Tag Archives: Plainfield

With a little help from dad, Sampen pitching in Dodgers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Caleb Sampen, a right-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, is a second-generation professional baseball pitcher.

His father — Bill Sampen — toed the rubber for pay for 10 seasons and appeared in 182 major league games with the Montreal Expos, Kansas City Royals and California Angels.

Selected in the 20th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate Caleb Sampen had been in three pro games though July 10 — all with the Short Season Class-A Ogden (Utah) Raptors.

Caleb has picked up pointers from his father. But it hasn’t been too much.

When Caleb was getting started in the game, Bill was coaching his two older sons. Isaac and Sam played for the West Side Crusaders.

“I was just around,” says Caleb Sampen. “(My father) didn’t force any mechanics on me. He let me be an athlete.

“It wasn’t like I had a pitching lesson with him everyday.”

The elder Sampen decided when his older boys were reaching their teens that he would stop serving as a coach for their teams and he never coached any of Caleb’s squads.

“It was best for them to learn to play for other people,” says Bill Sampen, “I thought that was part of the process. I think that’s the best route for kids.

“I got to step back and just be a dad and enjoy watching them play.

“I just played coach when they asked me questions.”

In November, Samp’s Hack Shack baseball/softball training facilities will reach the ninth year in Brownsburg (5,200 square feet) and mark one year in Plainfield (7,500 square feet).

The Indiana Expos travel organization are in their second season and have seven teams in 2018. None of them have fathers coaching their own sons.

Bill Sampen says that policy for Expos coaches achieves a couple things.

“It allows us to be completely honest and give honest and objective feedback,” says Bill Sampen. “And they just get to watch their kid play.

“I know I enjoy the value of just sitting back and being a dad. The truth is they’re not going to play very long. Enjoy the journey. Don’t stress so much.”

Bill Sampen coaches the 16U National team, David Brewers the 16U American, Derek Hankins the 15U National, Nick Spence the 15U American, Isaac Sampen the 14U National, Leo Tobasco the 14U American, Tony Meyer the 13U National.

Calling the teams the Expos was not Bill’s call.

“My family decision informed that was what the name was,” says Bill Sampen. “You can see I have no clout.”

Bill coached the Bethesda Christian School baseball team for about a decade before starting his training business.

“It’s a very pure level of coaching I have now,” says Bill Sampen, “I appreciate that.”

During the school year, he has students from 4 p.m. on. But he is involved seven days a week most of the year as either an instructor or travel ball coach.

His 16U team has been in Georgia, competing against some of the best from all over the continent.

“Our upper age groups do more extensive travel,” says Bill Sampen. “We’re helping them get exposure. They get to see kids committed (to colleges) all over the place.

“It’s good for our players to see the skill level and talent that’s out there. We want to play people that the only way we can beat them is if we out-execute them.

“Do things right day in and day out. If you have a plan and do the routine things, you’re going to be in baseball games, no matter who you’re playing.”

Knowing that some players will not go on to college, they are getting to have experiences they may not have without travel baseball.

“We want to hope them grow and develop — not just as baseball players but as people,” says Bill Sampen. “It’s the life skills that carry past baseball.

“If you’re trying to win trophies, I think you’ve got the wrong purpose.”

Caleb Sampen grew up in Brownsburg and played at Brownsburg Little League until seventh grade when he started his travel ball experiences. He donned the uniforms of the Indiana Outlaws, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Bulls and Indiana Blue Jays.

At Brownburg High, where Caleb graduated in 2015, his head coach was Eric Mattingly.

“He always talked about doing the little things right and an attention to detail,” says Caleb Sampen, who played shortstop when not pitching for the Bulldogs. “You take care of every little piece so you’re well-prepared.”

At Wright State, Sampen had Greg Lovelady as his head coach and Justin Parker his pitching coach his freshman year before both went to the University of Central Florida.

“(Parker) always talks about lower half and using your legs,” says Caleb Sampen.

The next two years, Jeff Mercer was head coach and Alex Sogard led the pitching staff.

(Sogard) didn’t try to change me a whole lot on the mound,” says Caleb Sampen. “He was pretty individualized, which I liked a lot.”

Recently, Mercer became head coach at Indiana University and Sogard was promoted to head coach at Wright State.

Sampen also got the chance this past year to learned from Diamyn Hall, NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach.

“We worked on routines and being ready to go,” says Sampen of Hall. “He gets you in that mindset and having self awareness.”

