 6-0 to eventual state champion Indianapolis Cathedral, the Dogs won the Bloomington North Sectional (topping East Central 4-3, Columbus East 7-6 and Bloomington South 11-1) and Evansville Reitz Regional (besting Martinsville 3-0 and Evansville Central 7-1).

The Dogs are members of the Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

In a format change for 2018, all conference teams will play each other once to determine the champion. Before, there were divisions with an end-of-season tournament.

McDaniel works closely with the school administration on North’s non-conference slate.

“I’m constantly trying to improve our strength of schedule,” says McDaniel, who typically sends his teams against the powerhouses around central and southern Indiana and will again take the Dogs to the early-April Super Prep Tournament hosted by Louisville Ballard. The annual event brings some of the best from multiple states.

“It’s a very good measuring stick for us at the start of the season,” says McDaniel, whose team is to play twice Friday and twice Saturday. “We get the toughest schedule I can get to prepare the guys for the postseason.”

Also helping to prepare the team is a staff featuring three pitching coaches — Jason Maddox (third season), Hunter McIntosh (second season) and Daniel Ayers (second season). Ayers pitched in the Baltimore Orioles organization and McIntosh pitched at Alabama State.

McDaniel leaves strength training, professions etc. up to his pitching experts. With their input, he sets the starting rotation and relief assignments.

North has mound depth and the new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) adopted in 2017 really meant they now had something to track and report (to the athletic director) and they developed a third starter in order to deal with the sectional.

“We always kept our guys around the 120 number anyway,” says McDaniel. “Before (the new rule), we did it more based on performance. We didn’t keep our guys on a pitch count. It was what they were conditioned to do.

“We pride ourselves that we’ve never had any arm injury.”

The varsity coaching staff also features Chris Gerth (sixth season), Will Nelson (second season) and speed and agility instructor Nathan Frasier.

Junior varsity coaches are Mike Bodart (fifth season) and Alex Engelbert (second season). North typically plays 24 to 28 JV games per spring.

The Bull Dogs play their games at Southside Elementary School near the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds — about five miles from the high school campus. The five-year facility features a locker room that’s equipped with a sound system and a TV to watch instructional videos plus ping pong and air hockey tables.

“The community gave us a pretty nice complex,” says McDaniel. “We take pride in the facility. Having a place to call their own is something special.”

Players and coaching tend to field maintenance.

“It instills a little discipline and appreciation into the kids,” says McDaniel.

BENMCDANIEL

Ben McDaniel is head baseball coach at Columbus North High School and also coaches for the Evoshield Canes Midwest travel organization. He also serves on the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive committee.

 

Hall of Famer Gandolph back at home at Scecina with high hopes

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis has won six IHSAA football sectional titles since the Crusaders last won a sectional baseball championship.

The Crusaders reigned on the gridiron in 2001 in Class 2A, 2002 in 2A, 2012 in 1A and 2015 in 2A. Scecina last hoisted a sectional trophy on the diamond in 1992.

Dave Gandolph, a football, wrestling and baseball standout for the Crusaders in the 1960’s, would like to give that ’92 trophy some company in the case.

“We are kind of on the verge,” says Gandolph, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who became head baseball coach at his alma mater prior to the 2014 season after 33 years leading Center Grove in Greenwood and two guiding Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter (with an assistant stint at Carmel in-between). He has a varsity record of 766-352-4 in 39 total seasons. “We’ve lost twice in the sectional by one run.”

Scecina bowed out of the tournament by losing 2-1 to Heritage Christian in the 2014 Heritage Christian Sectional final, 12-9 to Park Tudor in the 2015 Park Tudor Sectional semifinals, 8-7 to Ritter in the 2016 Speedway Sectional semifinals, 11-5 to eventual 2A state champion Ritter in the 2017 Park Tudor Sectional semifinals.

The Crusaders compete in the Indiana Crossroads Conference (along with Ritter, Park Tudor, Beech Grove, Indianapolis Lutheran, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central) and then there’s the Indianapolis city tournament.

Athletic director and former Crusaders head baseball coach Jason Kehrer and Gandolph craft Scecina’s non-conference slate.

“We play a pretty tough schedule,” says Gandolph.

To get ready for the postseason, Scecina has faced a buzzsaw of a regular season. The 2017 campaign, which carried the team-picked motto “Trust the Process,” opened with losses to traditional powers Indianapolis Cathedral (4A), Indianapolis Bishop Chatard (3A), Guerin Catholic (3A), Lafayette Central Catholic (2A) and Evansville Memorial (3A). Cathedral went on to win that program’s third state championship and seven-time state champion Lafayette Central Catholic was a regional finalist.

Gandolph has enjoyed plenty of success in his career by stressing the importance of hitters putting the ball in play and since he does not have many players who promise to mash the baseball out of Neidlinger Field or other parks, that is still his approach.

“I teach a lot about ‘small ball’ and moving runners over,” says Gandolph. “(The opposing defenders) have to catch it, throw it and catch it again.

“But you have to have good pitching. That’s where it starts.”

