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Thurston now leading Southwestern Rebels on diamond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nearly a decade after guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Thurston is back in that role.

Hired as School Resource Officer at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Ind., in January 2020, he became Rebels head baseball coach around mid-year.

Thurston was head coach at nearby Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School 2009-11 while also serving as D.A.R.E officer in the junior high. He resigned as baseball coach when he became chief of the City of Madison Police Department.

Meanwhile, he headed up Long Toss Indiana LLC and the Indiana Rawlings Tigers LLC, helping players with arm care and Mental Toughness Training.

A few years ago, Thurston sold the businesses as a package. He was invited by head coach Grant Bellak to join the Hanover College coaching staff and had spent 2019 and 2020 with the Panthers when the opportunities came along at Southwestern.

“One thing I really enjoyed about Hanover was the personal interaction with players,” says Thurston, who played tennis, basketball and baseball at Mooresville (Ind.) High School and baseball at Hanove. “They knew where they were in life and where they were going to go. They were thankful to play more baseball. But it’s probably not going to be their profession after college.

“I learned so much in the last two years about how to run a program and how to run a practice. I think I’ll be a much better coach than I was before.”

As SRO, Thurston estimates that he spends more than half his time on relationships with the rest split between counseling and his law enforcement duties.

Until becoming coach, he got to know students as people and not as athletes. 

Thurston took the coaching job in time to lead a few summer workouts in June and then guided IHSAA Limited Contact Period activities in the fall.

“It was intrasquad games, (batting practice), infield drills and arm care. We did long toss to stretch arms out,” says Thurston. “Looking back on it, it more about me getting to the know the kids and the program and them getting to know me and my style.

“My style has evolved over the years. At Madison — to a fault — I was a little bit of a control freak. Now I have really good assistants and I expect them to coach.”

Thurston’s Rebels staff includes Ethan Leach, Brian Crank and Brendon Bump.

Leach played at Madison Consolidated and Indiana University Southeast. Crank, who is dean of students and junior varsity boys basketball coach at Southwestern, played at Franklin (Ind.) College an was a JV coach for Thurston at Madison. Pitching coach Bump took the mound for Marshall University (Huntington, W.Va.) and was on Shayne Stock’s Hanover coaching staff.

Winter conditioning began at Southwestern last week. Thurston expects around 22 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring.

Southwestern (enrollment around 375) is a member of the Ohio River Valley Conference (with Jac-Cen-Del, Milan, Rising Sun, Shawe Memorial, South Ripley and Switzerland County).

ORVC teams play each other twice on a home-and-home basis.

Though it may not happen in 2021, Thurston says he would like those games to come in the same week.

“That avoids team having one really good pitcher to space out their conference games and pitch the same kid in every game,” says Thurston. “You get more of a true team conference champion.”

Super ATV Field, located on the Southwestern campus, has a turfed home plate area. A new scoreboard — never used with the cancellation of the 2020 season — is expected to be in-place for the Rebels’ first home game of 2021.

Thurston says there’s talk of lighting the field and expanding the dugouts.

“Of course that comes down to that almighty dollar,” says Thurston.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Milan, North Decatur, South Decatur, South Ripley and Switzerland County. Southwestern’s lone sectional title came in 1999.

The Madison Cubs are on the Rebels’ schedule. Southwestern has never beaten Madison in varsity baseball. When the Rebels won the Class 2A Jeffersonville Regional in 1999, the Cubs and Indiana Mr. Baseball Bryan Bullington won the 3A state championship.

“I’m going to be low key,” says Thurston of this spring’s Southwestern-Madison meeting. “I’m going to treat it just like any other game.

“There’s no pressure for us to win.”

Thurston is also a regional scout for SportsForce Baseball — a recruiting service that helps players find the best fit at the college level.

Last summer, he was able to help athletes while serving as a tournament director for Pastime Tournaments

“I often tell players to take baseball out of the equation,” says Thurston. “Is it the right fit academically, financially and socially? Is it the right distance from home and the right size of school?

