Dustin Murray was hired this summer as the new head baseball coach at Mt. Vernon (Ind.) High School. His focus for the Wildcats this fall and winter is adding muscle and being in-shape. “The biggest thing that I’m going to bring is off-season expectations in the weight room,” says Murray, who is a certified strength and conditioning coach and a first-year Physical Education and Health teacher at Mt. Vernon Junior High School. “This is the part of the year where we’re going to get stronger. “We want to have accountability when it comes to athletic development.” Lifting at 6:15 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays have been drawing 25 athletes per session. “What we’re doing is baseball-specific,” says Murray. “But it’s helpful for all sports.” Murray has been facility director for 13 years at Athletic Republic Evansville, a sports performance training center. A few years ago, Murray did some volunteer work for Mt. Vernon head coach Paul Quinzer and takes over after Quinzer retired following the 2022 season after leading the program since 2002. Mt. Vernon (enrollment around 625) is a member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (with Boonville, Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, Princeton, Southridge, South Spencer, Tecumseh, Tell City and Washington). The Wildcats were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Boonville, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Memorial and Heritage Hills. Mt. Vernon has won 17 sectional titles — the last in 2015. Murray’s coaching staff includes Luke Harris and Derek Foncannon. Another assistant may be added. A exciting addition at Mt. Vernon is an indoor training facility near the football field. There will be batting cages that will benefit both baseball and softball. Construction on the building began a few weeks ago and could be available in late spring or early summer of 2023. Murray says there has also been discussion of adding a turf infield on the Athletic Park diamond. Mt. Vernon Cub Baseball offers playing time for eight graders and seventh graders in the spring. Murray was an assistant to Steve Ricketts at Evansville Mater Dei in 2019 and 2020. In 2018, he coached for Norris City-Omaha-Enfield in Illinois. He lives in Carmi, Ill., with wife Brittany, daughter Taytem (7) and son Jagger (1). Prior to his Norris City-Omaha-Enfield stint, he was involved strength and conditioning at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville from 2010-18 after coaching baseball 2006-10. He landed with the Screaming Eagles when following Tracy Archuleta. A native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Murray graduated from Bishop James Mahoney High School in 2000. He attended Prairie Baseball Academy while going to Lethbridge Community College. After two years, he transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside where Archeluta was the coach. An “international” rule allowed him to play five years of college baseball, including three at UWP. He also helped coach the Rangers after his playing days. “I’ve never seen him have an ‘off’ day,” says Murray of Archuleta, who has won three NCAA Division II national titles at USI and is leading the Screaming Eagles into NCAA Division I status. “Every time he stepped on the field in was with intent. “He is always looking to better his program. He’s always high energy and ready to go in everything he does.” As the part of honored teams, Murray is in athletic halls of fame at both the University of Wisconsin-Parkside (2016) and the University of Southern Indiana (2020).
That’s because his grandparents — Don and Bonnie Barrett — lived in Princeton, Ind., and Don played American Legion ball with Hodges — who went on to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers — in the early 1940’s. When Gil joined the team Don moved from shortstop to third base.
“He always had something for me to work on,” says Zach of his grandpa. “He knew the game really well.”
One of Zach’s cousin is Aaron Barrett. Before Don Barrett died he got to see Aaron pitch in the big leagues.
“He was super-proud of Aaron,” says Zach. “He would be super-proud to know I was hired at Princeton — his alma mater.”
Gil Hodges Field has a different look these days, including turf in the infield. Barrett’s players got a chance to get on the carpet for the first time just this week.
“The school corporation put a ton of money into it,” says Barrett. “There are all sorts of upgrades.”
Jason Engelbrecht was the head coach at Evansville Central High School when Zach’s cousins Aaron Barrett (who has come back from multiple injuries as a pro), Drew Barrett (a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and two at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky.) and Ryan Barrett were playing for the Bears.
Jason Barrett (Zach’s older brother who played at Ball State University) was a hitting star at Central for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul Gries. The Central facility is now known as Paul Gries Field.
