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IHSBCA coaches give opinions on IHSAA class baseball, tournament format

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

Has it really been a generation since Indiana widely adopted high school class sports?
Of course there were classes in football going back to the 1970s, but check the records and you will find that 1996-97 (when Jasper outlasted Carmel 10-8 for the IHSAA baseball championship) was the last year that other sports were in the all-comers category at state tournament time.
With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away the 2020 spring season, that makes 2023 the 25th year of class baseball in the Hoosier State.
In the multi-class era, 56 different schools have won state baseball championships.
Of that number, only Jasper, LaPorte and Penn earned titles prior to 1997-98.
There are 22 schools with multiple state runner-up finishes. That accounts for 60 red ribbons — all but 12 coming from 1997-98 forward.
Noting that some schools came about in recent years because of consolidation, unification or other reasons, those that won their first sectional championship during the multi-class era include 4A’s Elkhart (2021), Evansville Harrison (1999), Fishers (2017), Fort Wayne South Side (2012) and Michigan City (2002), 3A’s Angola (1999), Charlestown (1999) and Hamilton Heights (2006), 2A’s Austin (2002), Central Noble (2009), Clinton Central (2005), Covenant Christian of Indianapolis (2008), Delphi (2008), Fairfield (1998), Hanover Central (2011), Heritage Christian (2005), Illiana Christian (2022), Lewis Cass (2000), North Decatur (2011), Parke Heritage (2021), Sheridan (2004), South Knox (2004), Southwestern of Hanover (1999), Southwood (1999), Taylor (1998), Triton Central (2003), Whitko (2017) and Woodlan (2005) and 1A’s Argos (1998), Bethesda Christian (2008), Caston (2012), Christian Academy of Indiana (2004), Cowan (2004), Daleville (1999), Edinburgh (2009), Elkhart Christian (2013), Eminence (2005), Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian (2001), Fort Wayne Canterbury (2009), Greenwood Christian (2014), Hauser (2004), Henryville (1999), Indianapolis Lutheran (2017), Kouts (1998), Marquette Catholic (2002), Milan (1999), Monroe Central (2001), Morgan Township (2004), Morristown (1998), New Washington (1998), Northeast Dubois (1998), North Miami (2019), Oldenburg Academy (2003), Park Tudor (1998), Pioneer (2016), Randolph Southern (2010), Rising Sun (2002), Seton Catholic (2011), South Central of Elizabeth (2005), Southwestern of Shelbyville (1999), Tecumseh (2000), Traders Point Christian (2021), Trinity Lutheran (2009), Triton (2000), Washington Township (1999), Union City (2012), University (2012), Waldron (2001), West Washington (2021), White River Valley (2017) and Whiting (2008).
A quarter century in, there are still plenty of opinions in the Indiana high school baseball community about the system.
These questions were posed to several coaches around Indiana:

  • Is class baseball a positive or a negative?
  • Who benefits the most from class baseball?
  • If you could change anything about class baseball what would that be?
  • Anything else you’d like to say on the subject?

Some of the responses:

BRIAN ABBOTT (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Executive Director and IHSBCA Hall of Famer)

“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has allowed schools of all sizes to be recognized and have some success at the state level while increasing fan interest in our sport. The players and the communities truly benefit the most from class baseball, in my opinion.
“The IHSAA does a great job of administering the state tournament and ending each year at Victory Field allows our sport to be showcased on a big stage! However, the tournament format itself needs to be addressed, especially at the sectional level, and we can’t continue in a ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter format. Our sport is different than others and our tournament format needs to reflect that. Seeding, success factor, and travel also need to be looked at in light of the fact(s) that class sports are here to stay and there are geographical constraints/factors based on the location of the school(s).
“Baseball in general is changing for the better in Indiana … the IHSBCA and the IHSAA need to continue to work together on formats/philosophies/participation guidelines that foster growth in our sport and develop a mutual relationship where everyone’s input is valued. We, the IHSBCA, have several ideas to share about the state tournament format/setup and how we can better grow our sport, in general. We are all stronger when we are working together and my goal as the Executive Director is to help facilitate positive changes that will grow our sport and unify our coaches at the same time.”

DAN AMBROSE (Heritage Christian head coach)

“(Class baseball) is a positive.
“I assume that smaller schools are more likely to benefit so they play teams that are more competitive. 
“I would support adding a fifth ‘super class’ of the largest schools and then balance the rest of the four classes.”

PATRICK ANTONE (Former Boone Grove and Columbus North and current Roncalli head coach)

“Class baseball is definitely a positive thing. It levels the playing field for teams when it comes to player depth and facilities. 
“For example, a school with an enrollment of 2,200 has a lot more players to work with and pull from than a school with an enrollment of 300. Both teams can be good and have good players, but the bigger school is very likely going to have more depth. The smaller school is likely to have one really good pitcher where the bigger school is likely to have two, or even three really good pitchers. As a result, the bigger school would have a big advantage in the sectional and regional.
“The other way it levels the playing field is when it comes to facilities. Bigger schools tend to have nicer facilities to train and practice in during the off-season where some schools, usually the smaller ones, don’t have anything close to the facilities of larger schools. Many schools either can’t get access to the facilities they have during the off-season because other in-season teams are using them for practice or games, or they just don’t have the facilities or space period.
“It can put teams at a big competitive disadvantage when they can’t train or practice the way they want to and need to during the off-season, and I think class baseball helps in this regard because schools that have similar enrollments tend to have similar facilities. 
“Everyone benefits from class baseball. The smaller schools obviously because of what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question, but also the larger schools. When you’re competing for anything, let alone a state championship, you want it to really mean something and be a challenge. It’s what competing is all about. It’s not going to mean as much when a school with an enrollment of 2,200 plus kids goes up against a school with an enrollment of 300 plus kids and beats them in a sectional or regional. They should be able to do that again referring back to what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question.
“Not only would they win but they wouldn’t have to throw their No. 1 pitcher to do so and would have them available for the next game, where the smaller school would likely need to throw their best pitcher in that situation. And if they did win, do they have a pitcher that could compete and win against another team with a large enrollment…not likely.
“There are two things I would change about class baseball, and one of them is being talked about right now. First, I would seed the postseason. It’s frustrating when you have teams that have done really well during the regular season and they meet in the first or second round of the sectional, and there are teams that didn’t fair as well in the regular season getting a bye in the first round and/or playing another team that didn’t do as well in the early rounds.
“It’s something I feel wouldn’t be too difficult to do or set up and it would make the postseason better and provide even more meaning to the regular season. I like that everyone makes the postseason because you can have something happen with injuries and get a player back, or a team hasn’t quite figured things out yet but later in the year they do and are still in it.
“But, there needs to be something in place for teams that do better in the regular season. I think seeding the sectional would be really good for Indiana high school baseball.
“The other thing I would change is going from four classes to five classes. Again, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned previously. Many times there’s such a large gap between the teams in 4A. I think going to five classes would help this and it’s something the IHSBCA and IHSAA are talking about and looking into.
“The success factor has worked well and is set up well. How they have it set up is good and I think it’s accomplishing what they wanted it to.”

