Tag Archives: Southwood

Family comes first for North Miami baseball’s Floor

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

Shannon Floor has been coaching baseball for more than three decades.
He began in the Wabash (Ind.) Little League and Junior/Senior League and later led travel teams with the Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers and seventh and eighth graders at North Miami Middle/High School in Denver, Ind.
He was asked to join the varsity coaching staff and 2021 was his first season as Warriors head coach.
Floor credits three men for getting him to where he’s at as a coach — Carl Pace, Mark Delagarza and Troy Hudson.
“They’ve been tremendous mentors to me,” says Floor.
Pace, who is now head softball coach at Southwood Junior-Senior High School in Wabash, led Little League teams with Floor as his assistant.
Delagarza is the founder of the Summit City Sluggers and has run the organization since 1996. He counts Floor as a 17U head coach.
Hudson, the North Miami athletic director, ran the Warriors baseball program and brought Floor on board when Hudson moved up from assistant to head coach for 2017.
The 2022 season will be Floor’s fifth at North Miami. In 2018, he guided middle schoolers in the spring and then took players into Babe Ruth ball in the summer and finished as state runner-up to New Castle and placed fourth at the Ohio Valley Regional in West Virginia.
The following spring (2019), North Miami won its first-ever IHSAA sectional championship, besting West Central, Caston and Northfield to win the Class 1A tournament at Caston.
Hudson stepped down after what would have been the 2020 season (canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and Floor was installed as head coach.
Floor holds three things dear while guiding his team.
“No. 1 is family,” says Floor, himself a married man with three ball-playing three sons. “No. 2 is team fundamentals and development. We want to rely on each other and make each other accountable. We also want to be succeeding in academics.
“Then we work on playing good ball on the field.”
North Miami had just over 20 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in 2021.
“We could have 28 to 30 (for 2022) if everything holds up,” says Floor. “(Winning) has spring-loaded our program. It’s the first time the excitement has been at that level and the numbers started growing.
“We want to keep going in that direction.”
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period went from Aug. 30-Oct. 16 and the Warriors took full advantage of it.
“We had a very good turnout,” says Floor. “We averaged 16 to 18 guys (in twice-weekly two-hour sessions) — about triple from last year.”
Since North Miami is a small school with many fall athletes, one of the sessions was held on Saturday afternoons so it did not interrupt football activities.
North Miami (enrollment around 290) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).
Based on the IHSAA Portal, Maconquah and Peru are the largest TRC schools with around 660 students reach, followed by Tippecanoe Valley (around 570), Rochester (around 510), Manchester (around 500), Wabash (around 470) and Whitko (around 450). Below North Miami are Northfield (around 275) and Southwood (around 230).
“For a 1A school it’s one of the tougher conferences,” says Floor.
In 2021, the Warriors were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North White, Northfield, Pioneer, Southwood and West Central.
Warrior Field — on the North Miami campus — has received upgrades in recent years, including new layers of soil. Last year, a nine-inning scoreboard and flagpole was installed. This year warning tracks, dugouts and bullpens are getting facelifts.
The setting includes pine trees circling much of the outfield.
“Its come a long way,” says Floor. “It is one of the most beautiful fields you can play on.”
Floor’s assistants are Peru graduate Josh Donathan and North Miami alums Pat Masters and Chad Wright. Masters is a senior at Manchester University. Wright lead the JV Warriors.
Besides the middle school teams, North Miami Youth League, a Town & Country Baseball-sanctioned organization in Denver, feeds the high school.
The diamond is in Floor’s blood.
“My entire family has been a baseball family,” says Floor, a 1988 graduate of Manchester High School in North Manchester, Ind.
While he did not play the game in high school, Shannon did suit up until 16 and began coaching at 20.
Shannon (51) is the oldest of three sons born to Gene (now deceased) and Rita (now known as Rita Slater and living in North Manchester) and is six year older than Shawn and eight older than Shane.
Shawn Floor, who coached with Shannon, has two boys who played at Wabash High School and the next level — Jordan Floor at Jackson (Mich.) College and Trevor Floor at Indiana Wesleyan University.
Shane Floor played, but has not done much coaching. He has girls who are not into sports.
For as long as he’s coached baseball, Shannon Floor has been a cattle farmer — the last 15 years with his own farm.
Shannon and wife Amy have been married of 17 years. Their sons are junior Kolton (17), eighth grader Karter (14) and fifth grader Keaton (10). Kolton Floor has been with the Summit City Sluggers since 8. The other two play baseball and other sports.

