Tag Archives: Plymouth

Second baseball coaching stint at Peru rewarding for Brimbury

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chuck Brimbury has enjoyed each stage of his professional life — from teacher and coach to assistant principal to principal to superintendent and then to athletic director along with a return to coach.

Brimbury is really basking in his second go-round as head baseball coach at Peru High School.

“I’ve loved every single job I’ve had in education,” says Brimbury, who also served 15 years as a football coach at Peru, including one as interim head coach. “The more you move up, the farther you seem to be from the kids and the daily guidance of them. I missed coaching. It was huge part of my life.

“I’ve been blessed to get back into it.”

After serving four years as superintendent of Peru Community Schools and helping to earn the district four-star status as one of the best-performing systems in Indiana, he opted in June 2014 to become AD and once again lead the Tigers on the diamond.

Beginning in 1998, Brimbury previously held the job for a decade.

“We had a really good run,” says Brimbury, whose teams were state-ranked in most seasons and had his 2000 squad reach the IHSAA Class 3A Final Four.

Brimbury borrowed methods he learned while serving as an assistant to Don Sherman at Huntington North High School.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer taught him all the intricacies of running a successful baseball operation.

“We believe in holding people to high standards,” says Brimbury. “We get off the bus all looking the same and we stay together. Our top players carry the water cooler. There’s no job too small.”

Peru baseballers wears “Program” on their shirts to remind themselves and everyone else that “the program is more important than any player or any coach.”

Brimbury also uses drills and teaching methods gleaned from Hall of Famers Bill Jones of DeKalb, Bill Nixon of Plymouth and Chris Stavreti of Fort Wayne Northrop as well as the man who won 1,010 games and seven state championships — Ken Schreiber of LaPorte.

It doesn’t have to be a Thursday for the Tigers to throwing it back.

“We’re throwbacks,” says Brimbury. “It’s an old-school approach and our kids thrive off it.

“If you resemble a lot of guys with blue rings you’ll get one for your community one day. If their kids can do it, we can do it. We believe that here. We use a lot of what works.”

In his first season back in charge (2015), Brimbury enjoyed Peru’s first sectional championship since 2000.

When the Mid-Indiana Conference dissolved at the end on the 2014-15 academic school year, the Tigers joined the Three Rivers Conference and have reigned in baseball in their first two seasons in the new league (2016 and 2017).

“It’s a really good small-school conference,” says Brimbury of a conference which also includes Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko. “I really enjoy the competition.”

Brimbury has also savored the ability to build a non-conference which has pitted the Tigers against the best competition from around the state and to a variety of venues.

Peru played Lafayette Central Catholic at Purdue University and both Providence and Rossville at Alexandria-Monroe in 2017 and this year will feature a program first — a southern spring break trip with stops at League Stadium in Huntingburg (where much of the movie “A League of Their Own” was filmed) to play Southridge and games at Muhlenberg County and Christian County in Kentucky.

“I want to make sure these kids have a tremendous experience in their four years at Peru,” says Brimbury. “I like exposing these kids to beautiful places and really good programs.

“Each year our schedule is a little different. We want to get our kids used to playing on the road.”

The idea is to prepare the Tigers for the postseason, which begins in 2018 with the Peru Sectional but another title would mean a trek to the always-tough Griffith Regional.

Getting to Griffith will be no small task. The 3A sectional grouping also features Benton Central, Maconaquah, Northwestern, West Lafayette and Western.

Peru is to play at Indiana State University May 5.

Nolan Brimbury — the oldest of Chuck and Michelle Brimbury’s three children — is a redshirt sophomore infielder for the Indiana State Sycamores.

Tiger Field will also be the site of 2018 Miami County Classic. Two of the three teams that visit Peru feature head coaches with close ties to Brimbury — former assistant Shane Edwards at Oak Hill and former player Troy Hudson at North Miami. Maconaquah rounds out the field for the May 12 all-day event.

“We have an old-time field,” says Brimbury. “It’s beautiful at night. It’s a really good atmosphere for home games.

“It’s one of the better small-school stadiums out there.”

Brimbury’s public address announcer at Tiger Field and assistant at Peru athletic events is Mike Stewart.

Now retired, Stewart was Chuck’s baseball coach at Fountain Central High School who also found his way to “Tiger Town.”

“(Stewart) was passionate about the game,” says Brimbury, who graduated from high school in 1988 and went on to play a little at Marian University in Indianapolis and receive various degrees from Indiana State.

Every Peru game and a weekly coach’s show has been on the radio (thanks to 101.9 FM and broadcasters Bob Stambazze and Doug Muzzillo) and many contests are shown on student-run Tiger TV.

