Tag Archives: Taylor University

Gould finds baseball players who fit Taylor Trojans program, keeps on winning

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Put a player in position to succeed and let him do it.

It’s long been a winning formula for Taylor University baseball.

“I try to look at what they do best and figure out how that can impact the game,” says Trojans head coach Kyle Gould. “I don’t care how a guy’s good. I just want to know that they are and they can play to their strengths.”

If a player can run or is exceptional on defense, how can his speed or defensive ability impact the game?

If a pitcher throws hard or a has a mean slider, how can he use those pitches to get hitters out?

“We want to get the best players we can,” says Gould. “As a coach, it’s my job to manage the talent we have.

“If a guy can really bunt for a hit, let him bunt. If he can drive a ball to the gap, let him drive the ball to the gap.”

Over the years, the Trojans have won with dominant pitching and with a deep, talented offensive lineup.

“It’s part of what makes baseball fun,” says Gould. “You can win a lot of different ways.”

Taylor (currently 24-9 overall, 4-4 in the Crossroads League and receiving votes in the NAIA national rankings) has enjoyed sustained excellence since Gould’s first season in 2005, winning just under 60 percent of its games.

In his 14th season, Gould’s career mark is 457-266-1 with 10 campaigns of 32 or more victories. The 2016 squad went 40-18-1 and set a single-season record for wins. Early in March, he surpassed Taylor Sports Hall of Famer Larry Winterholter (444 victories) to sit atop the baseball coaching win list at the school.

Gould, a 2002 Taylor graduate, has coached seven squads to league titles and produced six CL Players of the Year. Jared Adkins, who is a junior in 2018, was the honoree in 2017.

“Everything we do here is about development,” says Gould. “We’ve had a long run of success because our guys get better every year.”

Following an individualized program, Taylor players work in the weight room and on the practice field so they can contribute to the team.

When recruiting players, Gould and his assistants look for character first.

This is in line with the NAIA Champions of Character initiative, which places emphasis on respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership and sportsmanship.

“You ask our players what their No. 1 job is and they’d say, ‘be a good teammate,’” says Gould. “If you’re not a high-character person, you’re not going to value other people more than yourself.

“You’re going to be a great teammate here or you’re not going to fit in and it’s not going to work.”

Taylor coaches watch how potential recruits interact with their teammates and the way they respond to success and failure.

Gould and company often seek out the familiar.

“You want to find references who know the kid and know you and can evaluate whether it is the right fit or not,” says Gould. “Taylor is a great school. Baseball isn’t the only reason our guys are picking Taylor. They want to grow their faith. They want to get a great education. We sell all of that.”

Taylor, located in the Grant County town of Upland, Ind., has had all 18 of its intercollegiate athletic teams post grade-point averages over 3.0 in each of the past five years and led all NAIA schools in 2016-17 with 17 teams boasting GPA’s over 3.30.

Players work with advisors to get morning classes in the spring, so they’re academic life is interrupted as little as possible.

“We tell our guys that baseball is what you do, it’s not who you are,” says Gould. “We want guys who are passionate about the game. But if they are not interested in an actual education, this isn’t the right fit for them.

“We want our guys to graduate and go on and do things with their lives that matter.”

About 40 percent of the Taylor student body of around 1,900 are Indiana residents.

“We try to be open to the right kids,” says Gould. “We know what we want and we know when we find it.

“Whether that’s a kid from 10 miles down the road or 10 states away, it doesn’t matter.

“We try to do what we do as well as we can. It’s worked for us. I’m proud of the success we’ve had. I’m more proud of the people we’ve had.”

Outside of southern trips and league games, Taylor plays most of its games on the artificial turf at Winterholter Field, using the lights when necessary.

The Trojans played 32 games there in 2017 — far more home contests than any other league squad and likely more than most schools in the upper Midwest.

The 2018 Trojans are currently 17-1 on their home turf and also has three road wins against teams that were in the NAIA Top 25 when the game was played — No. 10 Keiser in West Palm Beach, Fla., No. 20 Campbellsville in Campbellsville, Ky., and No. 22 Indiana Tech in Columbia, Ky. The season opened with games in Florida against Florida Memorial, Keiser and Ave Maria.

