Tag Archives: Softball

New coach Sailors, Elwood Panthers getting ‘back to basics’

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

Grant Sailors grew up playing baseball a certain way and he is looking to bring those things into his job as head coach at Elwood (Ind.) Community Junior/Senior High School.
Hired less than a month ago to lead the Panthers program, the former three-sport athlete at Wabash (Ind.) High School wants the Panthers to “get back to basics.”
“It’s the little stuff,” says Sailors, who played football and basketball and was a first-team all-stater in baseball (Matt Stone was head coach) for the Apaches and graduated in 2014 with a brief baseball stint at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. “To me a big thing is how you appear to your coaches, the other team, your fans.
“Your jersey is tucked in. Your belt is on. You’re wearing your hat right. It’s little baseball traditions people may not take seriously.
“We want to respect the game of baseball. The program I grew up in taught me very well. We want to teach that to the kids in Elwood.
“It is a rebuilding process. It is going to take a little time and a whole lot of effort.”
Elwood (enrollment around 430) is a member of the Central Indiana Athletic Conference (with Alexandra-Monroe, Blackford, Eastbrook, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill).
The Panthers were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Alexandria-Monroe, Frankton, Lapel, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Wapahani and Winchester Community. Elwood has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2014.
Sailors, who helped with Wabash boys basketball a few years ago and Elwood softball in the spring of 2022, has been running twice-a-week open fields for Panthers baseball.
He also emphasizes being on-time and the hustle factor.
“Go out there and give it your all,” says Sailors, who has played with the USA Softball national fastpitch team. “It doesn’t take talent to hustle. These are things that I grew up doing.”
Sailors played from age 4 to 12 at Wabash Little League then spent the next few years in the town’s Babe Ruth program.
“There was a certain standard for baseball in the town of Wabash,” says Sailors. “Everybody wanted to be a part of the baseball team.
“One goal for me and our new athletic director (Ryan Vanskyock) is it to get (Elwood’s Harry Bridges) Little League built back up so kids want to come and play.”
That includes coaches clinics so they can see how Sailors teaches the game.
Elwood has a junior high baseball for seventh and eighth graders.
Sailors has named four of his assistant coaches — Jamie Jetty, Jack Bennett, Devan Frank and Chris Noone. Bennett, who played baseball at Goshen (Ind.) College), and long-time coach Noone are from Elwood.
Former prep volleyball, basketball and softball athlete Taylor Noone (Elwood Class of 2016) is Sailors’ girlfriend.
The Panthers play and practice on-campus. Money is being raised for renovations. Sailors says it is hoped that Elwood will someday have lights for baseball and softball.
When not coaching, Sailors works in kitchen modeling and does woodworking on the side.
He is the son of Jason (Kerri) Sailors and Betina Hill. He has three siblings — older younger Zach Sailors (Wabash Class of 2010), younger sister Jillian Sailors (Wabash Class of 2025) and younger brother Jake Sailors. Zach played baseball at Wabash and for four years at Indiana Tech. Jillian has been a travel volleyball player. Jake has been involved in football, basketball and baseball.

New Elwood Community Junior/Senior High School head baseball coach Grant Sailors and Taylor Noone.
New Elwood Community Junior/Senior High School head baseball coach Grant Sailors and Taylor Noone.

Grant Sailors at Wabash (Ind.) High School.

