Tag Archives: Softball

Success follows Eastside’s Willard from softball to baseball diamonds

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Willard enjoyed plenty of success in his time as head softball coach at Eastside High School in Butler, Ind.

In 23 seasons, he Blazers softballers won 13 sectional titles (three in the IHSAA single-class era and five each in Class 1A and 2A).

When Jason Pierce left the head baseball post at Eastside and Aaron’s oldest son, Cade Willard, was a junior, he decided to take over the program.

In his second season (2017), the Blazers won the 2A Westview Sectional. Eastside did it again in 2018, besting Westview in the title game and earning a berth in the 2A Whiting Regional.

The Blazers (18-8) face Boone Grove in the second semifinal around noon CST (Hammond Bishop Noll plays South Adams at 10 a.m. CST) at Oil City Stadium. The championship is slated for 6 p.m. CST.

“Last year, we were built around pitching,” says Willard, who sent right-handers Cade Willard (redshirt at Fort Wayne), Conner Dove (Trine University), Jackson White (Franklin College) and middle infielder/closer Zach Orn (Ivy Tech Northeast) on to college baseball. They were among nine seniors. “A lot of those guys had played a lot of baseball.”

This year, the Blazers are not as experienced on the mound but have gotten the job done.

The staff is led by senior Chris Ballentine and also features juniors McGuire Jacobs, Nick Shewman, Chase Franz and Joe White and freshman Wade Miller. All but lefty Miller, who plays center field, are right-handers.

White is the team’s No. 1 catcher and joins Ballentine and Franz among Eastside’s most-productive hitters. The squad’s only other senior is first baseman Riley Thompson.

“Our guys have done a great job on the mound,” says Willard. “We’ve been solid defensively for the most part. The top of our order has been pretty good and we’ve now got some guys hitting in the bottom part.”

Eastside is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference. The NECC was led in 2018 by Angola (9-2) and Lakeland (9-2), followed by Fairfield (8-3), Westview (7-4), Eastside (7-4), Garrett (6-5), Fremont (5-6), Churubusco (5-6), West Noble (4-7), Prairie Heights (3-8), Central Noble (3-8) and Hamilton (0-11).

Willard’s assistant coaches are Tony Emenhiser, Garth Fiedler, John Gravante and Bryce Yoder.

The Blazers play their home games on-campus. The field has a wooden outfield fence and a few years ago, a net backstop was installed for clearer viewing by spectators.

A 1984 Eastside graduate, Willard went on to play baseball for four seasons at Huntington College (now Huntington University). His freshmen year was also the first in charge for head coach Mike Frame.

After receiving a physical education degree in 1989, Willard returned to Eastside and began teaching. He became athletic director and assistant principal in 1999 — positions he has held ever since.

Aaron and Terri Willard have three children — Madison, Cade and Owen. Madison Willard graduated this spring from Ball State University and is to marry Dalton Shetler in June. Owen Willard is an eighth grader.

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Eastside celebrates its second straight IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional baseball championship in 2018. Assistant coach Tony Emenhiser, seniors Caleb Ballentine and Riley Thompson and head coach Aaron Willard pose with the trophy.

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Eastside High School head baseball coach Aaron Willard (25) gets the bucket treatment from his team after they won the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional.

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The Eastside High School Blazers hoist the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional baseball trophy as head coach Aaron Willard (right) takes in the moment.

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Organization, persistence help Buckingham, South Adams Starfires enjoy baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Buckingham sweats the details.

It is not unusual for the 11th-year head baseball coach at South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., to spend an hour crafting his practice plan.

Buckingham, a 1998 South Adams graduate, played for and later coached one season under former Starfires head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dean Stahly.

Looking back, Buckingham sees how Stahly, who led South Adams from 1971-2008, had a knack for organization.

“It may sound crazy, but I want to make sure each of those players are on the move so they’re not bored and get the instruction they need so they can grow as a player,” says Buckingham. “With limited resources and limited coaches, you’ve got to be creative in that regard.”

South Adams had 33 players for varsity and junior varsity schedules this spring.

At Bluffton College (now Bluffton University) in Ohio, Buckingham played four years for Greg Brooks and gained an appreciation for persistence.

“In baseball, a lot of bad things happen and a lot of good things happen and you still keep going,” says Buckingham, who also was head coach at Frankton High School for five seasons in Madison County, Ind. The Eagles were 2A state runners-up in 2003. “You have to stay the course and keep going.”