“When we travel early, we don’t travel south to play northern teams,” says Gould. “We travel south to play southern teams. It’s one of our rules.

“We want to play good teams and we want to prepare ourselves to play well in the national tournament. We’ve never made it to the (NAIA) World Series. We’re going to continue to chip away until we make it.”

Taylor’s 30-game varsity roster features players with hometowns in nine different states, including Indiana (18), Ohio (3), Florida (2), Kentucky (2), Georgia (1), Illinois (1), Iowa (1) and Texas (1). There are also 15 junior varsity players, representing Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota Ohio and Wisconsin.

Through team’s first 33 games, junior Nathan Targgart (.400), senior Tanner Watson (.370), junior Cody Tait (.321) and sophomore Andrew Kennedy (.319) were the leaders in batting average. Targgart (24), Kennedy (20), Watson (20) and junior Wyatt Whitman (19) were the pacesetters in runs batted in. Adkins (19) led the way in stolen bases, followed by Whitman (15) and junior Josh Lane (15).

With Monday’s two-hit, 4-0 shutout of visiting Bethel, senior right-hander Matt Patton moved to 8-2 with a 1.72 earned run average. He struck out 13 and walked none against the Pilots, sending his season totals to 76 K’s and three walks (one intentional) in 62 2/3 innings (11 starts).

Nine other Taylor pitchers — all right-handers — had appeared in at least eight games.

Senior Rob Fox (0-1, 1 save, 3.65 ERA) has been called upon 19 times, followed by Patton and sophomore Mitch Ubelhor (2-0, 1 save, 0.48) with 12 apiece.

Freshman Luke Shively (4-0, 1 save, 2.49), junior Clay Riggins (3-0, 1 save, 2.36), freshman Drake Gongwer (0-0, 1 save, 2.57), freshman Kole Barkhaus (0-1, 1 save, 9.19 and sophomore eight-game starter Tucker Waddups (3-3, 2.91) have all taken the mound on nine occasions.

Kennedy (1-1, 1 save, 5.40) and senior Trevor Booth (1-0, 1 save, 5.68) have each toed the rubber in eight games.

Targgart played high school baseball at Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian. Watson (Elkhart Christian Academy), Kennedy (Northridge), Adkins (Whiteland), Patton (East Noble), Fox (Delta), Ubelhor (Avon), Riggins (Bloomington South), Gongwer (NorthWood), Barkhaus (Blackhawk Christian) and Waddups (Logansport) are also Indiana products.

Gould, who this year works with hitters and infielder, works with a coaching staff of Devin Wilburn (third season; pitching), Chad Newhard (second season; baserunners and catchers) Rick Atkinson (15th season; outfielders) and Lincoln Reed (second season). Atkinson is in both the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Grant County halls of fame.

Before playing at Taylor, Gould was an IHSAA Class 1A all-state catcher at Triton High School, where he graduated in 1998. His high school head coach was Jim Shively, father of current Trojan freshman Luke Shively.

“He was a really good coach and we did a lot of things offensively that were a little different at the time,” says Gould of Jim Shively. “We were really aggressive. We ran a lot. We hit for some power. We scored a lot of runs. We were difficult to defend and we won a lot of games doing it.

“He was really good at using the best athletes to maximize that.”

Shively coached Triton to a 1A state championship in 2001.

Gould is in his second year as athletic director at Taylor. Jess Fankhauser, a former softball pitching standout at Taylor, is the assistant AD.

“It’s mostly about managing time,” says Gould of juggling his administrative and coaching duties. “We have great group of people in the athletic department.

“It’s a team effort.”

Kyle and Kate Gould have a daughter — Penelope (2). On the day she was born — March 17, 2016 — Taylor won a pair of games in Indianapolis against Marian University with last at-bat home runs by Watson in Game 1 and Reed in Game 2.

“It’s a cool memory,” says Gould. “It’s also a great reminder that there is not one person that makes it all go. No one person is indespensible. The assistant coaches did a great job with the guys and they played really well.

“It’s true in all areas of life. None of us are as important as we think we are.”

