When John Smith took over as head baseball coach at Morgan Township Middle/High School on the south side of Valparaiso, Ind., the Class of 2022 was in their freshmen year. Two members of that class — left fielder Nate Hudkins and shortstop Nate Lemmons — are now seniors and the Cherokees are coming off the program’s fifth sectional championship and first since 2018. “The guys are proud of the accomplishment,” says Smith. “They see the fruit of their labors.” University of Dubuque (Iowa)-bound Lemmons (.388 average, 22 runs batted in, 28 runs, 20 stolen bases) plus Hudkins (.355, 18 RBI, 28 runs, 17 stolen bases) are part of a Morgan Township offense that also features sophomore Keagen Holder (.426, 15 RBI, 15 runs, 10 stolen bases), junior Jayke Putz (.414, 26 RBI, 29 runs), junior Max Rakowski (.406, 16 RBI, 20 runs), sophomore Grant Cowger (.389), freshman Chase Rosenbaum (.379, 17 RBI, 19 runs), junior D.J. Hand (.310, 16 RBI, 19 runs) and sophomore Jack Wheeler (14 RBI, 18 runs, 12 stolen bases). The mound crew features Wheeler (5-1, 0.92 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 20 walks over 45 2/3 innings) and Putz (3-2, 3.67, 42 K’s, 20 BB, 34 1/3 IP). The current crop of sophomores were eighth graders when Smith took over the school’s fall middle school baseball program. “Getting those players at a young age has been beneficial for me,” says Smith, who teaches high school and middle school Health and Physical Education. “We get with them early in their baseball careers and establish the culture and the ideals with we strive for. “We give them that knowledge and get them used to me and how I coach.” After winning the 2022 IHSAA Class 1A Westville Sectional, Morgan Township is bound for the South Bend Washington Regional (which is being played Saturday, June 4 at South Bend Clay’s Jim Reinebold Field). The first semifinal features No. 4-ranked South Central (Union) Mills) and No. 9 Caston at 11 a.m. Eastern Time/10 a.m. Central Time followed by the 17-8 Cherokees against No. 10 Fremont around 1:30/12:30. Morgan Township (enrollment around 240) is a member of the Porter County Conference (with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, South Central of Union Mills, Washington Township and Westville). The Cherokees went 5-2 in the PCC in 2022, finishing third behind Boone Grove (7-0) and South Central (6-1). Besides the hosts and Morgan Township, the Westville Sectional included 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Kouts, Marquette Catholic and Washington Township. Smith is assisted by Boone Grove graduate and Morgan Township P.E./Health teacher Dean Hill and Washington Township alum Levi Oman. Hill is in charge of the junior varsity team. In 2022, the Cherokees finished the regular season with 24 players in the program. Morgan Township calls Curtis C. Casbon Field home. The diamond on the east side of the school has a backdrop of trees in left field. The facility is shared with Morgan Township Summer League 8U and 10U teams. Smith is a 2010 graduate of Shakamak Junior/Senior High School in Jasonville, Ind. Chip Sweet, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017, came back for his second stint as Lakers head coach when Smith was a senior, following three years with Matt Fougerousse rowing the boat. “He was very knowledgeable guy about baseball and life and how to carry yourself off the field,” says Smith of Sweet. “It was about character and how they represent themselves, their community and their school. “Coach Fougerousse was an extension of Coach Sweet. He wanted that fire to win and lead and be great young men. It’s something that program stands for.” At Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Smith earned an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science and a masters in Kinesiology and Exercise Science. John and wife Megan Smith have been married nearly three years. They do not have children.