Several players saw significant varsity action last spring, meaning Brimbury welcomes back 17 lettermen.

Among the senior returnees are catcher Nathan Brimbury (Chuck and Michelle’s son and a 2017 IHSBCA Junior Showcase invitee), right-hander Lucas McConahay (the top returning pitcher), outfielders Austin Caldwell and Robert Cunningham, second baseman Kasey Comp, first baseman Christian Gatliff and designated hitter Nathan Ramirez.

Juniors include third baseman Blake Edwards, outfielder D.J. Fuller, catcher Payton Honn and left-handers Chance Ogle and Zach Purcell.

Sophomores in the mix are right-hander/third baseman/shorstop Michael Chandler, outfielder Jonah Hoopenthal, outfielder/shortstop Daunte Majors, middle infielder Dmitry Reese and right-handers Jackson Green and Chase Tyler.

Hitting coach Rob Hileman has been with Brimbury in every season in both of his tenures except one. Jody Beauchamp is the Tigers pitching coach. Shawn Dwyer, Josh Ulrey, Brad Townsend, Gary Loe and strength coach complete the high school staff.

Sixth grader Madison Brimbury (Chuck and Michelle’s daughter) is a baseball student manager.

Michelle Brimbury, who is a special education teacher at PHS, is also team mom.

Feeders for the high school program include a Peru Junior High School team, which is expected to play 12 to 15 games in April and May.

There is also the Peru Cal Ripken League and many players wind up with various travel baseball organizations.

Besides Nolan Brimbury, recent Peru graduates on college baseball rosters include left-handed pitcher Cameron Beauchamp (Indiana University) and right-handers Dexter Shuler (Franklin College) and Sean Smith (Wabash College).

Beauchamp (2016) and Smith (2017) were both IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series participants.

“It’s fulfilling to see our kids playing at some level above high school and we try to keep (former players) a part of our program,” says Brimbury, who regularly welcomes baseball alums from his first Peru head coaching stint into his dugout and is now coaching the sons of some former players. “It’s a long history of former Tiger baseball players.

“We are totally vested in the success of our kids here.”

MICHELLENATHANNOLANCHUCKMADISONBRIMBURY

The Brimbury family celebrates Peru High School’s 2015 sectional baseball championship (from left): Michelle, Nathan, Nolan, Chuck and Madison. In 2018, Chuck is in the fourth season of his second tenure as head coach. Nathan is a senior catcher. Michelle is team mom. Madison is student manager. Nolan is now a redshirt sophomore at Indiana State University.

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Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame calls ‘Old School’ Murphy of Valparaiso

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Murphy describes himself as “Old School.”

Murphy stayed loyal to his old school and his community, choosing to remain in Valparaiso — the city of his birth.

He attended Valpo schools and graduated from Valparaiso High School as senior class president in 1961.

Along the way, Murphy shined in football, basketball and baseball. He picked up plenty of baseball knowledge from nice man named Bob Rhoda — a coach he admired and, one day, would replace as the man in charge of the Vikings on the diamond.

His peers thought enough of Murphy’s career that he will be inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Class of 2018 at a dinner Saturday, Jan. 27 in Indianapolis. Other honorees will include Rich Andriole, Colin Lister, LaTroy Hawkins and Howard Kellman.

After his days as Valparaiso student, Murphy traveled less than 50 miles south for higher education, attending Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer and graduating in 1965 as a social studies major and English minor.

Where did he go from there?

Back to Valpo, of course.

Murphy took a teaching job at his alma mater that would last 37 years. He taught a few English classes in the early years then concentrated on social studies and helped generations know about U.S. Government and U.S. History.

Pat and wife Nancy would raise two boys — Michael and Tim.

Michael went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and become a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Marines, leading a squadron of Stingrays at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, while marrying and giving his folks two granddaughters. Tim earned a doctorate in cultural anthropology and moved out east.

Both Murphy boys gave their parents — married 45 years in 2017 — a reason to travel with Michael stationed for three years in Spain and Tim spending time in Brazil. In retirement, Pat enjoys walking with Nancy and sometimes gets her to accompany him on the golf course.

Back in Porter County, Indiana, their father was making a mark as a educator and a coach.

Pat Murphy spent 19 seasons on the Vikings football staff led by a pair of Indiana Football Hall of Famers — Tom Stokes and Mark Hoffman.

With Stokes in charge, Valpo won an IHSAA Class 3A state championship in 1975 — the first of three straight 3A title-takers from the Duneland Athletic Conference. Merrillville was state champions in 1976 and Portage reigned in 1977.

“It was up to the ball and go,” says Murphy of Valpo’s single-wing attack. “We wore teams down.”