RYAN BERRYMAN (Former Northwestern and current Western head coach)

“There’s no doubt that class sports have provided more opportunities for athletes, coaches, schools, and communities by creating a level of fairness with classified state tournaments. I understand the traditional approach of one class and experienced it as a player as we advanced to the semistate finals as a small school (at Western) in ’93 and ’94. But as a coach, the class system allows for accomplished small school teams to aspire to be state champions instead of hoping to win a sectional in a one class system.
“All stakeholders of a school’s baseball program (benefit most from class baseball). Having ranked teams and winning championships builds a greater sense of tradition within communities and raises interest amongst school children, faculty, and administration. Players and coaches benefit from the sense of accomplishment by developing a highly competitive team within a post-season setting.
“I would make the tradition factor a four-year stay in an elevated class — not just two years. Those who are state champion caliber teams seem to continue to dominate the current landscape. Also, if a team moves up in class and wins a sectional, regional, etc., a system needs to be created to keep them in that class because they are showing the ability to compete.
“We need to restructure our tournament. Six-team sectionals and format need to be uniformed. Only the sectional final should be played on Memorial Day. We’d have two-team regionals, four-team semistates and seed the tournament.
“We are the only sport that, based on pitching restrictions (pitch counts and days rest) and may not have our best lineup on the field in a championship setting. Too many sectional championships are decided by Team 1’s ace dominating vs Team 2’s bullpen because of weather, graduation or the draw. Basketball will always have their point guard.”

DAVE BISCHOFF (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and New Haven head coach)

“There have been a lot of positives (with class baseball). There have been some very good smaller schools that have gotten the chance to experience state tourney runs that might not have happened in areas where there were perennial large school programs had too much depth for the smaller schools. I think that has been a good thing for Indiana high school baseball. 
“Small schools with open enrollments and the ability to reach out from beyond what would be considered a normal attendance area have done extremely well (in class baseball). This, however, is not entirely the fault of class sports. Open enrollment and increased club and travel athletic teams have opened up a whole different experience for high school athletes today.
“High school athletes are far more likely to travel further, meet and become friends with new teammates outside of their own school in the off-season and subsequently more likely to travel further away to attend a school of their choice. In a way I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, that choice often comes with a greater financial obligation and not all athletes and their families can afford to do so. Smaller schools have benefited in some areas directly. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the class sports, it’s the trend and we aren’t going to a one-class tourney.”

RYAN BUNNELL (Westfield head coach)

“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. At times, schools being up a class or down a class will dictate how successful they can be.
“The smaller schools probably benefit most (from class baseball). Winning a sectional would be a huge feat for a small school (during the one-class era). I know it was for us (at Northwestern) when we played in the sectional with Kokomo).
“There’s talk of the IHSAA going to a five-class system. I’d probably be in favor of that. If you’re going to do class might as well break it up a little more.
“How are sectionals are being distributed and seeding of the tournament would take much more priority over how many classes there are.
“Let’s set up a season where the regular season is more meaningful and the better teams are meeting at the end (with semistate- and state-caliber games at those stages rather than at the sectional level).
“I like the way Ohio (has seeded). The way I understand it, teams have been ranked off their MaxPreps ranking. Head coaches have a meeting. If you’re ranked No. 1 you pick your sectional. If you’re No. 2 you pick your sectional and you’re probably not going to put themselves in the same sectional as the No. 1 team.”

JAKE BURTON (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former McCutcheon, North Newton and current Twin Lakes head coach)

“(On the positive side,) class baseball provides more kids, coaches, and communities an opportunity to be a state champion. (On the negative side,) prior to class baseball we were used to minimal travel. We’ve also lost the local rivalries because of class baseball. 
“Good smaller programs who were fundamentally sound yet they usually didn’t have the pitching to advance deep into the tournament (benefit most from class baseball).
“I would place all private schools into Class 4A or 2A. The success factor has helped every two years, but you still have those schools who dominate every two years they move down.
“I’ve coached at the 4A and 3A level and even though I am at a 3A school, I would still rather compete against local rivalry teams rather than class baseball. However, we will never return to a one class system and I understand why!”

MATTHEW CHERRY (Fishers head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive and helps balance the playing field. Since I’ve been coaching, I believe all but just a few schools that have made the State Finals in 4A are in the top 32 in enrollment in the state. 
“Baseball is a game where you are not always putting your best 9 or best team on the field depending on pitching rotation and availability of arms. 
“The larger enrollment typically means there are more available players trying out, which creates a greater opportunity to development quality depth in your pitching staff. That is one advantage that bigger schools have. So, the idea of class baseball helps to control some of the variables on both sides of the field. It is not perfect, but it is a way to try and help control some of the unique variables that are different in baseball than other sports.
“I believe the top half of each class benefits the most from class baseball, especially at the 3A and 4A levels because the range of enrollment is so much bigger from the smallest school to biggest school in those classes.  The range in enrollment in 1A and 2A is much closer from top to bottom. 
“I don’t really want to go down this path, but the private schools also benefit from class baseball, especially in 1A, 2A, and often 3A. Private schools are not limited to school district lines and are able to draw from a wider range of students compared to the smaller enrollment schools in 1A and 2A.
“Not really answering the question, but if I could change anything about the IHSAA tournament, I would make the regular season matter and seed the tournament (or at least seed the teams that feed into the regionals). 
“You might not be in the same sectional each year if you are seeded from the regional level. I would also create double-elimination rounds at the different levels (sectional, regional, etc.). Similar to the thought above that you are not always putting your best team on the field depending on pitcher availability, a double-elimination tournament would help to insure the best team advances and not just the team with the best pitcher and the best blind draw.
“Classes need to be set by a specific enrollment range and not try to keep every class the same size. I would add a fifth or even a sixth class and set the range for the enrollment so that each school in the class is close to the same enrollment size. If that means that one class only has 32 teams, another class has 48, another class has 64, and another class has 96, then that is what should be done and would help make the tournament as fair as possible.”

JOE DECKER (Silver Creek head coach)

“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. It has given a lot of smaller schools a chance to be successful and show some of these coaches at smaller schools can really coach.
“Smaller schools definitely benefit the most (from class baseball). Some of the teams that have won state championships would never make it out of their sectionals if we were one class.
Nothing against them but when schools have 2,000 students to pick from they are going to have a lot more athletes and in the sports that require more players like baseball and football that makes a big difference.
“(I favor putting) private schools in their own class. I think they have such a huge advantage. Not because they recruit or anything like that, but they tend to get the players that are more apt and able to do the extra things such as lessons, travel ball, etc.
“Overall (class) been good for sports in Indiana. I know Silver Creek has won three state championships in boys and girls basketball in the past four years and made we have made some long runs in baseball. Not sure we would have been able to do that in one class. If you ask any of those kids that were on the state championship team and I am sure they could care less whether it was one class or four.”

GREG DIKOS (IHSBCA Hall of Famer at Penn head coach)

“I have no issues with class baseball. I like competing against other schools my size because they have the same issues (positive and negative) that I have.
“(Class baseball) definitely helps the smaller schools being able to compete against other schools their own size.  
“Baseball is a sport where a dominant pitcher can have a great bearing on the game. I remember playing Bremen in the semistate in ’94. (John Glenn head coach) John Naldony has had some very good teams that can compete against larger schools.
“As far as changes, a double-elimination sectional would be interesting.  I am not sure if a five-class baseball system could accommodate that.”

BRIAN DUDLEY (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and Wapahani head coach)

“Wapahani is in favor of class sports. I believe it makes sports a more even playing field. We won the state in 2014 in 2A, that would not have happened if there was one class.
“Our girls volleyball just won state, which is a big deal for small communities, they lost to Yorktown twice and HSE (Class 4A finalists) all were sweeps and not really close.
“Even though our team in 2014 and our girls last week were very good, competing against the bigger schools in the tournament would be very difficult. That being said, our State Championships are still a very big deal for our community, school, and students.
“Therefore, class sports are a positive. As little league participation in small communities keep losing kids to travel ball and other activities small school numbers are seeing less kids playing baseball and softball unless they have a successful program which is a minority. 
“Small schools at least feel like they have a chance to win in the tournament and maybe even a state championship when they are playing schools close to their same size. Very few 1A or 2A teams can compete in the tournament with the bigger schools, once they realize that kids quit playing or go to another sport where they might have a chance to win. 
“The current format is fine for the tournament. Adding additional classes or a class would benefit big schools only in my opinion.
Four classes has been a success. Can you tweak things? Maybe. But why change if it is not broken?”

