Tag Archives: Ryan Bunnell

Baseball, friendship has Leyva assisting Bair at Anderson U.

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Carlos Leyva’s baseball connection to Matt Bair goes back more than two decades.

Leyva and Bair were Babe Ruth teammates in Anderson, Ind., at 13, 14 and 15. Rudy Mannie was the head coach. Leyva was mostly an outfielder and Bair a middle infielder.

In high school ball, Leyva represented the Phil Nikirk-coached Madison Heights Pirates while Bair was nearby with Terry Turner’s Anderson Indians. Both players graduated in 1995.

Leyva, Bair and Mannie were reunited when Bair became the head coach at Anderson Highland High School with Leyva and Mannie as assistants.

“It was cool to see that come full circle,” says Leyva of he and Bair getting to coach with a boyhood mentor in Mannie. “He was a big influence in both our lives.”

Madison Heights and Highland have since been consolidated into Anderson High.

After serving four seasons (2004-07) as a Scots junior varsity coach on the staff of Highland head coach Jason Stecher (current to Turner at Daleville (Ind.) High School and son of long-time Highland head coach Bob Stecher, who retired with more than 500 victories), Leyva was a varsity assistant for three years with Bair (2008-10).

So it was a natural when Bair took over as head baseball coach at Anderson University that he’d reach out to his friend.

“We really hit it off (at Highland) then he asked me to come with him to AU,” says Leyva. “We were getting the band back together.”

The 2020 Anderson season – though it was shortened to nine games because of the COVID-19 pandemic — was the third on Leyva with the Ravens.

His duties include working with outfielders, base running and assisting Bair with hitters. He also coaches first base when AU is at the plate.

Leyva has keys for his outfielders.

“The most important thing we can do is re-direct the ball back to the infield,” says Leyva. “We can shut down the other team’s offense.

“We focus on three goals at all times — keep the double play in order, limit the offense to one base at a time and with balls in the ground we’re 100 percent (no errors).”

The stolen base is a major part of Ravens baseball.

“We got progressively better as we implemented our system,” says Leyva. “We take pride in our base running.

“In a game where the defense has the ball we can take some control back on offense. We’re constantly studying what the game is giving us to see where we can find an advantage.”

Anderson, a member of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, swiped 105 bases in 45 games in 2018. Once Leyva and Bair had their system in place, the team lost to one of the more prolific teams in NCAA Division III, pilfering 109 in 37 games in 2019 and heisting 42 in nine contests in 2020.

“As a rule of thumb, the entire team has the green light,” says Leyva. “We live on those opportunities we’re creating.”

Bair runs the overall hitting system, including small group work in practice. Leyva spends time on the offensive side the outfielders.

“Our staff at AU is affluent in the game of baseball,” says Leyva of a group that also features Brandon Schnepp, John Becker, Jeff Freeman, Zach Barnes and Nate McKeon. “We dip our toes into each other’s pools at times.

“We have a rather large staff for a college team. That’s a testament to Bair and local guys who love the game and know what’s going on. Opinions and input is always welcome.”

Prior to joining the Ravens, Leyva spent seven seasons as an an assistant at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School (2011-17) under two Arabians head coaches — two years with Bill Stoudt and five with Travis Keesling. The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh.

“That was awesome, spending time in the dugout with a Hall of Famer,” says Leyva of his experience with Indiana High school Baseball Coaches Association enshrinee Stoudt.

Leyva says Keesling’s ability to leverage the abilities of his coaching staff is one of his strengths.

“He had a football mentality with position coaches,” says Leyva. “He let the infield guy be the infield guy (and so on). He took over that managerial role of figuring out how to best put those pieces together.

“You see staffs being put together that way all over the country. He was early to that concept.”

Leyva fondly looks back on his days playing at Madison Heights for Nikirk (who is now secondary school principal at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis).

“He was really big on personal responsibility and accountability and was really fair,” says Leyva. “He gave the guys opportunities.

“Those are qualities I’ve carried forward in my coaching career.”

Leyva has also coached travel baseball. He was co-founder and a head coach of the Indiana Magic in 2011-12 and was an assistant to Ryan Bunnell with Indiana Bulls 16U in 2013, Mike Farrell with the Indiana Outlaws (an organization started by Jay Hundley which is now part of Evoshield Canes Midwest) in 2014 and Mike Hitt with the Indiana Blue Jays 2015-17.

The Magic was comprised of players from Madison and surrounding counties and won 60 games in two summers.

Besides leading a Bulls team, Bunnell is also head coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School.

Farrell, who played at Indiana State University, is a veteran instructor and a scouting supervisor for the Kansas City Royals.

“That may have been as much fun as I’ve had in baseball.” says Leyva of his time coaching the Blue Jays. “We were a single (18U) team. The roster was all guys committed to playing college baseball at a high level and there were no egos.

“We just had a blast playing really good baseball. We were like 60-5 in three years.”

Thomas Hall, Leyva’s nephew, was on each of those travel teams. The Pendleton Heights graduate was selected for the 2015 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Terre Haute and played at Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill.

After graduating from Madison Heights, Leyva attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for two years then transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington. He majored in Computer Information Systems and is a 2000 graduate of IU’s Kelley School of Business and has worked since 2008 for IBM as a System Storage Enterprise Client Technical Specialist.

Carlos and Julie Leyva have three children — fourth grader Mia (10), second grader Izzy (8) and kindergartener Cruz (7). Julie is on the front lines of the pandemic as a nurse practitioner.

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Carlos Leyva has been an assistant baseball coach at Anderson (Ind.) University since the 2018 season. (Anderson University Photo)

 

Westfield assistant Van Skike accentuates confidence factor

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Confidence and self-assurance was valued by Jason Van Skike as a baseball player and are traits emphasized by him as a coach.

“Baseball is a great teacher of things that happen in your life,” says Van Skike, the second-year pitching coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School. “You focus on the things you can control. There are three things we talk about everyday — work ethic, attitude and confidence.

“You can’t make up for a lost day,” says Van Skike. “You want to always go to bed at night knowing you put in your best effort.”

That’s work ethic.

“You have a choice to have a good attitude or a bad attitude,” says Van Skike. “It’s a mindset. It’s an opportunity to get better.

“If you believe good things are going to happen, good things tend to happen. If you believe bad things are going to happen, bad things tend to happen.”

That’s attitude.

“My job is to make sure (Westfield pitchers) feel that they are the absolute man,” says Van Skike. “That’s all do-able if they’ve done the things they need to do on the days leading to (the game appearance).”

That’s confidence.

Van Skike, who turned 31 in April, was a right-handed pitcher at Gig Harbor (Was.) High School, Treasure Valley Community College (Ontario, Ore.) and Indiana State University before the Chicago White Sox system and the independent professional Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts. He has coached for Federal Way (Was.) High School, the Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits and Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College.

Rick Heller, who is now head coach at the University of Iowa, was ISU head coach when Van Skike was in Terre Haute. Heller had him join the Sycamores after seeing the righty at a sophomore showcase while he was at Treasure Valley.