Murph spent four seasons as a VHS baseball assistant to Rhoda then led the program for 28 more, retiring after the 1999 season.

“He was a very nice person, a very kind man,” says Murphy of Rhoda, who is also in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. “He was very knowledgeable.”

Murphy went into the Valparaiso Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010 after leading his team to 483 victories, 13 sectional crowns and two DAC championships.

All this was achieved against a schedule that regularly featured IHSBCA Hall of Fame coaches — men like LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber, Chesterton’s Jack Campbell, Andrean’s Dave Pishkur, Highland’s Dan Miller, Plymouth’s Bill Nixon and Munster’s Bob Shinkan.

You had to play a hard-nosed brand of baseball to have any success.

“I had to play Schreib (at LaPorte) a minimum of three times (regular season and postseason) to get out of the regional,” says Murphy. “There were times four Duneland schools were in the regional.

“It was extremely competitive. You have to mean business. It’s not something you take lightly. In fact, you take it very seriously. In one week, I may play against three Halll of Famers.

“I’m honored to be considered one of them.”

Murphy’s philosophy: “Work hard, play smart, and most of all, have fun!”

“You can’t get things done unless you work hard,” says Murphy.

The catcher who blocks nasty pitch after nasty pitch is able to do so because of all the time he spent having balls whizzed at him in practice.

“Catchers are like (hockey) goalies, making 40 or 50 saves a game,” says Murphy. “You don’t get that unless you work hard at it.”

Staying with the catcher example, the man behind the mask must have the smarts to know the situation — the score, number of outs, position of runners and order of hitters coming up and what they had done the last time up.

“In baseball, there are more variables than most sports,” says Murphy. “Of course, I’m biased.”

Murphy says fun is an essential additive to this mix.

“Life’s too short not to have fun,” says Murphy. “Whether it’s coaching, teaching or your job,  it can be a real tough thing to do if you dread what you’re doing.”

A true-blue Chicago Cubs fan, Murphy notes that the 2016 World Series champions were a team that had fun while they were winning.

Murphy and his assistant coaches over the years taught young Vikings the game and then sent them into competition.

“You hope they perform the way you’ve told them, but kids are kids and sometimes it’s an adventure,” says Murphy. “You have to remember, these are 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids.”

Biff Geiss was a Murphy assistant the longest. A successful player at DePauw University, he came to VHS to teach languages and helped Murphy impart many baseball lessons.

Murphy expresses gratitude to many baseball assistants who also offered their talents to other sports. Among those are Todd Coffin, Dale Gott,  Zane Cole, Dave Coyle, Rich Spicer, Steve Krutz, Jeff Wood, Gary Gray and John Gutierrez.

Current Valpo head baseball coach Todd Evans was a senior in Murphy’s last season in 1999. The former program leader likes what he sees.

“Todd has brought back things to the sport that are important,” says Murphy. “Things like punctuality, loyalty and accountability. Some of those things aren’t there any more in school or sports.”

Murphy recalls having two at least full teams playing summer games in June and July. That has been replaced by travel baseball when Valparaiso’s high school season ends.

“That’s not right,” says Murphy. “I’m pretty old school. But you have to have pretty deep pockets (for travel ball). Many kids who can’t do that. Some coaches are trophy hounds. I don’t know how much fundamental baseball is being taught and it takes away from the chemistry of the high school team the way it used to be.

“It was nice to see them playing Legion ball (for Valparaiso Post 94), too.”

PATMURPHYVALPO

Pat Murphy is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in January 2018. He was head baseball coach at his alma mater — Valparaiso High School — for 28 seasons and won 483 games.

Confidence is everything for Nadolny and his John Glenn Falcons

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Continual improvement.

That’s the goal of veteran baseball coach John Nadolny as he prepares players for his 17th season at John Glenn High School in St. Joseph County and 25th head-coaching campaign overall.

“‘Get better everyday.’ That’s what I say to these guys,” says Nadolny. “If you had a bad day today, tomorrow’s got to be better for you. Let’s find something positive in what you do everyday.

“This is such a mental game and confidence in high school is everything. You fail. You learn. You go on and get better.”

The coach knows that an average high school team with some confidence is going to be a superior team without confidence much of the time.

Nadolny wants his squad to improve as its progresses through fall ball to winter workouts to preseason indoor training to the first time they step outside in the spring. Then there’s the in-season adjustments.

“We get better at the year goes on every year,” says Nadolny. “We share a lot of kids athletically (at an IHSAA Class 3A school with an enrollment around 600). We don’t have a lot of travel baseball players. We’ve elevated some kids to a pretty good level.”