Former switch hitter Allbry switches gears, reflects on diamond experiences

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

Baseball took Allbry Major all over America.
The Indianapolis native played in many places as a travel baller and then had college baseball adventures at three schools and with numerous summer collegiate teams.
His playing career over, the 23-year-old reflects on his experiences as he finishes Week 1 on his first full-time job.
What did he get out of baseball?
“It taught me how to compete,” says Major. “That was something very important to me. Anything can be competition.
“There’s also the relationships I made with people. It’s really a small world once you get to summer ball.”
Major is now a manager trainee at a Enterprise Rent-A-Car store near San Francisco. He settled there with girlfriend and former Arizona State University softball player Mailey McLemore. Both finished their degrees this spring — Major in General Studies with a focus in Applied Sciences at Louisiana State University Shreveport and McLemore in Sports Business at ASU.
Born in Indianapolis as the only child of Kendrick and Marcy Major (a trackster who competed for Indiana State University and a multi-sport prep athlete), Allbry was in Pike Township until attending North Central High School, where he graduated in 2017.
In 2016, he named all-Marion County and helped the Phil McIntyre-coached Panthers to the county championship. He was academic all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference his last three years.
Major made the basketball squad as a senior. He had classes with members of the team and would participate in pick-up games so he decided to go out for head coach Doug Mitchell’s squad. Mitchell went into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2022.
People always assumed that at 6-foot-6 he was a basketball player.
“That’s everybody’s first guess,” says Major. But his first love was for the diamond.
His baseball journey got rolling around age 7 at Westlane-Delaware Little League. There were travel ball stops with the Pony Express, Smithville Gators, Indiana Bandits, Indiana Outlaws, New Level Baseball Tornadoes (Illinois) and then — during his junior high and high school years — the Cincinnati Spikes, including his 17U summer.
“I didn’t like (being an only child),” says Major. “I always wanted siblings. I wasn’t a big fan of the spotlight.”
Major enjoyed getting to know so many coaches and teammates. He also learned from travel ball trips that sometimes had four players to a room that there were stages to the summer in the early years.
“I started out the season super excited to play again with my travel team,” says Major. “In the middle of the year, they got on my nerves. The last week or two I was irritated and mad at them. I grew out out that once I got to college. Everybody was more independent. You handle your business and get out.”
The summer before going to Xavier University in Cincinnati, the 6-6, 215-pound switch-hitting outfielder was with the Elmira (N.Y.) Pioneers of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.
Major played at Xavier in 2018 and 2019, but not during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
He was named Big East Conference Freshman of the Year in 2018 after hitting .291 (46-of-158) with two home runs, nine doubles, 21 runs batted in and 16 runs scored in 47 games (46 starts). As 16 games as a pitcher (eight starts), the right-hander went 3-5 with one save, a 4.96 earned run average, 54 strikeouts and 24 walks in 61 2/3 innings. He had just a handful of pitching outings after that.
In 2019, Major played in 51 games (all starts) and hit .281 (57-of-203) with seven homers, 15 doubles, 34 RBIs and 32 runs.
The Musketeers head coach was Billy O’Conner.
Major was at Arizona State University in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021.
With the Tracy Smith-coached Sun Devils, he was in 27 games and hit .196 with two homers and 10 RBIs.
“I trying to go D-I again (after Arizona State), but there was the road block of being academically eligible,” says Major, noting how credits transferred from one school to the next.
A Finance major when he started at Xavier, he switched to Communications because it was easier with his full load of baseball activities. He was going to continue down that path at ASU, but not all credits transferred and he went with General Studies/Applied Sciences (including Business, Communications and Sociology).
Along the way, Major discovered his learning style to be hands-on (aka Kinesthetic). On the VARK scale there is Visual, Auditory, Reading and writing and Kinesthetic.
“I identify more with that,” says Major. “The better coaches made me understand why I was doing what I was doing. Once I understood I just kind of bought in more.
“Not everybody’s the same.”
Joining close friend Zyon Avery (Ben Davis Class of 2018) at LSUS gave Major the opportunity to play in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, in 2022. The Brad Neffendorf-coached Pilots went 53-8 in their second straight World Series season with two losses coming in Idaho.
In 51 games with LSUS, Major hit .333 (49-of-147) with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and 38 runs.
Major encountered many wood bat summer league situations in college. He played briefly for both the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Brewster Whitecaps and New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Valley Blue Sox (Holyoke, Mass.) in the summer of 2018.
He went back to the Cape in 2019 with the Cotuit Kettleers (his head coach was American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Roberts). He had no summer team in 2020.
In 2021, Major suited up for the Prospect League’s Chris Willsey-managed Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators.
In 99 collegiate summer league games, he hit .302 with six homers and 49 RBIs.
Major was hoping to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but knew time was not on his side.
“After Arizona State, that was my last real chance because of my age,” says Major. “I know how big of a factor that plays in the draft.”
He had a chance to play independent pro ball, but decided to go with Mailey (daughter of former all-pro defensive back and San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl XIX-champion Dana McLemore and a former softball standout at Carlmont High School in Belmont, Calif.) and begin working.
“It’s the first time I’ve had a job because I’ve been playing summer ball,” says Major. “I’m trying to adjust to that.
“It’s the most expensive part of the country.”
Major doesn’t see himself leaving baseball behind entirely. Coaching might be his next avenue.
“I’m still going to be involved as much as a I can,” says Major. “I’ll have to see what my schedule is like now that I’m working.”

Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (Arizona State University Photo)

Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (LSU Shreveport Photo)
Allbry Major (Arizona State University Photo)

Allbry Major (Xavier University Photo)