Engelbrecht was later head coach at Princeton Community and is now Tigers athletic director. He brought Zach on as an assistant. With the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is to be Barrett’s first one with games.
Princeton Community went 10-16 in 2019. A number of regulars remain from that team.
“We have a pretty good nucleus,” says Barrett.
The Tigers go in with a group that includes senior left-handed pitcher/outfielder Rhett Thompson, senior shortstop Lance Stuckey, senior corner infielder/right-handed pitcher Briar Christy and junior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Sean Stone.
The 6-foot-7 Thompson was the mound starter in the 2019 IHSAA Class 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional championship game against the host Alices.
Stone is already getting looks from college baseball programs.
Gerit Bock, a 2020 Princeton graduate, is now on the roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.
With Barrett serving as an assistant on Princeton Community head football coach Jared Maners’ staff, there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity in the fall. Players began to get rolling in January.
Made up primarily of seventh and eighth graders with some sixth graders, that squad plays from March to May.
“We have good coaches at that level that understand the game,” says Barrett. “It’s not about wins and losses at that level. Are the kids having fun? Are they getting better? Are they part of the team?”
Barrett, who splits his work day between teaching high school Health and middle school Physical Education, will walk the halls to find athletes.
Thorough his own experience and observation, he realizes that what they are at 13 and 17 may be vastly different.
“I’ve played with kids absolute studs in middle school and barely played as seniors,” says Barrett. “On the other side, there are those (smallish or uncoordinated kids) who stick with it and become very good varsity players.
“You just never know. Kids mature differently.”
The Cub team practices and plays on Gil Hodges Field, which features lights.
“I want those kids to feel like they’re a part of us,” says Barrett. “In years past, they’ve worked out with our varsity guys.”
That’s given the older ones a chance to mentor the younger ones.
“They understand that they are the future,” says Barrett. “They put Princeton first.
“They’re not selfish.”
Barrett is a 2004 graduate of Reitz High School in Evansville, where the 6-foot-5 athlete was a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He played receiver and safety for John Hart on the gridiron, power forward or center for Michael Adams on the hardwood and pitcher, shortstop and center fielder for Steve Johnston on the diamond.
Hart, a member of the Reitz and Greater Evansville Football halls of fame, impressed Barrett with the way he went about his business and the relationships he built with his players. Unlike some coaches, Hart was not intimidating but approachable.
“He was like a second dad,” says Barrett. “I was able to talk with him.
“He was good about taking care of the small things and being disciplined. He was a very smart coach.”
Nick Hart, John’s son and head football coach at Gibson Southern, is a good friend of Barrett’s.
Barrett was all-city, all-SIAC and Indiana Football Coaches Association All-State as junior and senior, AP All-State and an Indiana Mr. Football Finalist as senior.
Adams, who is still on the bench at Reitz, got Barrett’s attention when he as attending basketball camps as an elementary school student.
“His attention to detail was apparent at that age,” says Barrett, who saw varsity minutes as a freshman and became a starter as a sophomore. “He was very strict but he knew how to relate to players.
“He was about as good an X’s and O’s coach as you’ll ever see. He would get you ready and prepared mentally and physically.
“I’m glad to see all the success he’s had lately.”
Barrett won four basketball letters at Reitz and paced the team in rebounding three times. He was all-SIAC as a junior and senior and honorable mention All-State as a senior.
Johnston gave Barrett the chance to experience varsity ball as a freshman and made him a starter the next spring.
“Everybody enjoy playing for him,” says Barrett of Johnston. “He had a good baseball mind.”
Barrett completed his Reitz baseball career second all-time in both hits (95) and slugging percentage (.576). He was named all-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference as a junior and Associated Press All-State as a senior when he was also selected in the 38th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins and chosen to play in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
“DC — we called him the ‘Mayor of Olney,’” says Barrett of veteran skipper Conley. “He was a mentor and taught you about doing things right. He wasn’t messing around. But he could flip the stitch and be able to relate to us.