DAVE GINDER (Fort Wayne Carroll head coach)

“I like the one-class system but also know that class sports are not going anywhere so we can take the positives from it and live with it.
“It is probably the small class schools and communities that benefit the most as they typically have a greater opportunity to advance when playing similar size schools.
“Class sports are here to stay so one change I’d like to see for baseball would be the tournament run in some way that has a series feel to it as baseball is not a sport that is suited for a ‘one and done’ tournament.”

TERRY GOBERT (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and Jasper head coach)

“I’m fine with class sports but concerned about the impact of some private and parochial schools that seem to put great emphasis on athletic success which can make it difficult for public schools to compete on an annual basis.
“Class sports are here to stay but this situation and the number of transfers at public schools are the next challenges for the IHSAA.”

DAVE GOODMILLER (Norwell head coach)

“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has created more excitement for more schools and their fans. 
“Probably the smaller schools feel as if they have a better chance to experience sectional and regional championships than when it was one class. 
“The only drawback (in class baseb all) I could see is you may have farther travel but in your sectional pairings than when it was one class. When I played in the single class, your sectional would be more local. It would have teams of various sizes, but we seemed have greater rivalries because many times you played against those teams in the regular season or against those players in your summer leagues. 
“As a coach today, I want to play the best schools we can (no matter the size). I want to prepare ourselves for our conference and sectional. When I was a player, we wanted to be able to compete with Logansport, Kokomo, Marion and LaPorte. Today, we want to compete with Andrean, Jasper, Brebeuf and Southridge.”

KEVIN HANNON (Knox head coach)

“(Class baseball) is a positive. I witnessed first-hand what the state tournament does in small communities. The student-athletes have a more balanced playing field.
“The benefits go to the teams that advance the furthest in the tourney.  Without class baseball a 1A could defeat a 3A or 4A school in the tournament on a given day. However, in most cases those smaller schools don’t have the depth, especially with pitchers.
“We are at the point that we need to look at the number of classes. I would be in favor of adding a fifth class. The current disparity in school sizes is extremely large in the upper class. With the growth and addition of smaller, private schools, other mid-size schools are being bumped up.  
“The biggest problem facing our tournament currently is the number of schools in the sectionals. Host schools have roughly a week to host a sectional tournament. 
“Depending on your sectional, you could have anywhere from 5-8 teams in that sectional. Huge difference between five and eight. In a five-team sectional the winning team would have to win two or at most three games, and could possibly do that with two pitchers. In an eight-team sectional, the winning team would have to win three games and would possibly need three if not four pitchers in that 5-7 day window for the games.”

ERIK HISNER (Former Whitko and current Eastern of Greentown head coach and athletic director)

“(Class baseball) is a positive. It levels the playing field for all schools, especially the ones that are not in that top quarter or so.
“The smaller schools and even the medium-sized schools benefit the most.
“The thing that football did with the Top 32 (being in the largest or super class), I’d like to see that in the other sports. There are different things you could do with the other four (in a five-class system). You could divide it up evenly. There’s been discussion of capping 1A at 128. There’s a big discrepancy right now between the bottom of 4A and the top of 4A.
“(The Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) has talked about running data and see how people would fall. There would not be (an) equal (amount of) schools in every class. We’re still in the process of gathering information. The IHSAA was at our last two athletic directors conferences and present for those discussions.”

JOHN HUEMMER (Mishawaka head coach)

“Class baseball will have a positive effect on high school baseball. I think that it levels the playing field for the state tournament. Also, having class baseball will allow more schools the opportunity to earn a state title just like with football’s six classes.   
“I believe that the smaller schools will benefit.”
“It would be fun to see all state title teams play in a small tournament to see who is the best of all of the classes.”
“Even with the change to class baseball, there are very good teams at each class level. It will still not be an easy road to get the opportunity to play at Victory Field.”

DENNIS KAS (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former Clinton Prairie and Noblesville head coach and current Lafayette Jeff assistant coach)

“Had class sports been in place (when I was at Clinton Prairie) I may have never left. One of the things class sports does is that you can achieve everything positive you want to achieve from a goals standpoint.
“Class sports kind of levels the playing field during the state tournament.
I had some terrific teams back at Prairie. In five years, we won two sectionals.
“A disadvantage for class sports is that when you get to a bigger school like Noblesville there’s no ceiling on the enrollment.
“Believe it or not once we went to class sports Noblesville had the smallest enrollment in our sectional at 1,250 (Clinton Prairie was around 300).
“If I were at Clinton Prairie I’d welcome it as a smaller school. I might have one really good pitcher that could help me compete against anybody, but in most years would have a drop-off in pitching depth.
“At Noblesville — a larger school — I have the chance to have more depth.
In baseball it always comes down to pitching. You can be good in a lot of areas of the game. If you have a question on the mound you’re going to struggle.”

DARIN KAUFFMAN (Fairfield head coach)

There’s positives and negatives for everything, but it’s good for baseball to have class.
“If we expand to another class it’s going to be even better. It makes everyone feel like they have a chance. If you’ve got the right group of guys you can win.
“At the State Finals you see a difference between the 1A game and 4A game. The lineups are deeper at the bigger level. The 4A game is little more of a college game than a high school game.
“The smaller schools probably benefit more (in class baseball) than the bigger schools).
“In baseball, it’s how the pitching lines up.
“I like how Iowa does it. They don’t start baseball until the end of April and their tournament’s in July. I don’t know if that will ever happen here.”

JUSTIN KEEVER (Noblesville head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive (but classification should be addressed) … The number of schools in each class doesn’t need to be the same.
“Breakdown of each class needs to be more than an arbitrary enrollment number. There needs to be thought into why the lines of demarcation are made (spread, standard deviations, range). Athletic department size (percentage of the student body participating in each sport should be used for classes) could be used to determine classes.
“Many large schools have very small baseball programs. Some small schools have very large baseball programs in terms of numbers. The class system should be used to place a school into its appropriate level of competition, not just for the number of students that attend a school. There are many other variables to consider.”

KEVIN KINNISON (Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian head coach)

“I don’t know if (class baseball) is a positive or a negative per say. I played when there wasn’t any classes and I think the class system has taken away for the local rivalries. Now depending on your class and the location of your sectional, you may have to travel up to an hour to play in sectionals, although more teams have the opportunity to win a state championship, a win over a neighborhood rival might mean more, bragging rights.
“There are eight teams every year who have the opportunity to play in a state championship game so that’s a benefit (to class baseball). More players, coaches, and schools who have a chance to experience a state championship game.
“I’m not sure that I agree with the success factor movement (for all schools), aside from private schools you may be punishing kids who aren’t even in high school because current classes are winning. In small towns you may have a group of kids who all hit at once and then the next year they have nothing, those young men, in the current format are being punished for the success of prior classes.
“For me it comes down to the local excitement, the rivalries, the competition between kids who know each other, who’ve grown up playing each other since little league. That’s what’s I believe is missing with the class system. Coming from a coach at a small school I know that if there wasn’t a class system the likelihood of us winning a sectional would go down dramatically, but just think if we would ever knock off one of the local big boys, it would be remembered forever.”

BRIAN KIRCHOFF (Former Northeast Dubois head coach and current Jasper assistant coach)

“Overall you can’t make a real argument that (class baseball) is a negative. You’re putting more kids and more schools in successful situations. I get that part.
“We were fortunate enough to win eight sectionals (at Northeast Dubois) which wouldn’t have happened in single-class.
“That being said, I’m not sure its been a positive for small-school athletes as far as recognition goes (for all-star consideration or scholarships).
“The smaller schools were the target when this all started 25 years ago.”
“There are private schools that have it better than other private schools (some have thrived and others have had a hard time fielding a team).”