“Check all the other boxes first. If baseball is important to you, let’s go somewhere we can play. Some are OK with being the program guy.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic has come extra years of eligibility for college players. Thurston says his gut tells him that it may be until 2023 before the trickle-down effect that hits younger college players — and even high schoolers — settles down.

There has traditionally been youth baseball run by the Hanover parks department. Southwestern schedules up to 20 games in the spring for its junior team of seventh and eighth graders.

Recent Southwestern graduate Bailey Elliott is on the baseball roster at Vincennes (Ind.) University. Thurston says he expects the Rebels to produce more college players in the next few years.

Dan and wife Jackie Thurston will be married 32 years in March. The couple has three children — Trey (29), Ryan (26) and Trisha (22).

Trey Thurston is in veterinary school at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.

Left-handed pitcher Ryan Thurston played at Madison Consolidated and Western Kentucky University and in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He was with the independent Chicago Dogs and Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2019 and is expected to be back with that club in 2021. Gary did not field a team in 2020 and Thurston went with the indy Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and Winnipeg Goldeyes.

University of Cincinnati graduate Trisha Thurston works for Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati.

Dan Thurston was an assistant baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College in 2019 and 2020. He is now head coach at Southwestern High School in Hanover.
Dan Thurston is the head baseball coach at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Ind., and a regional scout for SportsForce Baseball. He was head coach at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School 2009-11 and the formerly owned Long Toss Indiana LLC and Indiana Rawlings Tigers LLC.

Even without minor league season, Roncalli, Louisville grad McAvene keeps on pitching

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael McAvene is doing his best to keep the momentum rolling in his baseball career.

The right-handed pitcher had to push the pause button during his high school and college days because of injury and now he’s at a standstill period as a professional because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down Minor League Baseball in 2020.

McAvene is a 2016 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, playing for three head coaches. He made a few varsity appearances as a freshman for Keith Hatfield in 2013, even more as a sophomore for Daron Spink in 2014, missed his junior season with the Rebels with elbow issues in 2015 and was part of an IHSAA Class 4A state championship team as a senior for Aaron Kroll in 2016.

As a University of Louisville freshman in the spring of 2017, McAvene was hurt in an April relief stint and soon found himself on the operating table. His next pitch in a collegiate game came April 2018.

After getting into seven games (five as a starter) and going 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 17 1/3 innings as a U of L freshman, McAvene went to the bullpen when he came back from his surgery.

The righty made 34 appearances out of the bullpen his last two collegiate seasons, going 2-1 with nine saves, a 3.32 earned run average, 65 strikeouts and 18 walks in 43 1/3 innings. He was named second team all-Atlantic Coast Conference in 2019.

The Cardinals qualified for the NCAA Tournament 2017-19 and went to the College World Series in 2017 and 2019

U of L was ranked No. 1 in the nation during part of that stretch and McAvene was labeled as the team’s closer during the end of that run.

“I loved it,” says McAvene. “You have to have a certain mentality for (that role).

“It came easy for me to get the last out of the game, which in my opinion is the last out to get.”

It was while going for that last out that McAvene received an automative four-game suspension following his ejection for disputing an umpire’s decision in NCAA regional victory over Indiana University.

He counts it as part of his experience. 

“I definitely didn’t want to talk about it (immediately after the game),” says McAvene. “But you’ve got to be professional and not let emotions get in the way.”

McAvene cherished the atmosphere created at Louisville by head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

“(McDonnell) gets you to the point where you’d run through a wall for him and your teammates,” says McAvene. “That’s the culture.

“It’s a testament to the players and the type of people he brings in.”

Williams pushed his pitchers.

“He taught me what it takes to be successful at this level,” says McAvene of Williams. “He’s a very challenging guy. He expects us to be on top of our games at all times. He won’t accept less. He made us accountable.

“When it’s your time, you’re all that’s out there. You have to execute and do all you can to get your team to win.”

