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Grubbs guides Goshen College pitchers during unprecedented time

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In a year that has been anything but conventional, Goshen (Ind.) College baseball pitching coach Justin Grubbs has been teaching his hurlers to embrace their routines.

The ninth-year GC assistant has certain things for pitchers to do six days a week while they each are encouraged to find what works best for them.

These are college athletes. It’s no cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all system.

“A lot of these kids when they get here never really focused on pitching,” says Grubbs. “If they were at a school where they played multiple positions they might play shortstop, come in and pitch and the next day they’re back at shortstop.

“One of our outfielders — a freshmen — said he never thought of himself as a pitcher through he was the No. 1 at his school. Here, you’ve got to put a lot more emphasis on it if you want to get better at it.”

Having an abundance of quality arms has long been important when playing a 55-game NAIA schedule. But with the Crossroads League going to 36 conference games and Friday and Saturday doubleheaders, it has taken on even more significance for the Maple Leafs.

“You have a really good chance of getting on the field as a pitcher. We need pitching,” says Grubbs. “With this many innings, there’s going to be opportunities.”

Grubbs spells out his points of emphasis.

“What we’re big on the most is being able to attack hitters, have command and be able to throw secondary pitches for strikes,” says Grubbs. “We’re pretty successful with that compared to some other programs. 

“A lot of times, we’ll pitch backwards to teams. We’ll always work off our fastball. But you’ve got to be able to mix speeds and change locations.”

In 2019, the GC staff set a school record for strikeouts (345). In the past four seasons, the top four team earned run averages in Goshen’s DakStats-era history have been posted.

“We’d like to pitch to weak contact at times, too,” says Grubbs, recognizing that strikeouts tend to raise the pitch count. “We have a nice core of veterans back that are going to be able to help us (in 2021).”

Now in the sixth of seven fall practice weeks, the Maple Leafs are looking to get better even as the COVID-19 pandemic took away or shortened the 2020 spring and summer seasons.

Goshen was 7-11 overall and 2-1 in the Crossroads and on a two-game win streak when the season ended soon after a March 7 doubleheader sweep of visiting Taylor.

Newcomers and veterans are getting roughly the same amount of playing time in intrasquad games so the coaching staff can see what the players can do.

“We try to even up teams so they get a fair crack at it,” says Grubbs. “They have an opportunity.”

In a typical non-pandemic year, Goshen would be playing outside competition in the fall. Not so in 2020.

“We’re getting a lot of reps against each other,” says Grubbs. “Some nights we have to grind through it a little bit.”

The Maple Leaf World Series — Purple vs. Black — is slated for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week.

“I’m hoping our guys’ perspective changed. We have an opportunity to be out here (on J. Harold “Sarge” Yoder Baseball Field). Every day, we should be thankful for after last spring.

“We talked about the mental and emotional side and getting through those struggles.”

Grubbs is part of a staff led by head coach Alex Childers and featuring Doug Wellenreiter and Brad Stoltzfus.

Right now, Childers is with his wife Amber and family at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis while Wellenreiter and Grubbs run the team.

“Alex is the type of coach that has given us so much responsibility and given us the reins to lead our components of the team,” says Grubbs. “He gives us that freedom to coach.”

During the season, Grubbs helps Childers with in-game decision-making and also handles much of GC’s recruiting.

The Leafs roster includes players from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. But it also features those from California, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada and Texas plus Alberta in Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

Once the pandemic hit, there was a slow start to recruiting for the 2021 class. But with the help of the admissions office, virtual visits soon became the norm.

“These were guys we’d already done research on,” says Grubbs. “We’d seen videos and texted back and forth. We had an idea of who they are and talked with their coaches.”

Following the school’s protocol and precautions, there was one short recruiting trip to Michigan in the summer. In most years, Grubbs would log many miles in pursuit of players.

Grubbs grew up just outside Bourbon, Ind., and graduated from Triton Junior/Senior High School in 1998. The Trojans won the old Northern State Conference title in 1997 and were perennial NSC contenders.

Eric Stults, who went on to star at Crossroads League member Bethel College (now Bethel University) and pitch in the big leagues, lived just a couple of miles away. In Justin’s final high school game — left-hander Stults hurled Argos to a 3-2 victory over Triton.

