By STEVE KRAH
By investing in its feeder system, Monroe Central High School baseball is optimistic about its present and future.
“We’re building the numbers,” says Keith Nunley, who heads into his third season as Randolph County-based Golden Bears head coach in 2018. “We usually have around 20 and hoping to build to 25. The train’s coming a little bit.”
With Nunley (Winchester High School graduate) and best friend and former Ball State University teammate/roommate Matt Deckman (Monroe Central graduate) guiding the varsity squad, MC went 15-11 in 2016 and 14-11 in 2017.
Monroe Central, an IHSAA Class 2A school with an enrollment around 370, sent catcher-outfielder Logan Conklin on the NCAA Division II Kentucky Wesleyan College.
Golden Bears junior shortstop Seth Wilson has verbally committed to Ball State.
A year ago, the Indiana Bears travel organization was established to help train mostly Monroe Central boys (with a few from Winchester).
This spring and summer, the team plans to field five teams — 9U, 10U, 11U, 12U and 15U.
Nunley has two boys (A.J., 12, and Koby, 9) and Deckman three (Bryce, 15, Trey, 10, and Easton, 7). All five are ballplayers. In addition to the Monroe Central Athletic League and all-stars in the spring, they will be involved with the Indiana Bears in the summer. Bryce Deckman is an MC freshman.
“We’re trying to show kids how to play the game the right way,” says Nunley, who was a middle infielder at Ball State 1999-2002 and part of Mid-American Conference regular-season championships in 1999 and 2001 and MAC West titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001. “It’s a transition from recreation league to all-stars to travel.”
The Indiana Bears generally stay within an hour of Parker City to find competition, usually venturing to Hamilton County to play at Grand Park in Westfield at the Noblesville Field of Dreams.
“We try to make it a community event during the summer time with our teams sometimes going to the same place,” says Nunley.
Players also travel to the Lapel area to receive instruction from Mike Shirley and Justin Wechsler. Shirley is a national cross-checker for the Chicago White Sox and former Ball State pitcher Wechsler is a White Sox area scout.
Not only do Nunley and Deckman coach baseball together, they also coach AAU basketball and both are employed by Adrenaline Fundraising.
Players coached by Nunley and Deckman at younger ages are beginning to arrive at the high school level with a foundation of skills and knowledge.
“By the time they get to us, we want to hit the ground running and not have an intro period,” says Nunley. “We want to have them come in ready to go.”
At the smallish school, freshmen are often asked to play a varsity role against a solid schedule.
Monroe Central belongs to the Mid-Eastern Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Randolph Southern, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del).
The sectional group includes Frankton, Lapel, Muncie Burris, Shenandoah and Wapahani. Since they have lights, Frankton and Lapel have been sectional hosts in recent years.
Daleville was 2A state champions in 2016 while Wapahani was 2A state runners-up in 2017.
At Winchester, Nunley played for Bill Bush.
“Coach Bush is great human being,” says Nunley. “He was a great leader and a role model to us players.”
Nunley was a player during head coach Rich Maloney’s first tenure at Ball State and the two have remained close. Maloney came back to Muncie beginning with the 2013 season.
“He took me under his wing,” says Nunley. “It was real special time in my life for sure.”
Current Ball State assistant and recruiting coordinator Scott French was in the same recruiting class with Nunley.
The closeness in the relationship and distance has allowed Monroe Central to play games at BSU when the Cardinals are on the road. The Bears are slated to play Adams Central there on April 21.
Besides Nunley and Deckman, MC’s coaching staff features Bracken Barga (junior varsity and junior high coach), Sean Richardson (pitching and youth program coach) and volunteer assistants Bob Gilmore (who is in his 80’s) and Ryan Taylor (who serves as youth baseball coordinator).
When Nunley, whose wife Kate is a special education teacher at Monroe Central, was hired two-plus years ago, an overhaul of Monroe Central’s on-campus field began. That includes the playing surface, mound and home plate area.
“We spent a lot of time and effort turning that thing around,” says Nunley. “The players and coaches do a good job with the up-keep.
“It drains very well. We’ve had road games rained out and we were able to practice at home.”
The sons of Monroe Central High School baseball coaches Keith Nunley and Matt Deckman practice on the Golden Bears’ field (from left): Easton Deckman, A.J. Nunley, Bryce Deckman, Trey Deckman and Koby Nunley.
A view of the Monroe Central High School baseball field from the press box.
Monroe Central High School baseball bead coach Keith Nunley and wife Kate attend a Notre Dame football game with sons Koby (left) and A.J.
Keith Nunley (back, left) and Matt Deckman pose with sons Koby Nunley (left) and Trey Deckman after a 2017 travel tournament for the Indiana Bears.