Buckingham has taken that knowledge and applied it. This spring, it’s helped South Adams win a second straight IHSAA sectional title (the ninth in program history and second in a row) and earn a spot in the Class 2A Whiting Regional. The IHSBCA No. 2-ranked Starfires play Hammond Noll at 10 a.m. CST, followed by Eastside vs. Boone Grove. The regional final is slated for 6 p.m. CST.

At 27-2, the 2018 South Adams squad has already tied the 1982 state finalist team (27-6-1) for the school’s most single-season baseball victories ever. The school also produced a state runner-up in 1972.

The Starfires are led on the mound and at the plate by junior Grant Besser. The left-handed pitcher/shortstop has a 9-0 record with six saves to go along with a .511 batting average, six home runs, two triples and 16 doubles.

The South Adams mound staff also features sophomore left-hander Collin Shaffer (6-1), freshman right-hander Adam Besser (6-0), senior right-handers Austin Davidson (3-0, 3 saves) and Mark Cleary (3-1, 1 save).

When not pitching, Shaffer plays first base and Cleary is the team’s starting catcher.

Besides Besser, Cleary (.412) and senior second baseman Joe Stuber (.396) are the top offensive threats.

No current players have yet made college baseball commitments. South Adams graduates Collin Affolder (Bethel College) and Chandler Ingle (Goshen College) just finished their collegiate careers. Blake Fox (Bluffton University) wound up his in 2017.

Buckingham’s coaching staff includes Craig McKean (former head coach at Southern Wells for 10 years before coming back to his alma mater), Jim Buckingham (Brad’s father), Branden Alberson, Chad Mitchell and Blade Rheinhart.

South Adams belongs to the Allen County Athletic Conference (along with Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, Southern Wells and Woodlan).

South Adams plays its home games on-campus at Harry F. Anderson Field. The facility named for the school’s first athletic director and a former baseball coach just got new pro-style brick dugouts last year.

A fundraising campaign brought in around $90,000 for the project.

“They’re pretty neat,” says Buckingham. “We took a lot of measurements at Parkview Field (in Fort Wayne).”

The Starfires try to do projects each year to improve Anderson Field.

“That’s foundational in our prorgam,” says Buckingham. “We want to make it a hangout place for our players — something they want to come to. That’s something we have control over. We don’t have control over how much talent we have.”

The South Adams Youth League, which has a 12-person board that Buckingham and Starfires head softball coach Jessie O’Dell both sit on, is a feeder system for the high school.

Brad Buckingham is an eighth grade math teacher at the high school while wife Ashley Buckingham is a physical education instructor and head volleyball coach at the high school. The couple have four children (one boy and three girls) — Duke (8), Emmaline (6), Elizabeth (4) and Everly (who turns 2 next week).

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The Buckingham family celebrates a 2018 IHSAA sectional baseball championship for South Adams. Brad and Ashley are in the back. In the front (from left): Duke, Everly, Emmaline and Elizabeth. Brad Buckingham is in his 11th season as Starfires head coach.

Former Indiana Mr. Baseball, MLB first-rounder O’Conner lands with independent St. Paul Saints

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin O’Conner was a highly-touted professional baseball prospect when he wore the uniform of Cowan Junior/Senior High School.

As a sophmore at the Muncie, Ind., school, he helped the Camden Pankhurst-coached Blackhawks earn an IHSAA Class 2A state runners-up finish in 2008.

In 2009, O’Conner put up head-turning numbers as a shortstop and pitcher: .521 average, 19 home runs, 61 runs batted in, 7-0 record, 0.30 earned run average, 101 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.

That summer, he won the Home Run Derby at the Perfect Game National Showcase at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and was invited to the Perfect Game Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego.

In 2010, he was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball and selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays right out of Cowan.

As a pro, O’Conner became a catcher. He played 48 games with the Gulf Coast Rays in 2010.

In 2011, he played at rookie-level Princeton threw out 16 of 45 base stealers.

He helped Hudson Valley win the New York-Penn League championship in 2012.

O’Conner played at Low Class-A Bowling Green of the Midwest League in 2013.

That winter, he played for the Brisbane Bandits of the Australian Baseball League.

“It was awesome,” says O’Conner of his time Down Under. “It was a chance to go to another country, live there for three months and get to see their culture and also get to play baseball.”

In 2014, O’Conner played at Charlotte and was an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star and Florida State League All-Star, FSL Post-Season and Baseball America High Class-A All-Star.