In Caleb Sampen, Bill sees a cerebral kid.

“He’s got an idea,” says Bill Sampen. “I can’t take any credit for any successes he’s had.”

The father does see some similarities to himself.

Bill Sampen developed his abilities while playing baseball and basketball at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.

“I see the way he moves and his athleticism,” says Bill Sampen of Caleb. “He has a long, loose arm and does things naturally.”

In two seasons at Wright State (2016 and 2018), Caleb went 14-4 in 26 games (21 as a starter) with a 2.92 earned run average, 90 strikeouts and 37 walks in 141 2/3 innings. He missed the 2017 season after having surgery on the ulnar nerve in his elbow.

On a pitch count because of the college workload in the spring of 2018, Caleb Sampen, 21, began his pro career with two relief appearances and a short starting stint. He was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA, seven strikeouts and one walk in 4 2/3 innings.

Jeremy Rodriguez is the Ogden manager. Dean Stiles is the pitching coach.

The next stops on the Dodgers minor league trail are the Low Class-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Caleb says he goes to the bump each time with an aggressiveness mindset.

“You’ve got to go out and attack with your strengths,” says Caleb Sampen, who uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, 12-to-6 curveball and cutter.

What about the change-up?

“It’s own own little mix I’ve perfected over the years,” says Caleb Sampen. “I use an off-set two-seam grip and throw it with my ring finger and middle finger. I keep my index finger off the ball as much as possible.”

Amy Sampen, a former Brownsburg teacher, is now an virtual educator and is the “boss” as co-owner of the Hack Shack, according to Bill.

Isaac Sampen (24) and Sam Sampen (23) both played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Sam graduated highs school a semester early and joined his older brother.

Isaac Sampen went on to play at Eastern Illinois University and Sam Sampen at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Besides coaching and helping with the coordination of the Expos, Isaac now helps in many ways at the Shack. Sam has an outside job and also helps out at the training facilities.

In his time around the game, Bill Sampen has seen an increase in research and scientific data related to throwing a baseball.

“It’s validated some things that should have been done all along,” says Bill Sampen. “It can be very valuable in preventing injury.

“It seems that injuries are still there in spite of new data and new science.”

The likely reason?

“It’s the intensity of weight training,” says Bill Sampen. “Velocity is based on arm speed and not body strength.

“There are big, physical guys that can’t throw hard.”

And yet 5-foot-11, 180-pounder Billy Wagner regularly hit 100 mph and won 47 games and saved 422 in the bigs.

CALEBSAMPENOGDEN

Caleb Sampen, a 2015 Brownsburg High School graduate and former Wright State University pitcher, makes a delivery for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Ogden Raptors Photo)

 

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Welch has Castle Knights one win away from 4A state championship game

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Curt Welch knows what it’s like to take a team to the IHSAA state baseball championship game.

He was an assistant to head coach Dave Sensenbrenner in 2001 when the Castle High School Knights finished as runners-up to Penn at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Castle, which is located in the Warrick County town of Newburgh, Ind., is one victory away from getting to go back to “The Vic” in 2018 and this time Welch is the head coach.

The Knights (22-8) play Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) in the 4A Plainfield Semistate Saturday, June 9. It’s the second game of the day, following the 1 p.m. 1A clash between University and Tecumseh.

Welch sees pitching as a strength for Castle, which won the Evansville Reitz Sectional and Evansville Reitz Regional — the 14th sectional title and eighth regional crown in program history (the first for either since 2014).

“Our pitchers have kept us in all the games during this run,” says Welch. “They did a great job of keeping hitters off-balance.

“They’ve been working ahead (in the count) and making teams earn runs.”

The Knights staff is led by 6-foot-6 senior right-hander Zach Messinger (a University of Virginia commit), junior left-hander Blake Ciuffetelli and junior right-hander Jared Nutt.

Welch says fourth-year varsity player Messinger has a fastball that reaches the upper 80s, which he can mix with his breaking ball and change-up.

Ciufetelli has the ability to change arm angles and velocity. Nutt has relieved in three of Castle’s four postseason games.

When not pitching, Messinger is usually the designated hitter or third baseman.

Offensive contributions have come up and down the lineup.

“It’s been a team effort,” says Welch. “We have guys come up at times with two-out hits.”

Among the leading producers have been senior left fielder Garron Moffett, senior center fielder Griffin Scaggs and senior shortstop Nate James. Moffett has committed to play baseball at NCAA Division I Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., while Scaggs and James are bound for Kankakee (Ill.) Community College.

