Tag Archives: Quality At-Bats

Notre Dame’s Jarrett shares on ‘Building Complete Hitters’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Link Jarrett has been studying the art of hitting and teaching it at the highest levels of college baseball for more than two decades.

First-year University of Notre Dame head coach Jarrett presented his ideas on “Building Complete Hitters” to the 2020 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic. The the head coach at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he spoke on the same subject at the 2019 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Dallas.

Jarrett says offense revolves around hitting, short game, base running and two-strike toughness.

“That’s offense,” says Jarrett. “It’s just not swing and launch angle. It’s team.”

What about the stance?

“Where guys stand in relationship to the plate is probably under-taught, under-studied, under-utilized,” says Jarrett. “Where that hitter stands side-to-side is very important. Front-to-back, to me, is not as important.”

Jarrett says he moved one player out of 20 forward in the batter’s box during fall practice.

“The strike zone and the hitting zone is based on where you stand in relationship to the plate,” says Jarrett. “It always has been and always will be.

“You have to be able to cover the outside part of the plate and adjust in. Some guys might be slightly opened or slightly closed (with their stance). Where they end up is what I’m looking for.”

Jarrett says that hitters get things going in their swing with a negative move (an initial move away from the pitcher).

“As you load physically, you also need to prepare mentally to be aggressive, look where you’re looking and do damage,” says Jarrett, who notes that some hitters will step straight back and others will sink back.

To Jarrett’s way of thinking, there is less-than-two-strike hitting and there’s two-strike hitting.

With less than two strikes, the goal is to drive the ball.

Jarrett addressed toe touch.

“Where are we with our lower body when the front big toe and the ball of the foot lands?,” says Jarrett. “The launch position for me is really waist up.

“When (hitters) coil, I want their shoulder alignment with the “off” infielder (shoulder pointed at the shortstop for left-handed hitters and the second baseman for right-handed hitters).

“I like the top hand to be even with the back shoulder. Everything should be on one level plane.

“I look for the knob of the bat to sit over that back foot (when they get to the toe touch).”

Jarrett says he doesn’t the barrel of the bat wrapped too far behind the head.

“A good key is that the sweet spot of that bat gets to the mid-line of the head,” says Jarrett. “That’s a pretty good check point.”

Hitters then reach a 50-50 athletic position as they plant their heel.

When the back elbow gets near the hip, the back heel and back knee will start to come up.

When the swing is made, it is made an a parallel plane toward the pitcher.

Contact depth depends on the location of the pitch. The ball away is hit a little deeper. The middle ball is struck even with the front foot. To drive the inside ball, it must be contacted in front of the stride foot.

“I want the finish to match the timing, location and plane of the pitch,” says Jarrett. “Versus finishing with two hands or one hand, high or low.”

Jarrett says that hitters must be able to compete and that means tracking pitches.

Notre Dame hitters train for a 22-inch wide zone with emphasis on 11 inches, which may be away, middle or in.

“Hitting is timing and it’s fastball rhythm,” says Jarrett. “Can you time the fastball and hit off that?

“Can you make mid-pitch adjustments? The mid-pitch adjustment is really the hardest thing we have to do in our sport.”

An example would be hitting with two strikes and being ready for a 94 mph fastball and an 86 mph slider comes instead.

“You have to survive,” says Jarrett. “It’s done best if you are in a very consistent back-leg simple hitting position.”

Jarrett played with Todd Helton and against David Ortiz in the minor leagues.

“Todd Helton had the best focus and concentration I’ve ever seen,” says Jarrett. “He wasn’t as big as all those guys in the Eastern League with us. David Ortiz was probably the strongest. Helton was probably the most locked in pitch-to-pitch.”

Jarrett’s definition of approach is “a mental and physical strategy for competitive in-game success.”

“Approach development (happens) one pitch at a time,” says Jarrett. “If you’re hitters are locked in one pitch at a time every at-bat then you’re breaking it down into the proper dynamic of how to be successful.”