While Nadolny — aka “Nud” — will raise his voice when he deems it necessary, he is not the yeller and screamer he was as a younger coach — a result of mellowing with age and with the athletes he’s now coaching.

“Kids are a little bit more sensitive nowadays — to a point,” says Nadolny, a 1981 South Bend Riley graduate. “Not everybody is the same. I understand kids and I read kids now better than I ever did.

“We’ve had our success.”

In 24 years as a head coach (at both Riley and Glenn), Nadolny is 480-223. He has sent 36 players on to college baseball and had Josh Glenn (1995 by the Philadelphia Phillies) and Andy Groves (2003 by the Kansas City Royals and 2007 by the Colorado Rockies) taken in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Four of Nadolny’s players have been chosen for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Glenn (1995) and Brian Stultz (1996) at Riley, Groves (2003) and Justin Gierlowski (2014; he did not play) at Glenn. Stultz was MVP of the series in Jasper.

Two of his former Glenn catchers —  the ones that he trusted to call all the pitches — are now college coaches. Doug Buysse is head coach at Indiana University South Bend and Adam Piortowicz is an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Western Michigan University.

Nadolny has racked up eight sectional titles (1991 at Riley and 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2016 and 2017 at Glenn). Besides the sectional crown in the first year as head coach, Nadolny took three straight Wildcat clubs to the sectional championship game.

Nadolny’s Falcons reigned at the Kankakee Valley Sectional in 2016 and 2017 and have all 23 pitching wins back for 2018.

There have been four regional championships (1991 at Riley and 2003, 2005 and 2006 at Glenn) one Final Four appearance (2003 at Glenn). The Falcons lost to eventual state runner-up Western in the regional semifinals in 2016 and eventual state champion South Bend St. Joseph in the regional finals in 2017.

“Those were awesome weekends when you had to win two in a day and there was no class system. No one remembers those anymore,” says Nadolny. “You might win three games in the sectional then two at regional, two at semistate and two at state. Those days are long gone. You had to have two really good pitchers.”

There’s also the eight conference titles (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2011 in the Northern State Conference and 2017 in the Northern Indiana Conference South Division — all at Glenn).

The 13-team NIC includes Glenn, Bremen, Jimtown, Mishawka Marian, New Prairie and South Bend Riley in the South Division and Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in the North Division. Nadolny says seeing strong pitching day in and day out in the conference has helped the Falcons at state tournament time.

The long-time coach does not take all the credit for the winning.

“I’ve been good because I’ve had good assistants,” says Nadolny, who has Joe Gambill as a varsity assistant. Gambill has been with Nadolny for all but one of his seasons at Glenn. Leland Travis (third season) and Brad Laskowski (second season) lead the junior varsity Falcons. Denny Stull was Nadolny’s assistant in all nine of his years in charge at Riley.

Nadolny sees himself as the product of the people who taught him the game over the years. Some of the ways, he loved and adopted. Others, he did not and did not make a part of his program.

“As I decided I was going to be a coach and a teacher, I kind of picked and pecked from everybody,” says Nadolny. “Everybody did things differently and tried to get the same result.

“I’ve was fortunate enough to play and coach against (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association) Hall of Fame coaches like Ric Tomaszewski (South Bend Washington), Len Buczkowski (South Bend Adams) and Jim Reinebold (South Bend Clay). They were all successful. Why wouldn’t I follow some of the things they’ve done? I took my personality and the way I feel about stuff and it all blended together.”

After playing for Jackson Middle School in ninth grade, Nadolny was a three-year varsity player for Ralph “Peanuts” Pieniazkiewicz at South Bend Riley High School and then played four seasons for Dick Patterson at Bethel College in Mishawaka.

“I learned a lot from Ralph. I learned discipline,” says Nadolny. “He was like a second father to me. I played for him and coached with him (1987-90) and took the Riley job when he left.

Nadolny grew to appreciate Pieniazkiewicz as the years unfolded.

“I got to understand him a little more about where he was coming from as I got older — like you do with anybody else,” says Nadolny. “As your life goes on you learn to see things through other people’s eyes and you step in their shoes a little bit.

“It’s the process of learning and living and coaching. As a player, you think you know everything.”

Nadolny drew some lessons about relationships from observing Patterson.

“He knew how to treat people,” said Nadolny. “One thing about him is that he let us play. We were pretty good.”

As a senior in 1986, pitcher/first baseman Nadolny played for a Bethel team that won the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Pilots had to win three games on the last day of the double-elimination tournament, which meant Nadolny missed graduation exercises.

“That was probably the happiest day of my life,” says Nadolny. “Anytime you’re on the field with a chance to play is a good day.