Right-hander Maynard brings ‘bulldog mentality’ to the mound

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

Johnny Maynard is not yet sure where he’ll throw his next regular-season collegiate pitch.
But he is certain how he will approach baseball. The way he always has — with a strong work ethic and bulldog mentality.
“It’s how I raised by my parents,” says Maynard, who turns 22 today (June 30). “Whatever you start you have to finish. I never quit anything ever. Always go full-out.
“I really don’t care who I’m competing against, I know they’re not going to beat me. I’m a 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher. I’m usually one of the smaller guys on the team. I have to work harder to the get the results and earn respect.”
Maynard (rhymes with Play Hard), a 2019 Griffith (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School graduate who is now in the Transfer Portal after two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., (2020 and 2021) and one at NCAA Division I Radford (Va.) University. The Sports Management and Marketing major hurled 5 1/3 innings in six appearances for the 2022 Highlanders.
Alex Guerra was hired as Radford head coach after the season.
This summer, Maynard is pitching for the Coastal Plain League’s Jeremy Knight-coached Asheboro (N.C.) ZooKeepers.
Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Maynard uses on four-seam fastball, one-seamer, curveball and change-up.
The four-seam sits 87 to 89 mph and has been up to 92.
“The one-seamer (finger on just one seam) I learned this year,” says Maynard. “My two-seamer was not moving the way I wanted it to. (The one-seamer) gets pretty good movement away from a lefty and has pretty good sink to it. It works off my (circle) change-up (which is generally thrown 82 to 84 mph.”
Maynard employs a curve that is 1-to-7 on the clock face.
“It drops off the table pretty well,” says Maynard.
Born in Munster, Ind., Maynard moved to Griffith as a sixth grader. He played in Munster and Griffith youth leagues then went into travel ball and suited up for the Northwest Indiana Shockers, Steelheads, Cobras, Slammers, Hammond Chiefs and 18U Midwest Irish.
At Griffith High, Maynard played four years for Panthers coach coach Brian Jennings, starting as a freshman.
“He’s a great guy,” says Maynard of Jennings, who retired after the 2022 season.
Lincoln Trail coach Kevin Bowers allowed the righty got to close some games for the Statesman. One of his highlights is slamming the door on highly-ranked John A. Logan during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Maynard split the summer of 2019 between the Irish and Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen. He also got in a few innings with that Whiting-based team in 2020. He was with the Tropics of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2021, which allowed him to work at home and then commute two-plus hours to games.
Johnny’s mother, Jen Maynard, is a cardiac tech in northwest Indiana. Father Mike Maynard is recently-retired and living in Florida. Sister Lauren Maynard played and coached softball at Purdue Northwest and is now in nursing school.

Johnny Maynard (Asheboro ZooKeepers Photo)
Johnny Maynard (Anne Bowers Photo)
Johnny Maynard (Anne Bowers Photo)
Johnny Maynard (Lincoln Trail College Photo)
Johnny Maynard (Lincoln Trail College Photo)

Driven Mills takes advice from many baseball mentors

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

What drives Patrick Mills as a baseball player?
“My passion for the game is definitely No. 1,” says Mills, a 22-year-old outfielder/first baseman for Indiana University-Kokomo. “Every day I get up out of bed the one thing I want to do is go play some baseball.
“That’s the reason I keep playing. I enjoy the game. Everything else will follow. I will do everything I can to get better and keep playing it. It comes down to passion and discipline.”
Mills, a 2018 graduate of Western High School in Russiaville, Ind., spent two years at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the past two years at IUK. He plans to use his extra year of COVID-19 eligibility with the Cougars in 2022-23 while completing his Computer Science degree.
A lefty thrower and batter, Mills hit .374 (65-of-174) in 2022 while helping IUK go 26-22 overall and 16-7 in the NAIA River States Conference. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder belted 15 home runs, four triples and 16 doubles while driving in 44 runs and scoring 51 — all team-leading totals. His on-base percentage was .453.
“I make sure I stay balanced in my body and my mind,” says Mills of his approach at the plate. “I learn what the pitcher is throwing and try to hit the ball hard.
“When you hit the ball hard good things happen.”
Mills has had many mentors besides father Eric.
“It’s not just one person in particular,” says Mills. “It’s a collective of everybody I’ve met in the game.
“It’s little bit of advice here and there. I’ve put it together like a puzzle.”
Jeremy Honaker coached Cougar outfielders and hitters in 2022.
Mills credits him with helping him with the mental side of the game and bringing out his full potential during games.
“There were little snippets for me to think about during (batting practice),” says Mills. “They were more mental notes than actual physical cues.”
A lot was achieved during the fall and winter.
“All that work built up,” says Mills. “By the time the season came around it was second nature.”
Mills has head coaches at IUK with different styles. Matt Howard was intense and Drew Brantley is more laid-back.
“(Howard) lent a level of excitement and discipline,” says Mills of the man who is now a Kokomo police officer. “He wanted us to compete to the best of our abilities every single day. He wanted to make his players as tough as possible and he definitely did.
“(Brantley) has created an environment where we’re not afraid to fail. If we can control what we need to control, the results will follow. Follow the process and try to get better everyday. That philosophy — in my opinion — worked very well. Next spring it will be even better.”
Mills was born in Kokomo and got his formal baseball start at what is now Russiaville Youth Baseball League.
He played travel ball with the Westfield-based Stonecutters then went with the Indiana Eagles for his 14U to 17U summers.
“(Eagles coach) Jamie Roudebush gave us a platform to work on our skills and get better everyday during those years,” says Mills.
At Western, Mills played two years each for Quentin Brown then Ryan Berryman.
“(Brown) was all about passion when playing the game. He once jokingly said to me, ‘you care about this game too much. If you keep your passion like that you’ll go wherever you want to go.”
Mills and the Western Panthers were 2016 IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up.
“Playing for (Berryman) was a different experience from Brown,” says Mills. “He brought the intensity level, but also the technicalities of baseball. He challenged me to become better fundamentally. It was the mechanics and more than just the mental side.”
Mike Shirley, who at the time was a Chicago White Sox area scout and is now that organization’s director of amateur scouting, ran a fall league for high schoolers in Pendleton, Ind., in which Mills participated.
“He gave us a lot of information and where we need to improve,” says Mills of Shirley. “He was challenging us mentally and physically. It was a great experience.”
Mills played for Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6 the summers before and after his first year of college.
“He was always supported me since I played for him,” says Mills of Andrews. “He was very similar to how Drew Brantley goes about his business. He’s calm and collected.
“Back then I was very intense and wild and wanted to do everything with one swing. He taught me how to handle my emotions. It went over my head then but I eventually learned from his teachings.”
At Olney Central, Mills played for veteran coach Dennis Conley.
“He definitely pushed his players to the limit and got the most out of them,” said Mills of Conley, who has been in charge of the Blue Knights program for 42 years and has a record of 1,530-773. “Junior college tests your love of the game. Do you really love the game or kind of like it?”
Mills was with the Portland (Ind.) Rockets during the COVID summer of 2020. One of his teammates was former Yorktown High School, Lincoln Trail College, Wright State University and independent pro player Zach Tanner.
“He took me under his wing and taught me about the mental game,” says Mills of Tanner.
Last summer he played for the Prospect League’s West Virginia Miners and manager Tim Epling.
The summer of 2022 sees Mills with the Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks. The team is managed by Caleb Long.
In 28 games with Battle Creek, Mills is hitting .360 (41-of-114) with two homers, 27 RBIs and 21 runs.
Eric and Sundai Mills have three children — Jaymee (Mills) Birky (28), Hayley Mills (24) and Patrick.
Jaymee is married and living in Madison, Wis. (where Battle Creek recently played the Madison Mallards), and competition in swimming, softball and track at Western. She also was part of a state championship marching band. Hayley nows teaches elementary school in Raleigh, N.C. She was in volleyball, basketball, swimming and softball during her school days.

Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (15) (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)

Lebanon alum Harker hurling for Harwich in Cape Cod Baseball League

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

A year ago at this time, 2021 Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate Garrett Harker suited up for the North in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.
In the summer of 2022, the right-handed pitcher is in the high-profile Cape Cod Baseball League with the Harwich Mariners, managed since 2003 by Steve Englert.
In his first two outings covering 3 2/3 relief innings, Harker has allowed no runs and two hits while striking out seven and walking none.
“It’s the best league you can play in,” says Harker, 19. “I’m blessed to be here and have this experience. I’m probably one of the youngest guys.
“I’m just trying to get some innings and throw in front of as many people as I can.”
During his freshmen season at the University of Cincinnati this spring, 6-foot, 200-pound Harker appeared in 16 games (six starts) and went 4-3 with one save and one save and a 7.08 earned run average. He produced 38 strikeouts and 22 walks in 48 1/3 innings.
The UC Bearcats head coach is Scott Googins. Harker works closely with pitching coach JD Heilmann.
It’s been competitiveness that Heilmann has emphasized with Harker.
“Go at the hitter and be the competitor you’ve been,” says Harker. “I’m not the biggest, fastest, strongest guy out there. I’m going to give you 100 percent no matter what I do.”
Born in Indianapolis, Harker grew up in Lebanon. He played at Lebanon Little League until about 9 then played for various travel ball teams, including the Lebanon Thunder, Indiana Baseball Club, Indiana Elite, Indiana Outlaws, Indiana Bulls and Team Indiana (fall ball).
With the 2020 prep season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harker played three seasons at Lebanon High School for Rick Cosgray.
“He’s a players’ coach for sure,” says Harker of Cosgray. “He’ll go to battle for you as long as you give 100 percent.”
In 81 high school games, Harker hit .431 (113-of-262) with 13 home runs, 56 runs batted in and 89 runs scored. As a pitcher, he went 19-7 with two saves and a 1.44 ERA. He whiffed 264 and walked 42 in 156 innings. As a senior in 2021, he was 8-0 with one save, a 0.67 ERA, 111 K’s and eight walks in 52 1/3 innings.
He was the IHSBCA District K Player of the Year and was the on the Prep Baseball Report Indiana All-State Team and All-USA Central Indiana Postseason Super Team.
Harker, who turns 20 on July 23, says it was during his junior year of high school that he really learned how to pitch.
The righty throws from a high three-quarter arm angle.
“I figured I needed to get on top of the ball and get more spin rate and spin efficiency — all that stuff,” says Harker.
He mixes a four-seam fastball that has been clocked as high as 95 mph, a sinking two-seam fastball, “circle” change-up (usually delivered around 80 mph), a traditional slider (with horizontal movement and vertical depth).
Harker’s 2020 summer was spent with the 17U Indiana Bulls. In 2021, he got in a few outings with the PRP Baseball Mambas and had workouts for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.
Besides baseball, Harker played four years of football (three years as starting quarterback) and one year of basketball at Lebanon. During his gridiron days, he passed for 4,399 yards and 43 touchdowns, including 2,028 and 21 as a junior in 2019.
Garrett is the youngest of Larry and Teri Harker’s four children — all former Lebanon athletes. Former Tigers basketball and softball player Kalyn Harker (Class of 2011) is the oldest, followed by former football, basketball and baseball player Isaac Harker (Class of 2014), former volleyball, basketball and softball player Tori Harker (2018) and Garrett Harker.
Kalyn played softball at Southern Illinois University. Isaac played quarterback at Indiana State University and Colorado School of Mines and been in the Canadian Football League. Tori played volleyball at Indiana University East.
Larry Harker works for Cincinnati Bell Technology Services. Teri Harker is a stay-at-home mom.