The scoreboard and flagpole at scenic Warrior Field at North Miami Middle/High School in Denver, Ind.
Assistant coach Pat Masters, senior Tyler Bauer, head coach Shannon Floor, senior Alex Masters and assistant coach Josh Donathan at the 2021 North Miami Middle/High School baseball awards program.

Littlejohn emphasizes fun, aggressiveness for Tippecanoe Valley

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

Just six seasons after playing his last baseball season at Tippecanoe Valley High School new Akron and Mentone in Indiana, Jarred Littlejohn became the Vikings head coach for 2021 after two years as junior varsity coach on Greg Prater’s staff.
As he prepares for 2022, the former four-year outfielder tells what is important to him while leading the Valley program.
“Our biggest thing is to make sure the kids are loose and having fun,” says Littlejohn. “If they’re tight, they’re not going to perform.
“On offense, we want to be aggressive and get the pitch we’re looking for. On every pitch, we have an approach. We know we’re not going to be perfect.”
And then there’s the moundsmen.
“Pitching last year was the best part of our game,” says Littlejohn. “We knew what was working and stayed with it. Work ahead and don’t get behind in the count.
“We had a good defense behind us. (Pitchers) knew we could make the plays in the field.”
Littlejohn played for three coaches in high school — Ryan Moore his freshmen year, Brandon Cody as a sophomore and junior and Justin Brannock as a senior.
“There has not been much stability in the baseball program,” says Littlejohn. “We’re going to try to bring that back.”
Assisting Littlejohn, a machinist at Craig Welding & Manufacturing in Mentone, is Anthony Newcomer and Mike Bowers.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period opened Aug. 30 and closes Oct. 16. Littlejohn has been conducting open fields and weightlifting program that has consistently had six to 12 participants.
Tippecanoe Valley (enrollment around 570) has many baseball players involved in fall sports.
In 2021, there were 26 players taking part in varsity and JV games. The varsity went 12-12.
The Vikings are a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with along with Maconaquah, Manchester, North Miami, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Wabash and Whitko).
Last season, Valley was part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Wawasee and West Noble.The Vikings have won five sectional titles — the last in 2012.
Tippecanoe Valley is fed by youth leagues in Akron and Mentone. Those organizations are a part of Town & Country Baseball of Indiana.
Tanner Andrews, who is now a pitcher in the Miami Marlins organization, is a 2014 graduate who was selected in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Purdue University.
Littlejohn says right-hander Owen Kirchenstien (Class of 2022) is expected to commit to junior college baseball.

Jarred Littlejohn.
Jarred Littlejohn.

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).

IHSBCA selects 2021 North/South All-Stars

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

The same week the IHSAA crowns four state champions in Indianapolis, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association will conduct its North/South All-Star Series in Evansville.
State Finals are Monday and Tuesday, June 21-22 at Victory Field with the games to be set after semistates.
The IHSBCA will hold its all-star game festivities Friday through Sunday, June 25-27 at the University of Evansville and historic Bosse Field.
Practice is at U of E’s German American Bank Field at Charles H. Braun Stadium (North workout at 3:15 p.m. Central Time, South workout at 5 Central) followed by the all-star banquet at Crescent Center at Milestones at 7 Central.
A noon doubleheader is slated for Saturday at Braun Stadium with a wood-bat single game on Sunday at Bosse Field at 11 a.m. Central. Holiday Inn Express East, 220 Kirkwood Drive, is the team hotel.
The North leads 68-63 in the all-time series.
Indiana all-stars are seniors nominated by IHSBCA members and selected by a committee.
In addition, the IHSBCA Futures Game (non-seniors) is to be staged in Evansville Wednesday, June 28.

