Tag Archives: Softball

DuBois eager to get going as new Goshen RedHawks baseball head coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There are many educators in the family of J.J. DuBois.

So even though his career path started out toward business administration, he found himself transitioning toward the classroom.

Around athletics throughout his life, DuBois also felt the full of coaching and added that professional role.

DuBois, who teaches business at Goshen (Ind.) High School, now finds himself as the RedHawks head baseball coach. His hiring was approved this week.

“I truly can’t wait to get started,” says DuBois, 28. “(Former Goshen head coach) Josh (Keister) made unbelievable strides in a short time.

“I want to keep the momentum going.”

While J.J. says the fast pace of basketball got much of his attention growing up, he came to enjoy the strategy and nuances of baseball. He appreciates the life lessons that it can help impart.

“It teaches you how to bounce back from failure,” says DuBois. “You get humbled real quick in baseball.

“Coaching — in any sport — can make a huge impact on kids.”

While roles could change, J.J. DuBois says he expects to have the same men return to coach Goshen baseball in 2018-19, including Aaron Keister, Clay Norris, Troy Pickard, Tracy Farmwald, Chad Collins and Daniel Liechty.

Aaron Keister was the RedHawks pitching coach and Norris a varsity assistant in 2018. Pickard helped DuBois at the junior varsity level. Liechty served as elementary coordinator and a liaison to Goshen Little League.

After years at Rogers Park, the JV was moved to the Little League. DuBois says he wants to conduct camps for Goshen’s youth players.

The varsity plays on Phend Field, located across U.S. 33 from Goshen High School.

Goshen is part of the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee).

DuBois coached junior varsity baseball at Goshen the past two seasons and now gets to educate young people in his first job as a head coach.

“There’s nothing better than helping kids find out what they want to pursue and get the most out of them as an athlete and turn that into some wins,” says DuBois, who played baseball and tennis for four years and basketball for one at Jimtown High School in Elkhart, Ind., graduating in 2008.

DuBois was a first baseman and pitcher on the diamond for coach Mike Stout and a singles player on the court for coach Steve Fledderman.

“Coach Stout was the most calm anybody could ever ask for,” says DuBois of Stout, who spent in 25 seasons leading the Jimmies. “He never got in your face and screamed at you. I was never afraid to make a mistake. All he did was instill confidence in guys.

“He never let his emotions get the best of him. He respected you as a player and a person and cared for every single guy. He got a lot out of us because he let us be ourselves.”

Jimtown won a sectional baseball title when DuBois was a junior (2007) and were very good his senior year.

DuBois credits Fledderman for instilling discipline and self control. There was a certain way to act and “Fled” insisted upon it or there would be extra running or push-ups.

“In tennis, you have to have self control,” says DuBois. “I could not lose my mind out on the court.”

DuBois continued to learn about the X’s and O’s of baseball in four seasons (concluding with graduation in 2012) as a pitcher at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., where he played for head coach Seth Zartman and assistant Dick Siler (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer).

While at Bethel, DuBois did an internship in the athletic department at the University of Notre Dame. He enjoyed the experience, but missed interacting with athletes.

When wife Holly, who was an NAIA All-American softball player at Bethel, went to Hazelhurst, Miss., as part of the Teach for America program, J.J. enrolled in graduate school at Belhaven University in nearby Jackson, Miss., where he gained experience in game day operations and marketing. He also volunteered for the Blazers baseball staff, watching Belhaven go 37-21 in 2013 and 42-21 in 2014.

Belhaven is where DuBois encountered head baseball coach Hill Denson.

“He had the biggest influence in making me want to pursue coaching,” says DuBois of Denson, who made such an impact in his time at the University of Southern Mississippi that baseball field is called Pete Taylor Park/Hill Denson Field.

After a season as an assistant coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., DuBois came to Goshen to teach and spent one season with wife Holly on the softball coaching staff led by Brent Kulp.

Holly (Weaver) DuBois is a teacher at West Goshen Elementary and will guide first graders in 2018-19. The couple have a daughter (Hope) and will soon welcome a son (Owen).

