Tag Archives: South Carolina

Communication key for Bullpen Tournaments VP Tucker

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Growing up playing sports in Zionsville, Ind., Michael Tucker knew what it was to be a teammate.

A center in basketball and catcher in baseball, Tulsa, Okla.-born Tucker played at Zionsville Community High School and graduated in 2008. Some of his closest friends to this day played on those squads.

“We had some great teams,” says Tucker, who played for head coaches Dave Ferrell and Shaun Busick in basketball and Darrell Osborne and Adam Metzler in baseball and counted Matt Miller as a mate on the court and the diamond. Miller went on to pitch at the University of Michigan and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Eric Charles went on to play baseball at Purdue University.

Ryan Price’s father Tom Price played baseball for Dr. Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) University and that’s one of the reasons Tucker ended up at the NCAA Division III school.

Tucker was a standout hitter while playing catcher and first base for the Ravens and the Hall of Famer they called “Bama” for his first two college seasons followed by two with David Pressley.

Brandon impressed Tucker with his memory.

“He can tell you the situation — who was on the mound and the count — (from most any game),” says Tucker. “He was really fun to learn from.”

Pressley was a first-time head coach at Anderson. Tucker credits him with lessons on and off the field.

“I learned how to be a man,” says Tucker. “(Pressley) is a huge man of faith.

“He taught a tremendous amount of life lessons.”

Tucker also gained knowledge from Brad Lantz, who was an AU senior receiver when he was a freshman and went on to be a high school head coach at Guerin Catholic and Lapel and is now coaching in the Indy Sharks travel organization.

“I learned so much about catching, counts and what to look for,” says Tucker. “I learned more from (Lantz) than anyone else.”

Tucker was named to D3baseball.com’s 2010s All-Decade Team.  During his career, Tucket hit .361 with 52 home runs, 50 doubles, 193 runs batted in and a .730 slugging percentage. He was a first-team All-America selection and the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference MVP in 2011.

Franklin (Ind.) College has long been a big HCAC rival for Anderson. Tucker recalls how Grizzlies head coach Lance Marshall sometimes used to bring in a fifth infielder when Tucker was at the plate. 

Not a Marshall fan at the time, Tucker has come to see the veteran coach as one of his favorites.

Tucker received a Management degree with a minor in Entrepreneurship from Anderson U. in 2012. 

His “internship” time was spent coaching (coaching with Cesar Barrientos and the Indiana Baseball Academy Storm while injured in 2009) or playing summer collegiate ball (Fort Mill, S.C., Stingers of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League in 2010 and Hannibal, Mo., Cavemen of the Prospect League in 2011 — a team owned at the time by former big leaguers Ryan Klesko and Woody Williams) and he saw a future related to the diamond. 

“I wanted to make baseball my job whether that was with an indoor facility, coaching, training or tournaments,” says Tucker. “I didn’t know what avenue.”

Tucker was a director at the Incrediplex on the northeast side of Indianapolis 2013-15 and coached for the Indiana Bulls travel organization 2012-16.

Since April 2015, Tucker has been part of a different team as vice president for Bullpen Tournaments, Prep Baseball Report Tournaments (with Rhett Goodmiller as director of tournaments) and Pro X Athlete Development (with former big league pitcher Joe Thatcher as co-founder and president) are tenants at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Bullpen, with Tucker as the director of day-to-day operations, is involved with Pro X and works with PBR Indiana and consults with PBR national, which operates LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga., and Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo.

Ground was recently broken for Championship Park in Kokomo, Ind., and that complex will also be used by Bullpen and PBR.

The 2021 summer will mark Tucker’s seventh with Bullpen Tournaments. 

Hired by BT president Blake Hibler, whom he knew from working Prep Baseball Report showcases, Tucker started at Bullpen in time to experience Grand Park’s first full summer.

“I did everything,” says Tucker. “I tried to be a sponge. Being in baseball your whole life is completely different from the tournament industry.

“There’s learning the business side and scheduling.”

While at the Incrediplex near Lawrence, Tucker had done scheduling on a smaller scale and had become comfortable with software.

Tucker appreciates that Hibler lets him seek out processes.

“If I can find a better mousetrap, he lets me run with it,” says Tucker.

Bullpen is a very large operation.