KYLE KRAEMER (Terre Haute South Vigo head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive for the most part. The obvious plus is that there are more ‘winners.’ The big negative in my opinion is that schools lose local rivalries. Pre-class era, we had great rivalries with all the local schools because you were going to potentially play one of them at the sectional or regional level. Those teams and games are now just another game on the schedule unfortunately, especially in my neck of the woods. 
“Terre Haute South and Terre Haute North are on a ‘big school island.’  We have to travel at least 50 miles to play another 4A baseball team.  It was much easier to have a rivalry with say a West Vigo, South Vermillion, Sullivan, etc. before class baseball because we would most likely see them in the state tournament. It is difficult to have a rivalry with a school that is located in or around the Indianapolis area.  
“The IHSAA can expand to five classes for baseball — that’s fine. But, in my opinion, the private schools need to have their own class/classes.”

BRIAN KUESTER (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and South Spencer head coach)

“I think class baseball has been positive even though I was a little skeptical when it first started.
“Class baseball probably benefits the smaller schools the most because it gives them a realistic chance in the tournament.
“The biggest thing that I think that could help class baseball would be looking at creating a separate parochial school class.”

DEAN LEHRMAN (Heritage head coach)

“Having been a high school football coach for 40 years and a head high school baseball coach for 45 years, I have seen the ‘evolution’ of class sports here. My connection to friends and relatives in neighboring Ohio and Michigan has also allowed me to ‘watch’ the evolution of class sports there. In my early years (1981), I was part of Leland Etzler’s Woodlan football staff that went to the Class A state championship game vs. Hamilton Southeastern. There were three classes of football at that time compared with the six we have now. The game was played outdoors in a blizzard on November 20, 1981 (the night before my wife and I were married). It was an awesome experience for everyone connected to the small town communities of Woodburn and Harlan, Indiana. That puts my vote on the positive side of class sports in general and class baseball in particular.
“In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Class 2A baseball championship game at Victory Field with my Heritage Patriots. We came up short to a powerhouse from South Spencer, but once again it was a tremendous experience for the communities of Monroeville and Hoagland.  Players, parents and fans were the biggest beneficiaries in both cases.
“I have seen point systems both here and in Ohio. I have seen other limited entry systems where not everyone gets to participate. I have seen ‘seeded’ systems (currently in Ohio) where top seeds are given regional choice and early round home games. Later rounds are played at ‘neutral’ sites. There are good and bad characteristics to all of these hybrid systems — depending on where you fall in the ‘rankings.’ I feel that things continue to evolve and therefore should only get better in the future — as long as we keep all kids in mind.”

PAT LOWREY (Lafayette Harrison head coach)

“I believe it to be positive for the student-athletes throughout the state as class baseball has provided opportunities for schools of all sizes to compete with more of a level playing field. Being at a smaller school for five years (Delphi) and now at a bigger school for the last 11 (Harrison), I have been lucky enough to see several outstanding programs and coaches at all levels. 
“While at Delphi, we were fortunate enough to advance to the 2010 2A state championship game. While I would like to say we’d compete well in a one-class system, the truth of the matter is, we would have struggled to compete against bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional) due to the differences in depth of our roster in comparison to bigger schools. 
“At Harrison, we have been lucky enough to have several arms that we could run out in an elimination game. At Delphi, that number is quite smaller, which would have really hurt us if we were to play vs. bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional). That is a huge competitive advantage for the larger schools and something that is beyond the control of smaller schools. When class baseball started, it provided schools of all sizes the ability to compete on a level playing field in each of the four classes.

CHRIS MAY (Gibson Southern head coach)

“I really see (class baseball) as a positive for the lower classes. Class A and AA have the opportunity to get a State Championship and not have to butt heads with the larger schools. In Class AAA and AAAA, there’s not as big a difference in talent.”

ANDY MCCLAIN (Former Brebeuf Jesuit, Norwell and Lawrence Central and current Indianapolis North Central head coach)

“Class baseball is both positive and negative in my mind. You lose some of the regional rivalries although you could still play local/smaller and larger teams on your regular season schedule. We certainly have more sectional champions and more kids are able to enjoy success playing baseball so that is a huge plus. It leaves more kids with positive experiences while in high school and playing our great game.
“I would have to think that the smaller schools benefit the most from class baseball with all respect to them. Our state has tremendous coaches and programs at all levels. Again the opportunity for kids at those schools to be able to compete in the state tournament and enjoy success is a great benefit.
“I’m not sure there is much to change for the better — possibly a Champions Tournament but on the flip side it may be rough to win a title and then turn around and possibly get beat. Basketball got away from it, obviously. Some schools have to travel quite a bit for sectional play, but again not sure if there is a way around that.
“Baseball at the 3A level on a whole rivals the baseball being played at 4A. Jasper and Andrean’s success when they bumped up is a testament.”

MARCUS MCCORMICK (Speedway head coach)

“As in other sports, classification was created to level the playing field keeping schools with similar enrollment sizes within the same bracket and to also create more winners per sport. 
Classification has added hope to teams who may otherwise not have it if they are put into a sectional with bigger schools.  To be perfectly honest most of the time the bigger schools just have access to more choices, such as players, facilities and money.  
“The smaller schools benefit the most from classification. It has allowed talent to grow and flourish, as having an opportunity to win a sectional breeds hope, which makes it easier to get kids out to play. 
“I would create a separate class for private schools, the advantage that they have can not be matched by the public school. I will say open enrollment has helped, but the private schools have distanced themselves a lot especially in baseball.  
“I like where we are at with baseball in the state of Indiana. The training facilities and opportunities that our kids have after high school has grown since I have been in the game the last 20 years.”

JEFF MCKEON (Former Plainfield and South Putnam head coach)

“I am somewhat of a traditionalist, so a single class had a little soft spot in my heart. That said, there are some benefits to a class system. The class system allows for: 1. More state winners, 2. A chance for smaller schools to compete at a high level, 3. It helps promote the game of baseball in the state.
“I would say the smaller schools and the schools that fall just under the class limits (benefit the most from class baseball). What I mean by that is if the top 101 enrollments go to 4A, school number 102 has an advantage because they are playing in 3A. The private schools also benefit from the class system.
“If we are to stay in the class system (which we will), I would say that for baseball there needs to be five classes instead of four.
“Another change I would enact would be to not separate by an equal number. If there are 400 schools, it doesn’t need to be 100 in each class of four. 
“A final change would be the success factor rule. The requirements need to be adjusted, mainly the length at which they must stay up a class should be longer.
“One thing that class baseball hurt (along with class basketball) was the community sectionals. I graduated in ’93 when it was still one class and I remember that all the sectionals in every sport were heavily-attended. The attendance has gone down in terms of sectionals.”

BLAKE MOLLENKOPF (Caston head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive thing, especially for schools with lower enrollment. It helps create a somewhat even playing field for tournament play. Class sports have allowed for multiple smaller enrollment schools to have teams thrive and have success that may not happen if class sports didn’t exist.
“Class baseball has allowed our kids to compete against schools of like enrollment. It has allowed our school to enjoy tournament success.  It has allowed our school and community to host sectional and regional tournaments, whereas without class sports, we may have not had these opportunities.   
“I understand the log jam in class sports that occurs at the 4A level, especially in larger city schools. Oftentimes top teams match up early in a tournament, which I am sure is frustrating for those programs.  
“Overall, class baseball has been a positive thing, especially from the Caston baseball programs perspective. We feel as though it provides parity for our kids, and it gives them a chance to be successful in tournament play. Like in any system, there are pros and cons, but our feel is this has more pros than cons for our student athletes.”

KEITH NUNLEY (Former Monroe Central and current Guerin Catholic head coach)

“(Class baseball) is positive overall
“Smaller schools who make runs (benefit most from class baseball). 
“Sectional and maybe even regional could be seeded.”