According to Welch, right-hander Zach Wagner (Anderson University), DH/catcher Ben Newhouse (Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky.) right fielder Cale Mattingly (Hanover College) and cacher Noah Gilbert (Oakland City University) are also seniors who have made college baseball commitments.

Graduates who were in college baseball rosters in 2017-18 include Jonathan Blackwell and Will Randell at Vincennes University, Nick Coudret and Wyatt Daly at the University of Southern Indiana, Nick Ciufettelli at Hanover College, Sam Huff at DePauw University, Jeff Wetzler at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill., and Korbin Williams at Indiana University Southeast.

Castle had 40 players in the program this season for varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.

Welch, who is in his 15th season as head coach after 14 as an assistant to Chuck Hawkins then Sensenbrenner and two as as volunteer for Mike Metzger at alma mater Boonville, counts Hawkins, Dan Labhart and John Barisano as his varsity coaches. There’s also John Copeland, Corey Steele and Art George with the JV and Daniel Nichols and Chris Stallion with the freshmen.

Borrowing ideas and approaches from Hawkins, Sensenbrenner, Brian Kuester (who helped played American Legion baseball for in the summer) and high school coaches Metgzer and Howard Buickel, 1983 Boonville graduate Welch has melded his coaching approach. He’s even taken a thing or two from Terry Wetherald, his wrestling coach at the University of Indianapolis.

“All those coaches did a great job of getting me ready for where I am right now,” says Welch. “(Hawkins and Sensenbrenner) did a lot for me. Being a coach and being a player are two different things. As head coach, everything falls back on you. There’s a lot more pressure when you make decisions.

“As a head coach, you are always thinking three, four or five innings down the line and not just in the moment.”

While there are no wrestlers in the current Castle varsity mix, Welch appreciates what grapplers bring to other sports.

“Wrestlers are hard-nosed kids,” says Welch. “They are not afraid to battle for win or come from behind.

‘They know about mental toughness. You’ve got to be mentally tough to go 0-for-3 and then come in the last inning and produce.”

Welch estimates that about half the players in the Castle baseball program are multi-sport athletes at a school of about 1,900 students.

“I like multi-sport athletes,” says Welch. “You can’t get that competition in a practice or in a gym.”

Castle plays its home games on-campus in a facility that’s been totally overhauled during Welch’s time.

“It’s been a gradual process,” says Welch, which saw a new locker room go in near the field. About the only thing that was there when he joined the coaching staff was the press box. “We’re proud of what we have.”

The Knights belong to the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (along with Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville Memorial and Evansville North, Evansville Reitz).

Welch, who teaches advanced mathematics at Castle, has four children with wife Dawn. Daughter Courtney is the oldest and she has three girls. Twin sons Chad and Doug as well as Luke Welch all played baseball for their father at Castle and wrestled at Purdue University. Doug Welch is now the head wrestling coach at Zionsville High School and is assisted by Chad Welch.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

CURTWELCHCASTLE

Head coach Curt Welch and the Castle Knights won sectional and regional titles in events hosted by Evansville Reitz and will face Indianapolis Cathedral in the IHSAA Class 4A Plainfield Semistate Saturday, June 9.

Thompson-led Tecumseh Braves small but mighty in southern Indiana baseball circles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With around 300 students, Tecumseh Junior/Senior High School is among the smaller IHSAA members.

But just because the Braves compete in Class 1A in the baseball postseason, that didn’t keep them from being competitive against larger schools during the 2018 regular season.

Tecumseh, which takes a 20-9 mark into the southern Plainfield Semistate at noon CST Saturday, June 9 against University (27-6), went 4-4 as the lone 1A school in the nine-member Pocket Athletic Conference.

It’s the first time in years, the Braves have finished in the top five in the PAC, which features 3A’s Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Pike Central and 2A’s Forest Park, North Posey, Southridge, South Spencer and Tell City.

Southridge is in the 2A Jasper Semistate. North Posey bowed to Southridge in the Austin Regional championship game.

At the 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional, Gibson Southern was shaded by Washington in the championship game and Pike Central lost a one-run decision to Washington in the first round.

At the 2A Tell City Sectional, South Spencer lost to North Posey in the final. Tell City was edged by South Spencer in the semifinals. Forest Park was beaten by North Posey in the first round.

