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Alum McTagertt keeps growing the game at Lafayette Jeff

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott McTagertt paid his dues before becoming head baseball coach at his alma mater.

A 1986 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, McTagertt was still a Purdue University student when he became a Jeff assistant for the 1988 season.

He has been bringing baseball knowledge to Bronchos ever since. 

McTagertt played for head coach Mark Strader and served on the staffs of Tony Primavera, Ed Gilliland and Kevin Maxwell before taking the reins of the Lafayette Jeff program for the 2008 season.

“(Strader) is probably the best athlete that ever came through Lafayette Jeff,” says McTagertt. “He was very demanding. We respected the guy because you knew what he knew in baseball.

“We put so much intensity into practice. (Strader) got (to play for and) coach with (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul) “Spider” Fields. (Strader) brought some of that fire to us.”

A shortstop and pitcher at Jeff, McTagertt was on the Purdue team for one season behind future big leaguer Archi Cianfrocco while working toward what would be an Education degree from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI).

As a young coach, McTagertt marveled at Primavera’s game management skills.

“I don’t know if there was anybody better than him,” says McTagertt. “He knew everything in the game was going to happen before it happened.

“He was fun to learn from.”

Gilliland had played for and coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber at LaPorte High School.

“(Gilliland) was a disciplinarian,” says McTagertt. “This is the way we’re going to do it. He had set routines. The kids worked hard for him. 

“He liked to ride his top two pitchers a lot. It was the LaPorte Way.”

In a decade with Maxwell, McTagertt witnessed a strong organizer.

“(Maxwell) ran very structured practices,” says McTagertt. “Everything was written out. The kids had to know the practice plan.”

Along the way, McTagertt has continued to have a growth mindset. He has learned much about the game from networking, attending clinics and — in this pandemic year of 2020 — Zoom meetings and other online resources.

“We’re probably the most sharing group of coaches you’re going to find in any sport,” says McTagertt. “Tthere are so many ways to teach in baseball.

“You can always steal an idea or two.”

McTagertt was born in Greenwood, Ind., and came to Lafayette as a fourth grader. That first day in town he attended the Colt World Series at Loeb Stadium.

“It was a big place for my family,” says McTagertt, who started working at Loeb in 1988 and did so until the facility dedicated in 1940 was torn down to make way for the New Loeb Stadium.

Teaching fifth grade STEM at nearby Sunnyside Intermediate, McTagertt drops by regularly to see the progress of the ballpark adjacent to the Columbian Park Zoo that mimics Kokomo Municipal Stadium (home to Kokomo High School, Indiana University Kokomo and summer collegiate Kokomo Jackrabbits) and is oriented the other way from the old Loeb (left field faces the pool and right field is closet to the zoo).

“I didn’t know if I’d ever see this place,” says McTagertt. “It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

With construction of the new Loeb (also home to the summer collegiate Lafayette Aviators), Jeff was going to spend much of 2020 playing road games. But the COVID-19 pandemic took away the season. The Bronchos were just days away from tryouts when what became lockdown began. Individual workouts were distributed via computer. 

In fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period practice, the focus was on individual skills and position development.

“We put a premium on teaching since we lost a season,” says McTagertt, who sent the Bronchos from the World Series to the weight room until Dec. 22 and expects to resume activities Jan. 4.

McTagertt’s 2021 coaching staff features John Ripke, Alex Igo and Sean McDonald as varsity assistants. Kevin Igo is the JV Red head coach and is helped by Brian McDonald and Matthew Koeppen. Tim Whitaker is the JV Black (or C-team) head coach and is aided by Daniel Nelson.

The Bronchos tend to have around 40 players in the program. On days when all three squads are in action, there might be 13 to 15 with the varsity, 13 with JV Red and the rest with JV Black.

Jeff (enrollment around 2,080) is in the Northern Central Conference (with Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon, Muncie Central and Richmond).

The Bronchos are in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport and McCutcheon. Jeff won the last of its 17 sectional titles in 2013. The program has also claimed 12 regionals, four semistates, two state championships (1969 and 1973) and one state runner-up (1971).

Two recent Jeff players — brother Justin Walker Jr. (Purdue) and Jacob Walker (Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) — have moved on to college diamonds. Current Bronchos Caleb Koeppen and Brady Preston have received college offers.

For years, Jeff and Lafayette Central Catholic developed young players through the Lafayette Lightning.

About eight years ago — wanting to get more Jeff-bound youngsters involved in competitive play — Junior Broncho Baseball was established. The group fielded 10U, 11U and 12U teams that first year and now has teams from 8U to 15U.

That first 12U team were freshmen in the spring of 2020.

The Junior Bronchos play often at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and Indianapolis Sports Park.

Elite players are encouraged to play for teams like the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Nitro.

“We take rest of the kids and run them through our practices and camps,” says McTagertt. “We get the best of both worlds.”

Utilizing diamonds at Armstrong Park and McCaw Park, Lafayette Youth Baseball is still going strong.

“There’s a wonderful working relationship city, parks department and baseball programs in Lafayette,” says McTagertt.

Scott and Fawn McTagertt (a McCutcheon High School teacher) have three children. Rileigh McTagertt is a junior Education major at Purdue who coaches tennis at Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette. She was in cheerleading, basketball and tennis at Jeff.  

Ashlynn McTagertt played golf, basketball and softball for the Bronchos and is now a freshmen softball player at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College. 

Drew McTagertt is a Tecumseh eighth grader who plays tennis, basketball and baseball.

Scott McTagertt is the head baseball coach at Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School — a position he’s held since the 2008 season. The 1986 Jeff graduated joined the Bronchos coaching staff in 1988.

Motz wants to keep the ball rolling for Crawfordsville Athenians

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Motz was part of the baseball legacy at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School as a player and an assistant coach.

And now he’s laying the groundwork for his first season as the Athenians head coach.

Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville graduate who helped win 105 games during Motz’s four varsity seasons (1992-95) with a Sheridan Regional title in 1995, follows John Froedge as the man in charge. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer let Motz know that the 2020 season — which did not happen because of COVID-19 — would be his last after 39 years.

Baseball at Crawfordsville is now led by Motz, long-time pitching coach Rhett Welliever, varsity/junior varsity assistant Kurt Schlicher and JV coach Tony Bean.

“Coach Froedge and Coach Welliever have equal respect from me,” says Motz. “I want to make sure we still emphasize the important pieces that created this program and use up-to-date relevant stuff that kids will buy into.

“It’s different leadership, but we want to keep this train moving along.”

Motz, 44, held an organizational meeting last weekend that brought together all the coaches in the system from Crawfordsville Youth Baseball for ages 5-12 (an organization Motz led for almost a decade) to a Crawfordsville-only travel team to junior high to high school and got feedback about what has led to successful baseball in the Montgomery County community.