“(Heller) would preach ‘chest out; a lot of confidence,’” says Van Skike. “I would hear that all the time. I found out that body language plays into the game. If you can trick yourself into thinking you’re the man, you might be the man.

“(Heller) was always talking about body language and confidence.”

Van Skike says it was not until the end of his college career that this lesson really began to sink in.

“I was an excuse maker,” says Van Skike. “If I walked a guy, it wasn’t my fault.”

Tyler Herbst, who is now an assistant at Iowa Western Community College (Council Bluffs, Iowa), was Indiana State’s pitching coach when Van Skike was there.

“(Herbst) made me feel comfortable,” says Van Skike. “He didn’t try to change too much of what I was.”

Herbst went on to help steer Sean Manaea, who is now in the majors.

“He was a baby giraffe at Indiana State and didn’t know how to pitch,” says Van Skike of Manaea.

Van Skike had come a long way by the time he pitched for the Sycamores.

He entered Gig Harbor, he was 5-foot-5 and maybe 135 pounds. He didn’t make the varsity squad until he was a senior.

“They kept me around since I had a sense of urgency,” says Van Skike, who played for Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pete Jansen. “I ran on and off the field. I needed to in order to stand out.”

By the time he was a senior, he had began to fill out and stood 6-3.

He went to Treasure Valley, where Rick Baumann was head coach, with a fastball clocked at 78-82 mph. That’s when he began showing up an hour early for practice every day to do a towel drill. By the end of the fall, he was up to 84 mph. During indoor workouts, he was sitting at 83-86. On a nice day, the team went outside and he was at 88-91 and he was able to sustain that speed.

“I made a 10 mph jump in a four- to five-month span,” says Van Skike. “I needed those extra reps.”

Extra reps is what Van Skike got in junior college, where there is less restriction on the amount of times players and coaches can spend working on the game.

“I loved every moment of it,” says Van Skike of the juco diamond life. “You spend so many hours with your teammates and coaches. You build that brotherhood. Reflecting back, junior college baseball was the most fun for me.”

Van Skike sings the praises of junior college because it also offers a chance to develop. A juco player might get 60 at-bats in the fall between games and scrimmages and around 200 more in the spring. By the end of their sophomore year, they’ve gotten almost 500 at-bats and that doesn’t count summer ball.

Van Skike says a D-I player who does not crack the lineup as a freshman and sophomore — which is often the case — might go into their junior year with less than 100 career at-bats.

“You’ve got to play,” says Van Skike. “You’ve got to get game experience.”

Van Skike left college in 2011 unsure of his baseball future. Scout Mike Shirley (now amateur scouting director) brought him to Madison County for a workout and signed him to a White Sox contract as an undrafted free agent. He hustled to Bristol, Va., of the Appalachian League and picked up an extra-inning victory in his first outing.

His pitching coach at Bristol was Larry Owens, now head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville.

“(Owens) simplified the game for me,” says Van Skike.

Through 2013, Van Skike appeared in 73 games (64 as a reliever) and went 10-8 with a 3.18 earned run average in 150 2/3 innings. He was 3-5 with a 2.80 ERA in 74 innings at Advanced Class-A Winston-Salem in 2013.

“(Winston-Salem pitching coach) J.R. Perdew was a tremendous help,” says Van Skike. “He told me things I had never thought about before.

“The more simple you can keep baseball the better off you’re going to be.”

Perdew is now the White Sox assistant pitching coordinator.

Van Skike learned to use a cut fastball to be effective against left-handed hitters.

He had a six-month lease on an apartment in St. Louis and expected to be in spring training in 2014 when he was released by the White Sox. He went to live with his parents — Ike and Cathy Van Skike — in Arizona and got a job delivering pizzas. Not having a steady catch partner, he threw into a chain link fence. Occasionally, he would work out with a high school team and they had no trouble hitting his deliveries.

Still, an invitation was extended in Wichita. Even though he did not have a stellar spring training with the Wingnuts, he had enough of a resume on affiliated ball to keep him. The 2014 season saw him start 26 games and got 12-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 110 innings. He started the American Association All-Star Game and helped Wichita win the league title.

It tended to be very breezy out to left field in Wichita. Van Skike used it to his advantage.

“A lot of hitters get big egos when the wind blows,” says Van Skike. “I made my living down and away (to right-handed hitters) and got roll-overs to the shortstop.”

The 2015 campaign was not as successful (7-8, 4.89 in 116 innings) and Van Skike retired as a player.

“Getting into college coaching is extremely difficult,” says Van Skike. He went with friend Arlo Evasick, the head coach at Federal Way and the Eagles qualified for the 2016 state tournament.

That summer, Van Skike ended up back in Indiana on the coaching staff of Jackrabbits manager Matt Howard, who is now head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo.

Van Skike was starting to prepare for a chance to play pro ball in Australia when Heller let him know about an opportunity in Des Moines.

“I got extremely lucky,” says Van Skike.

David Pearson was hired as DMACC head coach and soon hired Van Skike as an assistant. The two had to dismantle the roster after the first season and went into the second year (2018) with mostly freshmen.

Near the end of that season, Van Skike began to examine his relationship with baseball.

“It consumed my life and I missed a lot of family events (as a player),” says Van Skike. “I began missing those again as a college coach.

“I need more of a balance. I didn’t know what that was at the time.”

Through a fortunate sequence of events, Van Skike moved to central Indiana and wound up taking a job as an Edward Jones financial advisor in Westfield.

He was at the right place at the right time since Westfield High School head coach Ryan Bunnell was also looking to fill a slot for a pitching coach.

“I’m still heavily involved with baseball and I can still be around my family and friends,” says Van Skike. “That’s what I was searching for.

“I’m extremely lucky I’m at Westfield.”

The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic took away the 2020 season.

“We had an extremely talented group,” says Van Skike of a Shamrocks team that received votes in the Class 4A preseason poll. “We could’ve won state. But there’s nothing we can do to control it.

“It’s an awkward time for these seniors,” says Van Skike. “They almost don’t want to hear about baseball.

“It’s still a little tender.

“We’ve been talking with juniors and saying let’s do it next year for these seniors (in 2021). They shouldn’t complain one day. Don’t ever take things for granted.”

To help fill the baseball void, Van Skike and Bunnell talk about the game almost daily. They are also involved in Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Zoom video conference instructional meetings on Thursday nights.

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Jason Van Skike is a financial advisor at Edwards Jones and the pitching coach at Westfield High School, both in Westfield, Ind. The graduate of Gig Harbor High School in Washington  pitched at Treasure Valley Community College Oregon and Indiana State University as well as in the Chicago White Sox organization and in independent professional baseball. (Edwards Jones Photo)

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Westfield (Ind.) High School varsity baseball coaches in 2020 include (from left): assistant Bill Lindley, head coach Ryan Bunnell and assistant Jason Van Skike. Shamrocks pitchers are led by Van Skike, who played collegiately at Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon and Indiana State University and professionally in the Chicago White Sox system and with the independent Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts. (Westfield High School Photo)

 

Pearson wishes for competitive spirit, constant improvement from New Castle Trojans

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Pearson has a vision for what he wants for his program as he prepares his New Castle (Ind.) High School baseball team for its first season with him as head coach in 2020.