IHSBCA NORTH/SOUTH ALL-STAR SERIES
2021 Rosters
North
Pitchers
Rex Stills (Wheeler)
Coley Stevens (Leo)
Bryce Schaum (Munster)
x-Grant Comstock (Valparaiso)
Logan Nickel (Westfield)
x-Kyle Tupper (South Bend St. Joseph)
x-Garrett Harker (Lebanon)
x-Carter Doorn (Lake Central)
Khal Stephen (Seeger)
Catchers
Karson Kennedy (Harrison of West Lafayette)
Jaden Deel (Hobart)
x-Jacob Loftus (Peru)
First Basemen
Matt Dobuck (Plymouth)
Alex Farr (Southwood)
Second Basemen
x-Kameron Salazar (Wawasee)
Riley Western (Western)
Shortstops
A.J. Bordenet (Lafayette Central Catholic)
Gavin Noble (Wapahani)
Third Basemen
Rocco Hanes (Norwell)
Aric Ehmke (DeKalb)
Outfielders
Sergio Lira Ayala (NorthWood)
x-Carter Mathison (Homestead)
x-Caleb Koeppen (Lafayette Jeff)
Jared Comia (Hanover Central)
Flex
Cal Curiel (Crown Point)
Head Coach
Tim Bordenet (Lafayette Central Catholic head coach)
Assistants
Steve Strayer (Crown Point head coach)
Nick Byall (Homestead head coach)
Shawn Harkness (Homestead assistant)
South
Pitchers
Cal Shepherd (Lawrence North)
x-Luke Hayden (Edgewood)
x-Chris Gallagher (Indianapolis Cathedral)
Drue Young (Center Grove)
x-Luke Leverton (Seton Catholic)
Nate Dohm (Zionsville)
x-Kyler McIntosh (Columbus North)
x-Holden Groher (Silver Creek)
Brady Linkel (South Ripley)
Catchers
Evan Waggoner (Bedford North Lawrence)
x-Hunter Dobbins (Mt. Vernon of Fortville)
Pierson Barnes (Riverton Parke)
First Basemen
C.J. Richmond (Park Tudor)
Parker Allman (Lapel)
Middle Infielders
x-Henry Brown (Evansville Central)
Nick Mitchell (Carmel)
x-Colson Montgomery (Southridge)
Andrew Oesterling (Oldenburg Academy)
Camden Gasser (Southridge)
Third Basemen
Jack Moroknek (Brebeuf Jesuit)
Nick Sutherlin (Greencastle)
Outfielders
Blake Herrmann (Castle)
Reid Cleary (East Central)
Ty Rumsey (Evansville North)
Parker Harrison (Columbus East)
Flex
Eli Watson (Providence)
Head Coach
Chris McIntyre (New Albany head coach)
Assistants
Ben McDaniel (Columbus North head coach)
Paul Quinzer (Mount Vernon of Posey head coach)
Chris Schaefer (Evansville Memorial assistant)
x-Denotes District Players of the Year.

Hardy counts honesty, positivity among core values for Pioneer Panthers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh Hardy is in his first season as head baseball coach at Pioneer Junior-Senior High School in Royal Center, Ind.

The core values that Hardy teaches to his Panthers were borrowed from his college football coach, Colin Bruton of Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wis.

They are honesty, selflessness, relentlessness, competitiveness and positivity.

“On the baseball side, we stress offense and being aggressive,” says Hardy. “We’ve got to score runs to win games.”

A 2012 graduate of Logansport (Ind.) High School where he won two letters each in football, wrestling and baseball, Hardy credits two former Berries head baseball coaches — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr. plus Jim Turner Jr. — as well as current Logansport bench boss Dan Frye, Craig Crozier and Jon Vernon for adding to his diamond knowledge.

“I’ve learned that the main thing is to be patient with players and even other coaches,” says Hardy. “And to study the game.”

Hardy has received plenty of pointers from Turner Sr., on how to run a practice.

Prior to taking over the Pioneer program, Hardy coached in the Logansport Lookouts travel organization.

In Hardy’s first season, Pioneer has 32 players for varsity and junior varsity squads. 

Assistant coaches include Jacob Hardy (Josh’s younger brother), Cory Harmon, Darrell Couch and Miles VonTobel.

Jacob Hardy, who played baseball at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind., works with pitchers and catcher. He is a Logansport alum as are Harmon and Couch. VonTobel is a 2020 Pioneer graduate.

Pioneer (enrollment around 300) is a member of the Hoosier North Athletic Conference (with Caston, Culver Community, Knox, LaVille, North Judson-San Pierre, Triton and Winamac).

HNAC teams play each other twice — usually on back-to-back weekdays or in Saturday doubleheaders.

Following this format places an emphasis on pitching depth rather than riding one arm to a conference championship.

“We’re fortunate to have a pretty decent amount of arms,” says Hardy. 

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston (the 2021 host), Northfield, North Miami, North White, Southwood and West Central. Pioneer won its lone sectional crown in 2016.

Pioneer’s home field is on-campus. There are plans to add a new batting cage and to improve the playing surface.

The Panthers’ program is fed by the middle school (one seventh/eighth grade team) plus the Pioneer Youth League in Royal Center and a Pioneer team in the Logansport Babe Ruth League.

Hardy earned a business management degree from Lakeland in 2016 followed by a masters in business in 2018. He also helped coach the Muskies when his four years as a pass catcher were done.

He now teaches business and computer science at Pioneer while also assisting head football coach Adam Berry. 