Garrett Harker (University of Cincinnati Photo)
Garrett Harker (University of Cincinnati Photo)

Wirsch, Rising Sun Shiners heading to regional again

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

Rising Sun (Ind.) High School has raised a sectional baseball trophy eight times — all on head coach Kevin Wirsch’s watch.
The Shiners have had Wirsch as head coach since the 2000 season and taken IHSAA Class 1A sectional titles in 2002, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2022.
The most-recent championship came at the Jac-Cen-Del Sectional (which featured Hauser, Jac-Cen-Del, Oldenburg Academy and Trinity Lutheran) and earned Rising Sun a place in the Morristown Regional on Saturday, June 4.
The regional semifinals features 16-8 Rising Sun against Shakamak at 11 a.m., followed by Traders Point Christian vs. Indianapolis Lutheran. The championship is slated for 8 p.m. All but Traders Point received votes in the final regular season Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association poll.
In 2013, the Shiners won a regional title and took part in the Plainfield Semistate, bowing to eventual 1A state runner-up Vincennes Rivet.
Rising Sun (enrollment around 230) is a member of the Ohio River Valley Conference (with Jac-Cen-Del, Milan, Shawe Memorial, South Ripley, Southwestern of Hanover and Switzerland County). The Shiners went 9-3 in the ORVC, finishing behind Southwestern (11-1).
“We’re one of the smallest schools in the state,” says Wirsch, who has also been an English teacher at the school just blocks from the Ohio River since 1999-2000. “I had to work to get players this year.”
Because of various factors, Wirsch expects to take 11 players to regional and one of those — senior center fielder Kendell Montgomery — has also qualified for the state track meet in Bloomington and will head there after the regional semifinal to compete in the long jump (his seed mark is 21 feet, 3 3/4 inches).
“Believe it or not, we have four and five-sport athletes here,” says Wirsch. “All the coaches (at Rising Sun) know each other and work together.
“That’s what makes it possible.”
While participation numbers are often an issue, Wirsch has enjoyed success.
“The kids that come out, buy in and work hard,” says Wirsch. “They do what we ask them to do.
“We try to do the little things right — throw strikes and make plays.”
The Shiners won the sectional with a 3-2 win against Hauser in 10 innings and 2-0 triumph against Jac-Cen-Del. Rising Sun is 5-2 in games decided by two runs or less and 1-3 in extra innings.
Senior and Earlham College commit Jonathan Jimenez (.431, 3 home runs, 27 runs batted in, 20 runs, 20 stolen bases) leads the offense, which also features junior Peyton Merica (.384, 27 runs, 18 stolen bases), Montgomery (.297, 17 runs), senior third baseman Ashton McCarty (.277, 18 RBI) and junior catcher Brady Works (.267, 21 runs, 17 stolen bases). First baseman Peyton Creech has already joined the National Guard.
Right-handers Merica (7-1, 0.53 earned run average with 98 strikeouts and 16 walks in 66 innings) and Jimenez (5-2, 1.83, 83 K’s, 29 walks, 49 2/3 IP) pace the Shiners pitching staff. Each generally takes turns at shortstop or is somewhere in the infield when not on the mound.
Wirsch’s assistants include Steve Jimenez, Keith Works, Jason Merica and one of Wirsch’s former players — Brandon Turner.
Rising Sun plays home games on its campus at Shiner Ballpark.
“It’s a nice field,” says Wirsch. “It’s been upgraded since I’ve been there. We’ve got new dugouts and lights.”
The school’s softball field is near the baseball diamond. The Shiners have won eight sectional softball titles.
A junior high program at Rising Sun was established about seven years ago. This feeds the high school. Many core players who hone their skills in travel ball in Madison, Cincinnati and northern Kentucky.
Recent graduates to move on to college baseball include Class of 2018’s Brent Turner (Huntington University), 2019’s Brayden Bush (Kentucky Wesleyan College), 2020’s Steven Jimenez (Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati) and 2021’s Landon Cole (Franklin College).
Wirsch is a 1993 graduate of East Central High School in St. Leon, Ind., where his baseball coach was Bob Benner.
He played football and baseball for two years at the University of Evansville. Jim Brownlee was the Purple Aces baseball coach. When UE dropped football, he transferred to Northern Kentucky University, where he earned an English degree.
Wirsch is also an assistant football coach at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) High School — where son Ashton (18) played and graduated last weekend — and has coached that sport at South Dearborn.
Besides Ashton, Kevin and wife Amy Wirsch have a daughter named Alexandra (23).