Pearson, who has been a high school assistant at Noblesville (2011), Carmel (2012-16) and Indianapolis Cathedral (2017-19), takes over the Trojans with the idea of helping his student-athletes achieve their goals.

“Hopefully, I will be able to help those who want to play at the next level get there,” says Pearson, who takes over at a school that has sent Drew Barber (Indiana University Kokomo), Jared Heard (Indiana University Kokomo), Nick Jones (Anderson University), Jordan May (Anderson University), Taylor Matthews (DePauw University) and Nathan Hacker (Franklin College) on to collegiate baseball in recent years. “The biggest way I think we do that is to establish a competitive culture.

“It has been awhile since New Castle has won a baseball sectional title (2014) and my guys are hungry! So far, they have been doing a great job of listening to instructions, and pushing each other to get better.

“They all have had the mindset that we have talked to them about since Day 1 and that is to get at least 1 percent better every day in whatever it is that they do — whether that is within the game of baseball or improving on being a better teammate.”

The IHSAA Limited Contact Period for fall (Sept. 2-Oct. 19) saw the Trojans get together to get better.

“At a smaller school like New Castle (about 940 students compared to 1,100 at Cathedral), a lot of our student-athletes play a fall sport,” says Pearson. “So our numbers are not as high as what I am used too, but with those that did come out they were able to learn a lot.

“Those that were able to be at fall workouts know what to expect from a practice standpoint under the new staff, on a baseball diamond. So, I envision them to be the leaders once we get back out there in the spring, being able to help teach what to do and when to do things when we transition from one drill to the next.”

What will the Trojans do until the next Limited Contact Period (which begins Dec. 9)?

“I like to give the players some time away and give them some time to rest,” says Pearson. “So all of November they will have off. Once we hit December, we will start getting into the weight room and working on conditioning.

“Then when we get back from winter break, we will continue in the weight room but start to add baseball back in the mix, getting our guys arms ready to go for the season, get in the cage, work on fundamental glove work, and position communication.”

New Castle’s coaching staff features varsity assistants Zak Kellogg, Tyler Smith and Matt Chernoff, junior varsity head coach Frank McMahon and JV assistant A.J. York. Kellogg will work with catchers and hitter, Smith with corner infielders and hitter, Chernoff with outfielders and baserunners and McMahon will be assistant pitching coach to Pearson.

Pearson was the pitching coach at Cathedral with Ed Freje as head coach. The Irish went 29-0 and won the IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2017.

Pearson played for Eric Lentz at Carmel, graduating in 2006.

“One of the big things I got from Coach Lentz was how he as a coach would allow us players to just be us,” says Pearson. “He allowed us to just play the game and didn’t over coach us in any aspect.

“He knew that our group had been playing together for a very long time and I think he appreciated the cohesiveness that we had together.”

An arm injury in his senior season ended Pearson’s playing career. He graduated from Purdue University in 2011 with a degree in Physical Education.

Pearson served with Justin Keever at Noblesville then Dan Roman and Jay Lehr while on the Carmel coaching staff.

“Obviously, coaching under Ed Frieje, Dan Roman and Justin Keever has been huge for me,” says Pearson. “All three of them have won a state titles as head coaches.

“I have taken a lot from all three of them, both about the game of baseball and building positive relationships with players and families.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for guys like Jay Lehr. Jay was my pitching instructor as a kid and once I started coaching myself he took me under his wing and continued to teaching me new things about pitching.

“I’m also very lucky to have another coach in my family with my cousin Dave Scott. The year we won the state championship at Cathedral, Dave was also able to lead Cardinal Ritter to a state championship win.

“Him and I have a pretty close relationship, so he has taught me quite a bit about what it takes to be a head coach.

Pearson spends his summer coaching with Ryan Bunnell (head coach at Westfield High School) with the Indiana Bulls.

“He has been a lot of help in the short time period that we have known each other,” says Pearson of Bunnell. “Chris Truby (Philadelphia Phillies infield coordinator) has also been a mentor of mine. Having spent several winters in the batting cages with him teaching kids, I’ve been pretty lucky to pick up a lot of knowledge from him.

“I could probably go on and on, but I have definitely been blessed to have played for great coaches — in high school and through summer ball, and to have coached under some of the best coaches around.”

That being said, Brad’s biggest mentor is his father — Ron Pearson.

“My dad was the one who introduced me to the game that I love,” says Brad, who is Ron and Karen Pearson’s only child. “He was my first coach and the best coach a son could ask for!”

New Castle is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mount Vernon of Fortville, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).

The Trojans are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, Jay County and Yorktown. New Castle has won 13 sectional titles.

Pearson plans to be in close contact with his New Castle feeder programs.

“I am a sounding board for the Little League and Babe Ruth,” says Pearson. “They have had a lot of success in their own right and I want them to continue to have that success and build upon it.

“Anything they need from me I will be there to give my advice/opinion. I have told them that this isn’t MY program, it is OUR program. Yes, I may be the leader at the top, but we are all in this together!”

Pearson is hoping to get a lot of things done at the Trojans home diamond — Sunnyside Field.

“To be honest I have quite a wish list, but as we all know everything takes money and we are working to raise that money to help make Sunnyside Field, not only better for tomorrow but better for our future Trojans ways down the road,” says Pearson.

A P.E. and Health teacher at New Castle Middle School, Pearson is a bachelor.

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Cousins Brad Pearson (left) and Dave Scott were part of IHSAA state baseball champions in 2017 — Pearson as pitching coach at Indianapolis Cathedral and Scott as head coach at Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter.

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Brad Pearson, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Purdue University, is now the head baseball coach at New Castle (Ind.) High School.

BRADPEARSON1After assistant stints at Indianapolis Cathedral, Carmel and Noblesville, Brad Pearson is now the head baseball coach at New Castle (Ind.) High School. The 2006 Carmel graduate also coaches in the summer with the Indiana Bulls.

 

Right-hander Pepiot brings competitive spirit to Dodgers system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Pepiot enjoyed visiting Midwest League baseball parks as a kid.

He went to see minor leaguers in South Bend, Fort Wayne and Dayton.

“Now, I’m playing here and it’s pretty cool,” says Pepiot, a first-year pro in the Los Angeles Dodgers system.

A hard-throwing 21-year-old right-handed pitcher, Pepiot is with the Midland, Mich.-based Great Lakes Loons.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder throws from a high three-quarter arm slot and sports a four-seam fastball that ranges from 93 to 96 mph and a “circle” change-up with depth and fade that moves at 83 to 85 mph to go with a sweeping slider and “1 to 7” curveball.

Pepiot (pronounced Pep-E-Oh) was selected in the third round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers out of Butler University in Indianapolis.

LA’s first-rounder — Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate and former Tulane University slugger — Kody Hoese — is now Pepiot’s Great Lakes teammate.

After four appearances and five innings in the Arizona League, 2016 Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate Pepiot was sent back to the Midwest, where the weather is not as hot and he’s closer to family and friends.