The Panthers are 64-5 over the past five gridiron seasons with a state runner-up finish in 2016, state championships in 2017 and 2018 and a regional crown in 2020.

Josh Hardy (right) is head baseball coach at Pioneer Junior-Senior High School in Royal Center, Ind. One of his assistant is brother Jacob Hardy (left).

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.

Indiana Wesleyan’s Holtzleiter sees building rapport with players as coaching key

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coaches are in the people business.

To develop the athletes in their charge to the fullest, they must know what makes them tick.

Kris Holtzleiter, the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Indiana Wesleyan University baseball program, discovered this before he was still a player at the NAIA school in Marion and he has applied it at his coaching stops.

He grew up in Upland, Ind., and attended Eastbrook High School outside Marion, graduating in 2002. Brian Abbott was the Panthers head coach and lefty-throwing Holtzleiter was a center fielder and pitcher.

“He was a great mentor,” says Holtzleiter of Abbott, who has long been pitching coach at Huntington University and the executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association. “He understand how to communicate with people and build relationships.

“Relationships are the fundamental piece to coaching baseball. It’s the whole purpose behind it.”

Holtzleiter played four seasons and graduated from Indiana Wesleyan. The first few years, Mike Burchette served as pitching coach after that Wildcats head coach Mark DeMichael used student assistants.

“He did not have a ton of resources at the time,” says Holtzleiter of DeMichael, who is now the school’s athletic director. “He was basically running the entire program by himself.

“Looking back, I am incredibly impressed. You have to be really organized to run a two-hour practice and do everything by yourself.”

Holtzleiter’s first two years in coaching were 2010 and 2011 at Eastbrook. The first year he was a varsity assistant and the second head junior varsity coach.

He was an IWU assistant to head coach Chad Newhard from August 2011 to December 2012 and was then hired as head coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School near Wabash, Ind. He led the Knights for four seasons (2013-16).

The year before he arrived, Southwood went 1-26 and it had been many years since the Knights had won as many as 10 games in a season.

“There was not many expectations,” says Holtzleiter. “I began finding out what their goals were — individually and as a team.

“The biggest thing I learned (at Southwood) was about communicating and building relationships with the kids. If you do that, they’ll respond well to you.”

Holtzleiter guided the 2014 squad to the program’s first sectional championship in 11 years. The 2015 and 2016 clubs won back-to-back Three Rivers Conference titles. Several players went on to college baseball.

From there, Holtzleiter went back to Indiana Wesleyan to join a coaching staff led by Rich Benjamin.

He found another coach with the same foundation.

“He desires relationships,” says Holtzleiter of Benjamin. “He’s a good communicator. He wants to communicate openly and be honest with his guys.

“He’s also open about his faith.”

Through a common friend, Benjamin invited former National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to lead a team devotional via video conference. Because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that shortened the 2020 season to 19 games (the Wildcats went 10-9), coaches and players were communicating while practicing social distancing leading up to spring term finals last week.

The coaching staff, which also includes Brice Davis and Eric George, is now focused on recruiting at a time when players who lost most of this past season have been granted an extra year of eligibility.

“We try to find guys from multiple avenues that fit our program,” says Holtzleiter. “We look for guys who want to take a stride in their faith, are strong academically and can really play.

“This is an uncertain time for players, especially for (the classes of) 2020 and 2021).”

IWU’s staff will look at area high school players as well as transfers and those from the junior college ranks. This season, the Wildcats roster sported two players from Puerto Rico.

As pitching coach, Holtzleiter uses a mix of old school and new school.

Rapsodo is used to capture video to help pitchers with their delivery, sequencing, command and pitch design.

“We also work with feel to see why their pitches have certain movement and make adjustments,” says Holtzleiter, who has seen the Wildcats win 96 games since 2017. “It’s important for guys to pitch to their skill set and develop their strengths.

“Too many guys want to attack the opponents’ weaknesses instead of developing their strengths.”

Kris and Jessica Holtzleiter have two children — son Jackson (9) and daughter Madison (6).

KRISHOLTZLEITER1

 

Kris Holtzleiter, an Indiana Wesleyan University graduate, is pitching coach/recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats baseball program. (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)

 

Kiifner wants South Newton Rebels to be strong up the middle

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A border town will play more baseball in 2019 on the side of the state line where it plays its home games.

South Newton High School, located in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland, went 17-10 in 2018 and played 15 games against Illinois high schools.

