Tag Archives: Tennis

IU Southeast’s Reynolds really likes life on the pitcher’s mound

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

Cade Reynolds played all over the field as he came up through the baseball ranks in Greensburg, Ind.
He lined up everywhere but at first base and catcher.
Then while he was a high schooler playing travel ball in the summer for Evoshield Canes Midwest, Reynolds become a pitcher-only and that’s what the right-hander has been ever since.
“I love P.O. life,” says Reynolds, who has completed two seasons at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. “It’s awesome. I just feel more comfortable on the mound.
“I can focus on what I need to focus on. Starter or reliever, it doesn’t matter. It’s whatever the coach needs.”
Reynolds, who turns 21 in September, made 16 mound appearances (11 in relief) for the IUS Grenadiers in 2022 and post a 2-1 record and a 4.66 earned run average. He struck out 26 and walked 14 in 29 innings.
As a freshman in 2021, the righty got into 17 games (15 starts) and was 5-2 with 3.86 ERA, 49 strikeouts and 24 walks in 65 1/3 innings. He started his team’s first game in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking in the first inning,” says Reynolds, who fanned three batters before leaving in the third inning.
One of his teammates in 2021 was cousin Trevor Reynolds, who graduated from Greensburg Community High School in 2017 — three years ahead of Cade.
“We are two different styles of pitchers,” says Cade Reynolds. “He’s crafty. I’m more of a velo guy — at least at the NAIA level.”
The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder throws a four-seam fastball, sinker, change-up and curveball from a three-quarter arm slot.
Reynolds’ four-seamer got up to 92 mph his freshman year.
His sinker grip has his fingers together and is between and four-seam and two-seam grip.
The change-up is delivered with the middle finger on the left horseshoe of the ball, the ring finger on the right horseshoe and the index finger resting on the left side.
The curve is closer to a 12-to-6 than a slurve.
Ben Reel is head coach at IUS. Brandon Mattingly was the Grenadiers pitching coach in 2022.
“(Reel) is a good coach and down-to-earth,” says Reynolds. “He tells you what he thinks.
“(Mattingly) was a good guy to talk to about pitching. He was there for you all the time.”
IU Southeast, a member of the River States Conference, went 50-16 in 2021 and 40-15 in 2022. Though Reynolds and classmate Gavin Knust made an impact on the mound, there were plenty of veteran position players on those teams.
Clay Woeste, Daunte DeCello and Marco Romero were all leaders,” says Reynolds, who has two years of eligibility remaining. “It will be a lot different this coming spring. As a junior, I will have to step up.”
Born and raised in Greensburg, Reynolds went was 8 when he played for the 9U Indiana Blazers travel team. He went to the Indiana Nitro at 12U and was the with Indiana Outlaws/Evoshield Canes Midwest from 13U to 17U.
Cade credits his dedication and his father — Christopher Reynolds — for his development.
“My dad is the one that’s got to me where I am,” says Reynolds. “He’s Worked with me day in and day out since I was about 10 years old.”
The elder Reynolds played baseball for a season each at Marian University in Indianapolis and Wabash (Ind.) College as a left-handed pitcher.
Scott Holdsworth was Cade’s head coach at Greensburg Community.
“He was a good hitting coach for sure and another guy you could go to for anything,” says Reynolds, who also played tennis for the Pirates.
His senior baseball season at Greensburg was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He did pitch in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2020 with the Marksmen.
Reynolds did not play in the summer of 2021, but was back in the CSL in 2022 and helped the Caleb Fenimore-managed Bag Bandits make it to the championship game (which is scheduled for 7 p.m. today — July 28 vs. the Moon Shots — though Reynolds says be will not be there with work responsibilities.
A General Studies major, Reynolds plans to become an electrician’s apprentice after graduation. A family friend is a longtime electrician.
“I’d rather not work a desk job,” says Reynolds. “A blue collar job working with my hands is the best idea for me.”
Christopher Reynolds is a production manager with PrimeLending and his wife Angie Reynolds a human resources communication manager at First Financial Bank. Besides Cade, the couple has a daughter — Sydney Reynolds (25). She is in nursing school and works at Decatur Memorial Hospital.

Cade Reynolds (Indiana University Southeast Photo)
Cade Reynolds (Indiana University Southeast Photo)

Cade Reynolds (Indiana University Southeast Photo)

Cade Reynolds (Indiana University Southeast Photo)

