Tag Archives: South Adams

Pierce wants Bluffton Tigers to play with ‘controlled aggression’

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

Jason Pierce knows what kind of identity he wants for his Bluffton (Ind.) High School baseball team.
“Our motto is to control what we can control,” says Pierce, who asks his Tigers not to dwell on mistakes and to rally together. “We’re very much a family here. This sport has a lot of ups and down. We want our players to have controlled aggression and do the little things the best they possibly can.”
Pierce stresses life lessons, high academics and building maturity in young men.
“We want to productive members of society,” says Pierce, who took over the program before the 2020 season taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic after seven seasons as head coach at Eastside Junior/Senior High School (Butler, Ind.) and two campaigns leading the Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School program. “You learn that through team sports.”
Bluffton went 14-16-1 in 2021 with five on-run losses and a pair of one-run victories with a team featuring just one senior starter.
“We’re young on paper, but we’ve got a lot of experience on the field,” says Pierce in looking ahead to 2022. “We’ve got a lot of athletes. We’re in a really good spot with guys who can move around the field.
“As long as we can keep our heads I think we’re going to be a pretty dangerous baseball team.”
The 14 players on Bluffton’s MaxPreps.com roster (as of March 28) include six seniors — middle infielder/pitcher Brock Drayer, outfielder/catcher Lukas Hunt, outfielder/pitcher/first baseman Dylan King, outfielder/pitcher/shortstop Kyler Rolston, pitcher/first baseman Grant Thompson and pitcher/outfielder Kayden Vineyard plus four juniors in corner infielder/pitcher Curtis Ellis, catcher/outfielder Kayden King, pitcher/infielder/outfielder, outfielder/pitcher Austin Lewis, Andrew Onuegbu and outfielder/pitcher Drew Pressler and three sophomores in pitcher/first baseman/outfielder Braxton Betancourt, middle infielder/pitcher Eli Garrett and catcher/pitcher Brody Lewis.
Left-hander Betancourt (5-5, 1.43 earned run average, 97 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings) was the Tigers’ No. 1 pitcher in 2021 and Pierce expects him to have the same role in 2022. Bluffton is to open the season Tuesday, April 5 at New Haven.
On a team with as many as 10 players can be effective pitchers, Pierce looks at right-hander Ellis as his probable No. 2.
Kaleb Riley (Class of 2021) is now on the baseball team at Indiana University South Bend.
Bluffton (enrollment around 470) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan).
The Tigers is scheduled play Adams Central and Southern Wells twice with the second game counting toward the ACAC standings. Bluffton is slated to meet Heritage, Jay County, South Adams and Woodlan one time each.
In 2021, the Tigers were runner-up in a IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Adams Central, Eastside (host and champion), Churubusco, South Adams and Woodlan. Bluffton has won five sectional crowns — the last in 2019.
Bluffton plays home games on Everett Scott Field. The facility on the north side of the campus is named after the Indiana Hall of Famer who played in a then-record 1,307 consecutive games for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees 1916-25.
Providing early diamond opportunities is Bluffton Youth Baseball (T-ball to age 15). Most high school players are with travel organizations, including the Indiana Bandits, Midwest Aces and Summit City Sluggers.
Pierce’s 2022 coaching staff features Tim Garrett, Marco Betancourt (pitching coach) and Doug Pressler with the varsity and Trae Jojola and Cody Harris with the junior varsity.
A 1993 graduate of St. Marys (Ohio) High School, Pierce played one season at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio, and then transferred to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. He got hurt in the fall and did not get to play for Lance Hershberger’s Warriors.
Pierce, who teaches seventh grade at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School, has two daughters — Leo sophomore Lillian (16) and Heritage grade schooler Harper (8).

Bluffton (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Pierce (left) and Cameron Nestleroad (Greenbear Photography Photo).
Bluffton (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Pierce (Greenbear Photography Photo).

NEIBA releases ’22 Dick Crumback Player of the Year Watch List

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

With the beginning of IHSAA baseball practice, the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association has put out its Dick Crumback/NEIBA High School Player of the Year Watch List for 2022.
An email was sent to baseball coaches in Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Noble, Huntington, Wells and Whitley counties. These are the counties that the NEIBA covers when choosing their Hall of Famers. Each coach was asked to nominated any player(s) that he feels could be in the running for such an honor.
The list of 72 will be narrowed down in finalists in early May and the Dick Crumback/NEIBA Player of the Year will be announced May 25 to coincide with the beginning of the IHSAA baseball tournament series.
The player of the year will be honored at a Fort Wayne TinCaps game in early June and at the NEIBA Hall of Fame banquet June 12.
Homestead’s Carter Mathison was the 2021 honoree.
The organization has honored local baseball players, personnel and ambassadors since 1961.
For more information, contact Gary Rogers at grogers@eacs.k.in.us or Brett Windmiller at brett.windmiller@nacs.k.in.us. 

