Tag Archives: Sectional champions

McCormick teaching baseball, life skills to Speedway Sparkplugs ‘family’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Speedway (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Marcus McCormick wants his players to pick up the skills to be successful on the diamond.

But that’s not all.

Passing along life skills is very important to the coach and educator.

“It’s our goal to help the young men who come through our program reach whatever goal they’ve set,” says McCormick, who completed his 10th season of leading the Sparkplugs program in 2018. “We try to identify each goal and they try to work to get there.

“We also try to set things in motion so our kids will be great fathers and great husbands.

“The easy stuff is the baseball stuff. That’s pretty easy to teach.”

To be a part of Speedway baseball is to be part of a group that looks after its own.

“We’re one big family,” says McCormick, who had 27 players in the program in 2018 and went 12-12 at the varsity level. The team lost to Cascade in the first round of the IHSAA Class 2A Speedway Sectional.

The Sparkplugs have won eight sectional crowns, including three with McCormick at the helm (2012, 2013 and 2015). Speedway was 2A state runner-up in 2001 with Bruce Hutchings as head coach.

Besides Speedway, the Indiana Crossroads Conference featured Beech Grove, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina, Monrovia, Park Tudor and Triton Central in 2017-18. Each ICC team played one another once on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In the future, Cascade will replace Park Tudor.

Though none from the Class of ’18 made any commitments, recent Sparkplugs to go on to college baseball include Jacob Bryant (Franklin College), Bryce Pennington (Parkland College), Matt Turk (Marian University) and Jonathan Willoughby (Anderson University).

Besides McCormick, Speedway baseball is guided by assistants J.D. Clampitt (who played at Danville Area Community College in Illinois), Matt Burke (who played at Glen Oaks Community College in Michigan), Eric Mattingly (formerly the head coach at Brownsburg High School), David McCready and Ryan Neat (who played Butler University).

“That is arguably the best coaching staff in the state of Indiana,” says McCormick. “They all work their (posteriors) off from August to June.”

McCormick is a 1990 graduate of North Montgomery High School, where he played basketball for coach Bob Reese.

“He taught me how to prepare for games,” says McCormick of Reese. “He said, ‘if you’re not good enough, you need to be the gym.’ He talked about the little things and the extra stuff.

“But the person I learned the most from was my dad, Tom McCormick. He was the motivator. He’d say, ‘if you don’t like your playing time, then play better.’”

Marcus McCormick played basketball at Marian College (now Marian University) for coach John Grimes.

“He reinforced the work ethic part of it,” says McCormick.

Tom and Gina McCormick, who celebrated their 50th year of marriage in the spring, had three children — Marcus, Erick and Kara. Erick played football and basketball and Kara basketball, including at Marian.

“They were both better athletes than me,” says Marcus McCormick of his siblings. Erick McCormick died in 2005.

While he devoted much time to the hardwood, Marcus always had an affinity for the diamond.

“Baseball was always been my favorite sport growing up,” says McCormick.

He has coached travel baseball for two decades in the summer — first for the Indy Outlaws and now with the Indiana Pony Express.

After one season as a Speedway High assistant, he was encouraged by wife Kelley to apply for the head coaching post.

“Without her, I wouldn’t get to do what I do,” says Marcus of Kelley. “Her support is incredible.”

The McCormicks have two boys. Michael McCormick (24) pitched at Eastern Illinois University and is now in the Chicago White Sox system. Nicholas McCormick (22) was on the EIU baseball team with his brother before transferring to play at Arizona Christian University.

Marcus McCormick has enjoyed picking up coaching advice from other coaches. After attending his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January 2009, he approached Decatur Central coach Phil Webster after he spoke as a state championship coach from 2008.

“We went to breakfast one day and picked his brain for a couple of hours,” says McCormick of the man who was elected to the IHSBCA Hall of Fame in 2015. “Most coaches are willing to share, it’s just that nobody ever asks them.”

McCormick has developed opinions about pitching and the pitch count rule adopted by the IHSAA in 2017 (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“I get the rule, but it’s disappointing we have to have something in place,” says McCormick. “You’d like to think all the coaches in the state have the kids’ best interest at heart.”

McCormick sees arm care as more of an overall development thing?

“Limiting the number of pitchers you throw is not a precursor for keeping you healthy,” says McCormick. “Why does Kid A get hurt and not Kid B? You have to be doing things to truly recover so the next time you go out you’re putting yourself in a good situation.

“I hope the state incorporates programs like Driveline to keep kids healthy and make them better.”

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Speedway (Ind.) High School baseball is a “family” under Sparkplugs head coach Marcus McCormick.

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With an individual flair, Speedway grad McCormick pitching in the White Sox system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael McCormick likes to do things his own way.