McAvene says Williams is one of the best game callers in the country and his scouting reports are second to none.

“(McDonnell and Williams are) two of the most legendary coaches in the history of college baseball and they’re just starting,” says McAvene, who was selected in the third round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs

Appearing in six games with the 2019 Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, he went 0-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 20 strikeouts and four walks in 12 2/3 innings. Of 199 pitches, 126 were thrown for strikes.

The way the organization is currently formed, the next step on the ladder would be with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs.

McAvene faced some hitters before spring training and he’s since had some competitive bullpen sessions while following the program laid out by the Cubs. He just hasn’t delivered a pitch in a game since Aug. 31, 2019.

“I have a pretty good player plan sent out by the Cubs,” says McAvene. “I just can’t replicate in-game reps.”

While some of his former Louisville teammates have been involved in the four-team Battle of the Bourbon Trail independent league in Florence and Lexington, McAvene has stayed in central Indiana to train.

The McAvenes family — Rob, Jennifer, Michael and Bradley — lived for years near Camby, near Mooresville, and now reside in Danville.

It’s about a 10-minute trip to Plainfield to work out at the home of his former Ben Davis Little League and Indiana Outlaws travel coach, Jay Hundley, along with pros Jacson McGowan (who played at Brownsburg High School and Purdue University and is now in the Tampa Bay Rays system) and Nick Schnell (who was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Roncalli in 2018 and is also with the Rays), Indiana University left-hander Zach Behrmann (Indianapolis North Central graduate) and others. 

McAvene was able to retire most high school hitters with a fastball and a breaking ball. 

While starting at Louisville, he began to get a feel for a change-up. When he went to the back of the Cards’ pen, he used a fastball, slider and curveball and, essentially, shelved the change-up on the shelf.

Given a chance to return to starting with the Cubs, McAvene again began working to get comfortable with throwing a “circle” change — a grip taught to him by a friend while he was with the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer of 2018.

“I knew my curveball and my slider were only going to get me so far,” says McAvene. “The change-up sets apart good players from great players.”

Throwing from a low three-quarter arm angle, McAvene throws more two-seam fastballs than four-seamers.

“It has a sinker action,” says McAvene of the two-seamer that registers as a sinker on Cubs’ analytic equipment like Rapsodo and TrackMan. “My arm slot allows for a lot of downward action on it.

“I wanted to make sure I’ve got some lateral movement on it. The sink is an added bonus.”

McAvene’s curve has morphed. He used to throw the pitch in the traditional manner with a sweeping motion. 

“I switched the grip to a knuckle curve to get more depth,” says McAvene. “It pairs well with my fastball and slider.”

As for the slider, McAvene was throwing it at Eugene at 86 to 90 mph.

“It has a very hard and tight break,” says McAvene of the slider. “The movement is late and right at the very end.”

After the 2019 season, McAvene finished his Sports Administration degree, graduating magna cum laude in December.

McAvene, who turned 23 on Aug. 24, says he was hopeful that there might be fall instructional league with the Cubs this year. But since it’s already September and Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are still figuring out the terms of their agreement, that looks improbable.

Born in the same Indianapolis hospital where his mother has spent 30 years as an ICU nurse (IU Health University), McAvene grew up in the Mooresville area. He was an Mooresville Little League all-star from 9 to 11 — the last two with his father as coach (Rob McAvene is now an independent distributor for Pepperidge Farms) — before his one year at Ben Davis Little League. 

Before attending Roncalli, Michael spent Grades K-6 at North Madison Elementary in Camby and middle school at Saint Mark Catholic School on the south side of Indianapolis.

Bradley McAvene (18) is a 2020 graduate of Indiana Connections Academy.

Michael McAvene pitched for the University of Louisville. (Prospects Live Video)
Michael McAvene is a 2016 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, where he helped the Rebels win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a senior.
Michael McAvene pitched at the University of Louisville 2017-19. He was the Cardinals closer at the end of that stretch. Louisville went to the College World Series in 2017 and 2019. (University of Louisville Photo)
Michael McAvene, a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and the University of Louisville, was drafted by the Chicago Cubs and pitched for the Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds in 2019. (Photo by Aussiedi Photography)

Relationships key for Hundley, Canes Midwest Baseball

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coaching continuity is one of the ingredients that helps fuel the Canes Midwest Baseball travel program.