PAT O’NEIL (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former Brownsburg and current Danville Community head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive thing. Teams get a chance to play vs comparable sized teams, better chance for success in state tourney.
“The lower classes (benefit most from class baseball) as they all have a legitimate chance for tourney success.
“My thoughts about change, which I presented to LaPorte AD, Ed Gilliland, over five years ago is this: All classes play their sectionals. Winners would then meet up in a demographic regional competing with those winners meeting in a four-team semi and finally in a final four State Championship tournament. I actually broke it down statewide with who goes where potentially each stage. This give each class a chance for a sectional title and a tourney overall state champion. I also put this idea for basketball as well.
“IHSBCA has done a tremendous job in supporting high school baseball. Baseball and basketball are sports where small schools can compete vs. larger schools. My format would appease all schools with a chance for a sectional trophy, but let’s see one overall state champion.”

JASON RAHN (Westview head coach)

“(Class baseball) is a positive.
“Smaller public schools definitely benefit the most from class ball.
“I don’t feel there is anything wrong with our classification system. There will always be some argument that private schools should perhaps have their own division.”

JOEL REINEBOLD (Former Bremen, South Bend Adams and current South Bend Clay head coach)

“I am from the group that favors the one-class system when it comes to the tournament. I think in baseball you can still be competitive with bigger schools if you are a smaller school.
“If you have four or five classes then you really don’t have a ‘state champion.’ You have four or five ‘state champions.’
“If you want a true state champion then, let the class winners compete against each other a week later and really come up with a ‘state champion.’ Until then, you just have ‘class champions.’”
“If you are going to have class state champions, why are big schools and little schools playing during the regular season?”

A.J. RISEDORPH (NorthWood head coach and dean of athletics)

“Class baseball is a positive thing. I would say I grew up as a traditionalist and loved the single-class basketball era; however, I’ve grown to appreciate the advantages/disadvantages that come with the size of schools.
“Classifying baseball is something that benefits all programs, schools and communities. At the end of the season, eight communities get to compete for the state title at an amazing stadium. Maybe that will soon expand to 10!
“I am excited to see the potential of a fifth class built into the state tournament. This would help create more balance among the classes once it is all said and done. It would be interesting to see how things would shake up if multipliers were given to various things like private/public schools, free/reduced percentages, etc. I’ve heard arguments for the success factor to be implemented differently as well. I am not sure it’s entirely fair that the success of graduated juniors and seniors determines the fate of the rising freshman and sophomores who were not directly a part of that success.
“I would love to see consistent sectional/regional alignments across as many team sports as possible. I feel this would enhance the rivalry aspect of the state tournament from a sectional/regional standpoint.”

RANDY ROBERTS (Washington Township head coach)

“For us, class baseball has certainly been a positive. Realistically we don’t have the manpower to compete in a tournament with the larger schools. It gives us something to shoot for, and a legitimate chance to win tournament championships. 
“All small schools benefit from class baseball. Even at the state tournament there is a very noticeable difference in the talent level between the class A game, and the Class AA game. Larger schools have 4-5 times more kids try out for their team. Valpo has over a hundred, we typically get 20 boys out per season.”

GARY ROGERS (Former Fort Wayne Bishop Luers and current Leo head coach)

“(Class baseball) has been a real positive for high school baseball. Although every once in awhile you have a team you feel can compete in any class, the class system gives teams a level playing field on a more consistent basis.
“The kids and community benefit most (from class baseball). At the end of the day when you are a state champion, none of those kids or community identify as a class state champ, they identify as a state champion and the memories from that success.
“Baseball should be a double-elimination tournament in order to get a true team champion. A team can eliminate a really good team in a single-elimination tournament with a dominant pitcher.
“In 2008 we had Tyler Watts and Kevin Kiermaier get seen by the Parkland College coach because we had the opportunity to advance in the state tournament in Class 2A. They both went to Parkland and Kevin is having a pretty good major league career.”

SCOTT ROST (Former Elkhart Memorial and current Elkhart head coach)

“In our area, the vast majority of schools are 3A and 4A. I’m not sure it makes a ton of difference one way of the other. I’m sure for many small schools, (class baseball) provides some positive benefits.
“(Class baseball) is beneficial for some of the smaller schools that may not have a chance for success against bigger schools. 
“There should be other factors involved in the equation when classifying schools. You’re not always comparing apples to apples when you look at enrollment numbers. You can compare similar-sized schools and athletes in one district that do not necessarily have the same opportunities and resources that athletes in another district do.”

MARK SCHELLINGER (New Prairie head coach)

“(Class baseball is a) very positive thing. Enrollment is definitely not the only factor, but it does make a big difference. It’s not realistic to think that small schools can compete consistently with the higher enrollment schools. The depth that the larger schools have because of numbers and the in-team competition that brings gives them a major advantage. Larger schools often have more resources — including indoor facilities and more coaches that is also advantageous for them.
“The benefits from class baseball can be seen throughout all classes.  The idea is that schools are competing against similar schools is good for all.  
“I would actually like to see five classes. The descepancy between the biggest schools in 4A and the smaller schools in 4A is very large. We have schools with over 3,500 students competing against schools that have less than 1,500 students. That is a major difference that brings some big advantages for the larger schools.”

BRAD SCOTT (Rossville head coach)

“At Rossville, we benefit from class baseball. I cannot speak for any other coaches or programs but my guess is most would say that smaller schools and/or private schools benefit from the most. With that said, sectionals are generally aligned by geographical location so my guess is a 4A Sectional in the Indianapolis area might not see significant change if we had one class. I could be wrong though. 
“I would love to see baseball do something like basketball did for a short time with the Tournament of Champions. Baseball — unlike basketball or football — has what I consider to be an equalizer with pitching. It would be neat to see it played out. 
“I am a fan of the old school single-class system as well. I don’t know what it feels like winning a sectional in a single-class system and I do not want to undermine how special winning a sectional championship is. It is a great accomplishment and there is a great amount of pride felt from the program, school and community.
“With that said, I would think winning one in a single-class system would feel different for small schools because of the enrollment differences with the teams you would have to beat.”

CORY STONER (Jimtown head coach)

“Class baseball is a positive. It creates an opportunity for more competition across the board.
“Smaller schools with fewer arms benefit the most from class baseball. Larger schools with more pitchers only are at a great advantage over the smaller schools whose best position players are typically also their best arms and usually have far fewer pitcher-only type players.
“I would love to play three-game series in the postseason rather than the one-and-done model. I’m not sure it is even possible and have no idea how they could arrange it but I think it better fits baseball. You would get the better TEAMs winning sectionals as opposed to the team with the best arm or two winning them.”

STEVE STRAYER (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and Crown Point head coach)
 

“(Class baseball) is mostly positive. It gives hope for many of the smaller schools to earn a sectional, regional, semi-state ,and state championships. “The negative would be private schools seem to be earning most of these championships.
“Private schools (benefit most from class baseball). In the lower classes, private schools have been piling up the state championships. “I would like to have three classes of public schools and one or two classes of private schools.”

TIM TERRY (South Vermillion head coach and athletic director)

“I am old-fashioned, I began coaching when it was a one-class system. I liked the rivalries and going to the local areas to play the sectional games (playing at home or in Terre Haute or Brazil against Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo or West Vigo).
“The reason I bring it up, I felt that it was some Hoosier Hysteria in baseball. It was the local teams playing in a sectional and no one had to travel a great distance.


“It is a benefit for a smaller school to advance farther in the (class baseball) tournament. It takes away the big upsets, but more have a chance to reach the state.”

TED THOMPSON (Tecumseh head coach)

“Class sports has worked out to be a good thing for everyone involved.  The competitive nature of each class is relative and that gives everyone the opportunity to see different teams in different years be successful. 
“The smaller schools most definitely benefit the most due to the shear numbers that are limited they have to choose from. This allows them to compete against like size schools and provide a great experience for the athlete.