DICK CRUMBACK/NEIBA
HIGH SCHOOL PLAYER OF THE YEAR
WATCH LIST
2022
Adams Central (Coach Dave Neuenschwander)
Sr. Alex Currie
Jr. Ryan Black
Sr. Jaron Hildebrand
Sr. Blake Heyerly
Bishop Dwenger (Coach Jason Garrett)
So. Brayton Thomas
Sr. Xavier Aguirre
Sr. Jack Tippmann
Bishop Luers (Coach Jeff Stanski)
Jr. Cam Martinez
Sr. Paul Birkmeier
Carroll (Coach Dave Ginder)
Sr. Alex Smith
Sr. Jaydan Duba
Sr. Jordan Malott
Jr. Will Worrel
Jr. Thomas Tratnyek
Jr. Andrew Sinish
Jr. Daniel Kirk
So. Conner Barkel
Central Noble (Coach Tyler Graybeal)
Sr. Will Hoover
Churubusco (Coach Jordan Turner)
Sr. Keenan Hendricks
Sr. Cal Ostrowski
Columbia City (Coach Rob Bell)
Sr. Sam Gladd
Sr. Adin Miller
Sr. Julian Osselaer
DeKalb (Coach Collin Bice)
Sr. Bryce Dobson
Sr. Logan Jordan
Jr. Eli Ehmke
Jr. Tegan Irk
Jr. Ethan Jordan
Jr. Alex Leslie
Jr. Logan Montoya
Jr. Parker Smith
Jr. Donnie Wiley
East Noble (Coach Aaron Desmonds)
Sr. Brayden Risedorph
Eastside (Coach Aaron Willard)
Sr. Jack Buchanan
Sr. Nick Snyder
Sr. Owen Willard
Garrett (Coach Jason Richards)
Sr. Graham Kelham
Sr. Trey Richards
Sr. Kail Baughman
Jr. Luke Byers
So. Luke Holcomb
Heritage (Coach Dean Lehrman)
Sr. Dalton D. Wasson
Homestead (Coach Nick Byall)
Sr. Brennen Weigert
Sr. Nick Hockemeyer
Sr. Caden Tarango
Jr. Jake Goode
Jr. Bryce Yoder
Sr. Braydon Quintana
Sr. Carter Dixon
Sr. Jackson Todor
Huntington North (Coach Jarod Hammel)
Sr. Austin Oswalt
Leo (Coach Gary Rogers)
Sr. Cohden Brubaker
Sr. Donavin Massing
Jr. Jevon Walker
So. Kylar Decker
New Haven (Coach Dave Bischoff)
Sr. Connor Cannon
Northrop (Coach Matt Brumbaugh)
Sr. Luke Siren
So. Pernell Whitsett
North Side (Coach Austin Mannan)
Jr. Gabriel Oliva
Snider (Coach Josh Clinkenbeard)
Sr. Trevor Newman
Sr. Cade Hinton
Fr. Landen Fry
Fr. Brandon Logan
Sr. Aaron Fenn
Sr. Domanic Moon
Sr. Jakob Byler
South Adams (Coach Brad Buckingham)
Sr. A.J. Dull
South Side (Coach Will Coursen-Carr)
Sr. Perry Stow
So. Evan Harl
Southern Wells (Coach Blade Rheinhart)
Sr. Branson Rheinhart
Sr. Evan Reynolds
Sr. Owen Vickrey

Discipline important to Rheinhart, Southern Wells Raiders

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

Blade Rheinhart is leading the baseball program at his alma mater with responsibility and discipline as points of emphasis.
“I like to keep kids disciplined — on and off the field — that creates better young gentlemen,” says Rheinhart, a 2014 graduate of Southern Wells Junior/Senior High School in Poneto, Ind., who took over the Raiders prior to the 2020 season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We do a lot of reflection.”
Rheinhart expects to have 10 or 11 seniors in 2022 — many of them who played at what is now Blackford Youth Baseball coached by his father Art Rheinhart and himself, including little brother Branson Rheinhart.
“They know my expectations,” says Rheinhart. “They know how things are going to be done and what it takes to possibly turn the program around.
“We should be very productive.”
Senior Evan Reynolds is to sign next week to study and play college baseball at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne and some other Raiders are considering their college options.
Evan Huffman, a 2017 Southern Wells graduate who played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, has joined a Raiders coaching staff which also includes Brett Vickery and Tyler Sonnigsen. Huffman was a high school classmate of Brennen Rheinhart, Blade’s middle brother and son of Art and Brandy Rheinhart.
Southern Wells (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams and Woodlan).
In 2021, the Raiders were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Anderson Preparatory Academy, Cowan, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. Southern Wells has not yet won a sectional title.
The Raiders’ home field is on-campus and gets year-to-year maintenance. Southern Wells once had junior high baseball, but does not currently. Local players can go to three different youth baseball leagues— Blackford, Bluffton and Warren.
Rhinehart decided he wanted to be a teacher and coach during his freshmen year at Southern Wells. He went on to earn an Elementary Education degree at Ball State University in 2018 and now teaches sixth grade math at Blackford Intermediate School in Hartford City, Ind.
“I knew the path I wanted to take,” says Rheinhart. “I had excellent teachers throughout my whole career. I wanted their job. Sports a huge part of my life.”
Rheinhart played baseball and basketball at Southern Wells. His head baseball coaches were Keith Kinder (2011 and 2012), Chad Smekens (2013) and Ben Mann (2014). Leading the Raiders in basketball were Ryan Thomas (2010-11 and 2011-12) and Brody Tarter (2012-13, and 2013-14).
Another generation came into the Rheinhart baseball family this year. Two days before Southern Wells’ first baseball game in 2021, Blade’s son William was born. Three days later, the baby was at his first contest.