“He obviously knew the game very well. He was tough to play for. He put a lot of pressure on you. You needed to come up big and handle situations. I had my share of butt-chewings. He got max effort out of all of us and we respected the heck out of him.”
Similar to Conley, Peterson was Old School in his approach. He believed in fundamentals and discipline.
“He was not afraid to run you and do things like that when he didn’t get the most of us,” says Barrett. “I learned a lot of life lessons from my high school and college coaches.”
Barrett uses drills in his high school practices that he learned from Conley and Peterson.
Barrett played in 116 games as a third baseman for the MTSU Blue Raiders. He hit .329 with 12 doubles and 32 runs batted in as a junior and . 383 with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 46 RBI’s in as a senior.
Heritage Hills (enrollment around 600) is part of a 3A sectional grouping with Boonville, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Memorial, Gibson Southern and Mount Vernon (Posey). The Patriots last won a sectional crown in 2011.
Fischer, who counts Mike Guth and Brad Fella as assistant coaches and is looking to fill a couple vacancies, expects to have around 25 in the program next spring to fill varsity and junior varsity rosters.
Simon Scherry, a member of the Heritage Hills Class of 2020, is now a freshman infielder at the NCAA Division I University of Evansville. Other recent graduates in the collegiate baseball ranks include sophomore infielder Mitchel Becher (NCAA Division II University of Missouri-St. Louis) and junior infielder Sam Pinckert (NCAA Division III Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio).
Heritage Hill’s home field is on its campus. About a decade ago, the infield was changed to have cut-out areas around home plate and the bases with grass in the other areas.
“It helps with drainage,” says Fischer. “We very rarely have rain-out games now.
“It plays just like a turf field.”
Another unique feature is a batter’s eye 375 feet from the plate in center field.
“It’s the only one I know of in southern Indiana,” says Fischer of the structure made of green barn metal that is 60 feet wide and 24 feet tall and topped by the same yellow capping as the rest of the fence.
Much of the outfield is surrounded by woods.
“Before leaves are on the trees it’s really hard to pick up a baseball,” says Fischer, who built the batter’s eye based on a design created by his Heritage Hills engineering students.
Fischer earned an Elementary Education degree with a Mathematics minor at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, where he briefly played baseball.
Besides teaching and coaching baseball, Fischer is the head girls soccer coach at Heritage Hills. The Patriots won the 2020 2A Bosse Sectional then fell in the Jasper Regional championship match. The team was without senior Haley Osborne during the tournament because of COVID-19 quarantine.
With most baseball players in football, soccer and cross county in the fall and Fischer coaching girls soccer, Heritage Hills did not meet during the fall Limited Contact Period for baseball.
When the next window opens in December, plans call for station work in the school’s fieldhouse.
“We’ll do a lot of hitting and arm exercises to get our pitchers ready,” says Fischer.
Feeder systems for Patriots include the various parks in the North Spencer Little League (T-ball through age 12) and the Heritage Hills Cub program (seventh and eighth graders with varsity and JV teams).
Andy and wife Rachael have three children ages 12, 9 and 6.
The Marksmen had 20 players in the program in 2017, which was Trent Benningfield’s first season as head coach. There were 24 participants in 2018 and 32 have signed up for tryouts for 2019.
Tell City, which is located near the Ohio River in Perry County, has scheduled 22 varsity games and about 15 junior varsity contests this spring.
“I feel like things are going in the right direction,” says Benningfield, a 2011 Tell City graduate and fourth grade teacher at William Tell Elementary. “The boys are putting in a lot more work. They’re seeing what it takes to get to the next level.”
Benningfield lists his goals for the program as developing young men, getting them ready for college or the work force and another thing.
“I’m trying to win as many games as possible every single year,” says Benningfield.
The head coach lives three blocks from Frank Clemens Field, the city-owned diamond where the Marksmen play their home games. There is a hitting building at the facility and the coach has been known to get texts from his players to meet him there for extra swings.
Official practice begins March 11 and the first contest is slated for March 26. Spring break begins March 15 and Benningfield welcomes the opportunity to have some longer workouts.