He played in the Arizona Fall League and was placed on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster in November.

O’Conner spent the entire 2015 season at Double-A Montgomery and led the Southern League in total chances (91) and threw out 29 of 60 base stealers.

“For me, it’s big part of the game,” says O’Conner. “Being able to control the running game can keep runners off of bases in scoring position and keep them from scoring runs. If the pitcher can give me a good time to the plate, mix his looks in.

“It’s really more on the pitcher and the infielder making a good tag along with me making a good throw. It’s just not me, it’s everybody involved.”

In 2016, he began the season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League because of a back injury. He was promoted to Double-A in August.

It was discovered he had a herniated disk and he had two back surgeries in October and November and and was removed from the 40-man roster in December.

“I’m all good now,” says O’Conner of his procedures. “The back pain really wasn’t the issue, it was the sciatica down my leg. I needed to get it fixed.”

O’Conner started 2017 at Double-A and was promoted to Triple-A Durham in August. The Bulls won the Triple-A National Championship.

After the season, he was granted his free agency and signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants in November 2017. The Giants released him in April 2018 and he inked a deal with the St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association, a circuit which also features the Gary SouthShore RailCats.

The Saints got off to a 5-1 start and O’Conner is coming off a 3-for-3 game with two RBI and two runs scored Wednesday, May 23 at home against the Chicago Dogs.

He belted home runs May 18 at Gary and May 23 in St. Paul.

O’Conner quickly learned the difference between high school and professional baseball while with the Rays and Giants organizations and it holds true with St. Paul.

“It’s a grind,” says O’Conner, 26. “You’re playing baseball, but it’s also a job. You’ve got to come out and try to win everyday.

“You learn that right away. You’re playing every single day. It takes a toll on your body and it’s something you’ve got to get used to.”

O’Conner played for a number of travel baseball organizations growing up then spent two years while in high school with coaches Dan Held and Quinn Moore and the Indiana Bulls.

Justin is the son of Muncie’s Randy and Kim O’Conner and has an older brother and a younger sister.

Jacob O’Conner is in law school in Cincinnati. Kirsten O’Conner, a former Ball State University softball player, is a nutritionist in Illinois.

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Justin O’Conner, who was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball at Cowan Junior/Senior High School and a first-round draft selection of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, is now with the independent St. Paul Saints. Released by the San Francisco Giants organization, the catcher signed with the team shortly before the beginning of the 2018 season. (St. Paul Saints Photo)

Ulrey’s diamond passion is a big HIT

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chris Ulrey has a knack for teaching the game that he loves.

As a professional hitting instructor, the former college player and Major League Baseball draftee works with more than 150 baseball and softball athletes a week at The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind. It was formerly the home of Dream Big Baseball.

Those athletes come from as far away as Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan and all over the state of Indiana.

Ulrey has been involved in youth travel sports as a coach, mentor and instructor since 2010.

In 2015, the New Palestine High School graduate founded the Midwest Astros Academy. In 2018, the academy fields 31 baseball and softball travel teams in age divisions 8U to 17U with players from Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

Ulrey handles the day-to-day baseball operations, facility operations, college consulting, instruction and Ben Taylor handles the softball operations and scheduling.

“I am thankful to have a guy like Ben within our academy,” says Ulrey. “Ben puts a lot of time and work into the operations of the Midwest Astros.”

As a player, Ulrey helped New Palestine to a 2004 IHSAA Class 3A state championship. In his senior year (2006), the left-handed swinging and throwing outfielder was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 33rd round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Because of an injury Ulrey made the choice not to sign and went to college.

He played two years at NJCAA Division I Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and one each at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University and the NCAA Division II University of Indianapolis.

His head coaches were Mitch Hannahs at Lincoln Trail, Jim Schmitz at EIU and Gary Vaught at the U of I.

When Ulrey concluded his college playing career in 2010, he took his first coaching job at Beech Grove High School and opened up his first indoor training facility.

At BG, he helped lead the Hornets to their first winning season since 2004 and first sectional title since 2005 when they went 13-9-2 in 2012.

From there, he served assistant coaching stints at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College for head coach Todd Post and Marian University in Indianapolis for head coach Todd Bacon.

At the same time, Ulrey was coaching summer travel teams.

The Yard Sports Complex is the fifth he’s had since 2010 and the only one he runs since moving away from his last facility in Beech Grove.