After three seasons in the Illinois-based Sangamon Valley Conference (current members are Cissna Park, Clifton Central, Dwight, Iroquois West, Momence, Paxton-Buckey-Loda and Watseka), South Newton (enrollment around 190) is a member of the Midwest Conference (with Indiana schools Frontier, North Newton, North White, Tri-County and West Central).

Jim Kiifner, a 1984 graduate of Sheldon (Ill.) High School (now consulted into Milford Township), is entering his 10th season on the South Newton coaching staff — his third as head coach.

The 2019 Rebels — led by Kiifner and assistants Jason Krug (third season), Ricky Montemayer (fourth season) and Conner Ulmer (first season) — are scheduled to play 23 varsity and 13 junior varsity contests. Ulmer, a 2013 South Newton graduate, is a teacher while the others are lay coaches. Kiifner works in a warehouse for DuPont Corporation.

“My boss allows me to be a little flexible,” says Kiifner. “It also helps that I work in the Eastern Time Zone and coach in the Central Time Zone.

“I gain an hour.”

South Newon’s non-conference varsity opponents include Attica, Benton Central, Fountain Central, Frontier, Kankakee Valley and Seeger in Indiana and Cissna Park, Milford Township, Momence and Watseka in Illinois.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, Southwood and West Central. South Newton has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2017. That year, the Rebels advanced to the semistate for the first time, losing to eventual state runner-up Rossville at Plymouth.

“We’ve been pretty successful the last four years,” says Kiifner, 52. “We get a lot of fan support.”

Athletic budgets at the small school are supplemented through community fundraisers.

Kiifner was coaching in the Travelers Babe Ruth League when then-South Newton head coach Ron Benakovich invited him to join his staff. Benakovich led the Rebels from 2009-12 and Glenn Donahue from 2013-16 before Kiifner took over the as leader of the program in 2017.

“I want the kids to have the most fun as possible,” says Kiifner. “Discipline is a big thing. But I don’t like to be a brow beater.”

Program numbers are up to 23 with 11 newcomers.

“We’re working to get them up to speed on what we expect and do,” says Kiifner, who had a veteran team the past two seasons. The 2018 squad had six seniors and three juniors in the starting lineup.

Kiifner says he wants his teams to be strong up the middle on defense.

“Defend the middle first and work your way out,” says Kiifner. “(Pitchers are asked to) throw strikes and let the defense do the work behind them.”

With that in mind, South Newton has junior Austin Miller and sophomore Brandon Gilliam in the mix at catcher, senior Levi Sample and freshman Kayden Cruz at shortstop and Cruz and junior Terron Welsh in center field.

Senior left-hander Riley Patterson is the top returning pitcher who also plays first base. Senior Tyler Martell is at second base and freshman Kellen Krug at third base. Senior Ben Bryant is a candidate to play a corner outfield spot.

Offensive approach depends on personnel. Kiifner says the Rebels are transitioning from a power team to more of a small-ball squad.

The Hammel brothers have taken their pitching talents from South Newton to the college level.

Junior left-hander Jarrett Hammel started at Saint Joseph’s College and is now at Valparaiso University.

Freshman Jay Hammel was an all-state third baseman as junior, all-state first baseman as a senior and became the school’s second Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series player (Trent Smith was the first in 1990) and is now a freshman right-hander at Quincy (Ill.) University.

Trent Smith is the brother of Tracy Smith, a South Newton graduate who played at Miami University in Ohio and in the Chicago Cubs system before head coaching assignments at Miami University-Hamilton, Indiana University and Arizona State University. Smith’s 2019 Sun Devils were off to a 22-1 start.

Rebel Field, located on the South Newton campus, is a small non-lighted diamond with the distance down the foul lines at 272 feet to right field and 300 to left. Kiifner says there is talk about moving the fences back in the future.

With the school and field sitting in the midst of farm land, it is a breezy place.

“The are winds always blowing,” says Kiifner. “And it’s either too hot or too cold.”

Sheldon was a school of less than 100 students and baseball was a fall sport where there was no football team. Kiifner’s baseball coach was John Spezia, who has gone on to win more than 500 games as a basketball coach.

“He broke down fundamentals really well and brought it to your level,” says Kiifner of Spezia. “He tried not to overwhelm (his players).”

Jim and Madonna Kiifner have been married for 26 years. They have two sons who both played baseball at South Newton — William (24) and Luke (22).

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This is the 2019 South Newton High School Rebels baseball team.

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South Newton won a sectional and regional baseball title in 2017.

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Jim Kiifner is the head baseball coach at South Newton High School in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland.

 

Stambazze keeping minds in motion for Whitko Wildcats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-year head coach Bob Stambazze says he wants his baseball players at Whitko Junior-Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., to process the game.