“I wanted them to know I appreciate all that they do,” says Motz. “You have to have a large group of people around me to continue this baseball program.

“Make sure the kids that get the most out of their years playing youth, middle school and high school baseball.”

Motz has been working on an outline that can be used at the lower levels.

“I want to make sure the kids are hearing the right words and that we’re emphasizing the right things when kids are swinging the bat or swinging the bat.”

Motz is also Crawfordsville’s strength & conditioning coach — teaching four classes at the high school and two at the middle school while working with athletes in all sports. He lays down a foundation and adds sports-specific elements.

As an Athenians assistant to Froedge 2007-10, Motz was able to implement functional training exercises and monitor nutrition for a baseball team which produced an IHSAA Class 3A state champion in 2008.

“Those are the things I’m passionate about,” says Motz. “Those kids were strong and 100 healthy when that (2008) postseason began.”

Motz says its easier to develop one-on-one relationships in the weight room than the classroom. 

“You see the true character,” says Motz. “When the going gets tough, who’s going to bear down?

“You share all that information with other coaches.”

Motz, a 2001 Crawfordsville Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, finished his prep days with a .457 batting average, 25 home runs and 164 runs batted in. The IHSBCA Record Book shows th righty swinger third in career hits (187) and tied for sixth in career runs scored (163).

He batted in slots 5-7 in the batting order as a freshman. No. 3 as a sophomore and junior and lead-off — to get more at-bats — as a senior. Depending on the situation, he played second base, shortstop or third base and also pitched. He was selected for the 1995 IHSCA North-South All-Star Series.

His 16U and 17U summers, Motz was with the Indiana Bulls travel organization with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Dennis Kas as head coach and Tom Linkmeyer, Kevin Stephenson and Brent Mewhinney as assistants.

Motz went to the University of Evansville, where he spent five years with U of E Athletics Hall of Famer Jim Brownlee in charge of Purple Aces baseball.

“He truly loved his players,” says Motz of Brownlee. “I learned a lot about myself through those five years about being committed to a program and coach that saw something in me.

“I gave it all I had.”

The Aces coaching staff also featured Tim Brownlee — assistant to Jim Brownlee. Jim’s younger son and Tim’s younger brother — Ryan Brownlee — was a teammate to Motz.

Missing most of the 1997 season with as a medical redshirt (he wound up having Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery), Motz was with Evansville 1996-2000 and tallied 160 career runs.

He was the Opening Day third baseman and a relief pitcher in 1996. He spent most of his time at first base in 1998 and was the starting left fielder in 1999 and 2000.

Motz tied for the team lead in home runs with eight in 1999. He was named CoSIDA All-District V and to the Missouri Valley Conference Academic First Team in 2000 and Honorable Mention MVC Academic in 1998. He earned his degree from Evansville in Physical and Health Education.

Summers during and just after college were spent with the Quincy (Ill.) Gems, Springfield (Ill.) Rifles and Crawfordsville Eagles.

Teammates on the Matt Walker-coached Eagles include Matt McCarty (a Crawfordsville graduate who played in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization) and B.J. Schlicher (a North Montgomery High School graduate who played in the Philadelphia Phillies system).

Motz was given a chance to coach by Doug Schreiber as a Purdue University volunteer assistant in 2001 and 2002 while he was working toward his masters degree in Sport Pedagogy. Todd Murphy was also on that coaching staff. Motz also coached for the Indiana Bulls during his summers.

Brett married Jennifer, whom he knew from high school, about this time and decided not to take the nomadic path of a college coach while starting a family. 

Sons Austin and Wyatt played Crawfordsville Youth Baseball. Now a CHS junior, Austin Motz plays tennis and baseball. Eighth grader Wyatt Motz plays tennis, basketball and baseball. Jennifer Motz is currently on hiatus from her teaching job.

Brett Motz became an assistant to Brent Harmon at North Putnam High School in Rochdale, Ind., for the 2004 season then was Cougars head coach in 2005 and 2006. He still maintains contact with many of his former North Putnam players and looks forward to forming bonds at Crawfordsvlle where many of his former CYB players are now high schoolers.

“I like that emotional leadership you get with a team as a head coach,” says Motz.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge (left) has handed over the head baseball reins of the Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School program to 1995 CHS graduate Brett Motz (right). (Susan Ehrlich Photo)
Brett Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. (Susan Ehrlich Photo)

Californian Epstein gets sports media experience thanks to Indiana U.

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Griffin Epstein knows the connection that sports fans have with their teams and athletes.

A sophomore in the Indiana University Media School majoring in Sports Media with a specialization in Broadcast Journalism, Epstein has been a part of that relationship in many forms, including baseball play-by-play and other diamond-related programming.

Epstein, who is from Petaluma, Calif., recently completed an internship with the Collegiate Summer Baseball Network and got to focus on the West Coast. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of many leagues, he wrote articles, fed social media and conducted interviews with managers, commissioners and some of the athletes fortunate enough to be playing.

He got to call one contest between the Healdsburg Prune Packers and Lincoln Potters.

Prior to going to IU, he was the voice of the Prune Packers and called most of their California Collegiate League games — home and away. He approached the team about broadcasting their games and it became a reality.

“I got to go to the ballpark every single day,” says Epstein, a 2019 graduate of Petaluma High School. “It was an incredible experience. The Prune Packers are a great local organization. I connected with the players and parents.

“Summer collegiate baseball is a real special part of baseball. It’s sound beat of summer in this country.”

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Epstein has had a chance to listen to the play-by-play stylings of Jon Miller (Giants) and Ken Korach (Oakland Athletics) and counts them among his favorites. He also admires Al Michaels (“Sunday Night Football”).

“Broadcasting is really important,” says Epstein. “Baseball on the radio is the purest form of broadcasting. For 100 years in America it’s been a way to bring communities together.

“Great rapport and coverage of a team can make a difference in a community.”

Epstein knows that his audience is counting on him to inform and entertain.

“Preparation is very, very important,” says Epstein, who makes a point of talking with players, coaches and fans before a game to get insight that he can relay to his listeners or viewers. “Game (action) comes first. But you can go deeper into the game. You can tell about a player’s background and what is happening across the country.”

Epstein says the pace of baseball presents an opportunity to tell stories and engage those tuning into the broadcast.

As a high school student, Epstein competed in cross country and tennis. He also got to present many live sporting events on YouTube as part of his school’s TV station.

“I did almost every single high school sport imaginable,” says Epstein. “Parents, families and students would tune in. Not only did I really enjoy it, I found that it was something that can really impact people.”

Epstein was the sports editor for the school’s newspaper (The Trojan Tribune) and sports director for the TV station.

Once Epstein decided sports broadcasting was the career path for him, he chose Indiana University for the strong reputation of its media school.

“They have incredible resources and the students are really committed and involved,” says Epstein, who thrives in a system that has Galen Clavio as an Associate Professor and Director of the National Sports Journalism Center.