New varsity head coach Nance growing game with Western Boone Stars

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

An investment has been made in the future of baseball at Western Boone Junior/Senior High School in Thorntown, Ind., and Michael Nance is part of it.
After coaching travel ball in the community, in the junior high program that feeds the high school and helping at the high school level, Nance was hired in July 2021 to guide the Webo Stars.
The junior high team has players in Grades 6-8 and plays 12 to 14 games in the spring.
Nance reached out to Western Boone Little League and a partnership was formed. The Western Boone Baseball Club offers instruction on Sundays to players age 9 to 12 not involved in travel ball.
“It’s an opportunity to get these kids more baseball reps all year,” says Nance.
Out of that came 12U and 10U club teams that offer additional games to the Little League schedule.
Knowing his current players and what’s in the pipeline, Nance is upbeat in leading a program which produced five varsity victories in 2019 and four in 2021.
“I think we can win,” says Nance. “I’m very excited about the next six or eight years from what I can see coming.”
Western Boone’s four seniors are Casey Baird, Will Barta, Evan Hine and Mitch Miller.
Baird, who has committed to Franklin (Ind.) College for football, will be called on to play multiple positions, including shortstop, second base, catcher and relief pitcher. Barta is a designated hitter. Georgetown (Ky.) College-bound Evan Hine (.325 average with a team-best .509 on-base percentage in 2021) is a third baseman. Miller, who led the Stars with .349 average last season, is a center fielder and lead-off hitter.
There’s also junior first baseman Andrew Foster, sophomore left-handed pitcher/right fielder Jackson Grimes, sophomore right-hander/left fielder Luke Jackson, sophomore righty/shortstop Bryce Kopriva, sophomore catcher and clean-up hitter Cole Wiley and freshman second baseman Gavin Hawkins.
Nance labels Kopriva, Jackson and Grimes as 1, 1A and 1B on his pitching staff. He points out that athletic Hawkins was the No. 1 singles player in tennis and played on the junior varsity team in basketball.
Former Marian University pitcher Gabe Westerfeld is a varsity assistant coach and the program’s pitching coordinator.
“We are really, really young on the mound,” says Nance. “Gabe has our young guys believing and there have been velocity increases.”
Eric Gubera is JV coach and is also in charge of outfielders and base runners. He has coached with Nance in the summer since their sons were 8. Two years ago, they became affiliated with the Indiana Braves. This summer, they will guide the 12U Indiana Yard Goats — a squad that includes six players from Western Boone, three from Avon and one from Brownsburg player.
Nance, who was a catcher at Lebanon (Ind.) High School, Ancilla College (Donaldson, Ind.) and MacMurray College (Jacksonsonville, Ill.), handles catchers, infielders and hitters.
There are 22 players in the program and all practice together.
Western Boone (enrollment around 510) is a member of the Sagamore Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Tri-West Hendricks).
The Stars are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Clinton Prairie, Delphi (2022 host), Fountain Central and Seeger. Western Boone has won two sectional titles — 1982 and 1983.
Western Boone is scheduled to open the 2022 season with three games this weekend in Unionville, Tenn., south of Nashville. An optional part of the spring break trip is attending Sunday’s Tennessee at Vanderbilt college game.
The Stars play home contests on-campus with side-by-side varsity and JV diamonds north of the school building. This year, the Stars got new brick dust for the infield and new wind screens for the outfield as well as a Hack machine and new L screens. At the end of the season, lights will go up.
“It’s a really nice place to play,” says Nance.
A 2004 Lebanon graduate, Nance played for Tigers head coach Rick Cosgray.
“He demanded a lot but got more out kids than they knew they were capable,” says Nance. “You knew he really loved the game. He was always so upbeat and positive.
“I have nothing but admiration for Coach Cosgray. I try to run my program like him.”
Nance played for two head coaches at Ancilla — Rockie Dodds and Joe Yonto.
“(Yonto) had a profound impact on me,” says Nance. “He showed me how to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand (through eye-specific muscle training.”
In Nance’s last year at MacMurray, former high school coach Fred Curtis led the Highlanders.
“He just loved the game,” says Nance. “He said if you do the fundamentals right and not walk people, you can win ball games.”
Nance says he also appreciates the mentoring and assistance he’s received from men also leading high school programs — among them Matthew Cherry (Fishers), Troy Drosche (Avon) and Andy Dudley (Frankfort).
“There’s been such support from the coaching community,” says Nance. “They’ve been willing to help.”
Nance earned a Special Education degree at MacMurray and a masters in Criminal Justice from Xavier University in Cincinnati. This summer will mark 15 years with Boone County Community Corrections. After starting out as a probation officer, he is now executive director.
Michael and wife Emily (who played softball at Manchester University and MacMurray and now works in cancer research at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis) have a son and daughter attending Thorntown Elementary — Easton (12) and Harper (10). He enjoys tennis, baseball and duck hunting. She likes soccer and plays travel softball with the Indiana Magic.

Michael Nance.
Michael Nance.
Emily, Easton, Michael and Harper Nance.
Michael, Emily, Easton and Harper Nance.
Harper and Michael Nance.
Easton, Michael and Harper Nance.

Now at St. Charles CC, Foster familiar with many levels of college baseball

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

Ryne Foster has first-hand knowledge of many forms of college baseball.
The 2004 graduate of Danville (Ind.) Community High School played for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dr. Don Brandon at NCAA Division III Anderson (Ind.) University.
Coaching stops have taken Foster to N’s Concordia University (Ann Arbor, Mich.), NCAA D-II’s Georgia Southwestern University (Americus, Ga.), National Junior College Athletic Association’s Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College, NCAA D-I’s Bowling Green (Ohio) State University and NJCAA’s St. Charles Community College (Cottleville, Mo.).
“It’s helped in the recruiting process,” says Foster of his familiarity with all those levels. “I kind of know what everybody’s talking about.”
The son of former Danville head baseball coach Rick Foster (and wife Alice) and older brother of current Cascade High School head coach Ty Foster (a 2007 Danville graduate who played four years at Manchester University for Spartans head coach Rick Espeset), Ryne Foster has been the St. Charles Cougars staff since 2018-19. He serves as associate head coach/hitting coach for head coach Jeff Bolen.
Foster, who was an assistant at Madison-Grant High School in Fairmount, Ind., before going into college coaching, was a volunteer/catchers coach for Danny Schmitz at Bowling Green, assistant/catchers coach for Mike Policastro at Cleveland State, assistant/outfielders for Bryan McLain at Georgia Southwestern and graduate assistant for Kyle Rayl at Concordia. Rayl is a former assistant at Anderson U.
NCAA D-I rules do not allow volunteers to recruit off-campus. Foster has participated in the process at all the other places he’s been.
“(Recruiting) is the most important part off the field in college baseball,” says Foster. “If you can get some good players you can do some good stuff.”
Junior college is generally a two-year experience. With the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Charles currently has 18 third-year players — 13 of which started their college careers with the Cougars.
With added years of eligibility in the NCAA and NAIA, it has many players staying in college baseball longer than anticipated. This — in turn — has trickled down to high schoolers looking for a place to play.
“There’s really quite a back log and then you put the transfer portal on top of that,” says Foster. “The talent is phenomenal at a lot of places. It seems all arms throw 90 mph or above.
“The thing that hurt the high school kids is an offer you would have gotten four or five years ago might not be there now.”
St. Charles, which is in NJCAA Division I Region 16, gets players kicking back from all levels, including NCAA D-I.
When Foster was in high school, he was aware of just one junior college baseball program in Indiana — NCJAA Division II Region 24’s Vincennes University. In 2022, there’s also NJC AA Division II Region 12’s Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson and Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne.
Missouri has 11 junior college programs (eight in NJCAA Division I and three in NJCAA Division II). Illinois sports 35 (10 in NCJAA Division I, four in NJCAA Division II and 21 in NJCAA Division III).
“Knowing what I know now I would have done everything I could to find a junior college out of high school,” says Foster, noting that there are fewer restrictions on the number of hours a week an athlete can practice or play, tuition is cheaper and there is a chance in two years to go to a school they may not have been able to attend out of high school.
“As coaches we’re able to be part of everything — academic monitoring, the weight lifting program and practice everyday with them,” says Foster. “There’s never a time other than family time I can’t work with you because you’re out of hours this week.”
“Juco Bandit” appears on many Twitter profiles. What does it mean?
“After being around it, it’s a term of pride for a lot of our guys,” says Foster. “It means a different level of toughness. Nothing handed to these guys and if it was, it was then taken away. It’s not the (NCAA) Division I life. There’s 2 and 3 a.m. leave times for a doubleheader.
“It’s a different mindset. The guys come out to play ball. That’s why they’re here.”
Foster and other St. Charles coaches do what they can to develop players for the next level.
“We move them on to good Division I and Division II programs when they’re done here,” says Foster. “We’re always making connections with coaches at that level and they’re helping us out.
“They know what kind of kids they’re getting out of junior college. They’re getting kids who are tough. It’s a big ask to come out of high school in play in the Big Ten, Big 12 or the SEC. There’s no substitute for experience.”
St. Charles plays 25 to 30 scrimmages in the fall with 56 regular-season games plus the postseason in the spring.
“We the fall for our sophomores to get exposure,” says Foster. “(Four-year school) come out and scout. We also get to see our freshmen and prepare for the spring.”
Besides his baseball duties, Foster is also in charge of the St. Charles athletic fields (baseball, softball and soccer). They are all grass.
“I starting learning with my dad being a high school coach,” says Foster. “It’s second nature. Many a spring break as a kid was spent out there getting the field ready.”
Rick Foster is head boys tennis coach and boys basketball assistant at Danville. He coached Warriors baseball almost 40 years and now helps Ty on the diamond at Cascade.
Ryne sees going into the profession as a natural.
“I couldn’t think of myself doing anything else,” says Foster. “I grew up with it. My dad was old school. You do things the right way and play hard. It’s the same way he grew up playing. Nothing too fancy.”
After playing tennis, basketball and baseball in high school (brother Ty played football, basketball and baseball), Ryne played both basketball and baseball his first two years at Anderson. In his fifth year, he came back to the Ravens basketball program.
“I love guys who play different sports (in high school),” says Foster. “They can develop so much when they can focus in one area. They have all kinds of potential.”
Foster relishes the chance to grow his baseball know-how and his network while attending the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, which meets each January (the 2022 version was in Chicago).
“You meet up with people from all over the country,” says Foster. “It’s a big fraternity. It’s pretty cool to be part of it.”
Baseball brought Ryne together with the woman he now calls his wife. He was working for Pastime Tournaments at an event in Nashville and met Nikki, who was attending down from Minnesota for a bachelorette party. Ryne and Nikki Foster were wed June 22, 2021 in a Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.
“She’s been with me through the coaching run in two different places,” says Foster. “She knows it’s not your normal 9-to-5 job.
“It’s hard to find someone who understands the work.”