Since the IHSAA requires 10 practices to participate, Benningfield expects to have his players at those practices.
“If they want to play in first two or three games, they can’t afford to go anywhere,” says Benningfield, who is getting help preparing his players from assistants and TC grads Trent Gunn and Seth Ward.
Gunn, who played for the University of Southern Indiana’s NCAA Division II national championship team in 2014, is in charge of hitting and infield play. Ward also helps with the JV. Benningfield says he is hoping to add one more coach to his staff.
The Marksmen are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, North Posey, Perry Central and South Spencer.
“It’s one of the toughest 2A sectionals if not the toughest in Indiana,” says Benningfield. “It seems like every year whoever wins our sectional is going to the state championship.
“It’s like a dogfight to win that thing every single year.”
Southridge was 2A state runners-up in 2018. South Spencer was 2A state champions in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Mater Dei was 2A state runners-up in 2012 and 2014. North Posey was state champions in 2005 and 2006.
Tell City’s most-recent sectional crown came in 1997 – the last season of single-class sports.
His first two seasons at OCU, Benningfield was a relief pitcher. That meant he got to spend time in the dugout with Fletcher has he made strategic moves.
“That’s what helped me the most,” says Benningfield. “I learned what other teams were thinking.”
Benningfield played four summers for Rockport American Legion Post 254 and manager Jim Haaff, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.
“He ran a very disciplined team,” says Benningfield of Haaff. “He treated every single person the same. Everybody was supposed to do their job. We came together as a team because of that. I’m hoping to do that with my (Tell City) team as well.”
Recent TC graduate Preston Hendershot is on the baseball team at Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky.
Rick Wilgus, who was Benningfield’s Babe Ruth League coach, runs Tell City’s Cub baseball program. It’s a club that includes sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
“It’s for any kids too old to play (Tell City) Little League and too young for high school,” says Benningfield of a squad that plays many schools in the PAC in the spring and has home games and practices at the former Babe Ruth park — Hughes Owen Field.
Trent and Josalyn Benningfield were married in June 2018. She isTell City graduate and fifth grade teacher at William Tell. The former Josalyn Ress was on a sectional softball championship team in 2009 and pitched for four years at Kentucky Wesleyan College.
Josalyn and Trent Benningfield enjoy a Cincinnati Reds game. Both are teachers at William Tell Elementary in Tell City, Ind. Trent is the head baseball coach at Tell City Junior-Senior High School.
The first season as North Posey head coach was a special one for Jesse Simmons.
After eight seasons in charge at Princeton (Ind.) Community High School, Simmons came to North Posey, where he also works in the guidance department as coordinator for student programs, testing and scholarships.
During his time at Princeton Community, he spent part of his summers managing Princeton American Legion Post 25.
Simmons, a graduate of Gibson Southern High School in Fort Branch, Ind., played for an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jim Reid) in high school and a National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jerry Blemker at Vincennes University) his first two years of college.
“You pick stuff from everybody,” says Simmons. “(Reid) was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He was always upfront. That’s what I try to do. To a fault, I’m almost too truthful.
“(Reid) was also big on the little things.”
A third baseman in high school, Simmons was moved to shortstop at Vincennes when the starter got hurt.
Blemker was known for his passion.
“Everyday he expected things,” says Simmons of Blemker. “This is how it’s going to be.”
The fiery Blemker, who died in 2012, won 1,178 games during a storied career. At the time of his retirement in 2006, that was the most coaching wins in NJCAA Division II history.
Simmons recalls how Obermeier wanted his athletes to “take care of business” and also had a good working relationship with coaches of other sports. They shared athletes at Gibson Southern.
“(Fletcher) is still a big part of my life,” says Simmons, who not only played for T-Ray’s Mighty Oaks but helped coach them during his fifth year of college while pursuing his master’s degree. “That’s when I got the bug for coaching.”
Heading into his second season at North Posey, Simmons’ coaching staff includes Lennie “Peanut” Titzer, James Hensley, Lance Fleener, Dustin May and Jeremy Lavanchy. Titzer was Simmons’ Babe Ruth League coach and an assistant at Gibson Southern.