In Epstein’s first year at IU, he was a broadcaster for Big Ten Student U and WIUX. He also did anchoring, reporting and covering with The Hoosier Network and Indiana University Student Television. He was podcaster with The Hoosier Insider. He was also a beat writer for the Indiana Daily Student newspaper.

He was going to call IU home baseball games when those were called off because of the coronavirus.

“I’ve really tried to get involved with a variety of stuff,” says Epstein. “I want to go into play-by-play. That’s my dream.

“For my career and for my year I need to have as much experience in as many parts of sports media as possible.”

Epstein says that possessing multiple skill sets is key when it comes to get a sports media job like one in Minor League Baseball.

“If you’re able to do video editing, on-camera pre- and post-game hosting, social media, marketing and sales, it can really help you stand out when there are a lot of people applying,” says Epstein. “What makes you versatile and stand out from everybody else that wants that job?”

With no live collegiate sports in Bloomington, Ind., this fall, Epstein says he will likely get involved with broadcasting of high school football.

Griffin Epstein interned with the Collegiate Summer Baseball Network in 2020. He is from Petaluma, Calif., and attends Indiana University.
Griffin Epstein, of Petaluma, Calif., is a sophomore in the Indiana University Media School majoring in Sports Media with a specialization in Broadcast Journalism. He has been the play-by-play voice of the California Collegiate League’s Healdsburg Prune Packers and done an internship with the Collegiate Summer Baseball Network among his many experiences. (Big Ten Student U Photo)

Right-hander Moran sets baseball goals high

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Moran is looking to raise his baseball stock.

Moran, a right-handed pitcher who also swings a potent bat, impressed enough during his time at Anderson (Ind.) University that he became the first player in the NCAA Division III Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference to be invited to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League

He would have suited up with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox this summer. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused cancellation on the Cape and Moran wound up with the Local Legends in the newly-formed College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Taking the play-and-train option, he also works out at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park.

His Business Management degree (focused on organizational management) completed in the spring, Academic All-American Moran decided about a month ago that he would continue his baseball and academic development at NAIA-affiliated Taylor University in Upland, Ind. 

It was not an easy decision. Moran considers Anderson head coach Matt Bair a mentor — on and off the field — and has regular contact with him.

“As a man, I’ve developed so much because of his leadership and all the other coaches,” says Moran. “My sophomore year, I was soft. I hadn’t developed that bulldog mentality. 

“Coach Bair drew that out of me. He helped me compete and make myself better. He never gave me any guarantees. It helped me. I needed something to work for every single day.

“My faith is really an important part of what I am. It’s a relationship I’ll always be grateful for.”

Moran says he plans to enroll at Taylor soon and pursue a masters degree, likely in Transition-to-Teaching while working with the Trojans baseball staff, including head coach Kyle Gould and pitching coach Justin Barber, who was with the Indiana Chargers prior to his current position.

In the first 48 hours of entering the transfer portal, Moran received 13 to 15 offers.

“It was kind of overwhelming,” says Moran. “I turned down a lot of Division I offers.”

Coming out of high school, his outlook was D-I or bust. But that has changed.

“It’s not about where you play, it’s how good you are as a player,” says Moran. “How are you going to help me develop and get drafted? When I sat down with coaches from Taylor I was legitimately blown away. They had a development plan laid out for me.

“I’m 6-foot and a right-handed pitcher. Nothing sticks out about me. My stuff has to be really good to get to the next level.”

Moran mixes a fastball, change-up, slider and curveball.

This summer, his four-seam fastball has been up to 94.5 mph. He is regularly in the low- to mid-90s.

“It has a little bit of a riding action — into a righty (batter) and away from a lefty,” says Moran. 

He is aiming for a high spin rate.

“I want to spin it enough so I can throw it higher in the zone,” says Moran.

It’s a “circle” change and a “gyro” slider than Moran employs.

“It has a late break when it’s on,” says Moran of the slider. “There’s a lot of depth to it when it’s good.

“The curve is 2-to-7 (on the clock face). I spin the curve 2300 to 2400 rpm.”

The curve tends to come in at around 73 mph with the slider around 80.

Moran, a 2016 graduate of Anderson High School, was playing in the summer after high school when he felt tightness in his elbow. 

He went to Dr. Timothy Kremchek, who is also the Cincinnati Reds team doctor, for Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injections and resumed throwing and playing at Anderson U. in the fall.

Moran wound up having Tommy John reconstructive surgery and was not even on the Ravens roster in 2017. 

“It took about 14 months until I was able to go live in game,” says Moran. “It was two years after my surgery until I was feeling good again and not worrying about elbow soreness or stiffness.”

Making his collegiate debut in 2018, Moran got into 11 games as a pitcher (nine starts) and went 5-2 with a 3.75 earned run average. In 48 innings, he struck out 49 and walked 26.

As a right-handed hitter in 44 games, Moran amassed a .311 average (46-of-148) with three home runs, 33 runs batted in and 25 runs scored.

In 2019, all 11 of Moran’s AU mound appearance were starts. He went 7-1 with one complete game, a 3.20 ERA, 66 strikeouts and 28 walks in 59 innings.

Offensively, his 2019 produced a .362 average (46-of-127) with five homers, 25 RBIs and 27 runs in 37 games.

The pandemic shorted the 2020 season to four games on the mound (all starts). The righty went 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA, 32 strikeouts and seven walks in 20 innings. He averaged 14.4 K’s per nine innings.

At the bat, Moran blazed at a clip of .563 (18-of-32) with one homer, five RBIs, 10 runs and a .667 on-base percentage in nine contests. He was a designated hitter when not pitching. 

While he concentrates on pitching during the summer and knows that is where his future lies, Morgan welcome the opportunity to hit at Taylor.

Born and raised in Anderson by Mike and Stephanie Moran, Joe began playing baseball at 5 at Riverfield Little League. During his 11-year-old summer, his team won a state title and had high hopes of the Little League World Series run the next summer, but the team was dismantled.

One of his teammates was Chayce McDermott. The Ball State University pitcher also plays on the Grand Park league’s Local Legends, coached by Butler University assistants Ben Norton and Jake Ratz.

Moran played travel baseball with the Muncie-based Magic City Orioles then, during high school, the Indiana Prospects. His 18U summer was spent with the Northern Indiana Elite.

At Anderson High, Moran played the first three seasons for Terry Turner and the last for Adrian Heim.

“He’s one of the best men that I know,” says Moran of Turner. “I genuinely mean that. He cared so much about the program and he put his all into it. He loved me from the jump.

“I wish I would’ve had more time with (Heim). He’s knowledgable about the game.”

Moran missed the 2017 summer season because of surgery and spent 2018 grinding it out int he weight room. In 2019, he went to Ontario to play with the Northwoods League’s Thunder Bay Border Cats.