Ryne and Nikki Foster (Crockette’s Images)
Ryne and Nikki Foster
Ryne, Rick and Ty Foster (Crockette’s Images)

Sprinkle helping Franklin College as assistant coach

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

Franklin (Ind.) College enjoyed a 25-14 baseball season in 2021.
The Grizzlies hit .299 as a team with 152 extra-base hits (45 home runs) and 87 stolen bases.
Of the top eight players in at-bats, six were seniors. Franklin’s fall workouts included many newcomers.
“We worked a lot on team offense and defense,” says Jake Sprinkle, who is in his second season as a Franklin assistant coach in 2021-22. “We have a lot of new faces and we want to get those guys acclimated.
“We had a lot of scrimmages, letting pitchers and hitters show what they’ve got.”
NCAA Division III rules restrict coach-player contact in the winter.
“We don’t have individual time,” says Sprinkle. “Seniors and leaders are setting up hitting and throwing groups. They’re making velo and exit velocity jumps and getting stronger in the weight room.”
Sprinkle, who works for head coach and associate director of athletics Lance Marshall, has been hitting the recruiting trail and getting plans in place and equipment ordered for the spring of 2022. The season is slated to begin Feb. 26 against Albion at Grizzly Park.
“This time of year we’re getting a lot of kids on-campus,” says Sprinkle of recruiting. “We’re trying to get some guys bought-in. We’re still working on 2022 (recruiting) class and reaching out to some 2023’s we’ve seen in the past.”
The Franklin website lists a 2021 roster of 45 with 40 of those hailing from Indiana.
Sprinkle, who turns 26 on Dec. 28, was born and raised in the Franklin Township section of Indianapolis. He played tennis and baseball at Franklin Central High School. Twin brother Ben was his tennis doubles partner and a baseball teammate. The Flashes were coached on the diamond by John Rockey.
“He was an awesome guy,” says Sprinkle of Rockey. “He brought a ton of energy to practice. He taught us what we needed to do at a younger age and prepared guys for college.
“We wanted to show up and work every single day.”
Jacob Wickliff (now head baseball coach at Beech Grove High School) was a Franklin Central teammate of the Sprinkle brothers.
Sprinkle was a right-handed pitcher at the University of Indianapolis.
As a UIndy freshman in 2015, Sprinkle went 8-2 with 2.97 earned run average. He struck out 32 and walked 11 in 63 2/3 inning.
Tommy John arm surgery caused him to miss the 2016 season and he was granted a medical redshirt before pitching for the Greyhounds from 2017-19. For his four college seasons, he was 22-9 with 3.86 ERA, 179 strikeouts and 68 walks in 240 innings.
Sprinkle’s first four years were spent with Gary Vaught as head coach with Al Ready moving up to be head coach his fifth year.
“(Coach Vaught) was so personable,” says Sprinkle. “He made everybody feel like they were special and created a personal bond. He would make sure people knew he was there for them.
“(Coach Ready) is extremely dedicated and hard-working. He’s a guy who’s going to put his best foot forward, do his research and whatever he can to win.”
Landon Hutchison was the Greyhounds pitching coach Sprinkle’s last few seasons.
After his college playing days, Sprinkle was briefly in the United Shore Professional Baseball League in the summer of 2019 then spent a year as a UIndy graduate assistant. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Marketing/Information Systems and a master’s degree in Sports Management from UIndy.
He joined Marshall’s Franklin coaching staff in September 2020.
“(Coach Marshall) is an awesome guy,” says Sprinkle. “He’s extremely hard-working and does everything the right way.
“He builds a championship culture — on and off the field.”
Besides recruiting, Sprinkle is in charge of Grizzlies infielders and hitters and helps with pitchers.
“With our infielders, we’re big on making the routine play,” says Sprinkle. “We re-set every play. It’s about being athletic.
“The hitters’ approach is about being on-time and driving the baseball in the gap.”
Last summer, Sprinkle coached a 17U travel team for Mike Chitwood’s Indiana Elite organization and will be leading a 17U squad for Chad Fowler’s Powerhouse Athletics group in the summer of 2022.
“I thought that’s where my path would take me,” says Sprinkle of coaching. “I was very fortunate to have a lot of great coaches.
“I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
Sprinkle comes from a baseball-loving family. He and his brother grew up being coached by their father, Tracy Sprinkle with support from mother Lori Sprinkle and sister Malorie Sprinkle (a former Franklin Central softball player who’s now a Butler University freshman). Ben Sprinkle began went to Kentucky Wesleyan College for baseball before transferring to Franklin.