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School baseball adopted a mantra as the Hornets took to the diamond in 2021 under head coach Jacob Wickliff: Turn the page. “Physically and philosophically one will never reach the end of the book unless you turn the page,” says Wickliff of the fresh-start approach in a program he was hired to lead in the summer of 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season. “The clear message to everyone is that we’re starting over,” says Wickliff. “That’s been big with parents. Our upperclassmen and key underclassmen have bought in.” Wickliff has been made excitement and standards a high priority at Beech Grove, which is just inside the I-465 corridor southwest of Indianapolis. “Kids weren’t excited to play here and that’s been our big push,” says Wickliff, who says there is a buzz around the Hornets who play at new all-turf on-campus facility — Jim Hensley Field of Dreams. The diamond, which debuted in 2021, is part of a district referendum that put turf on the football field and added the baseball and softball fields and other school-related projects. Baseball games and practices used to be at Sarah T. Bolton Park in Beech Grove. Since the new baseball field is landlocked, it is 297 feet down the left field line and there’s 10-foot high fence from the pole to left-center. Planes that fly by can’t miss the place since there’s a huge black, orange and white Hornet logo in center field. The field also brings in plenty of rental fees that Wickliff turns right back into the baseball program to cover the cost of spirit packs and more. Wickliff, who teaches at Beech Grove Middle School, wants the excitement to reach down to the community’s younger players from Beech Grove Little League which leads to the junior high program then the high school. A tradition has been started of inviting junior high players to have a practice and play a game on the turf at the end of the season. Beech Grove Middle School play its home games at South Grove Intermediate. “It goes back to excitement,” says Wickliff of getting those youngsters charged up about baseball. Beech Grove (enrollment around 1,000) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central). Last spring, the ICC adopted a two-game series format. There are home-and-home conference games each Tuesday and Wednesday. In 2021, the Hornets were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Herron, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, George Washington and Indianapolis Shortridge. Beech Grove has won six sectional crowns — the last in 2014. With a smaller student-athlete pool and so many multi-sport athletes, Beech Grove did not participate in the recent fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period. But many returnees play travel ball and fall ball in addition to a fall sport. “Guys doing it year-round deserve a little bit of a break,” says Wickliff. “Winter time is where we have to make the most growth and development.” Two seniors finished the season at Beech Grove in 2021. One of those — Garrett Esposito — is now on the baseball team at Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Ill. Wickliff says hopes to have several college baseball-worthy players in the Class of 2023 by the time they’re entering their senior year. Beech Grove assistant coaches include Garry Hampton, Austin Jones and Ryan Kendall with the varsity and Christian Brown (head coach) and Justin Duhamell (assistant) with the junior varsity. Wickliff is a 2012 graduate of Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis, where he played baseball for John Rockey and football for Michael Karpinski. “I’m still in-touch with him to this day,” says Wickliff of Karpinski. “He’s one of my pivotal role models.” Head JV baseball coach Devin Phillips was someone Wickliff looked up to going through school and had a big impact on him. “He started process of me becoming a coach,” says Wickliff of Phillips. “It’s the way he was able to relate with the players and build those relationships.” After earning a Physical Education degree with a Coaching minor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, he completed a Masters in Coaching Education and Athlete Development from Xavier University in Cincinnati. While in college, Wickliff coached baseball with Rockey at Franklin Central and also was a middle school then freshmen football coach in an FC program led by Burt Austin followed by Grant Lewis. Wickliff has been involved with three travel baseball organizations — the Indiana Astros, Midwest Astros and currently, Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM). After years of coaching 15U to 17U teams, he is now helms the 18U Signature team and serves as Director of Baseball Operations for high school age groups and is a lead evaluator on the Coaching Evaluation Team. Jake Banwart, who counted Wickliff as an assistant at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis before the latter took his current Beech Grove job, is BAM president. Jacob and wife Bridget Wickliff were married Nov. 2, 2019. They reside in Perry Township.
Rock Creek Community Academy in Sellersburg, Ind., fielded its first baseball team in 2021. The Jay Hafele-coached Lions played at the junior varsity level and did not participate in the IHSAA tournament. RCCA ended the season with 13 players. More than half of the team had played little or no organized baseball. “A lot of people came out because they wanted to try it,” says Hafele, who expects the numbers and Baseball I.Q. to climb. “I think we’re going to have 20 this year,” says Hafele, a 1998 Evansville Harrison High School graduate who played three years of college baseball and is teaching Physical Education, Health and Life Skills to high school and middle school students at the K-12 institution (it became a charter school in 2010). “We’ll have more knowledgeable people than we’ve ever had that played Little League and (baseball’s) been a part of their life. “We don’t have a field (on-campus) yet, but that’s in the works.” Rock Creek played and practiced last spring at Silver Creek Township Park, which is less than a mile from the school. Two public high schools — Silver Creek and Charlestown — are 1.3 and 6.1 miles away, respectively. More participation means the possibility of more pitchers which will help with the IHSAA pitch count rule. “Our rule of thumb is let the hitter get himself out,” says Hafele. “Throw strikes. That’s all we need.” Other concepts that the coach sees as important are sportsmanship, leadership, fun and the ability to move on from mistakes. “We’re not letting the last play effect your next play,” says Hafele. “I can’t emphasize that enough. “Just get the next out.” Hafele hopes his team — which again play a JV slate in 2022 — will be able to scrimmage Charlestown in the preseason to more-prepared for games. B.J. Paro is one of his assistants and Hafele hopes to have more. The Lions’ 2021 schedule included Indiana’s Cannelton, Columbus Christian, Crawford County, Henryville, Jennings County, Lanesville, Perry Central, Providence, Scottsburg, Shawe Memorial, Springs Valley and West Washington and Kentucky’s Whitefield Academy. Rock Creek Community Academy (enrollment around 180) is an independent with no athletic conference affiliation. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. With Rock Creek’s size (about 180 in the top four grades) and many players in football (seven of nine 2021 baseball starters played that sport and Hafele has been on the coaching staff) or soccer, the Lions have not worked out in the fall. RCCA’s football team practices on-campus, but rents space at Woehrle Athletic Complex, which is five miles from campus in Jeffersonville, Ind., for home games. An outfielder as a player, Hafele played for head coach Andy Rice at Harrison then for one season for Mike Goedde at the University of Southern Indiana before transferring to John A. Logan College, a National Junior College Athletic Association member in Carterville, Ill., and played one season for Jerry Halstead. From there, Hafele went to NCAA Division I McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., but never suffered a shoulder injury and never played for the Cowboys. He played his final college season for Rick Parr at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, where he earned a bachelor’s degree. Jay and wife Jill, who also teaches at Rock Creek, have three children — son Cooper (12), daughter Skylar (7) and son Chase (2).
