Tag Archives: Rensselaer Central

Wood takes the reins of West Lafayette baseball

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New head baseball coach Aaron Wood has long been a part of athletics at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School.
As a 2000 West Lafayette graduate, Wood earned eight varsity letters for the Red Devils — three in baseball, three in football and two in basketball.
His head coaches were Dan Walbaum in baseball, Ernie Beck and Lane Custer in football and father David Wood in basketball.
Wood has been an assistant coach for all three sports at West Lafayette.
“It’s my way of giving back,” says Wood, who has gotten to work with Walbaum and Joel Strode in baseball, his father in basketball and Shane Fry in football. “I’ve been a member of this baseball program for a long time. The opportunity (to be head coach) presented itself and I took it.”
In Wood’s 13 years on the baseball staff, West Lafayette won three sectionals, two regionals and seven Hoosier Conference titles.
Next year will mark two decades for Wood with Red Devils football. He was the running backs coach under Fry this fall and the 2022 team was ranked No. 1 in IHSAA Class 3A and finished 13-1.
“I have really enjoyed my time with that program,” says Wood. “I hope in some ways we can mimic the success (football) has had in the baseball program in terms of the postseason.
“We want to have some fun and win a whole bunch of games in the process.”
David Wood retired after the 2020-21 season — his 27th as Red Devils head boys basketball coach. He earned nine sectional titles, including in 1999 and 2000.
Aaron Wood, who is in his fifth year as a Physical Education/Health teacher and strength and conditioning coach for West Lafayette, was hired last week to lead West Lafayette on the diamond. Strode is the Red Devils athletic director.
West Lafayette (enrollment around 730) is a member of the Hoosier Conference (with Benton Central, Hamilton Heights, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes and Western).
Each conference baseball team plays each other twice in a home-and-home series during the same week.
The Red Devils are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2023 with Frankfort, North Montgomery, Northwestern, Twin Lakes and Western. West Lafayette has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2011.
The Red Devils play home games on Bob Friend Field, a facility which recently got new paint and work on the dugouts.
West Lafayette went 13-8 overall and 8-1 in the conference last spring. Senior Evan Cooke (.353 with six home runs and 27 runs batted in and 4-2 on the mound with a 1.51 earned run average for 2022) and junior Jack Shaeffer (.400 with 18 RBIs and 2-3) are expected back for 2023. Cooke scored 34 goals this fall for West Lafayette’s 20-1-1 boys soccer team.
While it is not affiliated with the school, West Lafayette Youth Baseball teaches the game at the younger levels.
While he was busy with football, Wood noticed that some baseball players were getting in work at various places in the fall. He looks forward to the next IHSAA Limited Contact Period (Dec. 5-Feb. 4) where baseball activities will be permitted two times a week for two hours.
Wood is in the process of assembling his coaching staff.
“We need to get administrative things out of the way and start focusing on player development,” said Wood.
A former multi-sport athlete himself, Wood is a believer in it.
“We have to have it for our school to have success,” says Wood. “It does wonders for your support and it develops the sort of toughness that we need to win.
“You’re remaining in competitive environments.”
Wood went into the working world out of high school and earned an degree in Organizational Leadership and Supervision degree from Purdue University more than a decade later.
The husband of West Lafayette Elementary School third grade teacher Jennifer Wood later decided to go into education.
“I have a passion for students and coaching,” says Wood. “I got a graduate certificate from Indiana Wesleyan and here I am.
“It’s the best decision I’ve ever made professionally.”
With Aaron and Jennifer both being teachers they are on the same schedule and able to spend time together and with daughter Carson (6) and son Carter (3).
“They enjoy being at the various fields and making it a family affair,” says Wood.

Aaron Wood.

Jordan, Tipton Blue Devils aiming at turnaround in 2023

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rob Jordan was to lead his first Tipton (Ind.) High School baseball season during the spring of 2020.
But the COVID-19 pandemic kept the Blue Devils from playing a game.
Jordan’s first on-field campaign as head coach was 2021. Most of the players from that team graduated, leaving very little varsity experience in 2022.
“Last season was pretty tough on us,” says Jordan of year where Tipton went 2-18 with 27 players in the program. “We had a whole new pitching staff.”
Jordan does expect most of his pitching to return in 2023, meaning they will have more experience. There is a big freshman class and the Blue Devils should have eight seniors (Zane Goodrich, Chase Higgins, Houston Nasser, Jack Nasser, Clark Rodibaugh, Joe Shelly, Eli Shook and Austin Smith).
“We’ve got good young kids,” says Jordan. “With our veteran leadership, we hope it’s a breakout year.”
Ten to 15 players — those not in a fall sport — have been going over fundamentals with Jordan at twice-a-week IHSAA Limited Contact Period fall practices.
Tipton (enrollment around 450) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with IHSAA Class 2A Tipton, 3A Hamilton Heights, 2A Lewis Cass, 3A Northwestern and 3A Western in the East Division and 3A Benton Central, 1A Lafayette Central Catholic, 2A Rensselaer Central, 3A Twin Lakes and 3A West Lafayette in the West Division).
The Blue Devis were part of an 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Blackford, Eastbrook, Eastern (Greentown), Madison-Grant and Taylor. Tipton has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2009.
Tipton plays its games on-campus. A new 30-by-30 college-style scoreboard was installed in the summer and new dugouts are nearing completion.
Feeding the high school program are travel baseball teams plus Tipton Youth Baseball League (Little Sluggers ages 3-5, Pee Wee 5-8, Cal Ripken 9-12 and Babe Ruth 13-15).
Right-handed pitcher Trayjan Phifer (Class of 2021) moved on to Cleary University in Howell, Mich.).
Jordan says pitcher/first baseman Vince Hoover (Class of 2024) has been getting looks for colleges.
Jordan’s coaching staff for 2023 includes varsity assistant Steve Cherry, junior varsity head coach Andy Hussong and JV assistant Brian Middleton and possibly two more.
A 1988 graduate of Tri-Central Middle/High School in Sharpsville, Ind., Jordan played for Trojans head coach Dave Driggs.
“We got a fair opportunity,” says Jordan of his prep days. “Politics wasn’t a factor for playing time.”
At the time, there was a big rival between Tri-Central and Tipton and the Trojans are still on the Blue Devils schedule.
At Missouri Valley College (Marshall, Mo.), first baseman/utility player Jordan played three seasons and learned about conditioning and hard-nosed play from Vikings head coach Ron Givens before an arm injury ended his career.
Jordan coached youth league baseball before taking the reins at Tipton.
Rob is foundation seed manager for Beck’s Hybrids. He and wife Laura had a daughter (Jessica) and son (Dylan). Dylan Jordan passed away in 2019 at 16. He was in the Tri-Central Class of 2022.