Blade Rheinhart (Team Mantra Wear Photo)
Blade Rheinhart and son William (Team Mantra Wear Photo)

IHSCBA names all-staters for 2021 season

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

Members of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association voted for all-state teams and the organization has released that list.
All-staters are honored in all four classes. As a selection in the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Southridge shortstop Colson Montgomery was automatically named all-state.

2021 IHSBCA ALL-STATE TEAM
Class 4A
Pitchers: Grant Stratton (Jasper), Nate Dohm (Zionsville).
C: Hunter Dobbins (Mount Vernon of Fortville).
1B: Kaleb Kolpien (Homestead).
2B: Joel Walton (Mount Vernon of Fortville).
3B: Connor Foley (Jasper).
SS: Tucker Biven (New Albany).
OF: Carter Mathison (Homestead), Max Clark (Franklin), Tommy O’Connor (Mooresville).
Honorable Mention: Evan Waggoner (Bedford North Lawrence); Austin Bode (Columbus North); Jaden Deel (Hobart); Andrew Wallace (Jasper); Jackson Micheels (Carmel); Breenen Weigert (Homestead); Jack Braun (Fishers); Tyler Walkup (Lawrence North); Quentin Markle (Westfield); Joe Huffman (Avon); Nick Mitchell (Carmel); Brad White (Andrean); Blake Herrmann (Castle); Camden Jordan (Cathedral); Sam Gladd (Columbia City); Eli Hopf (Jasper); Brody Chrisman (Zionsville); J.D. Rogers (Carmel); Keaton Mahan (Westfield); Gage Standifer (Westfield); Kyler McIntosh (Columbus North); Chris Gallagher (Cathedral); Carter Doorn (Lake Central); Grant Comstock (Valparaiso); Tate Warner (Fishers); Carter Gilbert (Northridge).

Class 3A
Pitchers: Garrett Harker (Lebanon), Luke Hayden (Edgewood).
C: Keifer Wilson (Greencastle).
1B: Brycen Hannah (John Glenn).
2B: Gavin Morris (Northview).
3B: Dalton Wasson (Heritage), Camden Gasser (Southridge).
SS: Dominic Decker (Silver Creek).
OF: Jared Comia (Hanover Central), Evan Pearce (Oak Hill), Kade Townsend (Peru), Sergio Lira Ayala (NorthWood).
Honorable Mention: Jacob Loftus (Peru); Xavier Nolan (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger); Aidan Hardcastle (Oak Hill); Cameron Sater (Edgewood); Riley Western (Western); Brody Whitaker (Greencastle); Nick Sutherlin (Greencastle); Jack Moroknek (Brebeuf Jesuit); Landon Carr (Northview); Kameron Salazar (Wawasee); Damien Gudakunst (Leo); Connor Schmiedlin (Culver Academies); Jacob Pruitt (Yorktown); Zach Forner (Madison); Andrew Dutkanych (Brebeuf Jesuit); Mitchell Dean (Western); Holden Groher (Silver Creek); Bret Matthys (Hanover Central); Trey Reed (Washington); Coley Stevens (Leo); Peyton Olejnik (Hanover Central).

Class 2A
Pitchers: Owen Willard (Eastside), Brady Linkel (South Ripley).
C: Joel Kennedy (Monroe Central).
1B: Parker Allman (Lapel).
2B: Alex VanWinkle (Union County).
3B: Gavin Lash (Wapahani).
SS: Landen Southern (Clinton Prairie).
OF: C.J. Richmond (Park Tudor), Dane DuBois (Cascade), Andrew Wiggins (Heritage Christian).
Honorable Mention: Gavin Gleason (Delphi); Brayden Stowe (Perry Central); Aidan Roach (Cascade); Drew Murray (Boone Grove); Andrew Shepherd (Mitchell); Snyder Pennington (Eastern of Pekin); Eli Watson (Providence); Aidyn Coffey (Monroe Central); Darien Pugh (Cascade); Gavin Noble (Wapahani); Chase Long (Delphi); Caleb Henderson (Wapahani); Gabe Eslinger (Linton-Stockton); Adam Besser (South Adams); Dominic Anderson (Hagerstown); Josh Pyne (Linton-Stockton); Khal Stephen (Seeger); Bryce Deckman (Monroe Central); Wyatt Blinn (Cascade).

Class 1A
Pitchers: Garrett Stevens (Bethesda Christian), Luke Leverton (Seton Catholic).
C: Mo Lloyd (Southwood).
1B: Alex Farr (Southwood).
2B: Ethan Bock (Fremont).
3B: Ethan Wendling (Southwestern of Shelbyville).
SS: Brett Sherrard (Bloomfield).
OF: Nolan Harris (Clay City), Landon Cole (Rising Sun), Evan Price (Rossville).
Honorable Mention: Pierson Barnes (Riverton Parke); Nick Miller (Fremont); Nick Swartzentruber (Barr-Reeve); Riley Schebler (Oldenburg Academy); Kyle Swartzentruber (North Daviess); Jordan Jones (Southwestern of Shelbyville); Aaron Wagler (Barr-Reeve); Kameron Colclasure (Fremont); Joey Spin (Caston); Andrew Oesterling (Oldenburg Academy); Mason Yentes (Southwood); Jake Moynihan (Seton Catholic); Cayden Gothrup (Daleville); Samuel Gasper (Borden); Gavin Gentry (Borden).

