BY STEVE KRAH
Eastern High School in Pekin, Ind., is less than two months away from its 2023 baseball season.
While also assisting with the school’s varsity boys basketball team, Lincoln Jones is getting ready for his second season as head baseball coach.
During the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period, Jones had high school and junior high athletes in simulated game-like situations. He recorded things like first-to-time, stolen base and POP times and exit velocity off the tee.
“We wanted to get measurable data points so we could see that growth or lack there of,” says Jones. “Sometimes it’s just as motivating to see a lack of growth compared to your peers as it is to see your numbers jump.
“Numbers speak to the kids today. They resonate.”
Eastern (enrollment around 420) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek).
The Musketeers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Clarksville, Crawford County, Paoli and Providence. Eastern has won four sectional titles — the last in 2012.
Eastern players began throwing Feb 2. A Limited Contact Period devoted an hour to throwing and an hour to hitting. Most of the weight training takes place during the school day.
Jones, who teaches at EHS, says the participation across Eastern athletics is in a down cycle. The Musketeers wound up with 13 players in the program at the end of the 2022 baseball season and none of them were seniors.
The only player gone from that group — Martin Lewen — transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
It was not usual for four or five freshmen to be in the starting lineup. The bulk of the expected returnees for 2023 will be in the Class of 2025.
“We’re spending some time down at our youth levels — the fifth through eighth grade ranks,” says Jones. “We’re trying to drive some interest there and get our numbers back to where you’d like to see them in the 24 range where you could split into a JV and varsity on a given night and send 12 both ways.”
Jones has the Musketeers employing a “pressure offense.”
“We’re probably not going to have a bunch of guys hitting the ball out of the yard and you can’t really rely on that year in and year out. I want to put pressure on the defense and put the ball in-play, bunt the ball, steal bases. We want to have high (Baseball) I.Q. guys who can read situations like dirt ball reads. You can really take advantage of the next 90 feet.
“Defensively, you don’t have to make the flashy plays. If you field the ball that comes to you and catch the ball that’s in the air you’re going to have success.
The metric that Jones tracks for moundsmen is 67 percent strikes.
“My pitching philosophy has always been ‘9 vs. 1,’” says Jones. “There’s nine guys on defense vs. one hitter. You’re at an advantage if you can get it across the plate and give your defense a chance to do some work.”
Faith plays a major part in why Jones is a coach.
“Baseball is cool,” says Jones. “Ultimately, it’s an avenue to teach kids and have an impact. From a great picture, my biggest mission is to make Jesus known.”
Jones’ 2023 assistants are Mike Lawson with volunteers Rick Snelling, Shane Miller and Landon Snelling.
Eastern plays and practices on-campus on Larry Ingram Field. The facility is named after the longtime coach. Three years ago, the infield was resurfaced and leveled. A turf halo was placed around the plate area.
“The field is kind of unique,” says Jones. “It’s cut into the side of a hill. People sit on the berm to watch the game. It drains pretty well.”
There is a junior high baseball program in the Eastern community. Seventh and eighth graders play in the spring and summer.
Younger players learn the game at East Washington Baseball/Softball Association.
Recent Eastern graduates who went on to college baseball include the Class of 2020’s Rhett Pennington (Greenville University) and the Class of 2021’s Snyder Pennington (Franklin College) and Cauy Motsinger (Vincennes University).
Jones is a 2011 graduate of North Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind., and played four years of baseball, four years of basketball and three years of tennis. The Cougars head baseball coach was former University of Southern Indiana player Gregg Oppel.
“He instilled a work ethic in us that was second to none,” says Jones of Oppel. “He brought that old school grit. He was more discipline-oriented and wanted to make his presence known. He was an authority figure.
“I learned a lot in my four years under him.”
Bart Bigham coached Jones on the tennis court and was also his junior varsity basketball coach.
“My coaching style probably mimics his more closely than anybody else,” says Jones. “I always appreciated the way he handled his business. He was very laid-back and mild-mannered. He expected you to get your work done. That’s the environment I work well under. I was going to push myself more so than any coach was going to push me.”
Jones played baseball at Franklin (Ind.) College for head coach Lance Marshall. Grant Bellak (now head coach at Hanover, Ind., College) was an assistant. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Phil Webster was Grizzlies pitching coach Jones’ freshman year. Former Vanderbilt University/Libscomb University player Richie Goodenow was in that role for his sophomore through senior seasons.
After earning a Business degree from Franklin in 2015, Jones worked for four years at his father’s shop — Jones Machine & Tool — while also coaching at North Harrison. He was with junior high basketball and baseball teams and then baseball squads at the high school.
He earned transition to teaching certification online from Taylor University and taught and coached on former college roommate Brent Ingram’s staff at West Washington before going to Eastern and assisting Jeff Pennington for one season before taking over the Musketeers program.
On the boys basketball side, Jones has coached the eighth grade and junior varsity and is now a varsity assistant to Ray Weatherford.
Lincoln and wife Dallas (a University of South Carolina graduate) were wed in 2017 and had their daughter — Raleigh — in 2020. The couple met while she was doing an internship with the 2014 Louisville Bats. The Jones family has long been Louisville Redbirds/Bats season ticket holders.