Rob Jordan.

Conner teaching lessons about baseball, life at Concordia University Chicago

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kolin Conner is doing his best to get Concordia University Chicago back to the lofty heights the Cougars baseball program had become accustomed.
From 2008-19, CUC posted an average record of 35-11 including 40-15 in 2018 and 42-10 in 2019. Conner was the Cougars head assistant (2016-19) — years in which the school won four Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference regular-season titles and made NCAA Division III World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. During the span, CUC was ranked No. 1 in the nation and Conner was named 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year.
A graduate of Indianapolis North Central High School (2009) and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2013), Conner took over as head coach at the private school in River Forest, Ill., in the summer of 2019. The Cougars went 5-5 during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 11-25 in 2021.
NCAA D-III rules allow for 19 total weeks of organized baseball activity — four in the fall and 15 in the spring. Concordia practiced four times a week during the fall.
“We did a lot of teaching. developing and evaluating where our guys are on the depth chart,” says Conner. “After last year, there was a little bit of re-establishing priorities for us.
“The work we put in now leads to success in the spring. It’s about holding everybody accountable. The overall success is much bigger than one individual.”
Conner says the most-important time comes when players are away from coaches in between fall and spring and must motivate themselves and stay on top of their academics.
“Here’s a 17-year-old freshman,” says Conner. “How’s he going to be when no one’s watching? That’s when good leaders and good people are made.”
Conner and his coaching staff of head assistant/pitching coach Matt Smith, assistant Abe Paz Agudello, assistant Connor Nelson and graduate assistant Kevin Garcia are getting players to create lifelong habits that will transfer into their lives beyond college.
“They get into the world world and (employers and co-workers) can trust these guys,” says Conner, who is currently busy recruiting, doing office work and getting ready for the return of players to practice after the Christmas break.
CUC baseball earned an ABCA all-academic team certificate, sported seven players with a 4.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale last spring while posting a 3.2 team GPA — the best among the school’s nine male sports. The Cougars typically have 10 to 12 academic all-conference selections.
The roster — currently at 36 — has 22 from the Chicagoland area plus Indiana’s Ben Collins (Chesterton), Elijah Hickman (Rensselaer Central), Brody Mariotti (Yorktown) and Westin Stutzman (Fairfield), six from Arizona (CUC recruits there each fall), two from California and one each from Colorado and Utah.
“We get a lot of good and smart kids that don’t have schools to go to,” says Conner. “(Chicago recruits) are used to cold weather and facilities and proud of the city they’re from.”
Conners says most players get some sort of aid — packages largely being dependent on grades and test scores — that takes away around half of the annual $42,000 tuition.
“It’s important that we’re getting the good character kid who wants to work and wants to win,” says Conner. “Those type of kids are usually pretty good academically.
“It’s no coincidence that are best players are usually are best students.”
A typical recruiting class is 10 players and Conner says he likes to have five or six signees around Christmas.
Conner played for Phil McIntyre at North Central, making varsity as a sophomore and representing the Panthers either as a catcher or outfielder and making long-time friendships.
He credits assistant/teacher Andy Noble for helping him in the classroom.
“He helped me find my way and who I was as a kid,” says Conner of Noble.
Conner was a catcher and first baseman in college. He played two seasons at National Community College Athletic Association member Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for Statesmen head coaches Mitch Hannahs (2010) and Kevin Bowers (2011).
Hannahs, who is now head coach at Indiana State University. was “very, very good at getting you conditioned mentally and getting the most out of people as players.”
Current LTC head coach Bowers brought Conner into the program.
“He really, really cares about the kids,” says Conner of Bowers. “He’s got a strong relationship with everybody he recruits.”
At Saint Joseph’s, Conner earned an Educational Studies degree with a Communications minor and played two seasons (2012 and 2013) for Pumas head coach Rick O’Dette.
“He’s the greatest guy ever,” says Conner of O’Dette, who became head coach at Saint Leo University in Florida when SJC closed its doors after the 2017 season. “He’s the reason I have a job in college baseball.
“He’s an unbelievable guy, a great mentor and cares about people.”
Conner played two summers of independent professional baseball after college with the 2013 Mike Braymen-managed Joliet (Ill.) Slammers and 2014 Andy McCauley-managed Evansville (Ind.) Otters — both in the Frontier League.
Kolin met future wife Lyndsey at Lincoln Trail. The Conners now have two children — son Leo (3) and daughter Layla (4 months).