In non-conference play, the Braves topped 4A’s Castle (a Plainfield Semistate qualifier), Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison and was competitive with Evansville North and Evansville Reitz and 3A’s Evansville Bosse.

His peers named first-year Tecumseh head coach Ted Thompson an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district coach of the year.

“We really have a tough conference,” says Thompson. “It definitely improves us and makes us better for tournament time. (Games against larger schools) taught us how to be resilient, how to never give up and how to win.”

Tecumseh, located in the Warrick County town of Lynnville, Ind., counts Spencer Buse, Steven Molinet, Chase Howell, Josh Jagelewski, Aaron Beard and Gavin Oxley as its top pitchers. Beard is a senior and Howell a sophomore. The rest are juniors. Oxley is the lone left-hander.

When not pitching, Buse is usually the designated hitter, Molinet in center field, Howell at DH, Jagelewski in right field, Beard at shortstop and Oxley in left field.

Beard, Molinet, junior first baseman Woody Brucken and freshman Jalen Oxley have led the Braves on offense.

Coincidentally, their cousin — freshman Adam Oxley — is on the University team.

Tecumseh, which has 24 players in the program this year, has just three seniors — Beard, second baseman Carson White and right-hander Dalton Wesselman. Both are college baseball commits — Beard at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and White at Oakland City University.

“We are a young team,” says Thompson. “We’ve got a lot of freshmen and a lot of juniors.”

Semistate preparation will resemble the practices that got the Braves ready for the Jasper Regional, where they bested Borden 1-0 and Barr-Reeve 7-0.

“It’ll be the same routine,” says Thompson. “We’ll work on fundamentals. We’re not going to change a thing.”

Thompson’s Tecumseh coaching staff includes Kennan Barnett (pitching coach) and Seth Gorman.

Home games have been played on-campus at Braves Ballpark. A new stadium, with Bermuda grass and other amenities, is expected to be ready for the 2019 season.

To make a connection with youngsters that feed into Tecumseh, Thompson has been planning camps and working with Elberfeld Baseball League and Lynnville Ballpark.

Thompson is a 1991 graduate of Princeton Community High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tim Nonte.

After two seasons at Vincennes University, Thompson played two more for coach Les Hall at Florida Tech.

Thompson calls Hall “a class act.”

“He was always quietly telling you,” says Thompson of the man who died in 2016 at 80. “You knew where he stood. He expected excellence.”

It was at the Melbourne, Fla., school that Thompson got to catch knuckleball of alum Tim Wakefield in pre-spring training bullpen sessions and meet former Philadelphia Phillies “Whiz Kids” catcher Andy Seminick. Florida Tech plays on Andy Seminick-Les Hall Field.

Thompson was an assistant coach to Curt Welch for nine seasons at Castle High School and then served three years as assistant and recruiting coordinator to John Adams at Vincennes U.

“Coach Welch is an honorable individual,” says Thompson. “He had that ability to always work and challenge the kids. He always led by example with his hard work.”

Thompson is employed as a traveling health insurance salesman. He works out his schedule so he can coach baseball.

Ted and Sheri Thompson have four children — son Dillon (23), daughters Megan (22) and Payton (17) and son Drake (16). Payton is heading into her senior year at Castle while Drake will be a junior.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

TEDTHOMPSON2

Tecumseh baseball coach Ted Thompson meets with his Braves players during a 2018 mound conference. Tecumseh is in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate.

TEDTHOMPSON1

In his first season as head baseball coach in 2018, Ted Thompson has the Tecumseh Braves in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate.

 

McGaha emphasizes running game, commitment for Mooresville Pioneers baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eric McGaha wants a team that will keep moving on the baseball field will act right on it and off.

“We put a lot of guys in motion,” McGaha, who has been the head coach at Mooresville High School in Morgan County every year but two since 2002. “We’ve got more than 100 stolen bases. Our steal steal percentage a little over 90 percent.”

McGaha grew up a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, but he really enjoyed seeing speed on display with the St. Louis Cardinals of Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Lonnie Smith and Ozzie Smith.

“I want my team to be athletic and run,” says McGaha. “That’s the first thing we do.

“I can’t watch Major League Baseball now. It’s either an extra-base hit or a strikeout. It boggles my mind. What about drag bunting, push bunting or fake bunt and slash?”

McGaha will look at a player’s batting average, but he’s really concerned with things like on-base percentage and hitting the ball hard.

“We use a Quality At-Bat chart and that’s the deciding factor on how we evaluate players from an offensive standpoint,” says McGaha. “We reward a ’sting’ hit or a ‘sting’ out.”