The son of Mike and Christine Pepiot and older brother of Kyle Pepiot has hurled a pair of two-inning stints with Great Lakes — the last on July 25 — and sports a 2.00 ERA, combining the AZL and MWL. He’s currently on a limit of about two innings per outing.

Asked about his best qualities as an athlete and Pepiot is quick to answer.

“I’m a great teammate, a big time competitor and very hard-working,” says Pepiot, who played for head coach Ryan Bunnell as a Westfield Shamrock.

“I like Coach Bunnell,” says Pepiot. “He’s really personable. He knows the system and knows the guys. He’s doing a fine job over there in a really tough (Hoosier Crossroads) Conference.”

Pepiot learned much from travel ball coaches Chris Estep and Scott Shirley in a long tenure with the Indiana Mustangs (9U through 17U) and competed for the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays prior to his freshman year at Butler.

Recruited to the Bulldogs by Steve Farley, Pepiot adjusted when Dave Schrage took over the Butler program prior to his arrival on campus.

“I went into it with an open mind,” says Pepiot of the change. “I looked at it as a clean slate and a chance to impress coaches.

“I wanted to make way into the starting rotation and I did that as freshman.”

Pepiot honed his craft in the New England Collegiate League with the Keene (N.H.. Swamp Bats) and in the Cape Cod League with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in the summers following his freshman and sophomore seasons.

“I checked all the the boxes at Butler,” says Pepiot.

As a freshman in 2017, he led the team in starts with 13 and went 4-4 with a 4.39 earned run average and 79 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings.

He followed that up as a sophomore in 2018, by going 6-0 with a 2.62 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings in 15 games (12 starts).

Pepiot’s junior campaign in 2019 saw him post a 4-4 record, 3.92 ERA and 126 K’s and 78 frames in 14 contests (all starts).

Always an aggressive pitcher, Pepiot says he appreciates how the Dodgers emphasize throwing strikes.

“Some pitchers throw around the zone,” says Pepiot. “The strike zone is our friend.

“We want to win the race to two strikes.”

Great Lakes won the Eastern Division title in the Midwest League’s first half and is guaranteed a playoff berth. The regular season concludes Sept. 2 (Labor Day).

When the season is over, Pepiot is slated for a month back in Arizona for the instructional league. He is not sure yet where he will train during the off-season.

The next steps on the Dodgers organization ladder above Great Lakes are Advanced Class-A Rancho Cucamonga, Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Though he won’t be able to do it it this year, Pepiot does plan to go back to Butler to finish his degree. He is 21 credits shy as a finance/marketing double major.

Mike Pepiot is is in automotive sales. Christine Pepiot is is a special education teacher at the elementary level.

Outfielder/right-handed pitcher Kyle Pepiot was part of the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and is heading into his freshman year at Butler.

The Pepiot brothers were teammates for one season at Westfield. The younger brother has also picked his older brother’s brain about the next level and taken live batting practice against him.

“He’s a quiet kid,” says Ryan of Kyle. “But he is one of the hardest-working kids I know.

“He’s going to do some big things at Butler and really surprise some people.”

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Ryan Pepiot, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate who played at Butler University, is now a pitcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

 

Westfield, Purdue grad Andrzejewski making adjustments as coach in Florida

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Andrzejewski learned about making adjustments as a baseball player and he’s doing the same as a coach.

At Westfield (Ind.) High School, the right-handed pitcher changed from a three-quarter overhand to sidearm delivery slot prior to his junior season.

Andrzejewski was a second baseman growing up, but he had an all-stater as a classmate who played that position in Brandon Thomas.

“I was OK defensively, but couldn’t hit to save my life,” says Andrzejewski.

Shamrocks coach Ryan Bunnell told him during the off-season prior his junior year that Brett needed to find his niche.

Off the mound, Brett did not throw very hard. But Andrzejewski found that when he threw a ball after picking it up off the ground that it moved and he thought he just might have something.

In his senior year of 2009 while throwing to classmate and future big league catcher Kevin Plawecki, Andrzejewski was part of Westfield’s IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up finish and went on to pitch four seasons of college baseball — 2010 at Franklin (Ind.) College, 2011 at Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College and 2012 and 2013 at Purdue University. The Boilermakers won a Big Ten Conference championship in 2012.

The righty became kind of a right-handed specialist coming from a low angle. All 84 of his collegiate appearances were out of the bullpen.

“My breaking ball was starting behind them,” says Andrzejewski. “I had a lot of run and not a lot of velocity. I was 76 to 78 mph, usually.

“It bought me time on my playing career so I was appreciative of it.”

The son of Brian and Ann and older brother of Tyler and Chase, Brett Andrzejewski earned a history degree from Purdue in 2013, got his teaching certification from Indiana Wesleyan University and spent one season as pitching coach at Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind.

Brett got married and he and wife Michelle went to Florida. He got a job teaching social studies and serving as head baseball coach at Southeast High School, which is located in Bradenton and has about 1,800 students. The 2019 season will be his fourth.

Competing in Florida High School Athletic Association Class 5A (there are currently nine classes for baseball) and with limited resources like he experienced at Mississinewa, Andrzejewski has learned to be smart about his baseball purchases and making the most of what he’s got.

“It forces you as a coach to be creative,” says Andrzejewski, who benefits from Southeast’s agriculture classes working on his field.

To make his players appreciate what they have, he sometimes takes them in the gym for practice even on a sunny day.

“We’re one of the few places in the country that can field ground balls on grass all year,” says Andrzejewski.

Knowing their coach is from Indiana, they ask him if he’s ever played in the snow. That answer is yes.

The baseball timetable in Florida is about several weeks ahead of Indiana.

The FHSAA allows practice to begin Jan. 28 with a first contest date of Feb. 11. Districts, regional and state championships run from May 6-June 1.

Practice for the IHSAA begins March 11 with the first contest March 25 and state tournament series going from May 22-June 18.

Taking from his own experiences, Andrzejewski tells his Southeast Seminoles that they, too, might have to make adjustments to contribute on the diamond.

“Your talent level will take you so far,” says Andrzejewski. “You’ve got to find a way.

“For some guys it might be a sidearm thing or finding a different position or so on and so forth.”

Andrzejewski credits Bunnell for planting a seed.

“Playing for Coach Bunnell inspired me to think about the mental side of the game,” says Andrzejewski. “I had always been interested in it.

“Playing for him is what eventually led me to become a coach.”

At Purdue, Andrzejewski’s head coach was Doug Schreiber.

“Coach Schreib was definitely someone who had that high-intensity approach to coaching,” says Andrzejewski. “That fit my personality. I’m an ultra-competitive guy. He motivated me.”

Andrzejewski also learns from other minds. He attended his first American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis in 2018. He was among the 6,600 coaches at the 2019 event in Dallas.

“I learned so much,” says Andrzejewski. “I was a pitcher so I try to go where my deficiencies are.”

He soaks up as much information on hitting and defense and brings it back to his program.

Not that he uses everything exactly as presented.

“You walk in there with a filter,” says Andrzejewski. “How can my program benefit from this, whether it’s a piece of technology or instruction?