Kolin Conner (Concordia University Chicago Photo)

Nuest statistical attachment to Kouts baseball spans half century

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Pafko and Hank Sauer were stars in the Chicago Cubs outfield, South Bend’s Bob Rush was the top pitcher, Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch was the manager and Bert Wilson was the radio play-by-play voice for the North Siders when Keith Nuest started keeping score for baseball games in 1950.

Nuest was 7 and living in Kouts, Ind., which is 12 miles south of Valparaiso in Porter County.

More than seven decades later, the 78-year-old Nuest has scored and tabulated numerous sporting events for the Kouts Middle/High School Mustangs.

This winter was his 53rd season of keeping the book for boys basketball (he has not missed a game in that span and tracked the digits for the IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up in 2020-21) and the 43rd for girls basketball. He compiles stats for basketball, baseball, softball and track and field.

Much of what Earl Mishler has on his high school baseball website — ETPearl.com — came from Nuest.

His interest in the sport and numbers once had Nuest scoring Chicago Bulls and Indiana University games on the radio. 

The 2020 season would have marked his 50th as statistician for Kouts baseball. But he doesn’t count that one since the COVID-19 pandemic took the season, making 2021 the half-century mark for that job.

But it’s not really a job. Nuest has never taken any pay for scoring or coaching baseball and minimal for basketball over the years.

It’s about helping the community and being close to things he enjoys.

“I’ve always had a love of numbers,” says Nuest, a 1961 Kouts graduate who went on to work 39 years in the financial department at Midwest Steel in Portage, retiring at 60. “Math always came easy to me.”

About five years ago, Nuest completed a 40-year run of coaching Kouts in high school summer ball. He ran the area league — which at various times included teams from Culver, Kankakee Valley, Knox, Renselaer Central, Wheeler, Valparaiso and beyond —  for about 25 years, scheduling all the games.

“I always tried to make it fun for the kids,” says Nuest. “Just being around the kids was enjoyable for me. I watched them grow and improve as individuals.”

In the spring, he has worked under 11 head coaches. Don Spoerner was the first. Jim Tucker is now in charge of the Kouts baseball program.

“I really love the game of baseball,” says Nuest. “I love the strategy that goes into it. Anything can happen on any given pitch. 

“People think bas ball is boring and slow. But you never know what’s around the corner.”

As a scorekeeper, Nuest came up with a way of doing it and stayed with it.

What makes it unique?

“I don’t know that there’s any specific thing, but you should be able to read it like a book,” says Nuest. “You should be able to tell  batting average and earned run averages of your team and your opponents.

“It all flows together. It you leave something out it’s like you left out a page.”

This spring, Kouts named its baseball diamond in honor of their longtime contributor.

“It’s a wonderful community,” says Nuest. “I was never a teacher at the school and never an official coach.

“It was kind of an overwhelming honor at the time. I’ve donated hours and hours of work. But I certainly never expected anything like this.”

Nuest was born in Valparaiso and except for a few years in Lake Village when he was in school and two years in Valparaiso when he married second wife Lana, he has resided in Kouts.

Keith and Lana were married 46 years and had a blended family of five. Lana Jeanne (Lawrence) Nuest died Aug. 6, 2020 at 77.

The 2021 Kouts Mustangs head into play today (May 10) at Keith Nuest Field against Covenant Christian (DeMotte) at 11-7. Kouts is in the 1A Washington Township Sectional.

The Kouts (Ind.) Mustangs baseball team plays at Keith Nuest Field. (Steve Krah Photo)
Keith Nuest in a familiar place — the baseball dugout for Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. He counts the 2021 season as his 50th as scorekeeper for the Mustangs. The 1961 Kouts graduate coached summer teams for 25 years. (Steve Krah Photo)

Atwood back as baseball coach for North Newton Spartans

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Atwood knows about athletic toughness.

The 1981 graduate of Frankton (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School competed in football for Bob Sharnowski, wrestling for Otis Cress and baseball for Tom Urban — Atwood followed Dave Hicks as the Eagles starting catcher — before playing football for Pete Compise and baseball for Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College and baseball for another multi-time Hall of Famer in Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University). Brent Brandon, Don’s son, was a Ravens teammate.

“(Sharnowski) taught us to just be tough,” says Atwood, who is now in his second stint as head baseball coach at North Newton Junior-Senior High School in Morocco, Ind., where he was an assistant then a head coach in the mid-1980’s to the late-1990’s and is now also athletic director and dean of students. “You have to be mentally tough in baseball. You’ve got to be ready at all times.”

Atwood calls Urban “a heckuva a baseball guy.”

“Basics were key to everything,” says Atwood, who experienced an intense coach in Naylor.

“He was a pretty hard-nosed little character,” says Atwood. “(Brandon) was all of the kids.”