Jake Sprinkle (Franklin College Photo)

Driver wants discipline, attention to detail with Attica Red Ramblers

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

Brian Driver spent more than 20 seasons as an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton at McCutcheon, North Newton and Twin Lakes.
Driver, a 1992 McCutcheon High School graduate, played for Burton and was his pitching coach at three stops — the past six at Twin Lakes.
Now head baseball coach at Attica Junior-Senior High School, Driver is building a program culture based on discipline and attention to detail.
“We’e going to focus on every rep and every ground ball,” says Driver, who was hired in July to lead the Red Ramblers. “Every cut has a purpose. You don’t take any rep off — in practice, games, everything.
“Footwork and handwork has to be correct.”
Driver also went to Milligan College in Johnson City, Tenn., where he played for Doug Jennett.
Attica (enrollment around 190) is in Fountain County and a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Covington, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage, Riverton Parke, Seeger and South Vermillio,).
In 2021, the Rambers were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Covington, Faith Christian, North Vermillion and Riverton Parke. Attica has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2017.
Driver and the Ramblers participated in baseball activities during the recent IHSAA Limited Contact Period (Aug. 30-Oct. 16) with about at dozen players, including junior high athletes, taking part with many players busy with Attica fall sports.
“We have a lot of field projects,” says Driver of the Rambler’s home facility. “We want it to be something they can take pride in.”
With community support, a full infield renovation and reworking of the mound and plate areas is in the offing thanks to former Victory Field head groundskeeper Jamie Mehringer, J&D Turf and Advanced Turf Solutions products.
“We want to be competitive with neighboring schools and those in Tippecanoe County,” says Driver of the Rambers’ field.
Driver’s coaching staff features four Attica alums — Theron Schmid, Seth Rooze, Kevin Burris, Carson Davis and Brian Powers. Schmid, who is also the Ramblers head football coach, was part of Attica’s state championship boys basketball and state runner-up football squad in 2000-21. Powers helps in the high school and junior high programs.
The feeder system at Attica includes school-affiliated junior high baseball (seventh and eighth graders and sometimes sixth graders). Attica Baseball Softball Association at Happy Walter Field is part of Town & Country Baseball.
In the works are the establishment of high school and youth summer travel teams.
Brian Driver has two children in Attica schools. Freshman Katelynn Driver (15) plays volleyball and softball. Sixth grader Cullen Driver (11) is in tennis, basketball and baseball.
Driver is a software salesman for Passageways, which has offices in Lafayette and Indianapolis.

Brian Driver.

Podkul’s path takes him to Yinzer Baseball Confederacy

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

Frank Podkul’s baseball journey has taken him to many places in North America.
The trek began in northwest Indiana. Podkul’s first organized experience came at Schererville Little League. That was followed by a Lake Central travel team, Northwest Indiana Shockers (coached by John Mallee), Indiana Playermakers (coached by Dave Griffin), Hammond Seminoles (coached by Ryan Pishkur, Tyler Oche and Matt Pobereyko), Hammond Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
Podkul graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., in 2014. He helped the 59ers (steered by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur) win an IHSAA Class 3A state title that year.
Younger brother Nick Podkul played up on most of Frank’s teams, including Andrean. Nick went on to Notre Dame and is now with Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
“We talk just about everyday,” says Frank. “We’e really close.”
Frank and Nick grew up in a neighborhood with kids who played many different sports — football, basketball, baseball, tennis etc.
“When you build that culture growing up you get a better appreciation for everything,” says Podkul, who turned 26 June 3. “:earn to be an athlete first. Everything else falls into place after that.
“It hurt when people want to specialize early. Let kids be kids.”
After he thought he might be a pitcher in college since he didn’t swing a potent bat in high school, Podkul played four seasons in the infield for Lance Marshall at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18).
“He’s just the best,” says Podkul of Marshall. “He would do anything for any of his players — no matter what. The way he’s built that program over the years it is one big family.
“On the baseball side of it, he let guys be themselves and got the best out of everybody.”
A corner infielder for the Grizzlies (mostly third base his last two years), Podkul appeared in 132 games and hit .290 (134-of-462) with 29 home runs, 25 doubles, 122 runs batted in, 109 runs and a .946 OPS (.414 on-base percentage plus .532 slugging average).
In 2018, Podkul hit .327 (53-of-162) with 16 homers, 10 doubles, 57 RBIs, 52 runs and a 1.129 OPS (.444/.685) while Franklin went 39-5 and ending the season at the NCAA Division III Central Regional.
“We had a ridiculous lineup,” says Podkul. “The amount of times we scored four or five runs in the first inning was almost comical.”
With baseball workouts and games, classes and his duties as a student athletic trainer, Podkul felt like a two-sport athlete as a senior. In the fall, he would awake at 5 a.m. for soccer practice, followed by classes, baseball practice and weightlifting then football practice and staying on top of his homework.
“At Franklin you have to be a good student,” says Podkul. “There’s no gimme classes.
“Everything is challenging.”
In his first two college summers, Podkul played for the Midwest Irish in 2015 and in the Virginia Beach (Va.) Collegiate Baseball League in 2016.
Podkul got a kickstart to his senior season at Franklin by spending the summer of 2017 with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks of the Western Canadian Baseball League.
“It was amazing,” says Podkul. “There’s really good competition in that league. Learning some stuff from those guys helped me in my senior year.”
One of his fond memories is playing a game in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is 890 kilometers (428 miles) north of Medicine Hat and seeing the sun out at 1 a.m.
After graduating from Franklin as an Athletic Training major with minors in Exercise Science and Coaching, Podkul went through some workouts in the independent pro Frontier League. Nothing came of those and he went to the California Winter League where he landed a spot with the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers in 2019.
In the fall of that year, Podkul contacted Joe Torre (not that Joe Torre) of Torre Baseball Training LLC in Ridgewood, N.J. He runs an independent ball spring training camp in Palm Beach, Fla.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and much of baseball was shut down, a four-team league — the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy — was established with all games played in Washington, Pa., run by Torre and Washington Wild Things president/general manager Tony Buccilli.
Podkul split his time between the Road Warrior Black Sox and Baseball Brilliance Sox. The Frontier League put in the two other teams — the Wild Things and Steel City Slammin Sammies.
The YBC is back for 2021 with the Road Warrior Black Sox, Baseball Brilliance Sox, Killer Bees and Wolfpack. Players are not paid. They are reimbursed clubhouse attendant dues if they are picked up by another league.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Podkul is with the Carson McCurdy-managed Black Sox — playing corner infielder and occasionally in the outfield. Through 32 games, he was hitting .284 (27-of-95) with five homers, 10 doubles, 13 RBIs, 16 runs and a .981 OPS (.433/.547).
The Yinzer league provides the opportunity for players to stay sharp and build up their numbers while looking to catch on in independent leagues. Rosters are set a month at a time.
“It’s real games,” says Podkul, who plays daily — either afternoon or night — at Wild Things Park. “It’s not a showcase.
“You’ve got to play and get in front of (coaches and scouts). You go where you’re going to be a good fit.”
Since January, about 60 Yinzer league players have moved to other clubs.