Just look at his mug on the MiLB.com website.

The former Speedway (Ind.) High School, Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and Eastern Illinois University pitcher now in his second minor league baseball season sports a handlebar mustache to go with his mullet.

“We have to be clean-shaven, but we can have a mustache,” says the 24-year-old McCormick of a Chicago White Sox minor league facial-hair policy. “I thought I’d add a little flair to to it.

“I’ve had the mullet — off and on — since high school.”

His father and high school head coach — Marcus McCormick — puts it this way: “Mike’s always been a little different. We say he has personality of a left-handed pitcher in a right-handed pitcher’s body.”

Michael McCormick made 11 appearances (all in relief) and went 2-5 with a 3.35 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and 26 walks at Parkland in 2015.

He pitched in 30 games (22 as a starter) the next two seasons at Eastern Illinois, combining for a 3-12 record, 7.01 ERA, 87 strikeouts and 81 walks in 120 1/3 innings.

McCormick, who was selected by the White Sox in the 34th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, began his pro career with 16 appearances (11 in relief) with the 2017 rookie-level Arizona League White Sox. He went 2-3 with a 2.68 ERA, 41 strikeouts and 13 walks in 43 2/3 innings.

In 2018, McCormick is with the Short Season Class-A Pioneer League’s Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers. Through July 5, he had appeared in five games (all as a late-inning reliever) and was 3-0 with a 4.00 ERA, eight strikeouts and one walk in nine innings.

McCormick employs a cut fastball (that runs glove-side) at 90 to 94 mph, a slurve (combination slider and curveball) that is clocked around 78 mph and a “circle” change-up that generally ranges between 83 to 85 mph.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder has long been driven to go as far as his work ethic will take him.

“Mike’s No. 1 quality is his willingness to work and his perseverance,” says Marcus McCormick. “He’s gone through a lot of situations and scenarios that have made him a tougher individual. When he identifies a goal, he’s got tunnel focus on that goal.

In high school, Michael McCormick gave up basketball his junior year to concentrate on pitching and took his fastball from 85 to 90 mph.

“Mike’s never been No. 1 on anybody’s radar,” says Marcus McCormick. “Everything he’s accomplished has absolutely been through hard work and people he surrounded himself with — all the way back to when he was 12.”

Over the years, he’s worked with instructors Stan Lovins, Dustin Glant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Phil Webster.

“They’ve really shaped who is as a pitcher and a person today,” says Marcus McCormick.

Two summers ago, Michael went to Seattle to train at the Driveline Baseball facility. He got a bike at a pawn shop and rode three miles each way to the workouts.

Combining Driveline with White Sox programs has been beneficial to the pitcher who got his start at Eagledale Little League and played travel ball for the Indy Outlaws and Indiana Pony Express before graduating from Speedway in 2012 and later Eastern Illinois in 2017.

“It’s helped me out a lot as far as preparation, performance and arm health,” says Michael McCormick. “The bounce-back between outings is shorter. It helps with consistency as well. A big part of it to is having a routine that I’m able to repeat.”

As a pro — in a league where getting back from a road trip at 2 a.m. is not uncommon — McCormick has learned about discipline.

“You have to make sure you do the right stuff away from the field with eating and sleeping,” says Michael McCormick. “That’s just as important as the things on the field.”

Michael credits his father helping change the culture for Speedway Sparkplugs baseball. When Marcus took over in 2008, the program had not won a sectional since 2004. Since then, Speedway has reigned at that level in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

“It was a big disappointment not performing the way we wanted to,” says Michael McCormick of losing to Covenant Christian in the 2A Cascade Sectional championship game. “Then we bounced back senior year and closed the deal.”

Michael’s mother is Kelley McCormick. Younger brother Nicholas McCormick (22) is going into his senior baseball season at Arizona Christian University. He was an Eastern Illinois teammate to Michael for two seasons before transferring to the Phoenix-based school.

Back in Indianapolis, Michael has a fiancee and 2-year-old daughter — Teigan Flaws and Kolby Rae. Flaws, a Glenview, Ill., was a volleyball player at the University of Indianapolis.

White Sox minor league stops above Great Falls are at the Low Class-A Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators, High-A Winston-Salem (N.C.) Dash, Double-A Birmingham (Ala.) Barons and Triple-A Charlotte (N.C) Knights.

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Michael McCormick, a Speedway (Ind.) High School graduate, is now a pitcher with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in the Chicago White Sox system. (Great Lakes Voyagers Photo)

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The McCormick brothers — Nick (left) and Marcus (right) — share a moment in Arizona. Nicholas is heading into his senior year at Arizona Christian University. Michael is in his second year as a pitcher in the Chicago White Sox system.