“At Southeast, I’ve had one pitcher who’s thrown over 80 mph since I’ve been there. I’m not going to have guys who will light up the radar gun, so we’ve got to find ways to get those 21 outs.”

brettandrzejewski

Brett Andrzejewski, graduate of Westfield (Ind.) High School and Purdue University, is going into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Southeast High School in Bradenton, Fla. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Lake Central, Purdue grad Olund gets pro start with Traverse City

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STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Two weeks after stepping off the college diamond for the last time, Alec Olund made his professional baseball debut.

Olund, a graduate of Lake Central High School and Purdue University, played for the Boilermakers (38-21) June 3 in the Chapel Hill Regional and soon made his way home to northwest Indiana.

Early last week, he had separate workouts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds and independent Windy City Thunderbolts.

On Thursday, he got a call from Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums manager Dan Rohn asking him to join the independent Frontier League club in Evansville.

“It was just out of the blue,” says Olund. “I had never worked out for them or had any previous contact.

“As a crazy side note, my dad (Tony) bought bath bomb for my mom (Lyda) a few weeks ago and name of the bath bomb is Beach Bum and the colors are navy and yellow just like the team. It’s sign that this is meant to be. It’s pretty insane, actually.”

The Olunds as well as the family of Alec’s girlfriend, Rachel Bell, have already been talking about the 300-mile trip to see Alec play and the beach along Lake Michigan.

Alec Olund arrived on Saturday June 16, signed his contract and was on the bench that night. On Sunday, June 17, he was in the lineup. He played in left field and went 0-for-3 from the No. 9 hole.

He picked up his first pro hit —  a fourth-inning single — Tuesday, June 19, at Washington, Pa.

Olund, a right-handed hitter, hit .231, .254, .219 and .336 in his four seasons at Purdue. He appeared in 183 games (152 as a starter). He hit four home runs (two coming in one game his freshman season of 2015).

How has he improved over the years?

“My first two years (at Purdue), I showed glimpses of what I was capable of,” says Olund. “But I had a lot of inconsistencies. I was still — for the lack of a better word, a little immature at times. I was trying to do too much with my swing.

“I’ve always been great defensively with great speed and a great arm.”

Olund went into the 2018 college baseball season thinking it could be his last at any level.

“I tried to simplify some things and just put a good swing on every pitch and not try to do too much,” says Olund. “That’s why I found a lot more success at the plate. I was able to tie everything together.”

In the summer of 2017, Olund played a few games with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen of the Midwest Collegiate League. But he spent most of his time getting bigger and stronger and tweaking his swing. It was something the Purdue staff, who had originally planned to send him to Palm Springs Calif., for the summer season, wanted him to do.

Olund hired a personal trainer — Justin Connors — to put him through a series of vigorous workouts.

“I owe a lot of my success to Justin,” says Olund, who first discussed training with Connors while in Jamaica for older brother Tony Olund’s wedding. “He’s a great guy. He’s really, really good. I wish I would have went to him sooner.

“I worked my absolute tail off and put about 20 pounds of muscle on (at 6-foot-1 1/2 frame).”

Olund had been around 180 pounds and played in the spring at between 198 and 202. “It’s been a huge key for me. I’ve been able to put easier swings in the ball.

“When I was lighter, I had to manufacture a lot of my power. I was using a leg kick and trying to get the timing perfectly. Now, I’ve simplified and I’ve been using my core and my strength to put good swings on the ball.”

Besides the strength building, Olund studied successful major leaguers — guys like Mike Trout, Jose Altuve and Nolan Arenado — and tried to incorporate what they do into his offense.

“I experimented with a lot of different things,” says Olund. “I tried to find what works best for me.”

Former Lake Central coach Jeff Sandor brought Olund up to the varsity during his freshman year and the player never looked back.

Olund was the only sophomore on LC’s 32-1 IHSAA 4A state championship team in 2012.

“Jeff was really, really tough on me,” says Olund of Sandor. “There were times when I would get mad at him. He was hard on me because he knew I had the potential and I could be really, really good.

“He kind of held me to a different standard than other players.”

Olund played four seasons of football in high school and was away from baseball workouts for months in the late summer, fall and early winter.

But even that first season, Sandor had him practicing and — soon after — playing with the varsity.

“That was a really neat experience for me,” says Olund. “Here I was 14 or 15, playing with 17- and 18-year-olds.”

The older guys were accepting of the frosh.

“They felt like I belonged there and I did as well,” says Olund. “They took me in with open arms. Jimmy McNamara is one of the nicest kids I’ve ever met. He’s a special kid. He really took me under his wing.

“He said it was OK to be myself. I really jelled with that team and we had a lot of fun.”

McNamara was two years ahead of Olund and was the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner in 2012 before going on to a four-year playing career at Central Michigan University.

Olund’s earliest experience with organized baseball came with youth leagues in Schererville. After that, Tony Olund started the Region Redbirds and the team traveled around the Midwest.

The summer leading into Alec’s freshman year at LC, the Redbirds went 73-7.

“It was amazing,” says Olund. “That was kind of my first taste of really good baseball.”

His 15U summer, he played for what is now known as the Cangelosi Sparks, a travel organization in Illinois led by former major leaguer John Cangelosi.

“That guy’s really, really good at what he does,” says Olund, who went to Cangelosi for hitting lessons for years during his teens. “I really liked him a lot.”

From 16U to 18U, Olund played for the Indiana Bulls. He is appreciative of his years with the elite travel organization.

“Dan Held, Quinn Moore, Gary Sylvester, Ryan Bunnell — so many Bulls people hold a special place in my heart,” says Olund. “That was the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball, that 17U summer on the Black team.

“That was an incredible ride, that whole Indiana Bulls experience. I’m grateful for that because it’s put me in the position I am today.”

The Held-coached 17U Black squad was stacked. Many players went on to NCAA Division I baseball and are now playing in the pros, including Drew Ellis and Logan Sowers.

Olund was brought to Purdue by head coach Doug Schreiber and played his two seasons for him and his last two for Mark Wasikowski.

“Doug is tough,” says Olund. “I liked that. He was old school. We were going to work hard.

“Coach Waz brought a winning attitude. We build a culture of whatever it takes to win, we’re going to do that. We played hard, aggressive baseball.”

While at Purdue, he earned a degree in organizational management.

After his freshmen season, Alec was going to play in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League.

But his mother was diagnosed with skin cancer and he opted to stay close to home, playing with the Oilmen.

“Thankfully, it’s been gone now,” says Olund of the melanoma that was removed. “She’s been really healthy. I still pray for that everyday, that she stays healthy.”

Olund started dating Bell when he was a Lake Central senior and she was a sophomore. The daughter of Craig and Lisa Bell is now heading into her junior college basketball season at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne.

“There’s always constant support with her and her family,” says Alec. “They are really good people.”

The Olunds and Bells live about a minute apart in the Schererville area.

Playing sports at a high level is something else Alec and Rachel have in common.