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Kyle Gould, who graduated from Triton High School in 1998 and Taylor University in 2002, is in his 14th season as head baseball coach at Taylor. This spring, he surpassed Larry Winterholter for the top spot on the school’s baseball coaching win list. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Process among points of emphasis for Brabender, Northridge Raiders baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seeing the value in the process, staying with trends and building relationships.

That’s what baseball coaching is all about for Andrew Brabender, who enters his 11th season in charge at Northridge High School in 2018.

“I believe in the little things, the process of things,” says Brabender. “It’s getting kids to buy into doing the things that need to happen for the end result to happen. We’re not not looking toward the end result, but the little wins that happen throughout the process to get us to the end.

“I believe in staying current. It’s a great time to coach baseball. At the tips of your fingers you have Twitter, YouTube videos, apps and other gadgets.

“The guys on my staff are eager to learn and they really want to be current. What is the best stuff out there? What are the elite hitters doing? What are the elite throwers doing? What are the elite infielders doing and how do we make our kids do that?”

One way Brabender and his assistants — James Greensides, Dyrk Miller, Mike Miller, Blake Fry and Arick Doberenz — get players to focus on the path itself and not its end is the Raider Process Index, a system modified from Justin Dehmer and his 1 Pitch Warrior teachings.

“If we do this, this and this, the end result is going to take care of itself,” says Brabender, who has helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional championship (2015) and numerous conference titles.

The first section in the Raider Process Index is the Freebie War, which counts Northridge totals vs. opponents for errors, walks, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, strikeouts, stolen bases and dead-ball reads.

The second section is Pressure (or Press). Point totals are given for:

• Producing a big inning (10 points).

• Rally scored. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Eliminated rally scores. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Scored first. If Yes (10 points).

• Scored with two outs. If Yes (5 points).

The game goal is 30 points.

The third section is Quality At-Bats. QAB points can be given for a hard-hit ball (fly ball), freebie (walk, hit-by-pitch, error, catcher’s interference), moving a runner with no outs, a base hit or extra base hit, a six-pitch at-bat not ending in a strikeout and an nine-pitch at-bat even ending in a strikeout.

The overall RPI target is 48 points.

“We want to put pressure on the other team,” says Brabender. “We want to score first. We always want to have a shutdown inning after a big inning.

“This Raider Process Index is way for our kids to stay with the process. If we do that, the winning will take care of itself.”

Brabender regularly posts the RPI and QAB in the dugout.

“We don’t show our kids batting average,” says Brabender. “We just show them Quality At-Bats.

“They may have went 0-for-3 hitting, but went 2-for-3 in Quality At-Bats. That’s a good day. We’ve got lots of things in place for kids to value the process. You can’t just say it. You have to have things that will show them that we all value the process.”

For years, the Raiders have employed the mental training methods of sports psychologist Brian Cain.

The past five years, all Northridge players have been on a Driveline weighted ball throwing program.

Brabender says there are many benefits but the top ones are that is that it force feeds good arm action as well as arm development and the ability to throw with intent.

This year marks the second year that the Raiders are using a weighted Axe Bat regimen and the first year they’re really “diving into head-first, full speed ahead.”

The Axe Bat features overloaded and underloaded bats, which teaches intent and body positioning.

“With every kid in our program, exit velocity is up from the first time that we tested,” says Brabender, who has seen gains in hitting and throwing.

Exit velocity is measured with radar guns and with Blast Vision motion capture technology, which keeps track of all the post-contact metrics (things like launch angle, exit velocity and the distance the ball traveled). Blast Motion is used for pre-contact measurements.

Brabender has employed Blast Motion for three years and this is his first using Blast Vision.

Video analysis is also done with a RightView Pro app.

The Raiders boss was not talking about Launch Angle a decade ago.

“Now that’s all we talk about,” says Brabender, who had his youth campers hit on an upward plane. They were competing Saturday to get as many balls above a line on the curtain in the NHS fieldhouse. Below that line of 20 degrees or so was a groundout. Too far above it was a fly ball out.

“That’s what we call result-oriented training,” says Brabender. “That’s straight from (former Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs and current Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach) John Mallee. He does a ton of that.