Between coaching assignments at North Newton, Atwood was an assistant baseball coach on the staff of Mike Moyzis at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Current Hebron (Ind.) High School head coach and athletic director John Steinhilber was also on the Pumas staff.

Rick O’Dette, who would be Saint Joseph’s head coach for 17 seasons until the school closed at the end of the 2017 season, was an SJC player at the time.

Atwood’s 1997 North Newton baseball club won a Kankakee Valley Sectional title in the last year of the IHSAA single-class era before bowing to Chesterton in the semifinals of the LaPorte Regional.

He then went to Delphi (Ind.) Community High School and was the Oracles head coach for baseball and wrestling.

The 2020-21 school year is Atwood’s second back at North Newton, where he is now athletic director. The COVID-19 pandemic kept him from coaching the Spartans in the spring 2020. If the weather cooperates, North Newton could open the season Thursday, April 1 against Hebron. The team is slated to visit Harrison in West Lafayette Saturday, April 3.

With 24 players in the program, the Spartans will field varsity and junior varsity teams, playing home games on the campus located at the school.

Serving students in the towns of Lake Village, Mount Ayr, Roselawn, Sumava Resorts, Thayer and Morocco, North Newton (enrollment around 350) is a member of the Midwest Athletic Conference (with Frontier, North White, South Newton, Tri-County and West Central).

MAC teams meet twice, typically on Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Boone Grove, Hebron (the 2021 host), North Judson-San Pierre, Rensselaer Central and Winamac. North Newton has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2019.

Other teams on the Spartans’ schedule include Andrean, Calumet New Tech, Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, Kankakee Valley, Lake Station Edison, Lowell, Morgan Township, Twin Lakes and Washington Township.

The high school program is fed by youth baseball in Morocco and Roselawn

Atwood’s 2021 assistants are Doug Belt (varsity) and Eric Jones (JV). 

Kyler Rainford, a 2020 North Newton graduate, is on the baseball team at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Morocco has ties to Cooperstown. Native son Sam Rice played in the majors 1915-33 and collected 2,987 hits as a .322 lifetime hitter. He was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963. A roadside historical marker was placed in town in 2019.

Mike Atwood has three adult children — Michael (32), Brittney (30) and Braden (29).

Michael is in the U.S. Army serving in Kuwait. Britney works as a technician at a Lafayette, Ind., hospital. 

Braden Atwood was a three-time placer at the IHSAA State Finals (fourth as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and second as a senior) at Delphi and went on to a be a four-time placer and NCAA Championship qualifier as well as a three-time team champion at Purdue University. He took part in the U.S. Team Trials and was later a volunteer assistant coach at West Point (Army). He is married and living in Connecticut and has a daughter.

Mike Atwood and his son’s dog Bella.

Young Hammel now in charge at Benton Central

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Hammel has quickly transitioned from student-athlete to educator-coach.

Ten months after pitching his last game for Valparaiso (Ind.) University he was announced as the head baseball coach at Benton Central Junior/Senior High School in Oxford, Ind. 

“I’m super-excited to get after it,” says Hammel, who was originally hired as pitching coach but became a head coach candidate when Jon Vernon opted to spend more time with family and focus on his duties as Benton Central’s head volleyball coach. “We want to do everything with a purpose. 

“Baseball is not like other sports.”

The son of Donovan (Ill.) Elementary fourth grade teacher Todd Hammel and Morocco Elementary first grade teacher Pam Hammel, Jarrett received an Elementary Education degree from VU and began the 2020-21 school year as a fourth grade teacher at Prairie Crossing Elementary in Oxford.

At South Newton — a K-12 school in Kentland, Ind. — Jarrett got a chance to help with younger kids as a high school junior and senior.

“I knew I wanted to be a positive role model — someone to look up to,” says Hammel. “I look up to my parents a lot. They made a lot of sacrifices for me to be where I am today.

“They’ve always had my back.”

Coming from a close-knit family where both sets of grandparents live within 15 minutes, Jarrett counts younger brother Jay as his best friend. They grew up pushing each other in academics and athletics. 

With 1,195 points, 6-foot-4 Jarrett Hammel was the No. 1 all-time scorer in South Newton boys hoops history until he was surpassed by younger brother Jay Hammel with 1,363. The 6-6 Jay is now a 21-year-old junior right-hander on the Quincy (Ill.) University baseball team and a Multimedia Journalism major.

A 2016 South Newton graduate, Jarrett Hammel played baseball for Glenn Donahue and basketball for Mike Hall. 

Hammel was born in Lafayette, Ind., and grew up in Brook, Ind., where he still resides. He knew Donahue as a youth baseball coach who moved up to the high school ranks. 

Jarrett played four high school summers of travel ball with the Indiana Nitro.

His first college baseball season was spent with head coach Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When the school closed, he transferred to Valpo U., and played for head coach Brian Schmack.

Hammel was a high school sophomore when he appeared on O’Dette’s radar. He became a mentor to the pitcher.

“I learned a lot in the year I was (at St. Joe),” says Hammel. “My outlook on life has changed because of him.”

O’Dette stressed being a good example and always staying in contact with people who are close to you.

“Don’t let conversations get stale,” says Hammel. “You never know when they made need you or you may need them.”

Once it was announced that St. Joseph’s was closing, Hammel recalls that O’Dette was worried more about getting us placed than his own career. O’Dette landed at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

Hammel played summer college ball for the Lafayette Aviators in 2017 and 2018. Brent McNeil (now pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) managed the team to a Prospect League title in 2017. Will Arnold (now with Prep Baseball Report Arizona) was in charge in 2018.