“There were a lot of good ballplayers at Bethel.”

The Pilots had a roster filled with South Bend area talent.

Steve Hosinski (LaVille High School graduate) Kevin McNamara (Mishawaka Marian) were NCCAA All-Americans. BC’s all-Mid-Central Conference selections included Hosinski, McNamara, Scott Holland (Plymouth), Rick Romeo (Adams) and Joey Underwood (Jimtown).

Hosinski won a then-school record 13 games while striking out 103 batters in 99 1/3 innings in 1986. Romeo set a then-BC mark with 58 walks.

Nadolny established standards at the time with 12 home runs and 56 runs batted in. His slugging percentage was .736 in 1986 and .623 for his college career. When he was a freshman, Scott Anderson (Penn) hit .469 — which still stands as the top single-season mark in Pilots history.

John first learned the game on the lots around his South Bend neighborhood and at South Bend Southside Little League, where his father Stanley became a fixture. Stanley and Betty Nadolny had five children — Cathy, Jackie, Steve, Rick and John. Steve is a member of the Manchester University Athletic Hall of Fame.

John learned from his big brothers and while playing for South Bend American Legion Post 357 and later in the Michiana adult league with the St. Joe AC’s.

After college, the youngest of the Nadolny offspring went into teaching in South Bend and became a Riley baseball assistant. He was with the Wildcats until 1999 then did some scouting before landing the coaching job at Glenn. He has also been a special education teacher at the school in Walkterton.

This fall, Nadolny has conducted optional open fields a couple times a week while planning a trivia night fundraiser. When fall ball wraps, work will begin in earnest on upgrades to the home and visiting dugouts.

At Glenn, it’s all about continual improvement.

JOHNNADOLNY1

John Nadolny is heading into his 25th season as a high school head baseball coach in 2018. It will be his 17th at John Glenn in Walkerton, Ind. He started his career at his alma mater — South Bend Riley. He has 480 career victories. (Gregory Ladewski Photo)

 

 

Upp has storied LaPorte baseball program back in regional

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

LaPorte has three dozen IHSAA sectional baseball championships to its credit.

But the Slicers had experienced a title drought.

Until 2017.

The orange and black will not only be hosting but playing in the Class 4A LaPorte Regional for the first time since 2010.

Coach Scott Upp’s team earned that right by winning the Plymouth Sectional.

“Pitching and defense — that was the story of the sectional,” says Upp, who got commanding mound performances from Andy Samuelson and Chandler Banic. “We didn’t knock the cover off the ball. We got timely hits.”

LaPorte advanced through the sectional by beating South Bend Clay, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“All three of those programs are well-known throughout northern Indiana,” says Upp.

The regional field at Schreiber Field features Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) in Game 1, Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) in Game 2 and the regional final at night Saturday, June 3. Andrean is No. 6 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association 4A poll. LaPorte, Lake Central and Penn all received votes.

Between the four schools, they have won 18 state crowns (LaPorte 8, Andrean 5, Penn 4 and Lake Central) 1).

Upp knows from his experience as a LaPorte player (he’s a 1986 graduate who played for and later coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber) knows about the intensity and urgency of postseason baseball.

“You have your regular season and your second season,” says Upp. “If you can get hot or be playing your best ball at that time.”

LaPorte lost to Chesterton in the regular-season finale, but took the time between then and their sectional games and “got back to the basics.”

“We got individual time in with defense and hitting,” says Upp. “Our pitchers got a chance to breathe a little bit.”

Getting that chance to practice and refresh is just what the Slicers needed going into the sectional.

While LaPorte has won plenty of sectionals, Upp notes that it has become a tougher proposition since the class system came along with the 1998 season (the year he took over for Schreiber 11 games in).

With all the state’s biggest schools and, in the case of Andrean (playing “up” in class because of the IHSAA success factor, postseason success is not a given.

“We seem to have different sectional champs every year and there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Upp. “It’s good baseball.

“I’m not making excuses for LaPorte and why we’ve had a seven-year span. It is more difficult.”

Upp calls IHSAA state tournament games “a rough way to go.”

“In high school baseball, you take one guy on the mound and that team becomes totally different,” says Upp. “And it’s a one-and-done tournament.”

There are no series or second chances.

The coach notes that there are not too many back-to-back champions in the Duneland Athletic Conference (which also includes Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso) either.

The 2017 Slicers were tied for first place in the DAC going into the final two games with Chesterton. LaPorte lost both games against Chesterston and split two games each with Crown Point, Lake Central and Valparaiso, finishing 9-5 and in fourth in the conference.

Chesterton won it at 11-3 (then lost to Andrean in the Chesterton Sectional championship game).