Arsenal making its mark on Indiana travel baseball

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

Arsenal Indiana is expanding for the 2021-22 travel baseball season.
The affiliate of Arsenal USA Baseball is to go with 12U, 13U, 14U and 15U squads in its third season.
“Within two or three years I want to have teams from 12U through 17U,” says Arsenal Indiana director Jeff Cleckner. “I want to have one team at each age group and be very competitive.
“I don’t want to water down the brand with seven 15U teams.”
Cleckner, a graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School (1989) and Purdue University living in Fishers, Ind., says the focus is on skill development at the younger levels and that the older ones grow their mental approach to the game as they prepare for college baseball.
But first the current campaign where Arsenal is fielding a 17U team with Cleckner as head coach and Arsenal Indiana director and a 14U squad guided by Steve Smitherman. In 2020, 16U and 13U teams took the field for the organization.
Playing six weekends of seven — starting with the first one in June — the 17U team has competed or will take part in events sponsored by Prep Baseball Report, Perfect Game and Bullpen Tournaments.
The team placed second during the holiday weekend at the PBR Indiana State Games at Championship Park in Kokomo. The 17U’s were 22-9-1 through 30 games.
The season wraps with the Perfect Game 17U BCS National Championship July 21-26 at Major League Baseball spring training fields in Fort Myers, Fla. All the other tournaments have been staged at Grand Park in Westfield.
“It’s nice with Grand Park,” says Cleckner of the large complex in central Indiana. “Everyone comes to us.”
High schools represented on the 17U roster include Avon, Fishers, Harrison (West Lafayette), Heritage Christian, Huntington North, Indianapolis Cathedral, Indianapolis North Central, Noblesville, Penn, Plainfield, South Adams, Wapahani, Wawasee, Westfield and Zionsville in Indiana and Edwardsburg in Michigan.
Since the older teams can play as many as seven games in five days, there are often a number of pitcher-only players (aka P.O.’s).
“It’s nice to have P.O.’s,” says Cleckner. “We can supplement as needed with position players.
“We’re mindful of arm care and arm health.”
The 14U Arsenal Indiana team began in early April and will play until mid-July and could easily get in 60 games in 3 1/2 months. The 14U team plays in same types of tournaments that the 17U teams plays at Grand Park in Westfield.
Arsenal Indiana tryouts are planned for late July or early August, likely at Grand Park.
A fall season of four or five weekends features a trip to the Perfect Game WWBA 2022/2023 National Championship Oct. 7-11 in Jupiter, Fla., for the upperclassmen.
“The goal of the fall season is getting a little more work going into the winter,” says Cleckner. “You have new kids who’ve joined your team and you’re creating some chemistry and camaraderie.”
The fall also provides more college looks for older players.
Arsenal Indiana trains in the off-season at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville.
What is now Arsenal USA Baseball was began in 1995 by Joe Barth Jr. and son Bob Barth as the Tri-State Arsenal with players from southern New Jersey, Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania. Besides USA National in New Jersey, there are affiliate locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
Many professionals and college players have come through the Arsenal program.

Arsenal Indiana’s Grant Brooks, a Butler University commit.
Arsenal Indiana’s Trey Dorton.
Arsenal Indiana first baseman Riley Behrmann.
Arsenal Indiana’s Joe Huffman.
Arsenal Indiana’s Jake Gothrup.
Arsenal Indiana’s Evan Jensen scores a run.
Arsenal Indiana’s Connor Ostrander, a Western Michigan University commit.
Arsenal Indiana’s Braden Gendron.
Arsenal Indiana catcher A.J. Dull.
Arsenal Indiana’s 17U with tournament hardware earned in 2021.
Coach/director Jeff Cleckner addresses his Arsenal Indiana 17U team at a tournament at Kokomo’s Championship Park. (Steve Krah Photo)

Dowler sees first Union City team win sectional title

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Dowler may be a “rookie” as first-year head coach of the Union City (Ind.) Community Junior-Senior High School baseball team.

But his relationship with many Union City players goes back to when they were little boys.

Freshmen Owen Dowler (Jason’s son), Zack Fulk and Corbin Richards and sophomore Jude Connor all played together on Dylan’s Dawgs — a team named in honor of Dylan Williams who was killed during an 8U all-star practice in 2013. Owen Dowler was Dylan’s rec ball teammate.

Dylan Williams would have been a sophomore in 2021.

Having coached and observed them for years, Jason Dowler knew those younger players very well.

“My job was to figure everybody else out,” says Dowler, who saw the Indians win the IHSAA Class 1A Seton Catholic Sectional and punch their ticket to the Carroll (Flora) Regional on Saturday, June 5.

In winning the program’s third sectional title — and first since 2018 — Union City bested Tri, Seton Catholic and Blue River Valley by a combined 27-0 at Don McBride Stadium in Richmond.

Senior Hunter Reagan started on the mound and Owen Dowler finished against Tri. The Seton Catholic game began Friday and was postponed to Saturday because of rain. Sophomore Camden LaFuze started it Friday and Reagan finished it Saturday.