Frank Podkul with Andrean High School.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks.
Frank Podkul with the Road Warrior Black Sox of the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy.

Whitehead promotes lifelong lessons with Park Tudor Panthers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s about baseball and beyond for Courtney Whitehead as head coach at Park Tudor School on the north side of Indianapolis.

Whitehead is in his 19th season leading the Panthers program. He is also the Upper School athletic director at the private K-12 school (Grades K-5 in the Lower School, 6-8 in the Middle School and 9-12 in the Upper School – 9-12). The institution, which has about 375 in the Upper School, sports a 100 percent college placement rate.

“We’re big on education-based athletics and helping shape these young men and prepare them for their future,” says Whitehead. “It’s about having them learn lifelong lessons through baseball and what it means to be a good teammate, be focused, win and lose with grace and learn how to compete.

“Pretty soon they’ll have to compete in the game of life and it’s pretty tough out there.”

As far as the baseball part of the equation?

“We want to be fundamentally sound, have a high baseball I.Q., throw strikes (as pitchers) and make the right play,” says Whitehead. “We play fundamentally well and we execute.”

Park Tudor has 21 players in the program in 2021 and plays both a varsity and junior varsity schedule. That means players are asked to play multiple positions and many get a chance to pitch.

“Guys have to be ready for their turn in the rotation,” says Whitehead, whose Panthers compete in the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Prep, Bethesda Christian, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic and University). 

The baseball-playing schools see each other once each during the season.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Cascade (the 2021 host), Covenant Christian, Monrovia, Speedway and University. Park Tudor has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2013. A 1A state championship was earned in 1999 (Bob Hildebrand was head coach).

Among the other teams on the PT schedule are Brebeuf Jesuit, Bishop Chatard, Crawfordsville, Knightstown, Lapel, Scecina, South Putnam, Waldron and Wapahani.

Micah Johnson, a 2009 Park Tudor graduate, was a standout at Indiana University and played in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. He is now blossoming in the art world, frequently traveling back and forth from Indy to LA.

Current Panthers senior C.J. Richmond has committed to Western Illinois University. Whitehead says he expects that underclassmen will have a chance to play college baseball.

Park Tudor plays its home games on its campus located on College Avenue — about three miles northwest of Bishop Chatard High School and three miles northeast of Butler University.

A large backstop/net system was just installed at the Panthers’ field, which typically hosts IHSAA sectional and regional tournaments but with the construction of a new wellness center those events will be hosted in 2021 by Cascade.

In a non-COVID-19 year, Park Tudor will usually field a sixth grade team and a seventh/eighth grade squad that take on area independent and public middle schools.

“This is not a normal year,” says Whitehead. “(Grades 6-8) are practicing but not competing due to the pandemic.”

Whitehead is a 1996 graduate of Crawfordsville High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge and longtime assistant Rhett Welliever and was a teammate of current Athenians head coach Brett Motz.

“My four years we won a lot of ball games,” says Whitehead. “Coach Froedge was a big fundamentals guy. We were the start of Crawfordsville being really good.

“We went 30-3 and lost to Portage in semistate my junior year. That’s when there was one class.”

A celebration honoring Froedge was postponed in 2020 and is slated for Saturday, May 15 when Park Tudor plays at Crawfordsville. Bruce Whitehead, Courtney’s father, was Athenians AD for many years.

Courtney Whitehead played three seasons of college baseball — two at Indiana University Purdue University (IUPUI) for Bret Shambaugh and one at Goshen College for Todd Bacon

Purdue University presented Whitehead with a Secondary Education degree in 2000. He earned a masters in Athletic Administration from Western Kentucky University in 2013. Whitehead is also in charge of awards for the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

As AD at Park Tudor, Whitehead oversees an athletic department that has 20 varsity teams, including baseball, boys golf, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, girls softball, girls tennis, boys track and field and girls track and field in the spring.

“I’ve got good people to help me to manage events and good set of coaches,” says Whitehead. “We communicate well.”

Whitehead began his coaching career at Lowell (Ind.) High School, assisting Kirk Kennedy in football and Mike Magley in basketball.

He was then a football assistant to Sean Tomey at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the same school year that he helped Jamie Sailors with Harrison High School (West Lafayette) baseball.

Assisting Whitehead at Park Tudor in 2021 are Toby Rogers, Fred Pinch and Madison Foster with the varsity and Brent Smith and Lane Waters with the JV. Rogers played high school ball at Bloomington South then at IUPUI for Shambaugh. Pinch is from the Washington D.C. area. Foster, a 2012 Park Tudor graduate, played for Whitehead and was on three consecutive semistate teams before playing at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois.

Brent Smith is the father of former Whitehead player Calvin Smith. Harrison graduate Waters played baseball for the Raiders then basketball at Calvin University in Michigan.

Courtney and wife Beth have two sons and a daughter — all attending Park Tudor — freshman Nolan (as in Nolan Ryan), sixth grader Camden (as in Camden Yards in Baltimore) and second grader Addison (as in Clark and Addison, site of Wrigley Field in Chicago). 

“My wife is a big sports and baseball person,” says Courtney Whitehead.

Many of Whitehead’s relatives are in the Nappanee/Bremen area.

A.J. Whitehead, who was a basketball standout at NorthWood High School in Nappanee and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is associate director of strength and conditioning at Purdue.

Courtney Whitehead is head baseball coach and athletic director at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis.

Baseball is in the blood for Terre Haute’s Moore, Kraemer, Dumas family

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Terre Haute, Ind., high school baseball rivals meet for the second time this spring on Friday, May 7, one family will be out in force.