Jarrett says Helton’s one-pitch mindset, focus and toughness was Hall of Fame caliber.

“You have to have aggressive, but you also must be patient,” said Jarrett. “Helton was the most-disciplined hitter I saw.

“If you gave him what he was looking for, this guy was going to annihilate that. If he didn’t get it, he had enough patience to take it.”

In grading Quality At-Bats, Jarrett ranks contact on a 3-2-1 scale (whether it’s off front toss, the tee, a machine or live pitching).

“You got three points for doing a job,” says Jarrett. “The strikeout is still the Kryptonite of my QAB. I haven’t changed it any in 20 years.

“You have to be able to put the ball in play.”

Jarrett says overall fielding percentages in Major League Baseball are very good. It tends to go down for college baseball and again for high school baseball.

“The more we can put the ball in play with two strikes, the more chance we have to somehow score and somehow win. Period,” says Jarrett. “I’m not into the strikeout being just another out. It’s not. If you put it in play, there’s not guarantee it’s an out at all.”

Since college players don’t have the power of Aaron Judge and don’t hit the kind of rock-hard baseball they do in the majors, thinking balls will consistently leave the yard is the wrong approach.

“We have to hit as many line drives as we can possibly hit. End of story,” says Jarrett. “Do I want some of those to go out? Absolutely right.”

When he was coaching at Auburn University, the Tigers hit 131 home runs in one season and the bat was changed the next season to the BBCOR.

“Line drives win,” says Jarrett.

Hitters learn to “spit” on breaking balls or pitches they think they can’t put a “3” contact swing on.

“We are going to demolish the fastball,” says Jarrett. “The middle of our lineup should be fastball-and-adjust types of hitters.”

By training for all the possibilities in practice, Jarrett says hitters can sort pitchers into categories.

“Hey, lefties we’ve got to sit away,” says Jarrett. “Righties, you’ve got to sit in.”

Jarrett values tee work and that means adjusting them when necessary.

“If I can’t handle the zone off a tee, then I got the wrong tees,” says Jarrett. “You have to be able to navigate those zones.

“Put we the limit on that tee hard and say what they’re hitting — ’94 up and in.’ Thwack! ’Left-handed breaking ball down.’ Thwack!”

Jarrett prefers standing front toss so the path is similar to an actual pitch.

“When you’re sitting in a chair coming uphill, it doesn’t work,” says Jarrett.

Facilities sometimes dictate what teams can do in practice. Creativity is key.

He likes to utilize the long batting cage. He favors the two-wheel pitching machine because the hitter can see from the same game-like angle and the position of the wheels tells them where the ball is going to go.

At Notre Dame, the machine sits on the back level part of the mound 54 feet from the plate and is set for 80 to 83 mph.

“We don’t go at 94 mph,” says Jarrett. “If that machine is throwing that hard it just doesn’t correlate. I can’t explain it. I’m not a scientist.

“When it’s going 83 mph, to the hitter it feels like 90. It just does.”

Hitters take four to 10 swings per round.

Batting practice in the long cage is thrown from 36 to 40 feet.

“There has to be that little mechanism so they can track visually and time the ball,” says Jarrett. “It’s all about intensity and line drives.

“That cage stuff should be tough (and competitive).”

BP on the field is thrown from about 36 feet and is results-based with runners on-base.

Hitters may be asked to hit-and-run, hit behind the runner, safety squeeze etc.

“We want to use the field,” says Jarrett. “It’s not all pull. It’s not the other way.

“That whole field has to be used with some authority.”

There are individualized goals at various drill stations — cage, tee or on the field.

“Swing mechanics are individual,” says Jarrett. “It’s what you need. (Niko) Kavadas may not need to do with (Daniel) Jung is working on.

“I’ve got to work on each guy.”

There are also video skills sessions where things can be learned from a short video of four or five swings.

“We have 27 things offensively we can do,” says Jarrett. “(Players) have to understand all 27.”