The postponement also meant that Seton, which beat Randolph Southern with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District H Player of the Year and Miami (Ohio) University commit Luke Leverton, was able to go back to the hard-throwing right-hander at the beginning of Saturday’s game. 

As Leverton left the mound after three innings, Union City was up 1-0. When Leverton came to the plate in a key spot late in the game, Dowler had him intentionally walked and UC went on to a 5-0 triumph and the sectional championship game on Monday, which was pitched by LaFuze. The Indians blanked Blue River Valley 6-0.

“We’ve been dominant on the mound and our defense is playing very well right now,” says Dowler. “A lot of games we lost we beat ourselves (with errors and too many walks by the pitching staff).”

The Indians were 2-7 in the nine games heading into the tournament.

Dowler says there was a team meeting that turned things around.

“We said we can beat ourselves or start playing some good Indian baseball,” says Dowler. “It’s a very simple sport. We as players and coaches overthink it.

“We can make it difficult or we can make it easy on ourselves. We’ve tried to work smarter and not harder.”

Union City has operated by a motto: “Just compete, man.”

“If we lose, we lose,” says Dowler. “But we’re not going to beat ourselves.

“Go out there and compete and have fun.”

Dowler insists that his pitchers throw strikes and let their defense have the opportunity to get outs. 

Above all, he wants them to be bold.

“You are going to make errors and you are going to strike out,” says Dowler. “Baseball is a mindset. You have to be confident.”

There are 10 active players on the youthful Union City team. The starting lineup features freshmen Owen Dowler (first base), Fulk (second base) and Richards (catcher) and sophomores Connor (third base) and LaFuze (pitcher).

“It’s challenging mentally for these kids to walk up to a baseball field and other team is sporting 17 to 19 kids and we walk up with just enough to play,” says Dowler. “But we have a different mindset. We don’t let that effect us. It’s not your dream, but you deal with what you’ve got.”

Union City (10-13) takes on Cowan (13-13) at 10 a.m. Saturday. A win sends them into the 8 p.m. championship game against the winner of Riverton Parke (21-9) vs. Clinton Central (16-11). 

A wrinkle for the Indians is that graduation is at 3 p.m., so they would make the 2 1/2-hour trip each way from Flora to Union City and back — something that happened in 2018.

Union City (located on the Indiana-Ohio line with an enrollment around 240) is a member of the Tri-Eastern Conference (with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union County and Winchester).

With the latest trophy-taking, Union City has won three sectional titles. The previous championships came in 2012 and 2018.

Home games are played on the Union City campus. This year the team sold soap to raise funds to upgrade the facility.

Dowler says he wants to get the local Pony League thriving again.

“To be successful you have to have a feeder program,” says Dowler.

His assistant coaches at the high school are Rick Lacy, Kevin Lehman and Jacob Fulk. Lacy has been around Union City for about four decades in various capacities. Lehman keeps the scorebook for the Indians and was on South Adams’ state runner-up team in 1972. Fulk, the older brother of Zack, was on the 2018 sectional championship team and played one season and the University of Northwestern Ohio. He is Dowler’s pitching coach.

Dowler played soccer at Union City and graduated in 1998. He owns his own heating and cooling business in town — Comfort Systems.

Jason and wife Amy Dowler have two children — Kahlee and Owen. Jason coached daughter Kahlee in softball and transitioned to baseball with son Owen. Kahlee Dowler, who will be a senior at Ball State University in the fall, was a three-sport athlete at Union City — cross country, basketball and softball. She was a junior on the Class 1A state runner-up girls basketball squad in 2017.

Union City won the 2021 IHSAA Class 1A Seton Catholic Sectional baseball title. At far right in the back row is first-year coach Jason Dowler.
Head coach Jason Dowler (far right in back row) and his Union City (Ind.) Indians. The team is 10-13 as it heads to the June 5 IHSAA Class 1A Carroll (Flora) Regional.
The Union City (Ind.) Indians gather around the IHSAA Class 1A Seton Catholic Sectional baseball trophy they earned in 2021.

Former college mates Willard, Neuenschwander meet as opposing coaches

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Willard reached a milestone with his son on the mound and his former college roommate and teammate in the other dugout.

When the Eastside Blazers beat the Adam Central Jets 3-1 Saturday, May 29 in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 2A Eastside Sectional it gave Willard his 100th varsity baseball coaching victory at his school (to go with 506 in softball including a Class 1A state title in 1998 and 69 in boys basketball).

Locked up in a pitchers’ duel with Adams Central senior right-hander Justin Bultemeier, Eastside junior right-hander Owen Willard struck out 13 while tossing a one-hitter (he gave up a solo home run on a change-up to lefty-swinging senior Brayden Light in the third inning) as the winning pitcher in helping the Blazers (22-6) to the Sectional 36 championship game at 11 a.m. Monday, May 31 against former Eastside head coach Jason Pierce’s Bluffton Tigers.

“I wish (Aaron) all the luck in the world,” says Dave Neuenschwander, who roomed and played baseball with the elder Willard at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University), and has been head baseball coach at  Adams Central for 27 seasons (1991-98 and 2003-21).

Willard and Neuenschwander formed a bond as Foresters in the ‘80s which he endured to this day.