It’s just that some will be in opposite dugouts and bleachers.

Senior infielder/pitcher Cade Moore will represent North Vigo. His uncle, Kyle Kraemer, has been the head coach at South Vigo since the 1995 season. He is a 1986 South Vigo graduate who went on to play at Purdue University.

Cade’s mother, Amanda Moore (South Vigo Class of 1992), is Kyle’s sister. Amanda is married to Scott Moore (North Vigo Class of 1990), who began his teaching and coaching career at South Vigo and is now an administrator at North Vigo. Scott’s parents are Steve and Diane Moore. 

Steve Moore (Terre Haute Garfield Class of 1962) was North Vigo head coach when his son played for the Patriots. Diane graduated from Garfield in 1964.

Kyle’s parents are Bob and Kelly Dumas. They once rooted for another grandson in former South Vigo Braves and Indiana State University standout Koby Kraemer (Class of 2008), son of Kyle.  Father coached son.

Bob Dumas is a Massachusetts native who came to Terre Haute to attend Indiana State University and met Kelly (Terre Haute Gerstmeyer Tech Class of 1965).

A retired heating and cooling man, Bob Dumas is not hard to spot at at North Vigo-South Vigo game. He’s the one with the shirt that’s half blue with an “N” and red with an “S.” He had it made at an embroidery business in town.

“We’ve been South fans every since Kyle went to high school,” says Bob. “It’s been kind of a twisted year with Cade at North.

“There will be more favoritism to Cade because he’s actually playing.”

Says Kelly Dumas, “It’s a whole range of emotions. We’ve never been North fans.”

Cade, an only child, has always lived in the North Vigo district and attended DeVaney Elementary School and Woodrow Wilson Middle School. He played at Terre Haute North Little League. He’s also played travel ball with Mad Dog Baseball (coached by Travis Mason) and American Legion ball for Wayne Newton Post 346.

“I was a big fan of South watching (Koby) play as a little kid,” says Cade, who has taken hitting lessons from Koby and Kyle.”

What advice does Cade take from grandfather Steve Moore?

“Keep my head in the game and focus on making the right play,” says Cade, 18. “Be a leader and be a teammate. I’ve always been one to have a teammates’ back. Stick with a program. It’s been instilled from grandparents and parents. If you see a teammate knocked over you go help them up.

“I’m hearing the same thing from my coaches.”

Steve Moore, who has taught science at North Vigo, Indiana State and South Vigo, was an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Jennings then took over the Patriots for six years in the early 1990’s. 

“My expertise was in teaching the game,” says Steve, who for 18 years was the only man to tend to the overall maintenance of the North Vigo diamond which would become known as Don Jennings Field. “You have to think the game. Some kids are not thinking like they should about the game.

“We stressed fundamentals. Know what to do when the ball comes to you. In practice, we would go over just about everything.”

One of the school clubs at North Vigo was Baseball. Members/players would talk about the game and expand their knowledge.

“They had to learn the rules of baseball,” says Steve. “I gave tests. It was all in fun.

“It was a way to teach the game from a different perspective.”

He appreciates what he sees on the field from his grandson.

“I told Cade not too long ago. ‘You’re better than your dad and a whole lot better than your Grandpa,” says Steve. “He’s constantly thinking.”

Steve Moore enjoyed being a Fellowship of Christian Athletes sponsor at North Vigo, bringing in speakers like former big league catcher and Terre Haute native Brian Dorsett, and coaching Scott and against players like future major leaguers Don Mattingly (Evansville Memorial) and Scott Rolen (Jasper) and well as Kyle Kraemer.

“I did not like to see Kyle come to the plate,” says Steve. “His technique was always good. He could hit the daylights out of that ball.”

Scott Moore, who is now assistant principal of building and grounds at North Vigo, takes over as Post 346 manager — a position long held by John Hayes and then Tim Hayes.

Of course, Cade gets pointers from his father.

“Take charge and keep your teammates in the game as well as yourself,” says Cade of that advice. He’s more of the fundamental type.

“He can break down my (right-handed) swing for me and help me make an adjustment.”

Says Scott, “I talk to Cade about how being a part of a team is important and working with other people for a common goal.

“It’s about setting goals and working hard. What could I have done differently? Those are life lessons.”

Scott Moore — and the rest of the family — have watched Cade excel on the tennis court. Cade and doubles partner and classmate Ethan Knott (a close friend that he’s known since they played youth baseball together) came within two wins of making the State Finals in the fall of 2019.

“Being involved in multiple sports helps the athlete all-around,” says Scott. 

Cade probably could have played tennis at the next level, but he has committed to play baseball at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro. The Panthers are led by head coach Todd Lillpop.

“I like the way he runs his program,” says Cade. “I’ll go there to play infield. I’ll be a two-way if he likes me on the mound.”

Cade has been mostly a shortstop and third baseman when not on the mound for North Vigo.

Both sets of grandparents have already scouted at KWC and the town and look forward to spending time there and the places where the Panthers play.

“(Kentucky Wesleyan) has same colors as Garfield,” says Diane Moore. “Steve and I felt right at home.”

Diane, who retired after 32 years at the Vigo County Library, was brought up in a baseball-loving family.

“Before I even met Steve my father was a big Chicago Cubs fan,” says Diane. “My mother was from St. Louis and a Cardinals fan.”

Steve, who lived across the alley from Diane’s grandparents, met his future bride in high school.

Cade grew up spending plenty of time at his grandparents’ house. When he was young, Woodrow Wilson teacher Amanda dropped him her son at Steve and Diane’s and his grandmother took him to DeVaney. 

“(Cade) and Grandpa played I don’t know how much catch in our cul de sac,” says Diane.

Being part of a family filled with educators has not been lost on Cade.

“Not only has it helped me on the field but in the classroom as well,” says Cade.

It doesn’t hurt that he has ready access to facilities thanks to his dad’s job.

“Education has always been our focus,” says Amanda Moore. “You’re here to get an education first and then you can participate in extracurricular activities.

“Cade’s always been a pretty good student though it took a little bit of guidance in kindergarten and first grade.”

Says Scott, “Fortunately he had some good habits and worked through some things. (As an only child), my wife and I were able to focus on him. There was tough love. I wouldn’t say we spoiled him.”

Being six years younger than brother Kyle, Amanda tagged along or begged out when he had games when they were youngsters. She was a gymnast and then a diver at South Vigo.

“Not until Cade started playing baseball did I have any interest in it,” says Amanda. “One great thing about having Cade involved in baseball for so many years is the friendships. These people have become almost like family. 