Jarrett says team offensive evaluation includes how well a team runs the bases, reads the dirt balls, communicates with coaches, slides and so on.

Team offensive goals include on-base percentage of .400 and 30 percent of hits for extra bases. Elite offensive squads score seven runs per game.

Jarrett says there is a responsibility is being the man in charge.

“They’re going to call you Coach,” says Jarrett. “I still call my coaches, Coach.

“But, to me, there are some that I don’t know if they earned Coach. Were they accessible to help the guy play? Help them train. Everybody’s got a different type of facility. Do we keep it up?

“Do you study what they do and explain it to them, knowing that it’s the right stuff?”

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Link Jarrett is the first-year head baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

 

Fort Wayne Northrop hitting coach Gatchell shares philosophy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gary Gatchell is entering his 15th season as a high school baseball coach.

He was an assistant for eight seasons at his alma mater — Fort Wayne (Ind.) Concordia Lutheran — before going to Fort Wayne Northrop where he assists head coach Matt Brumbaugh.

Gatchell shared his approach and philosophy of teaching hitters at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics session Jan. 12 as a guest of Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.

“We make it as simple as we can for kids,” says Gatchell. “There are all kinds of talent ranges in high school.”

Some are bound for college. Others are beginners.

Gatchell, who also a private instructor, wants his hitters to alleviate tension.

“We get them to relax and eliminate the fear of failure as much as we can,” says Gatchell.

As his coach career has progressed, Gatchell has gone away from results. A batter can hit the ball squarely four hits in a game but it might find a glove every time.

“It’s about the process of putting together solid at-bats,” says Gatchell. “It’s about the process and not the result.”

Gatchell, Brumbaugh and the other Northrop coaches preach team and note that each hitter in the lineup — 1 through 9 — has a job to do whether it be setting the table, moving runners over or driving in runs.

The recent trend — as in Major League Baseball — is to get the best hitters to the top of the lineup to get them more at-bats.

Gatchell does not look much at statistics other than on-base percentage and walk/strikeout ratio.

He wants his hitters to stay at an even keel.

“We can’t ride a huge roller coaster of emotion at-bat to at-bat,” says Gatchell.

With BBCOR bats, especially, the home run is a rarity in high school.

“We want to maximize double potential,” says Gatchell. “It’s about baserunners and doubles.”

Gatchell also wants his hitters to keep strikeout totals as low as possible.

“You’ve got to put the ball in play,” says Gatchell. “We do not face gold glove infielders and outfielders in highs school or college. In pro ball, I get it.

“There are not a lot of errorless games in high school. We want to put pressure on the defense and give ourselves a chance at baserunners and scoring runs.”

Gatchell says he’d like to have a strikeout ratio close to 15 percent or about six per game.

Hitters are expected to be fastball hunters and aggressive.

“Time the fastball,” says Gatchell. “If you don’t want to see the breaking ball, take it. Fastballs are what you’re going to see for the most part (in high school).

“We want to be in swing mode until the pitch tells us not to (swing). The better the pitcher, the earlier we want to go. We don’t want to get behind in counts.”

Gatchell discourages check swings.

“We can’t do damage if we’re not decisive,” says Gatchell.

He also notes that the biggest swing count is 1-1.

“There are 200 (batting average) points difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Gatchell.

When it comes to two-strike hitting, Gatchell says batters must make a physical adjustment.

Since most pitchers will throw away, the hitter must then move up on the plate and spread out their stance a little bit. They may even choke up on the bat.

Legs are less important and the hands really do the work with two strikes.

“It’s a mindset of battling and grinding instead of giving in,” says Gatchell.

Before two strikes, the bunt can be another effective offensive weapon.

Hitters are seeking Quality At-Bats and Gatchell keeps track of these with a chart that reflects a plus, zero or minus score.

“Plus-10 (as a team) is pretty good,” says Gatchell. “We’ve had games in the 20’s. We’ve had negative games.”