Head coach Kevin Wirsch and the Rising Sun Shiners, champions of the 2022 IHSAA Class 1A Jac-Cen-Del baseball sectional.

Auburn Sports Park to bring baseball, so much more to northeast Indiana

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

Northeast Indiana is moving toward a large sports facility and baseball will be part of the mix.
Auburn Sports Group is bringing Auburn Sports Park — a $42 million 170-acre multi-sport complex plus 90 more acres for retail (restaurants, gas stations, hotels) — to land adjacent once owned by RM Auctions/RM Sotheby’s on the east side of I-69 .1 of a mile off Exit 11A.
Auburn Sports Park will be located about 30 miles south of the Indiana-Michigan line on I-69; about 20 miles to the heart of Fort Wayne, Ind.; about 60 miles west of Napoleon, Ohio; about 50 miles northeast of Warsaw, Ind.; about 120 miles southwest of Lansing, Mich.; about 100 miles southeast of Kalamazoo, Mich.; about 130 miles northeast of Grand Park in Westfield, Ind
Auburn Sports Group’s leadership team features co-owner Joe Fisher, president/co-order Rod Sinn, vice president/director of basketball Grant Sinn and director of operations/director of outdoor fields Cole Walker.
Brett Ratcliffe, assistant baseball coach at Trine University in Angola, Ind., and former head coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School, is the director of baseball/softball. Auburn Sports Park is to have eight turf fields suitable for high school/college baseball and softball.
“A multi-sport complete in northeast Indiana is something that’s needed,” says Ratcliffe of the place which has already had commitments to bring events to serve athletes from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and beyond. “This is another venue they can go to.”
Existing buildings will be used and there will be construction and renovation to bring indoor basketball and volleyball courts and a multi-purpose field for football, soccer and lacrosse. One building will house seven batting cages.
In addition, a 2-mile walking trail around the campus is planned as well as a splash pad.
“We want to make sure it’s a great experience for kids and a good memory for people who come here,” says Ratcliffe, who expects some of the facility to be ready for events by late summer.
Auburn Sports Park will be home to Prospect Select and Crossroads Baseball Series and the site of national championships.
Eric Blakeley, who played baseball at Indiana University and in the Seattle Mariners organization, is Crossroads Baseball Series CEO.
Jeremy Plexico, former pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Ball State University, is Prospect Select president.
Travis Keesling, who played and coached at Pendleton Heights High School, is Crossroads Baseball Series executive vice president.
Ratcliffe says entities like the DeKalb County Visitors Bureau have been supportive and other partnerships have been discussed with the World Baseball Academy, Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League and Empowered Sports Club —all based in Fort Wayne — plus the YMCA of DeKalb County in Auburn and Team Pineapple Volleyball Club/Ball Sports Academy of Angola.
With its location, Ratcliffe says Auburn Sports Park will be a great place for teams from NCAA D-I, D-II and D-III to NAIA and National Junior College Athletic Association schools to recruit.

Auburn Sports Group runs Auburn Sports Park in Auburn, Ind.

Baseball part of mix for new McClellan-led Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus athletic department