A player with a QAB rating of 2 is average, 3 above average and 4 outstanding.

“We have several players above 4,” says McGaha. “Off the field, it’s about being the best human being and teammate you can be. We’re here to mold young men into adults. They have be able to handle failure and success with grace and dignity.

“You want to surround yourself with kids are willing to work hard and pay the price. They buy into what you’re selling 100 percent. Those are the kids you want.”

McGaha’s Pioneers went into the week at 15-8 overall and 6-4 in the super-competitive Mid-State Conference. Whiteland and Mooresville were 1-2 in the standings in a league that also features Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville and Plainfield.

Among the Pioneers’ 2018 non-conference opponents are Avon, Beech Grove, Bloomington North, Cascade, Covenant Christian, Eastern Hancock, Edinburgh, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis North Central, Lebanon, Monrovia, Mount Vernon (Fortville), Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo and Tri-West Hendricks. Mooresville beat Eastern Hancock and lost to North Central Saturday, May 12 in Pioneers’ own John B. Howden Memorial Tournament.

“There’s no break in our schedule,” says McGaha. “All the teams we play are really respectable.

“We try to play as many quality teams as we can and try to prepare for the sectional.”

Mooresville is in the seven-team IHSAA Class 4A Avon Sectional with Avon, Brownsburg, Northview, Plainfield, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo.

Pioneers senior shortstop Tanner Haston has committed to Purdue University.

McGaha’s coaching staff features Kyle Davis (who played for McGaha), Joe Coughlan and David Rose (brother of Pete Rose) with the varsity, Toby Hennessy with the junior varsity and Dylan Johnson with the freshmen.

“It starts with good people,” says McGaha. “You surround yourself with good people that are pointed in the same direction. Those coaches are the voices of you. Make sure they’re following your philosophy.”

The program is fed by various travel programs plus the Mooresville Junior Baseball League, which serviced more than 500 kids in 2017.

With multiple teams and no room to expand, the school board voted to turf the entire baseball and softball fields at Mooresville. This spring marks the second season.

“I’d been asking for about a half dozen years,” says McGaha of his request to the school board. “They were very gracious.

“We are blessed and fortunate to have such a nice facility and we don’t every take it for granted.”

By using rakes and a LitterKat Synthetic Turf Sweeper, the team hopes to retain the life and longevity of the field.

In addition, metal spikes, sunflower seeds and chewing gum are all forbidden.

McGaha says the most expense in a turf field comes not from the turf but the drainage system.

“When it rains at our place, within 10 minutes it’s dry and you’re ready to go,” says McGaha.

The coach wants all his players ready to go and that includes seniors.

McGaha says only people who have coached a high school sport in the spring — like baseball — knows the challenges that accompany it.

Besides the diamond, players heads are filled with thoughts of spring break, prom, graduation, open houses and summer jobs. Many times, sectional games are played with players who are already out of the school building.

“Are they with you or have they mentally already checked out?,” says McGaha. “Unless you’ve experienced that you have no idea what it’s like. There are all these balls in the air and it’s a distraction.

“We try to play our best baseball at the end of the year. There have been years we haven’t done that. How committed are your seniors? We always say we have to have guys with two feet in. When a baseball player has senioritis it can kill the chemistry of a ball club.”

McGaha, who now teaches physical education at Northwood Elementary in Mooresville in addition to his coaching duties, is a 1991 graduate of Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, where he played for Indiana Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Foreman.

“Besides my stepfather, he had the biggest impact on my life,” says McGaha of the man who played at Indiana University for IHSBCA and Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Ernie Andres and then led the Warren Central program for 31 seasons.

McGaha played one season at Tri-State University (now Trine University) in Angola, Ind., then transferred to Purdue University North Central (now Purdue Northwest) in Westville, Ind.

“I knew I wanted to coach,” says McGaha, who was a relief pitcher who got a chance to lead and be a role model for coach Larry Blake. He earned his degree and began teaching and coaching in Mooresville around 2000.

Eric and Jan McGaha have been married close to 21 years and have three children — Brenna (13), Hanna (11) and Brody (9).

When Brody was very young, Jan went through a bout with cancer. She had her thyroid removed and went through radiation treatment.

“Thank the good Lord,” says Eric. “She’s been cancer free — knock on wood — for quite awhile.”