“We’re a different beast in a lot of ways,” says Tucker, who notes that on any given weekend the company may have as many as 45 fields under its control, including those on and off the Grand Park campus.

Tucker says the key is getting the word out to teams, families and recruiters.

“You have to be able to communicate,” says Tucker. “Half of scheduling is the communicating of the schedule.”

With Hibler having a large part in brainstorming and development, Bullpen first used the Tourney Machine app and now works with Playbook 365 while also helping develop PitchAware and ScoreHQ. 

Bullpen hires scorekeepers for every high school tournament game (15U to 18U) at Grand Park. In 2020, there was also video on six fields.

“It’s huge to have accurate data,” says Tucker. “We can overlay video with stats.

“(A college) coach can recruit from his office.”

But even though Bullpen is dealing with many moving parts, there are only a half dozen full-time employees.

“Guys are tasked to learn a lot of different things,” says Tucker. “But we never feel like this is something I can’t do. Our mentality is we’re going bust our butts and how do we solve this problem?

“Our guys do a tremendous job of being flexible.”

An example of teamwork and flexibility is the creation of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which came about when so many other leagues were canceling the 2020 summer season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team that made it happen include Hibler, Tucker, Thatcher, Phil Wade, Luke Dietz, Mark Walther, Matt Bowles, Logan Weins, Cam Eveland and Kevin Ricks. Thatcher and Walther are at Pro X. Weins splits his time between Bullpen Tournaments and PBR Tournaments.

With many players reaching out, Bullpen saw the need and went to work to put together what became a 12-team league with most games played at Grand Park with a few at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

The league was constructed with safety, NCAA and recruiting regulations in mind. Players were placed, umpires were lined up and jerseys were distributed in a very short time frame.

“We had about seven days to do it,” says Tucker. “We’re excited for it to come back (in 2021).”

As a D-III alum, Tucker was especially pleased that the CSL allowed top-flight players like Joe Moran (who pitched for Anderson and has transferred to Taylor University) was able to compete against D-I talent.

While the pandemic slowed the start of the 2020 Bullpen season, Tucker estimates that there were upwards of 80 percent in games played as compared to a normal year.

The fall included more contests than ever.

“Teams couldn’t play in the spring and that baseball hunger was still there,” says Tucker. “They wanted to play a little longer.

“We had a great fall.”

Weather plays a part, but the first games each year at Grand Park with all its turf fields are collegiate in February. 

“If we get a warm-weather day our phone blows up,” says Tucker. 

Activity starts to ramp up in March with the first 8U to 14U contests the last weekend of that month.

Of course, the pandemic will have a say in what happens in 2021.

“With all the uncertainty it’s tough,” says Tucker. “It’s going to be an interesting spring.”

A perk of Tucker’s position and location is the relationships he gets to build with high school coaches. 

He sees the unique dynamic between between Noblesville’s Justin Keever, Westfield’s Ryan Bunnell, Zionsville’s Jered Moore and Fishers’ Matt Cherry of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference.

“They’re buddies,” says Tucker. “They go out to eat after the game.”

Michael and wife Dani Tucker live in Noblesville, Ind., with son Cole (5) and Cali (3).

The Tucker family (from left): Cali, Dani, Michael and Cole. Michael Tucker is vice president of Bullpen Tournaments is a tenant at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Notre Dame assistant Wingo very familiar with winning

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

University of Notre Dame volunteer assistant Scott Wingo has experienced plenty of winning as a baseball player and coach.

Wingo graduated in 2007 from Mauldin High School, a program in Greenville, S.C., that produced a AAAA state champion in 2004 and saw Wingo earn AAAA All-State and South Carolina/North Carolina All-Star Select honors in 2007.

In four seasons at the University of South Carolina, the Gamecocks went a combined 189-76 with an NCAA regional appearance in 2008 and College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011, going a combined 11-1 in Omaha, Neb., with Ray Tanner as head coach. 

Coach Tanner and I had a special relationship,” says Wingo, 31. “He was going to do everything in his power to get you to believe in our system. We’re here to win. He didn’t like to lose.

“Losing wasn’t OK.”

Lefty swinger Wingo played in 254 games for South Carolina and hit .264 (189-of-717) with 24 home runs, six triples, 24 doubles, 96 runs batted in, 159 runs scored and 15 stolen bases.