With the academy based at the Greenfield complex, Ulrey is able to serve his hitting students and oversee the whole operation.

Ulrey tries to manage his schedule so he can interact with as many of the academy’s teams as possible and to watch them play.

“I want to show support,” Ulrey, 30. “But not only that, I love the game of baseball. Every week — seven days a week — I’m either training, coaching or watching our teams practice at the complex or in games on the weekends.

“It’s my life.”

Ulrey is also an associate scout for the Texas Rangers and works under area scout Michael Medici.

The organization continues to grow and have success on and off the field, however; Ulrey doesn’t take all the credit.

“It’s been a blessing,” says Ulrey. “I’ve had a lot of help along with the way. None of this would be possible without great coaches, directors, instructors, players and the support of the parents.”

Christian Montgomery, a Lawrence Central High School graduate and a former New York Mets minor leaguer, works with pitchers.

Nick Ulrey, brother of Chris and assistant coach at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, travels to Greenfield to instruct catchers.

Ulrey leaves tournament scheduling up to his coaches.

The youngest teams tend to stay in Indiana. As they reach 10U or 11U, they may take out-of-state trips.

At 12U or 13U, the teams tend to travel a little more. The 13U Majors team, coached by Chris Emberton, goes all over the country to compete in elite tournaments.

Emberton has been with Ulrey since the beginning and has continued to progress and compete at a high level every year.

“It’s nice to get out of Indiana every once in a while and play some different teams,” says Ulrey.

The Midwest Astros’ 15U through 17U Showcase teams, including the Tom Ancelet-coached 17U squad, play in tournaments attended by college coaches at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and other locations around Indiana as well as top-level events in places like Nashville, Louisville, Michigan, Georgia and Florida.

“It’s fun watching your older age groups play because you see guys who have developed already,” says Ulrey. “It’s not so much the coaching. It’s like managing with the older teams. They know how to play. You expect them to go out there and do their job and make plays.

“You get to sit back and watch some really good baseball. These are guys you’ll be seeing at the next level.”

As a coach and instructor, Ulrey gets to work with a wide range of ages.

“We try to teach the basics at 8,” says Ulrey. “They take in as much as they can. Off-speed pitches, mental approach and hitter and pitcher counts, a lot of that stuff is for the older age group kids.

“You try to make it fun for an 8-year-old while still trying to teach them the basics. You’re not trying to teach the older guys — high school, college, professional level — how to stand and how to hold the bat. When they feel there’s something wrong with their swing, you put your opinions in an make adjustments.”

Ulrey wants to relate to everyone on a personal level.

“What a lot of people lack in this profession is the relationship you build with the hitter and the parents,” says Ulrey. “For a kid to trust in what you’re teaching and what you’re saying, they’ve got to believe in you. They’ve got to want be there.”

So as work goes into making the complex ready to host tournaments, Ulrey and the rest of his staff will stay with the plan that has helped the academy grow.

“I feel like we’re doing all the right things right now,” says Ulrey. “Our teams are competing well. Our coaches are doing a good job.

“We’ll keep bringing in quality coaches and players and putting in the work.”

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Chris Ulrey is founder and president of Midwest Astros Academy, which operates out of The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind.

 

Gould finds baseball players who fit Taylor Trojans program, keeps on winning

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Put a player in position to succeed and let him do it.

It’s long been a winning formula for Taylor University baseball.

“I try to look at what they do best and figure out how that can impact the game,” says Trojans head coach Kyle Gould. “I don’t care how a guy’s good. I just want to know that they are and they can play to their strengths.”

If a player can run or is exceptional on defense, how can his speed or defensive ability impact the game?

If a pitcher throws hard or a has a mean slider, how can he use those pitches to get hitters out?

“We want to get the best players we can,” says Gould. “As a coach, it’s my job to manage the talent we have.

“If a guy can really bunt for a hit, let him bunt. If he can drive a ball to the gap, let him drive the ball to the gap.”

Over the years, the Trojans have won with dominant pitching and with a deep, talented offensive lineup.

“It’s part of what makes baseball fun,” says Gould. “You can win a lot of different ways.”

Taylor (currently 24-9 overall, 4-4 in the Crossroads League and receiving votes in the NAIA national rankings) has enjoyed sustained excellence since Gould’s first season in 2005, winning just under 60 percent of its games.