ERICMCGAHA&FAMILY

Eric McGaha and wife Jan gather with their children (from left) Brenna, Brody and Hanna. Eric is the head baseball coach at Mooresville High School.

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.

 

O’Neil brings discipline, enthusiasm to Danville Warriors baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Backed by an administration and community that makes baseball a priority, second-year head coach Pat O’Neil and his Danville Community High School Warriors are aiming high.

“I want to bring a sense of confidence to the players and the program,” says O’Neil. “They can be as good as they want to be by putting in the correct amount of time, doing things the right way and doing things together.

“I’m taking the same approach I did at Brownsburg. A state championship is your goal. It’s not given to you. You’ve got to put in the effort and go the extra mile. I’m really pleased with the direction the (Danville) program is going.”

Including five seasons at the helm for Fountain Central High School, 10 for Brownburg High School and one for Danville Community, O’Neil’s career record is 348-112.

Armed with discipline, enthusiasm and organization learned as a player and later assistant for high school baseball coaching icon Ken Schreiber while serving on his LaPorte staff for IHSAA state championships in 1987 and 1990, O’Neil led Brownsburg on the diamond from 2001-10. The Bulldogs earned a state crown in 2005 after a state runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004.

“The main goal is to get the blue (championship) ring at the end of the season,” says O’Neil, a 1975 LaPorte graduate and younger brother of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chip O’Neil. “I’ve got three blue rings and I know how good the blue feels.”

O’Neil coached future major leaguers at Brownsburg — pitchers Lance Lynn and Drew Storen and catcher Tucker Barnhart — and still communicates regularly with all three. In the three years after leaving the Bulldogs program, O’Neil took time off from coaching and saw many of their games.

When Lebanon High School head coach Rick Cosgray was looking for a pitching coach, he invited O’Neil to join the Tigers staff. In the first of his three seasons (2014-16), Lebanon won its first sectional since 2000.

Danville, which won the most-recent of its eight sectional titles in 2015, went 15-11 in 2017 and lost a 1-0 pitchers’ duel to eventual champion Indian Creek in the semifinals of the Class 3A Danville Sectional.

“It just came down to us not making a couple plays in the seventh inning,” says O’Neil, who saw the game’s lone run score on an 0-2 passed ball with two outs in the top of the seventh. Danville had runners at second and third when the game ended.

O’Neil’s varsity assistants are Danville graduates Jake Marckel and John Fuson with Chris Marckel (father of Jake) leading the junior varsity. O’Neil says he expects to have around 36 players in the program in the spring.

The 2018 Warriors will sport a roster full of seniors who are three- and four-year starters.

“They want to send a message that Danville baseball is program to be reckoned with and they want to lead the charge,” says O’Neil, who counts catcher Tarron Lawson, first baseman Ethan Shafer, right-handed pitcher Jackson Wynn, center fielder Dylan Snider, right-hander Tristan Morrell and right-hander/third baseman Isaac McGregor in the Class of 2018.

Lawson, Shafer and Wynn are Danville’s tri-captains. Lawson has committed to Eastern Illinois University while there has been college interest in some of the other Warriors.

O’Neil looks to get contributions from a junior class which includes shortstop/second baseman Blake Mills, utility man Mark Broderick, catcher Shane Bradley and right-hander Max Schumacher.

The importance of the unit is stressed by O’Neil.

“It’s all about team and there’s a role for everybody,” says O’Neil. “We encourage them about doing the best they can.”

The veteran coach notes that it doesn’t really matter where a batter appears on the lineup card.

“In the game, there’s only one legit lead-off hitter in the game (and that’s in the first inning),” says O’Neil. “When it’s your turn to produce, go up and produce. I want everybody to think they’re the No. 3 hitter.”

O’Neil cites the example of Austin Nickol at Brownsburg. He batted No. 5 and went into the 2004 State Finals hitting .281 with eight runs batted in then batted in the No. 9 hole and hit  .407 with 22 RBI going into the 2005 championship game. The Bulldogs wound up 35-0 and Nickol received a scholarship to Butler University.

Danville belongs to the Sagamore Conference (along with Crawfordsville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone). The conference observes a schedule with home-and-home games in the same week for a total of 14 league games.

“The Sagamore is going to be strong this year,” says O’Neil. “It’s the most competitive top to bottom in the five years I’ve been around it.”

Danville has never won the Sagamore in baseball since joining in 2000. The Warriors were Mid-State Conference champions in 1946, 1951 and 1967 and West Central Conference champions in 1988, 1989, 1994 and 1998.