“I think the way the IHSAA has it set up is good and there’s not really much to change.”

CRAIG TROUT (Northview head coach)

“Overall class baseball is a positive. It allows for a more-even level of competition. If we look at the schools with larger enrollment it is more common (especially now with pitch count rules) for them to compete with schools their size who have a similar pitching staffs. 

“(Who benefits the most from class baseball is a two-pronged answer. On one hand you have smaller schools 1A, 2A, even 3A who have had more of a chance to compete and have success against schools their size. Again, looking at depth of pitching on those levels it creates a more even playing field. Second answer would be the private/parochial/preparatory schools. They have had more success than most public schools in the tournament, yes they fluctuate in classes because of success factor, but also they have the advantage of being able to set an enrollment where public schools do not.

“Maybe add one more class, I’d like to see just what that would look like. Northview is at the top of the 3A scale so that may move us to the bottom of 4A. I don’t know how that would effect everyone. Also maybe look at a multiplier for the private/parochial/preparatory schools in sports like other states have done. Other states have done it and I think it does create a more even system.

“Overall I think class baseball is great. I think however we could all look back to the days of the David vs. Goliath matchups which brought in huge crowds. I would also like to say that I’m not trying to bring anyone down in this because right now I would argue the state of Indiana has as much baseball talent as any state in the Midwest. The coaching in our state has been really great. I enjoy competing against these coaches from all the different classes and I think baseball in Indiana is as good as it has ever been and I think with the classes we’ve seen some great tournaments and will continue to do so in the future.”

TONY UGGEN (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former Northfield and current Blackford head coach)

“I think (class baseball) is a positive. I was fortunate to have some teams make deep runs in the tournament during my career that likely would not have happened under a one-class system. In fact, one of my best teams at Northfield was during the one-class era and we were beaten by what is now a 4A school. Had that been a class season, we may have had a chance to win state, minimally, made a deeper run. It provides a few more teams the chance to finish as champions thanks to a more level playing field. 
“More communities (benefit from class baseball). When we came back into town after our first championship years ago, there were thousands of people in the Kmart parking lot waiting for us. Then we took the fire engine ride through town and spent the next week getting treated like royalty … That was a great experience for the community of Wabash and the players and their families. All have a memory that will last a lifetime. In the one-class era, very few small communities got to experience the state level.
“(Class baseball) is pretty good overall, but I would like to see a more consistent schedule set at the sectional level for all sites as much as possible. That is hard to do since some sectionals have lights, others don’t, and trying to work around graduations. But host schools have the slight advantage of setting a schedule that best suits their pitching staff. Of course, weather can play havoc to the best of schedules and no matter how the schedule is set, someone will still likely be unhappy. 
“There’s some talk about a slight revamp of the class system to help break down the large enrollment gap between the top and bottom 4A schools. Like most, those at the bottom of 4A just want to have a more balanced system. I appreciate the IHSBCA and IHSAA exploring possible options.”

After four seasons at Butler, Myers heads to Kennesaw State

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

Jack Myers had only been to Georgia a couple of times.
Travel baseball took him there as a teenager.
Now 22, Myers is looking forward to playing at Kennesaw (Ga.) State University after four seasons (2018-21) at Butler University in his hometown of Indianapolis then entering the NCAA Transfer Portal.
“It’s really good opportunity to put myself in a place to play at the next level,” says Myers. “It’s been my dream since I was a kid and I’m going to go chase it.”
A 6-foot-7, 220-pound right-handed pitcher, Myers joins the KSU Owls after making 40 appearances (16 as a starter) as a Butler Bulldog, going 10-10 with three saves and a 5.05 earned run average. In 128 1/3 innings, he racked up 126 strikeouts with just 38 walks.
In 2021, Myers started 11 games and went 4-5 with two complete games and a 4.39 ERA. He fanned 54 and walked 18 in 65 2/3 innings. A May 20 win at Georgetown was a seven-inning outing with eight strikeouts and no walks and earned him Big East Conference Pitcher of the Week honors.
“Command is usually one of my strong suits,” says Myers. “I’m around the (strike) zone and keep the fielders in the game.
“I’m very competitive and mentally tough. I like the competitive aspect of pitching, going one-one-one with the hitter.”
Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Myers mixes four- and two-seam fastballs with a change-up, slider and curveball.
His four-seamer got up to 93 mph last fall and again in the spring. His change-up grip is a modified “circle.”
The action on Myers’ slider can be described as “gyro.”
“It’s more vertical than horizontal,” says Myers. “It’s a lot different than the curveball.”
His curve, which he like to throw as close to “12-to-6” as he can, has been measured with up to 16 inches of vertical drop.
Myers played for head coach Dave Schrage and pitching coach Ben Norton at Butler.
“I loved it,” says Myers of his time with Schrage and Norton. “I developed a ton and came into my body.”
As a freshman, a lanky Myers tipped the scales at about 180 pounds.
“They gave us the resources that we needed,” says Myers. “(Before college), I had never done any mechanical work with weighted balls. It was all foreign to me. I was put into program (with running, ab work and arm care). I you’re sore, you don’t push it. They really look out for your arm health.”
Myers was attracted to NCAA D-I ASUN Conference member Kennesaw State because that’s where Matt Passeuer landed as pitch coach after serving in that role at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), where he worked with fireballer Sam Bachman (the graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., selected No. 9 overall in the 2021 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Angels).
“He had a development plan and a track record of putting velocity on guys,” says Myers of Passeuer, who is on Owls head coach Ryan Coe’s staff.
Myers earned a Finance degree from Butler in May and plans to take Professional Sales classes at Kennesaw State.
Myers did not play in the summer of 2018 after getting surgery for a nerve issue in his elbow. He was with the Jesse Lancaster-coached Morehead (N.C.) Marlins of the Coastal Plain League in 2019 and 2021. He was to play for that team in 2020 when the CPL shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic and he competed the last month of the season with the Josh Galvan-coached Tropics of then College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
Born and raised on the north side of Indianapolis, Myers played T-ball for the Tigers at 3 and travel ball for the Shane Cox-coached Indiana Prospects, Tim Burns-coach Indiana Nitro, Dwayne Hutchinson-coached Indiana Outlaws, Ray Hilbert-coached Indy Stix and Ryan Bunnell-coached Indiana Bulls.
Myers attended St. Pius Parish Catholic School for Grades K-8 then went to Indianapolis Cathedral High School, graduating in 2017.
A shortstop as a freshman and sophomore, Myers took a growth spurt up to 6-4 and then had another one up to 6-7 his last two years of high school. He dressed with the varsity as a sophomore.
Myers was a pitcher/first baseman as a junior and a pitcher/right fielder/first baseman as a senior.
At Cathedral, Myers played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Rich Andriole then, for the 2017 IHSAA Class 4A state championship season, Ed Freje.
“I was a 14-year-old kid when (Andriole) instilled discipline and mental toughness,” says Myers. “He had an impact on college career. I had played under pressure.
“(Freje) came in our senior year and let us create the identity of the team
How do you want this to be run? He held us accountable and we had a lot of success. He allowed us to play loose, but also required discipline.”
Jack is the eldest of financial advisor Mike and Cathedral counselor Jenny Myers’ three children. Indianapolis North Central High School graduate Kate Myers is entering her freshman year at Indiana University-Bloomington to study business. Volleyball player Josie Myers is a Cathedral freshman.