In his 14th season, Gould’s career mark is 457-266-1 with 10 campaigns of 32 or more victories. The 2016 squad went 40-18-1 and set a single-season record for wins. Early in March, he surpassed Taylor Sports Hall of Famer Larry Winterholter (444 victories) to sit atop the baseball coaching win list at the school.

Gould, a 2002 Taylor graduate, has coached seven squads to league titles and produced six CL Players of the Year. Jared Adkins, who is a junior in 2018, was the honoree in 2017.

“Everything we do here is about development,” says Gould. “We’ve had a long run of success because our guys get better every year.”

Following an individualized program, Taylor players work in the weight room and on the practice field so they can contribute to the team.

When recruiting players, Gould and his assistants look for character first.

This is in line with the NAIA Champions of Character initiative, which places emphasis on respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership and sportsmanship.

“You ask our players what their No. 1 job is and they’d say, ‘be a good teammate,’” says Gould. “If you’re not a high-character person, you’re not going to value other people more than yourself.

“You’re going to be a great teammate here or you’re not going to fit in and it’s not going to work.”

Taylor coaches watch how potential recruits interact with their teammates and the way they respond to success and failure.

Gould and company often seek out the familiar.

“You want to find references who know the kid and know you and can evaluate whether it is the right fit or not,” says Gould. “Taylor is a great school. Baseball isn’t the only reason our guys are picking Taylor. They want to grow their faith. They want to get a great education. We sell all of that.”

Taylor, located in the Grant County town of Upland, Ind., has had all 18 of its intercollegiate athletic teams post grade-point averages over 3.0 in each of the past five years and led all NAIA schools in 2016-17 with 17 teams boasting GPA’s over 3.30.

Players work with advisors to get morning classes in the spring, so they’re academic life is interrupted as little as possible.

“We tell our guys that baseball is what you do, it’s not who you are,” says Gould. “We want guys who are passionate about the game. But if they are not interested in an actual education, this isn’t the right fit for them.

“We want our guys to graduate and go on and do things with their lives that matter.”

About 40 percent of the Taylor student body of around 1,900 are Indiana residents.

“We try to be open to the right kids,” says Gould. “We know what we want and we know when we find it.

“Whether that’s a kid from 10 miles down the road or 10 states away, it doesn’t matter.

“We try to do what we do as well as we can. It’s worked for us. I’m proud of the success we’ve had. I’m more proud of the people we’ve had.”

Outside of southern trips and league games, Taylor plays most of its games on the artificial turf at Winterholter Field, using the lights when necessary.

The Trojans played 32 games there in 2017 — far more home contests than any other league squad and likely more than most schools in the upper Midwest.

The 2018 Trojans are currently 17-1 on their home turf and also has three road wins against teams that were in the NAIA Top 25 when the game was played — No. 10 Keiser in West Palm Beach, Fla., No. 20 Campbellsville in Campbellsville, Ky., and No. 22 Indiana Tech in Columbia, Ky. The season opened with games in Florida against Florida Memorial, Keiser and Ave Maria.

“When we travel early, we don’t travel south to play northern teams,” says Gould. “We travel south to play southern teams. It’s one of our rules.

“We want to play good teams and we want to prepare ourselves to play well in the national tournament. We’ve never made it to the (NAIA) World Series. We’re going to continue to chip away until we make it.”

Taylor’s 30-game varsity roster features players with hometowns in nine different states, including Indiana (18), Ohio (3), Florida (2), Kentucky (2), Georgia (1), Illinois (1), Iowa (1) and Texas (1). There are also 15 junior varsity players, representing Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota Ohio and Wisconsin.

Through team’s first 33 games, junior Nathan Targgart (.400), senior Tanner Watson (.370), junior Cody Tait (.321) and sophomore Andrew Kennedy (.319) were the leaders in batting average. Targgart (24), Kennedy (20), Watson (20) and junior Wyatt Whitman (19) were the pacesetters in runs batted in. Adkins (19) led the way in stolen bases, followed by Whitman (15) and junior Josh Lane (15).

With Monday’s two-hit, 4-0 shutout of visiting Bethel, senior right-hander Matt Patton moved to 8-2 with a 1.72 earned run average. He struck out 13 and walked none against the Pilots, sending his season totals to 76 K’s and three walks (one intentional) in 62 2/3 innings (11 starts).

Nine other Taylor pitchers — all right-handers — had appeared in at least eight games.

Senior Rob Fox (0-1, 1 save, 3.65 ERA) has been called upon 19 times, followed by Patton and sophomore Mitch Ubelhor (2-0, 1 save, 0.48) with 12 apiece.