“Some of the parents are like an aunt and uncle to Cade and vice versa. We travel together. We’ve supported each other when one child has been injured.

“It’s been nice to develop those almost familial relationships with those other people and children.”

Amanda has watched her son learn life lessons through sports. While in junior high he was on the track team and did not like it. But there was no quitting the team.

“When you make a commitment you can not back out of that,” says Amanda. “Taking the easy way out is not going to teach you anything about life.

“My brother has shown that loyalty is an important value to have and develop even through the tough times.”

Amanda also sees similarities in her son and nephew and notices a similar dynamic between her husband and son and her brother and his son.

“I can see the competitive edge and desire to work hard,” says Amanda. “I can see that mirror in Koby and Cade. They want to win and are willing to work hard.

“Kyle and Scott walk that fine line between being a coach and dad and not showing any favoritism. 

“Sometimes dad is tougher on their own child than they are on their own players.”

Kelly Dumas, a retired teacher who saw Kyle first play T-ball at age 3 and make tin-foil balls to throw around the house when it was too cold to go outside, has been to diamonds all over the place and made friendships with players and their families.

“We’ve enjoyed 50 years of baseball,” says Kelly. “I just like to watch all the different players come through and follow what they do afterward. It’s good to see both my grandsons be successful

“We’ve been so many places with Koby, especially when he played for the (Terre Haute) Rex (the summer collegiate team that will be managed in 2021 by former big league slugger and Kyle Kraemer player A.J. Reed). We went to little towns with old wooden stadiums.

“Cade’s been working very hard to be the best he can be.”

Koby Kraemer, who briefly played in the Toronto Blue Jays system after college, is now assistant strength and conditioning coach at Ohio State University.

“We all love the game,” says Koby of the family’s affinity for baseball. “It plays a big part in our lives.

“The reason my dad has coached so long is because he loves it. The reason he’s successful is that he challenges people to be better.

“You get more out of them then they thought they had in them. That’s what makes good coaches.”

Besides April 30 (the Patriots won 8-5 at South Vigo) and May 7 at North Vigo, the rivals could meet three times this season. Both are in the IHSAA Class 4A Plainfield Sectional.

Kyle Kraemer (left) stands with father Bob Dumas and Cade Moore. Kraemer is the head baseball coach at Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School and the son of Dumas and uncle of Terre Haute (Ind.) North Vigo senior infielder/pitcher Cade Moore. Dumas wears a custom shirt touting the South Vigo Braves and North Vigo Patriots.
A baseball family in Terre Haute, Ind. (from left): Steve Moore, Diane Moore, Amanda Moore, Kyle Kraemer, Cade Moore, Steve Moore, Kelly Dumas and Bob Dumas. Kraemer is head coach at Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School. His nephew, Cade Moore, is a senior infielder/pitcher for Terre Haute (Ind.) North Vigo High School.

Junior college baseball route good to Kuntz

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Roman Kuntz is a different athlete since he left the high school ranks two years ago.

As a Class 3A baseball first-team all-state outfielder in the New Prairie High School Class of 2019, Kuntz carried about 165 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.

In his second and final season as a junior college in 2021 the outfielder/first baseman tips the scales at around 220 and is putting the extra muscle to use.

He is sophomore lefty swinger for the Lake Michigan College (Benton Harbor, Mich.) Red Hawks — members of National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12.

Through his first 23 games of 2021 Kuntz is hitting .493 (36-of-73) with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in and 33 runs scored. His OPS is 1.027 (.480 on-base percentage plus .547 slugging average).

On Saturday, Kuntz went 4-of-4 with five RBIs and three runs. Two of his hits against Ivy Tech Northeast cleared the fence at Shoaff Park in Fort Wayne, Ind.

During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, Kuntz hit .310 (9-of-29) with one homer, nine RBIs, 10 runs and a 1.098 OPS (.512 on-base percentage plus .586 slugging average) in 10 games.

Kuntz was supposed to play for the Ohio Valley League’s Muhlenberg (Ky.) Stallions, but the OVL did not play and he would up in the Northwoods League with the Steve Cutter-managed Great Lakes Resorters in Traverse City, Mich.

While his numbers weren’t spectacular, Kuntz credits that experience for playing a major part in his offensive jump in his second season at Lake Michigan College.

“I was seeing some of the top arms in the country,” says Kuntz, who hit .222 (18-of-81) with three homers, 13 RBIs, 15 runs and .730 OPS (.323 on-base percentage plus .407 slugging average) in 25 games. “It’s that and my approach at the plate.”

LMC head coach Zak Wasserman asks his players to “compete all the time.”

“Focus on this pitch right now and just stay locked in,” says Kuntz of Wasserman’s directive. “We can’t focus on a pitch or a swing we haven’t taken yet.

“Just focus on the moment.”

Kuntz and his teammates like to called themselves “juco bandits.”

“It’s just a joke we all have,” says Kuntz. “We don’t always have the best of everything and play on the best fields. You have to put up with what you’re given and just embrace it.

“It akes it that much sweeter when you get to a four-year school.

“The main reason I wanted to go juco with guidance from my coaches was two more years to develop academically and athletically.”

Kuntz is due to earn an Associate of Arts degree at LMC before continuing his athletic and academic career at NCAA Division I Morehead (Ky.) State University for 2021-22. Former Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki is the head coach of the Ohio Valley Conference-member Eagles.

“There’s exciting path ahead of me,” says Kuntz. “I can’t wait to get started on the next journey.”

Kuntz visited a number of schools last summer and made a connection with MSU players Joe Rotkis (a South Bend Saint Joseph graduate who he played against in baseball and hockey) and Priamo Lozado.

What will Kuntz study at Morehead State?

Psychology with an eye on the clinical side.

“I just care for people,” says Kuntz. “Everyone can use someone who can understand and listen to them.”

Roman was born in South Bend, Ind., as the second of Brett and Janel Kuntz’s three children. Brother Addison Clark — yes, the family roots for the Chicago Cubs —  is older by two years and was a New Prairie baseball teammate. 

Sister Helaina is a sophomore and No. 2 singles player on the NPHS girls tennis team.

Roman played baseball almost as soon as he could walk and hockey at age 5.

He was in the New Prairie Little League in New Carlisle, Ind., and played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers then the Tony Cruz-managed South Bend American Legion Post 151 the summer before college. 

A varsity player from sophomore through senior year at New Prairie, Kuntz learned from Cougars head coach Mark Schellinger.

“He’s all about the mental side of the game,” says Kuntz of Schellinger. “That’s so important with baseball.”