Mike Moran is a grain farmer who tends about 2,000 acres. Stephanie Moran works in Engagement and Adult Studies at Anderson U. The couple have three children — Bobby (26), Joe (22) and Megan (20). AU graduate Bobby played golf and tennis at Anderson High. AU student Megan played volleyball and softball with the Anderson Indians.

Joe Moran shined with the bat at Anderson (Ind.) University. In the COVID-19-shortned 2020 season, he hit .563. (Ali Zoller/Anderson University Photo)
Joe Moran excelled on the mound for the Anderson (Ind.) University Ravens, winning 14 games and striking out 147 batters from 2018-20. (Ali Zoller/Anderson University Photo)
Joe Moran, a graduate of Anderson (Ind.) High School and Anderson (Ind.) University, is playing in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He plans to attend graduate school and play at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., in 2020-21. (Anderson University Photo)

Former McCutcheon, Purdue hurler Wittgren finds his groove in Cleveland bullpen

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A change of baseball addresses meant a change in change-up approach for Nick Wittgren.

The 6-foot-3 right-handed reliever was traded from the Miami Marlins to the Cleveland Indians in February 2019.

The Tribe made a request of the former Purdue University closer and three-sport standout at McCutcheon High School — also in West Lafayette, Ind.

“When I got to Cleveland they told me my change-up plays pretty well and to throw it more to right-handers than I did in the past,” says Wittgren, who recorded a career-high 12 holds in 55 appearances and 57 2/3 relief innings. His 2.81 earned run average was 19th-lowest among American League relievers. “Roberto Perez was behind the plate and loved calling it.

“I almost felt like I threw my change-up more than I did my slider.”

Close.

According to Statcast data, Wittgren’s pitch arsenal included four pitches in 2019. He threw his four-seamer 66.4 percent of the time, slider 18.8, change-up 14.7 and curve 0.1.

“I was in my groove last year,” says Wittgren, who turns 29 on May 29. “I had my head where I needed it.”

With Miami in 2018, Statcast actually has Wittgren with a higher percentage of change-ups (15.7) as compared to sliders (12.8). Besides the four-seamer (62.7), there was also the sinker (7.5) and cutter (1.3).

With all the movement, Wittgren refers to his pitch repertoire as fastball, change-up and breaking ball.

Wittgren pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle. He throws across his body with his glove flaring out and whips around to deliver the baseball.

“I don’t know when I started,” says Wittgren of his mechanics. “In college I did it. It just works for me. I get the most force toward home. It’s really tough to pick up the baseball.

“To a righty I’m started with my arm behind them. It works in my favor.”

Wittgren favors sliders and four-seamers in on the hands with change-ups down and away.

“I started manipulated that pitch a little more last year,” says Wittgren of the change-up.

Indians pitching coach Carl Willis, assistant pitching coach Ruben Niebla and bullpen coach Brian Sweeney will often remind Wittgren to use that pitch.

With Cleveland, he occasionally got a chance to deliver that pitch and others to a familiar target.

Kevin Plawecki, a college teammate, was a back-up catcher with the Indians in 2019 (the Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox in January).

“It was kind of cool taking it back to the good old Purdue says,” says Wittgren. “We still clicked.

“I didn’t have the change-up in college. I didn’t need it.”

Wittgren played shortstop and pitched at McCutcheon for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

As a Mavericks senior, Wittgren was an MVP in tennis in the fall and earned the same recognition for basketball in the winter.

Following brother Kyle’s lead, Nick took up tennis as a freshman.

“It was a good way to stay active for basketball and baseball,” says Wittgren. “It helped with footwork and conditioning and hand-eye (coordination).”

Rick Peckinpaugh was Wittgren’s head basketball coach.

“(Peckinpaugh) brought the most energy and talent out in you,” says Wittgren. “We had a group that played together really well. He was there for every single person, trying to get us better.

“It was a pleasure and a joy playing for him.”

With no college baseball offers coming in, he was thinking about bypassing his senior year on the diamond and focusing on basketball.

“I was just looking for a way to pay for college,” says Wittgren. “I was not looking at the whole picture.”

Wittgren had his sights on teaching math and coaching — either at the high school or college level.

“My mom (Lisa) is a (fourth grade) teacher,” says Wittgren. “I love kids. I love numbers.”

Burton let Wittgren know that he had baseball potential past high school.

He said, ‘you have something special, don’t waste it,’” says Wittgren of Burton’s advice.

Besides that, Burton emphasized that Wittgren was part of a large senior class and he owed it to the guys he’d been playing with since sixth grade to finish high school strong (born in Torrance, Calif., and raised in Long Beach and Cypress, Nick moved to Indiana as a sixth grader; father Andy lives in San Juan Capistrano; Nick’s other brother is Jack).

“If Jake didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here,” says Wittgren. “He saw something in me.”

A few days ago, the player and his former coach connected via FaceTime and Burton got to see Nick and Ashley Wittgren’s 14-month old son Jackson.

At McCutcheon, shortstop/pitcher Wittgren’s velocity topped out around 85 mph for most of the his senior season.

“I never took reps off in high school,” says Wittgren. “I need to do this to get better.”

His arm was tired from the workload.

With a few days off prior to sectional, Wittgren was touching 90.

Wittgren pitched in the Colt World Series in Lafayette and was scouted by McCutcheon graduate Matt Kennedy, then head coach at Parkland College. He got Wittgren to come to the junior college power in Champaign, Ill.

Seeing that the Cobras were in need of a Sunday starter, Wittgren pitched an idea to Kennedy.

He wanted to only pitch.

Wittgren recalls the response of the man he calls “KY.”

“He said that might be one of the best decisions you ever make,” says Wittgren a decade later. “I brought you in as a pitcher. I wanted you to figure it out.”

The lanky right-hander went 10-0 with 54 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings for a Parkland that placed fifth in the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.

In the fall of his sophomore year at Purdue, Wittgren had an ulnar nerve transfer.

Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber wanted him to be the team’s closer in the spring of 2011.

“Whatever puts me out on that field is what I want to do,” says Wittgren, who finished 24 games and appeared in 29 with a Big Ten Conference-leading 12 saves to go with 55 strikeouts in 51 innings.

Schreiber (who later was head coach at McCutcheon and is now head coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) and assistants Ryan Sawyers and Tristan McIntyre (now head coach at McCutcheon) implored him to “trust your stuff and pound the strike zone.”

“They got me to throw certain pitches in certain counts,” says Wittgren.

He could change the batter’s eye level with fastballs up and sliders down. If he  pitched up and in, hitters would not be able to extend their arms.

Wittgren was named second-team all-conference and then went to play for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks that summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Schreiber asked Wittgren to be a closer again in 2012.

He pitched in 26 games, finishing off 25 and racked up 10 saves, setting a new Purdue all-time high with 22. He fanned 39 batters in 41 innings and was named third-team all-Big Ten. His two-year earned run average for the Boilers was 2.54.