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Marcus McCormick (left) and oldest son Michael McCormick spend time together in Arizona. Michael is a pitcher in the Chicago White Sox organization.

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Michael McCormick (center) is surrounded by parents Marcus and Kelley McCormick. Michael is a pitcher with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in the Chicago White Sox organization. Marcus is the head baseball coach at Speedway (Ind.) High School.

 

 

New Palestine’s Lyons to be head coach in 2018 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Shawn Lyons took a recent call that added a little extra excitement to his summer.

Lyons, the head baseball coach at New Palestine High School, got the news from Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive director Brian Abbott telling he was named to the South coaching staff for the 2018 series July 20-22 Four Winds Field in South Bend.

Not only that, Lyons will be the head coach of that staff. He will be assisted by Decatur Central’s Jason Combs, Lanesville’s Zach Payne and Castle’s Curt Welch.

“It’s an honor,” says Lyons. “Now I’m learning more about it everyday. I’ve had (New Palestine) kids play in the games. But I didn’t know the behind-the-scenes stuff.

“I’ve called other coaches to know what to expect, the routine and the regimen.”

Among others, Lyons has been getting advice from IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rich Andriole, who has coached in the all-star series twice.

Like any coach, there’s making out the lineups. But other all-star considerations include fairly distributing playing time and figuring out who can pitch that weekend and how much. With guidance from the IHSBCA leadership, Lyons expects those duties to be divided between the four coaches.

Shawn, who can be seen each January organizing the college tables at the IHSBCA State Clinic, grew up learning things like respect for the game, playing hard and being accountable from his father — Joe Lyons — and at Community Little League in Indianapolis.

“My dad wasn’t one of those helicopter parents that was always hovering around,” says Lyons. “He let me sink or swim on my own.”

As a coach, Lyons has an open door policy with parents with the exception of playing time. That is not up for discussion.

“We don’t have too many issues,” says Lyons. “I had two kids that played for me and they didn’t always play. It wasn’t easy when I got home. I had to do what was best for the program.”

Shawn and Holly Lyons (a family law attorney in Greenfield) have three adult children — Katie, Nick and Corey. All were athletes at New Palestine — Katie Lyons in volleyball and basketball (and played basketball at UIndy), Nick Lyons in baseball (with one diamond season at Franklin College) and Corey Lyons in baseball and football.

A 1979 graduate of Indianapolis Scecina Memorial High School, Shawn’s head coach with the Crusaders was Larry Neidlinger. He played two seasons for coach Bob Tremain at Indiana Central University (now the University of Indianapolis) and one for coach Craig Moore at the Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis.

The president of Indiana Appraisal Service, Inc., Lyons joined the New Palestine coaching staff as pitching coach nearly 20 years ago and became head coach for the 2012 season. The Dragons have had three head baseball coaches since 1965 — Marvin Shepler, Al Cooper and Shawn Lyons.

“I’m pretty passionate about high school baseball and I’m lucky enough to be able to make my own (work) schedule,” says Lyons.

New Palestine has done very well on the IHSAA tournament stage, winning the sectional 16 times, regional on six occasions and semistate once.

“We have talented kids that work hard,” says Lyons. “We have a good culture.”

Cooper’s Dragons were in the 3A state championship game in back-to-back seasons, finishing as runner-up to Norwell in 2003 and besting Andrean for the state title in 2004.

In his seven seasons at the helm, Lyons’ New Palestine teams are 145-64 with three Hoosier Heritage Conference titles (2012, 2016 and 2018), three sectional crowns (20-12, 2014 and 2015) and two regional championships (2012 in 4A and 2014 in 3A). The 2018 squad went 22-7 overall and 11-2 in the HHC and lost to eventual 4A state runner-up Indianapolis Cathedral in the final of the Warren Central Sectional.

The Dragons were briefly No. 1 in the IHSBCA poll and wound up No. 7 in the final rankings.

Besides New Palestine, the Hoosier Heritage Conference (which also features Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown) plays varsity doubleheaders on Friday nights with junior varsity twinbills on Saturdays.

Five seniors from 2018 —  Jake Garrison (Olney Central College), Nick Rusche (Taylor University), Cameron Pitzer (Huntington University), Kyle Gardner (Anderson University) and Myles Kost (Trine University) — have committed to play baseball at the next level. The best two players were juniors — catcher Colby Jenkins and left-hander Jack Walker (an Indiana University verbal commit).

The 2017 team sent outfielder/catcher/right-hander Jake Smith to Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Mich., and right-hander/outfielder Keegan Watson to the University of Nebraska.