“It forces kids to put their bodies in the right position to make something happen. If it’s not happening, they’re not doing it correctly.”

Northridge (enrollment around 1,400) belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). It is a double-round robin 14-game slate. Except for the final week of the NLC season, conference games will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Raiders are grouped at 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

What about the pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days)?

“We’ve always believed in it,” says Brabender. “One of the things that’s always made our program strong is the amount of depth we’ve created in our pitching. Most of the kids in our program are going to pitch.

“I don’t think you can have enough arms at this level. In my 11 years, we’ve only had a handful of kids go over 100 pitches.

“Unless you’ve got someone with plus velocity — I’m talking 85 mph plus — you’re just asking for trouble. Getting a new guy in there just gives (the opponent) a different look anyway.”

Andrew’s father talked about the “24-hour rule.” A pitcher’s rest would go an hour by number of pitches thrown. That makes 24 hours if he throws 24 pitches and so on.

It comes down to the welfare of the player.

“It’s important that if kids want to play at the collegiate level, they’re healthy enough to do that,” says Brabender

Former Northridge players currently on college rosters include Shannon Baker and Brock Logan at Fort Wayne, Sam Troyer at Evansville, Matt Miller and Andy Ross at Indiana University South Bend and Andrew Kennedy at Taylor.

So far, current Raiders seniors Cody Bible (Indiana University Kokomo) and Dylan Trick (Spring Arbor University) have made college commitments.

Many Northridge players are part of travel baseball organizations like the Indiana Chargers, Michiana Scrappers and Middlebury Mavericks. Brabender and company also conduct coach clinic and player camps for Middlebury Little League.

Andrew is the son of Tom and Dorothy Brabender. Tom, who died in 2015, played football at Western Illinois University for Lou Saban and was a baseball coach in central Illinois for 40-plus years.

“The biggest thing from my dad was the way he related to his players,” says Andrew. “For them to follow what you want to accomplish, there has to be some likability.”

Brabender sees it as his duty to figure out a way to relate to each athlete in some way. He saw his father do it. Tom Brabender coached American Legion baseball into his late 60’s and was still relating with teenage players.

“That’s not easy,” says Andrew. “I hope I’m doing that here. I feel like I am. I want them to value the relationship with me more than baseball and for them to know that I’ve always got their back no matter what.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”

Before becoming head coach at Northridge, Brabender served one season as an assistant to Troy Carson — a man he also coached with in the Raiders football program.

Before Northrdge, Brabender spent three seasons as a baseball assistant to Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central High School.

Prior coming to Elkhart County, Brabender followed his last two seasons as a baseball player at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri with two seasons on the Trojans coaching staff.

His coach and then his boss was Scott Ashton, who brought Brabender to the NAIA school after he played two seasons of junior college ball at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., following his graduation in 1996 from St. Teresa High School in Decatur, Ill.

“He was a huge influence in my life — spiritually, baseball-wise,” says Brabender of Ashton, who is now Mid-Missouri director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and team chaplain for University of Missouri baseball, football and softball. “He taught me how to be a man We’re still close. We talk as much as we can.

“He’s a mentor me not just with baseball but my walk with the Lord.”

Ashton came along at a rough time in Brabender’s life.

In 1998, Andrew was playing in a wood bat tournament in Evansville and his parents and girlfriend (later wife) Marcie were there to watch. When they got home, they learned that Jason Brabender — Andrew’s brother — had been killed in a car accident.

“It was devastating,” says Andrew. “It was a crossroads in a lot of different avenues in our lives.”

Marcie, who Andrew met at Lake Land, had committed to play basketball at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hannibal-LaGrange was one of the few schools that was recruiting both Andrew and Marcie.

“We just took that leap and that’s where we ended up,” says Brabender. “It worked out great. I met some dear lifelong friends there. Marcie was part of the national tournament team in 2000. Two of my buddies from Lake Land ended up transferring there. It was cool.”

Andrew and Marcie married in the summer of 2000. They have four children — Emma (16), Beau (12), Kate (8) and Luke (6). Andrew grew up with an older sister, Mindy, and months ago found out he has another sibling named Lisa.

