Tag Archives: Sullivan County

Reynolds, Dugger Union Bulldogs eager for 2022 season

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

Creating confidence is major goal for Phillip Reynolds as head baseball coach for Dugger (Ind.) Union Junior/Senior High School.
“I don’t focus on the X’s and O’s as much as some coaches do,” says Reynolds, who has been in charge of the Bulldogs program since just before the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020 after a season as an assistant coach. “I buy into my players and give them the tools to build themselves. If they don’t believe in themselves it doesn’t matter.
“We’re getting kids to step out of their comfort zone. They’re going through skill training and learning how to move their feet. We’re showing them they can hit a baseball. We’re building from the ground up here.”
Dugger Union won three games in 2021. That’s the highest total in years.
“All of my boys are excited to be back and go again (for 2022),” says Reynolds, who hopes to have around around 21 players for a varsity-only schedule this spring. “The boys are really starting to buy into the program. Three years ago we had just 11 kids.”
Dugger was formerly in the Northeast School Corporation of Sullivan County. In December 2013, NESC voted to close Union High School and Dugger Elementary. The school became a Grace College-affiliated charter school and operates as Dugger Union Community Schools. There are about 200 students in the top four grades.
“Dugger has come a long way from where it used to be,” says Reynolds. “The administration pushes the students to be the best they can be.”
The 2022 season will mark the last of the Bulldogs’ probation from IHSAA tournament play.
Located about 25 miles from the Indiana-Illinois State Line, Dugger Union holds membership in athletic conferences in both states — the Southern Roads Conference (with Cannelton, Columbus Christian, Christian Academy of Madison, Lighthouse Christian Academy of Bloomington, Medora, Pleasant View Christian of Montgomery and Seven Oaks Classical of Ellettsville) in Indiana and the Little Okaw Valley Conference (with Martinsville, Oblong-Palestine-Hutsonville and Red Hill) in Illinois. In the SRC, only Dugger Union, Cannelton and Columbus Christian currently have baseball.
Reynolds was born in Texas and moved around as an “U.S. Army brat.” He played Little League while living in Oklahoma. The 2001 graduate of nearby Linton-Stockton High School retired after a 12 1/2-year hitch in the Army — which include time in Georgia where he was a Little League coach — and is a substitute teacher at Dugger Union. The father of four from a previous marriage also enjoys hunting and fishing.
Phillip’s wife Joanie (who has a daughter living at home) is an assistant coach. He is looking to recruit more help.
The Bulldogs play on a field a half mile from the school. It is a community-shared field with a skinned infield.
“It is very, very fast,” says Reynolds. “We understand our field. I tell them at away games (on grass infields) it’s not going to come to them as fast as it is on our field.”
A local youth league goes to age 12.
“The last two years we were getting freshmen that haven’t played in a couple years,” says Reynolds. “I think we have enough for an actual junior high team this year.
“It’s baby steps.”
Dugger Union is scheduled to open the season March 29 against visiting Martinsville (Ill.). The Bulldogs have been invited to return to a tournament hosted by Evansville Bosse May 21.
In between, there are scheduled dates with Bosse, Cannelton, Cloverdale, Columbus Christian, Crothersville, Eastern Greene, Greencastle, Lawrenceville (Ill.), North Central (Farmersburg), North Vermillion, Oblong, Red Hill, Robinson, Shoals, Vincennes Rivet and Wood Memorial.

Dugger Union Bulldogs.
Dugger (Ind.) Union Junior/Senior High School head baseball coach Phillip Reynolds (left) talks to Andrew Smith and Jacob Brewer. (Laina Stringer Photography)
The 2021 Phillip Reynolds-coached Dugger (Ind.) Union Junior/Senior High School baseball team. (Laina Stringer Photography)