“If they want to play (in college), I’ll help them out anyway I can,” says Lyons. “But when they call me I tell them the truth (about the player’s abilities and character). I let the players and the parents know that.”

Lyons credits development, administrative and community support as factors that have kept Dragons baseball vital for decades. Players come out of the New Palestine Youth League, where the high school teams conducts clinics and workshops.

“We want to keep the foundation strong,” says Lyons.

Numerous travel organizations also contribute to the progress of players.

With the help of Community School Corporation of Southern Hancock County and the New Palestine Baseball Backers, the Dragons have been able to raise funds to buy equipment and stay competitive while fluctuating between 3A and 4A.

His “amazing” 2018 coaching staff included Landon McBride, Andy Swain, Andrew Armour, Tim Zellers and Brad Rusche at the varsity level with Mike Zeilinga leading the JV and Jeremy Meredith the freshmen.

McBride played for Tremain at Indianapolis Marshall High School and then at nearby Marian College (now Marian University). Swain is a New Palestine graduate who played at Purdue University. Armour played for the Dragons and then at UIndy. He shares hitting coach duties with retired Carmel police officer Zellers. Zeilinga is valuable to Lyons as an organizer. Meredith was formerly a varsity assistant at Logansport and Warren Central.

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New Palestine (Ind.) High School head coach Shawn Lyons will be the South head coach for the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series July 20-22 in South Bend. (New Palestine High School)

 

Boone Grove’s Antone takes lessons from Andrean’s Pishkur, adds his own twist

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Antone has learned plenty of baseball from Dave Pishkur.

The first-year head coach and the veteran will both have their teams in the IHSAA State Finals Saturday, June 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Antone takes his Boone Grove Wolves into the Class 2A title game against Southridge. It will be the day’s second contest (Game 1 pits Daleville against University for the 1A crown at 11 a.m.).

Pishkur, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer with more than 900 career wins and five state championships to his credit, leads his 2018 Andrean 59ers into the the 3A final against Silver Creek in the nightcap.

The two have already chatted on the phone.

“It’ll be nice for us to communicate during the week,” says Pishkur.

“I talked to him (Sunday) night and asked him what to expect,” says Antone. “I’m sure we’ll talk more as the week goes on.

“One thing I’ve learned from (Pishkur) is to be a life-long learner. I also like doing my own research.”

A 2009 Chesterton High School graduate, Antone played his first two high school seasons for Pishkur at Andrean and his last two for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell at Chesterton.

Antone was an assistant coach for Campbell’s Trojans in 2015 and Pishkur’s 59ers in 2016 and 2017. He was also a teacher at Andrean those two years.

Pishkur has his program in the state championship game for the seventh time by improving at the most-important time of the season.

“They weren’t a very good team at the two-thirds mark,” says Pishkur, whose club won the Kankakee Valley Sectional, Griffith Regional and Kokomo Semistate. “They bought into what I asked them to do. They’ve gotten better.

“We’ll see what we do on the big stage.”

Boone Grove will be making its first state championship game appearance.

But finishing the year at Victory Field comes does not come as a shock to Antone and his team.

“That was a our goal from Day 1 when we set our team goals last fall,” says Antone. “We’ve done everything we possibly could to get there. We’re not totally surprised by it.”

A team-first mentality and modern training techniques have helped BG have a strong regular season then take Hebron Sectional, Whiting Regional and Plymouth Semistate titles.

“Our guys have bought into the concept of ‘the team, the team, the team,’” says Antone. “They work at being good teammates.”

The Wolves put in off-season work in the weight room and at Saint Anthony Sports Medicine Institute in Crown Point, where trainer Kevin Devine took them through agility, endurance, flexibility, speed and strength workouts.

Antone also introduced the HitTrax Baseball hitting simulator at Boone Grove. He says they are the second high school in Indiana to get one (Andrean is the other).

The technology allows for measurement of exit velocity, launch angle and studying the swing.

The Wolves also started doing Driveline Baseball throwing and hitting programs. The throwing program is individualized for ages and positions and there are an in-season and off-season routines.

The hitting program involves a series of different-sized bats for overload/underload training.

“(These tools) allow us to measure everything and that’s huge,” says Antone. “If it’s important, we measure it. We want to see what progress is being made.

“We’ve been working hard and competing.”

Antone models his program on some of the things Pishkur does at Andrean, including practice plans, and also adds his own twist.

The Wolves and 59ers both employ the number system for signs.

Pishkur has been using it at least as far back as a his first state championship team in 2005. The coach has a list of numbered plays and players wear a wristband with the same information.

“It might say HR for hit-and-run or S1 for a sacrifice down the first base line,” says Pishkur, who picked up the sign system at a clinic from the Texas A&M staff. “There must be 30 things we can do. We are able to expand our offense.