Jack Myers (Butler University Photo)
Jack Myers (Butler University Photo)
Jack Myers (Butler University Photo)

Ball State right-hander Johnson impresses in College Summer League at Grand Park

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

It’s hard not to stand out when you are 6-foot-6. But Ty Johnson did little to rise above as a baseball pitcher until his junior year at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis.
Johnson entered high school in the fall of 2016 at 5-10. By the end of freshman year he was 6-2. By the close of his sophomore year in 2018 he was 6-6.
“I got hurt a bunch freshman and sophomore year,” says Johnson. “I had growing pains. My body wasn’t ready for it. I was goofy and awkward.
“My junior year I got a little more athletic.”
The right-hander saw some varsity action as a sophomore for Richard Winzenread’s Wildcats then was a regular as a junior in the spring of 2019. He went 3-0 in seven games with an 0.88 earned run average. In 39 2/3 innings, he struck out 60 and walked 20.
That fall he played for Team Indiana, coached by Phil Wade and Blake Hibler.
The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season — which would have been Johnson’s senior campaign.
The lanky hurler attracted interest from scouts leading into the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but was not selected.
By this time he had impressed enough to be signed by Ball State University. An injury kept him out of early action, but he did get into three games for the Ben Norton-coached Local Legends of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
At Ball State, Johnson got to work with Cardinals head coach Rich Maloney and pitching coach Larry Scully.
“He trusts me,” says Johnson of Maloney. “He’s always believed in me. He has my back.
“That’s reassuring.”
Johnson and Scully have grown close.
“He checks in all the time,” says Johnson. “We work on my weaknesses. He’s brutally honest. It’s what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.
“I respect that.”
Scully has helped Johnson develop a longer delivery to take advantage of his length.
“I can maximize my velo potential,” says Johnson. “It will pay off in the long run.”
In the spring of 2021, Johnson made 15 mound appearances (11 in relief) and went 4-2 with a 6.83 ERA. In 27 2/3 innings, he recorded 34 strikeouts and 14 walks.
In the fall, there was work on a glide step to help in holding baserunners. In-season, there was an emphasis on developing an off-speed pitch and curveball.
His three pitches thrown from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot are a four-seam fastball (which sits at 91 to 93 mph and has reached 94), a change-up and curve.
By the spring, 195-pounder Johnson’s vertical leap was up to 36 inches.
“I’m pretty fast off the mound,” says Johnson. “I’m a lot more athletic than people think.
“This summer I got a lot better at fielding my position.”
Johnson says he would rather be a starting pitcher. He knows there were several on the BSU staff that had earned their way into that role last spring.
“I was suited to be a reliever freshmen year,” says Johnson. “I had no problems with it. I helped them best out of the bullpen.
“I prefer starting. That’s what Ball State wants me to do next year.”
Back in the CSL in 2021 — this time with the Caleb Fenimore-coached Bag Bandits — Johnson pitched in nine games (all starts) and went 5-1 with one complete game and a 2.03 earned run average. In 48 2/3 innings, he fanned 66 and walked 17. He posted a 0.99 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and opponents hit .176 against him.
Johnson was named College Summer League at Grand Park Pitcher of the Year. The Bag Bandits beat the Snapping Turtles in the league championship game.
The Ball State staff wanted Johnson to play in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League on the East Coast, but the pitcher opted to stay home. He trained in his basement or local gym and was allowed by Winzenread to do his throwing at Lawrence North with Bag Bandits teammate and 2021 LNHS graduate and University of Illinois recruit Cal Shepherd.
Academically, Johnson is undecided on his major. But he has declared Coaching as a minor.
“I could see me doing that the rest of my life,” says Johnson. “I would enjoy my time.”
Johnson was born in Rockwall, Texas, and moved with his family to the Lawrence Township area of Indianapolis when he was 2.
At 6, he played Coach Pitch at what is now Fall Creek Softball and Baseball. From 9U to 12U, he played travel ball for the Indiana Kodiaks, Indiana Mustangs and Oaklandon Youth Organization Bombers.
Johnson was with the Indiana Bulls from 13U to 17U. His head coaches were Tony Cookery, Ryan Bunnell, Dan Held and Troy Drosche.
Basketball was another sport for Johnson until seventh grade. He then decided to concentrate on baseball.
Ty (19) is the youngest of three children born to Rick and Lisa Johnson. There’s also Elle (24) and Pierce (22).
Salesman Rick played football in high school. Part-time receptionist Lisa played basketball.
Elle was born in Wisconsin where she was a high school swimmer. Pierce was born in Texas where he played high school basketball.

Ty Johnson on FOX 59.
Ty Johnson (Ball State University Photo)
Ty Johnson (Ball State University Photo)

Communication key for Bullpen Tournaments VP Tucker

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Growing up playing sports in Zionsville, Ind., Michael Tucker knew what it was to be a teammate.

A center in basketball and catcher in baseball, Tulsa, Okla.-born Tucker played at Zionsville Community High School and graduated in 2008. Some of his closest friends to this day played on those squads.

“We had some great teams,” says Tucker, who played for head coaches Dave Ferrell and Shaun Busick in basketball and Darrell Osborne and Adam Metzler in baseball and counted Matt Miller as a mate on the court and the diamond. Miller went on to pitch at the University of Michigan and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Eric Charles went on to play baseball at Purdue University.

Ryan Price’s father Tom Price played baseball for Dr. Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) University and that’s one of the reasons Tucker ended up at the NCAA Division III school.

Tucker was a standout hitter while playing catcher and first base for the Ravens and the Hall of Famer they called “Bama” for his first two college seasons followed by two with David Pressley.

Brandon impressed Tucker with his memory.

“He can tell you the situation — who was on the mound and the count — (from most any game),” says Tucker. “He was really fun to learn from.”

Pressley was a first-time head coach at Anderson. Tucker credits him with lessons on and off the field.

“I learned how to be a man,” says Tucker. “(Pressley) is a huge man of faith.

“He taught a tremendous amount of life lessons.”

Tucker also gained knowledge from Brad Lantz, who was an AU senior receiver when he was a freshman and went on to be a high school head coach at Guerin Catholic and Lapel and is now coaching in the Indy Sharks travel organization.

“I learned so much about catching, counts and what to look for,” says Tucker. “I learned more from (Lantz) than anyone else.”

Tucker was named to D3baseball.com’s 2010s All-Decade Team.  During his career, Tucket hit .361 with 52 home runs, 50 doubles, 193 runs batted in and a .730 slugging percentage. He was a first-team All-America selection and the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference MVP in 2011.

Franklin (Ind.) College has long been a big HCAC rival for Anderson. Tucker recalls how Grizzlies head coach Lance Marshall sometimes used to bring in a fifth infielder when Tucker was at the plate. 

Not a Marshall fan at the time, Tucker has come to see the veteran coach as one of his favorites.

Tucker received a Management degree with a minor in Entrepreneurship from Anderson U. in 2012. 

His “internship” time was spent coaching (coaching with Cesar Barrientos and the Indiana Baseball Academy Storm while injured in 2009) or playing summer collegiate ball (Fort Mill, S.C., Stingers of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League in 2010 and Hannibal, Mo., Cavemen of the Prospect League in 2011 — a team owned at the time by former big leaguers Ryan Klesko and Woody Williams) and he saw a future related to the diamond. 

“I wanted to make baseball my job whether that was with an indoor facility, coaching, training or tournaments,” says Tucker. “I didn’t know what avenue.”

Tucker was a director at the Incrediplex on the northeast side of Indianapolis 2013-15 and coached for the Indiana Bulls travel organization 2012-16.

Since April 2015, Tucker has been part of a different team as vice president for Bullpen Tournaments, Prep Baseball Report Tournaments (with Rhett Goodmiller as director of tournaments) and Pro X Athlete Development (with former big league pitcher Joe Thatcher as co-founder and president) are tenants at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Bullpen, with Tucker as the director of day-to-day operations, is involved with Pro X and works with PBR Indiana and consults with PBR national, which operates LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga., and Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo.

Ground was recently broken for Championship Park in Kokomo, Ind., and that complex will also be used by Bullpen and PBR.

The 2021 summer will mark Tucker’s seventh with Bullpen Tournaments. 