Kutch, North Central Thunderbirds enjoy competition

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

Joe Kutch has long taken a leadership role in youth sports in and around Sullivan County, Ind.
Kutch (pronounced Kootch) is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at North Central Junior/Senior High School in Farmersburg.
He was junior high coach for about five years before taking over the varsity Thunderbirds.
After years as an assistant, Kutch became North Central’s head football coach midway through the 2021 season. The Thunderbirds won their two sectional football titles with Kutch on the staff — 2018 as defensive coordinator and 2021 as head coach/offensive coordinator.
COVID-19 hit Kutch the first week of September and he was in the Intensive Care Unit for nine days and missed three football games. He is still on oxygen. But he still coaches, teaches Automotive classes at North Central (through a co-op with Ivy Tech in Terre Haute) and works for Sullivan Auto Group.
The Nashville (Tenn.) Auto-Diesel College graduate got his teacher’s license through Ball State University and began teaching eight years ago.
Kutch is an alum of Terre Haute North Vigo High School (Class of 1988). While still in high school he started organizing non-high school athletics.
As an adult, Kutch once ran the Northeast Youth League, Tri-Towers Softball League (which once had 500 players and was a pilot site for Major League Baseball’s Pitch, Hit & Run contest) and is still on the board of the Southwest Youth Football League (formerly Quad County).
Joe and Dianna Kutch have been married 28 years and have two sons — Austin Kutch (North Central Class of 2014) and Brayden Kutch (Class of 2017). Both played football and baseball for the Thunderbirds and graduated from college (Austin from Indiana State University and Brayden from Indiana University).
North Central (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eastern Greene, Linton-Stockton, North Daviess, Shakamak and White River Valley) for baseball and basketball.
Eastern Greene and Linton-Stockton have been IHSAA Class 2A schools on the diamond. Shakamak was a 1A state runner-up in 2021.
“I like the competition,” says Kutch, 52. “We take our sports serious. We compete every year in every sport.”
In 2021, the Thunderbirds were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eminence, Shakamak and White River Valley (the 2021 host). North Central has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2011.
During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, North Central has 26 athletes who have indicated that they plan to play baseball in the spring.
“Most of my key players are playing basketball, like six of the starting nine,” says Kutch. “(Our numbers) will will drop when we get to mandatory practice (March 14).”
Kutch, pitching coach Andy Fuson and hitting coach Brian Raber make up the current Thunderbirds staff. A few volunteers when official preseason practice begins.
The Thunderbirds play home games on-campus. A ball over the right field fence could reach U.S. 41.
A few years ago, infield dirt was upgraded. The facility has a grass infield with brick dust running lanes. About a decade, a brick press box was installed.
The high school shares the field with the independent junior high program.
“You need junior high baseball,” says Kutch. “You need a feeder system to keep your program going.”
Connor Strain, a 2012 North Central graduate, pitched at the University of Evansville and in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system.

North Central Thunderbirds.
Head coach Joe Kutch (left) and the North Central Thunderbirds.
Joe and Dianna Kutch.
Joe Kutch (foreground) with wife Dianna and sons Austin and Brayden.

Former North Central (Farmersburg), Evansville right-hander Strain now pitching in Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Strain’s baseball journey began in west central Indiana and it currently has him playing near the thumb in Michigan’s “mitten.”

Strain, who grew up in Sullivan County, Ind., played three varsity seasons at North Central High School in Farmersburg and five seasons at the University of Evansville, is now a Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand and a reliever for the Great Lakes Loons of the Low Class-A Midwest League.

A 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-hander, Strain regularly hits 92 to 95 mph on the radar gun with his sinking two-seam fastball. He also has a change-up and a “slurve” (combination slider and curve).

“I’m working on a true slider,” says Strain, 23. “I’ve been throwing 35 to 40 pitches on two days rest, depending on the situation.”

Strain was selected in the ninth round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers, but did not make it into a regular-season minor league game until 2018.

Going into play June 27, he was 2-0 with a 1.40 earned run average with 16 strikeouts and eighth walks in 19 1/3 innings. After suffering a groin injury in his second spring training outing, he was kept in Glendale, Ariz., for extended camp until making his Loons debut May 17.

“I’ve been focusing on keeping my body healthy,” says Strain, who was a starting pitcher at Evansville. “I’m working on getting a feel for my pitches during catch.”

What strikes him about the Midwest League?

“I was surprised with how nice the parks are in this league,” says Strain, who plays home games with the Loons at Dow Diamond.

Midland, Mich., is also closer to his hometown Shelburn, Ind., (about 450 miles) than Glendale.

Strain credits UE head coach Wes Carroll and pitching coach Cody Fick for advancing his development.

“Coach Carroll taught me the mentality of being comfortable while I’m uncomfortable,” says Strain, who pitched for the Purple Aces 2013-17 with 51 appearances (42 as a starter). “Throughout my college years I grew and learned how to handle things and how to compete and attack everything with the right mindset.”

Strain calls Fick the “biggest competitor I’ve ever been around.”

“He has an absolute will to win in everything he does,” says Strain of Fick. “He cares about the game about as much as anyone I’ve seen in my years in baseball.”

Done with class work as an accounting/business management major, Strain says he plans to do an internship in the off-season to complete his college degree. More than once, he was named to the Missouri Valley Conference Honor Roll.

At North Central, Strain lettered as a sophomore for Thunderbirds coach Darin Simpson then played his last two prep seasons for Craig Grow.

“(Grow) taught me how to enjoy the game,” says Strain. “He is one of the absolutely nicest human beings I’ve been around. He always has a smile on his face. He taught me to treat people the right way.”

As a North Central senior in 2012, Strain posted an ERA of 1.30 for 30 innings and he hit .398. As an all-stater, he had a 1.54 ERA in 70 1/3 innings and hit .451 as a junior. The Thunderbirds went 25-7 and were 2011 IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up.

Strain got his baseball start at Northeast Youth League and then played travel ball for the Farmersburg Outlaws.

Connor’s parents are Jeff Strain and Paula Strain. He has two brothers — fraternal twin Tyler Strain and Callan Strain.

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Connor Strain, a product of North Central (Farmersburg) High School and the University of Evansville, is now pitching in the Los Angeles Dodgers system with the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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Connor Strain delivers a pitch in 2018 for the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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As Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand, former North Central (Farmersburg) High School and University of Evansville pitcher is playing for the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons in Midland, Mich. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)