While he has made some tweaks over the years, Gatchell is a believer in concepts taught by former big league hitting coach Charley Lau (The Art of Hitting .300).

Lau’s 10 absolutes of hitting:

1. Achieve a balanced stance.

2. Launch the bat from a 45-degree position off the back shoulder.

3. Develop a rhythm to alleviate tension.

4. Stride with front foot slightly closed.

5. Take a direct path to the ball; pull the knob to the ball.

6. Develop good weight transfer – from a firm rigid back-side to a firm rigid front-side.

7. Keep head still and down at contact.

8. Hit through the ball with lead arm extension and flat hands.

9. Finish the swing high.

10. Hit to all fields.

“My work with hitters almost always starts from the ground up,” says Gatchell. “Kids do not get near as much out of their legs as they should.”

The coach asks his hitters to get in an athletic position with feet shoulder width apart so they are able to load and drive to a rigid front-side.

Gatchell notes that hitting is getting in rhythm and in sync with the man delivering the baseball.

“If I’m stationary, I’m going to have a tough time getting on time with the pitcher,” says Gatchell.

To have hitters avoid “stepping in the bucket” Gatchell will have them be no-striders. They pick their lead foot up and put it back down in the same spot.

Most hitters will stride.

“We want to stride with our front hip closed,” says Gatchell. “I want to generate all the force I can back at the pitcher.

“You have to have that approach.”

Imagine Charlie Brown being blown up on the mound after his delivery.

“We land slightly open,” says Gatchell. “The longer our (bat) barrel is in the (strike) zone, the more chance we have of being successful.”

To emphasize keeping the head down at contact, Gatchell will sometimes have them bury the head during drills.

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Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School baseball hitting coach Gary Gatchell wants his hitters taking the ball back up the middle. Imagine Charlie Brown being blown up on the mound after his delivery. (Peanuts Pow! Photo)

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Gary Gatchell, the baseball hitting coach at Fort Wayne (Northrop) High School, demonstrates during a Huntington North Hot Stove clinics session Jan. 12. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Gary Gatchell, baseball hitting coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, passes along his philosophy to attendees at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics session Jan. 12. Gatchell played and coached at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Ulrey insists his Kankakee CC batters hit the ball hard

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nick Ulrey instructs the catchers and hitters in the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College baseball program and teaches lessons to youngsters.

The former New Palestine (Ind.) High School, KCC and University of Missouri St. Louis player wants them all to see hitting in three parts — approach, timing and swing.

“The approach is what you can control 100 percent of the time,” says Ulrey. “You’re timing and swing aren’t going to be perfect every time.”

That approach includes always trying to hit the ball hard.

“I preach hard-hit balls rather than launch angle,” says Ulrey. “We’re never thinking about hitting a ball over the fence. We’re always trying to hit the ball through the center field wall.

“Even with two strikes, we will shorten up but we are still driving the baseball.”

Ulrey wants his hitters to have Quality At-Bats. He defines a QAB as one that results in the following: a hard-hit ball, seven-pitch at-bat, single, double, triple, home run, sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly, walk, hit by pitch or moving the runner over with no outs.

When it comes to the swing, Ulrey works with the hitter’s natural tendencies.

“I’m not a one-way guy,” says Ulrey. “They might be down and through the zone as a contact hitter or a power hitter with a little higher launch angle.

“I make sure they’re getting the work they need and I stress talking about the mental side of the game.”

The verbiage Ulrey uses with hitters is always positive.

He asks them to “drive the ball the other way” rather than “getting themselves out” to move a runner.

“You never want to give your AB away,” says Ulrey.

Rarely has Ulrey given away a day to be around baseball. He’s at KCC games and practices six days a week this fall.

On Sundays, he travels back to Greenfield, Ind., for instruction at The Yard Sports Complex, owned and operated by older brother Chris Ulrey.

Seven years older than Nick, Chris has served as a guide to his younger brother and even served a year on the KCC staff during Nick’s sophomore season with the Cavaliers.