The way Devin Wilburn sees it, life is about timing. Just when he and his wife were looking to move closer to home and family for the arrival of their first child, a job opportunity opened up. Teacher Devin and nurse Maddie Wilburn were living in Florida when the chance to come to come back to the Muncie, Ind., area came as daughter Tatum was on the way. Tatum is now 2 months old and Devin (who turned 30 on Sept. 18) is the head baseball coach and a physical education teacher at Delta High School. Delta (enrollment around 800) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown). In 2021, the Eagles were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Delta has won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2016. The Wilburns reside in Selma, about 10 minutes from both sets of grandparents and in the same town where they graduated from Wapahani High School. Devin went 24-9 and struck out 309 batters while while walking 79 in 203 1/3 innings while playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley and graduating in 2010. “A lot of stuff fell in place,” says Devin Wilburn, who comes to the Eagles after spending the 2021 season as an assistant to head coach Kyle Gould at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., after one spring season (2020) as head coach at Countryside High School in Clearwater Fla. Wilburn, who holds a Sport Administration degree (2014) and Masters in Sport Administration (2016) from Ball State University, was an assistant to head coach Rich Maloney at BSU in Muncie in 2019 after spending the fall of 2018 on Matt Bair’s staff at Anderson (Ind.) University. He was the pitching coach at Taylor 2015-18. A left-handed pitcher, Wilburn played three seasons for head coaches Alex Marconi (2011 and 2012) and Maloney (2015). At 20, Wilburn had a colon procedure and spent the better part of two years recuperating then returned to the diamond with the Cardinals. “It was a cool ending to my career,” says Wilburn. “I working out with my best friend, Jon Keesling (who played at Wapahani then Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion). “My ball was moving pretty good. Maybe I’ll give (a comeback) a shot.” Wilburn made the team and in 27 mound appearances (26 in relief) went 4-2 for a 33-25 squad that played in the Mid-American Conference championship game in 2015. “That last year I got to play changed my life in so many ways,” says Wilburn. It was through Ball State volunteer assistant Rhett Goodmiller that he was connected with Taylor. The summer before joining the Trojans, Wilburn was the head coach of the Indiana Prospects 17U national travel team. The talented club featured future Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft first-round pick J.J. Bleday plus two others now in the minors — Gianluca Dalatri and Sean Mooney — with the help of father Bryan Wilburn. Wilburn has formed his coaching philosophy through the men he played for and coached with — Dudley, Maloney and Gould — and more. “Along the way you make it yours,” says Wilburn. “You learn from coaching conventions and podcasts and put your own spin on it. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some really good baseball teams and coaches. “Coach Dudley and I have a real good relationship. He just does things the right way. He was my first mentor. I learned so much from him. “He had such a high expectation for us. He let us shine with what we were good at.” Devin, the only child of Bryan and Missie Wilburn, moved from Muncie to Selma in the fourth grade and his first teacher was Jason Dudley, Brian’s son and a longtime Wapahani baseball assistant. “I was part of those good traditions that shape your life in so many ways,” says Wilburn, who counted three former Wapahani teammates in the wedding party when he married Maddie a little over three years ago. “I’m so grateful to go through that program. “I look back fondly on my high school days.” A youth baseball coach for several decades, Russell Wilburn had a field named in his honor in Muncie’s Chambers Park when Devin was a young boy. Bryan Wilburn and brother Dan both played baseball at Muncie Central High School and Bryan went on to the diamond life at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and Dan to Valparaiso University. After being recruited by Greg Beals, playing for Marconi and then Maloney, the latter hired him as an assistant. “I wore many hats,” says Wilburn. “I got to work with catchers and some with outfielders. My end goal was to find a head coaching job at small college or high school. “I wanted to be a well-rounded coach.” Wilburn is appreciative of Blake Beemer, who was a Cardinals teammate and then a coaching colleague. “I’m grateful for his mentorship,” says Wilburn of Beemer. “I also coached with Dustin Glant. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever heard talk about pitching.” Gould gave Wilburn his first crack at college coaching. “He is probably the best mentor in my life,” says Wilburn. “I’ve learned so much from him from the baseball and the life perspective “He opened my eyes in so many different ways. I could not be more grateful for the time I spent over there learning from him. (Taylor) is a wonderful place.” It was at Taylor that Wilburn also got to be on staff with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rick Atkinson and Justin Barber. “Coach A forgot more about baseball than what I knew,” says Wilburn. “Justin and I had a good relationship when we recruited his players when he was with the Indiana Chargers.” At Delta, Wilburn has hired former Ball State teammate Scott Baker as his pitching coach with other assistant hires pending school board approval. The Eagles play on Veteran’s Field. “We’ve got a couple of projects,” says Wilburn, whose been assessing Delta’s baseball needs since taking the job. “We’ve got a nice facility and a real supportive booster club.” Feeders for Wilburn’s program include Delta Little League in Royerton and East Central Indiana junior high league run by Jason Dudley. Current senior left-hander Nick Crabtree has committed to Taylor. And Wilburn continues his love affair with the game. Says the coach, “Baseball is what keeps me sane in life and forget the daily stress.”