It’s all-Slicer coaching staff at LaPorte. Everyone played their high school baseball on Schreiber Field.

Jeff DeMass (Class of 2005) is the pitching coach. Rob Schellinger (1998) has moved up from the junior varsity to be a varsity assistant. Mark Manering (1981) is a volunteer varsity coach. The JV Slicers are led by Kevin Upp (2010) with help from Blake Hindsley (2005).

The rich traditions of the program are detailed in a book, Slicer Baseball: A Cut Above (produced by Prime Time Publications LLC, dba Indiana Football Digest) and sold by LaPorte High School.

SCOTTUPP

Scott Upp, a 1986 LaPorte High School graduate, has been the Slicers’ head baseball coach since early in the 1998 season. His 2017 team will play in the IHSAA Class 4A LaPorte Regional. (Steve Krah Photo)

Sheets credits community support with role in NorthWood baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wa-Nee sports fans have a reputation for backing their teams.

The latest example comes with NorthWood High School winning its fifth straight baseball sectional championship.

The folks of Wakarusa and Nappanee would really have turned out in force if the weather had cooperated and the event was held at NorthWood as scheduled.

But rains forced all but a few innings of the first game to be played at Wawasee.

Plenty of Panthers fans went to Syracuse to see NorthWood top Wawasee and Lakeland for a berth in the Class 3A Bellmont Regional on Saturday, June 3. Yorktown meets Norwell in Game 1, followed by NorthWood against Fort Wayne Concordia with the championship that night.

It’s nearly 90 miles to Decatur. But that’s not likely to stop NorthWood fans.

“It’s like we’re a big family,” says Panthers third-year head coach Jay Sheets, who was part of a sectional baseball championship team and an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star as a NorthWood senior in 2007 before playing at Manchester University for coach Rick Espeset. “People rally together. “Parents want to see all the kids do well. On Memorial Day — with other things going on — we had a big crowd (at the sectional championship game).”

NorthWood (24-1) lost 1-0 in its season opener against Westview and have won 19 times by allowing three runs or less.

“Our pitching and defense does not give up a lot of runs,” says Sheets. “Our hitting is coming around at the right time.”

The workhorse has been senior Drake Gongwer (a Taylor University commit), but the Panthers have a half dozen capable arms.

Sheets, 29, credits the Class of ’17 for leading the way this spring.

“We have five phenomenal seniors,” says Sheets of a group that includes Gongwer, Drew Minnich, Vincent Herschberger, Jaron Mullet and Travis Stephenson. “They’ve instilled work ethic in our younger guys.”

Gongwer, Minnich, Herschberger and Moore were all regulars as sophomores in Sheets’ first season as head coach after a few leading the junior varsity. “They’re all battle-tested. They know what (regional) is going to be like with the crowd sizes. They can tell the younger guys.”

Even so, the Panthers might have a few butterflies. That does not bother their head coach.

“Nerves are a good thing in my mind,” says Sheets. “They keep you on your toes.”

Sheets, a third grade teacher at Wakarusa Elementary, is helped in the dugout by Todd Cleveland (pitching coach), Matt Cox (hitting and outfielders coach), Greg Estepp (junior varsity head coach) and Aaron Arnold (JV assistant).

Success is a tradition for NorthWood baseball. With the latest hardware, the Panthers have won 11 sectionals.

The 2017 Panthers won the Northern Lakes Conference. Other NLC members are Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee.

JAYSHEETS

Jay Sheets, a 2007 NorthWood High School graduate, is in his third season as head baseball coach at his alma mater. The Bellmont Regional-bound Panthers won their fifth straight sectional in 2017.

Discipline, structure part of Nielsen’s Concord program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Regimented and respectful.

Those are concepts Eric Nielsen is establishing in his second season as Concord High School head baseball coach.

“I’m very structured,” says Nielsen, who followed the retiring Jim Treadway as leader of the Minutemen. “All our practices are planned out. We have times and we stick to those times. Guys hustle everywhere they go. We’re very disciplined and are going to play the game the right way. I teach them to respect the game. There’s no trash talking at all. I’m big on body language.”

It’s taken some time, but players are starting to come around to Nielsen’s way of doing things.

“You are starting to see people buying into that,” says Nielsen. “They know what’s expected. Seniors will get on guys if they are not doing things the right way. That’s less that I have to do because that expectation is there.”

Nielsen was an all-state catcher at Elkhart Memorial High School, graduating in 2004. He went to be a regular behind the plate at Purdue University. His first high school head coaching stops came at Mt. Vernon (Fortville) and Knightstown before he moved back to north central Indiana.

Along the way, he has learned how to read his young athletes.