During the school day, Brabender teaches physical education for Grades K-5 at two Middlebury Community Schools buildings — Jefferson Elementary and Heritage Intermediate.

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Andrew Brabender is entering his his 11th season as head baseball at Northridge High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Veteran Edgewood Mustangs coach Jones just keeps on learning

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

One of the many lessons a son has learned from his father is that of lifelong learning.

With more than 40 years as a business teacher at Edgewood High School in the Monroe County town of Ellettsville and upwards of 30 as head baseball coach, Bob Jones can draw on a deep well of knowledge.

Jones, who recently turned 66, has plenty of know-how. But the former student at Central Catholic High School in Vincennes (now Vincennes Rivet), Vincennes University and Indiana State University is not content with that wisdom alone.

“He sits in the first or second row at the (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association) State Clinic each year,” says Sam Jones, one of Bob’s sons (Jade is the other) and a member of his EHS coaching staff. “He doesn’t want to miss a word.

“The knife most used is the best-sharpened.”

Bob Jones has also been a regular at clinics hosted by Jasper High School.

He employs the same approach as an educator. To prepare for his personal finance and introduction to business classes, Bob takes his text book home every night and reads it over so he will know the subject when addressing students the next day.

“He’s definitely not going to settle for complacency,” says Sam Jones, a 2006 Edgewood baseball alum and himself a seven grade social studies teacher at Cloverdale. “And he’s always evolving with the game (of baseball).”

Bob Jones and his staff, which also includes Tom Anderson (pitching coach), Eli Mathers (strength coach), Mac Kido, Austin Chapman, John Cage, Kyle May (junior varsity), John Justis (junior varsity) view their baseball program as what Sam Jones calls “a living and breathing thing” that changes with the times.

When he saw the benefits, Bob Jones started having his players lift weights daily — even game days.

“We live and die by the weight room,” says Sam Jones.

When Jaeger Sports bands came along with J-Bands for arm care, Edgewood began using them.

With all the private lessons and travel organizations now available, the Edgewood staff knows today’s players are pretty smart.

“They can feel and understand what their body is telling them and make some adjustments,” says Sam Jones. “The last eight or 10 years, dad has also had a lot of success reaching to to (students at nearby Indiana University) who want to stay connected to the game.”

Those IU students come and work with the Mustangs on the diamond and influence them beyond it. Many have gone on to become business professionals.

“They give vision for these kids,” says Sam Jones. “They know what’s possible if they apply themselves.”

Bob Jones has led Edgewood to sectional baseball championships nine times (1987, 1991, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2014) and regional titles twice (2007 and 2011), all the while giving plenty of responsibility to his assistants.

“He empowers them to make decisions,” says Sam Jones. “We believe in building a tribe.”

Two years ago, Bob Jones was struck on the leg by a foul ball and a hematoma caused him to miss three weeks of baseball.

His assistants rallied in his absence and the Mustangs did not miss a beat.

Edgewood, an IHSAA Class 3A school with around 800 students, typically fields three teams. Last spring, there was a varsity and two JV teams.

Sam Jones says that is likely to be the case again in 2018.

“The new pitch count has forced us to spread out our games a little more,” says Sam Jones, who lays out the JV schedules, making sure to get a balance of 4A schools like Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo in with 1A and 2A competition. “We’re giving our freshman to compete against bigger and better competition right off the bat. We also do not wanted them to overwhelmed with teams that are above and beyond their skill set.”

The pitch count at levels below varsity is tighter than in is for varsity (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). There was discussion at the IHSBCA State Clinic of making one standard for all since many schools will use pitchers for varsity and JV games — sometimes in the same week.

Edgewood is a member of the Western Indiana Conference and is part of the East Division along with Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Indian Creek and Owen Valley. The West features Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo.

Each team plays home-and-home division series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with only the first game counting in the WIC standings. There are crossover games at the end of the season — East No. 1 plays West No. 1 and so on.

Bob Jones wants to see all sectional opponents during the regular season so Edgewood has Brown County, Owen Valley, Sullivan and West Vigo on its schedule.

The Mustangs plays home games on Ermil Clark Field, which is located between the high school and junior high buildings.