Jordan Ashbrook is invested in education and athletics in Union County, Ind. The 2011 Union County High School graduate represents the third generation of his family to teach at Union County. A physical education teacher, strengh and conditioning coach and head baseball coach at UCHS in Liberty, Jordan has a mother — Teresa Ashbrook — who teaches first grade at Liberty Elementary School. Jordan’s grandfather — the late Norbert Bleill – was also a Union County teacher. Born in Columbus, Ohio, Jordan moved to Oxford, Ohio, then to Union County as a preschooler. He played high school baseball then coached alongside Jeff Matthews and took over the Patriots program before the 2020 season canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ashbrook admires retired Navy Master Chief Matthews for his ability to motivate and to forge those with leadership leanings. “You can talk about championships, but until you put in the work and effort to get there, it’s just talk,” says Ashbrook. “He really left it up to the guys he trusted in — his captains.” A catcher and first baseman earlier in his prep career, three-year varsity player Ashbrook was an all-state second baseman as a senior. At NCAA Division III Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Ashbrook was a corner infielder and designated hitter for head coach George Powell. Coming to the Cardinals at 5-foot-10 and 180, Ashbrook was encouraged to add 20 pounds of muscle by the spring. He came close, getting up to 195. The lefty swinger hit .287 with four home runs and 29 runs batted in as a sophomore in 2013 and .200 with two homers and 14 RBIs as a senior in 2015. Ashbrook was a double major at Otterbein in Health Education and Physical Education. “It’s good to bring knowledge from college and see the development we’ve been able to have in the last three years,” says Ashbrook the strength and conditioning coach for all Union County athletic teams. “I have pre and post data. We max out about every fourth week. It’s nice to see the steady increase throughout the year. You see the change in bodies from fall to spring.” With an enrollment around 400, Union County is full of multi-sport performers. “Sharing the athletes here is something we have to do if we want to be successful,” says Ashbrook. “I tell my (baseball players) to play at least one other sport and be an all-around athlete.” Teacher Pat Tafelski handled strength and conditioning duties when Ashbrook attended Union County. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. For the final five weeks of the window, Ashbrook intends to have traditional baseball practices on Tuesdays and intraquad scrimmages on Thursdays. The past two weeks he was regularly getting 16 athletes at weight room sessions. He expects around 20 at LCP dates. Union County is a member of the Tri-Eastern Conference (with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City and Winchester). TEC games are generally played once a week. In 2021, the Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Centerville, Hagerstown, Northeastern and Shenandoah. Union County has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2018. Ashbrook is assisted by Union County teacher Daniel Taylor and longtime Pats assistant Ron Webb. Union County plays on Bill Webb Field, which gives spectators, players and coaches a view of the Liberty water tower. The varsity diamond is behind youth fields. “It’s cool seeing all the kids you’re going to coach in the future playing alongside you,” says Ashbrook, who has ramped up to middle school baseball program at Union County and got 48 to come to a callout meeting last week. Those players are invited to participate in fall workouts with the high school. Being a small school, Ashbrook says getting college exposure for his athletes calls for some grinding. He sends on profiles to help the process. Recent Union County graduates to move on to the next level include Mason Hornung (Wilmington College), Denton Shepler (University of Indianapolis) and Nate Webb (Ohio Northern University). As a hitting and pitching instructor at the former Powerhouse Performance Training facility in Richmond, Ind. (now Morrow’s Yard), Ashbrook worked with several players who went on to play college ball. Jordan and wife Shelby Ashbrook have a daughter — Mylee (16 months). Jerry Ashbrook is Jordan’s father. His younger sister is Taylor Ashbrook.