“I couldn’t remember all the signs the other way.”

Some of the numbers mean nothing. Some of the plays may lie dormant until just the right moment.

“If we need them, they’re there for us,” says Pishkur.

Antone favors the system because it makes thing simpler for himself and his players and is more efficient.

“Besides, I like doing things a little differently than everybody else,” says Antone.

Certified as a physical education and health teacher, Antone was hired to coach at Boone Grove with no openings in that area. Instead, he taught in the alternative school in 2017-18.

“It was a challenge,” says Antone. “But I grew a lot as an educator and as a person, too.”

Another link between Andrean and Boone Grove is a family one.

Joe Plesac Sr., brother of former big league pitcher Dan Plesac, is Pishkur’s pitching coach at Andrean and his brother-in-law.

Joey Plesac Jr., Joe’s son and Dave’s nephew, is Antone’s pitching coach at BG.

Joey Plesac played at Andrean and then DePauw University.

“I’m really glad to have him on staff,” says Antone of Plesac. “He’s done a good job calling the games for us this year.”

Andrean beat Jay County for the Kokomo Semistate crown by frequently using a familiar postseason strategy — the bunt.

“I couldn’t manage in the major leagues because they don’t allow that,” says Pishkur. “But in high school, it’s a pretty good weapon. And at the college level, it’s a pretty good weapon.

“It’s a weapon for us and we have to take advantage of it.”

Gordie Gillespie, who won more than 2,400 games in four sports including baseball, was a big proponent of the bunt.

“He said, in the tournament, the team that executes the bunt and defends the bunt is going to win,” Pishkur says of Gillespie, who died in 2015 in Joliet, Ill. “We’ve taken that to heart and we’ve done a really good job in the tournament with that.”

IHSAA STATE FINALS

At Victory Field, Indianapolis

Friday, June 15

Class 4A: Fishers (28-7) vs. Indianapolis Cathedral (23-8-1), 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 16

Class 1A: Daleville (21-9) vs. University (28-6), 11 a.m.

Class 2A: Boone Grove (21-5) vs. Southridge (25-6), 2 p.m.

Class 3A: Andrean (30-6) vs. Silver Creek (26-3), 5 p.m.

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In his first year as a head coach, Pat Antone has Boone Grove High School in the IHSAA Class 2A State Finals. The 2009 Chesterton graduate was on the Andrean staff in 2016 and 2017. The 59ers will be going for a 3A state crown Saturday, June 9 in Indianapolis.

 

Aggressive style has Estep, University Trailblazers baseball in 1A semistate

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chris Estep, his coaching staff and players have built a culture of confidence for the University High School baseball.

“The kids have bought into what we’re trying to do as a program,” says Estep, the head coach that has his Trailblazers (27-6) meetings Tecumseh (20-9) in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate at 1 p.m. EST Saturday, June 9. “When we run out on to the field we can play with anybody.”

What is the root that confidence?

“It’s how we’ve structured practices,” says Estep. “We make practices run faster.”

In practices — and games — University pushes the limits on offensive and defense.

“We want to be very, very aggressive,” says Estep. “The last thing we want to see is a kid afraid to make a mistake. The more aggressive you are, the more chance you’ll have to make aggressive plays.

“You can not expect a kid to make a great play if they don’t practice making great plays.”

University, a private school of just under 300 students located in Carmel which played in its first IHSAA tournament in 2007, won the University Sectional and the Morristown Regional to find itself one win short of going to Victory Field in Indianapolis for the 1A state championship game.

Estep, who is supported by assistants Reid Andrews, Michael Thompson and Steve Nerney and athletic director John Walls, points to the regional to show how his players are prepared deal with misfortune on the diamond.

The Trailblazers were up 2-0 in the semifinals against Indianapolis Lutheran only to find themselves down 4-3 in the next inning. They came back with a 9-4 victory.

The championship game was tied 0-0 going into the seventh inning. Estep saw a pinch-hitter foul off pitches to get to a full count and University went on to score three runs in the top of the frame and then hold Hauser for a 3-0 win and the regional crown.

“If you can’t handle adversity, you can’t be a champion,” says Estep. “We put them into as many adverse situations as we can and ask them to go out and make a play.

“You never know when it’s going to be your time and you better be ready to answer the bell.”

The aim is to play as close to flawless as possible and make up for any mistakes that do happen.

“There’s really no such thing as a perfect game,” says Estep. “But if we try, we will give ourselves the opportunity to win.”

There are 18 players in the program in 2018.