“There’s a lot of things that she’s been through that I’ve been through,” says Olund. “I try to help her as much as I can. I also don’t want to dominate her life because I want her to experience it for herself.”

A middle infielder most of his Lake Central career, Olund moved to the outfield.

“They saw me as an outfielder in high school because I had a long arm and good speed,” says Olund. “They could use me in center field.”

Olund played some center field at Purdue and was then moved to right field.

“I feel I profile more as a center fielder,” says Olund. “I can track down balls really well.

“If I was in the infield, I’d profile more as a third baseman because I do have a long, strong arm. Those middle infielders have short, quick arms.”

ALECOLUNDTRAVERSECITY

Alec Olund, a Lake Central High School and Purdue University graduate, made his professional baseball debut June 17, 2018 with the independent Frontier League’s Traverse City Beach Bums. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Combs brings intensity, love for the game to Decatur Central baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Combs brought passion to the Decatur Central High School Hawks as a player and he’s still bringing it as he goes into his seventh season as head baseball coach in 2018.

Combs earned eight letters at DC in football, basketball and baseball. His head baseball coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Phil Webster.

“I loved him from the get-go,” says Combs of the fiery leader. “Webby is the best one I’ve been around as far as taking a player and developing him. I matched him beat for beat in intensity.

“He had this attention to detail and got me understanding the game.”

Combs was part of a 2000 squad that won Conference Indiana, sectional and Marion County championships.

Webster, who would see his Hawks win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, put Combs in center field and used the right-hander as a No. 3 pitcher behind 2001 IHSBCA All-Star John Tolson and Matt Elder.

“In all the years I played and have coached, Tolson’s still the nastiest curve ball I’ve ever seen,” says Combs.

A decade after playing for him, Combs joined Webster as his varsity assistant and followed him as DC head coach in 2012. The two still talk regularly and Combs leads his program at Phil Webster Baseball Complex — aka “The Web.”

Combs graduated from Decatur Central in 2001 and played four seasons for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University, receiving a secondary education degree in 2005.

Farley used Combs in the outfield with a few games on the mound and taught many off-field lessons.

“There’s more to being a baseball player than playing baseball,” says Combs. “There being a good human being and a good student.”

Farley pointed his players toward community service opportunities and got them to work youth camps.

Combs also learned to curb his on-field temper.

“I learned to control my emotions, which was always a problem with me,” says Combs. “If I slam down my helmet, I’ll find someone else standing at my position.

“I saw that it’s not all about me. It’s about the team.”

Not that he figured out all his coach was telling him right away.

“When I was playing for him, I was not smart enough to realize how good of a coach he was,” says Combs. “A couple years later, when I became a coach, I figured out Coach Farley was right.”

Combs and Farley stay in touch and he had his former Butler boss address his DC team last season.

Doing his student teaching at Westfield High School, Combs was invited by Shamrocks head baseball coach Ryan Bunnell to join his staff and he wound up serving three seasons as junior varsity head coach and two as varsity assistant. He was there when Westfield, featuring current MLB catcher Kevin Plawecki, finished as 2009 IHSAA state runners-up.

“(Bunnell) taught me the ins and outs and logistics of being a head coach,” says Combs.

If it were possible, Combs would like to see every player get a chance to be a coach. By explaining the game to others, it will help their own understanding of baseball.

Jason’s baseball passion was first stoked by his father, Steve Combs. The retired fireman was a fixture at Carnine Little League in Rhodius Park on the near west side of Indianapolis and did everything from coaching to cutting grass.

It’s in that atmosphere that Combs developed into a fierce competitor.

“We had people who taught us how to compete,” says Combs. “It was grown-men baseball at 10 and 11 years old. You had to fight and not give up no matter what.

“I still embrace that today.”

Donna Combs was also supportive of Jason’s athletic exploits.

“She was a loving, caring, awesome woman,” says Jason of the mother who passed away in February 2017.

Jason’s older brother Josh graduated from Washington High School in Indianapolis in 1995. When Jason was in the eighth grade, the family moved into the Decatur Central district.

Along the way, the youngest Combs gained an affinity for the history of the game.

“You respect what happened before you,” says Combs, who teaches social studies at DCHS. “You know it, learn it and love it.”

He received baseball books as gifts while growing up.

He came home from school and watched Chicago Cubs games on TV and heard famed announcer Harry Caray telling stories about the game’s past.

Combs has watched Ken Burn’s Baseball documentary series numerous times.

His favorite player was a tall shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr.

Decatur Central is part of the Mid-State Conference (along with Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland). Next year, Perry Meridian is to join the circuit.

“It’s a really good baseball conference,” says Combs. “It’s always been pretty even. It’s competitive and it will be again this year.”

MSC games are played in a Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series.

“You’ve got to prove it,” says Combs. “You can’t have one guy who can (pitch every conference game). You’ve got to have a team.”

There has been discussion in going to Friday night doubleheaders like the Hoosier Heritage Conference.

“I like the way we do it,” says Combs.

There are 35 players in the program this spring for varsity and junior varsity games. The coaching staff features Alan Curry (pitching coach), Ben Ferrell and Jeff McKeon with the varsity and Brandon Curry (Alan’s son) and Brayton Lake with the JV. Curry joined Combs in his second season as DC head coach and Ferrell in his third. McKeon was head coach at Plainfield High School and head coach of the South squad at the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars in Muncie last summer.

Recent Decatur Central graduate Jack Wohlert is a pitcher for Indiana University Southeast. Current seniors Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and Alex Mitchell (Indiana Tech) have made commitments and Austin Mitchell (twin brother of Alex) and Devin Gross are among those Combs expects to play college baseball.

The Hawks are scheduled to open the season with three games at historic Bosse Field in Evansville against Evansville Reitz, Evansville North and Indian Creek. Other 2018 non-conference opponents include Beech Grove, Ben Davis, Franklin Central, Homestead, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport, Speedway and Warren Central.

Decatur Central plays in a Class 4A sectional group with Ben Davis, Perry Meridian, Pike, Roncalli and Southport. The host rotation lands on Ben Davis this year.

Phil Webster is helping son and Pike head coach Todd Webster  this spring.

The Hawks last won the sectional in 2015 and the games were played at Decatur Central.

“I like to play a tough schedule,” says Combs. “You’ve got to get ready (for the IHSAA tournament) somehow. You’ve got to see what you’ve got.”

Located less than 10 miles apart, Decatur Central and Mooresville are backyard rivals.

Thanks to Webster and current Pioneers head coach Eric McGaha, the two baseball programs play each spring for the “Battle of 67” trophy.

The school that holds the trophy — currently Decatur Central — must be beaten on their own field to have it taken away. That means the “trophy” game in 2018 will come when Mooresville visits DC.

Mooresville is heading into its second season with artificial turf, causing many in the Decatur Central community to ask, “Are we next?”

Combs knows of no immediate plans for that kind of investment.

The coach is thankful for the assistance of Hawks athletic director and close friend Justin Dixson. They went to Decatur Central and Butler together and were in each other’s weddings.

“Within reason, he does just about anything I want,” says Combs.

Helping to feed the high school program are seventh grade and eighth grade teams at Decatur Middle School.