Adam Hines knew there was a history of kidney disease in his family. When Adam, a 1993 Evansville (Ind.) North High School graduate, was in college his father, Craig Hines, had a kidney transplant. When Adam was about 35, he began getting kidney scans. Now 46, the head baseball coach at Henderson (Ky.) High School is three months out from his own kidney transplant. “I was not diagnosed (with Polycystic Kidney Disease) until five or six years ago,” says Hines. “I knew in the back of my mind it was a possibility. “There’s no fixing it. You deteriorate over the years. Cysts form and there’s nothing you can do about it. “They have drugs now that can delay it. None of that was available when I was younger.” Hines continued to teach and coach, but over time, he became more tired and sick. Toxins were not being filtered from his blood and was vomiting to get rid of them. More than a year ago, wife Lindsay (the Hines will celebrate six years of marriage July 5) made an appeal for a donor on Facebook. About 10 people were tested and none were matches. Brother Josh — three years younger than Adam — has shown no kidney disease symptoms. Adam Hines went through Henderson County’s first few 2020-21 scrimmages. He went out to hit infield/outfield. “Halfway through I said, ‘I’m not going to make it,’” says Hines. “I was huffing and puffing. I got through hitting to the outfield and walked off the field and sat in a chair. “That’s when it hit just how bad it was.” Since kidneys also regulate body temperature, Hines was starting to have trouble in hot weather. Lindsay Hines made another online appeal. Then David Gustafson came into the picture. Gustafson had been a student of Adam’s mother, Carolyn Hines, when she taught at Evansville Bosse High School and kept in-touch over the years even when Gustafson and his family moved to New England. He proved to be a match and volunteered to be a donor. The surgery was done March 23 in the University of Louisville Health Jewish Hospital Trager Transplant Center. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and his condition, Hines had been the lead virtual teacher at Henderson County and had been running software for students since August 2020. He came back to teaching about two weeks after his surgery and to coaching after about six weeks. “I still still struggled at the start stamina-wise,” says Hines. “I learned what I could and could not do. I still had a little bit of the pain. “I had to get used to the physical part of it.” The Henderson County Colonels went 22-15 in 2021. The team won a District 6 title and lost to Lyon County in the Region 2 championship. Kentucky does not have classes for baseball. Trinity of Louisville beat McCracken County of the state crown June 19 in Lexington. Hines was hired at Henderson County (enrollment of about 2,050 students in 2020-21) in the fall of 2017 after five seasons as head coach at Owensboro (Ky.) Catholic High School (2020-21 enrollment of about 450). He taught Family Consumer Science at Owensboro Catholic and moved to Henderson County where he would be closer to family in Evansville and be able to teach in his preferred area — Physical Education and Health. “It’s a better fit for me,” says Hines, who enjoyed his time at Owensboro Catholic and still stays in-contact with many former players. “And it was a chance to move to a bigger school (one of the biggest in Kentucky) and chance to work with more kids on a regular basis.” Because of its size and location, Henderson County played five games against Indiana schools this spring — Evansville Mater Dei, South Spencer, Castle, Evansville Reitz and Evansville Central. Hines counted 12 ranked teams on the 2021 schedule. “I really don’t care what our regular-season record is,” says Hines. “I like to play a tougher schedule (to prepare for the postseason). “(Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association) rankings don’t really matter since everyone makes the tournament. It’s all going to come out in the wash.” Kentucky High School Athletic Association has district, region and semistate leading up the eight-team State Finals, where the champion must win three games. That means depth is key. Practice seasons are open in the Bluegrass State. “We can coach year-round if we want to, but we don’t,” says Hines. “I will typically start sometime in September with fall workouts (typically for five weeks). We take a month off for Christmas and come back and get ready for tryouts.” This year, Hines had a few football players and one basketball player on his varsity team. “I have no problem with kids playing other sports,” says Hines. “It makes them well-rounded.” He says basketball players tend to take a little time to get into baseball shape since they run much of their weight off and don’t get the amount of throwing time in during the winter as other baseball players. Hines was a right-handed pitcher at Evansville North, where Dan Sparrow was his coach and Jeff McKeon was a teammate, and in college. He played the 1994 and 1995 seasons at Southeastern Illinois College (a junior college in Harrisburg, Ill.) and the 1996 and 1997 campaigns at Murray (Ky.) State University. His SIC coach was Jay Burch (now athletic director at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind.). “I love Coach Burch,” says Hines. “I’ve talked to him quite a few times over the years. “He’s a great leader and a great personality. He has a little bit of humor and a little bit of sarcasm. That fits my personality. I learned a lot from him.” Mike Thieke was head coach of the Murray State Racers when Hines was in the program. “He had a compassionate demeanor and was kind of soft-spoken,” says Hines. “That’s the way I am with coaching.” After his playing days, Hines became a graduate assistant at Murray State while beginning to pursue a masters degree in Education. Near the end of his college days, Hines talked with his parents (Craig Hines was a teacher at Oak Hill in Evansville) and decided that was the best path for him. After his GA stint at Murray State, he joined Burch’s staff at Southeastern Illinois and then became Falcons head coach for five years. When former Murray State assistant Bart Osborne took over the head coaching post at Union College (Barboursville, Ky.), he brought Hines in as pitching coach. That’s where Hines finished his masters degree. He was with the Bulldogs for eight years. “We had some good runs there,” says Hines. Union won a conference title and went to the NAIA World Series in 2008. Since the season ended at Henderson County, Hines has been focused on rest and relaxation and good lab numbers. “I feel like I need to completely rest before we go back to school,” says Hines. “We’ll go to see my wife’s family Alabama. We have not seen them because of COVID-19. “I’m going to go back into teaching. That’s what I love to do.”