Just part of the “family business” of education includes J.J.’s father Jim DuBois (superintendent of Baugo Community Schools in Elkhart, Ind.), uncle Mike Dubois (teacher at Concord High School in Elkhart, Ind.), aunt Jennifer Cobb (teacher at Discovery Middle School in Granger, Ind.) and uncle Mike Cobb (educator in Edwardsburg, Mich.).

Jim and Laurie DuBois (who worked for many years at Elkhart General Hospital) have four children — Zach, J.J., Sarah and Jessica.

Zach DuBois, 11 months older than J.J. and a Notre Dame graduate, is a country music artist (wife Katy performs with the trio Maybe April).

Sarah (DuBois) McMahon is a nurse at Memorial Hospital in South Bend. Her husband, Kevin McMahon, is a teacher at Jimtown Elementary and has been an assistant baseball coach for Jimtown High School.

Jessica DuBois is a recent Indiana University graduate who has been active in theater with Premier Arts in Elkhart.

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J.J. DuBois teaches business at Goshen (Ind.) High School, where he was just named head baseball coach. (Goshen High School Photo)

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J.J. DuBois, a Jimtown High School and Bethel College graduate, is now the head baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) High School. J.J. and wife Holly have a daughter Hope (shown above) and are expecting a son (Owen).

 

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Indiana Primetime Sports, Klipsch-Card bringing Finch Creek Fieldhouse to Noblesville

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Central Indiana athletes are getting more space to train and compete thanks to a partnership between Indiana Primetime Sports and Klipsch-Card Athletic Facilities LLC.

As a part of a new park in Noblesville, the Finch Creek Fieldhouse will provide a place for multiple sports, including baseball, softball, basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse and rugby.

The 130,000-square foot state-of-the-art facility located in a new public park at 16289 Boden Road, just north of Hamilton Town Center and near Ruoff Mortgage Music Center is due to open its doors in September.

Finch Creek Fieldhouse will have 56,000 square feet of open turf suitable for all field sports and five full basketball/volleyball courts.

A second phase to the project will bring outdoor baseball fields.

“There is a need in the community for indoor space, especially turf for baseball and all field sports,” says Indiana Primetime Sports president Ryan Cole. “It will be a premier facility for baseball practice and training for select organizations.

“It will be a premier facility for baseball practices and baseball training but it is a 100 percent a multi-sport facility. Baseball will have the biggest presence but you can expect to see flag football, lacrosse, rugby, field hockey and soccer all played on the indoor turf fields.”

Indiana Primetime had 24 baseball and softball teams in 2018.

Other organizations will also call Finch Creek home.

When all is said and done, Cole expects more than 50 baseball and softball teams to use Finch Creek as their primary practice and training location. That equates to more than 500 players.

Plans call for 11 batting tunnels and bleacher seating for 180 at each court. There will also be a mezzanine for viewing on the courts and fields. Below that will be office space, concessions and restrooms.

Currently, Indiana Primetime Baseball and Softball is training in various places around Hamilton County.

With the alliance and new facility, Primetime’s baseball, softball and football will be headquartered at Finch Creek and basketball will remain in the Klipsch-Card-owned Pacers Athletic Center at Grand Park in Westfield.

Brandon Lafferman, co-founder of Indiana Primetime Sports with Cole, will run the PAC as Cole handles all operations at Finch Creek.

Cole will oversee the facility and partner with different groups, scheduling and executing different events on the turf and courts.

Two other Indiana Primetime Sports employees — Quentin Brown and Matt Nicholson — will also transition to Finch Creek.

Brown will continue to run Indiana Primetime Baseball and will oversee operations of all baseball programming inside Finch Creek. Nicholson will continue as the youth director of Indiana Primetime Baseball. Both will assist with facility management.

“We believe we have always done it the right way with the kids’ best interests at heart,” says Cole. “Our team feels that we are beginning to reap the benefits of staying true to our mission.”