In order to build relationships and develop players, coaching staffs tend to stay with the same group of players from their 14U through 17U seasons.

“If I’ve only been around these kids for eight weeks in summer, I don’t really get to know the kid and the family,” says Jay Hundley, Canes Midwest Baseball president and 17U head coach. “The cycle — I believe in that.”

Hundley recalls an emotional goodbye by himself and his assistant coaches to the Canes 17U team when they played their last game of 2019.

“We cried like babies for 25 minutes straight,” says Hundley. “(The players and their parents) became our second family.”

That bond happens through years of training (off-season workouts are done at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.), traveling and playing together. 

In 2020, Canes Midwest Baseball is fielding six teams — 11U (head coach Eric McGaha with help from Joe Haley), 12U (Jamie Nanny with Jeremy Sensenbaugh), 13U (Jeff Millington with Ryan Wolfe), 15U (Jeremy Honaker with Drew Koning and Drew Bertram), 16U (Phil McIntyre with David Bear) and 17U (Hundley with Phillip Webb, Ben McDaniel and Hunter McIntosh). 

McGaha (Mooresville), Honaker (Martinsville), McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central), Bear (Ben Davis), Webb (Western Boone) and McDaniel (Columbus North) are all high school head coaches. Sensenbaugh (Indianapolis Cathedral), Koning (Zionsville) and McIntosh (Columbus North) are also high school assistants. Bertram played at Purdue University and just graduated.

Hundley says there will be teams at each age from 10U to 17U when new squads are formed for 2020-21.

“We’ll only only ever have only one team per age group,” says Hundley. “We want to have the best kids and coaches. We’re trying to grow it the right way — slowly and surely.

“We’ve had the same coaches for almost 10 years.”

Hundley founded the Indiana Outlaws around 2012. A few years ago, that organization merged with Canes Baseball.

With President and CEO and 18U National head coach Jeff Petty and general manager and 14U National head coach Dan Gitzen based in the Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina area, Canes Baseball is one of the biggest travel programs in the country with thousands of players and a very large social media presence.

“The Outlaws were known in Indiana and surrounding areas,” says Hundley. 

While Canes Midwest Baseball is locally owned and operated, Hundley says the national Canes brand helps with outreach in getting better players and with exposure to college programs.

Canes Midwest Baseball does not have a huge board of directors.

“It’s like a mom-and-pop operation,” says Hundley. “It’s myself and our coaches. It’s about baseball at the end of the day. 

“We’re getting guys into college and developing our younger players. We build great relationships with families. We do it for the right reasons.”

Hundley says 21 of the 23 players on the 17U team in 2019 (members of the Class of 2020) made college baseball commitments.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 college season was cut short and players were given an extra year of eligibility. High school seniors missed the entire spring campaign.

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was sliced from 40 to five rounds. 

On top of that, the recruiting calendar for NCAA Divisions I and II was changed so coaches can’t see players in-person until after July 31. The travel season is essentially over by then.

To deal with that, Hundley says Canes Midwest Baseball will continue to provide those college coaches with video and use the equity built built over the years between the travel group and the college recruiters.

“We have to vouch for our player’s character, but we can’t oversell a player who’s not a fit for the school or we lose credibility,” says Hundley. “(Recruiters) can see a guy’s talent, but can’t see what’s in his heart or between his ears.”

It’s typical that close to 90 percent of players are committed by the end of the 17U summer.

Hundley says that it used to be that the 17U summer was the most important for players bound for Division I Power 5 programs. 

That has changed to 16U and some players have even made verbal commitments as 15U players. At 17U, there are still D-I commitments made as well as at other collegiate levels.