As part of a phase of athletic upgrades for Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corporation, the baseball field is scheduled to get new dugouts and a backstop after the 2018 campaign.

A few years ago, players, coaches and parents chipped in to eliminate the hill in right field.

During spring break, they laid the sod and put down the bricks needed to level the fence.

“There were a lot of man hours from our players to make that field playable,” says Sam Jones. “If we don’t have kids that are interested in our field or our purpose that doesn’t happen.

“We’re super grateful for that.”

While junior high baseball is currently on hiatus, Edgewood does have Richland-Bean Blossom Youth Sports feeding it program along with area travel teams including Tier Ten, Demand Command and Diamond Dynamics. These organizations have players from multiple high schools.

“It’s a cohesive baseball community here,” says Sam Jones. “We like to think Monroe County has some pretty good baseball.”

Edgewood currently has Tanner Kolbe (Taylor University) and Connor Morton (Franklin College) on college baseball rosters. Current Mustang Josh Chasteen committed to Campbellsville (Ky.) University.

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Celebrating an occasion together (from left): Sam Jones, Bob Jones, Jade Jones and Cris Jones. Bob is a longtime teacher and head baseball coach at Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind. Sam, a 2006 Edgewood graduate, is one of his assistants.

 

Bedford North Lawrence coach Callahan wants his Stars to know their roles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An athlete knowing and accepting their place can go a long way toward the success of a team.

Bedford North Lawrence High School head baseball coach Jeff Callahan firmly embraces this philosophy and passes it along to his Stars.

“We are working with athletes to understand their role,” says Callahan, who is in his 15th years as BNL athletic director and entering his fifth season in the baseball coaching role. “Everyone wants to start, play shortstop and bat third. We can’t have that to have the best team possible.”

Callahan talks with players about team expectations.

“We’re putting the team first and individual accolades second,” says Callahan, who coached the Stars to an IHSAA Class 4A sectional championship in 2017 — the first for the program since 1994.

As baseball coach, Callahan meets with his parents to talk about team rules and player roles.

As AD, he encourages the other coaches in the BNL athletic department to do the same.

“It’s never going to eliminate all issues or possible conflicts,” says Callahan. “As parents, we all want what’s best for our kids.”

He also wants those youngsters to know that things won’t always go the way they want and that it is helpful to know how to accept and adjust during times of adversity.

“There are a lot of life lessons can be taught to kids in high school athletics,” says Callahan.

As a shortstop and pitcher playing for BNL 1984-87, Callahan learned the importance of fundamentals from Stars head coach Mike Short.

“He was very detail-oriented,” says Callahan. “We worked a lot on the defensive side and on situations. It helps knowing the game of baseball inside and out as a player.

“Pitching and defense is where you’re going to win games and win championships.”

Coach Callahan spends time at every practice on bunt coverages and all kinds of other possibilities. It’s hoped that this repetition will trigger muscle memory during games.

The 2017 Stars said goodbye to 11 seniors, including eight starters.

Two varsity pitching innings return this spring.

“We have a lot of kids battling for positions,” says Callahan. “Early in the season, we may have several different lineups looking for the right combination of players.”

Callahan tends to keep 35 to 40 players in the program. With all the seniors leaving, he says there may be days he has 18 players with the varsity. There are likely to be around a dozen with the junior varsity 10 to 12 freshmen.

While he is still looking to hire a freshmen coach, Duane Higgs and Reggie Joslin are varsity assistants and Dennis Kissinger will coach the JV for BNL in 2018.

Moving on to college baseball from the Class of 2017 were the coach’s oldest child Brandt Callahan (Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo.) plus Drew Hensley (Indiana University Southeast), Austin Long (Indiana University), Tanner McBride (Indiana University Kokomo), Brody Tanksley (Indiana University Southeast) and Michael Underwood (Marian University).

“If a kid wants to go play (college baseball), we give them an idea of what it takes and what it’s like to be recruited,” says Callahan. “We help them make sure they’ve got all their ducks in a row. We make them understand that school is more important that the baseball program.”

There’s also things to consider like cost, distance from home and overall fit with the school’s culture.

“A lot of factors go into it,” says Callahan.