Landon Grubbs — Justin’s brother — was the starting right fielder and clean-up hitter on Triton’s 2001 IHSAA Class 1A state championship team.

Both Grubbs brothers were coached by Jim Shively.

“He got the best out of his players,” says Grubbs of Shively. “He had a lot of enthusiasm. He taught guys how to hit. I never knew how to hit until I got (to high school). I was also more of a pitcher type who hit at the bottom of the order.”

Grubbs ended up in the No. 2 hole on a squad featuring Kyle Gould (who is now the head baseball coach at athletic director at Crossroads League member Taylor University).

On the mound, Grubbs was 15-4 and a two-time all-NSC selection. He also played football and was academic all-state in 1997.

Grubbs was relief on the baseball team at Indiana Wesleyan University. Mark DeMichael was then head coach of the Wildcats. He learned lessons of pitching and spirituality from IWU pitching coach Mike Burchette.

“He talked about the side work and what a pitching program really looks like,” says Grubbs of Burchette. “He had a really good Christian twist to everything and would really lead us spiritually.”

After a couple years, Grubbs decided to begin his coaching career while working toward a Indiana Wesleyan degree he earned in 2002 (he got a masters in Administration of Physical Education and Sport). 

He was the freshmen coach at Marion (Ind.) High School then a freshmen coach at Kokomo (Ind.) High School

Grubbs then became varsity assistant and pitching coach to head coach Steve Shugart at Madison-Grant Junior/Senior High School in Fairmount, Ind. The Argylls regularly won 20 games as season and were state-ranked in Class 2A. M-G won a Central Indiana Conference championship.

After that, Justin and wife Emily (who also went to Triton and Indiana Wesleyan), opted to move closer to home to start a family (their daughters are Eliana and Maycee). 

The couple, married since 2004, settled in Bremen, Ind., and Justin took a job as a math teacher and assistant baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) High School. He was the varsity assistant for the Redskins (now RedHawks) for five years.

Grubbs continues to teach at Goshen and coach at Goshen College. When deciding whether to take the college job, Grubbs consulted with former GHS teacher and coach and GC coach DeVon Hoffman.

He also talked with GHS principal Barry Younghans, who makes it possible for him to teach and get to college games — sometimes the second half of a doubleheader.

“Alex is very flexible as a coach,” says Grubbs. “He’s even said there are times that I need you even more in practice than I do at the games because that’s where all of our work is put in and it’s just performance at the game.

“I’m thankful I’m around people that are really good people to work for at the high school and here at the college.”

Justin Grubbs is in his ninth year as baseball pitching coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. He is a graduate of Triton Junior/Senior High School in Bourbon, Ind., Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. He teaches math at Goshen High School.

Keister has Goshen RedHawks playing baseball with a purpose

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh Keister is entering his fifth season as head baseball coach at his alma mater — Goshen High School.

The 2000 GHS graduate has led the program to more victories in each season. The 2017 RedHawks went 21-9 overall and 9-5 in the Northern Lakes Conference.

Keister credits the success to a culture that insists players be engaged and intense and understand the thought process behind things.

“We want you to understand what you’re doing and why,” says Keister. “When guys engage and understand it, they are more likely to get it right and get it right for the right reasons as they encounter it again.

“It’s amazing to see the results you get from approaching things that way.”

Keister and his coaching staff want players to have positive energy.

“We look at things that take no talent — attitude, energy and hustle — and evaluate how we are with those before we do anything situational or mechanical,” says Keister.

The Elkhart County Sports Hall of Famer who earned eight varsity letters at GHS in soccer, basketball and baseball while receiving team MVP honors in each, says high school athletes don’t necessarily know all the different ways to play hard.

With that in mind, Goshen players must always run hard through first base every time; run hard all the way to second base on a fly ball to the outfield; sprint to the deepest part of their defensive position; have their stuff and be ready to get out of the dugout at the end of an inning; once the third out is made on defense, every player is to be across the foul line within eight seconds.

“The reason we do that is to maintain momentum or get it back when we don’t have it,” says Keister.

Goshen varsity assistant coaches are Clay Norris, Aaron Keister, Chad Collins and Tracy Farmwald. All have been with the program since Josh Keister took over and Farmwald was on GHS staffs before that.

Second-year assistant J.J. DuBois and first-year assistant Troy Pickard are coaching Goshen’s junior varsity.