“(Chris) is a great mentor,” says Nick Ulrey. “Ninety percent of what I know as a hitting coach, I learned from him.”

When he’s not working with KCC players or those at The Yard, Ulrey is running camps at Fundamentals Sports Academy in Dwight, Ill.

“I’m around the game seven days a week,” says Ulrey, 24. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stray away from that.

“It’s what I love to do.”

That comes across to the athletes he is instructing.

“Players are real receptive to what you’re saying,” says Ulrey. “Most people want to get to the next level.”

Ulrey played four years of baseball at New Palestine. He was mostly a junior varsity player as a freshman and Al Cooper was the varsity head coach. Shawn Lyons took over the Dragons in Ulrey’s sophomore year.

The father of classmate Corey Lyons, Shawn Lyons had coached Nick and his son on New Palestine youth teams.

“He prepared me more than I ever could hope for,” says Ulrey of the elder Lyons. “We were learning mental side of the game at 10. He prepared me well for the college level.”

Ulrey’s collegiate career started at KCC in 2013, where he started both years behind the plate. He was an all-National Junior College Athletic Association Region 4 performer and is on eight career hitting record lists.

He transferred to NCAA Division II UMSL, where he was a two-time all-Great Lakes Valley Conference selection and led the conference both years in runners caught stealing.

Ulrey was brought to St. Louis by Jim Brady, who died of cancer in 2017 as Ulrey was about to begin his coaching career with the Tritons.

“He was a great man and an even better coach,” says Ulrey of Brady.

Cory Wahl took over the USML program.

“He was a well-rounded guy,” says Ulrey. “He coached at several schools, (including an assistant stint at Vincennes University) he was very versatile and brought a lot of knowledge to UMSL. I learned a lot from him.”

Ulrey holds a degree in Criminal Justice from UMSL.

At Kankakee, Todd Post is the head coach and (former Valparaiso University pitcher) Bryce Shafer is the other assistant.

“He knows more about the game than any coach I’ve ever met,” says Ulrey of Post has led the KCC program since 2001 and earned an NJCAA Division II national title in 2017. “(Shafer) does an unbelievable job with the pitchers and strength and conditioning.”

KCC players spend plenty of time in the weight room in the fall, winter and spring. They are on individualized programs designed to improve weaknesses and enhance strengths.

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Nick Ulrey, a New Palestine (Ind.) High School graduate, is a baseball assistant coach at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College. (Kankakee Community College Photo)

 

Process among points of emphasis for Brabender, Northridge Raiders baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seeing the value in the process, staying with trends and building relationships.

That’s what baseball coaching is all about for Andrew Brabender, who enters his 11th season in charge at Northridge High School in 2018.

“I believe in the little things, the process of things,” says Brabender. “It’s getting kids to buy into doing the things that need to happen for the end result to happen. We’re not not looking toward the end result, but the little wins that happen throughout the process to get us to the end.

“I believe in staying current. It’s a great time to coach baseball. At the tips of your fingers you have Twitter, YouTube videos, apps and other gadgets.

“The guys on my staff are eager to learn and they really want to be current. What is the best stuff out there? What are the elite hitters doing? What are the elite throwers doing? What are the elite infielders doing and how do we make our kids do that?”

One way Brabender and his assistants — James Greensides, Dyrk Miller, Mike Miller, Blake Fry and Arick Doberenz — get players to focus on the path itself and not its end is the Raider Process Index, a system modified from Justin Dehmer and his 1 Pitch Warrior teachings.

“If we do this, this and this, the end result is going to take care of itself,” says Brabender, who has helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional championship (2015) and numerous conference titles.

The first section in the Raider Process Index is the Freebie War, which counts Northridge totals vs. opponents for errors, walks, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, strikeouts, stolen bases and dead-ball reads.

The second section is Pressure (or Press). Point totals are given for:

• Producing a big inning (10 points).