As a freshman in 2008, second baseman Wingo was in a starting infield with first baseman Justin Smoak, shortstop Reese Havens and third baseman James Darnell.

“Those were big, strong guys,” says Wingo, who was 5-foot-9 and about 145 pounds as a college frosh. “I knew I needed to work really hard in the weight room.

“Coach (Tanner) always kept you accountable,” says Wingo, who was 5-10 and 175 as a senior. “He always would keep me on track. He knew he could be tough on me. 

“He knew I could take it.”

Wingo scored the title-winning run in 2010 against UCLA on an 11th-inning single from Whit Merrifield and was named CWS Outstanding Player in 2011 (the Gamecocks beat Florida for the championship).

“When I think about 2011, I can’t help but think about 2010,” says Wingo, who suffered a squad injury and went undrafted after his junior season. “I didn’t have that great of a tournament.

“My senior year is where I took off. I wanted to end my (college) career on a bang. I was locked in.

“We were ready for that (2011) tournament. We believed we were going to win it. 

“We were the defending champions. You’re going to have to knock us out to take this from us.”

Tanner insisted his Gamecocks do things the right way.

“If you don’t have good grades, you’re not going to play,” says Wingo. “We had high-character guys like Jackie Bradley Jr., and Whit Merrifield. When your best players are good people it resonates with the entire team.

“We had a bunch of guys that would battle you. They were tough outs and played really good defense. On the mound, they were lights out. We typically never beat ourselves.”

Selected in the 11th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wingo played 261 games in the Dodgers system 2011-14.

He was with the short-season Ogden (Utah) Raptors when they went 41-35 and lost in the Pioneer League finals in 2011.

In 2012 and 2013, Wingo played for the Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, a franchise that combined for 133 wins and lost in the first round of the 2013 California League playoffs.

Among Wingo’s teammates in the Dodgers chain were future big leaguers Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Mark Ellis, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Corey Seager, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, A.J. Ellis, Scott Van Slyke and Jerry Hairston.

Beginning his coaching career as a student assistant at South Carolina in 2015, Wingo saw the Gamecocks go 32-25.

In his two seasons on the North Greenville (S.C.) University staff (2016 and 2017), the Crusaders went a combined 73-31. 

The NGU staff was led by head coach Landon Powell, who was the catcher for Dallas Braden’s perfect game with the Oakland Athletics in 2010. Assistants included former South Carolina and big league pitcher Jon Coutlangus and former College of Charleston player Tyler Jackson.

Wingo had earned a Retail Management degree at South Carolina and picked up a masters in Education at North Greenville

Wingo was an assistant for the Coastal Plain League’s Wilmington (N.C.) Sharks in the summer of 2015 and was the collegiate team’s manager in 2016 and 2017. Those three years, the Sharks went 92-70, including 6-6 in the playoffs.

Alec Bohm, who was a rookie with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2020, played for the team in 2016 and won the home run derby at the CPL All-Star Game with Wingo pitching to him. Wingo says he hopes to do that same if Bohm ever gets invited to the MLB home run derby.

With Wingo assisted at Jacksonville (Fla.) University in 2018, the Dolphins went 40-21 under head coach Chris Hayes

“He knows a lot about the game and is very passionate,” says Wingo of Hayes. “He connected with his players and knew how to push the right buttons. 

“He really helps me.”

At Jacksonville is where Wingo learned how to tend to an infield.

With the blazing Florida sun baking the playing surface, it was not unusual to have to keep the hose going.

“Sometimes had to water that field three or four times a day,” says Wingo. “You’ve got to soak it.”

At Jacksonville, Rich Wallace was the recruiting coordinator and he moved to Notre Dame to take the same position.

Wingo was with the Irish in 2020 when they went 11-2 in a COVID-19-shortened season. It was the first spring under the Golden Dome for head coach Link Jarrett.

“It’s been awesome to work under Link,” says Wingo. “He’s got a great feel for the game and players.

“It’s a great opportunity to come coach at Notre Dame.”

Wing helps with infielders and hitters as well as outfielders.

“(With outfielders), the first step has got to be your best step,” says Wingo. “You go get the ball when it’s in the air. We call them ‘bird dogs.’ 

“There is no fear.”

Notre Dame concluded fall practice two weeks ago. Student-athletes are not due back on-campus until January.