Wittgren selected in the ninth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Marlins and made his major league debut for Miami in 2016.

On the Cape is where Wittgren first met Ashley Crosby. She was part of the media department for the elite summer circuit.

A few years later, strength trainer Ashley did an internship with Cressy Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and she began dating Nick, who was training in south Florida with the Marlins. The relationship blossomed. The married couple now lives near Miami.

During the COVID-19 quarantine, Wittgren works out in his garage gym.

“It’s a full set-up,” says Wittgren. “There’s anything you need.

Eric (Cressy) writes my program. My wife implements them.”

Ashley Wittgren has wealth of knowledge with an MS (Master of Science) degree and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Precision Nutrition (Pn1) and TPI accreditations. She is there to help her husband correctly perform the movements and get the most out of them.

“She could apply for a big league strength job if she wanted,” says Nick of his wife. “She walks and talks me through a lift so I can get as strong as I possibly can.”

During quarantine, Wittgren throws into a backyard net. On bullpen days, he throws to catchers living in the area brought together by CSP.

During the off-season, Wittgren long tosses. But as the season approaches, he gets dialed in to pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches.

“I want my release point during the season to stay the same on everything,” says Wittgren. “I keep it on a line the whole entire time and hit (the catcher’s) knees every single time.”

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Nick Wittgren, a McCutcheon High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University, is now a reliever for the Cleveland Indians. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 2016 with the Miami Marlins. (Cleveland Indians Photo)

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Nick Wittgren, who played at McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, delivers the baseball for the Cleveland Indians. He excelled as a set-up reliever for the Tribe in 2019. (MLB Photo)

 

Lasher brought in to help with Oakland City transition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Oakland City (Ind.) University is making a transition from NCAA Division I to NAIA and the Mighty Oaks baseball program has also changed its leadership.

Andy Lasher, who played at Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., Olney (Ill.) Central College and the University of Evansville and coached at Olney, the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville and for the Dubois County Bombers in Huntingburg, Ind., has been hired as OCU head coach.

T-Ray Fletcher, who was Oakland City head coach for 26 seasons, is still the school’s athletic director.

Since taking the job a few weeks ago, Lasher been concentrating on building up his roster.

“I’ve been doing a lot of recruiting though there are no games to watch,” says Lasher, referring to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic which has live baseball shut down at the moment. “There’s been a lot of calls and text messages.”

Lasher, who is tapping into his network of contacts, says he would like to have 35 players in the fall and 40 to 45 in the future so the Mighty Oaks can add a junior varsity program.

In moving from NCAA D-II to NAIA, Oakland City also goes from an independent to a member of the River States Conference, a circuit that also features baseball-playing schools Indiana University Kokomo and Indiana University Southeast.

That takes care of half the schedule. Lasher has the opportunity to fill in the rest of the games, choosing ones that are feasible and keeps players from missing too many classes.

It’s Lasher’s intent to schedule some contests in the fall.

Lasher’s assistants are Jacob Bedwell and Austen Bullington. Washington (Ind.) High School graduate Bedwell was on the OCU team last year. Castle grad Bullington played at Wabash Valley College and the University of Tennessee-Martin.

Lasher was hired by Southern Indiana  last summer and spent much of his time assisting Screaming Eagles head coach Tracy Achuleta with hitters and position players.

“I also kept track of academic progress and a lot of little things that don’t happen on the baseball field,” says Lasher. “That’s a much bigger percentage of the job than people realize.

“At the college level, it’s a lot more than the bats and balls. It’s a full-time job for a reason.

“(Archuleta) is one of my favorite people. He’s alot of fun to be around and a really good baseball mind. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Lasher performed many of the same duties during the 2019 season as an assistant on Jason Anderson’s coaching staff at Eastern Illinois University.

He was an assistant to Dennis Conley at Olney Central from the 2014 season until the fall of 2018.

“It was a really good experience I wouldn’t trade for the world,” says Lasher, who helped the Blue Knights win 173 games in five seasons.

An outfielder, Lasher played two seasons at Olney (2010 and 2011) for Conley and two at Evansville (2012 and 2013) for Wes Carroll.

Going to Castle, Lasher had heard all about alums Wes and brother Jamey Carroll (who played in the big leagues).

“(Wes Carroll) was a real good player’s coach,” says Lasher. “We had some good teams.”

The Purple Aces won 56 games in Lasher’s two seasons at UE. He played with five players — left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland (Colorado Rockies), lefty-swinging outfielder Kevin Kaczmarski (New York Mets), righty-batting Eric Stamets (Rockies), righty pitcher Kyle Lloyd (San Diego Padres) and lefty hurler Phillip Diehl (Rockies) — who eventually made it to the majors.

For five summers, Lasher was with the Bombers — 2014 as an assistant coach and 2015-18 as manager.

He got to guide many talented players, including New Mexico State University’s Daniel Johnson in 2015, USI’s Logan Brown in 2016 and NMSU’s Nick Gonzales in 2018.

Lefty-hitting outfielder Johnson is now on the Cleveland Indians’ 40-man roster.

Brown is a catcher in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Lasher calls shortstop Gonzales, who was the 2019 NCAA Division I batting champion, the best player he’s ever coached and expects him to be taken about the top picks in the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

The atmosphere created by Dubois County ownership and fans at League Stadium made Lasher’s time with the Bombers very enjoyable.

“It’s a great place to watch a game,” says Lasher. “It’s a shame they’re not getting to do it this summer (due to COVID-19 causing cancelation of the Ohio Valley League season).”

Lasher graduated in 2009 from Castle, where he played for Curt Welch.

“He was very intense,” says Lasher of Welch, who has also been an assistant wrestling coach for the Knights. “We were probably in better shape physically as any team in the country.”

There was plenty of running and ab workouts.

“It was worth it,” says Welch. “No doubt about it. It got guys ready for the college stuff. You have to be mentally tough and physically in shape in college or you just aren’t going to make it.”

Besides head baseball coach, Lasher is also in charge of maintaining Oakland City athletic fields and is gameday coordinator for any on-campus sporting events. The Mighty Oaks sponsor teams in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer and tennis for men and women and softball and volleyball for women.

Lasher and girlfriend, former Orleans (Ind.) High School, Olney Central and Brescia University basketball player Shelbi Samsil, recently moved to the north side of Indianapolis to be closer to Oakland City.

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Andy Lasher is the new head baseball coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University. He is a graduate of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., and played at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the University of Evansville. He has coached at Olney, Eastern Illinois University, the University of Southern Indiana and with the summer collegiate Dubois County Bombers. (Oakland City University Photo)

 

Grove appreciates how Churubusco values baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Grove retired as head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School in 2015.

But that hasn’t stopped him from being a regular around “Turtle Town” diamonds.

Grove has helped out with the high school program, now led by 2011 graduate Jordan Turner, and has crossed Churubusco Community Park to watch youth league games.