“He’s always been like a big brother to me,” says Willard of Neuenschwander. “He took me under the wing when I came in.”

Says Neunschwander, “Aaron’s a good coach and he’s a great friend. I wish he lived closer. I know he’d do anything for me and I’d do anything for him.

“I’m anxious for the day when we can both retire and spend some time together.”

Willard, a 1984 Eastside graduate, spent a semester at Franklin (Ind.) College and met sophomore third baseman Neuenschwander, a 1983 South Adams High School graduate, when he arrived on the Huntington campus as a pitcher. 

Aaron’s first season was the first for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame as head coach. Other future coaches on the squad included Matt Brumbaugh, Mark Flueckiger and Randy Moss.

When Willard and Neuenschwander’s teams squared off Saturday, it was for just the second time. In 2019, Adams Central and Eastside were not in the same sectional and both received a first-round bye so they met just before the tournament at the ASH Centre in Fort Wayne.

“When we play it’s about respect and a good competition,” says Neuenschwander.

What makes Willard a good coach?

“He understands the game,” says Neuenschwander. “He has the passion for the kids. 

“He gets them to work hard and focus on what they need to do.”

It’s also helped that Aaron has helped develop strong pitchers like his sons Cade (a 2017 Eastside graduate who pitched for Purdue Fort Wayne 2019-21) and Owen.

Also an accomplished shortstop and hitter, Owen could be a two-way player at the next level. He has not yet made a college commitment.

“It’s a big summer for him,” says Aaron of Cade, who plays travel ball for 5 Star Midwest.

Willard coached softball for 23 years before coaching baseball at the high school varsity level.

“I had coached at the Pony League level,” says Willard. “There was a learning curve going from softball back to baseball. There are pick-off and longer distances between bases. It’s getting that timing in your head. I got kids thrown at the plate (as a third base coach). It took them longer to get there.”

Eastside’s 2021 season has included Northeast Corner Conference regular-season and tournament titles.

Besides head baseball coach, Willard is an assistant principal and athletic director at Eastside.

“Aaron’ a great guy to the community,” says Neuenschwander. “He has great friends like Bruce Beard that really helps him out.

“That ’s a tribute to great leadership that he has that people want to help.”

As for the sectional title game against the boys from Bluffton?

Says Willard, “They look like they’re a very scrappy team.”

A fan celebrates a coaching milestone for Eastside High School baseball coach Aaron Willard at the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 2A Eastside Sectional. (Twitter Photo)

Lehrman still having fun in 43rd season leading Heritage Patriots

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dean Lehrman has been around the baseball program at Heritage Junior-Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., long enough that he is coaching a second generation of Patriots.

Just at the varsity level, there are four players whose fathers played for Lehrman at Heritage. There are seniors Cody David (son of Chad) and Clay Gerardot (son of Matt) and sophomores Jackson Bearman (son of Wade) and Austin Buuck (son of Greg).

The 2021 season is Lehrman’s 43rd season as a head baseball coach — 34th at Heritage after nine at Woodlan

At present, the 1973 Heritage graduate has 632 career wins. The ’21 Patriots are off to a 17-2 start.

“I got in this business because I love baseball and it’s a kids game,” says Lehrman, 66. “I wanted to pass that on to my sons and everybody in the neighborhood’s sons.”

Heritage (enrollment around 600) is a consolidation of Monroeville and Hoagland and that opened in 1969. The Patriots are a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Bluffton, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan). ACAC teams meet each other one time.

The Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Bellmont (the 2021 host), Marion, Mississinewa, Norwell and Oak Hill. Heritage has won nine sectionals (the last in 2015), three regionals and one semistate — all but a 1976 sectional crown on Lehrman’s watch. 

“A bunch of blue-collar, hard-nosed, out-work-you kids” with no superstars earned a state runner-up finish in 2007 (losing to South Spencer in the 2A title game).

Lehrman’s Heritage teams have won numerous conference titles and he has often been chosen ACAC Coach of the Year. He has twice been Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Coach of the Year and was on the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series coaching staff two times.

“In my mind we are still a 2A school although we’ve officially been 3A for several years,” says Lehrman. “It’s a numbers thing.”

Lehrman does not favor athletic specialization and embraces the idea of the multi-sport athlete. He enjoys a sense of cooperation between himself and fellow head coaches Casey Kolkman in football and Adam Gray with basketball and the sharing of athletes.

“I want my kids to be involved in as many sports as they can,” says Lehrman. “It seems that more and more they get funneled into one thing 365/24-7. That’s not good for kid. You get more kids getting burned out that way.

“We’re not pulling kids in different directions and telling them you’ve got to do this in the summer or you can’t play. I’m a firm believer that a kid has to be a kid. He’s got to be free to choose. 

“He should be able to play football, basketball and baseball or whatever combination of sports you want to throw in there.”

Janice Lehrman has been a coach’s wife for all these decades.

“I can’t count how many uniforms she’s sewn back together and she still does it,” says Dean. “She just did it for a JV kid.”

Dean and wife Janice, who live in the country near Hoagland, have three children — Camryn, Derek and Ryne.

Camyn Klocinski is a social studies teacher at Summerfield Junior-Senior High School in Petersburg, Mich. She has traveled the world and is an expert on World War II.