“The landscape has changed so much,” says Hundley. “There may be a chain reaction for three or four years. There are a lot of guys that didn’t leave college because of not being drafted.

“The waters have gotten very muddy. I don’t think it’s going to get clear for awhile.”

The 17U Canes Midwest team has already participated in three events for 2020. This week, the squad goes to the Prep Baseball Report Midwest Premier Super 17 at Creekside Baseball Park — an invitational-only tournament near Kansas City. That will be followed by the PBR Indiana Upperclass State Games and Bullpen 17 Amateur Baseball Championships (both at Grand Park in Westfield), the PBR 17U National Championship at LakePoint near Atlanta. 

Depending on participation by college recruiters, Hundley says the 17U Canes Midwest team might also play in the next Bullpen Midwest Prospect League event at Grand Park.

With their bright gold attire, it’s usually not difficult to spot the Canes at a tournament.

Hundley is a 1997 graduate of Ben Davis High School and played for head coach Dave Brown. Later on, Hundley was a Ben Davis assistant for six years and followed Aaron Kroll to staff Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and was on his staff 2015-19. 

The Roncalli Rebels — junior Michael McAvene was the winning pitcher (who later played at the University of Louisville and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2019) and sophomore Nick Schnell (who was selected as Indiana Mr. Baseball in 2018 and drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays that same year) —  won the 2016 IHSAA Class 4A state title. McAvene and Schnell are also Outlaws/Canes Midwest alums.

Other Outlaws/Canes Midwest players drafted in recent years include Jacson McGowan (Rays, 2018), Drew Campbell (Atlanta Braves, 2019), Andrew Saalfrank (Arizona Diamondbacks, 2019).

For the past 22 years, Hundley has been part of the concrete construction industry. He is the owner of Extreme Concrete Cutting, Inc.

The Canes Midwest travel baseball organization has six teams in 2020.
Jay Hundley (center) is the head coach and president of the Canes Midwest travel organization. The graduate of Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis started the Indiana Outlaws and later merged with the Canes.
Jay Hundley (right) with son Bronx Robert Hundley. Jay is the president and coach of Canes Midwest travel baseball.

Assistant Kuester contributes to Southern Indiana diamond success

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

University of Southern Indiana baseball has enjoyed plenty of success since Tracy Archuleta stepped on campus at the Evansville school.

His first season leading the Screaming Eagles was 2007. Since then, USI has won nearly 500 games with a pair of NCAA Division II national championships (2010 and 2014).

Jeremy Kuester has been a part of much of it. The 2020 season — cut to 14 games by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic — was his 11th spring on the Southern Indiana coaching staff.

Kuester’s main responsibility?

“I make sure Coach Archuleta has everything in line,” says Kuester, who took the job in August 2009 after a playing career as an outfielder, first baseman and left-handed pitcher. “We both do everything. I work with pitchers 70 to 80 percent of the time. But he will go with the pitchers and I’ll go with the hitters.

“It’s nice to have a fresh set of eyes so we go back and forth — whatever we feel is most beneficial for the guys.”

Kuester has been asked many times what makes Archuleta a winner.

“What’s his secret sauce for success?,” says Kuester. “He connects with people really well. He can take a group of guys then pull the best out of each and every one of those guys.

“He’s a very intense, very driven individual with a lot of knowledge.”

Not that Archuleta won’t laugh on the diamond. He does like to do that on occasion.

“He knows when it’s time to joke around and time to be serious,” says Kuester.

The Screaming Eagles coaching staff, which also includes Andy Lasher and volunteer Kevin Brown, sets the expectations high. Lasher was recently named head coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University.

“We make sure they’re aware of what they need to accomplish every single day,” says Kuester.

As recruiting coordinator, Kuester looks to bring as much talent to the program as possible.

He says the difference between D-II and D-I often comes down to depth. D-I tends to have more of it. Plus, D-I can give 11.7 scholarships per year and D-II can grant 9. Not fully-funded, USI tends to bestow between 6 and 7.