“Baseball’s important in Churubusco,” says Grove. “It really is.

Grove, a graduate of Bluffton (Ind.) High School and Ball State University (1977), started coaching baseball at Churubusco in 1980 as an assistant to Jerry Lange (who was head football coach at the school 1985-91) and took over the Eagles in 1985. He went on to earn 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. Churubusco won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (reigning four times in the NECC tournament) on his watch and two Allen County Athletic Conference titles.

Grove produced 25 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state selections and six players selected for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Devin Peters (2015), Bryan Brudi (2008), Brad Vaught (2007), Brad Dell (2003), Todd Fleetwood (1997) and Travis Rehrer (1995). Grove was an assistant to North head coach Erik Hisner during the 2015 series.

Peters went on to play for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national champions at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College (2017) and participate in the NCAA Division II World Series with Ashland (Ohio) University (2019).

Right-handed pitcher Fred Ransom Jones, a 2004 Churubusco graduate, was selected in the 33rd round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees out of the University of Evansville.

Grove’s 1995 squad lost 7-1 to eventual single-class state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci, in the championship game of the Concordia Semistate. Bill Sharpe was the plate umpire in the title games of the Warsaw Sectional, Plymouth Regional, Concordia Semistate and State Finals in ’95.

The ’Busco battery of right-hander Rehrer and catcher Shawn Targgart wound up playing for Richard “Itchy” Jones at the University of Illinois.

Right-hander Brent Gaff represented Churubusco in the majors. He was chosen in the sixth round of the 1977 MLB Draft by the New York Mets and spent parts of 1982-84 with the big club.

“A small town kid from Churubusco can make it to the bigs,” says Grove. “This town is proud of the product they turn out on the baseball field.”

Whether or not an Eagles’ season included any postseason accolades, Grove got a kick out of fitting the pieces of the puzzle together.

“I enjoyed the whole preseason part and working out in the gym,” says Grove. “I moved kids around so we could be the most competitive we could be.”

After games, Grove went home and studied charts to see how to pitch to returning players for the next opponent.

“That was a lot of fun,” says Grove.

He also appreciated the rapport with his players and the camaraderie with his assistant coaches.

“I’ve got to see (players) grow up and become fathers,” says Grove. “You’re only going to be as good as your assistants.”

Business teacher Terry McManama was hired at Churubusco at the same time as Industrial Technology teacher Grove and coached volleyball and softball before he was lured to the baseball staff, where he served for more than two decades.

Math teacher Monte Gerig, who was Eagles head coach from 1973-77, and Chemistry teacher Jim Folland (a former Fort Wayne Elmhurst head baseball coach) were also Grove assistants. When Trent Gerig (Class of 1996), was a player, his father was lured back to coaching baseball.

Coaches in the Churubusco athletic department knew that they needed to share athletes in order for their teams to be competitive so multi-sport athletes were the norm.

“Everybody worked together,” says Grove. “We kept our kids active. We were there for the kids.

“The more sports they play, the more it makes them a rounded athlete. They tend to stay away from injuries because they don’t use the same muscles over and over again until something gives.”

Grove, McManama and Gerig can often be seen together on the golf course.

To stay close to football, Grove and McManama walk the sidelines and keep statistics for Churubusco football, which is now led by Paul Sade.

A former defensive coordinator, Grove was an Eagles assistant from 1979-99. He coached football at Lake State Edison briefly before coming to Whitley County.

Grove is still active with the IHSBCA, helping with registration at the State Clinic each January and assisting with the Class 2A poll. He was a district representative for many years and has served on the North/South All-Stars Series committee and was co-chair of the Baseball Strikes Out Cancer project with former executive director Bill Jones. The campaign raised more than $25,000 for the American Cancer Society.

“The most satisfying committee I ever worked on with the IHSBCA,” says Grove.

He is grateful for the impact of mentors like Hall of Famers Jones (who coached at DeKalb), Masucci, Don Sherman (Huntington North), Chris Stavreti (Fort Wayne Northrop) and Bill Nixon (Plymouth).

“I was skinny young coach,” says Grove. “I really looked up to those guys. The smartest thing I’ve ever done is that I kept my mouth shut and learned from them.”

At Bluffton, Grove was an outfielder and right-hander pitcher. Fred Murray was the Tigers head coach.

As a thank you to Murray, some member of the Class of 72, including Mike Pettibone, Bruce Hirschy and Jeff Penrod, initiated a reunion a couple of summers ago. Playing on old Wilson Field, Bluffton won its own sectional in 1972.

“Bluffton was a great place to grow up,” says Grove. “there was something going on for kids all the time.”

A summer recreation program provided chances to learn about baseball, swimming, tennis and more.

Denise Milholland, who went to another Wells County high school — Norwell — was introduced to Grove by Jim Watson and they later wed. Eric Milholland, brother of Denise, played in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Mark and Denise Grove have two married daughters and two grandsons — Jennifer, who works for Child Protective Services, and Derek Hupfer with Payton (9) and Brittany, an occupational therapy assistant, and Brennon Moughler with Evan (11).

Jennifer played volleyball, a little basketball and softball at Churubusco then softball at Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.). Brittany played volleyball, a little basketball and tennis for the Eagles. The Hupfers reside in Bluffton and the Moughlers near Butler, Ind.

One of Grove’s hobbies is collecting antique tools and tool boxes and fixing them up. One Christmas, he gave a tool box to each grandson and then let them and their fathers take turns picking out tools.

In January 2020, Grove received a call from Steve Warden on behalf of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association. Grove was selected for induction into the NEIA Hall of Fame with the banquet moved from the spring to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18 at Classic Cafe Catering & Event Center, 4832 Hillegas Road, Fort Wayne, because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

“That was a happy day at the Grove house,” says Grove, who was on the IHSBCA Hall of Fame ballot in 2020. “It validates the kind of program we had here at Churubusco.

“We had a lot of support from the administration and community. You don’t win without that.”

The NEIBA will also induct Northrop head coach Matt Brumbaugh and World Baseball Academy Chief Executive Officer Caleb Kimmel and present awards to Tom Knox and Tom Clements. Tickets are $25 each. Mail payment and the number of attendees to NEIBA, P.O. Box 12733, Fort Wayne, IN 46864.

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Mark Grove was head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School from 1985-2015 and earned 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. He is to be inducted into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame Oct. 18.

 

McNabb, North Daviess Cougars enjoy community support

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Steven McNabb learned much about baseball while playing for and coaching with an Indiana High School Baseball Hall of Famer and he tries to bring that to his role as head coach at North Daviess Junior/Senior High School in Elnora, Ind.

McNabb was a catcher at Shakamak Junior/Senior High School, where he played his first three seasons for Hall of Famer Chip Sweet. The coach’s oldest son, Josh, is one of Steven’s best friends.