Freshman Luke Shively (4-0, 1 save, 2.49), junior Clay Riggins (3-0, 1 save, 2.36), freshman Drake Gongwer (0-0, 1 save, 2.57), freshman Kole Barkhaus (0-1, 1 save, 9.19 and sophomore eight-game starter Tucker Waddups (3-3, 2.91) have all taken the mound on nine occasions.

Kennedy (1-1, 1 save, 5.40) and senior Trevor Booth (1-0, 1 save, 5.68) have each toed the rubber in eight games.

Targgart played high school baseball at Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian. Watson (Elkhart Christian Academy), Kennedy (Northridge), Adkins (Whiteland), Patton (East Noble), Fox (Delta), Ubelhor (Avon), Riggins (Bloomington South), Gongwer (NorthWood), Barkhaus (Blackhawk Christian) and Waddups (Logansport) are also Indiana products.

Gould, who this year works with hitters and infielder, works with a coaching staff of Devin Wilburn (third season; pitching), Chad Newhard (second season; baserunners and catchers) Rick Atkinson (15th season; outfielders) and Lincoln Reed (second season). Atkinson is in both the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Grant County halls of fame.

Before playing at Taylor, Gould was an IHSAA Class 1A all-state catcher at Triton High School, where he graduated in 1998. His high school head coach was Jim Shively, father of current Trojan freshman Luke Shively.

“He was a really good coach and we did a lot of things offensively that were a little different at the time,” says Gould of Jim Shively. “We were really aggressive. We ran a lot. We hit for some power. We scored a lot of runs. We were difficult to defend and we won a lot of games doing it.

“He was really good at using the best athletes to maximize that.”

Shively coached Triton to a 1A state championship in 2001.

Gould is in his second year as athletic director at Taylor. Jess Fankhauser, a former softball pitching standout at Taylor, is the assistant AD.

“It’s mostly about managing time,” says Gould of juggling his administrative and coaching duties. “We have great group of people in the athletic department.

“It’s a team effort.”

Kyle and Kate Gould have a daughter — Penelope (2). On the day she was born — March 17, 2016 — Taylor won a pair of games in Indianapolis against Marian University with last at-bat home runs by Watson in Game 1 and Reed in Game 2.

“It’s a cool memory,” says Gould. “It’s also a great reminder that there is not one person that makes it all go. No one person is indespensible. The assistant coaches did a great job with the guys and they played really well.

“It’s true in all areas of life. None of us are as important as we think we are.”

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Kyle Gould, who graduated from Triton High School in 1998 and Taylor University in 2002, is in his 14th season as head baseball coach at Taylor. This spring, he surpassed Larry Winterholter for the top spot on the school’s baseball coaching win list. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Character is foundation of program for South Bend Riley’s Harris

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greg Harris learned about discipline, structure and staying on-task from an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and he’s incorporating those concepts and more in his coaching career.

Harris, who played for Ric Tomaszewski and graduated from South Bend Washington High School in 1992, is heading into his ninth season as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley High School in 2018.

“Coach 6 was very disciplined about how he went about his business,” says Harris of Tomazewski. “All of us understood the expectations he had for us — even from our field maintenance and making sure we did the right things in cleaning up and preparing the field.

“We go about our business and preparing the kids (at Riley) in the same way.”

A cornerstone of the Riley Wildcats program is character.

“We really look for high-character kids and great student-athletes,” says Harris. “Academics is a really big part of what we try to instill in our kids about life after high school.

“Our boys are all high achievers in the classroom and we tell them there’s always a place in college for them somewhere.”

Riley routinely carries a team grade-point average about 3.0 and has been at 3.8.

“From freshmen all the way through, the expectations are really high and the kids take that seriously and focus really hard,” says Harris. “It’s a testament to the kids and the parents.

“Grades come first. Academics are going to carry you a lot farther (than athletics).”

Riley currently has graduate Gabe Douglass on the baseball team at Grace College. Brett Carlson finished up at Purdue University a few years ago. Current Wildcats senior Zach Meert has committed to Indiana University South Bend, now led by former Riley assistant and Washington head coach Doug Buysse.

Harris and his assistant coaches — Mike Armey, Gavin Adams, Cameron Evans, Andrew Teall and Steve Fletcher — stress the importance of being good people all the time and not just on the baseball field.