From a player’s’ perspective, he might also crack the lineup sooner at a D-II school.

“That’s biggest recruiting sell when going after junior college guys,” says Kuester. “Competition (for playing time) is less because the depth isn’t quite there.”

Kuester is not wishy-washy in his player evaluations.

“I’m not the kind of recruiter that leaves question marks,” says Kuester. “I’m blunt. I’m straight to the point. I tell them exactly what I think.”

The pandemic has made planning for the future less cut-and-dried.

When it looked like the season would be at least be put on hold, Southern Indiana (6-8) was coming off a pair of games in Pensacola, Fla. Coaches would try to sort through contingencies and scenarios, which seemed to change daily.

“Nobody was prepared for this,” says Kuester. “The hardest part for us is communicating things with our guys. They see things online before its official. Administrators don’t have the answers either.

“Finally, we (as coaches) decided to sit back and wait. It’s out of our control right now.”

Kuester says the majority of returning players were hoping to play summer baseball. With some leagues canceling (about 10 USI leagues were going to play in the Ohio Valley League), they have been looking for opportunities. Leagues are expected to form at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and in Louisville.

“We want them to find some place where they can play the game a little bit,” says Kuester. “A lot of our guys have went and got jobs for the summer.”

Southern Indiana coaches have suggested for nearly 40 players to keep active and make the best of their situation.

“But we don’t know what they’ve done for the past two months,” says Kuester. “That’s the scariest thing. We want to make sure these guys are going to be healthy. It’s more risky for pitchers than position players.”

The last day of classes for USI was Wednesday, May 6. The term ended with weeks of online instruction.

“It’s not the easiest thing in the world,” says Kuester. “And I was only teaching one class this eight weeks.”

Besides coaching, Kuester is on the faculty and has taught introduction to kinesiology or an activity class (hiking, badminton etc.). He earned a masters degree in Public Administration from Southern Indiana in 2012.

Jeremy and Ashley Kuester were wed in September 2009. She is a nurse practitioner with in Evansville. The couple has three children — first-grader Bryce (7), kindergartener Alli (5) and Colton (3). At their Rockport house, built in 2017, internet access is spotty, making eLearning with Bryce a challenge.

Jeremy slowly downloads YouTube videos for his son to watch and helps him with his homework. When completed, they take a picture with the school-supplied iPad and upload it.

Kuester is a 2005 graduate of South Spencer High School in Rockport, Ind., about 40 miles east of the USI campus.

Jeremy’s father — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Kuester — is the Rebels head coach.

“I never thought about him as my dad,” says Jeremy of the time spent playing for Brian. “He never coached me growing up. Whatever the coach says is what you do. When we were on the field I called him Coach.

“It was coach-player relationship at home even during those four years.”

Baseball discussions did happen away from the diamond.

“He’s say you need to improve on this — not in a negative way, just trying to get better.”

Jeremy recalls his last high school game while teammates were sitting around and lamenting the end of the season.

“Dad gave me a big hug and said I’m proud of you,” says Jeremy. “I’ll never forget that.”

Brian Kuester and his father, Ivan, had also been assistant coaches at USI. That’s when Larry Shown was head coach.

Brian and Debbie Kuester’s four children are Jeremy, Shawn, Nathan and Katie. Shawn played baseball at the University of Evansville and Nathan at USI. Katie played softball at Olney Central College.

Jeremy Kuester played his college baseball at the Evansville (2006 for Dave Schrage and 2007 for Dave Seifert) and Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro (2008 and 2009 for head coach Todd Lillpop).

While 2020 was Lillipop’s 19th as KWC head coach, he was a young in the profession when Kuester played for him.

“You could tell was still trying to figure out how he was going to be as a coach,” says Kuester. “He’s done at real good job of maturing as a coach over the years.

“He’s a really good, genuine person.”

Kuester first met Lillpop when another South Spencer graduate played for the Panthers. Kuester opted to transfer there to continue being a two-way player.