University is a member of the Pioneer Conference (along with baseball-playing schools Anderson Preparatory Academy, Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg, Greenwood Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge, Liberty Christian in Anderson, Muncie Burris and Seton Catholic in Richmond). The Traliblazers went 7-0 this spring to win the conference title.

Top University pitchers include senior right-hander Cade Carlson (committed to Northwood University in Midland, Mich.), junior right-hander Brock Moore and senior right-hander Garrett Hill (Purdue Fort Wayne commit). When not pitching, the three rotate between first base and third base.

Hill, junior shortstop Dawson Estep (the coach’s son), Moore, freshman left fielder and senior center fielder Ryan Williams (committed to Morehouse College in Atlanta) are among the Trailblazers’ leading hitters.

Coach Estep calls No. 9 hitter Williams “a major catalyst” with “speed to burn.”

Estep watched junior catcher Kolton Stevens fight through hot conditions to shine in the regional.

“He caught best two games I’ve ever seen a kid catch,” says Estep. “I can’t tell you how balls he blocked.

“Nobody ever notices that position until there is a mistake.

“He was absolutely phenomenal.”

It’s phenomenal plays or games that earns players the right to wear the “U chain”.

Borrowed from the University of Miami football “turnover chain,” Andrews brought the motivating bling to University baseball in 2017.

“Miami’s ‘The U’ and we’re the ‘The U,’” says Estep. “It’s been (Andrews’) baby. He hangs the ‘U chain’ on the fence before games. He awards it to a kid and pictures are taken. Kids are excited for whoever gets the ‘U chain.’”

Also for the second year, the “U” took a southern trip at the beginning of the season. The Traliblazers played in Tennessee.

The squad got away and spent quality time together at the ballpark and the breakfast table.

“It’s really important for team camaraderie,” says Estep. “We went and played four games then released them to spring break. When they came back, we got back to work.”

Estep, 51, has been working as a baseball instructor for decades. His Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield is coming up in 25 years.

“It found me out more than I found it,” says Estep.

He grew up on the east side of Indianapolis and played wiffleball, basketball and football and, of course, baseball. Organized ball came at Christian Park, where he played for John Gannon.

“He was the greatest youth coach in the history of Little League,” says Estep of Gannon, who is expected to be at Saturday’s semistate. “He’s a legend. “He made sure we all stayed out of trouble. He was an unbelievable mentor to kids.”

A 1985 Carmel High School graduate (he played his first two prep seasons at Indianapolis Cathedral before his family moved), Estep was an outfielder at the University of Kentucky for two seasons and was selected in the 12th round of the 1988 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played at the Double-A level in 1991 and 1992.

While he was still a professional player, he was approached by a parent about giving lessons to one of their sons. They were impressed enough to bring another son to him. Before you knew it, Estep had a long list of students and less and less time to work out himself.

“Even though I didn’t hit very well, I understood the processes for hitting and defense,” says Estep, who now sees to the needs of many baseball and softball players. “The girls are quicker learners and they’ll do whatever they tell them. The boys will fight you on it.”

Roundtripper alums include Jeremy Hazelbaker, Tommy Hunter, Lance Lynn, Dillon Peters, Kevin Plawecki, Micah Johnson, Drew Storen and Chris Ulrey.

Extra-busy giving lessons and running the Indiana Mustangs travel organization, Estep put up a fight when he was approached repeated by a former University administrator a decade ago.

“He would not leave me alone,” says Estep. “He said, ‘If you don’t do it, these kids can’t play.’ That got me. I called my wife and begged for forgiveness that I took on another job.

When we first started I couldn’t have weekend games because of the workload. The school made it work. Now we play every weekend. The program’s worth it. I’m willing to pay a little extra price — my family is, too, though my wife doesn’t like me very well.”

Besides Dawson, Chris and Sue Estep have an older son (Chandler, who plays football at Elon University in North Carolina) and a younger daughter (Jasmine, a talented athlete who is headed into the ninth grade).

For Estep to be close to his business, University began playing its home games at Roundtripper and still does.

His first team was overmatched. The first game was a 32-0 loss.

“They were the the kids that always got chosen last,” says Estep. “But that team set the standard. This is where we built from. This present team has an attitude that they’re going to fight you to the bitter end.

“I love them for that.”

Estep does not love the IHSAA decision to suspend Indianapolis Scecina junior right-hander Mac Ayres (who is also in the Mustangs organization) for the 2A Jasper Semistate. Ayres went over the IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) in the Park Tudor Regional and the violation was self-reported by Scecina coach Dave Gandolph.

“It was a clerical/addition error,” says Estep. “(Scecina coaches) thought they were taking a kid out on 119 pitches for two games.

“There was no malice there. Now the kid is going to be penalized.”