Derek Lehrman is married with three children. He played football and baseball at Heritage (and was one of several IHSBCA all-stars coached by his father) and baseball at Eastern Michigan University and in the Detroit Tigers system.

He is now the Patriots hitting coach and serves on a staff with pitching coach Scott Lewis, a former left-handed pitcher from Van Wert, Ohio. Junior varsity coaches for 2021 are Heritage alums Jeremy Hullinger, Nick Bosler and Matt Saylor.

Ryne Lehrman (who gets his first name from Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg) played football and baseball at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind. He and his wife are traveling physical therapists and have one child.

Youth leagues in Monroeville and Hoagland as well as the Harding and New Haven areas feed into Heritage. 

A 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, Lehrman used his mechanics, wrist and forearm to generate velocity as a pitcher. His boyhood idol was Nolan Ryan

Lehrman took the mound for four years at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) for Hal Prickett and Dave Hey and drew attention from bird dog major league scouts.

As a coach, Lehrman encourages his pitchers to change speeds and the eye levels of batters.

“No matter how hard you throw if that’s all you do, they’re going to catch up to you,” says Lehrman. “Kids today are trained on pitching machine and you can se the machine to throw 90 or 95 (mph) and they can work on that — boom, boom, boom.

“To me, the change-up is the next-best pitch behind the fastball.”

Among the pitchers to come through Heritage are Andrew Saalfrank, a left-hander who hurled for Indiana University and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

Branson Dossen, son of former pro Jarrod Dossen, played baseball at Heritage then Indiana Tech. The younger Dossen was a standout quarterback for the Patriots.

Dustin Butcher is the head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and just led the Cougars to a single-season school record of 34 victories.

The IHSAA has been observing a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) since 2017. Lehrman has been tracking numbers for 43 years.

“We’re never going to hurt a kid,” says Lehrman. “I keep them in by book. At the end of the inning, I can tell you how many pitches he threw and what his first-pitch strike percentage was.”

Lehrman’s father — Donald — ran his scorebook for three decades and Dean now keeps it while his assistants coach the bases.

A teacher of mathematics after college, Lehrman retired from the classroom in June 2020.

“I was very blessed there because I had calculus and trigonometry,” says Lehrman. “I had good kids that wanted to be there and wanted to learn.

“That’s a huge reason I stayed in it for 43 years.”

The East Allen County Schools administration asked him to stay on to lead the Patriots on the diamond.

“As long as I’m still having fun, I’m going to hang around and coach baseball,” says Lehrman.

For many falls, he was on the staffs of two Indiana Football Hall of Famers — Leland Etzler at Woodlan and Bob Yager at Heritage. 

Lehrman was Yager’s defensive coordinator then served six years as Patriots head coach (going 40-26 from 2010-15) before stepping away from the gridiron

He was coaxed back by alum Kolkman, who heads into his second season as Heritage head football coach in the fall.

“Casey was an eighth grader when I first started teaching here,” says Lehrman. “He asked me to help out. I said I’ll do it on one condition. I’m strictly a volunteer and as long as I’m having fun I’ll stick around and do anything you ask.

“Casey has turned the program completely around. Look for big things out of our football team the next couple of years.”

Heritage baseball’s full week began Tuesday, May 11 with a win against Bluffton. The Patriots are slated to visit Van Wert Wednesday, Jay County Thursday and Manchester Friday with a rare Saturday off.

Dean Lehrman, a 1973 graduate of Heritage Junior-Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., is in his 43rd year as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2021. The quote on the Patriots dugout wall is from former Heritage pitching coach Don Grabner. (Steve Krah Photo)

Parkview Field High School/College Series April 2-29

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The High School and College Baseball Series at Parkview Field hosted by the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps is to feature 46 different schools for a total of 29 games between April 2-29. The TinCaps begin their 120-game High Class-A season May 4.

Tickets ($6) for High School and College Series games go on sale March 24 at ParkviewField.com. 

The Parkview Field Ticket Office also will be open for ticket purchases beginning one hour prior to each day’s first pitch. 

All transactions must be completed by debit or credit card (no cash). The TinCaps plan to utilize a special seating chart to account for physical distancing between pods of fans. Ballpark concessions will be available as well (no outside food or drink is permitted.) 

HIGH SCHOOL & COLLEGE

BASEBALL SERIES

AT PARKVIEW FIELD

Friday, April 2

Purdue Fort Wayne vs. Northern Kentucky (DH), 4 p.m.

Saturday, April 3

Purdue Fort Wayne vs. Northern Kentucky, 1 p.m.

Wednesday, April 7

Eastside vs. DeKalb, 4:30 p.m.

Wabash vs. Mississinewa, 7 p.m.

Friday, April 9

Saint Francis vs. Marian U. (DH), 4 p.m.

Saturday, April 10

Homestead vs. Wapahani (DH), 10:30 a.m.

Tuesday, April 13

Fort Wayne Northrop vs. Fort Wayne Wayne, 4:30 p.m.

Prairie Heights vs. Lakeland, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, April 14

Indiana Tech vs. Grace (DH), 4 p.m.

Thursday, April 15

South Adams  vs. New Haven, 4:30 p.m.

Northfield vs. Eastbrook, 7 p.m.

Saturday, April 17

Concordia Lutheran vs. Fort Wayne South Side, 10:30 a.m.