“Your mind is constantly in motion,” says Stambazze. “We do chalk talk and go through (defensive) scenarios. Every play, everyone has a responsibility. Who to back up is so important in this game.

“Remember, back-ups are your last line of defense.”

Stambazze says he wants to establish a solid base for the program in years to come.

“They can say I did it the right way and they can build off of that,” says Stambazze.

A familiar face and voice to athletics in the area covered by the Three Rivers Conference (Fulton, Kosciusko, Miami, Wabash and Whitley counties), Stambazze also serves as sports director and play-by-play announcer for WJOT-FM 105.9 in Wabash and WARU-FM 101.9 in Peru.

He was hired for the baseball job at Whitko this winter after the unexpected passing of head coach Mark Fisher at 35 on Oct. 15, 2018.

“Mark said he got into coaching for how I treated him in Little League,” says Stambazze. “I want to continue what he tried to set up.”

Fisher played for Stambazze as a boy in Huntington County Baseball and was close with Bob and Marla Stambazze’s sons, Jake and Bobby. Both sons are married with two children. Jake Stambazze played multiple positions for Indiana Tech coach Steve Devine and was an NAIA All-America honorable mention for the Warriors in Fort Wayne in 2005.

Bob Stambazze played baseball at Huntington North High School, where he graduated in 1971. The first three years, Paul Buzzard was Vikings head coach. Wally Stoffel began in Stambazze’s senior season and took the team all the way to semistate.

Stambazze counts Don Sherman, Chuck Brimbury and Mike Frame as mentors.

At Huntington North, Stambazze competed against Tipton High School and then-Blue Devils head coach Sherman. It wasn’t long after that Sherman became head coach at Huntington North and went on to a successful career that got him elected to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

In Sherman, Stambazze saw a fierce competitor and someone devoted to baseball basics.

“He was very intense and everything had to be fundamental,” says Stambazze. “Like he did, I teach (fielders) to track the ball into the glove and ‘gator’ the ball with your right hand and glove. You always used two hands.”

Brimbury coached at Huntington North with Sherman then enjoyed his own success at Peru High School.

“I don’t know if anybody will play as aggressively as a Chuck Brimbury team,” says Stambazze. “He’s one of the more competitive and fun coaches to be around.”

Stambazze credits long-time Huntington University head baseball coach Frame for setting an example of how to handle pitchers and student-athletes.

“He was pitcher and he’s a student of pitching,” says Stambazze of Frame. “He does such a wonderful job with his staff. He has minimized stuff with his staff so they can do more. He breaks things down.

“His faith toward his players, it’s so important. I’ve always believed in telling parents, ‘they’re your sons and daughters, but they’re always going to be my kids.’”

Stambazze sold sporting goods for 32 years. He’s been an IHSAA-licensed official since 1975. This school year, he worked about 20 football games and eight basketball contests. He will be occupied this spring so he won’t be calling softball.

As for calling games on the radio, he does that for high schools in Wabash and Howard counties and Manchester University football and basketball.

“No one has more fun doing it than I do,” says Stambazze, who went on the air 13 years ago as a color commentator and moved over to play-by-play when there was an opening for that position. Uniquely, his color person rotates by the game.

“I’ve had moms work games with me, but they had to keep all the stats,” says Stambazze, who earned the Virgil Sweet Distinguished Service Award from the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association in 2015.

He calls 80 to 90 basketball games a year between high school varsity and junior varsity and college. This past sectional season saw him pull through while dealing with acute laryngitis. He also hosts a weekly Coaches’ Show for during football and basketball seasons.

Stambazze was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1972 and served in Germany. where he played basketball, managed the AYA on base and coached swimming. He played for the Germany/American baseball team in the world tournament in Nicargua in 1973 and coached the European 14-16 All-Stars to the Big League World Series in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1974.

After his military service, Stambazze played in three world fast pitch softball tournaments and also served as Huntington County Baseball president. He has been head softball coach at Huntington University and an assistant at Indiana Tech and Wabash High School.

Stambazze took over the Wildcats in time to help with some winter workouts. His assistant is Preston Myers, who made a long daily commute from Lebanon, Ind., to assist with the Northfield High School boys basketball program and is doing the same with Whitko baseball.

There have been 26 players with just two seniors at recent practices for varsity and junior varsity teams.

“We have a good JV schedule with about 20 games,” says Stambazze.

Whitko (enrollment around 460) will compete in the TRC with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Wabash.