The Class of 2021 played a part in a 14-11 baseball season in 2018 — the first winning season in program history since 1976. The Spartans went 17-9 on the diamond in 2019 and lost the 2020 season to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They’ve contributed so much to our school,” says Ingels, who heads into his eighth season as Southwestern head baseball coach this spring and is also a boys basketball assistant and head cross country coach at the school where he is also a Social Studies and Physical Education teacher. “They’re pretty special kids and great students.
“When you have really good players it makes the coach look smart.”
Of the Spartans’ six seniors (Anick Harstell, Christian DeArmitt, Ethan Wending, Chance Johnson, Blake Dunbar and Kirk Van Gorden), five played as sophomores with Hartsell, DeArnitt, Wending and Johnson in the starting lineup.
Two juniors (Aiden Hartsell and Jordan Jones) started as freshmen. Matthew Clements is a talented sophomore who grew up in the Indiana Bulls organization. Southwestern lost two players to graduation in 2020.
Ingels’ 2021 assistant is South Dearborn High School graduate and Franklin College senior Alex Smith.
The Spartans could see Triton Central in the Shelby County Tournament at Morristown on May 8.
There are 17 players in the Southwestern program. Ingels says a few junior varsity games will be sprinkled in to get younger players some playing experience.
The Spartans play home games on-campus at the Jeremy Wright Athletic Complex.
The high school program is fed by a junior high club. Seventh and eighth graders play some games in the spring then take part in the Babe Ruth League at Edinburgh during the summer.
“It’s really beneficial,” says Ingels.
Ingels, played tennis for Kevin Rockey, Rodney Klein and Pete Khensouri, basketball for Steve Todd and baseball for Derick Bright and Brian Ingels (his father) at Edinburgh High School and graduated in 2002.
Todd was the first to talk to Chris about coaching and gave him the opportunity to volunteer with the Lancers.
“(Bright) was a really good baseball coach,” says Ingels. “He changed the way we practiced. Everything was structured. In (batting practice), we’d have two-strike swings, hit-and-run swings, bunt, hit to the right side and swing away.”
Brian Ingels, who had been head football coach at Edinburgh when Chris was young and a longtime cross country and track coach at the school. He was Bright’s assistant before stepping in as head baseball coach for his son’s senior year. The Industrial Arts instructor is currently in his 43rd year of teaching at Edinburgh.
Ingels began coaching boys basketball before finishing at Franklin College in 2007 as an assistant to Edinburgh head coach Todd Tatlock.
After that, Ingels aided Kerry Brown then Toby Carrigan at South Dearborn before helping Brent Keck at Perry Meridian. He is on Brady Days’ staff at Southwestern.
Lance Marshall, the Franklin College head baseball coach, has let Ingels sit in on Grizzlies practice and has offered advice.
“He’s a great guy,” says Ingels.
Ingels values his relationships and connections to his young athletes.
“Through baseball you are dealing with a lot of failure and adversity,” says Ingels. “You’re trying to get kids to be able to handle that and push their way through it and succeed in the end.”
Ingels sees a lot of lessons in baseball.
“It starts with preparation and having to put a lot of work into each little part,” says Ingels. “That adds up in the end.”
The coach appreciates the team aspect of the sport and that you’re
“A lot of people think baseball is an individual sport on your own island at each position and getting your stats at the plate,” says Ingels. “It’s the ultimate team sport when it comes down to it.”
One player can’t carry the whole load.
On the offensive side, Ingels sees worth in batting average. But that doesn’t rank first in his eyes.
“On-base percentage is so much more important,” says Ingels. “We’ve got to get men on base.”
While the Spartans may not chart it in 2021, there will be discussions about quality at-bats.
“Sometimes a groundout to the right side can be productive,” says Ingels.
“We want to play hard and fast,” says Cushenberrry. “It’s cool to see kids come out and want to be part of something special.”