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A schematic look at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. (Indiana Primetime Sports Image)

 

LaVille, Grace graduate Herbster’s baseball odyssey takes him to Czech Republic

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Quentin Herbster has bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Management as well as Marketing and a Masters of Business Administration degree and could pursue many biz-world or other opportunities.

But he’s not done with his baseball journey.

And what a journey’s it has been.

As father Dave Herbster says: “It’s a story of perseverance.”

Herbster, a graduate of LaVille Junior/Senior High School in Lakeville, Ind., and Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is in the Czech Republic, where the outfielder hit a blistering .613 in the first half of the split season with Hluboka Baseball Club.

Before going to the central European nation through Baseball Jobs Overseas networking, the 6-foot, 210-pounder played at LaVille, Grace and independent pro ball in the U.S.

Herbster, who was born in Goshen, Ind., was a four-year varsity player and two-time all-conference performer at LaVille, where his coaches were Gene Baker at the beginning and Dan Jones for the last two seasons.

He hit .333 as a freshman, broke his ankle a week into his sophomore year then .395 as a junior and .450 as a senior.

“(Jones) was perfect for me because his thing was personal fitness,” says Herbster. “This kind of lit the first spark in value of personal health and it helped me rehab back from a broken ankle.”

At Grace, Herbster was part of a program led by head coach Bill Barr. After being on the junior varsity his first two seasons, Q hit .320 as a junior and kept on working to get better.

“I literally treated it like a full-time job in college,” says Herbster. “It was over 40 hours a week in the off-season (fall). My senior year, the game felt easy that fall in scrimmages so I graduated early to find better competition.”

After graduating early, he went to the Pecos League and played in the spring league with the 2016 Houston Apollos. After pulling his hamstring three times, he came back to Indiana to rehab and get a job.

“I didn’t want to be done playing because I knew why I had failed and knew I could fix it,” says Herbster. “But it meant I had to wait a whole year before playing and I had to get a job because I was newly-married (to Katrina).

“Looking back, I’m not sure how I got through that summer because I worked each weekday at the Menards in Warsaw from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., had physical therapy in Mishawaka on Tuesdays and Thursdays, played in South Bend for the South Bend Cardinals on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (I was only cleared to jog, but it was still live at-bats), cleaned medical buildings at night for two hours, lifted (weights) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and all while finishing up my masters work online.

“That summer I lived on four hours of sleep and Rockstar Energy. But I had to because we were poor. I had therapy to pay for and a dream so couldn’t give up.:

Herbster went back to the Pecos League in 2017, hit .360 in the spring league with the Bisbee Sea Lions and was signed for the summer league by the Hollywood Stars. After a 1-for-7 start a a pinch hitter for the expansion team that played all its games on the road and Herbster was cut.

“I began the 28-hour drive back to my wife with the same problem again: workout for another year and wait for another opportunity,” says Herbster. “I couldn’t quit because I didn’t feel I had failed. After 10 months of lifting, working delivery, going to a speed guy and taking at-bats against my buddy that pitched with me in college, I got an email from (the Czech Republic) for this opportunity and I took it.”

Not only has Herbster been productive on the field, he enjoys the treatment he’s getting from his team.

“The thing that I like most is that for the first time in a long time I’m wanted and being taken care of,” says Herbster. “It’s not like I’m being paid well, but they are taking care of my housing and most my food, transportation, gym membership and then paying me a little bit on the side which covers supplements, food and a little bit left to help with student loans.

“They even forced me to take a nice litter two day vacation to Prague.”

When he’s not playing, working out or seeing the sights, Herbster is often giving lessons.

“It’s the same game and kids are the same everywhere, but the emphasis is different here then in the States,” says Herbster. “These differences promote different flaws.

“For example, the emphasis in pitching is to throw strikes so most kids do not let the arm ride up the kinetic chain and have an arm -irst approach that cuts down on velocity.

Emphasis on hitting was power so most kids dipped, stayed connected well, but pulled off. In the U.S., we emphasize — for the most part — to put it in play and play defense so we play much better defense and make better contact but rarely do you see people get connected and get true power out of themselves.”

Herbster’s team of 22 players was one of top squads in the lower tier and will play against the lower teams in the top division in the second half of the season.