Non-conference opponents include Adams Central, Bellmont, Bluffton, Churubusco, Heritage, Lakeland, Lakewood Park Christian, New Haven, Prairie Heights, Southern Wells, Wawasee and West Noble.

The Wildcats are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lewis Cass, Manchester, Oak Hill, Rochester and Wabash. Whitko won the program’s lone sectional crown in 2017 with Erik Hisner as head coach and Fisher as one of his assistants. Hisner then went to Northfield as an assistant and is now athletic director at Eastern High School in Greentown, Ind.

Whitko plays its home games on-campus. Since his youth, Stambazze has known the importance of grooming the diamond.

“I’ve always taken care of the field,” says Stambazze. “That kind of comes naturally to me. Our kids do a very good job. They had the rakes in their hands after practice.

“You’ve got to own your program.”

Stambazze has held a clinic for the Larwill youth baseball league and hopes to do the same for youth leagues in Pierceton and South Whitley. Those organizations cover T-ball to Pony League.

There is currently not junior high baseball at Whitko, but it’s something that Stambazze and athletic director Josh Mohr have talked about.

Stambazze opposes some of the rule changes Major League Baseball is implementing like limiting pitching changes and the like.

“MLB doesn’t need to manage the game,” says Stambazze. “That’s part of baseball. They’re trying to take the human element out of the game. That’s the greatest part of the game. Leave it alone.”

The coach does favor the idea of high school batters staying in the batter’s box and the pitchers not taking too much time between deliveries.

“You want to have a flow to the game,” says Stambazze.

The IHSAA pitch count (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) came along in 2017 and Stambazze favors that. Prior to the restriction, he broadcast games when pitchers representing the same school threw 225 and 175 pitches in tournament play.

Scrimmage rules allow for four innings of 10 batters each. Stambazze says he is planning to use 10 pitchers for four batters apiece in Whitko’s scrimmage and then restrict them to 45 tosses in each of the Wildcats’ first two regular-season games and work up from there.

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BOBSTAMBAZZE

Bob Stambazze is entering his first season as head baseball coach at Whitko Junior-Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., in 2019. He is a Huntington North High School graduate and is sports director and play-by-play announcer for sports director and play-by-play announcer for WJOT-FM 105.9 in Wabash and WARU-FM 101.9 in Peru. (Jan’s Photography Photo)

Rupley, Manchester Squires value baseball smarts

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jack Rupley began learning about the details of baseball decades ago from a man named Karl Merritt.

Merritt was the head baseball coach at Manchester High School in the Wabash County town of North Manchester. Rupley (Class of 1975) was one of his players.

“He taught us a lot of the intricacies of the game, which I try to pass along now,” says Rupley, who became Manchester Junior-Senior High School’s head coach in 1998 after a few seasons as an assistant. “It’s just knowledge of the game and see how the game unfolds. It’s baseball savvy. It’s baseball intelligence.”

Like Merritt, Rupley wants his Squires to carry a high Baseball I.Q.

“Every time that ball’s hit, everybody has a place to go,” says Rupley, repeating something that Merritt emphasized to his defenders. When it comes to fielding, if your feet aren’t right, your throw probably isn’t going to be very good.

“We work really hard and getting the feet set and going in the right direction.”

Next week, the Squires will be divided by positions. Shortstops and second baseman will get in plenty of double play flips and work on correctly back-handing the ball.

Infielders will rehearse their timing.

“A timing mechanism has to go off in your head,” says Rupley. “If I bobble the ball, do I still have a chance to get the guy at first? Our philosophy is if you can’t get rid of the ball in three seconds from the crack, you may not get the guy out because a decent speed from home to first is four seconds.”

Manchester plays on its campus on Faudee Field (named for former coach at Chester Township High School and the first athletic director at Manchester, Gerald “Doe” Faudee).

The diamond has a generous amount of foul territory. For that reason, making accurate throws and backing up throws is extra-important.

“We don’t want to compound a mistake by hurrying and making a bad throw and giving that guy second base,” says Rupley. “If a right fielder’s being lazy and not getting over there to help out, you might give them third.

“Baseball doesn’t change. Yeah, kids are bigger and stronger. But if you can throw the ball, hit the ball and catch the ball better than the other team, you’re going to be a pretty good shape.”

Manchester works hard on fundamentals in practice, going through fly ball, ground ball, bunting and hitting stations.

Merritt was a strong believer in the bunt game. Everyone on the roster had to be able to execute when called upon to put one down.

“We bunt almost everyday,” says Rupley. “We put the pressure on the defense. We make that pitcher think about getting off the mound in a hurry.”