West Noble vs. Garrett, 1 p.m.

Tuesday, April 20

Woodlan vs. Leo, 4:30 p.m.

Southern Wells vs. Southwood, 7 p.m.

Thursday, April 22

Fort Wayne Snider vs. Norwell, 4:30 p.m.

Carroll vs. East Noble, 7 p.m.

Friday, April 23

Fort Wayne Bishop Luers vs. Fort Wayne Canterbury, 4:30 p.m.

Warsaw vs. Plymouth, 7 p.m.

Saturday, April 24

Churubusco vs. Manchester, 10:30 a.m.

Whitko vs. Angola, 1 p.m.

Tuesday, April 27

Blackhawk Christian vs. Lakewood Park Christian, 4:30 p.m.

Columbia City vs. Bellmont, 7 p.m.

Thursday, April 29

Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger vs. Fort Wayne North Side (DH), 4:30 p.m.

Parkview Field, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Here’s Dick Crumback/NEIBA Player of the Year Watch List

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball coaches from Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Noble, Huntington, Wells and Whitley counties were surveyed and 69 names appear on the 2021 Dick Crumback/Northeast Indiana Baseball Association (NEIBA) High School Player of the Year Watch List.

The list will be narrowed in early May to a group of award finalists. The winner will be announced May 26 to coincide with the start the IHSAA state tournament series. The winner will be honored at a Fort Wayne TinCaps game since the NEIBA banquet has been postponed until Sept. 12.

Since 1961, the NEIBA has recognized local baseball players, personnel and ambassadors through a Hall of Fame and honors program. South Adams’ Grant Besser was named Dick Crumback/NEIBA High School Player of the Year in 201. With the 2020 season being canceled because of the COVID-1 pandenic, there was no award given for 2020.

For more information, contact Gary Rogers at grogers@eacs.k.in.us or Brett Windmiller at brett.windmiller@nacs.k.in.us. 

DICK CRUMBACK/NEIBA 

HIGH SCHOOL PLAYER OF THE YEAR 

WATCH LIST

2021

Adams Central (Coach Dave Neuenschwander)

Sr. Justin Bultemeier

Sr. Chase Murray

Jr. Alex Currie

Jr. Blake Heyerly

Bellmont (Coach Tom Montgomery)

Sr. Tanner Hirn

Sr.  Tyler James

Jr.  Kobe Baker

Jr.  Magnuss Lee

Jr. Ethan Garner

Jr. Trevor Walker

Bishop Dwenger (Coach Jason Garrett)

Sr.  Brenden Lytle

Sr. Sam Pesa

Sr.  Callan Stauffer

Sr.  Xavier Nolan

Jr. Jack Tippmann

Fr.  Brayton Thomas

Jr. Beau Jacquay

Bishop Luers (Coach Jeff Stanski)

Sr.  Lukas North

Carroll (Coach Dave Ginder)

Sr.  Jerod Handshoe

Sr.  Cameron Niedens

Jr.  Alex Smith

Sr.  Conner Miller

Sr.  Josh Kuhns

Sr. Jaycob McCullough

Churubusco (Coach Jordan Turner)

Sr.  Brayten Gordon

Sr.  Evan Snyder

Jr.  Keenan Hendricks

Jr.  Callahan Ostrowski

Sr.  Seth Abel

Columbia City (Coach Rob Bell)

Jr.  Sam Gladd

Jr.  Adin Miller

Sr.  Preston Henschen

DeKalb (Coach Tim Murdock)

Sr.  Steele Jackson

East Noble (Coach Aaron Desmonds)

Jr.  Brayden Risedorph

Eastside (Coach Aaron Willard)

Jr.  Owen Willard

Sr.  Dylan Herig

Sr.  Wade Miller

Jr.  Jack Buchanan

Garrett (Coach Jason Richards)

Sr.  Gage Smith

Jr.  Trey Richards

Jr.  Graham Kelham

Heritage (Coach Dean Lehrman)

Jr.  Dalton Wasson

Homestead (Coach Nick Byall)

Sr.  Carter Mathison

Sr.  Luke Palmer

Sr.  Kaleb Kolpien

Sr.  Graham Kollen

Sr. Grant Simmons

Sr. Cole Elkins

Sr. Jayden Lepper

Leo (Coach Gary Rogers)

Sr.  Tyler Papenbrock

Sr.  Coley Stevens

Sr.  Damien Gudakunst

Sr.  Quinten Peters

Sr.  Gannon Brown

Sr. Michael O’Brien

Sr. Dakota Patterson

New Haven (Coach Dave Bischoff)

Sr. Jacob Kortenber

Sr. Augie Difederico

Northrop (Coach Matt Brumbaugh)

Sr.  Tarron White

Jr.  Luke Siren

Norwell (Coach Dave Goodmiller)

Sr. Rocco Hanes

Sr. Eli Riley

South Adams (Coach Brad Buckingham)

Sr. Adam Besser

Sr. James Arnold

Jr. A.J. Dull

Jr. Conner Young

Southern Wells (Coach Blade Rheinhart)

Sr.  Tanner Johnson

Whitko (Coach Jorell Tucker)

Sr.  Bryce Tucker

Sr. Evan Wilson

Northeast Indiana Baseball Association