“I’m going to do that as long as we can,” says Combs. “There’s something to playing middle school baseball. We try to teach them our system. Plus they have to act right in school and stay eligible.”

Add Decatur Central Little League at Southeastway Park and travel baseball and some seventh graders are playing games with 60 feet between bases then 70 then 90 — sometimes in the same week.

“But the more you play, the more chances you have to get better,” says Combs. “We let the kids play where they feel comfortable.”

Jason and Jamie Combs reside in Decatur Township with daughters Amelia (5) and Josie (2).

IMG_20190305_181046

JASONAMELIACOMBS

Decatur Central High School head baseball coach Jason Combs (left) embraces with oldest daughter Amelia following a game against Whiteland in 2017. DC graduate Combs heads into his seventh season as Hawks head coach in 2018.

 

Return to college swing helps Mets catcher Plawecki

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Six seasons into his professional baseball career, Kevin Plawecki went back to his college days and it helped him finish strong at the plate in 2017.

For the year, the former Purdue University catcher hit .328 in 64 games at Triple-A Las Vegas and .260 in 37 games (.348 in his last 10 appearances) with the big-league New York Mets.

Plawecki wore a Boilermakers uniform for three seasons (2010-12) and credits assistant coach Jeff Duncan (now head coach at Kent State University) for guiding his offensive game.

“(Duncan) got my swing where it needed to be in college,” says Plawecki, a right-hander. “He’s one of the best hitting coaches I’ve ever worked with. “He’s very relatable and very good at explaining what he believes in. He had been hitting to the middle of the field and the right side. He had me staying under my legs (with a wide stance). I drifted quite a bit in college and got away with it (even in the minors) because my hands worked so well.

“In the majors, I got exposed. Over the years, my stance got narrow and my hands were moving a lot.”

So with the help of Mets hitting coach Kevin Long (who moved on after the 2017 season), Plawecki studied films of his Purdue at-bats.

He again spread out his stance and his swing became shorter and more compact.

“It really allowed me to use my whole body, especially my legs,” says Plawecki, who turns 27 Feb. 26. “I had been getting more and more upright and it was causing more movement in my head, legs and hands. I was trying to be too perfect.”

It’s that swing he polished at Purdue that helped the 2009 Westfield High School graduate have a super 2012 campaign. That spring, he hit .359 with 47 runs batted in was second team All-America by Baseball America, Perfect Game USA and College Baseball Insider, finished as a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top collegiate catcher, semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy and became the Boilers’ first Big Ten Conference Player of the Year. He was also chosen as Most Outstanding Player in the Big Ten tournament and Purdue’s Male Athlete of the Year.

Plawecki struck out 29 times in 638 career at-bats with the Boilers.

The Mets made Plawecki a compensation pick in the first round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He was the third-highest Purdue player selected in program history. Only right-handed pitcher and Brebeuf Jesuit graduate Sherard Clinkscales (31st in 1992) and outfielder and Anderson Madison Heights graduate Jermaine Allensworth (34th in 1993) were picked earlier.

Plawecki was also Purdue’s highest draftee since 6-foot-6 right-hander and Mishawaka High School graduate Chadd Blasko was picked 36th overall in 2002.

The catcher made his MLB debut on April 21, 2015. He split time between the Mets and Triple-A in 2015, 2016 and 2017, playing a total of 158 games in the big leagues. He was on the Mets postseason roster for the National League Division Series, National League Championship Series and World Series, but did not see any game action.

In 2011 at Purdue, Plawecki hit .341 and drove in 39. He started 55 games — 45 at catcher, six at designated hitter and four at first base. The first-team all-Big Ten selection was a Johnny Bench Award semifinalist. That summer, played for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks of the Cape Cod League

His first collegiate season (2010), Plawecki led the the Boilers in batting average (.343) and established a Purdue freshman record for RBIs (53). He played 54 games and started 52 times, primarily at catcher. He was named a Freshman All-American by both Collegiate Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. His summer team was the Richmond (Ind.) RiverRats of the Prospect League.

Doug Schreiber was head coach at Purdue during Plawecki’s stay in West Lafayette.

“He was a hard-nosed guy,” says Plawecki of Schreiber (now head coach at McCutcheon High School). “He didn’t take a whole lot of crap from anybody. People respected him. He was always at the morning workouts with us. That goes a long way. He may not have been lifting, but he was up there grinding with us. He fought for us. He had our backs. That’s why we were so successful at Purdue.”

Plawecki grew up a Bolier fan. Several family members, including father Jeff (who was a member of the golf team), mother Lynne and brother Aaron, are Purdue graduates. Aaron is scheduled to complete graduate school at Northwestern University in December.

During Kevin’s freshmen year at Purdue, he met soccer player Tayler Francel and they married in 2015. The Plaweckis are spending their off-season in Arizona, where they are closer to her family in San Diego. He lifts weights four days a week and plans to begin throwing and hitting again in early January before heading to spring training with the Mets in Florida.

Plawecki, who was born in Hinsdale, Ill., and moved to central Indiana about the time he was beginning school, played travel baseball for the Westfield Indians in his early years then the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Dirt Bags before heading to Purdue.

He played many positions growing up, but settled in at catcher as a Westfield sophomore and got pointers from former Purdue backstop Mike Hansen, who is now on the Shamrocks coaching staff led by Ryan Bunnell.

“He helped me with drill work and set the foundation,” says Plawecki, who was part of Westfield’s IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up team in 2009. He was a two-time all-Indy North, all-Hoosiers Crossroads Conference and all-Hamilton County selection and earned four varsity letters in baseball at Westfield and was a team captain as a junior and senior. “I got bored everywhere else. I was not being very good anywhere else and a pretty good catcher. I like the involvement and challenge it brings.”

He gives many propers to his high school head coach.

“Burnell taught me ab out accountability,” says Plawecki. “I was just a young kid at the time, trying to find my way and stay out of trouble. That’s where my work ethic started. It started with those early-morning workouts. We were working hard and letting the results take care of themselves. I learned a lot from him — on and off the field.”

Now, Plawecki not only shares the field but catches some of the best pitchers in baseball. There’s Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo in the starting mix.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Plawecki of receiving the collection of aces. “It makes my job a lot easier. It also brings high expectations. Last year, we couldn’t stay healthy.”

Why all the injuries?

“It’s pretty crazy,” says Plawecki. I’ve never seen anything like it. If we could pin-point it as players or as trainers, we would have done it. Good thing is it’s just one year. We’ll learn from last year and be ready to go.”

Travis d’Arnaud, who played 112 games and hit .244 for the Mets in 2017, is ahead of Plawecki for the top spot on the The off-season MLB.com depth chart.

Can Plawecki win the starting job?

“I just try to go out and play and have fun,” says Plawecki. “I want to take advantage of the opportunity that given day. Leave that decision up to (the Mets).”

Mickey Calloway, who was pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians in 2017, is now the Mets manager. He has been quoted as saying he is considering letting starters go through the order twice before going to the bullpen. Some say this approach could tax the bullpen.