He earned a Sports Studies degree from Kentucky Wesleyan.

JEREMYKUESTERFAMILY

The Kuester family of Rockport, Ind., includes father Jeremy, mother Ashley and (clockwise from left) Bryce, Alli and Colton. Jeremy Kuester is an assistant baseball coach and faculty member at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

JEREMYKUESTER1

University of Southern Indiana baseball assistant coach Jeremy Kuester (center) makes a mound visit. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

JEREMYKUESTER2

Jeremy Kuester (center) has been on the University of Southern Indiana baseball coaching staff of Tracy Archuleta (left) since August 2009. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

JEREMYKUESTER3

Jeremy Kuester has been an assistant baseball coach at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville since the 2010 season. He is also on the USI faculty and has a master’s degree from the school. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

 

Wisemans, South Central Rebels enjoying the ride

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

They’re making baseball memories at a tiny school in southern Indiana.

Led by father and son co-coaches Brad and Alex Wiseman, the South Central (Elizabeth) Rebels have won the IHSAA Class 1A Shawe Memorial Sectional and are getting ready for the two-hour trek to the Loogootee Regional (South Central plays No. 9-ranked Tecumseh at 11 a.m., followed by Trinity Lutheran vs. No. 6 Barr-Reeve with the championship at 7:30 p.m.).

South Central spotted Borden four runs in the first two innings and trailed 6-2 after four frames in the sectional championship before winning 10-8 and earning a ride on the Elizabeth Volunteer Fire Department’s truck when they got back from Madison to Harrison County.

“It’s a good memory for the boys — something they’ll never forget,” says Alex Wiseman, who played for the Rebels and graduated from South Central in 2012 before pitching for Hanover (Ind.) College. “South Central baseball is a tradition around here. Everybody knows about it.”

The team mugged for the championship photo wearing the green “Hank Strong” T-shirts that they donned in a benefit game for Hank Sutherland, a young boy in the community dealing with Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome.

Kim Wiseman enjoys being at the park about as much as husband Brad and son Alex.

“She’s the epitome of a baseball mom,” says Brad Wiseman. “Alex is 25 and baseball has been a part of our lives for 22 years.

“(Kim) is just as excited to see a Cincinnati Reds game or a T-ball game.”

Alex and wife Leslie have a son — Maverick (1).

Will the boy be a ballplayer?

While sitting for her grandson, Kim got a fat lip when a baseball was thrown harder than she anticipated.

The younger Wiseman has watched the South Central team develop a “grind-it-out mentality.”

The turning point in the season came May 7 at South Central’s Donald L. Dones Field. That’s when the Rebels rallied from a five-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning to edge Austin 10-9. The Eagles scored all nine runs in the first two innings.

“That opened the eyes of the boys,” says Alex Wiseman of the comeback against a team that will compete in Saturday’s 2A Southridge Regional. “It shows they can accomplish a lot.”

South Central (enrollment around 215) part of the South Harrison Community School Corporation, which also includes Corydon Central High School (3A).

The Rebels belong to the Southern Athletic Conference (with Borden, Crothersville, Henryville, Lanesville and New Washington).

The top three finishers in the 2019 SAC pennant race were Henryville (5-0), Lanesville (4-1) and South Central (3-2).

The Rebels are part of a sectional grouping with Borden, Christian Academy of Indiana, New Washington and Shawe Memorial.

Brad Wiseman, who was a South Central junior varsity coach from 2014-17 before being joined by Alex to lead the Rebels beginning with the 2018 season, saw the team take an 11-16 regular-season into the postseason before beating Christian Academy and Borden for the program’s seventh sectional title (all since 2005).

“We were very aggressive (about playing all scheduled contests),” says Brad Wiseman. “We knew we needed as much game experience as we could get to get us ready for this part of the season.”

The Rebels took on 3A teams like Providence and Silver Creek (ranked No. 10 and the 2018 2A state runners-up) and 2A’s Lanesville.