If Estep had his way, pitch counts would be tracked in an official book in the press box and not with the home team. The scorekeeper would let the teams and umpires know how many pitches a player had going into the next game. When they got to 110, the coaches would be alerted.

“It should be a drop-dead (when the limit is reached),” says Estep. “You stop and make a pitching change.”

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

REIDANDREWSCHRISESTEP

University High School head coach Chris Estep wears the “U chain” and assistant Reid Andrews holds the cake celebrating Estep’s 100th career win with the Trailblazers.

UNIVERSITYHSBASEBALL

University High School won the IHSAA Class 1A University Sectional and Morristown Regional and will play Saturday, June 9 in the Plainfield Sectional. Chris Estep is the head coach of the Trailblazers.

 

 

Davis, Northfield Norse are positively bound for 1A Kokomo Semistate

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Promoting positivity, third-year Northfield Junior/Senior High School head baseball coach Clint Davis has the program one win from a return to the IHSAA state championship game.

The Norse (16-14) play Daleville (20-9) Saturday, June 9 in the IHSAA Class 1A Kokomo Semistate for the right to go to the State Finals at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Rather than dwelling on the failures of the game, the Norse are focused on the good.

“We’ve made a pretty good transition the last month or so of getting out the negative thoughts,” says Davis. “We think positive.”

Northfield, which is located in the Wabash County city of Wabash, Ind., had the community full of positive vibes when the coach Tony Uggen and the Norse won state championships in 2001 and 2012 and had a state runner-up finish in 2013 — all in 2A. Uggen is now back at alma mater Blackford.

Davis says it has been a fundamental approach that has gotten the Norsemen this far.

“We run the bases, throw strikes and swing at our pitches,” says Davis. “I’m not re-writing the book at all.”

Northfield’s top pitcher the past two seasons has been left-hander Blake Harner. The senior left-hander had 16 strikeouts and one walk in the Caston Sectional championship game against South Newton and 13’s and one free pass in eight scoreless innings in the Caston Regional semifinals against South Central.

Junior right-hander Nate Drancik started the regional championship game against Fremont — a contest won in walk-off fashion. Sophomore right-hander Jonah Truman was the winner in relief.

Leading hitters for the Norse are junior shortstop Chance Hartman, Harner, senior left fielder Matt Coe, senior second baseman/first baseman Jared Vigar and freshman third baseman and lead-off man Clayton Tomlinson.

Varsity assistants to Davis are Tory Shafer and Erik Hisner (who came over to Northfield after a decade at Whitko, including earning the Wildcats’ first sectional title in 2017). Junior varsity coaches are Stan Cox and Shane Vigar. The Norse had 27 players in the program this spring, playing on-campus at Winegardner Field.

Davis, who also serves as Northfield’s athletic director and has been kept extra-busy this week preparing his baseball team while looking to hire a new boys basketball head coach.

“It’s been a good busy,” says Davis.

Through his relationship with Andy McManama at the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne, where the Norse played early in the season, Davis and his teammate getting a chance to practice this week on the ASH Centre turf.

Kokomo Municipal Stadium also has an artificial surface.

Early in the week, Davis had not yet gathered too much information about Daleville. But he is familiar with Broncos head coach Terry Turner. They saw each other twice a year when Davis was at Marion High School and Turner was head coach at Anderson High School.

Davis came to Northfield after two seasons as head coach at Marion. In his second year, he helped the Giants to 12 victories — their highest total in more than a decade.

His focus was teaching patience along with general life lessons.

“Those guys bought in,” says Davis, who was an assistant to Dave Ginder at Fort Wayne Carroll and Mark Grove at Churubusco before his stint at Marion.

Northfield is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (along with Maconaquah, Manchester, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).

A 1996 Churubusco graduate, the thing that Davis noticed must about Grove was his temperament.

“His his personality is very even the whole time,” says Davis. “He didn’t get too high or too low. The kids fed off that.

“As you spend some more time in the game, you understand that it is a game of failure.”

Davis did not play college baseball. He did earn degrees in sports medicine and health education at Ohio Northern University, a minor in physical education at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and a master’s degree in administration from Ball State University. Before going into administration, he was a teacher.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

TORYSHAFERCLINTDAVISERIKHISNER

Third-year Northfield High School head baseball coach Clint Davis (center) celebrates an IHSAA Class 3A Regional championship with varsity assistants Tory Shafer (left) and Erik Hisner.

 

Welch has Castle Knights one win away from 4A state championship game

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Curt Welch knows what it’s like to take a team to the IHSAA state baseball championship game.

He was an assistant to head coach Dave Sensenbrenner in 2001 when the Castle High School Knights finished as runners-up to Penn at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Castle, which is located in the Warrick County town of Newburgh, Ind., is one victory away from getting to go back to “The Vic” in 2018 and this time Welch is the head coach.