• Rally scored. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Eliminated rally scores. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Scored first. If Yes (10 points).

• Scored with two outs. If Yes (5 points).

The game goal is 30 points.

The third section is Quality At-Bats. QAB points can be given for a hard-hit ball (fly ball), freebie (walk, hit-by-pitch, error, catcher’s interference), moving a runner with no outs, a base hit or extra base hit, a six-pitch at-bat not ending in a strikeout and an nine-pitch at-bat even ending in a strikeout.

The overall RPI target is 48 points.

“We want to put pressure on the other team,” says Brabender. “We want to score first. We always want to have a shutdown inning after a big inning.

“This Raider Process Index is way for our kids to stay with the process. If we do that, the winning will take care of itself.”

Brabender regularly posts the RPI and QAB in the dugout.

“We don’t show our kids batting average,” says Brabender. “We just show them Quality At-Bats.

“They may have went 0-for-3 hitting, but went 2-for-3 in Quality At-Bats. That’s a good day. We’ve got lots of things in place for kids to value the process. You can’t just say it. You have to have things that will show them that we all value the process.”

For years, the Raiders have employed the mental training methods of sports psychologist Brian Cain.

The past five years, all Northridge players have been on a Driveline weighted ball throwing program.

Brabender says there are many benefits but the top ones are that is that it force feeds good arm action as well as arm development and the ability to throw with intent.

This year marks the second year that the Raiders are using a weighted Axe Bat regimen and the first year they’re really “diving into head-first, full speed ahead.”

The Axe Bat features overloaded and underloaded bats, which teaches intent and body positioning.

“With every kid in our program, exit velocity is up from the first time that we tested,” says Brabender, who has seen gains in hitting and throwing.

Exit velocity is measured with radar guns and with Blast Vision motion capture technology, which keeps track of all the post-contact metrics (things like launch angle, exit velocity and the distance the ball traveled). Blast Motion is used for pre-contact measurements.

Brabender has employed Blast Motion for three years and this is his first using Blast Vision.

Video analysis is also done with a RightView Pro app.

The Raiders boss was not talking about Launch Angle a decade ago.

“Now that’s all we talk about,” says Brabender, who had his youth campers hit on an upward plane. They were competing Saturday to get as many balls above a line on the curtain in the NHS fieldhouse. Below that line of 20 degrees or so was a groundout. Too far above it was a fly ball out.

“That’s what we call result-oriented training,” says Brabender. “That’s straight from (former Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs and current Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach) John Mallee. He does a ton of that.

“It forces kids to put their bodies in the right position to make something happen. If it’s not happening, they’re not doing it correctly.”

Northridge (enrollment around 1,400) belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). It is a double-round robin 14-game slate. Except for the final week of the NLC season, conference games will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Raiders are grouped at 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

What about the 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)?

“We’ve always believed in it,” says Brabender. “One of the things that’s always made our program strong is the amount of depth we’ve created in our pitching. Most of the kids in our program are going to pitch.

“I don’t think you can have enough arms at this level. In my 11 years, we’ve only had a handful of kids go over 100 pitches.

“Unless you’ve got someone with plus velocity — I’m talking 85 mph plus — you’re just asking for trouble. Getting a new guy in there just gives (the opponent) a different look anyway.”

Andrew’s father talked about the “24-hour rule.” A pitcher’s rest would go an hour by number of pitches thrown. That makes 24 hours if he throws 24 pitches and so on.

It comes down to the welfare of the player.

“It’s important that if kids want to play at the collegiate level, they’re healthy enough to do that,” says Brabender

Former Northridge players currently on college rosters include Shannon Baker and Brock Logan at Fort Wayne, Sam Troyer at Evansville, Matt Miller and Andy Ross at Indiana University South Bend and Andrew Kennedy at Taylor.

So far, current Raiders seniors Cody Bible (Indiana University Kokomo) and Dylan Trick (Spring Arbor University) have made college commitments.