While Hammel was at South Newton, Valpo also had interest in him and Schmack welcomed the southpaw when he became available.

What did Hammel learn from Schmack?

“Just being a man and owning up to your mistakes,” says Hammel. “Never put the blame on someone else.”

It’s about responding to adversity — something that is plentiful in baseball.

From his personal life, Hammel has learned to greater than his ups and downs.

“When things are not going your way in life you can’t put your head down and go through the motions,” says Hammel. “You have to ride the wave. Life is full of highs and lows.”

He also learned important concepts about teamwork and time management while playing NCAA Division I baseball.

As left-handed pitcher, left-hander Hammel hurled for Valpo at Alabama State March 11, 2020 and was announced as the head of the Bison program Jan. 12, 2021. 

The 23-year-old Hammel conducted his first winter practice session where he engaged with 15 athletes (many BC baseball players are involved in winter sports) and dished out baseball and life lessons. 

Hammel expects his players to be role models.

“I told them that someone is always watching your every move,” says Hammel. “You’re high schoolers now. Be good people and go hard with everything you do.”

Benton Central (enrollment around 550) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division). 

The Bison are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

While the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season, Benton Central fielded two teams in 2019 and Hammel says he expects to have about 30 players for two squads in 2021.

Hammel is in the process of finding assistant coaches. He would like to have a Benton Central alum on his staff. Bringing in coaches from Newton County is not practical since Brook is in Central Time and Oxford is in Eastern Time.

In looking to his feeder system, Hammel likes the youth program already established and plans to place players in competitive summer leagues and with top travel organizations.

“We want to get them out of their comfort zone and change their outlook on life,” says Hammel, who also plans to start a fall baseball program at BC.

“We went to keep kids at it and try to perfect their craft year-round,” says Hammel. “We’re trying to maximize everyone’s potential.”

Recent Benton Central graduates in college baseball include Matt Taylor and Taylor Varnado with Marian University in Indianapolis. Knights head coach Todd Bacon went to BC.

There’s also Alex Thurston at Valparaiso U., and Payton Hall at Oakland City (Ind.) University.

Benton Central senior Dalton Rennaker is a Marian commit.

Jarrett Hammel, a 2016 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., and 2020 graduate of Valparaiso (Ind.) University, has been hired as head baseball coach at Benton Central High School in Oxford, Ind.

VanOeveren, Hamilton Heights Huskies ready to go

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A former all-Big Ten Conference and professional infielder was hired in the fall of 2019 as head coach of the baseball program at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind., and was getting the Huskies ready when the 2020 season was placed on hold and — eventually — canceled because of the pandemic.

Ryan VanOeveren, who was a standout at the University of Michigan and was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 26th round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, is now leading some Hamilton Heights players through twice-a-week IHSAA Limited Contact paces and is optimistic to really get rolling in 2021.

The Huskies have also been conditioning for the spring.

“It’s been pretty good,” says VanOeveren. “There’s been a good turnout. The kids have good attitudes and are hungry to get back on the field.

“We met Monday and the intensity level went up.”

VanOeveren, who was an assistant at Otsego (Mich.) High School after his playing career and more recently a coach in the Indiana Primetime Baseball travel organization, places an emphasis on fundamentals. Defense and pitching will be important to the Huskies.

“Making the routine plays on defense is absolutely critical to playing successful baseball,” says VanOeveren. “It’s about executing the fundamentals of the game.

“We’re building guys on the mound — Knowing when to push the envelope and when to back off. They’ve responded really well.”

Hamilton Heights (enrollment around 750) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western).

The Huskies are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Guerin Catholic, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Hamilton Heights has won two sectional titles — 2006 and 2012.

Recent Hamilton Heights graduates playing college baseball include Sam Fulton (Chattanooga, Tenn., State Community College), Alex Hewitt (Butler University in Indianapolis), Ike Peterson (Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.) and Reese Wills (Marian University in Indianapolis. VanOeveren says some current players are weighting their options.

“Recruiting is challenging for everybody because of COVID,” says VanOeveren. “I was recruited to numerous schools all over the Midwest. My advice: Don’t select the school just based upon baseball.

“Baseball comes to an end at some point for all of us.”

A 1991 graduated of Grandville (Mich.) High School near Grand Rapids, VanOeveren was initially recruited by Michigan assistant Ted Mahan (who went on to be head coach at Michigan State University) and Wolverines head coach Bill Freehan got involved near the end of the process. VanOeveren committed in May of his senior year.

VanOeveren knew about Freehan’s catching with the Detroit Tigers, but was at school in Ann Arbor when he learned about his exploits in baseball and football at Michigan.

“Coach Freehan was a genuinely caring person,” says VanOeveren. “He’d give you the shirt off his back.”

In his first fall, shortstop VanOeveren got to take infield instruction from volunteer assistant Moby Benedict

“Moby made me such a better infielder,” says VanOeveren.

Other U-M assistants during his career included Ace Adams and Steve Merriman.

“Ace was great to be around,” says VanOeveren. “He would not hesitate to get on you, but we were better for it.”

VanOeveren counted Merriman, who is expected to return to Michigan as pitching coach for 2021, as a friend back then and today.