“We are very fortunate to have an excellent staff,” says Josh Keister. “Continuity has been a key to our success. We have grown and gotten better together.”

GHS will field two teams in 2018 — varsity and JV.

Staff and players have worked hard to improve the playing surface at Phend Field, which turns 50 this spring.

RedHawks coaches want players to have a purpose and focus. That includes a great game of catch.

“We want you to hit a target every time you throw the baseball,” says Keister. “It’s not just pitchers. You should sell out to catch it. Not every throw is going to be a great throw and it’s not all on the thrower. Treat every throw as if the game-winning run is on third base and you can’t let it get past you.

“There’s so much cool stuff in baseball with all the analytics, it’s easy to lose sight of those easy, basic things. You do those things and it leads to success with everything else.”

Keister was a left-handed hitter who excelled in both high school and at Goshen College and later was head coach of the Maple Leafs (2006-10; 68-196).

In 2000, he hit .432 with just three strikeouts in 105 plate appearances and socked a walk-off home run to win the Elkhart Sectional.

At GC, Keister was a two-time all-Mid-Central Conference (now Crossroads League) selection and an honorable mention All-American. He established single-season records in batting average (.479), hits (65), runs batted in (50) and runs scored (42) and career marks for average (.412), runs (133) and doubles (44) and most of these GC marks still stand.

GHS coaches are very individualized in how they instruct hitters.

“We want them to all know their strengths and weaknesses and the role they need to excel at for us to be successful as a team,” says Keister. “What are you trying to do up there? We’re doing everything with a purpose.”

Much work has been put into players knowing their roles. One example from 2017 was Trenton Scott, who was often asked to be a pinch-hitter.

“We let him know how hard it is to mentally prepare yourself (for that role),” says Keister. “Against East Noble, he saw one pitch and hit a home run that helped us win the game.

“Everybody on our roster knew what their role was, knew it was important and embraced it. This led to an engaged dugout and team all year. Prior to last year, I took that for granted as a coach. I’m understanding the importance of that more and more.”

Keister says all the coaches he had in his prep and college days have helped him in some way. He played his first three GHS baseball seasons for Brian Eldridge (1989-99; 181-168-3) and the last for Matt Chupp (2000-05; 89-84). One of Chupp’s assistants was DeVon Hoffman (head coach at GHS 1972-87; 310-213; head coach at GC 1988-98; 189-215-1).

Keister’s college coach was Brent Hoober. Keister and Hoober now work for Yoder Insurance. Keister is a business risk advisor.

Feeding the GHS baseball program are Goshen Little League and various travel organizations, including the Indiana Chargers and Elkhart Titans.

“We encourage our kids to play somewhere (in the summer),” says Keister. “We don’t have anything here at Goshen High School. Our focus in the off-season is individual skill development. Once the season starts, we get into the team aspect of things.”

Besides Goshen, the Northern Lakes Conference includes Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee. Teams play a 14-game double round robin schedule with games on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until the last week.

“I like it like that,” says Keister. “That’s the way it was when I played. I like the idea of seeing a team early and late (instead of twice in the same week as some conferences do).”

Goshen has reigned as NLC champions four times (1986, 1987, 1988, 1998).

The RedHawks (Goshen teams were known as the Redskins from 1922 to 2015) are grouped at IHSAA Class 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Northridge, Penn and Warsaw.

Goshen has won 17 sectionals (1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2008) and two regionals (1969, 1981).

Coach Ken Mirer, who led the program 1966-71, had a career 14-0 record in sectional games with five sectional titles.

With a minimum of 120 at-bats, 1988 graduate Steve Cripe (.397) ranks No. 1 in career batting. Tied for second at .392 at 1989 graduate Rick Mirer and 2007 graduate Heath Taylor. The next two spots belong to 2006 graduate Jon Rolon (.391) and the Class of 2000’s Josh Keister (.383).

With 34, 1980 graduate Ed Swoveland tops the career pitching victory list.

Goshen graduates currently with college teams are Deric Haynes and Michael Pinarski at Manchester University. Current GHS seniors with college baseball commitments are Joey Peebles and Philip Wertz at Grace College and  Tyler Colpitts at Manchester.

JOSHKEISTER

Josh Keister, a 2000 Goshen High School graduate, is in his fifth season as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2018. The 2017 RedHawks went 21-9.