Tag Archives: Three Rivers Conference

New head coach Blocker seeks ‘efficient’ Southwood Knights

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

Cory Blocker moves up from varsity assistant to head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School in Wabash, Ind., in 2022-23.
Borrowing a motto from another coach, Blocker wants the Knights to be “efficient.”
“In practice drills, we’re not standing around but getting plenty of swings and taking game-like reps,” says Blocker, who wants to see efficiency in the field, on the mound and in the batter’s box.
Southwood left 6.6 runners on base per game and committed 88 fielding errors in going 5-17-1 in 2022.
“We want to make the plays behind our pitchers,” says Blocker. “We want to have an (offensive) approach and understand our job each time we go to the plate. We’ll try to put ourselves in the best position to achieve that job.”
If the Knights have a runner on first base, the job will entail moving them at least to second base.
“We want to make (opposing) pitchers work and make every out count,” says Blocker, who wants to see his hitters make contact and increase their batting average on balls in play.
Pitching efficiency includes mechanics, throwing strikes and liming walks.
Among Southwood returnees for 2023 is senior catcher Mo Lloyd, who hit .452 with 12 home runs and 40 runs batted in for 2002 and hitting .480 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs for a 22-7 team in 2021.
Besides Blocker, the coaching staff features returnees Danny Lloyd and Christian Deeter and newcomers in pitching coach Kyle Zerfas and junior varsity coach Tanner Chamberlain.
There were about 25 players in the program — varsity and JV — in 2022.
Blocker is in his eighth year as a Southwood teacher. He instructs sixth grade math and is at the junior/high school building for the first time in 2022-23.
He has been a baseball and football assistant for seven years. This fall, he was the special teams coordinator and running backs coach. The 2022 Southwood football team went 7-3.
Because of when Blocker was named head coach and his football duties, there were no IHSAA Limited Contact Period activities in the fall.
The Knights play home games on-campus on a facility sometimes called “The Launching Pad” for its cozy dimensions. Blocker says its about 280 feet down the foul lines.
Wabash Little League serves Wabash County and feeds players to Southwood, Manchester, Northfield and Wabash high schools.
Southwood (enrollment around 250) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).
In recent seasons, TRC teams met each other once during the season. There is no conference tournament.
The Knights part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield and West Central. Southwood has won five sectional titles — the last in 2021.
A 2009 graduate of Huntington (Ind.) North High School, Blocker played four years of football, three of baseball and two of basketball. His head coaches were Rief Gilg (the Vikings went 8-3 in 2008, Blocker’s senior year on the gridiron), Russ Degitz and Eric Foister.
“A lot of our time in baseball was spent with the little details,” says Blocker of Degitz. “He was a big fundamental guy.
“They were all coaches that were hard on you but cared about you at the same time and made sure that was relayed in everything they did.”
Blocker spent two years at Purdue University and four at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, graduating in 2015.
Cory and Brittany Blocker have been married five years. The couple resides in Wabash and has three children — daughter Wrenley (3), son Wesley (1 1/2) and daughter Willow (almost eight months).

Cory Blocker. (Frederick’s Photography)
Cory and Brittany Blocker with children (from left): Wrenley, Wesley and Willow.

