BY STEVE KRAH
Josh Cooper may have been appointed as head coach one week before the start of the 2022 New Castle (Ind.) High School baseball season, but he was already quite familiar with the players.
With the help of Rodney Scott, Cooper had coached or coached against many of the Trojans since they were 7 and saw them having success coming up through the ranks.
Eli Cooper, who is 18 and Josh’s son, is one of New Castle’s seniors.
“I know them very, very well,” says Josh Cooper of the Trojans. “It’s easy to read them. I always try to be honest and upfront with them.”
Cooper tells his players about the importance of being a good teammate. A player’s performance or game situation should not dictate that.
The players are very close. Each day after practice or a game, they spend more time together at a team members’ house or at a restaurant.
So when circumstances had the Trojans looking for someone to lead the program, 1998 New Castle graduate Cooper was encouraged to apply for the job.
That was mid-March. Flash forward to the present and the Trojans are in the semistate for the second time and first since 1996 (Josh Cooper was a sophomore on that team). Uncle Dennis Bolden was on the first semistate team in 1970 and later played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
Cut from basketball in the seventh grade, Josh focused on baseball and played high school ball for New Castle alum Gary Brown.
“He was a pretty hard-nosed coach and a good guy,” says Cooper of Brown.
On Saturday, June 11, New Castle (18-5-1) takes on No. 1-ranked Andrean (29-4) in the IHSAA Class 3A Kokomo Semistate (following the 1 p.m. 2A game). New Castle will be out to win its first semistate crown.
New Castle (enrollment around 900) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown).
In winning the 2022 Yorktown Sectional, New Castle topped Hamilton Heights 4-3, Jay County 6-2 and Guerin Catholic 3-2. To prevail at the Oak Hill Regional, the Trojans bested Wawasee 9-0 (Indiana University commit Aydan Decker-Petty pitched a 16-strikeout one-hitter) and held off Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger 5-4 (behind the pitching of Eli Cooper and Corbin Malott). Dwenger scored all its runs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“I put a lot of emphasis on pitching to contact and defense,” says Cooper. “But we also spend a lot of time working in hitting.”
Leading the offense is seniors Malott (.405 average, three home runs, 20 runs batted in, 18 stolen bases), Garrett Rusch (.324, 3 HR, 24 RBI), Bryce Jenkins (.296), Eli Cooper (.276, 3 HR, 23 RBI), Decker-Petty .262) and Jake Barber (.259, 22 RBI) and junior Max Upchurch (.239).
On the mound, the Trojans are guided by right-handers Decker-Petty 4-1, 2.64 earned run average, 91 strikeouts, 22 walks in 53 innings), Eli Cooper (5-1, 4.32, 66 K’s, 27 walks, 47 IP), senior Trighton Cummings 4-1, 5.32, 20 K’s, 17 walks, 25 IP) and Malott (2-2, 0.98, 34 K’s, 12 walks, 21 IP).
Josh Cooper says Decker-Petty has fastball that has touched 91 mph while Eli Cooper has gotten up to 88.
Malott is committed to Purdue University, Eli Cooper and Jenkins to Clark State College (Springfield, Ohio) and Rusch to Allen Community College (Iola, Kan.).
Nic Besecker (Class of 2020) was with Allen Community College in 2021 and Drew Barber (2019) was at Indiana University-Kokomo. The brother of Jake Barber intends to transfer to Indiana University South Bend.
Coaching New Castle’s pitchers is alum Trey Ball, who was the seventh overall selection in the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Boston Red Sox. The 6-foot-5 lefty pitcher/batter had committed to the University of Texas before going pro.
“Trey Ball has been so great,” says Cooper. “He brings a lot of great information.”
Scott, Tyler Smith, Zak Kellogg are also New Castle assistants. Scott digs in on analytics and scouting.
“He did a great job against Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger,” says Cooper.
A Parks and Recreation employee for the City of New Castle, Josh Cooper had established a junior high program last winter (there were 22 seventh graders and 16 eighth graders playing this spring) and was working hard to turn Denny Bolden Field — named for his grandfather who coached Babe Ruth ball in town for 50 years — into the home for junior varsity and junior high baseball when he was called to his current baseball post, turning his attention to the high school facility — revamped Collin McAtee Memorial Field (formerly Sunnyside Field).
Fencing, dugouts and scoreboard are all new. Turf Dawgs put down a bluegrass hybrid.
“I’m very thankful and the city is thankful for it,” says Cooper.
Because of the wet weather in the spring and the renovation project in progress, New Castle played just five games on their home field in 2022. Practices were held at Denny Bolden Field and “home” games were contested near Middletown, Ind., at Shenandoah High School, which is 15 miles from New Castle High. The Raiders are coached by Ryan Painter.
“They were unbelievable about helping us,” says Cooper. “Coach Painter was so gracious.”
As a thank you, Cooper is helping Painter with a field project at Shenandoah.