Many Northridge players are part of travel baseball organizations like the Indiana Chargers, Michiana Scrappers and Middlebury Mavericks. Brabender and company also conduct coach clinic and player camps for Middlebury Little League.

Andrew is the son of Tom and Dorothy Brabender. Tom, who died in 2015, played football at Western Illinois University for Lou Saban and was a baseball coach in central Illinois for 40-plus years.

“The biggest thing from my dad was the way he related to his players,” says Andrew. “For them to follow what you want to accomplish, there has to be some likability.”

Brabender sees it as his duty to figure out a way to relate to each athlete in some way. He saw his father do it. Tom Brabender coached American Legion baseball into his late 60’s and was still relating with teenage players.

“That’s not easy,” says Andrew. “I hope I’m doing that here. I feel like I am. I want them to value the relationship with me more than baseball and for them to know that I’ve always got their back no matter what.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”

Before becoming head coach at Northridge, Brabender served one season as an assistant to Troy Carson — a man he also coached with in the Raiders football program.

Before Northrdge, Brabender spent three seasons as a baseball assistant to Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central High School.

Prior coming to Elkhart County, Brabender followed his last two seasons as a baseball player at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri with two seasons on the Trojans coaching staff.

His coach and then his boss was Scott Ashton, who brought Brabender to the NAIA school after he played two seasons of junior college ball at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., following his graduation in 1996 from St. Teresa High School in Decatur, Ill.

“He was a huge influence in my life — spiritually, baseball-wise,” says Brabender of Ashton, who is now Mid-Missouri director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and team chaplain for University of Missouri baseball, football and softball. “He taught me how to be a man We’re still close. We talk as much as we can.

“He’s a mentor me not just with baseball but my walk with the Lord.”

Ashton came along at a rough time in Brabender’s life.

In 1998, Andrew was playing in a wood bat tournament in Evansville and his parents and girlfriend (later wife) Marcie were there to watch. When they got home, they learned that Jason Brabender — Andrew’s brother — had been killed in a car accident.

“It was devastating,” says Andrew. “It was a crossroads in a lot of different avenues in our lives.”

Marcie, who Andrew met at Lake Land, had committed to play basketball at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hannibal-LaGrange was one of the few schools that was recruiting both Andrew and Marcie.

“We just took that leap and that’s where we ended up,” says Brabender. “It worked out great. I met some dear lifelong friends there. Marcie was part of the national tournament team in 2000. Two of my buddies from Lake Land ended up transferring there. It was cool.”

Andrew and Marcie married in the summer of 2000. They have four children — Emma (16), Beau (12), Kate (8) and Luke (6). Andrew grew up with an older sister, Mindy, and months ago found out he has another sibling named Lisa.

During the school day, Brabender teaches physical education for Grades K-5 at two Middlebury Community Schools buildings — Jefferson Elementary and Heritage Intermediate.

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Andrew Brabender is entering his his 11th season as head baseball at Northridge High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Bunnell has Westfield playing with character, commitment

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Bunnell might change the words of his mantra from time to time to stay fresh.

But the head baseball coach at Westfield High School in Hamilton County, Indiana, continues to run a program based on character, commitment, hard work and extra effort.

“Everyone has influence,” says Bunnell. “How they use that influence is up to them.”

Bunnell has been in charge of the Shamrocks since the 2003 season, meaning 2017-18 is his 16th as coach and 15th as a WHS teacher.

The Rocks have won well over 200 games to go with three sectional (2008, 2009, 2011), one regional (2009), one semistate (2009) and one state runner-up finish (2009) plus four Hoosier Crossroads Conference titles (2009, 2010, 2013, 2015) on Bunnell’s watch.

Kevin Plawecki, who is now a catcher with the New York Mets, was a senior and batted No. 3 for Westfield in the 2009 IHSAA Class 4A State Finals then played at Purdue University before beginning his professional baseball career. Plawecki still stays in contact with Bunnell.