Other recent BNL graduates to head for collegiate diamonds include Caleb Bowman (Taylor University), Dillon Hensley (Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill.), Kyler Sherrill (Blackburn College) and Tanner Tow (Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky).

BNL plays in the Hoosier Hills Conference (along with Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated, New Albany and Seymour). Because the HHC is spread out, all teams do not meet during the regular season. There is a conference tournament, slated for Monday, Wednesday and Friday, May 7, 9 and 11. All teams plays three games to determined places 1 through 8.

BNL’s fourth annual Orval Huffman Invitational is scheduled for May 19. Besides the host Stars, the four-team event named in honor of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and former BNL coach Orval Huffman will feature Northview, Silver Creek and Speedway.

A year ago, Huffman and members of the Stars’ 1977 State Finals team addressed the current BNL squad.

The rotating sectional is scheduled to move from Bedford in 2017 to Jeffersonville in 2018. Besides BNL and Jeffersonville, the field is to include Floyd Central, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour.

Callahan played baseball for two seasons at Vanderbilt University. Roy Mewbourne was the Commodores head coach. The VU coach who recruited Jeff Callahan — Gary Burns — is now leading Brandt Callahan as Rockhurst head coach.

Rockhurst is an NCAA Division II school and member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

During Jeff Callahan’s time at Vandy, the Southeastern Conference featured stars like Frank Thomas at Auburn University and Ben McDonald at Louisiana State University. Vanderbilt was not yet the powerhouse it has become in recent years with Tim Corbin as head coach.

Callahan graduated from the Nashville-based school in 1991 with a double major in human resources and secondary education.

After college, Callahan taught and was assistant baseball and football coach at Norcross High School in Gwinett County, Ga. His wife, Paige, grew up in Atlanta. The couple met at Vanderbilt.

Moving back to Bedford, Callahan became a U.S. History teacher and assistant in football, basketball and baseball. For a few seasons, he was the Stars head football coach.

Besides Brandt, Jeff and Paige have a freshman son Whitt and eight-grade daughter Merritt.

Bedford North Lawrence became a school in 1974, a consolidation of Bedford, Fayetteville, Heltonville, Needmore, Oolitic, Shawswick and Tunnelton.

Many Indiana basketball fans know BNL’s Damon Bailey is from Heltonville. He played baseball for the Stars as a freshman. That was Jeff Callahan’s senior season.

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Celebrating a 2017 IHSAA Class 4A Bedford North Lawrence Sectional baseball championship for the host school are the Callahan family (from left): Merritt, Jeff, Brandt, Paige and Whittt. Jeff, who is married to Paige, enters his fifth season as the BNL Stars head coach in 2018. Brandt is now in college. Whitt is freshman. Merritt is an eighth grader.

Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

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Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)

 

Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

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T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)

 

Uggen accepts challenge of returning to to alma mater Blackford

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Uggen achieved much diamond success away from the place he grew up.

As head coach at Northfield High School from 1994-2013, Uggen’s Norsemen enjoyed many victories. IHSAA state championships came in 2001 and 2012 with a state runner-up in 2013.

But Uggen’s heart belongs to Hartford City, so he came back Blackford High School as athletic director and head baseball coach, beginning with the 2013-14 school year.

“Although I loved it at Northfield (and also served 10 years as AD there), I felt it was time to focus on the greater challenge of rebuilding my alma mater that hadn’t had a winning season since ‘04,” says Uggen, a 1983 Blackford graduate. “I guess you could say I personally wanted to know if I really was a good coach or just a by-product of being in the right place at the right time.”

On the heels of 4-23 in 2015 and 8-21 in 2016, Uggen’s 2017 Bruins went 17-13 overall and 3-4 in the Central Indiana Conference. It was Blackford’s first winning varsity baseball season since 2004.

The special campaign also included the school’s first sectional title in any sport since 2010 when the Red, Black & White reigned at 2A Blackford Sectional.

“I am proud of where we have come over the past three years,” says Uggen. “And it was great to see the community come out at sectional in full force as it was a great experience for the kids and community.”