The Warriors’ 2018 non-conference slate includes Beech Grove, Cascade, Covenant Christian, Lafayette Central Catholic, Monrovia, Northview, Owen Valley, Plainfield, Speedway plus the Hendricks County Tournament (Avon, Brownsburg, Cascade, Plainfield and Tri-West Hendricks are in that).

Hendricks County Tournament titles came Danville’s way in 1989, 1991 and 1994.

Danville will again host the sectional. But the tournament field and the playing surface will have a new look. Because of success factor or shuffling, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter (2A state runner-up in 2017), Brebeuf and Tri-West Hendricks have moved in to join Danville, Greencastle and Indianapolis Northwest.

With support of superintendent Dr. Tracey Shafer, principal Dr. P.J. Hamann, athletic director Jon Regashus (who was an O’Neil assistant at Brownsburg) and others, there have been several athletic upgrades on campus. On the way for the baseball field are many new items — a turf infield, drainage and sprinkling system for the outfield, fencing and bleaches. The dugouts and press box are to be renovated with a locker room added upstairs in the press box building.

The community’s youngest players play recreation and travel baseball. Danville Community Middle School’s seventh/eighth grade team is to play about 20 games in the spring.

“We want them to play as much as they can and get as much experience as possible,” says O’Neil.

Before O’Neil went to Brownsburg (he has been a health teacher at the school since 2000-01), he was a Midwest scout for the Tampa Bay Rays. At Fountain Central, he was also head football coach for five seasons (1990-94).

In seven seasons at LaPorte with Schreiber, he became very close with the Hall of Famer and learned much about developing pitchers.

“You don’t start in March,” says O’Neil. “You have to build up strength so they can throw 110 pitches and feel strong.”

By state tournament time, O’Neil wants to have a well-establish No. 1 and No. 2 starter but depth is also important.

“We want to develop another four or five guys who can come in and throw strikes and feel confident,” says O’Neil, who saw four Danville pitchers — Weston, Shafer, Morrell, and MacGregor — go down with non-baseball injuries in the last month of the 2017 regular season and had younger players step in to pick up the slack.

Before coaching at LaPorte, Pat spent two season on brother Chip’s staff at South Bend St. Joseph.

The younger O’Neil played two seasons at Kentucky Wesleyan College after two at Vincennes University. He earned an undergraduate degree from KWC in 1980 and a master’s degree from Indiana University South Bend in 1990.

Married nearly eight years to Carol, Pat has two daughters. Oldest daughter Maureen and husband Matt Hoard have two boys — Clark (8) and A.J. (5). Youngest Katie and spouse Brandon Jewell have pets. Stepson Michael is a recent Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology graduate. Stepdaughter Jennifer is a nursing student at the University of Indianapolis.

PATO'NEIL

Pat O’Neil enters his second season as head  baseball coach at Danville Community High School in 2018. He coached five seasons at Fountain Central and 10 at Brownsburg, earning state runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004 and a state championship in 2005.

 

After landing in Indiana, Kroll quickly makes his baseball mark at Ben Davis, Roncalli

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Kroll first made a baseball name for himself in Iowa.

He then coached high schoolers and collegians in Arizona.

An invitation from a friend brought him to Indiana and he worked his way up to high school varsity head coach — first at Ben Davis and then at Roncalli. The 2018 season will mark his fourth leading the Rebels.

Kroll played at Burlington (Iowa) High School and graduated in 1998 before going to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to join the diamond program at NCAA Division III Coe College.

Dan Reid, an Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, was coach of the Burlington Grayhounds.

“He was really fun guy to be around,” says Kroll of Reid. “He was a really good in-game manager and really cared about his players.”

When Kroll arrived on campus, Steve Cook was near the beginning of his days leading the Coe Kohawks.

“He was first person I would credit with teaching in-depth about the game,” says Kroll of Cook. “He was a very knowledgeable guy and a really good teacher of the game.”

By this time, a teenage Kroll already knew he wanted to go into coaching and soaked up as much baseball information as he could.

Since the college season was in the spring and Iowa plays its high school in the summer, Kroll was able to be an assistant for two seasons at Notre Dame High School in Burlington and then one as freshmen coach at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids.

Right after college, Kroll moved to Arizona and took his first head coaching position for one season at Parker High School. He also served three seasons with the Havasu Heat of the summer collegiate Pacific Southwest Baseball League.