Before they left, players went through exit interviews with the coaching staff to go over grades, how the fall went and areas where they can improve. Hitters talked about their swing and their approach.

They were given conditioning and performance drills to keep them right during the extended break.

“How we prepare for these next two months in vital,” says Wingo. “We’re excited about the spring.”

Wingo has been teaching lessons at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center at Four Winds Field, a facility in downtown South Bend where Mark Haley is the director.

There are camps most Saturday mornings with instruction in fielding, hitting and throwing.

“We’re breaking down the mechanics,” says Wingo. “Doing things the right way at this early age is vital. When strength and power comes in when they develop into great baseball players.

“We’re building brick by brick. Hopefully every week they get a little better. When they see progress their eyes light up and that smile, you can’t get it off their face. 

“It’s pretty cool.”

Wingo is also leading practices twice a week for 14U South Bend Cubs travel team he will coach in the summer of 2021.

Scott is the son of Bill and Nancy Wingo. Bill Wingo is a member of the Clemson University Athletic Hall of Fame. He lettered in baseball and football for four years. He started on College World Series teams in 1976 and 1977, making just three errors at second base in ’77. He played briefly in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Scott Wingo is the 2011 College World Series Outstanding Player. (The Big Spur Video)
Scott Wingo is a volunteer assistant baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame. The 2020 season was his first. He played four seasons at the University of South Carolina, winning College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

Clinton Central, Bowling Green State grad Scott experiences ‘emotional roller coaster’ in first year as baseball coach

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeffery Scott saw the lessons that can be learned from baseball from the time he was a kid playing in Frankfort, Ind., to when he was winding up his playing career at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.

It was with the Danny Schmitz-coached Falcons that he decided he wanted to become a coach.

While working on a degree in Sport Management with a minor in Marketing that was achieved in 2019, Scott soaked in information from veteran Schmitz and the other BGSU staffers.

“Coach Schmitz is an old school type of coach,” says Scott. “He has a lot of knowledge about the game. I was able to talk with him everyday and learn stuff.

“I talked with him and the rest of the coaching staff on what to expect. He’s been really good influence on me baseball and life-wise.”

Before his senior year, Scott worked at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and made a determination.

“If I don’t get to play baseball anymore I’d like to stay around the game,” says Scott. “I’d like to be making an impact and sharing my knowledge.”

He wanted to prepare young men for life and to face adversity like you face in baseball.

Scott, who was a catcher and outfielder at Bowling Green State for three seasons (playing in 127 games and starting 114 from 2017-19), made a visit to the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima as a senior and talked with Racers head coach Kory Hartman and his staff and signed on as a graduate assistant. He expects to earn his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) next spring.

“It’s been a really good experience,” says Scott of his time so far with the NAIA-member program. “One of the things that drew me here is that it’s close to Bowling Green State. (Hartman and company) were open to me getting what I want out of this program — to form who I am as a coach.”

Since being at UNOH, a member of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, Scott has absorbed drills and procedures and also enjoyed camaraderie with coaches who like to hang out, fish and hunt together. 

The Racers staff currently counts Hartman, Scott and associate head coach Aaron Lee and two graduate assistants with pitching experience will be hired.

With NAIA’s COVID-19 pandemic-related decision to cancel fall sports, Northwestern Ohio baseball coaches are sorting out what fall will look for the Racers. Students are supposed to be back on campus for face-to-face classes Sept. 14.

“Right now, we’re in a gray area,” says Scott, who turns 25 this month. “We’ll have to figure things out. 

“We hope to get together once or twice a week as a team.”

The 2020 UNOH season came to a halt because of the pandemic on March 8 with the Racers at 8-12. 

Back at Bowling Green State, the NCAA Division I program went on the chopping block.

Baseball was reinstated through the efforts of Schmitz and other baseball alumni. 

“It was an emotional roller coaster for me,” says Scott. “I didn’t know where baseball is headed with the COVID stuff and (colleges and universities) were cutting sports — not just baseball.”

Schmitz was put in charge of alumni outreach at Bowling Green and former Falcons pitching coach Kyle Hallock, whom Scott knew well as a catcher, was named head coach.

“I tip my cap to Danny Schmitz,” says Scott. “I’m sure he reached out to a lot of the alumni. He has made an impact on a lot of people’s lives.”