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

The state has added another college baseball program.
Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus is launching an athletic department and baseball is a part of it.
Zach McClellan is the Crimson Pride’s first athletic director and baseball head coach.
The school has applied for membership in the NAIA and hopes to be participating in the River States Conference. IUPUC is awaiting decisions on both.
The 43-year-old McClellan says the NAIA is to visit the campus to look at academics and athletics Feb. 28-March 1.
McClellan, a Toledo, Ohio, native who pitched three seasons at Indiana University (1998-2000) and 10 years in professional baseball including a stint with the Colorado Rockies (2007), says that regardless of NAIA status in the coming year, Crimson Pride teams will participate in cross country, softball and baseball during the 2022-23 academic year.
The AD/coach says there are no immediate plans to build a baseball field on the small satellite campus, but IUPUC is in conversations with local high schools — Columbus East, Columbus North and Hauser among them — as well as CERALand Park (a host to many travel ball events) about a place to play home games.
Athletes have already been announcing their commitment to the NAIA-applicant school.
“I’m giving (recruits) very transparent answers about what could and couldn’t happen,” says McClellan. “For me, it’s more important for the players to commit to IUPUC and the process.”
As a first-time college administrator and head coach, McClellan has welcomed help from those with experience.
“One of the guys that I have a lot of respect for is Kyle Gould at Taylor University (in Upland, Ind.),” says McClellan. “He’s the AD at Taylor and he’s the baseball coach and great at both.”
To help build the team and culture, McClellan will be hiring assistant coaches.
“I want to win,” says McClellan, who had more than 150 players from around the world show interest when word got out about the formation of the start-up program. “To win I’ve got to build a great developmental plan for those kids.
“The plan specifically for baseball is to bring in 50 players by the fall to have a varsity and (junior varsity) team and IUPUC. I took the job to help people. I took it to give them an opportunity to go to a great institution and get a degree from Indiana or Purdue with very affordable tuition.”
Giving advice to players and their families looking at college baseball, McClellan implores them to do their research to find the right fit.
“I don’t think anybody truly wants to transfer four times in four years,” says McClellan. “The transfer portal stuff is a necessary evil. I’m glad it empowers players to become happy. But you really should be looking for that spot you can call home for four to five years. Get your degree, play at a high level and enjoy it.
“Pick the right opportunity for yourself and don’t short change any opportunity.”
McClellan moved to Columbus, Ind., in 2010 after taking a job with LHP Engineering Solutions. He has established two businesses including Demand Command (a travel sports organization with teams in Indiana, Ohio and Arizona) and CG Velocity (an entity created to develop baseball pitching expertise for players ages 7 to 25). He holds a B.S. degree from Indiana University and an Masters of Business Administration from University of Phoenix and is currently an adjunct faculty member in the Division of Business at IUPUC.
“I’m a big advocate for education and teaching,” says McClellan, who enjoyed guiding a Personal Brand class for MBA students.
Besides Business, Nursing and Mechanical Engineerina (Purdue) are among the major offered at the school.
“There’s a lot of knowledge at IUPUC,” says McClellan. “There’s a lot of knowledgable people with smaller classes. That’s value-added.
“Hopefully academics can shine the light on how good academics really is.”
“So far everyone has expressed interest in working with us,” says McClellan. “There are a lot of options here in Columbus.”
There are just over 900 undergraduate students at IUPUC. Many are commuters. Student-athletes looking for housing are being referred to The Annex of Columbus — apartments within walking distance of the campus.
McClellan sees being close rather than having a long commute as ideal.
“You have to understand that you are a student-athlete and not an athlete-student,” says McClellan. “You have to be committed to your books. That’s tough because — let’s face it — baseball at the collegiate level is like a second job. It’s hard to commute from more than 30 or 40 minutes away and do what we’re trying to do. You’re going to be working out early in the morning and late at night. You’re going to be studying and finding something to eat. And you have to get your sleep.
“We’re looking for elite-level players — on and off the field — that’s what college baseball is.”
McClellan notes that there is a reason sports is a pyramid and not a square.
“Sometimes it weeds you out when you’re not fully-committed to what you’re doing,” says McClellan. “That’s why The Annex of Columbus is a pivotal piece.”
Zach and wife Sarah live in Columbus with three daughters — Mia, Miley and Emery.

Zach McClellan (Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Photo)

Kutch, North Central Thunderbirds enjoy competition

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

Joe Kutch has long taken a leadership role in youth sports in and around Sullivan County, Ind.
Kutch (pronounced Kootch) is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at North Central Junior/Senior High School in Farmersburg.
He was junior high coach for about five years before taking over the varsity Thunderbirds.
After years as an assistant, Kutch became North Central’s head football coach midway through the 2021 season. The Thunderbirds won their two sectional football titles with Kutch on the staff — 2018 as defensive coordinator and 2021 as head coach/offensive coordinator.
COVID-19 hit Kutch the first week of September and he was in the Intensive Care Unit for nine days and missed three football games. He is still on oxygen. But he still coaches, teaches Automotive classes at North Central (through a co-op with Ivy Tech in Terre Haute) and works for Sullivan Auto Group.
The Nashville (Tenn.) Auto-Diesel College graduate got his teacher’s license through Ball State University and began teaching eight years ago.
Kutch is an alum of Terre Haute North Vigo High School (Class of 1988). While still in high school he started organizing non-high school athletics.
As an adult, Kutch once ran the Northeast Youth League, Tri-Towers Softball League (which once had 500 players and was a pilot site for Major League Baseball’s Pitch, Hit & Run contest) and is still on the board of the Southwest Youth Football League (formerly Quad County).
Joe and Dianna Kutch have been married 28 years and have two sons — Austin Kutch (North Central Class of 2014) and Brayden Kutch (Class of 2017). Both played football and baseball for the Thunderbirds and graduated from college (Austin from Indiana State University and Brayden from Indiana University).
North Central (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eastern Greene, Linton-Stockton, North Daviess, Shakamak and White River Valley) for baseball and basketball.
Eastern Greene and Linton-Stockton have been IHSAA Class 2A schools on the diamond. Shakamak was a 1A state runner-up in 2021.
“I like the competition,” says Kutch, 52. “We take our sports serious. We compete every year in every sport.”
In 2021, the Thunderbirds were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eminence, Shakamak and White River Valley (the 2021 host). North Central has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2011.
During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, North Central has 26 athletes who have indicated that they plan to play baseball in the spring.
“Most of my key players are playing basketball, like six of the starting nine,” says Kutch. “(Our numbers) will will drop when we get to mandatory practice (March 14).”
Kutch, pitching coach Andy Fuson and hitting coach Brian Raber make up the current Thunderbirds staff. A few volunteers when official preseason practice begins.
The Thunderbirds play home games on-campus. A ball over the right field fence could reach U.S. 41.
A few years ago, infield dirt was upgraded. The facility has a grass infield with brick dust running lanes. About a decade, a brick press box was installed.
The high school shares the field with the independent junior high program.
“You need junior high baseball,” says Kutch. “You need a feeder system to keep your program going.”
Connor Strain, a 2012 North Central graduate, pitched at the University of Evansville and in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system.