The Knights are in an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethesda Christian (the 2021 host site), Indiana School for the Deaf, Irvington Prep, Providence Cristo Rey and Tindley. Traders Point’s first year in the state tournament series was 2019.
Home baseball games this spring will be at Roundtripper Sports Academy or Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Cushenberry says a new turf field on the TPCS campus is expected by the end of this year.
“It’s going to be a very special time,” says Cushenberry. “The good Lord has blessed us with the opportunity to be part of something special.”
Traders Point added a high school program in 2008 and had its first graduating class in 2012. A junior high building was opened in 2020.
As a feeder for high school baseball, Grades 5-8 play on “A” and “B” junior high teams.
Jayden Cushenberry played recreational baseball at Warren Township Little League then travel ball from 10 to 13 with the Oaklandon Bombers and 14 to 17 with the Tom Caster-coached Irvington Rattlers.
“I coach exactly how I played,” says Cushenberry. “We’re going to be tough. We’re going to be gritty.
“We’re going to go after you every single inning.”
It’s all about hard work and dedication and reaping what you sew.
Cushenberry knows he’s one of the younger coaches on the scene. But he sees that as an advantage.
“I’ve always been called wise beyond my years,” says Cushenberry. “We’re in a time now where the young coaches do a better job of relating to their players.
“Everybody wants to know why. I can let them know why and still coach them hard. I believe they respond better to hard-nosed coaching. We’re preparing them for life and creating a family atmosphere.”
Jaylen comes from a large extended family. His mother, Donnice Cushenberry, is a former cheer and dance coach who instilled competitiveness and the willingness to understand people in her oldest son.
“I truly want to thank my family for engraving some core values that I live by,” says Cushenberrry, who is a brother to Jordan Cushenberry and stepson to Michael Howe.
When he’s not working at Zionsville or coaching at Traders Point, Cushenberry gives lessons at Roundtripper. He is heading into his fourth summer as a coach for the Indiana Mustangs. He leads a 17U squad.
“I want to thank (Roundtripper and Mustangs founder) Chris Estep,” says Cushenberry. “He believed in me when other people wouldn’t.
“He’s treated me like a son.”
Reid Andrews is Director of Baseball Operations at Roundtripper and coaches with the Mustangs and University.
“I’ve learned so much from him,” says Cushenberry of Andrews. “He’s a good source of information.
“I’m thankful to be colleagues with Reid.”
Cushenberrry was an assistant to Estep for two seasons at University, helping the Trailblazers win an IHSAA Class 1A state crown in 2019.
After a few years off the diamond, the Rockets played a varsity schedule in 2015 with Brian Clark as coach and endured many “mercy rule” losses.
“We were not able to build some confidence,” says Clark. “We’d have three quick outs then be in the field for the next 30 minutes.”
Clark left the school for a few years and there was no team. When he came back, Union fielded a squad in 2019 and competed against a few varsity opponents and was planning on playing in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the season for all Indiana schools.
The aim in 2021 is for the Rockets to play a junior varsity schedule while building up interest in the sport at elementary and junior high ages to get those boys playing in youth leagues in Monroe City and Farmland.
“A couple of guys from two years ago are still here,” says Clark. “We’ll be focusing on the fundamentals to make sure they can catch, throw and hit before we move on to anything else.
“It would be good to get something going (at younger levels).”
Union plays its home game on-campus. With no games and no funds allotted to materials for field upkeep in 2020, Clark and company will be working to get the diamond ready.
Clark, who counts Kenny Ellis as his baseball assistant, wears many hats at Union, which has about 85 students in the top four grades. He teaches Food and Consumer Sciences and Physical Education for high schoolers and is also assistant athletic director, assistant volleyball coach, assistant boys basketball coach and junior class sponsor.
That’s because his grandparents — Don and Bonnie Barrett — lived in Princeton, Ind., and Don played American Legion ball with Hodges — who went on to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers — in the early 1940’s. When Gil joined the team Don moved from shortstop to third base.
“He always had something for me to work on,” says Zach of his grandpa. “He knew the game really well.”
One of Zach’s cousin is Aaron Barrett. Before Don Barrett died he got to see Aaron pitch in the big leagues.
“He was super-proud of Aaron,” says Zach. “He would be super-proud to know I was hired at Princeton — his alma mater.”
Gil Hodges Field has a different look these days, including turf in the infield. Barrett’s players got a chance to get on the carpet for the first time just this week.
“The school corporation put a ton of money into it,” says Barrett. “There are all sorts of upgrades.”
Jason Engelbrecht was the head coach at Evansville Central High School when Zach’s cousins Aaron Barrett (who has come back from multiple injuries as a pro), Drew Barrett (a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and two at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky.) and Ryan Barrett were playing for the Bears.