“I’ve learned really well how to manage the players,” says Nielsen. “I think that’s why (Chicago Cubs manager) Joe Maddon is so good at what he does. He’s not managing baseball, he’s managing people. In the olden days with (LaPorte coach) Ken Schreiber, it was this is the way it is and if you don’t like it ‘see ya!’ It was hard-nosed and it was tough.”

And while Nielsen considers himself a traditional, hard-nosed guy, he knows he has to motivate in a different way and keep his players engaged.

“If you know the game of baseball and you can build relationships, you’re going to be very successful, pending you have the talent,” says Nielsen. “I’ve seen teams that have the talent but they never go anywhere because they are so done with the season by the time the state tournament comes around. They’re cashed out.”

A syndrome that baseball and other spring sports face is a loss of focus because it’s the end of the school year. For 12th graders, they call it “senioritis.” But other grades — and even coaches — can get it, too.

Nielsen insists on holding out a carrot for his players.

“You’ve got to have them chasing something,” says Nielsen. “If you don’t, they’re going let up.

“How do you intrinisically motivate the player to want to compete? I tell them to get caught up in the process, don’t get caught up in the results.

“If I can get the process important to them then the results will come. If the process is not important to them, they don’t want to compete and there’s no reason for them to put in everything they have, you’re going to get that apathy.”

Nielsen looks at his 2017 team and sees pitching depth. At least nine of 12 varsity players can take the mound.

“The hard part is finding out who is my No. 1 and No. 2, who’s my best reliever,” says Nielsen. “We’re still in the process of finding that out.”

Along with pitching coach Mike McGregor, Nielsen looks at pitchers not only in terms of physical talent but what’s happening between the ears.

“We’re trying to teach mental toughness on the mound,” says Nielsen. “If we can have guys that will compete, saying ‘I’m going to strike this guy out.’ Even if they don’t, they are going to distinguish themselves from the rest of the players.”

What about the new pitch count rule?

“I thought it was going to be a bigger issue than it has been,” says Nielsen. “I traditionally don’t have guys throw that much anyway. I don’t push the 120 spot. As long as they’re under 80, I know how many days they need off.

“I thought I’d be juggling a lot. It hasn’t been too bad.”

Nielsen said the pitch count rule will likely be more of an issue during the IHSAA tournament series than the regular season.

“People are going to watch that really close,” says Nielsen.

Concord spends plenty of time at its regimented practices on “small ball.” The Minutemen work on moving runners with the bunt.

“We don’t have anybody on the team we can rely on to hit the long ball yet,” says Nielsen.

Something that Nielsen established in his first season at Concord was an Armed Forces Day (Concord Baseball Armed Forces Day on Facebook). It was such a hit, the Minutemen will be pay tribute to those who have served Saturday, May 6 when South Bend Adams visits for a 10 a.m. game.

Father Scott Nielsen (Army during Vietnam era) and grandfather Bob Burns (Air Force during World War II) and assistant coach Jason Paulson (Marines) are all people close to Nielsen with military ties.

As a social studies teacher at CHS, he also gets a chance to tell students about the importance of the military.

“It’s good to show the kids what these guys are doing day in and day out for our country and show them appreciation for the sacrifices that they make and have made for our freedom,” says Nielsen, whose other assistants are Sean Sears and Nic Minder.

The Minutemen compete in the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). The double round robin NLC race began this week.

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Eric Nielsen, a 2004 Elkhart Memorial High School graduate, is in his second season as head baseball coach at Concord High School. He was a catcher at Purdue University.

Mishawaka’s Huemmer keeps it positive, reaps rewards

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Affirmation from the top and leaders choosing not to listen to the naysayers can lead to memorable accomplishments.

Just ask John Huemmer.

Keeping upbeat thanks to their head coach and led by a senior class intent on “proving ‘em wrong,” the 2016 Mishawaka High School baseball team took the program’s first IHSAA sectional championship since Huemmer took over the program in 2005.

The Cavemen beat South Bend Clay 3-2 (nine innings), LaPorte 10-9 and Plymouth 5-1 to reign at the Class 4A South Bend Clay Sectional. It was Mishawaka’s first title since 1997.

“The most important thing is to stay positive,” says Huemmer, who enters his 13th season at the Northern Indiana Conference school in 2017. “It’s not good to beat down a kid. You want to raise them up. That makes a big difference. If you keep encouraging, you’re going to get the most out of a kid.

“That kid’s going to buy into what you’re saying and they’re going to give everything they’ve got — not just for the head coach but, more importantly, for their teammates. If the kid is giving effort, then you have nothing to complain about. Mistakes are going to happen.”