The 2017 season was first for the IHSAA’s new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“The rule was put in because pitchers were getting used too much, but that was more in the summer and fall and all that,” says Gandolph. “High school coaches — for the most part — were not abusing anybody’s arms. This (new rule) creates a little more paperwork, basically.”

At state tournament time, coaching staffs must plan and strategize with the pitch count in mind.

“Everybody puts the best pitcher out there they can and go with them as long as they can,” says Gandolph. “You get a complete game or near-complete game and you’re in pretty good shape. If you get a big lead, you may want to get your (top) pitcher out of there.”

One change Gandolph would favor is seeding the sectionals.

“Seeding the sectional might alleviate some of that imbalance that might happen with a blind draw,” says Gandolph. “The city tournament is seeded and has 16 or 17 teams. We’re only talking about five, six or seven teams in the sectionals. In most cases, it’s fairly obvious (how to seed the field). You don’t want a championship game that is a blowout. That is not good for our game.

“The IHSAA has seeded wrestling for a long time and that’s a lot harder than seeding baseball teams.”

While most athletes play a fall sport, Gandolph has been working with about 10 who are not once a week this fall while sharing part of the baseball field with the Crusaders’ soccer programs. His assistants are Ted Clements, Tim Anderson, Pat Gedig and Jim Maslar. Clements and Gedig are Scecina graduates and Maslar teaches at the school. Anderson graduated from Lawrence North.

Gandolph, a 1968 Scecina graduate, was in football for coach Dave Oberting, wrestling for coach Jeff Lazo and baseball for coach Larry Neidlinger when Scecina had about 1,000 students, encourages multi-sport participation at a school of school that now has about 450.

“At smaller schools, you have to share athletes,” says Gandolph. “Otherwise, you won’t be able to compete.

“I was in football, wrestling and baseball both at Scecina and Saint Joseph’s College (in Rensselaer). I’m a firm believer in a multi-sport athlete.

“For those who specialize, there are limits what they might be able to do in some other sport. They might get get burned out mentally and it’s good to use other muscles. It keeps you more balanced.”

Participating in wrestling kept Randolph in shape for baseball and football, where he was invited to training camp at SJC with the Abe Gibron-coached Chicago Bears in 1973. He played many years of minor league football around Indianapolis and was an assistant at Center Grove for two decades, retiring after a Class 5A state runner-up finish in 2000.

Gandolph notes that his top Scecina pitcher — 6-foot-3 junior right-hander Mac Ayres — is also the starting quarterback for the Crusaders’ 7-1 football team. To keep his pitching arm in shape, Ayres gets in workouts on Sundays.

A teacher for 40 years, Gandolph retired from the classroom Jan. 1, 2014. But he welcomed the opportunity to come back to the east side of town where so many memories were made and so many friends still live and keep coaching baseball.

“I’m glad I went back to Scecina,” says Gandolph. “It’s like going back home. There are still a lot of people around from my era. It’s where I met my wife (Ann). At the time, my mom (Pat and brother Ron) were were practically living across the street in the house where I grew up.”

Dave, the oldest of Eugene and Pat Gandolph’s seven children, lost Ron in November 2016 then his mother, Pat, in December.

“It was a tough winter and spring,” says Gandolph.

Dave and Ann Gandolph still reside near Center Grove. Their four children — Dave Jr. (47), Dan (42), Tom (40) and Jennifer (34) — and eight grandchildren are all on the south side.

Dave Jr. averaged more than two strikeouts per inning during his Center Grove career, which concluded in 1988.

“Those were some boring games,” says his father.

After playing at Indiana University, 6-foot-4 left-handed Dave Jr. was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 26th round of the 1991 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and logged five minor league seasons. He is one of seven draft picks developed by Dave Gandolph Sr.

Among the others is 1996 Mr. Indiana Baseball A.J. Zapp, who hit .524 with 16 home runs and 50 runs batted in and was taken in the first round of that year’s MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves and got as far as Triple-A.

Dan Gandolph played football and Tom Gandolph baseball at SJC. Dave Jr. and Dan are now in financial services and Tom is an Indianapolis firefighter.

Jennifer Gandolph was a senior member of Center Grove’s 2000 4A state championship team which featured her mother as an assistant coach and went on to play volleyball at the University of Michigan. Now known as Jennifer Hawk, she is now head volleyball coach at Perry Meridian High School and manages Orangtheory Fitness, owned by retired WNBA All-Star Katie Douglas, in Greenwood.

Dave and Ann Gandolph (she is an IU graduate but “Puma at Heart”) have remained close with St. Joe alumni even through the closing of the school at the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

Embracing the idea of #PumasForever, the couple attended an off-campus homecoming event a few weeks ago.

“It’s such a strong bond that everybody has,” says Gandolph, who is hopeful SJC will be able to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix. “It’s a big part of our lives.”

More than 80 players have gone on to college baseball during Gandolph’s coaching career, including Scecina graduates Bradley Meade at Anderson University, Aaron Leming at Franklin College, Genero Angeles at the University of Saint Francis.

“We have had a lot of football players go on to college from Scecina,” says Randolph. “We are trying to make them think about playing baseball in college.”