The Vikings are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, Perry Central, South Spencer and Tell City. North Posey has an enrollment of about 500.
North Posey plays on a field behind the school that it shares with Cub (seventh and eighth graders playing 15 to 20 games in the spring) and Poseyville Babe Ruth programs (Red and Black teams are part of an eight-team league with biggest part being from Gibson County).
Simmons says he hopes to have an American Legion team — Poseyville Post 278 /New Harmony Post 370 — playing their next summer. The plan is to play weekday games to accommodate the weekend travel ball schedules of his players.
Jesse and Courtney Simmons reside in Haubstadt, Ind. with their five children — sons Jeter (9) and Jensen (8) and daughters Albany (7), Vera (6) and Savannah (1).
The oldest of three children, Jesse’s parents are Jim and Diane Hornby. His siblings are Amber and Quentin.
“(Jeter) thrived under pressure,” says Simmons. “He was a good leader. He was never afraid of the moment and the spotlight is a tough place to play.”
Mattingly, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer, is from nearby Darmstadt, Ind., and played high school baseball at Evansville Memorial.
Jesse Simmons, the head baseball coach at North Posey High School in Poseyville, Ind., poses with his family. Front row (from left) Jeter Simmons, Vera Simmons, Albany Simmons and Jensen Simmons. Back row (from left) Jesse Simmons, Savannah Simmons and Courtney Simmons.
Senior Daniel Lusk earned a defensive and mental attitude awards. Freshman Gage Hasenour took the lowest earned run average/pitching award. Sophomore Gavin Knust gathered the hitting award for the highest batting average and was named most improved.
Zink and Lusk were all-PAC and Knust gained honorable mention all-conference.
The Rangers gave Howard his 300th career coaching victory April 30, 2018 against Evansville Bosse.
With proximity and Howard’s ties to Kentucky, Forest Park played some of its games against schools from the Bluegrass State.
Howard says it often makes scheduling easier than in Indiana since a statewide assigner matches umpires with games in Kentucky.
Being a smaller school, Forest Park relies on many multi-sport athletes. Baseball players are asked to get in their work when they can and the coaching staff, which also includes former Howard players Kyle Greulich, Brent Wendholt and Jesse Hagedorn plus volunteers Darren Weisheit and Andy Rohleder are all willing to help.
“Our player development has been very good,” says Howard. “The summer time is a big deal. We do as much as we can.”
Howard has sent nearly 20 players on to college baseball. The most recent ones are Zink to Olney (Ill.) Central College and Eli Knust, who played at Vincennes University and is now at Huntington University.
Forest Park fields varsity and junior varsity teams with about 24 to 26 players in the program.
Both squads generally practice together.
“I want them to be able to understand what I’m doing,” says Howard. “I want them to get used to how I handle situations.”
Ranger Field, located on the school campus, sports Bermuda grass.
“Our playing surface is phenomenal — very fast,” says Howard, who reports that the program is looking into updating the backstop and adding visitor seating to get a chance at hosting a sectional or regional.
Feeding the high school program are the Forest Park Youth Sports. In this summer’s Indiana Little League tournaments, FPYS advanced its 10- and 11-year-old teams to the state semifinals while the 12-year-olds bowed out in the district finals. The latter group took the state title when they were 10.
There are seventh and eighth grade baseball teams at Forest Park in the spring.
“We’re excited about the next four or five years coming,” says Howard.
The 2018 Rangers had two seniors. On many days, there were as many as seven freshmen and sophomores in the lineup.
The holder of a business education degrees with two masters (business management and school administration), Howard’s day job is as director of the Patoka Valley Career and Technical Cooperative. He has an office in Jasper, Ind., but spends much of his time on the road overseeing the 17 programs based at 10 high schools.
Jarred and Natalie Howard have three children — sons Drew and Reid and daughter Bree. Drew is heading into the ninth grade, Reid the seventh and Bree the second.