“We really see the difference, especially in the sophomores,” says Alex Wiseman of the strong competition. “The game is coming a lot easier to them.”

Says Brad Wiseman, “We get overlooked because of our record. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Various factors, including injuries, left South Central’s sophomore-heavy roster with 16 players and many junior varsity games were canceled.

The Rebels’ top pitchers are junior Zach Needler, sophomore Frank Goodman and seniors Wyatt Crosier, Bryce Lewis and Will Weber. All but Weber are right-handers.

Crosier, junior Austin Tyree and sophomores Wes Wilson and Stephen Sawicki are offensive leaders.

The Wisemans are assisted by Jeff Riley and Jeff Skaggs.

Dones Field has seen upgrades in the past decade and more are on the way. New dugouts and backstop fencing was added around 2010. Since then, the Rebels have gained an indoor hitting facility, turf was placed around home plate and new bullpens and more fencing is coming in the near future.

South Harrison Athletic Corporation (SHAC) is a feeder system, training players from age 4 through eighth grade in the Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken system.

The Wisemans maintain a relationship with junior high coaches to make sure those players are prepared for high school baseball. The younger boys are invited to serve as managers for the older ones and experience the culture.

Brad Wiseman is a 1986 graduate of Castle High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Al Rabe.

“He was very insistent on the fine details,” says Brad Wiseman of Rabe. “You knew where you needed to be on the field at all times.”

Alex Wiseman’s coach at South Central was Nick Tremain (now head coach at Lawrenceburg).

“He was very much about the mental approach to the game,” says Alex Wiseman. “We played with a swagger. We expected to win. If you take that attitude, not a lot of teams are going to beat you.

“These are values we’ve tried to instill in the boys. Believe you can do it and you will get there if you put in the work.”

Work away from baseball happens in nearby Kentucky for both father and son. Brad Wiseman is a manager at Equian, a pre-bill medical recovery company. Alex Wiseman is a revenue analyst with Louisville Physicians Group.

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Father and son co-coaches Brad (right) and Alex Wiseman celebrate an IHSAA sectional baseball championship for South Central (Elizabeth) Junior/Senior High School.

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With co-coach Brad Wiseman toward the front, the South Central Rebels got to ride an Elizabeth (Ind.) Volunteer Fire Department truck after winning the 2019 IHSAA Shawe Memorial Sectional baseball title.

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The South Central (Elizabeth) Junior/Senior High School Rebels won the 2019 IHSAA Shawe Memorial Sectional baseball title. The team is wearing its “Hank Strong” T-shirts in support of Hank Sutherland, a boy in their community dealing with Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome.

Kuester adding to rich baseball tradition at South Spencer

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Down on the Ohio River sits the town of Rockport, Ind.

They love their baseball there.

South Spencer High School and Rockport American Legion Post 254 have been making them proud for years.

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.

Rockport Post 254 has piled up all kinds of hardware at the state level and the 2016 team played in the American Legion Baseball World Series in Shelby, N.C.

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.

All three men are enshrined in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“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.

Recent IHSCA North/South All-Star Series players have been Nathan Hall (2011), Jared Lauer (2012), Nathan Kuester (2014), Jon Stallings (2015) and Sammy Rowan (2017).

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.

South Spencer is a member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (along with Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City).

Games are not played in a set pattern.

“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.

Brian and Debbie Kuester have four children — Jeremy, Shawn, Nathan and Katie. All the boys played at South Spencer for their father. In college, Jeremy Kuester played two seasons at the University of Evansville and two at Kentucky Wesleyan College and is now University of Southern Indiana pitching coach.

Shawn Kuester at Evansville and Nathan Kuester is a senior at Southern Indiana. Katie Kuester is a softball player at Olney (Ill.) Central College.

Ivan Kuester, Brian, Kuester, Jeremy Kuester, Bill Evans and Jim Haaff) are members of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame — a group that inducted its first class in 2016.

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.”

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Brian Kuester is entering his 22nd season as head baseball coach at South Spencer High School in Rockport, Ind., in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)