After competing for Matt Fougerousse in his senior year and reaching the IHSAA State Finals for the third time (2004, 2006, 2007), McNabb played one season at Oakland City (Ind.) University and one at Olney (Ill.) Central College before receiving his degree at Indiana State University and joining Sweet’s coaching staff as junior varsity coach (2010-14) in his second stint at Shakamak.

“He is definitely my mentor and role model,” says McNabb of Sweet. “A lot of my style is like what his was.

“I can’t say enough about what he meant to my playing career and my coaching career. I’m super close with his whole family.”

McNabb says Sweet was not a screamer and yeller, but demanded much of his players. He was a disciplinarian when he needed to be there with tough love.

“We was ultra-competitive and that oozed through,” says McNabb. “He treated everybody as part of the team, regardless of ability level.”

Fougerousse is now head coach at Linton-Stockton. He and McNabb talk frequently about diamond matters.

North Daviess (enrollment around 300) is a member of the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eastern Greene, Linton-Stockton, North Central of Farmersburg, Shakamak and White River Valley).

The 2019 season was McNabb’s fifth in charge of the North Daviess program.

The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, Shoals and Vincennes Rivet. North Daviess has won seven sectional crowns — the last in 2015. The Cougars were North Daviess Sectional runners-up to Barr-Reeve in 2019.

Being in such close proximity to one another, there is a fierce three-headed rivalry between North Daviess, Barr-Reeve and Loogootee.

“The community really takes off with it,” says McNabb.

His first ND team won the 2015 Loogootee Sectional. A senior on that squad — Logan Wagler — went on to play a season at Bethel College (now Bethel University).

The Class of 2019 had three players moving on to college baseball programs — Shom Berry to Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky., honorable mention all-stater Landon Mokris to Greenville (Ill.) University and Tyler Dunbar to Hanover (Ind.) College.

McNabb’s coaching staff in 2020 will include local minister Ashley Shurtz, former North Daviess and Oakland City University player Lucas Swartzentruber and North Daviess teacher John Mullen.

Matt Sims, McNabb’s cousin and a Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Athletic Hall of Famer (baseball), was the Cougars pitching coach the past five seasons. Mullen moves up from the junior high staff and takes over those duties.

Sims works at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division, located less than 20 miles east of North Daviess.

For eight years, McNabb has been his school’s Project Lead The Way teacher, providing instruction in computer science, robotics, electronics and CAD 3D modeling, which helps prepare students for a career at Crane.

North Daviess plays baseball on Wayne Davis Field. The facility is part of a baseball/softball/tennis complex which was established in 2004. The baseball diamond is fairly large in dimension (330 feet down the lines and 380 to center).

An indoor hitting facility shared with softball helps the Cougars get better even when the weather does not cooperate.

Feeding the high school are the Frank Roberts Youth League in Odon and a junior high program. McNabb just had a call-out meeting for seventh and eighth graders that drew more than 20 players.

“Numbers at the (youth league) are always high,” says McNabb. “Baseball is something people get behind. I have a lot of support.

“It’s a great place to be.”

Steven and Amanda McNabb have been married nearly four years. They reside in Bloomington.

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The 2015 IHSAA sectional baseball champions from North Daviess High School.

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North Daviess High School head baseball coach Steven McNabb stands with Class 1A honorable mention all-staters Shom Berry (left) and Brandon Craven (right).

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Steven McNabb (left) and Caleb Wagler share a moment on North Daviess High School’s Wayne Davis Field.

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Steven McNabb, a graduate of Shakamak High School and Indiana State University, enters his sixth season as head baseball coach at North Daviess High School in Elnora, Ind., in 2020.

Mt. Vernon (Posey), Southern Indiana product Brown contributing in Braves system at bat, behind the plate

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Logan Brown takes pride in being a contributor on both offense and defense.

Take a recent game for the Florida Fire Frogs at the Daytona Tortugas.

The lefty-swinging Brown produced the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning and then went behind the plate in the bottom half to guide his pitcher and the team to victory.

“I got a change-up and doubled over the right fielder’s head and we went ahead 2-1,” says Brown. “We won with our closer (Daysbel Hernandez).

“It’s always nice to help the pitchers out. In the end of the day, they’re the one making the pitches. But I hope they feel comfortable throwing to me. That’s always a big priority to me.”

When his son was age 3 or 4, Kevin Brown noticed that the boy was turning into a lefty. Being a professional catcher himself (the elder Brown was a receiver for the Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox between 1996-2002), he let his boy keep swinging from left side but changed him to a right-handed thrower.

Logan Brown, who was born in Evansville, Ind., grew up in nearby Mount Vernon and played Mount Vernon Youth Baseball and travel ball for the Mount Vernon Wildbats (coached by Dan McNamara and including future high school and college teammate Drake McNamara), Southern Indiana Sharks (coached by Kevin Brown, J.D. Mobley and Kevin Krizan and featuring teammates Cody Mobley and Austin Krizan) and Evansville Wolfepack (coached by former big league infielder Joe Lis) and for Mount Vernon (Posey) High School.

Along the way, he played some in the infield. But his primary position was catcher and his high school coach — Paul Quinzer — trusted him to call pitches.

“(Quinzer) was a great coach,” says Brown, who was an all-Southwest Indiana Conference performer after batting .384 as a senior. “He knows you have that kind of potential.”

The trend of letting him call pitches continued for Brown at the University of Southern Indiana, where Jeremy Kuester was the pitching coach and Tracy Archuleta the head coach.

“He’s a fantastic coach,” says Brown of Archuleta. “He wants what’s best for every single player. He knows how to run a program.

“If he knows you can do better, he’s going to let you know. He knows you have that potential. He’ll say things like ‘I know you have more in your tank.’”

Archuleta has led the USI to two NCAA Division II national championships. The Screaming Eagles went 106-63 during Brown’s time on the team (2016-18) as he hit .313, .276 and .338 with 127 starts. USI won regional titles in 2016 and 2018.

Brown notes that many of his minor league teammates and opponents played D-II baseball.

Selected in the 35th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Braves, Brown has continued calling pitches as a professional.

“It’s a lot of reading the hitters and things like that,” says Brown. “It’s more than just throwing pitches. You see how the hitters react to it. You see their swing path.”

The Kissimmee- based Fire Frogs play in the 12-team Advanced Class-A Florida State League. Seeing a team one time is enough for Brown to pick up on hitters’ strengths and weaknesses.

“You can’t get repetitive or they’ll sit on pitches,” says Brown. “It can’t be the same rhythm for every at-bat.

“Throw a throw a question mark in there to confuse them. A 3-2 curve ball is enough to get them guessing.”

Brown’s background in the infield also serves as catcher.

“It translates,” says Brown. “The pitcher may spike a curve ball or slider. You stay through it and pick it.”

With a bat in his bands, Brown looks to make adjustments.

