By STEVE KRAH
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).
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.