If a player is striving to the best of his abilities, Huemmer tries not to dwell on a mistake. He just works to correct it and moves on.

The Cavemen were able to turn a negative in 2015 to a positive in 2016.

When Mishawaka bowed 9-8 to Plymouth in the semifinals of the ’15 Plymouth Sectional after letting momentum get away, Huemmer assembled his seniors-to-be and challenged them.

“What do you want for next year?,” says Huemmer in repeating a question he addressed to ballplayers in the Class of ’16. “I think that really set the tone for what we wanted to accomplish.

“Our record wasn’t what we wanted, but the pursuit of success and trying to win every game was there. The kids wholeheartedly wanted to do well last season. We came together at the right time and won the sectional.”

With his seniors leading the way, Huemmer hopes 2016 will feed 2017.

“We’re going to try to build on the momentum from last season,” says Huemmer, whose coaching staff includes Jim Shively as varsity assistant, Mark Bell and Andy Namisnak at the junior varsity level and Matt Went and Neal Hickle guiding the freshmen. “I wanted the guys to get a taste of what it’s like to win sectional. I knew if they got that taste, they’re going to want more.

“After we lost in the regional to Penn (4-3 in the semifinals), I heard ‘I want to do this again.’ That makes me feel great that they want to do it. Every year, I put the challenge on the seniors to do better than the previous year.”

Huemmer expects his seniors to be leaders, playing on their sense of urgency and reminding them that it is their final prep season.

“They’re the older kids,” says Huemmer. “They’re the ones that set the example. It goes with the thought: How do you want to be remembered at Mishawaka High School?”

The idea is that when seniors take ownership of the team, they want it more than being dictated to by the coaching staff.

“(The seniors of 2016) were just bound and determined to succeed,” says Huemmer. “To them, winning sectional proved everybody wrong.”

Huemmer enjoyed a long playing career. A right-handed pitcher, he graduated from Marian High School in Mishawaka in 1991 and played at Indiana State University for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Warn through 1996 then spent the summer of 1997 with the Lafayette Leopards of the independent Heartland League. He also pitched for 17 or 18 seasons in amateur leagues around South Bend with two summers in Grand Rapids, Mich.

At the same time, Huemmer had gone into the business world. He was lured into coaching by then-South Bend Adams High School head coach Joel Reinebold (now head coach at South Bend Clay).

The pitcher had been recruited as a high schooler by Reinebold when the latter was assistant to Brian Buckley at Hillsdale (Mich.) College.

Huemmer and Reinebold spent three seasons together at Adams then both moved over to be on the staff of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos at Penn. Huemmer coached Kingsmen pitchers for four seasons (2001-04; the first was a Class 4A state championship year for Penn).

When Gregg Minegar resigned at Mishawaka, Huemmer interviewed for the head coach position and was hired.

He welcomed the opportunity to make final decisions and implement the program he wanted to run.

“The biggest challenge is to get everybody to buy in to what I as a head coach want to instill as values, what I believe is correct for behavior,” says Huemmer. “It’s important for us as coaches to communicate those expectations. Then you have to act on it.”

Huemmer is careful to send a consistent message and not play favorites. If any player — starter or reserve — is not hustling, he needs to check that behavior.

“If a kid comes to me asking why I haven’t addressed that with someone who’s doing the same thing (as them), that ruins my credibility,” says Huemmer.

Part of Huemmer’s coaching philosophy was also shaped by his coach at Marian — Ray Lentych.

“One of the main points of emphasis for Coach Lentych was do the little things,” says Huemmer. “The little things add up to big things. It’s not just the one big thing that happens but everything that goes on throughout the game.”

Simply hustling and putting the ball in play can make the difference between winning and losing.

Following the National Federation of High School Associations’ edict, the IHSAA is putting a pitch count rule in place for 2017.

Huemmer welcomes it.

“Proper pitching mechanics are important in preventing arm injuries,” says Huemmer. “Also, having the pitch count rule is important to allow pitchers the proper amount of time to recover after pitching. Some programs will struggle with the new rule because they will not have pitching depth.”

Teams will be required to record pitch count totals on MaxPreps.com so the IHSAA will have a record.

Huemmer notes that communicating with a pitcher about how they’re feeling during an outing is key. It’s also important to note that pitchers might be able to go deeper into games later in the season and that factors like adrenaline in tournament situations can’t be discounted.

Mishawaka has been tracking pitches all along, using a tendency chart for opposing batters and a feedback chart for pitchers that shows ball-strike percentage on each ball-strike count (ie. 65 percent of strikes on 0-2 count).

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John Huemmer enters his 13th season as head baseball coach at Mishawaka High School in 2017.

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