“He’s a quality human being,” says VanOeveren of Merriman. “He shows that he cares about you if you work hard for him. 

“The baseball stuff falls into place after that.”

VanOeveren went to Michigan as an undersized player and continued to work.

“I was fortunate to have coaches that were patient for me growing up,” says VanOeveren.

After a strong junior season in 1994, teammates voted outfielder Rodney Goble and infielder VanOeveren as co-captains for 1995.

“It lead by example,” says VanOeveren. “I was not that verbal.”

As an Expos minor leaguer, VanOeveren played 49 games for the 1995 Class-A Albany (Ga.) Polecats. Several future big leaguers were on the team — among them Vladimir Guerrero, Brad Fullmer and Javier Vazquez.

VanOeveren was invited to spring training in 1996. At the end of camp, he was not assigned to a team as an infielder but was given the option of transitioning to a pitcher.

“I had a little too much pride back then,” says VanOeveren. “I asked for my release.”

VanOeveren went back to finish his college degree and moved on.

He was at Otsego for two seasons then did not coach again until the late 2010’s. By this time he had moved to central Indiana.

As an Indiana Primetime coach, VanOeveren gets to work with Quentin Brown and Ryan Cole and his players get to train at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.

“(Indiana Primetime) is good to the kids at Hamilton Heights, giving them the opportunity to play really competitive baseball,” says VanOeveren.  “I love Finch Creek. We’re spoiled getting access to that place.

“We’re very fortunate to live in this area and have those opportunities.”

Besides VanOeveren, the 2021 Husky coaching staff features varsity assistants Brian Clancy and Brad Pitts, junior varsity head coach Adam Hughes and JV assistant Cole Meyer. Clancy, who played at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., was on the 2000 staff. Pitts, who had coached at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, is a newcomer to Hamilton Heights.

Husky Ballpark has received laser-leveling and upgrades to the irrigation system from Marschand’s Athletic Field Service and a new backstop is going up. VanOeveren says new dugouts and other improvements could come this summer.

Ryan VanOeveren is head baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Brad Pitts is an assistant bseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Cole Meyer is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.
Brian Clancy is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.
Adams Hughes is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Hickman passing on his passion for baseball with Faith Christian Eagles

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Faith Christian School was established in Lafayette, Ind., in 1997.

FCS baseball is led by Dan Hickman. The 2020 season will be his second as Eagles head coach.

A graduate of Rensselaer (Ind.) Central High School and Missouri State University (1989), Hickman came to Faith Christian after helping for many years at RCHS including running the Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken programs there.

Hickman played baseball for the Rensselaer Central Bombers. Craig Grow was the head coach in Hickman’s freshman year then left for Loogootee and other coaching stops. Kent LeBeau was RCHS head coach in Hickman’s last three prep seasons.

“Both men were mild-tempered and highly-respected individuals,” says Hickman of Grow and LeBeau. “I learned that winning the right way is the only way to win.

“Winning at all costs will catch up to you in life.”

Hickman played at Missouri State (then known as Southwest Missouri State) and was a senior captain for Keith Guttin, who had led the Bears since the 1983 season and racked up more than 1,200 victories during his coaching career.

“I am very proud to have played for Coach Guttin,” says Hickman. “He had a massive impact on my life. I’ve met no one who desires to win more than he does, but he has the same beliefs as my high school coaches.

“You win with hard work, commitment, dedication and grit. No short cuts.”

Faith Christian (enrollment around 220) is an independent with no conference affiliation.

“It is a challenge being an independent and getting teams on our schedule,” says Hickman. “Most schools’ first priority is their conference games.

“I would be in favor at some point of belonging to a conference.

We currently play a good mix of Christian and public schools in the area.”

The 2019 regular-season schedule included dates with Attica, Carroll (Flora), Clinton Central, Covenant Christian, Delphi, Frontier, Greenwood Christian, Horizon Christian, Maconaquah, Morgan Township, Pioneer, Seeger, Sheridan, Traders Point Christian, Tri-Central and West Lafayette.

The Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Attica, Covington, North Vermillion and Riverton Parke. Faith Christian has not yet won a sectional title.

In 2019, there were 19 players in the program.

“My hope is that the numbers will steadily grow so that we can have a consistent junior varsity schedule that will feed the varsity,” says Hickman.

There is a also a middle school team for seventh and eighth graders which plays games from mid-April to June.

What drives Hickman and the Eagles?

“Our goal is simple,” says Hickman. “To compete in baseball at a high level so as to attract kids in our area to FCS schools.

“We see value in a Christian education and we want to do everything with a spirit of excellence. I have a passion for baseball and want nothing more than to pass that on to our local youth.

“To be able to use baseball to advance my faith is a true gift.”

Hickman is hoping to know who his 2020 assistants will be in the coming months.

Dan and Alicia Hickman have three children — Amanda, Cole and Jonathon. Alicia works at BACA, a Autism center for kids in Fishers, Ind. Amanda is married and living in Carmel, Ind. Cole, a 2010 Wabash (Ind.) College graduate, works for Geico in Carmel. Jonathon is a Wabash junior.

“(Jonathon) is a massive sports enthusiast and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pursue a career in the sports industry,” says Dan Hickman.

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Dan Hickman is the head baseball coach at Faith Christian School in Lafayette, Ind.