Bowling Green State baseball has produced many successful people, including those who went on to the pro diamond, including 19 major leaguers. Among that group are current Miami Marlins third baseman Jon Berti and former big leaguers Orel Hershiser (who won a National League Cy Young Award and helped the Los Angeles Dodgers to a World Series win in 1988), Nolan Reimold, Andy Tracy and Roger McDowell.

“It was special to see them step up, donate some money and keep the program,” says Scott.

Frankfort (Ind.) Little League is where Scott got his first taste of organized baseball. Around the same time he also played with a group of local youngsters called the Frankfort Slam. That team was coached by Rodney Smith, Jason Forsythe and at various times, Kent Scott (Jeffery’s father) and Jamie Bolinger (Jeffery’s stepfather).

Kent Scott is employed in Federal-Mogul Powertain in Frankfort.

Jamie Bolinger, who is retired military, works for Lafayette (Ind.) Transitional Housing Center’s Homeless Services.

Maleta Bolinger (Jeffery’s mother) is a registered nurse in Kokomo, Ind.

Shealynne Bolinger (Jeffery’s 19-year-old sister) is finishing up schooling to be a veterinary technician.

Scott and girlfriend Shelby Weaver have been together about nine moths. They also dated in high school. Her son Eli is almost 1.

After spending his 12U summer with the Muncie-based Indiana Wildcats, Jeffery Scott played six travel ball seasons with the Indiana Bulls.

At 13U, he was coached by  John Rigney and Rick Hamm. Brothers Todd Miller and Adam Miller led his team at 14U and 15U. Tony Cookerly, Sean Laird and Jim Fredwell coached his team at 16U. Quinn Moore and Dan Held was in charge at 17U. He played briefly at 18U before going to summer school at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., where he spent a year and a half before transferring to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Kevin Bowers was and still is head coach for the junior college Statesmen.

“He welcomed me in with open arms mid-year,” says Scott of Bowers. “He made me feel a part of the family. I still talk to him quite a bit. He’s definitely been one of my favorite coaches.

“He was genuine, truthful and transparent. He brings in a lot of talent to Lincoln Trail and gets them to where they want to be.”

Though mostly a catcher in the summers, Scott was a shortstop and pitcher at Clinton Central High School in Michigantown, Ind., playing for Bulldogs head coach Eric Flickinger. He also played football for Mike Quick and Justin Schuhmacher and wrestled for Austin Faulkner.

Jeffery Scott observes catchers during a baseball practice as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima. Scott was a catcher at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. He is a graduate of BGSU and Clinton Central High School in Michigantown, Ind., near Frankfort. (UNOH Photo)
Jeffery Scott is a 2019 graduate of Bowling Green (Ohio) State University, where he played three baseball for three seasons (2017-19). The graduate of BGSU and Clinton High School in Michigantown, Ind., is a graduate assistant baseball coach at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima. (Bowling Green State University Photo)

New Castle’s Besecker take non-traditional course to D-I’s VMI

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

This is not your typical story of college baseball recruitment and commitment.

Nic Besecker, a senior at New Castle (Ind.) High School, played travel baseball just a few times — his 12U summer with a team called the Revolution and as a fill-in at 16 with 17U Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).

A self-described “rec league” player most of his diamond life, Besecker has in the New Castle Babe Ruth League and toed the rubber of the all-star team in last summer’s Indiana state tournament in Crown Point. That team was coached by Bret Mann, who had also coached New Castle’s entry in the 2012 Little League World Series.

Besecker, a right-handed pitcher, had his velocity clocked just three times during his prep days. He maxed out at 78 mph at an Earlham College camp as a freshman.

He got into the weight room and took a few lessons from pitching coach Jay Lehr and his velo went up.

“He’s been a big part of it,” says Besecker of Lehr, who is based in central Indiana. “We haven’t gotten to him enough. I’ve had only five true lessons with him, but he taught me something every time. He me how to use my lower half and get into my legs.”

Following his junior year at New Castle, he attended a Prep Baseball Report showcase and went as high as 85. In the early part of 2020, he was at another PBR event and got up to 89.

Besecker isn’t the biggest kid on the field either. Rosters list him at 5-11 and 155 pounds. He says he might be closer to 5-9 and 150.

He gets the most out of what he got. That’s why Besecker has been enamored with major league pitcher Tim Lincecum and what he did with his small frame.