Hired by BT president Blake Hibler, whom he knew from working Prep Baseball Report showcases, Tucker started at Bullpen in time to experience Grand Park’s first full summer.

“I did everything,” says Tucker. “I tried to be a sponge. Being in baseball your whole life is completely different from the tournament industry.

“There’s learning the business side and scheduling.”

While at the Incrediplex near Lawrence, Tucker had done scheduling on a smaller scale and had become comfortable with software.

Tucker appreciates that Hibler lets him seek out processes.

“If I can find a better mousetrap, he lets me run with it,” says Tucker.

Bullpen is a very large operation.

“We’re a different beast in a lot of ways,” says Tucker, who notes that on any given weekend the company may have as many as 45 fields under its control, including those on and off the Grand Park campus.

Tucker says the key is getting the word out to teams, families and recruiters.

“You have to be able to communicate,” says Tucker. “Half of scheduling is the communicating of the schedule.”

With Hibler having a large part in brainstorming and development, Bullpen first used the Tourney Machine app and now works with Playbook 365 while also helping develop PitchAware and ScoreHQ. 

Bullpen hires scorekeepers for every high school tournament game (15U to 18U) at Grand Park. In 2020, there was also video on six fields.

“It’s huge to have accurate data,” says Tucker. “We can overlay video with stats.

“(A college) coach can recruit from his office.”

But even though Bullpen is dealing with many moving parts, there are only a half dozen full-time employees.

“Guys are tasked to learn a lot of different things,” says Tucker. “But we never feel like this is something I can’t do. Our mentality is we’re going bust our butts and how do we solve this problem?

“Our guys do a tremendous job of being flexible.”

An example of teamwork and flexibility is the creation of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which came about when so many other leagues were canceling the 2020 summer season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team that made it happen include Hibler, Tucker, Thatcher, Phil Wade, Luke Dietz, Mark Walther, Matt Bowles, Logan Weins, Cam Eveland and Kevin Ricks. Thatcher and Walther are at Pro X. Weins splits his time between Bullpen Tournaments and PBR Tournaments.

With many players reaching out, Bullpen saw the need and went to work to put together what became a 12-team league with most games played at Grand Park with a few at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

The league was constructed with safety, NCAA and recruiting regulations in mind. Players were placed, umpires were lined up and jerseys were distributed in a very short time frame.

“We had about seven days to do it,” says Tucker. “We’re excited for it to come back (in 2021).”

As a D-III alum, Tucker was especially pleased that the CSL allowed top-flight players like Joe Moran (who pitched for Anderson and has transferred to Taylor University) was able to compete against D-I talent.

While the pandemic slowed the start of the 2020 Bullpen season, Tucker estimates that there were upwards of 80 percent in games played as compared to a normal year.

The fall included more contests than ever.

“Teams couldn’t play in the spring and that baseball hunger was still there,” says Tucker. “They wanted to play a little longer.

“We had a great fall.”

Weather plays a part, but the first games each year at Grand Park with all its turf fields are collegiate in February. 

“If we get a warm-weather day our phone blows up,” says Tucker. 

Activity starts to ramp up in March with the first 8U to 14U contests the last weekend of that month.

Of course, the pandemic will have a say in what happens in 2021.

“With all the uncertainty it’s tough,” says Tucker. “It’s going to be an interesting spring.”

A perk of Tucker’s position and location is the relationships he gets to build with high school coaches. 

He sees the unique dynamic between between Noblesville’s Justin Keever, Westfield’s Ryan Bunnell, Zionsville’s Jered Moore and Fishers’ Matt Cherry of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference.

“They’re buddies,” says Tucker. “They go out to eat after the game.”

Michael and wife Dani Tucker live in Noblesville, Ind., with son Cole (5) and Cali (3).

The Tucker family (from left): Cali, Dani, Michael and Cole. Michael Tucker is vice president of Bullpen Tournaments is a tenant at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Purdue’s Nisle getting chance to hone skills in College Summer League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Nisle has been to Victory Field.

So far he has not gotten to play at the downtown Indianapolis baseball park.

That is set to change Thursday, July 13 when Purdue University righty-swinging outfielder Nisle suits up for the Blue squad in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Boilermakers coaches were looking to find Nisle and other Purdue players a summer baseball home as the COVID-19 pandemic came along and shortened the college spring season and caused many summer leagues to cancel play for 2020.

Through a partnership of Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., CSL sprouted as a developmental opportunity.

“Having a place to play is very nice,” says Nisle of the 12-team CSL. “It’s great competition.

“You’re seeing great (pitching) arms.

“I’m getting good at-bats and playing time.”

Nisle plays for the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers. 

Purdue outfielder Jack Firestone has also been chosen for the CSL All-Star Game.

A 2017 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., Nisle has played three seasons at Purdue.

In 91 games (86 as a starter), he hit .298 (89-of-299) with nine home runs, 57 runs batted in and 54 runs scored. The 2018 season saw Nisle garner Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.

He did not play last summer while rehabbing a back injury that caused him to miss a portion of the 2019 Boiler season. He also took summer classes.

During the truncated 2020 season, Nisle started in all 14 games for the Boilers (7-7) as a corner outfielder and hit .320 (16-of-50) with one homer, six RBIs and 16 runs. 

“I have a simple approach,” says Nisle of his hitting philosophy. “Hit the ball hard and what happens from there happens.”

Ticking off his strengths as an athlete, Nisle cites his knowledge of the game and his physical tools.

“I was very blessed with all that stuff,” says Nisle, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder.

When the season was canceled the Boilers were practicing and about to leave for a series at the University of Evansville.

“It was pretty startling,” says Nisle. “I didn’t know how to feel.”

Before long, he was finishing the spring semester via technology.

“I’ve taken online classes before,” says Nisle, a Construction Management Technology major who was named Academic all-Big Ten Conference in the spring. “It wasn’t so bad.”

The 2020 season was Nisle’s first with Greg Goff as head coach after two campaigns with Mark Wasikowski (now at the University of Oregon).

“He’s a great person to be around everyday,” says Nisle of Goff. “He’s about being aggressive, upbeat and positive.

“(Wasikowski) is a very, very good coach. I learned a ton from him.”

Nisle was on the Lake Central varsity for four years — three with Jeff Sandor as head coach and his senior year with Mike Swartzentruber leading the Indians.

“(Sandor) was one of my favorite coaches for sure,” says Nisle. “He was an intense guy. He knew a ton about the game.

“(Swartzentruber) is a good person all-around. He knew what he was doing. He made you see different things.”

Nisle was an all-state player his final two seasons at Lake Central. He was the Duneland Athletic Conference MVP as a junior, hitting .470 with four homers and 36 RBIs. As a senior, he batted .380 with four homers and 38 RBIs and was again chosen all-DAC. As a freshman in 2014, he was LC’s rookie of the year with .474 average. The Indians won IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional titles in 2014 and 2017. They also won a LaPorte Regional crown in 2014.

Born in Munster, Ind., Nisle grew up in Schererville, Ind. He played for the Schererville Shock from age 7 to 15. Dan Bosold was the manager of that team with Dave Lopez, Ron Mihalic and Ben’s father, Gerry Nisle, as coaches.

For his 16U and 17U summers, Ben played for the Ryan Bunnell-coached Indiana Bulls

The summer leading into his freshman year at Purdue, Nisle did not play baseball. He went to campus early to take summer courses and work out.

Gerry Nisle (who works at Pepsi) and wife Michele (who is employed by Franciscan Alliance) have three children — Alex (24), Ben (21) and Mia (14). 

Gerry played football at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and Michele was a gymnast at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Alex started his college baseball career at SJC. When the school was closed, he finished at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill. He was named to the all-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team in 2019. Mia plays soccer and basketball.

Ben Nisle, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at Purdue University. He has been chosen for the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game Thursday, July 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. (Purdue University Photo)

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.”

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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)