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Dan Hickman passes on his passion for baseball as the head coach at Faith Christian School in Lafayette, Ind. He played at and graduated from Rensselaer (Ind.) High School and Missouri State University.

 

Twin Lakes’ Burton has been coaching with discipline for four decades

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Burton has not changed the way he coaches much in more than four decades of leading high school baseball programs in Indiana.

Modeling his style after men like LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber and Lafayette Jeff’s Paul “Spider” Fields, Burton decided discipline would be the cornerstone of his teams.

“We’re demanding,” says Burton, who is in his 41st season of doing things his way — third at Twin Lakes High School in Monticello in 2019 after 37 at McCutcheon (1979-2015) in Lafayette and one at North Newton (2016) in Morocco. “The kid has to make sacrifices. We don’t allow long hair. It has to be an inch above the collar and off the ear.

“If they miss a practice unexcused, it’s a 20-mile run. You don’t play again until you get done.”

Burton hasn’t wavered from that approach since his first game in 1979.

“People say that’s crazy, but we’ve eliminated problems because kids don’t take a chance,” says Burton. “They don’t test you on those things. They know we mean business. We’ve not changed that.

“Not that these things make the program, but they establish a culture for the program.”

With 849 career wins coming into this week, Burton is second among active high school baseball coaches in Indiana (behind Andrean’s Dave Pishkur). He was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1998 and became just the fourth Indiana prep baseball coach to do into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2016.

Twin Lakes (enrollment around 820) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Twin Lakes, Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Rensselaer Central and West Lafayette in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division).

A two-game home-and-home series on consecutive nights is played within the division. Crossover games are then played with corresponding seeds in each division — 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2 and son on.

The Indians opened the 2019 season with a trip to Tennessee, where they met Halls, West Carroll and Tipton-Rosemark Academy (2018 Tennessee state runner-up among private schools).

“It was a good experience for us,” says Burton.

A year ago, a team rule was made that players could be away at the beginning of spring break through Tuesday and had to be back on Wednesday in order to travel to Tennessee and be ready to open the conference season against Lafayette Central Catholic.

Other non-conference opponents include Crawfordsville, Delphi, Eastern (Greentown), Frontier, Kankakee Valley, Lafayette Jeff, Maconaquah, McCutcheon, North Newton, North White and Tri-County.

The Indians are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox and Wheeler. Twin Lakes has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 1993.

Twin Lakes was off to an 11-5 start in 2019, including 5-1 in the HAC.

“I think we’ve turned the corner a little bit,” says Burton. “We are winning games that we should win and competing well in all our games except for a couple.

“The kids seem to be confident that they can win. When I first got here that didn’t exist.”

Burton started out with 32 players in the program his first year and had 18 in the second season after some weeding out.

“They weren’t here for the real reason you play baseball,” says Burton. “You play sports to get better at it and enjoy the camaraderie, but also enjoy the competition.

“They were doing it as if it was just something to do rather than something they wanted to do.”

Retired as a school administrator, when he’s not serving as a substitute at Twin Lakes, Burton likes to play golf or pickleball before coming to the school.

Pickleball is a paddle-and-ball game similar to tennis played to 11. When he and his partner got down 10-1, the partner started talking about asking their opponent for a rematch. Burton wasn’t willing to concede defeat. He knew the game wasn’t over until one team got to 11.

Burton recalls a day in1984 at McCutcheon when his team was down 10-2 in the first game of a doubleheader.

The coach began pulling out his starters and telling them to get something to eat and be back for the second game.

Meanwhile, the subs started hitting doubles and singles and — all of a sudden — in was 10-10. The Mavericks went on to win.

“Baseball is a unique game,” says Burton. “There is no clock and that’s the neatest thing about it.”

There are 22 players for varsity and junior varsity in 2019 and the number is expected to rise.

“We’re building it back up,” says Burton, who had five seniors in 2017, three in 2018 and has four in 2019 (Zion Cosgray, Brock Deno, Graham Howe and Ethan Luzadder). The Indians have nine freshmen.

Burton is assisted by Brian Driver, Mike Hirt, Sam McVady, Jeremy Stinson and Trent Wright.

Pitching coach Driver played for Burton at McCutcheon in the early 1990’s and has coached with Burton at McCutcheon, North Newton and Twin Lakes. Wright serves as the first base coach. Hirt, McVady and Stinson are JV coaches. McVady played for Burton at Twin Lakes.

Since arriving, Burton has watched the Indians’ home field get a new drainage system. A new outfield was installed and leveled.

“We really take care of the field,” says Burton. “We make sure it’s immaculate and things are put away each night.

“We just take a little pride. You can play on a good field and get nice, new uniforms and kids start to feel a little bit better about themselves. It’s something that’s contagious and it spreads and we play a little bit better.”

Monticello Youth Baseball League — a part of the Town & Country system — develops players that will eventually get a chance to wear Twin Lakes uniforms.

Burton says the change from a single class to class sports is the biggest change he’s witnessed in his time coaching baseball in Indiana.

“I never was in favor of class baseball,” says Burton. “I liked it when you had one true champion.”

When McCutcheon was a state runner-up during the one-class system in 1994 it meant as much to Burton as when the Mavericks won 4A state titles in 1999 and 2003.

The 1994 state championship game was won 4-3 by Penn, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos.