“He’s been my idol since I’ve been little,” says Besecker. “What made me fall in love with him is that when he was good, he was the best pitcher in the world. He was so different from everyone else.”

Besecker has prided himself in exceeding expectations.

“Who’s this little squirt?” says Besecker imitating batters facing him for the first time. Then comes the first delivery.

Usually pretty swift.

But it’s not just about the heat.

“I’ve always prided myself in being a pitcher,” says Besecker. “I always knew how to locate.

“I wasn’t just a hurler.”

Besecker’s passion impresses first-year New Castle head coach Brad Pearson, who didn’t get to see the pitcher perform in a senior season that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nic is one of those kids who seems to be all about baseball,” says Pearson. “He wants to learn. He wants to get better. He just loves the sport.”

Pearson also appreciates Besecker’s mound approach.

“He’s not worried about lightning up the radar gun,” says Pearson. “He just wants to get outs.

“That’s pretty refreshing for a high school kid.”

Besecker signed his National Letter of Intent with NCAA Division I Virginia Military Institute on May 11.

Funny thing is when Keydets head coach Jonathan Hadra and pitching coach Sam Roberts welcome their new recruit to the Lexington, Va., campus it will represent a few firsts.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it will be the first time for Besecker and his coaches will seeing each other in-person when the player makes his first appearance in Virginia.

“I had options,” says ays Besecker, who will step into a program that has sent right-handers Zak Kent, Josh Winder and Matt Eagle into pro baseball in recent seasons. “Coach Hadra and Coach Roberts has something special going on over there.”

Besecker says he does not owe four years of military service after he graduates from VMI.

“I’m going there to play baseball and etch out some kind of career in baseball,” says Besecker. “That’s been my dream.”

Like all first-year VMI students, Besecker will start on the “Rat Line.” He is hopefully that this basic training program that usually lasts from August through January will help him pack on 20 to 30 pounds.

“I would not get that anywhere else,” says Besecker. “I’ve always been a guy to accept that kind of challenge.”

The majority of new cadets begin around Aug. 15, but they have had summer conditioning programs in the past. If those are available and his coaches want him to attend, Besecker might leave for VMI early.

It’s not yet certain when or if New Castle will have a graduation ceremony.

VMI is a member of the Southern Conference. The Keydets went to Virginia and North Carolina before the 2020 season was halted and was to play home-and-home series with Virginia Tech.

The SoCon tournament was to be staged at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C. The park has its own “Green Monster.” The Greenville Drive are Low Class-A affiliates of the Boston Red Sox.

Besecker played junior varsity baseball as a New Castle freshman and enjoyed his best varsity campaign as a Trojans sophomore.

“I played against guys who were able to hit the ball regardless of velocity,” says Besecker. “You have to be creative (with breaking pitches).”

In two varsity seasons, Besecker went 8-6 with a 2.96 earned run average. He struck out 80 in 71 innings.

The oldest of Kevin and Lauren Besecker’s two sons, Nic was born in Centerville, Ohio and was raised in Greenville, Ohio.

“I’ve been in a small town my whole life,” says Besecker.

When he was 9, his father brought the family to New Castle. That’s where he was a mechanic/crew chief for the racing Armstrong family, including Dakoda and Caleb, and Nic could get into the Focus program for gifted kids.

“It was a no-brainer for us,” says Nic of the move. “It was a perfect storm.”

He went to be inducted into the National Honor Society and participate in speech and debate while posting a 3.6 grade-point average (on a 4.0) scale at New Castle High.

Nic has logged around 200 service hours at New Castle Babe Ruth’s Denny Bolden Field and has been an assistant coach for teams featuring his little brother Drake (the 13-year-old left-hander is already as tall as big brother and finishing seventh grade).

Lauren Besecker holds a sports marketing degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and has what Nic calls a “love/hate relationship” with the Cincinnati Reds. She is waiting management to make the moves to again make the team make a consistent contender.

Before focusing on baseball his senior year, Besecker played football from fourth grade through junior year. The former quarterback was encouraged by Jaymen Nicholson, who coached in fifth and sixth grade and was part of the highs school staff.

“He’s always believed in me,” says Besecker. “Guys like him and Bret Mann have told me, ‘If you want to do it, you can do it.’ They bought in

“That’s catapulted me as far as I’ve gotten so far.”