“He’s in-tune with pitching and what it takes to stay healthy,” says Plawecki. “If he thinks that’s the route to stay healthy then that’s what we’ll do. I don’t know if there is a perfect pitch count or innings limit. Everyone’s body is different.

“The success he had in Cleveland with those pitchers speaks volumes.”

Sabermetrics and analytics have become a big part of baseball. Data is used to decide where teams are going to position their defense against certain hitters.

“We don’t look at (the analytics) as much,” says Plawecki. “We’ve got a lot on our plates learning the weaknesses of the other players.”

Plawecki says the coaches are the ones who move the defenders. As a catcher, he calls the signals in stealing situations. Bunt coverages are called by the third baseman.

KEVINPLAWECKIMETS

Kevin Plawecki, a 2009 Westfield High School graduate and former Purdue University standout, is a catcher with the New York Mets. (New York Mets Photo)

 

Bunnell has Westfield playing with character, commitment

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The coach approves of the pitch count rules adopted by the IHSAA in 2017 (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would seeding work?

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

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

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

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

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Cherry has built a strong program from scratch at Fishers

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the midst of an Indiana high school baseball hotbed, Fishers has grown its own crop of winning teams and productive student-athletes.

Matt Cherry is the only head coach the Tigers have ever known, starting the program from scratch and fielding the first varsity team in 2007.

There were a few growing pains at the beginning, but it took off from there and Fishers now holds its own in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville) and beyond.

Fishers heads into the Class 4A Westfield Sectional ranked No. 3 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association poll (Carmel and Indianapolis Cathedral are 1-2).

Off to a 24-4 start in 2017, those four defeats came by one run each (to Oakland, Tenn., Hamilton Southeastern, Avon and Carmel).

“I’m not sure that there were many cons to this experience,” says Cherry of starting up the program. “We have been able to build our own traditions and history.

“We created everything (uniforms, baseball logo, expectations of Tiger baseball on the field and in the classroom, annual traditions like how we do Senior Night … everything).”

Cherry, who grew up learning and loving the game from father Mark, is a 1998 graduate of New Castle Chrysler High School, where he played for Gary Brown. He played for and later coached with American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon at Anderson University.

“Coach Brown was a great coach who held us to a high expectation on the field, but challenged me to be even better off the field,” says Cherry. “Coach Brown was intense on the field and a kind-hearted man off of it.”

New Castle went to semistate for the first time in 26 years in 1996 and was 21-2 and ranked No. 2 before losing in the 1998 sectional.

Cherry knows Alabama native Brandon as “Bama” and credits him for a major part in his development.

“Coach ‘Bama’ influenced me on the nurturing side of relating to players,” says Cherry. After an arm injury ended his playing career, Cherry was an AU assistant for two seasons, including the 2003 season when the Ravens placed third at the NCAA Division IIII World Series.

From Anderson assistant Brian York Cherry learned the importance of the little things in building a successful and winning program.

Todd Salkowski was football offensive coordinator at New Castle when Cherry played there and also left a lasting mark on Cherry.

“He is a winner in everything he does and taught me so much about the bigger picture beyond winning and losing,” says Cherry of Salkowski, now athletic director and girls basketball at Shenandoah High School. “I still use his favorite quote that said every week: ‘If what you did yesterday looks big to you today, then you haven’t done much today.’”

Cherry also counts high school baseball coaches Justin Keever (Noblesville), Ryan Bunnell (Westfield), Curry Harden (former Hamilton Southeastern head coach and current HSE assistant), Jake Burton (formerly of McCutcheon and now at Twin Lakes), Dave Ginder (Fort Wayne Carroll) and many more as mentors.

“I truly believe I have been called to be a teacher and a coach,” says Cherry, who was also a volunteer varsity assistant at Pendleton Heights (2005) and head JV coach at Hamilton Southeastern (2006). “Obviously, my competitive nature wants to win baseball games, but I believe there is far more to coaching than winning and losing.

“I believe I have been entrusted with these young lives to help develop them into young men who will be strong fathers, husbands, and citizens using the avenue of baseball to aid in this development.

“(Motivational speaker) Joe Ehrmann talks about the success of your program will be determined by who those young men become in 10-15 years, and I truly believe that is why I am a coach to help in that development process.”

On the field, Cherry’s emphasis is geared to the current crop of talent.

“I tend to be an extremely aggressive offensive coach trying to constantly put pressure on the opponent’s defense, while being more conservative on defense … taking outs as they come, making the routine play routinely as we race to be the first team to 21 outs.”

Fishers did play its first season without a senior class and had to learn how to win after a few losing seasons.

“Thankfully, we have been blessed with successful years recently, so we have been able to see the rewards of the hard work from all of our coaches and former players in our program,” says Cherry, whose 2017 staff include Darren Simms, Jeff Harkin, Brice Davis and Craig Huls with the varsity, Matt Poisel and Chris Hebert with the junior varsity and Rich Wender and Adam Glaze with the freshmen.

Simms has been with the program since the beginning. His responsibilities include outfielders, third base coach, defensive play caller, baserunning and bunting. He played at Anderson U. when Cherry was an assistant in 2003.

Harkin coaches first base and is assistant defensive play caller.

Davis, a 2008 Fishers graduate, is hitting coach.

Huls is pitching coach.

The HCC has adopted a three-game series. Cherry is a fan of the format.

“I am a huge proponent of the three-game series,” says Cherry. “It has forced us to develop depth with our pitching staffs. We now have three starts that pitch in huge conference games each week plus we must develop a bullpen to make it through the three games. In addition, we are able to develop a fourth starter to pitch in our non-conference games.

“We have some of the best coaches in the state in our conference competing against those guys night in and night out makes it a lot of fun,” says Cherry. “The coaches in our conference are not only great coaches, but great men as well. We have battles on the field, but were all friends off the field. All the coaches work really hard and have built strong baseball programs.

“The coaches in our conference make the three-game series a lot of fun, because they are work at creating scouting reports, pitching hitters certain ways, and positioning their defenses against the scouting report. This forces hitters to learn how to hit against good pitching. Our three-game series is a great opportunity to prepare our players who are going on to play college baseball. Our guys are playing in intense, meaningful games every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”

HCC are tight-knit lot.

We have some of the best coaches in the state in our conference and competing against those guys night in and night out makes it a lot of fun,” says Cherry. “The coaches in our conference are not only great baseball coaches, but great men as well. 

“We have battles on the field, but we are all friends off the field.  All the coaches work really hard and have built strong baseball programs.”

The ’17 Tigers went unbeaten at home. The school recently re-configured the fence foul line to enclose the bullpens. From the outfield end of the dugouts the fence line angles towards the outfield and then runs parallel down the foul line to the outfield fence (similar to Wrigley Field).

“Our fence line is not as close to fair territory as Wrigley, but it is a lot closer than many high school fields, which gives is a unique setting,” says Cherry, an IHSBCA district representative and a member of the ABCA and National High School Baseball Coaches Association (BCA).

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Matt Cherry is the only head baseball coach Fishers High School has ever known, starting the program from scratch and fielding the first varsity team in 2007.