A 1991 graduate of Northwestern High School in Kokomo, where he played for coach Kent LeBeau, Bunnell put in one season at Huntington College (now Huntington University) for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame and finished his college studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Bunnell likes his Shamrocks to “stay in the present” and “control the controllable.”

Knowing when the make the right play and quality at-bats are valued highly by Westfield baseball. QAB points can come from hard-hit balls, walks, hit-by-pitch, stolen bases, dirt-ball reads and other things.

The Rocks look to “win the freebie war” — meaning they give up fewer walks, errors, etc., and seeks have more big innings (defined by three runs or more) than the opponents. They have crunched the numbers at Westfield and know the win percentage is high when the Rocks have more big innings than their foes.

It’s a philosophy Bunnell picked up at a clinic from former Mississippi State University coach John Cohen and it’s kind of thing that happened frequently in successful Westfield seasons like 2009.

Bunnell says the program usually sees up to 70 kids try out for about 50 spots on three teams — varsity and two junior varsity squads (Green and White). Having two JV units allows for flexibility and playing time. For instance, the Rocks had five catchers in the freshmen class in 2017 and just one among the sophomores.

Westfield’s 2018 coaching staff is to include John Oestreich (pitching coach), Mike Hansen (third base/catchers coach), Bill Lindsey (hitting/corner infielders coach), Kevin Entwistle (JV Green/outfielders coach) and Evan Kosmoski (JV White/pitching coach).

All JV home games are played at Grand Park with some varsity games being moved there if wet weather means the Rocks can’t play on-campus. With this relationship, Bullpen Tournaments is allowed to use the Westfield varsity field for some of its summer tournaments.

Feeding the program are recreation and 12U to 15U travel teams (Westfield Rocks) from Westfield Youth Sports, Inc., plus middle school squads that play at Shamrock Springs Elementary.

“Baseball is strong here for sure,” says Bunnell.

A portion of Bunnell’s summers is spent with wife Michell and four children (Kaylie, A.J., Cooper and Beau) and coaching with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.

“They have been very good to me,” says Bunnell. “We don’t practice a whole lot in the summer. The crispness of the game gets away. We need that repetition in practice.”

The coach approves of the pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA in 2017 (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).

“These are young kids and they are still developing and kids are throwing harder than ever,” says Bunnell, who had tended to use his starters once a week during the regular season with a non-conference game on Tuesday and conference contests on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The past few seasons the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (which has featured Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Zionsville and will add Franklin Central in 2018-19) has employed a three-game series for baseball and Bunnell has been a fan of the format.

“You get a true conference champion,” says Bunnell. “I’ll be sad to see it go (if it goes away with the growth of the conference or reduction in the number of games allowed by the IHSAA).”

Currently, the association allows 28 games plus a tournament prior to the state tournament series.

If he had his way, the season would actually expand, state tournament stages would be seeded and championships would be determined by a series or at least through double-elimination.

“It would create excitement and it would be great to see it showcased that way,” says Bunnell. “We have to stop with the one-size-fits-all approach. Each sport has its uniqueness.”

With the HCC format, the Friday game under the lights has often drawn big crowds and taken on the atmosphere of prep football.

Of course more games would necessitate more time to get postseason games in and there are already issues now where sectional games have to be played from Wednesday through Monday and still adhere to pitch count rules.

Bunnell said this narrow window, the draw and variables like weather and graduation ceremonies can put teams on one side of the bracket at a serious disadvantage.

How would seeding work?

Bunnell notes that it is done in Ohio and rankings such as those produced by MaxPreps could be used.

“There are a lot of options,” says Bunnell.

To concentrate on mental toughness, Westfield athletes take part annually in Shamrock Advantage Week. In brief after-school sessions, speakers cover various topics like mindfulness, trust building and becoming an elite competitor. Bunnell has been one of those SAW presenters.

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Ryan Bunnell is going into his 16th season as head baseball coach at Westfield High School in 2017-18.

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