“I know the movement on baseballs is a little better (each step up the minor league ladder),” says Brown. “I’m sticking to my approach. I like to think ‘drive the ball the other way.’ But it depends on what the pitcher is doing as the game and the at-bat goes on.

“To be a good hitter, you’ve got to make adjustments throughout the at-bat.”

Brown, who turns 23 on Sept. 14, began the 2019 season with the Low Class-A Rome (Ga.) Braves and played in 51 games, hitting .301 with one home run, 11 doubles and 26 runs batted in.

In his first 35 games with the Fire Frogs, Brown is hitting .272 with three homers, five doubles and 16 RBI. He his hitting .289 with six runs driven in over his last 10 games.

Brown says he likes to emphasize his strengths and work on what he understands to be his weaknesses during the off-season.

The next two stages in the Braves system are Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett (Ga.).

Though he is not yet sure what the Braves have in mind for him at season’s end, Brown says expects to be in Mount Vernon at some point and helping his father at the Kevin Brown Baseball & Softball School.

Kevin Brown played baseball at USI while Logan’s mother, Rachel (then Murray and now Daniel) played tennis (Logan also played the sport in high school). Logan’s parents have remarried and he has seventh brothers and sisters in the Mount Vernon/Evansville area, ranging from 2 to 20.

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Logan Brown, a Mount Vernon (Posey) High School graduate and former University of Southern Indiana player, is now a catcher in the Atlanta Braves system. (Florida Fire Frogs Photo)

 

Southpaw Hougeson experiencing pro baseball with Gary SouthShore RailCats

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seth Hougeson is always looking for a challenge.

The Indianapolis native grew up playing multiple sports, trying to become proficient in each of them.

He competed in soccer, football, tennis, bowling and volleyball and wound up being the best at baseball and that’s what took him to various collegiate levels and now has the left-hander pitching as a professional.

Hougeson (pronounced Ho-geh-sin) is in the starting rotation for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats of the independent American Association. He is scheduled to take the ball today (Aug. 1) when Gary plays host to Winnipeg.

The youngest of Richard and Cara Hougeson’s three sons behind Japheth and Caleb, Seth attended Calvary Lutheran and Trinity Lutheran schools, where his mother was a teacher, before going to high school at Indianapolis Lutheran.

Seth could walk a few blocks from Calvary to participate at the Edgewood youth league on the south side. He later played travel ball for the Adam Robertson-coached Indy Bats.

“That’s where I learned and developed at an early age,” says Hougeson of the Bats. “(Robertson) brought out my competitive side. He was a very awesome coach.

“I owe a lot to him. We still stay in-touch.”

Hougeson says competitiveness is his No. 1 strength as an athlete.

“I never give up,” says Hougeson. “I’m always trying to complete that task in front of me.

“I’m hard-working and always doing the little things right. In college, I always prided myself on PFPs (Pitchers Fielding Practice drills).

“It was about fielding my position as a pitcher and being athletic enough to get off and field that bunt and throw it to first.”

Like a fifth infielder?

“Absolutely,” says Hougeson, who turned 22 on April 25.

Indianapolis Lutheran won four sectional titles with Honor Roll Student-Athlete Hougeson on the team and head coach Dick Alter leading the Saints.

“He expected a lot,” says Hougeson of Alter. “He wanted to push you until he got what he was looking for — the best out of your every single day.

“At first, I was a little standoffish. I didn’t know how to respond to it. But, as a I grew up and I matured, it’s just kind of clicked with me. He’s not against me. He’s for me and wants the very best for me.”

Hougeson came to appreciate Alter’s years of experience and it helped groom him for college and beyond.

“I’m always looking for the most competitive baseball and trying to better myself,” says Hougeson. “I continue to get better with the higher level of competition because it continues to push me to get to that next level.”

Concordia University Wisconsin is an NCAA Division III program. In his freshmen season (2016), Hougeson earned honorable mention on the all-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference and was on the NACC all-freshman year, going 3-3 in nine mound appearances (eight starts) with a 3.35 earned run average. In 40 1/3 innings, he struck out 38 and walked nine.

Next came Dyersburg (Tenn.) State Community College. In his one season with the Eagles (2017), Hougeson was named National Junior College (NJCAA) National Pitcher of the Year after going 14-1 with a 1.49 ERA. The southpaw struck out 107 and allowed just 74 hits and 35 walks in 92 1/3 innings.

Hougeson landed at NCAA Division II Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., for his final two college seasons.

As a junior in 2018, Hougeson went 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA in 12 games (eight starts) for a DSU team that went 42-11 and played in the NCAA Division II South Regional. In 35 1/3 innings, he fanned 39 and walked 22. As a senior in 2019, he made 14 appearances (10 starts) and went 9-0 with three complete games (one shutout) and a 2.44 ERA. In 59 innings, he whiffed 55 and walked 14. The Statesmen went 42-14 and played in the D-II South Super Regional.

Mike Kinnison retired as Delta State head coach at the end of the season and will be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2020.

“He’s one of those old-school, hard-nosed coaches,” says Hougeson of Kinnison. “He’s not going to stop until he gets the best out of you.”

Hougeson began his 2019 summer with the Palm Springs Power in the Southern California Collegiate Baseball League.

“I went out there with no expectations,” says Hougeson. “I was just going to play the best baseball I could possibly do. If I was going to get signed by a team, I was going to be very, very grateful for that.

“If nothing happened out of the summer, I was just going to hang it up and say I gave it all I had.”

He is 15 credit hours plus an internship short of his sports management degree and plans to finish with online classes. He sees himself using his many baseball connections to get job in front office job in baseball which could lead to becoming a general manager.

Or he could follow a long family tradition and go into military service.

“I’d love to join the Air Force and become a fireman,” says Hougeson, noting that his father is currently active in the Air Force and serving overseas. Both brothers (including Caleb Hougeson, who was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as an Indianapolis Lutheran third baseman) are in the Army. A grandfather and uncle served in the Marines and a cousin is currently with that service branch. An aunt is in the Air Force.

But sports management or military service are in the future. Hougeson’s present is focused on baseball.

The southpaw pitched in three Palm Springs games and signed with Gary on June 30. That same day, he made his pro debut, tossing four shutout innings while giving up two hits with one strikeout and one walk in a no-decision start against the Kansas City T-Bones.

Altogether, Hougeson has appeared in six RailCats games (five starts) and and is 1-1 with a 6.65 ERA. In 23 innings, he has racked up nine K’s and issued nine free passes.

A 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, Hougeson possesses a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, “circle” change-up and curve ball. He usually has an over-the-top release, but sometimes drops down a little and gets arm-side run with his fastball.

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Seth Hougeson, an Indianapolis Lutheran High School graduate who played college baseball at Concord University Wisconsin, Dyersburg State Community College and Delta State University, is now with the independent professional Gary (Ind.) South Shore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)