“It’s like the bottom 4 MLB teams playing the top 4 AAA teams to earn their way back or to the majors,” says Herbster. “We’re the best of the second level so some games some players won’t show.”

Herbster is the only actual import on his team, but there is one player from the Ukraine and another from Cuba. The top four teams in the upper division have about four imports each.

There is a language barrier, but it isn’t awful.

“Most speak some English,” says Herbster. “Fortunately, a couple players speak it well. The struggle is in lessons. There’s three ways to learn: auditorial, visual and aesthetically. I can usually work with two-and-a-half.”

It also helps that Katrina has joined Quentin. He left for the Czech Republic in early April but she had a stay behind to finish her duties as a teacher at LaVille Elementary.

The language barrier was more frustrating during those two months,” says Herbster. “She really enjoys fitness and is currently studying through (the National Academy of Sports Medicine) to be a certified personal trainer, so she studies when I’m preoccupied.”

Herbster says his best qualities as an athlete probably also helped him as a student (he carried a 3.47 GPA as an undergrad and 3.62 while earning his masters).

I work hard and learn quickly,” says Herbster. “You work out six days a week and work at your game, you’ll get better.

“It’s all about stacking days. In high school, I was barely 6-foot, benched 135 (pounds), squatted 225. Now, I Bench 325, squat 575 and deadlift 555.

“I’m a good gap-to-gap hitter (from the right side).

“The rest of my game plays pretty average. I run a 6.8 to 6.7 60-yard dash time and top out at 88 (mph) from the outfield. I’m hoping to be able to do some of the Top Velocity program to gain some real arm strength this fall.”

What are Herbster’s long-term baseball goals?

“I’m hoping to find my ceiling,” says Herbster. “I want to see at what level I can play. I’m hoping to get to Australia or Japan to keep playing but have no idea how to get there yet.

“I just want to see how far I can push this.”

Herbster can see a job as an athletic director or coach in his future.

“I want to help kids reach there potential,” says Herbster. “Looking back, I really didn’t know what to do or how to do it. A lot of kids work hard but they just don’t know or have plans to help them improve. They don’t know the best way to do it.

“I’d also love to start a nutrition company that focuses on customizable, workout-goal based nutrition. I feel like these companies are inefficient and structurally backward.”

Quentin (24) is the oldest of Dave and Shawn Herbster’s five children. There’s also Hannah Herbster (22), Isaiah Herbster (16), Chloe Herbster (12) and Naomi Herbster (11).

Hannah graduated in the spring from Grace, where she played softball and finished her career as the Lancers’ all-time leader in stolen bases. The 6-foot-4 baseball-playing Isaiah is heading into his junior year at LaVille.

The first baseball camp Quentin ever attended was at 10 with Mark Haley, who was then manager of the South Bend Silver Hawks and now runs the South Bend Cubs Performance Center. Herbster has been an instructor at the facility located at Four Winds Field.

“(Haley) also worked with me between my junior and senior season in college, fixing a fundamental flaw to give me more power involving staying connected longer. He was like my swing mechanic in that I started to go to him when I needed a tune-up.”

Herbster also practiced year-around with Jeff Rinard at Chasing A Dream in Lakeville and later with Jeff Jackowiak.

From 13U to 18U, he played travel ball with the Elkhart Titans.

“(Titans coach) John Drew definitely cares about his players and that atmosphere was nice for me,” says Herbster. “He also game me the freedom to work on aspects of my game during games as well and even allowed me to continue to use their facilities in college and beyond.”

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Quentin Herbster, a LaVille High School and Grace College graduate, is playing baseball in the Czech Republic. (Hluboka Baseball Club Photo)

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Quentin Herbster hit .613 in the first half of the split baseball season with Hluboka in the Czech Republic. (Hluboka Baseball Club Photo)

State’s baseball talent exposure has multiplied; Just ask Hibler of Bullpen Tournaments, PBR Indiana

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There was a time when college baseball recruiters and pro scouts did not hold the Hoosier State in high regard.