“That game hinged on one play in the top of the seventh,” says Burton. “We got our 2-hole and or 3-hole hitter on and our clean-up guy, Preny Rodgriguez had just hit one off the wall the last time up.

“We were down 4-2. Do we bunt here? I let him swing away and he hits into a double play. The next batter get a base hit to make it one run but we don’t get two.

“That’s just a decision a coach makes. It happens all the time.”

Burton was a Purdue University student at a time when Indiana coaching legends were still on the scene.

“Things have changed. Ken Schreiber, Jim Reinebold, Bill Jones, Paul “Spider” Fields — they set the tone on how baseball should be coached and played. I was lucky enough to be young enough to be going through college and seeing that.

“You don’t see that anymore. You don’t see people putting in the time like that.”

Burton’s teams have held the No. 1 statewide ranking four times and knocked off No. 1 on 10 occasions. His squads have been state ranked in 33 of his first 40 seasons.

He has coached 23 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series selections and a pair of Indiana Mr. Baseballs Clayton Richard (2003) and Logan Sowers (2014).

Six former players were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including big leaguers Richard in 2005 and Nick Wittgren in 2009.

Burton has had 84 players play college baseball (10 are still active) with 10 first-team all-staters and 150 all-conference selections.

He’s sent former assistants/players have gone on to become high school coaches in Indiana.

Burton was chosen Indiana Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2003 and was runner-up in the balloting in 1994. He has been a conference coach of the year 13 times and a regional coach of the year eight times.

He has amassed 15 conference championships, 11 sectional title, five regional crowns and twice claimed semistate hardware.

In Burton’s one season at North Newton, the Spartans went 20-9 and won the program’s first conference championship in 26 years.

Jake and Brenda Burton have been married 47 years and have three children — Mike, R.J. and Beth — and seven grandchildren. Teacher Mike (Class of 1993) and project engineer R.J. (1995) played baseball at McCutcheon for their father. Teacher Beth in a 1999 McCutcheon graduate. Jake is currently a Tippecanoe School Corporation board member.

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Jake Burton is in his third season as a high school baseball head coach in Indiana in 2019. It’s his third season at Twin Lakes High School in Monticello.

 

Hartman has West Lafayette Red Devils’ best interests at heart

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Hartman is bringing a mix of old school and new school as the first-year head baseball coach at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School.

Hartman comes to the Red Devils after two assistant coach stints totalling seven years at his high school alma mater — McCutcheon.

“Today, they talk about being a player’s coach,” says Hartman. “That’s important. You need vested in these kids not only on the field but off the field.

“You can be strict and have discipline and still be there from a personal standpoint. When they see that you have their best interests (at heart), that’s how you get the most out of them.”

As a Mavericks player and then an assistant, Hartman learned from Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

“I learned many things, like how to build the program from the bottom up, player personnel, coaching strategy and (fundraising),” says Hartman. “It was a little bit of everything.”

Hartman, who holds a Law and Society degree from Purdue University and is a patrolman for the Lafayette Police Department, appreciates the new IHSAA rules that allow periods of limited contact. During these periods, an unlimited number of players can receive instruction two days a week for two hours at a time.

“I like the change,” says Hartman. “I need as much time as I can with these kids to get ready for that opener in March.”

“A lot is accomplished in those two hours. We’re getting a lot of team stuff done now that wouldn’t be done before March (under the old rules).”

The Red Devils have been practicing in the Cumberland Elementary School gym. Coaches man up to six stations for drill work. After that, everything is cleared out for the team to go over defensive coverages.

Hartman’s varsity staff includes Dan Penale, Dan Walbaum, Brent Talcott, Steve Hartman and Joe Richardson. Former McCutcheon and Lafayette Central Catholic assistant Penale is the pitching coach. Former West Lafayette head coach Walbaum is the hitting coach. Talcott directs the defense. Steve Hartman, Justin’s father, helps with base running and player personal. Richardson is the bench coach.

Bryan Dispennett is the head junior varsity coach and Buck Nelson is the JV assistant. Dispennett has coached all around Tippecanoe County, including at Central Catholic and Lafayette Jeff. Nelson is a former McCutcheon assistant.

Senior catcher Owen Walbaum has committed to play at Purdue.

Upon taking the job, Hartman established West Lafayette travel teams for 9U, 11U, 12U and 14U. They will play in five or six tournaments during the summer — some at the Noblesville (Ind.) Field of Dreams.

“To be competitive and improve, you have to be in those travel leagues,” says Hartman.

These players plus some from West Lafayette Little League serve as the feeder system for the high school.

The Red Devils play home games at Bob Friend Field, which is located adjacent to Cumberland Elementary and West Lafayette Little League.

Hartman has gotten approval to have padding installed in front of both dugouts. A local turf group is improving the surface. An irrigation system is on the way.

Friend, who played at Purdue and pitched 16 seasons in the big leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees and New York Mets, attended West Lafayette graduate.

West Lafayette (enrollment around 770) is a member of the Hoosier Conference (with Benton Central, Hamilton Heights, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes and Western). Burton is now head coach at Twin Lakes.

Each conference team plays each other twice in a home-and-home series during the same week.

The Red Devils are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Benton Central, Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru and Western. West Lafayette has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2011.

Justin and wife Megan have been married for 10 years. The couple has two children — daughter Chesney (9) and son Koen (8).

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Justin Hartman, a graduate of McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, is entering his first season as head baseball coach at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School.