With a buddy’s girlfriend studying at the University of Indianapolis, Kroll was asked to move to Indy and began fresh in an unfamiliar baseball community.

“I knew after awhile I wanted to get back to the Midwest,” says Kroll. “When I got to Indianapolis I really had to start over. I really didn’t know anybody.”

Kroll got his foot in the door by coaching eighth graders at the Lynhurst 7th & 8th Grade Center in the Ben Davis school district.

After one season with middle schoolers, he became a junior varsity coach on Brian Hardman’s Ben Davis High staff in 2007. Knowing he would be leaving, Hardman began teaching Kroll the ropes.

Kroll was head coach at Ben Davis from 2008-14, helping the Giants to an IHSAA Class 4A Perry Meridian Sectional championship in his final season on the West Side.

“That’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” says Kroll. “I was able to work my way up on my own. Things happened quickly.”

Kroll and his family (Aaron and wife Brooke have two children — Griffin, 8, and Kamryn, 6) live on the South Side and he applied for the Roncalli job when it came open a few times.

“It was really just a timing thing,” says Kroll, who led the Rebels to a 4A Pike Sectional, Decatur Central Regional, Plainfield Semistate and state championship titles in his second season of 2016 and at Roncalli Sectional crown in 2017. “I wanted to get to a top-end program. The leadership at the school is just tremendous. I’ve been rawly fortunate to work with some great people.”

Kroll, who still teaches Algebra at the Ben Davis Ninth Grade Center, is grateful to folks like Roncalli principal Chuck Weisenbach, former athletic director Dave Toner and current Rebels AD David Lauck for their support at the interparochial archdiocesan Catholic high school.

“I owe a lot to those guys for the success in our program,” says Kroll.

What does the coach believe he brings to Roncalli baseball?

stability

“Stability and overall toughness as a program,” says Kroll. “We’ve put together the most difficult schedule we could to challenge our kids. That’s critical. It’s a big part of why we won the state championship in ’16.

“We want to be challenged every time we take the field.”

Besides Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series in the two-year-old Circle City Conference (which also includes Chatard, Brebeuf, Guerin Catholic and Heritage Christian), the Rebels also meet Lawrence Central, Center Grove, Indianapolis Cathedral and Carmel, play in the Super Prep Tournament at Louisville Ballard and then against top-notch competition from Illinois, Michigan and Ohio in the Midwest Select Invitational at Grand Park in Westfield as well as the Marion County Tournament.

“It’s very competitive each time out,” says Kroll.

During his time at Roncalli, he has sent a number of players on the college baseball, including Michael McAvene (University of Louisville), Pauly Milto (Indiana University), Cody Smith (Danville Area Community College), Tyler Lucas and Christian Beard (University of Indianapolis), Caleb Matthews (University of South Carolina Upstate) and Drew Naumovich (Franklin College). Will Harris went to DePauw University to play football.

Current Rebels who have committed to college baseball program include Nick Schnell (Louisville) and Colten Panaranto (Michigan State University) and there are likely to be others.

Kroll’s assistants for 2018 include Mark Pieper, Sam Konkel and Jay Hundley with the varsity, James Thorpe and Ryan Parrott with the junior varsity and Ron Wilson and John Mullin with the freshmen.

Roncalli plays home games on-campus at La Pinta Field.

With the help of the athletic administration, the facility has seen recent significant upgrades. Among them are a new clubhouse, drainage system, mound and plate areas and fencing with blue slats. There is new paint on the dugouts and press box and the outfield fence now sports several banners.

Roncalli baseball has made three State Finals appearances (1982, 2012, 2016) and won 13 sectionals (1976, 1979, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998 in 3A, 1999 in 3A, 2002 in 3A, 2004 in 3A, 2012 in 4A, 2016 in 4A, 2017 in 4A), eight regionals (1979, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1999, 2012, 2016) and three semistates (1982, 2012, 2016) plus conference and other honors.

“We think it’s really important to have the best field we possibly can and to give our kids the best experience possible,” says Kroll. “It’s really important in building and sustaining a successful program.”

AARONKROLLVICTORYVIEWS

Aaron Kroll helped lead Roncalli to an IHSAA Class 4A state baseball championship in his second season leading the Rebels in 2016. (Victory Views Photo)

AARONKROLLTHESOUTHSIDERVOICE

After seven seasons as head coach at Ben Davis High School, Aaron Kroll was hired as head baseball coach at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis prior to the 2015 season. (The South Side Voice Photo)