Rupley teaches these lessons with the help of assistants Matt Carver, Stacey Clark and Luke Helton.

Carver played for Rupley at Manchester. Clark represented the Squires on the diamond before Rupley’s time as head coach. Helton, a Manchester University student, played at Tippecanoe Valley High School and briefly for Manchester U.

Rupley really incorporates the bunt. In fact, his team bunted well enough and got enough timely hits, strong defense and solid pitching during the 2002 postseason to claim an IHSAA Class 2A state championship.

“We ran the bases like a Banshee,” says Rupley. “We might as well be aggressive. What do we have to lose?”

Manchester got off to a 4-13 start in 2002 and was 6-17 going into sectional play. But nine of those losses were by one or two runs.

“We had been in most every game we played,” says Rupley. “I told (my team), all we have to do is just relax and go play. What happened before doesn’t matter.

“Everything just clicked.”

The team, which included Ryan Roth (now co-head coach at Grace College), topped No. 3-ranked Batesville 9-8 in the championship game. Josh Staton got the mound victory and Todd Dale earned the save.

Baseball participation numbers at Manchester have gone up and down. Rupley has had as few as 20 players for varsity and junior varsity squads. In 2018, he had 26 and expects to have 27 or 28 in 2019.

“That’s about the right number for us,” says Rupley. “We don’t have enough kids to have a C-team or freshmen team. We’re not big enough.”

Everyone has a role.

“I sit them all down individually and tell them where I think they’re at,” says Rupley. “I ask them what position they want to play. I tell the kids up front, ‘listen, you may have two kids in front of you that are better at that position. But we may ask you to step somewhere else and help us out.’”

Lending a few more opportunities for players to participate is the rule that allows courtesy runners for the pitcher and catcher.

Rupley also wants his players to know the importance of being a student-athlete.

“I tell the kids, first and foremost, you’re in school to get an education,” says Rupley. “Grades are important because you use your brain the rest of your life.”

The coach notes that the percentage of going on to the next level is pretty minimal.

“I want them to be a good citizen — in and out of school,” says Rupley. “When you’re on that team you represent your parents, you represent the team and your represent the community.”

He also lets his young athletes know that life is full of adversity and the teen years are a time to learn about responsibility.

“Not everything is going to go your way,” says Rupley. “You have to understand that mom and dad aren’t always going to be there to make decisions for you. You’ve got to learn to make your own decisions and stand on your own two feet.

“I tell the kids, I know there are days when you’re not going to be at your best. But all I’m going to do is give me your best effort everyday.”

Manchester (enrollment around 510) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).

The Squires’ 2019 non-conference foes include Blackford, Caston, Central Noble, Churubusco, Columbia City, DeKalb, Eastern, Fort Wayne Wayne, Heritage, Oak Hill, Taylor and Wawasee.

The Wabash County Tournament (Manchester, Northfield, Southwood, Wabash) was suspended a few years ago since the teams already met in conference and sectional play.

When Rupley went to Manchester, conference games were played in the summer after the IHSAA state tournament series. At that time, the Squires played a double round robin in the Northern Lakes Conference through mid-July. There were a dozen or so non-conference games in the spring prior to the sectional.

If Rupley could change anything about Indiana baseball it would be to make the start of the season later.

“The weather is so unpredictable,” says Rupley. “To me, baseball is a warm weather sport.”

Recent Manchester graduate Hayes Sturtsman is on the baseball team at Indiana Tech. Seniors Mason Meyer (Grace College) and Grant Strobel (Ivy Tech Northeast) have made college baseball commitments.

Rupley says he will do what he can to help players who want to play college ball. He also explains what it entails.

“It’s going to be a lot different than what it is here,” says Rupley. “It’s 10-month commitment.

“It might be a lot harder physically and a little harder mentally, too. There are a whole bunch of guys who were good at their high school.

“It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work.”

Rupley saw that firsthand. Jack and Cathy Rupley have three sons — Keith (Manchester Class of 1996), Kory (2000) and Klint (2001). Keith played football at Earlham College while the other two played on the gridiron at Anderson University.

Jack Rupley was an assistant football coach at Manchester for 30 years. He has been IHSAA-licensed basketball official since 2000. He is the maintenance director at Manchester while Cathy is a cook.

Columbus East High School head coach Jon Gratz played for Rupley and graduated in 2001. Rupley-coached Dan Jones is a former head coach at LaVille High School.

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Jack Rupley has been head baseball coach at Manchester Junior-Senior High School in North Manchester, Ind., since 1998. He is a 1975 graduate of the school.