BRETMANNNICBESECKERBRADPEARSON

New Castle (Ind.) High School senior Nic Besecker (center) celebrates his signing to play NCAA Division I baseball at Virginia Military Institute. He is flanked by Babe Ruth coach Bret Mann (left) and high school head coach Brad Pearson. (New Castle High School Photo)

 

Lefty Thompson keeps on collecting K’s for Kentucky

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zachary David Thompson goes by Zack.

Perhaps, it’s fitting that the last letter in this standout baseball pitcher’s shortened name is a K.

Zack Thompson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior left-hander at the University of Kentucky, sure has made short work of opposing hitters by putting up strikeout after strikeout.

“I love the punch-out,” says the graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is fanning opposing hitters at a rate of 12.81 per nine innings for the 2019 season (102 K’s and 24 walks in 71 2/3 innings) and 12.09 for his collegiate career (240 whiffs and 82 freebies in 178 1/3 innings). “I’ve got pretty good breaking balls. I can expand the zone on them.”

Thompson, who employs a four-seam fastball that he can sometimes get up to 97 mph that he mixes with a cutter, change-up, curveball and slider, says he goes to the mound with two keys in his mind: Get a first-pitch strike and after that win the 1-1 battle.

“There’s such a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Thompson.

Currently the Saturday starter during weekend series for the Wildcats, the southpaw is 4-1 with a 1.88 earned run a 1.88 earned run average. Opponents are hitting .179 against him in 11 games (11 starts).

Since coming to UK, Thompson is 14-3 with one save, a 2.57 ERA and .188 opponent’s batting mark in 40 appearances (31 as a starter).

Thompson is on a team with Nick Mingione as head coach and Jim Belanger as pitching coach.

Why did Thompson choose Kentucky?

“It was just the right fit and has a very blue collar feel,” says Thompson. “My family (which includes father Bill, mother Jan and older brother Nick) can see games. They’re usually down here every weekend. And it’s in the (Southeastern Conference).

“The SEC has the best competition and best environment to improve.”

Thompson describes the atmosphere at conference road games as “incredible.”

He has gotten to stand on the bump on a circuit that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.

In the summer of 2018, Thompson played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, making three appearances with one start. He was 1.0 with a 0.00 ERA, eight strikeout, five walks and three hits allowed in 8 2/3 innings. Opponents, including Chinese Taipei, Japan and Cuba, hit .107 against the left-hander.

“That was just an awesome experience,” says Thompson. “I was representing my country and playing with the some of the best players and for some of the best coaches.

“I got to see how other people do it.”

Louisiana State University head coach Paul Mainieri was the USA CNT head coach. The pitching coach was University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor.

“Coach O is great,” says Thompson of O’Connor. “We worked on things in bullpen that translated to the game really well like his philosophies and pitch calling.”

Mainieri is a former head coach at Notre Dame, where O’Connor was his pitching coach.

Baseball America made the 21-year-old Thompson the No. 1 SEC prospect in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which is slated for June 3-5). D1 Baseball has him No. 2 on their list. He is also high in prospect rankings for MLBPipeline.com and Perfect Game.

“I try not to worry about it,” says Thompson of the MLB Draft. “It won’t matter if I don’t do my job on the mound.”

Thompson was born in Anderson, Ind., and grew up in Selma near Muncie. Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley at Wapahani.

“Brian was awesome and a great mentor,” says Thompson of Dudley. “He’s a great leader in the community.

“He sets his players up for success in the class room and on the field.”

Thompson was a National Honor Society student that led him to study business management in college. On the diamond, he put up eye-popping numbers.

On the mound, he went 23-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 405 strikeouts for 183 2/3 innings (15.43 per seven innings). As a sophomore, he helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2014 while going 13-0 with a 0.64 ERA over 87 innings as a pitcher and also hit .500 with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in.

High school summers were spent traveling with the Indiana White Sox or Indiana Bulls.

Thompson was selected in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, but opted not to sign and went to Kentucky.

ZACKTHOMPSONUK

Zack Thompson, a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is a junior left-handed pitcher at the University of Kentucky. (University of Kentucky Photo)

ZACKTHOMPSONUK1

Zack Thompson is among the nation’s top pitching prospects for the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The left-hander is a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and has been racking up strikeouts in droves as a University of Kentucky junior. (University of Kentucky)