Schellinger had his players — all of them and not just captains or seniors — come to his classroom once a week for a leadership meeting.

“Everybody had the leadership responsibility,” says Kuntz. “It takes everybody to be a leader.”

Kuntz skated for the South Bend Irish Rovers travel team and was with the South Bend Riley Wildcats Hockey Club his last three years of high school. Moving from defense to left wing as a senior in 2019, he helped the Wildcats to a Class 2A Indiana state championship.

This summer, Kuntz plans to return to the Northwoods League and for manager Corey Thompson and the Wausau-based Wisconsin Woodchucks.

But first there’s work to do as a “juco bandit.”

Roman Kuntz, a 2019 graduate of New Prairie High School in New Carlisel, Ind., and due to graduate in 2021 from Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., signs to continue his academic and baseball careers beyond junior college at Morehead (Ky.) State University. (Lake Michigan College Photo)

Thixton going out with a bang at Indiana Wesleyan

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tye Thixton figures he was born to play baseball.

He is named for his great grandfather on his mother Amy’s side — Leonus “Tye” Goheen, a standout pitcher in Kentucky in the 1920’s and 1930’s who once was matched up against a young Hall of Famer-to-be Dizzy Dean

Goheen led the Dawson Springs Daylight Ball Club to the state championship in 1932 and an appearance in the Little World Series in Battle Creek, Mich., in 1937.

When Tye Thixton was but a tyke his father — Jeff Thixton — introduced his oldest son to the game with wiffleball and followed him all the way through youth and travel ball and college until his passing at 50 on Jan. 10, 2020 with wife Amy and sons Tye and Trey surviving. 

“We bonded a lot of the time through baseball,” says Tye, who was granted an extra year of eligibility at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind,, because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2020 season and is shining in 2021 (Trey Thixton, 20, is a sophomore on the IWU men’s tennis team). “I want to leave it all on the field for dad.”

Tye has his father’s initials — JLT — on his wrist tape and writes them in the dirt each time he comes up to bat.

Thixton’s Indiana Wesleyan team, which also features “COVID seniors” Tanner Killian, Austin Swift and Jon Young, goes into a Crossroads League series today (April 16) and Saturday (April 17) against visiting Huntington at 32-11 overall and 21-3 in conference play. The team has its sights on being the program’s first 40-game winner.

Center fielder and lead-off man Thixton is hitting .349 (60-of-172) with 11 home runs, one triple, 11 doubles, 45 runs batted in, 48 runs scored and is 15-of-15 in stolen bases. He sports an 1.039 OPS (.423 on-base percentage plus .616 slugging average) with 20 multi-hit games.

For his IWU career, Thixton is hitting .360 (151-of-419) with 21 homers, three triples, 28 doubles, 96 RBIs, 106 runs and is 29-of-32 in stolen bases. His OPS is 1.020 (.428 on-base percentage plus .592 slugging average).

Thixton’s most-recent circuit clout came Monday, April 13 in Game 1 of a CL doubleheader against Taylor. The two-run shot in the fourth inning to left field cut through a steady cross wind and landed on the football stadium next to Wildcat Field.

“Off the bat I was thinking, ‘get on 2,’” says Thixton. “The fact that it got out gave us a lot of momentum and helped us get into their pen.

“My whole game has changed. I’m a little bit of a power threat this year. I think the COIVD year helped guys develop. We got to spend more time in the weight room and more time to work on the swing.

“Across the board players progressing and numbers on the pitching and hitting side a lot better.”

A center fielder and No. 1 hitter in the batting order since his days at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Thixton relishes both roles.

“I like being able to run the outfield,” says Thixton. “It’s fun playing gap-to-gap.

“I’ve always loved being a lead-off hitter — just being able to set the tone of the game.”

Thixton, 23, is finishing up his Business Management degree. Commencement at IWU is slated for May 1.

“I’ll be done,” says Thixton of his college days which began with two years at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College, including a team MVP season in 2018. “Then I get on to the real world.”

Competing against NAIA No. 1-ranked Southeastern in Florida and No. 6 Faulkner in Alabama to begin the season in February, the Wildcats got off to an 0-7 start.

“We got walked off three times in seven games,” says Thixton. “But we knew we could compete with the highest level. We could’ve easily won three of four of those games.

“Nobody’s head was down. It was time to go on a win streak.”

And that’s just what IWU did. 

The Wildcats won their next 16 under the guidance of head coach Rich Benjamin.

“He loves all of his players,” says Thixton. “He’s done such a good job of bringing a team together and making guys want to play for each other and for him.

“We’ve got a good mix of all ages. Guys able to learn from each other. That’s really contributed to this year.”

Going through the uncertainty of the pandemic has also impacted the team’s outlook.

“We’ve played every game with the thought it could be our last,” says Thixton.

Born in Greenwood, Thixton started school at Clark Elementary in Whiteland and played at Whiteland Little League then moved to the Center Grove area as a third grader and he attended the former West Grove Elementary. 

He played in the Center Grove Little League then travel ball with a Center Grove team coached by Mike Chitwood that morphed into Indiana Elite Baseball and Pony Express Baseball, where his coaches were Kyle Beachy, Quentin Brown and Grant Bellak

“(Brown and Bellak) were a blast to be around,” says Thixton. “They helped me develop my game so much. 

Thixton graduated from Center Grove High School in 2016. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was in his final season with the Trojans while Thixton played on the junior varsity as a freshman. 

Keith Hatfield was Thixton’s varsity coach for three CG seasons.

What is Thixton’s impressions of Hatfield?

“It’s his passion for the game,” says Thixton. “We had so much fun playing with Coach Hatfield (in 2016).

“We had a talented group of seniors. We lost to (eventual IHSAA Class 4A state champion) Roncalli in the (Plainfield) Semistate.”

Clayton Hicks, who is now head coach at Danville Area, was an assistant when he recruited Thixton for the Jaguars and got him to play for head coach Tim Bunton.

“He’s the best baseball mind I’ve ever been around,” says Thixton of Bunton. “He took my game to a completely different level mentally.

“It was about winning every pitch and winning the little things in baseball.

“There are so many metrics now. But the game still comes down to the mental side and what to do when the ball is in play

“What you can do at-bat to help your team team?”

In two seasons at Danville Area (2017 and 2018), Thixton hit .376 (139-of-369) in 101 games (98 starts).

In the summers after his freshman and sophomore years, Thixton played for the Hicks-managed Hannibal Hoots in 2017 and the St. Louis Kats in 2018.

Tye Thixton (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)