“Our kids grind. We’re not flashy,” says Mattingly. “I don’t have a lot of college recruiters or pro scouts attending our games.
“We just have a bunch of guys who play really, really hard and hate to lose.”
Besides that, it’s all about the team.
Mattingly also describes his players as “unselfish.”
“They don’t play for themselves,” says Mattingly. “That’s a testament to their character, their parents and the type of community they’re growing up in.”
That approach has Southridge (24-6) in the IHSAA Class 2A Jasper Semistate against Indianapolis Scecina on Saturday, June 9. A win there sends the Raiders to the 2A state championship game at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
“Our goal is to never take a pitch off, whether that’s offense or defense,” says Mattingly, a part-time assistant in the program for about a dozen years before taking over the reigns from Dave Schank in 2018. “Our mantra is to win every pitch. We grind out at-bats. We grind on the mound when we don’t have our best stuff.
“We don’t let up.”
Southridge, located in the Dubois County city of Huntingburg, Ind., is 5-4 in one-run games.
“We encourage multi-sport athletes,” says Mattingly. “We get in the weight room and get bigger, stronger faster.
“We can play good baseball, but we’re not necessarily baseball players. We buy into a system. We work on becoming really good athletes in the summer time. We don’t have a lot of flash, but we like to compete.”
Mattingly’s assistant coaches are Brian Craig (head assistant), Mark Peters, Joe Keusch (pitching coach), Andy McKeough and Casey Lindeman at the varsity level with Jace Merkel and Jason Barnett working with the junior varsity. Mattingly and McKeough were teammates at the University of Mobile (Ala.). Lindeman also coordinates the middle school baseball program.
His baseball coach at Mobile was Mike Jacobs, the man who built the Rams program from scratch.
Jacobs’ discipline, attention to detail and grinder approach rubbed off on Mattingly and he used it while coaching Little League and travel teams in Mississippi and in the Huntingburg area. He coached the Dubois County Crush and later the Dirtbags.
Gene and Traci Mattingly (a 1989 Southridge graduate and a health teacher at the school) also have a daughter — Southridge freshman-to-be Ella Mattingly (14). Older daughter Lexi Mattingly passed away April 20, 2017.
Southridge High School head baseball coach Gene Mattingly (left) talks with Jayce Harter. The Raiders are in the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A Jasper Semistate.
Southridge High School celebrates a sectional championship in the Raiders’ first season under head coach Gene Mattingly. Southridge also won a regional crown and advanced to the IHSAA Class 2A Jasper Semistate on Saturday, June 9.
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.
“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.
The South Spencer Rebels have won four IHSAA state titles in five State Finals appearances and won sectional crowns in 2015, 2016 and 2017, pushing the program’s total to 23.
South Spencer holds outright or share several 2A State Finals team records, including most hit (16 vs. Heritage in 2007), most runs batted in (12 in 2007) and most at-bats (38 in 2007). Todd Marn drove in a record five runs in 2007.
Brian Kuester, who is also a social studies teacher, is entering his 22nd season as head baseball coach at South Spencer. He and his assistants also guide Post 254’s 17U Junior Legion team in the summer.
Kuester is just the third South Spencer head coach in more than 50 years. He took over for Jim Haaff (who is still the manager of Rockport’s Senior Legion squad). Haaff followed Bill Evans.
“I take a lot of pride in following two guys like that,” says Kuester, who took the Rebels to Class 2A state championships in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015.
Among active coaches with state championships, Tim Bordenet (Lafayette Central Catholic) ranks first with seven, followed by Terry Gobert (Jasper) and Dave Pishkur (Andrean) with five each and Kuester and Greg Dikos (Penn) with four apiece.
South Spencer was in the State Finals in the IHSAA’s third state tournament in 1969. “You’re expected to have a good program. Some years are going to be better than others. Like at any small school (South Spencer has around 400 students), it’s going to be that way.
“We know we have a target on our backs almost every time we go out there to play, which is a great thing. It’s better being on that end than on the other end. We see a lot of people’s 1’s and 2’s. That only makes us better.
“The kids expect it, know it and kind of relish that.”