North Central Thunderbirds.
Head coach Joe Kutch (left) and the North Central Thunderbirds.
Joe and Dianna Kutch.
Joe Kutch (foreground) with wife Dianna and sons Austin and Brayden.

Oppel welcomes opportunity with Lanesville Swingin’ Eagles

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

Greg Oppel, who was hired as head baseball coach at Lanesville (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School in the fall of 2021, has long been part of the bat-and-ball scene in the southeast part of the state.
A 1987 graduate of North Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind., where he earned Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association honorable mention all-state and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series status as a senior for Cougars coach Danny Smith, left-handed pitcher Oppel went on to play at the Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) for Screaming Eagles coach Gary Redman. Rotator cuff surgery limited his college playing career to 2 1/2 years.
Darren Oppel, Greg’s cousin, graduated from North Harrison in 1989 and was a first-team all-state shortstop and played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series. He went on to play at the University of Louisville and was a Colorado Rockies scout.
As a baseball coach, Greg Oppel has been an assistant (2008) to Rick Parr and head coach (2009-11) at North Harrison (Cody Johnson was the IHSBCA North/South Series MVP in 2008) and assistant to Grenadiers head coach Ben Reel at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany (2012-15) and assistant to Lions head coach Jason Pepmeier at Salem (Ind.) High School.
It was when Reel was new at IUS and Oppel was on the North Harrison Babe Ruth League board that the new formed a friendship.
The idea of building an indoor hitting facility was explored and the process really took off when Oppel became North Harrison head coach. It happened through private donations and matching funds from the Harrison County Community Foundation.
Reel inquired about using the hitting building for his IU Southeast team in winter months.
“I said heck yeah — with one stipulation,” says Oppel. “I want your players and your staff to work our kids out with your knowledge.”
When Oppel joined Reel’s staff he got even more access to his know-how.
“Coach Reel is one of the top baseball minds in the country,” says Oppel. “Sitting in a session and listening to him talk and picking his brain was such a great opportunity for me and still is today.”
Having traveled all over the country following daughter Kyia’s softball exploits, Oppel became head softball coach at North Harrison in her senior year (2017). A torn patellar tendon limited her season and ended her hopes of playing in college.
“She’s handled adversity very well with her knee over a period of time,” says Oppel. “I think it hurt me more than it did her.”
Greg Oppel and joined Kyia Oppel when the middle school special education teacher became head coach at Crawford County High School in Marengo.
“We had a blast,” says Oppel of his time with his daughter and the Wolfpack, which went 8-14 in 2021.
With Christopher Broughton and Jason Sturgeon leading the charge, an indoor facility push was made at Crawford County.
Then came Greg Oppel’s chance to lead Lanesville Swingin’ Eagles baseball. He met four times with athletic director and former baseball head coach Zach Payne before taking the position.
“I wanted to made sure it was the right thing for Lanesville and the right thing for me,” says Oppel. “It’s tight-knit community. It’s almost like a throwback to years ago. It sounds like a cliche’ but they welcomed me with open arms.”
It’s a community that likes its sports and has enjoyed — and has come to expect — baseball success. Lanesville has won five sectionals, including those in 2010, 2016, 2017 and 2019. Regional and semistate titles came in 2016 and 2017. The Eagles were Class 1A state runners-up in 2016 and 1A state champions in 2017.
The Harrison County school with an enrollment around 240 is a member of the Southern Athletic Conference (with Borden, Crothersville, Henryville, New Washington and South Central of Elizabeth).
In 2021, the Eagles were part of an 1A sectional grouping with Borden, Christian Academy of Indiana, Orleans and South Central (Elizabeth).
Oppel’s assistants for 2022 include Jeff Cockerham, Tyler Cockerham and Aaron Lockman. Jeff Cockerham played at Jeffersonville High School. Tyler Cockerham played for Oppel at North Harrison then at Hanover (Ind.) College. Lockman is 2020 Lanesville graduate.
A campaign to bring an indoor facility to Lanesville is now in the works.
“This will be a win-win for the Lanesville community,” says Oppel. “We are fortunate to have such a backing at Lanesville. The following for baseball alone at Lanesville is astronomical.
“I’m very blessed to have this opportunity.”
Oppel, who is also a 29 1/2-year employee of Ford Motor Company in Louisville, where he builds the Escape and Lincoln Corsair, served 12 years on the North Harrison Babe Ruth League board. He began coaching at the 10U and 12U level.
Says Oppel, “At 14U we had tremendous success because we did everything fundamentally sound with lots of drills and going things at game speed.”

Greg Oppel
Kyia Oppel and Greg Oppel.
Chad Eveslage (left) and Greg Oppel at North Harrison High School.