“Indiana has always been talented as a state,” says Blake Hibler. “But from an exposure standout, it was always overlooked.

“Indiana was some place you drove through. People are now stopping. They realize what kind of talent there is.”

Hibler, founder of Prep Baseball Report Indiana who is now kept busy as program director/event manager for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., has watched the state raise its profile with the help of travel baseball and strong college programs.

“(Big leaguers like) Adam Lind, Scott Rolen and Lance Lynn kind of paved the way for Indiana baseball to become big,” says Hibler. “The explosion came when Purdue was a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA tournament (in 2012) and (Indiana University) went to Omaha (for the College World Series in 2013).”

At the lower levels, the University of Southern Indiana went NCAA Division II World Series in 2007 and won it all in 2010 and 2014. The University of Indianapolis went to the D-II World Series in 2000 and 2012. Manchester appeared in the D-III World Series in 2004 and 2013.

“This allowed Indiana to become more exposed,” says Hibler. “When we started PBR, college coaches contacted us asking ‘where is that sleeper?’ We don’t have sleepers anymore.

“Colleges are very aware of every player in our state.”

In his role at Grand Park, Hibler oversees 16 straight weekends of travel baseball events in the spring and summer and another six in the fall.

There’s something baseball-related going on — games, tournaments, showcases — at the facility with 26 diamonds from the end of January through October.

There are 12 full-size fields — four with full synthetic turf fields and eight with synthetic infields and grass outfields. Hibler considers eight of those high school or college fields.

Bullpen Tournaments, which counts 90 percent of its business as baseball with some softball, leases the facility from Grand Park. The land is owned by the City of Westfield.

As the sole operator, Bullpen’s 100 employees take care of everything from restrooms to common area mowing to field maintenance to practice scheduling and more.

From the beginning of June to the end of July, there are 230 to 280 teams at Grand Park every weekend. Of those, 115 are high school-age squads.

There are often more than one tournament going on — maybe U9 through U12 games on one side of the complex and high schoolers on the other.

In June and July, Bullpen hosts American Baseball Championships for Youth Baseball, U13, U14, U15, U16, U17 and U18.

An elite event is the PBR Future Games. The eighth annual tournament is slated for Aug. 1-4 with 24 teams and players from more than 40 states.

In 2017, all five collegiate power conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) were represented with more than 80 percent of schools in those leagues in attendance.

“This year won’t be any different,” says Hibler of the 16U event. “It’s the best uncommitted sophomores in the country.

“It’s kind of a culmination of their season and kickoff to their junior year. The recruiting calendar falls in perfect. Sept. 1 is when college coaches can begin calling and have direct  conversations with these recruits.”

The first Future Games was held in 2011 with four teams.

Nolan Watson was MVP in 2015, the year he was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals out of Lawrence North High School.

Technology helps keep track of all Bullpen tournaments.

There is a phone app for that. It can be uploaded from the Google Play Store.

Hibler is the “tech guy” for both Bullpen Tournaments and PBR-Indiana and does a podcast with PBR owner/director Phil Wade. Many of those focus on events at Grand Park or the top high school players and teams in the state.

With all its facilities, there is a large economic impact that comes with the complex.

“The most common question we get is: How do you pay for Grand Park?,” says Hibler. “Ultimately, the mayor (Andy Cook) took a risk. He decided to make youth sports his industry.”

The City of Westfield owns the land and owns and operates the Grand Park Events Center, which will house the Indianapolis Colts Training Camp this year, and the soccer facility.

Hotels and restaurants are on the way. There are also private facilities springing up like Pro X Athlete Development and Pacers Athletic Center.

A graduate of Lawrence Central High School who played for the Indiana Mustangs and Danville Area Community College, Hibler has worked for RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield and Pastime Tournaments as well as an associate MLB scout.

Hibler joined the PBR family in November 2010. At the time, he was in his second stint as the pitching coach for Lawrence Central, where he saw two pitchers get drafted in 2011 — Christian Montgomery (11th round, Mets) and Jared Ruxer (29th round, Indians). He was originally the pitching coach from 2004-2005 before returning for 2007-2011.