Seven starters from the 2017 South Spencer Sectional champions graduated and Kuester expects maybe three or four seniors in 2018. This just means other players will now get their chance to shine.
“We’re a very small school and we have a lot of blue-collar type kids,” says Kuester. “We don’t get the big Division I players very often. But we’ve had a share of nice talent.”
After leaving South Spencer, left-hander Blake Monar pitched three seasons at Indiana University and was selected in the 12th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Nationals. He played two seasons in the Nationals systems and then with the independent Evansville Otters.
Right-hander Josh Garrett was a first-round pick in 1996 by the Boston Red Sox and pitched six professional seasons.
Kevin Davis, also a right-hander, pitched four season at Middle Tennessee State University and was a 55th round selection of the California Angels in 1996, but no record could be found of him playing in the minors.
Brice Stuteville (Frontier Community College in Illinois) is among recent graduates playing college baseball.
South Spencer baseball is built on concepts like hard work, dedication and being disciplined in behavior and performance.
Multi-sport participation is the rule rather than the exception.
“We like them to be involved in other sports and have that competitiveness in them and we want them putting priorities straight,” says Kuester. “Baseball is obviously not more important than other things in life. But when we’re on the field, it’s got to be the most important thing.
“We try to instill dedication.”
Brian Kuester, the son of former professional player, manager and scout Ivan Kuester and younger brother of former Clemson University player Steve Kuester, is a 1976 Evansville Central High School graduate. For the Bears, he played for Bud Steiler and Ted Niemeier.
Brian calls his father and brother his biggest influences in baseball.
“My brother told me that as a catcher, you’re the only one who can see everybody else on the field,” says Kuester. “You have to be the leader. You have to know every position and what they need to be doing in every situation. You have to be able to basically teach pitching as a catcher and be a psychologist, trying to get the most out of your pitcher.
“Being a catcher definitely has a major impact in being a head coach.”
Like his brother, Brian was a catcher and went on to play at Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) from 1977-80. His coach was former minor league pitcher Larry Shown.
Kuester was a graduate assistant at Southeastern Louisiana University and served as coach for Boonville and Evansville Pate American Legion and Oakland City University teams and five seasons at Tecumseh High School. He was associate head coach at Southern Indiana and an assistant for one season of Haaff’s South Spencer staff.
The 2018 Rebels coaching staff features Shawn Kuester, Mike Ogilvie and Mitch Rust at the varsity level and Chris Bartlett leading the junior varsity.
“Some weeks we might have two or three conference games,” says Kuester. “Some weeks we have no conference games.
“Our schedule is very, very tough. But that’s the way we want it.”
Non-conference dates in Indiana include Boonville, Castle, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz, Floyd Central, Jasper, Martinsvillle, Perry Central, Washington plus the Jasper Invitational.
Kentucky include Apollo, Daviess County, Hancock County and Henderson County and Owensboro Catholic.
In 2017, the IHSAA adopted a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).
Kuester said it has had zero effect on his teams and he only had one pitcher — son Jeremy — ever go above 120 pitches in a game. The main reason is that his pitchers also play other positions.
“I’m not always going to save my best for conference,” says Kuester. “If he’s available, we’re going to do it. Last year, we only threw our No. 1 in a couple of conference games. That’s just how it fell.
“We want to win the conference, but that’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is the (state) tournament.
The Rebels are all in it together.
“We stay away from he ‘me, me, me’ that our society seems to be in right now,” says Kuester. “We try to concentrate on what’s best for the team.
“Our players have bought into the concept. They learned if they play together, it will make you better as a team.”
Brian Kuester is entering his 22nd season as head baseball coach at South Spencer High School in Rockport, Ind., in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)
Reid, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, coached the Fort Branch Twigs for one pre-consolidation season. After Fort Branch, Haubstadt and Owensville high schools combined to make Gibson Southern, he was head coach from Day 1 through 2007.
That’s when junior varsity coach and 1974 Haubstadt High School graduate May took over and he’s still on the job. A member of that last graduating class, he played second base for Elites coach Glover Priar then went on to Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) where he was guided for one season by Jim Brown and three by Larry Shown.