“You represent South Bend; you represent Riley; you represent your family; you represent me as a coach; and we want to represent each other well,” says Harris, who is married to Sybil and has two boys — Riley sophomore baseball player Jackson Williams (16) and Gregory Harris (10). “I try to be a high-character person myself to make sure I’m representing my family, my baseball family, South Bend and my school well and those expectations stay high.”

Harris is passionate about baseball and the life lessons that can be taught through the sport.

“It helps them prepare for the world,” says Harris. “I love the relationships I’ve built with these kids.”

Adams, Evans and Teall all played for Harris at Riley and are now coaching with him.

Between the lines, Harris wants his hitters to have the ability to manufacture runs if power is not present, to make the routine defensive plays and for pitchers to throw strikes on their first delivery.

“First-pitch strike success will lead to success,” says Harris. “If we don’t throw a strike on that first pitch, the odds are a little bit different.”

Even before the IHSAA adopted pitch count rules (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), Riley coaches were keeping them low.

“We use a program when scoring the game that alerts me early where they’re at and we’ll begin to shut them down,” says Harris. “Mike Armey, my pitching coach, is really on top of that.

“Sixty-five pitches is a long day for us. We never try to over-use a kids arm no matter what.”

Competition among teammates means that players can’t get too comfortable with their position. Coupled with pitching moves, that means that there are many players who can play multiple places on the diamond.

Overall, it’s about the Wildcats giving it their all.

“We want to play the game the right way constantly,” says Harris. “If we put our best effort out there, we’ll take what we get with it. We’ve had some kids with quite a bit of talent and we’ve had some kids come a long way.”

All Riley players receive a defensive playbook that they must know and understand and are expecting to work toward increasing their Baseball I.Q.

“One day they may be parents and pass those lessons on just like I learned from Tomaszewski,” says Harris. “There are still things I believe in that I learned in high school.”

South Bend Community School Corporation has four IHSAA member high schools — Riley, Adams, Clay and Washington — plus Rise Up Academy. There are 10 intermediate centers (grades 5-8) and 18 primary centers (grades K-4).

With smaller freshmen classes than in recent years, overall athletic program numbers are down at Riley. The Wildcats will field a softball team for girls this spring, but did not in 2017.

Harris has 27 baseball players in 2018. Some will split time between varsity and junior varsity.

“We want to fill both and make sure the development is where it needs to be,” says Harris. “With the emergence of travel sports, the Little Leagues aren’t feeding into you the way they used to. With school of choice and magnet programs, kids go where they want.

“We’re trying to reach out in different areas to get kids interested in playing sports.”

New SBCSC athletic director Seabe Gavin and Riley AD Dan Kyle is encouraging high school varsity coaches to meet with intermediate school coaches and it’s likely the primary schools will also be contacted.

“We’re still trying to tap into the Little Leagues and see what they have,” says Harris, who counts South Side and South Bend South East as feeder parks for Riley. “We’re always trying have a place for kids to play baseball.”

While Little League participation is down, travel ball is up.

In the summer, Harris has coached travel baseball with the Michiana Scrappers. This year, he will coach the 16U squad for the Michiana Repetition. The program is directed by new South Bend Washington High School head baseball coach and Riley graduate Marcus LaSane.

Players are encouraged to find some kind of team.

“They need to keep playing ball,” says Harris.

Lessons are offered by Harris at Teddy Ballgames training facility in South Bend.

Harris, who is a product engineer at Dec-O-Art in Elkhart, began coaching baseball at South Bend South Side Little League and then migrated to assistant positions at Riley before following Dave Luczkowski as head coach.

The Wildcats play on-campus at Bob Rush Field. Through fundraising, baseball has found ways to upgrade dugouts and purchase new wind screens while maintaining mounds and playing surfaces.

Harris says getting a new warning track is a goal. A  big-ticket item on the wish list is a press box and lights are dream.

Riley belongs to the Northern Indiana Conference along with Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington. The NIC produced an IHSAA Class 3A state champion (St. Joseph) and a 4A state runner-up (Penn) in 2017.

“You can’t take a day off (in the NIC),” says Harris.

Non-conference opponents on the Wildcats schedule include Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Kokomo, LaVille, Michigan City, Plymouth, Triton and Warsaw.

Riley is in a 4A sectional group with Adams, Clay, LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“We may take our lumps early,” says Harris. “We want to be better than ‘South Bend good’ and make a run in the tournament.”

GREGHARRIS

Greg Harris is entering his ninth season as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)