Catholic grade schools that feed into the school have not had baseball programs in recent years. Many players come through Irvington Sports Association and various travel ball organizations.

DAVEGANDOLPH

Dave Gandolph, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, is heading into his fifth season at Indianapolis Scecina Memorial — his alma mater — in 2017-18. It will be his 40th overall as a high school head coach, including two seasons at Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and 33 at Center Grove.

Alter has 1A Indianapolis Lutheran hanging with the big schools

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dick Alter has coached baseball in central Indiana for nearly four decades.

He has been around some talented players and coaches and helped mold young minds in dugouts and classrooms.

Since 2005, the former North Central player and assistant coach and former Manual head coach has made an impact at Indianapolis Lutheran High School, an IHSAA Class 1A member on the city’s southeast side.

The Saints won the eighth sectional title during Alter’s tenure and extended their streak of sectional championships to six in 2017. Lutheran went on to take the first regional crown in program history.

After beating Bethesda Christian 16-0 and University 5-1 to win the Sheridan Sectional, the Saints topped Edinburgh 10-1 and Rising Sun 6-1 in the Morristown Regional before losing 6-2 to eventual 1A state champion Lanesville in the Jasper Semistate.

What propelled Lutheran in ’17?

“Chemistry,” says Alter, who is also chairman of the school’s social studies department. “It was certainly not the best team we’ve ever had here. But those boys put it together better than the other teams did when it counted. We had unified players that played together and wanted to win.”

There are not that many 1A schools in the Indianapolis area. The smallest school in the Indiana Crossroads Conference (which also includes Beech Grove, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Scecina, Indianapolis Park Tudor, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central), Lutheran benefits from its strong regular-season schedule come postseason time.

ICC games are played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and there’s the test of the Marion County Tournament.

Ritter won the 2017 Class 2A state title. The Saints also squared off with 4A’s Lafayette Jeff and Perry Meridian (three times) and 1A powerhouse Hauser. In recent seasons, 4A’s Columbus North and 3A’s Bishop Chatard and Guerin Catholic have been on the slate.

“We play a very competitive schedule,” says Alter. “We go out of our way to play good schools. We don’t have the depth these 4A schools have, but on any given day we can play with them.”

Sophomores Matthew Alter (Dick and Karen Alter’s only child) and Noah Wood and freshman Bradbury Aiden — all right-handers — did the bulk of the mound work for last season’s Saints. It was the first campaign of the IHSAA’s new pitch count rule (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).

The coach is not a fan of the new rule.

“It severely limits a 1A program,” says Alter. “We really have to plan and be judicious with our pitchers. I like the old rule — 10 innings every three days. That made a lot of sense to me. It worked for me. If you are an experienced coach, you’re not going to hurt your kids’ arms by overthrowing them.”

Alter has heard the response of those like him who oppose the new rule.

“You can say ‘go develop more pitchers.’ But that’s easier said than done,” says Alter, who notes that many schools have players who grew learning to be pitchers. “We’re developing kids who can throw and hopefully they throw strikes. I understand the concept, but in practicality you’re not going to get a lot of good pitchers out of it.”

The Saints play games on their Arlington Avenue campus. Land-locked in a residential area, the field has relatively short dimensions.

“There’s one house we regularly hit in left field,” says Alter. “Any home run to the right side is going into somebody’s yard.”

Since Alter’s arrival, the field located in a residential area has received upgrades like a new backstop and dugouts and netting instead of a fence. Windscreens have been added and the home plate area and mound have been re-done.

Alter graduated from North Central in 1973. His coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tom Bradley, who was the original host of the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series. Alter played one year on baseball scholarship to Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., Alter transferred to Indiana University, earned a degree and began his professional life in marketing research.

In 1979, he began running the summer baseball program at North Central and later served as an assistant to Bradley.

He decided to change his profession to teacher and wound up coaching baseball and basketball at Manual. For a short time, he was head coach for both sports.

Alter led the Redskins on the diamond 1994-2004 then went to Lutheran when Matthew was 5.

Nephew Jared Broughton was a freshman on the 2005 Lutheran team. He went on to be a Junior College All-American at Vincennes University, a starter at the University of Dayton and is now associate head coach at Piedmont College, an NCAA Division III school in Demorest, Ga.

Alter coached Caleb Hougesen, a third baseman who was selected in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Francisco Giants.

“He was a great player,” says Alter.

What feeds the Saints program?

The high school typically gets most of its students from four Lutheran K-8 schools on the southeast side of Indy. Almost all of the Saints have a travel baseball background.

As Lutheran plans for 2018, Tom Riensche (former Warren Central head coach) and Ryan Baglow are back as varsity assistants. Zach Akers has been a junior varsity coach.

The Saints normally have a JV team, but low numbers in some years and one available diamond mean they only field a varsity squad.

DICKALTER2

A veteran of nearly 40 years as a high school baseball coach, Dick Alter has been head coach at Indianapolis Lutheran since 2005. The Saints won their sixth straight sectional and advanced all the way to the semistate in 2017. (Indianapolis Lutheran Photo)