Cousin Gary May, a Gibson Southern graduate, was a ISU-E teammate and is now the Titans head softball coach.
After college, Chris May taught one year in Evansville. In 1979-80, he began teaching third and fourth graders in the South Gibson School Corporation. He is now teaching third grade at Haubstadt Community School. He also has decades of experience coaching eighth grade basketball and Junior Titan Football in addition to the high school baseballers.
“It’s a nice change of pace,” says May. “I have the young kids during the day (and the older ones after school).”
Decades of coaching also has its perks.
“It’s neat to see kids coming through and I coached the parents years ago,” says May.
Gibson Southern has enjoyed its share of baseball success, winning outright or sharing nine Pocket Athletic Conference pennants with nine sectional titles, two regional crowns, two semistate championships and one state runner-up finish.
The Titans have reigned in three Evansville Bosse sectionals (2008, 2013, 2014), one Jasper Regional (2014) and one Plainfield Semistate (2014) and placed second in the state (2014 vs. Andrean) — all in IHSAA Class 3A — and also been co-PAC champions twice (2013, 2014) with May in charge.
The 1994 team was in the single-class Final Four. Penn beat the Titans 1-0 then McCutcheon 4-3 to claim its first state championship hardware.
Two Gibson Southern seniors — Brad Heuring in 1994 and Matthew Harpenau in 2014 — have been presented the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award at the IHSAA State Finals.
May likes to win as much as the next guy, but he bases his program on the enjoyment and respect for the game.
“We want the kids to come out and have a good time,” says May. “We teach them baseball the right way. We want them to respect the other team and respect the facilities.”
Countless hours have been spent tending Gibson Southern’s home field on its Fort Branch campus. Among the recent upgrades is the replacement of a windscreen on the outfield wall with privacy slats.
With an interest in hosting a sectional, May says adding more bleachers has been discussed. The 3A Titans were runners-up to Boonville in the 2017 Evansville Bosse Sectional and are assigned with Pike Central, Princeton and probable host Vincennes Lincoln in 2018.
The Pocket Athletic Conference provides a challenge with its competitive programs and its geography. The PAC’s nine schools are in eight different southwest Indiana counties — Gibson Southern in Gibson, Forest Park and Southridge in Dubois, Heritage Hills in Spencer, North Posey in Posey, Pike Central in Pike, South Spencer in Ohio, Tecumseh in Warrick and Tell City in Perry.
While North Posey and Tecumseh are less than 20 miles from Gibson Southern, the others at least least 30 and Tell City is nearly 70. When the Titans play the Marksmen, that game often comes on a Saturday.
“It’s a very good baseball conference,” says May of a circuit boasting seven state crowns (four for South Spencer, two for North Posey, one for Tecumseh) and three state runner-up finishes (two for Tecumseh and one for Gibson Southern).
Each PAC team plays the other once. Occasionally, there are three conference games in the same week, which makes for some decisions on whom to pitch and for how long.
The 2017 season saw the IHSAA adopt new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days). May says he rarely ever lets a pitcher go over 100 tosses in a game. He did have to adjust to the required days of rest when the hurler delivered just over 35.
“You have to be careful,” says May. “That was more of a thing for me. For the most part, (the pitch count rule) seemed like it worked pretty well.”
While he says others might get involved, May expects Zach Pullum, Steve Lintzenich, Danny Colbert and son Dustin May to be part of his 2018 coaching staff.
Chris and Lynn May have two children. In addition to Dustin, there’s Stacey (she is a meteorologist on Channel 25 in Evansville) and there are five grandchildren.
Gibson Southern had two ties to Japanese baseball in 2017. Not only did exchange student Sora Kashiwagi suit up with the Titans, 2004 graduate Eric Campbell played in 21 games for the Hanshin Tigers.
Chris May is the head baseball coach at Gibson Southern High School. He followed Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Reid. They are the only two men to guide the Titans program. (Gibson Southern Photo)