The spring of 1991 is the only year since 1980 that Uggen has not coached a baseball team at some level. He helped coach a Babe Ruth League squad at 16. A few years later, he started a six-year run of guiding his own Babe Ruth team.

Uggen took his first teaching job at Northfield in 1991-92 and was hired as junior varsity coach and heir apparent to long-time Norsemen head coach Craig Winegardner.

As a player, Uggen was part of minor league (third grade), Little League (Grades 4-6) and Babe Ruth (7-9) programs before playing for coach Gary Cheesman at Blackford.

“I liked his passion for the game and the fact that he had high expectations for us,” says Uggen of Cheesman. “Looking back I appreciated that he ran a disciplined program as well.”

Uggen played three seasons (1985-87) at Taylor University, where Larry Winterholter was head coach. A pitcher during his freshmen and junior seasons, Uggen sat out his sophomore year because a rotator cuff injury that plagued his college career.

Out of eligibility because of tranferrng from Purdue University at mid-semester and then going to Ball State University, Uggen did not play as a senior. Winterholter did allow him to pick his brain as a student assistant coach.

“Coach Winterholter was less intense as a coach than Coach Cheesman, but he still was a disciplinarian,” says Uggen. “I appreciated playing for each as they gave me different perspectives as to how to reach athletes. It allowed me to learn that different players respond differently to how they are coached. So some kids like the more ‘in your face approach’ while others are more receptive to being pulled aside and talked to.

“Over the years I try to adapt to how I feel the kids best respond which can be a challenge. A couple years I never felt like I was on the same page, but I have always liked a challenge so that makes coaching interesting.”

What qualities does Uggen wish to instill in his players?

“First and foremost, I want our kids to reflect a ‘class act’ program,” says Uggen. “And that starts with discipline. Without a doubt, the best teams I have coached were the ones who were disciplined and focused on wanting to learn and get better. Not all of them had winning records, but I felt many of those teams still exceeded my expectations and that’s a testament to their efforts.

“I also want to instill a strong work ethic and a commitment to excellence. In short, I want them to learn to compete at a high level.

Hopefully, my hope would be that all who play for me look back and say ‘Coach Uggen made me a better baseball player and person’ and have pride in their accomplishments as individuals and as teams when all is said and done.”

The 2017 season marked the first for the new IHSAA pitch rules (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) and Uggen has has his take on it.

“I will admit I was leary at first,” says Uggen. “But in the end, the pitch count rule was a big reason we won the sectional. Taylor, who we beat in the sectional final, had to throw their ace all 10 innings in the opening win so he was done for the tournament.

“And in the sectional championship, we tied it when down to our last strike and they unfortunately ran out of pitching and had to turn to a young many who had only thrown about eight innings all year. So yes, the pitch count worked in our favor in the tournament.”

Uggen tried to worked up to five pitchers into a game early in the season then whittled back to three or less per game as pitch counts went up and the pitchers who could consistently throw strikes were identified.

“I think that helped us develop more kids capable of handling the grind of as the season wore on,” says Uggen. “And, thankfully, most of those kids are back (for 2018).”

His assistant coaches will be Bob Banter, Travis Huffman and Devon Kirkwood at the varsity level with Travis Huffman has JV head coach and Lucas Miller as JV assistant.

Uggen says he would be in favor of changing the IHSAA ‘open gym’ rule.

“I think it ties coaches’ hands only being able to work with two kids directly at a time,” says Uggen. “That frustrates me, especially knowing that there are schools probably not following the rule.

“Yes, I understand that not having it may open up some coaches to coaching year-round. We do it because it is the right thing to do and because I can’t say we are going to be a ‘class act’ and then break the rules.

“And, frankly, there are a lot of kids today that get pulled in the wrong direction for whatever reason. If I could work with more kids than those kids are less likely to get lured into doing something they shouldn’t.”

Tony and and wife Lisa have been married eight years and have five children ages 12 to 23 — Stephanie Uggen, Christian Fleener, Brandon Fleener, Brendan Uggen and Elly Uggen.

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Tony Uggen, a 1983 Blackford High School graduate, has been athletic director and head baseball coach at his alma mater since 2013-14 after a long stint in both jobs at Northfield High School. (Blackford Photo)