The Knights (22-8) play Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) in the 4A Plainfield Semistate Saturday, June 9. It’s the second game of the day, following the 1 p.m. 1A clash between University and Tecumseh.

Welch sees pitching as a strength for Castle, which won the Evansville Reitz Sectional and Evansville Reitz Regional — the 14th sectional title and eighth regional crown in program history (the first for either since 2014).

“Our pitchers have kept us in all the games during this run,” says Welch. “They did a great job of keeping hitters off-balance.

“They’ve been working ahead (in the count) and making teams earn runs.”

The Knights staff is led by 6-foot-6 senior right-hander Zach Messinger (a University of Virginia commit), junior left-hander Blake Ciuffetelli and junior right-hander Jared Nutt.

Welch says fourth-year varsity player Messinger has a fastball that reaches the upper 80s, which he can mix with his breaking ball and change-up.

Ciufetelli has the ability to change arm angles and velocity. Nutt has relieved in three of Castle’s four postseason games.

When not pitching, Messinger is usually the designated hitter or third baseman.

Offensive contributions have come up and down the lineup.

“It’s been a team effort,” says Welch. “We have guys come up at times with two-out hits.”

Among the leading producers have been senior left fielder Garron Moffett, senior center fielder Griffin Scaggs and senior shortstop Nate James. Moffett has committed to play baseball at NCAA Division I Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., while Scaggs and James are bound for Kankakee (Ill.) Community College.

According to Welch, right-hander Zach Wagner (Anderson University), DH/catcher Ben Newhouse (Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky.) right fielder Cale Mattingly (Hanover College) and cacher Noah Gilbert (Oakland City University) are also seniors who have made college baseball commitments.

Graduates who were in college baseball rosters in 2017-18 include Jonathan Blackwell and Will Randell at Vincennes University, Nick Coudret and Wyatt Daly at the University of Southern Indiana, Nick Ciufettelli at Hanover College, Sam Huff at DePauw University, Jeff Wetzler at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill., and Korbin Williams at Indiana University Southeast.

Castle had 40 players in the program this season for varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.

Welch, who is in his 15th season as head coach after 14 as an assistant to Chuck Hawkins then Sensenbrenner and two as as volunteer for Mike Metzger at alma mater Boonville, counts Hawkins, Dan Labhart and John Barisano as his varsity coaches. There’s also John Copeland, Corey Steele and Art George with the JV and Daniel Nichols and Chris Stallion with the freshmen.

Borrowing ideas and approaches from Hawkins, Sensenbrenner, Brian Kuester (who helped played American Legion baseball for in the summer) and high school coaches Metgzer and Howard Buickel, 1983 Boonville graduate Welch has melded his coaching approach. He’s even taken a thing or two from Terry Wetherald, his wrestling coach at the University of Indianapolis.

“All those coaches did a great job of getting me ready for where I am right now,” says Welch. “(Hawkins and Sensenbrenner) did a lot for me. Being a coach and being a player are two different things. As head coach, everything falls back on you. There’s a lot more pressure when you make decisions.

“As a head coach, you are always thinking three, four or five innings down the line and not just in the moment.”

While there are no wrestlers in the current Castle varsity mix, Welch appreciates what grapplers bring to other sports.

“Wrestlers are hard-nosed kids,” says Welch. “They are not afraid to battle for win or come from behind.

‘They know about mental toughness. You’ve got to be mentally tough to go 0-for-3 and then come in the last inning and produce.”

Welch estimates that about half the players in the Castle baseball program are multi-sport athletes at a school of about 1,900 students.

“I like multi-sport athletes,” says Welch. “You can’t get that competition in a practice or in a gym.”

Castle plays its home games on-campus in a facility that’s been totally overhauled during Welch’s time.

“It’s been a gradual process,” says Welch, which saw a new locker room go in near the field. About the only thing that was there when he joined the coaching staff was the press box. “We’re proud of what we have.”

The Knights belong to the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (along with Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville Memorial and Evansville North, Evansville Reitz).

Welch, who teaches advanced mathematics at Castle, has four children with wife Dawn. Daughter Courtney is the oldest and she has three girls. Twin sons Chad and Doug as well as Luke Welch all played baseball for their father at Castle and wrestled at Purdue University. Doug Welch is now the head wrestling coach at Zionsville High School and is assisted by Chad Welch.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

CURTWELCHCASTLE

Head coach Curt Welch and the Castle Knights won sectional and regional titles in events hosted by Evansville Reitz and will face Indianapolis Cathedral in the IHSAA Class 4A Plainfield Semistate Saturday, June 9.