He has seen how competitive recruiting is, but it is usually not cut throat.

“Baseball is little more loyal with the verbal commitment than other sports,” says Hibler. “College coaches are buddies. They don’t necessarily go after other kids as aggressively as basketball and football.

“I would be naive to say it doesn’t happen (in baseball).”

A premium is placed on players who play in the middle of the diamond.

“Pitching is the easiest thing to project,” says Hibler. “If you’re 92 (mph) now, you’re going be 92 or better we you reach college. There’s a lot more to dream on with your catchers, shortstops and centerfielders.

“Typically, you’re looking for in that younger age group is athleticism and physicality. You get the combination of athleticism and physicality, those are the kids who typically commit early.”

Hibler notes that outside of the state’s top 10 or so players, most commit in their junior or even senior years.

How is success gauged in the travel baseball world?

“For 14-and-under, success is still defined by wins and losses,” says Hibler. “15-and-up is defined by scholarships and exposure.

“Lost in all of this is competitiveness. In the Future Games, Indiana always plays Illinois on Friday night. That’s still the most-attended game because there’s a rivalry there.”

Hibler says players appreciate playing against equal competition. With so many travel teams out there, mismatches happen.

“The better players relax or shut down during games,” says Hibler. “They don’t play hard during the summer sometimes unless they are in front of college coaches or playing a really good team.”

The ABC tournaments were designed with two tiers — the first to determine which division teams belong in and the second to crown Gold, Silver and Bronze division champions.

“That way it creates competitive baseball,” says Hibler.

Hibler notes that when the Indiana Bulls were started in the early 1990s to give the state’s best the chance to play top competition and receive exposure, they were the only organization out there. There are now many options and the talent is more evenly divided.

There are those who think that team chemistry is easier to build with a high school program than travel baseball, where players are coming from many different directions.

“Travel baseball is figuring that out and trying to combat it,” says Hibler. “They’re starting to put the development piece back into it a little bit.”

There is a misconception on the part of some players (and their parents) about travel ball and high school ball. They are putting more emphasis on travel.

“Some of these kids believe that travel baseball is more important to their future than high school is,” says Hibler. “A lot of college coaches still call the high school coach first after that initial talk with the travel coach.

“High school simulates a little bit of what college life could be — academics, girls, scouting reports, being a student and an athlete.

“A high school coach has to deal with the player and his girl friend got in a fight during seventh period and this kid has to be on the field in 15 minutes to play a game. The summer ball coach doesn’t have to deal with that as much.”

Then there are the trouble makers and malcontents.

“If you’re a bad kid and live in a community, everyone in that community knows you’re a bad kid,” says Hibler. “You can hide that in travel ball and travel sports in general.”

Hibler has seen players go out of there way to make high school coaches mad for no reason.

“They think it works like travel baseball,” says Hibler. “They can do whatever they want and pack up and leave. Some administrations allow that. But there’s a lot of good programs that don’t.”

Outside of loyalty, there is nothing binding that keeps a player with a travel organization. For various reasons, many players have jumped from team to team. Some players have skipped high school and played only travel baseball.

“Kids get handled with such care during the summer because the penalty is you lose them,” says Hibler. “Coaches don’t know if you handle them like they’re supposed to be handled — with discipline and holding them accountable.

“Some (coaches) take that approach. For others, it’s the Wild, Wild West. Do what you want.”

Hibler says players need both travel and high school and they need to respect the differences.

Travel players show up, play and leave. They pitch from pristine mounds. Maintenance at million-dollar fields is handled by someone else.

High schoolers must take on more responsibility. At many schools, they have to pick up trash in the dugout, sweep and rake to make the fields ready for play.

A few years ago, the coach of a team of 8-year-olds asked to change fields because one was too bumpy.

Hibler’s response: “You don’t live in the real world. We practiced in parking lots.”

BULLPENTOURNAMENTS

Bullpen Tournaments runs baseball and softball events out of Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

 

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.

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).

THEBUCKINGHAMS

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.

JUSTINOCONNERSTPAUL

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)