Jason Barrett (Zach’s older brother who played at Ball State University) was a hitting star at Central for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Gries. The Central facility is now known as Paul Gries Field.
Engelbrecht was later head coach at Princeton Community and is now Tigers athletic director. He brought Zach on as an assistant. With the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is to be Barrett’s first one with games.
Princeton Community went 10-16 in 2019. A number of regulars remain from that team.
“We have a pretty good nucleus,” says Barrett.
The Tigers go in with a group that includes senior left-handed pitcher/outfielder Rhett Thompson, senior shortstop Lance Stuckey, senior corner infielder/right-handed pitcher Briar Christy and junior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Sean Stone.
The 6-foot-7 Thompson was the mound starter in the 2019 IHSAA Class 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional championship game against the host Alices.
Stone is already getting looks from college baseball programs.
Gerit Bock, a 2020 Princeton graduate, is now on the roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.
With Barrett serving as an assistant on Princeton Community head football coach Jared Maners’ staff, there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity in the fall. Players began to get rolling in January.
Made up primarily of seventh and eighth graders with some sixth graders, that squad plays from March to May.
“We have good coaches at that level that understand the game,” says Barrett. “It’s not about wins and losses at that level. Are the kids having fun? Are they getting better? Are they part of the team?”
Barrett, who splits his work day between teaching high school Health and middle school Physical Education, will walk the halls to find athletes.
Thorough his own experience and observation, he realizes that what they are at 13 and 17 may be vastly different.
“I’ve played with kids absolute studs in middle school and barely played as seniors,” says Barrett. “On the other side, there are those (smallish or uncoordinated kids) who stick with it and become very good varsity players.
“You just never know. Kids mature differently.”
The Cub team practices and plays on Gil Hodges Field, which features lights.
“I want those kids to feel like they’re a part of us,” says Barrett. “In years past, they’ve worked out with our varsity guys.”
That’s given the older ones a chance to mentor the younger ones.
“They understand that they are the future,” says Barrett. “They put Princeton first.
“They’re not selfish.”
Barrett is a 2004 graduate of Reitz High School in Evansville, where the 6-foot-5 athlete was a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He played receiver and safety for John Hart on the gridiron, power forward or center for Michael Adams on the hardwood and pitcher, shortstop and center fielder for Steve Johnston on the diamond.
Hart, a member of the Reitz and Greater Evansville Football halls of fame, impressed Barrett with the way he went about his business and the relationships he built with his players. Unlike some coaches, Hart was not intimidating but approachable.
“He was like a second dad,” says Barrett. “I was able to talk with him.
“He was good about taking care of the small things and being disciplined. He was a very smart coach.”
Nick Hart, John’s son and head football coach at Gibson Southern, is a good friend of Barrett’s.
Barrett was all-city, all-SIAC and Indiana Football Coaches Association All-State as junior and senior, AP All-State and an Indiana Mr. Football Finalist as senior.
Adams, who is still on the bench at Reitz, got Barrett’s attention when he as attending basketball camps as an elementary school student.
“His attention to detail was apparent at that age,” says Barrett, who saw varsity minutes as a freshman and became a starter as a sophomore. “He was very strict but he knew how to relate to players.
“He was about as good an X’s and O’s coach as you’ll ever see. He would get you ready and prepared mentally and physically.
“I’m glad to see all the success he’s had lately.”
Barrett won four basketball letters at Reitz and paced the team in rebounding three times. He was all-SIAC as a junior and senior and honorable mention All-State as a senior.
Johnston gave Barrett the chance to experience varsity ball as a freshman and made him a starter the next spring.
“Everybody enjoy playing for him,” says Barrett of Johnston. “He had a good baseball mind.”
Barrett completed his Reitz baseball career second all-time in both hits (95) and slugging percentage (.576). He was named all-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference as a junior and Associated Press All-State as a senior when he was also selected in the 38th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins and chosen to play in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
“DC — we called him the ‘Mayor of Olney,’” says Barrett of veteran skipper Conley. “He was a mentor and taught you about doing things right. He wasn’t messing around. But he could flip the stitch and be able to relate to us.
“He obviously knew the game very well. He was tough to play for. He put a lot of pressure on you. You needed to come up big and handle situations. I had my share of butt-chewings. He got max effort out of all of us and we respected the heck out of him.”
Similar to Conley, Peterson was Old School in his approach. He believed in fundamentals and discipline.
“He was not afraid to run you and do things like that when he didn’t get the most of us,” says Barrett. “I learned a lot of life lessons from my high school and college coaches.”
Barrett uses drills in his high school practices that he learned from Conley and Peterson.
Barrett played in 116 games as a third baseman for the MTSU Blue Raiders. He hit .329 with 12 doubles and 32 runs batted in as a junior and . 383 with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBI’s in as a senior.