Smith building excitement as new Manchester Squires coach

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

Shane Smith has coached baseball for 24 years and at every level from T-ball and 18U travel with the past two years as an assistant at Wabash (Ind.) High School.
Smith can now add high school head coach to his list of diamond experiences.
Last week he was board-approved to lead the baseball program at Manchester Junior/Senior High School in North Manchester, Ind., which is about 20 miles north of Southwood Junior/Senior High School.
Oldest son Blake Smith (19) graduated from Wabash in 2022 and is now a freshman baseball player and Sport Management major at Manchester University in North Manchester.
Shane and Tiffany Smith’s younger sons Ashton (18 and a senior) and Jackson (15 and a sophomore) are still in involved in baseball at Southwood, which is also in Wabash County and conference rival to Manchester. Ashton Smith played at Wabash the past two years.
Daughter Ella Smith is a seventh grade softball player and dancer.
“Baseball has been our family thing,” says Shane Smith, who celebrates 20 years of marriage to Tiffany in October. “This is an opportunity I’ve always wanted: to run a varsity baseball program.
“I prayed about it. I talked to my family. They’ve been supportive. I don’t take it lightly and I appreciate it.”
Smith was involved with the Wabash Pride travel program for eight years, serving as president for six. He also coached for the USA Prime.
At Wabash High, he assisted Apaches head coach Jack Holley. They had met when Smith was 13 and playing for the Prep League Blue Jays coached by Holley.
“He’s an Old School baseball traditionalist and he’s got a great heart,” says Smith of Holley, who played on Wabash’s 1986 state champions and then at Valparaiso University. “He’s got a great deal of knowledge, but he puts things in perspective.
“It’s bigger than baseball. We’re dealing with people’s sons.”
During his high school years, Smith also played for Wabash American Legion Post 15 coached by Steve Furnas and Oren Wagner.
Smith is a 1999 graduate of Wabash. One of his high school coaches in his younger years was Todd Adams, a former Anderson (Ind.) University player who was in charge of strength and conditioning for the Apaches.
“He was a physical specimen,” says Smith of Adams, who is now his insurance agent. “He poured everything he had into us. We were than more than just our stats.
“He got the most out of us simply by showing he cared. He expected maximum effort and that’s who I am as a coach.”
Rick Espeset, head coach at Manchester University, coached with Smith for four years in the summer and made an impression.
“You can achieve success and all these goals but you have to stay grounded,” says Smith. “Everything we did was fun and maximum effort
He was a relationship-first guy, too.”
Ethan Espeset, Rick’s son, is a 2022 Manchester Junior/Senior High graduate.
Manchester (enrollment around 475) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko).
The Squires were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Carroll (Flora), Lewis Cass, Rochester, Wabash and Whitko. Manchester has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2016. The 2002 Squires were 2A state champions.
Jack Rupley was Manchester’s head coach from 1998 until retiring at the end of the 2022 season.
“Jack was very consistent as far as leading a program and its expectations,” says Smith. “I want to add to the already-strong history.”
Smith plans to bring his unique strengths and passions to the Squires baseball program.
“I like to play fast and put pressure on the defense,” says Smith. He notes that Wabash stole 140 bases in 2022 and that’s a realistic goal at Manchester. “I like the kids to play loose and fail with confidence. I’m not looking for them to be a robot. I’m going to empower my players to steal that base.”
Smith passionate about serving others and he’s going to bring that to the Squires.
Wabash conducted a “dad’s practice” with a fathers and male role models joining the players and Smith plans to do the same at Manchester.
“We’re going to have a good time,” says Smith.
He wants to have walk-up songs and “cool gamed experience” for his players.
“I’m an Old School guy with a New School side to me,” says Smith. “I want to mix it up a little.”
In just a few days, the Manchester Squires Baseball Facebook page already had over 100 followers.
“Excitement is growing,” says Smith. “We want to do something special.”
Smith expects eight players with varsity experience to return in 2023. That includes the top four in batting average (junior Garrett Sites .389, sophomore Ethan Hendrix .365, junior Evan Martynowicz .338, junior Gavin Martin .303) and leading base stealers (Sites 11, Hendrix 10, Martynowicz 8 and Martin 7).
As a pitcher, Martynowicz went 2-2 with a 2.31 earned run average, 38 strikeouts and 13 walks over 42 1/3 innings.
Smith has already attended Manchester sporting events to meet players and parents and reached out to Manchester Recreational Association and wants to offer coach and player clinics.
“My main goal is to generate excitement in the community,” says Smith. “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. I plan to support these kids and families and have a good foundation of a relationship way before the first day of practice.”
The coach plans to have a call-out meeting in the near future.
Manchester does not currently have junior high baseball. Smith says he would like to start that, perhaps through MRA.
“We want to make sure (younger players) have a sound foundation,” says Smith. “We want to make sure in T-ball they fall in love with the game. So many times we overwhelm the kids and it becomes a job.
“They have to have a great experience, continue to love it and have the confidence. Youth baseball is all about fundamentals and gaining confidence.
“If we are going to have a true feeder system, the focus has to be development and long-term success over short-term success.”
Smith works as a social worker and school safety specialist for Wabash City Schools. He is currently in the L.H. Carpenter Early Learning Center.
He is also on the Wabash County’s Child Protection Team, which is an accountability piece for the Department of Child Services.
Smith earned a Criminal Justice degree with a minor in Human Resources Management from Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

Shane Smith.
The Smiths (clockwise from upper left): Shane, Ashton, Blake, Jackson, Tiffany and Ella.

“Dad’s Practice” with Blake, Shane, Ashton and Doug Smith.

Shane Smith (left) advises a Wabash High hitter.

Holley teaching life lessons with Wabash Apaches

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

Jack Holley Jr. played baseball at Wabash (Ind.) High School and was on the state championship team coached by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chris Rood.
Holley was a sophomore when the Apaches won the title in 1986. Tom Dempsey struck out 12 as Wabash beat Marion 2-1. Jeff Wagner and Brent Johnson (game-winning double) drove in one run each in the top of the seventh inning. The first run was scored by future big leaguer Keith Shepherd and the decisive tally by pinch-runner Holley.
Years later, Holley talks about the life lessons he learned from Rood and about leading the program today.
“(Coach Rood) taught you so much baseball and more things outside the game than most people realize,” says Holley, who joined the baseball staff at his alma mater in the early 2000’s and has been head coach since the 2015 season. “It’s the discipline he instilled in me and his expectations of your as a player, student and a man. These are the things I try to utilize.
“When you’re 16, 17, 18 years old you don’t realize the lessons you’re learning from any high school sport. Winning games is nice. I want effect men in a positive way and that’s probably more important.”
Wabash (enrollment around 470) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko).
TRC play each other once and games on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
In 2021, the Apaches was host of IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Carroll (Flora), Lewis Cass, Manchester, Rochester and Whitko. Wabash has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2019 when the team went 18-7.
Holley says the Apaches would have had 11 seniors for the 2020 season lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two members of that class — outfielder/right-handed pitcher Jared Holley (Manchester University after transferring from Kankakee Community College) and catcher/outfielder Kallen Kelsheimer (Huntington University) — are on college baseball teams.
Holley says three current Wabash players — seniors middle infielder/outfielder Jared Brooks and first baseman/right-hander Chayden Beeks and junior right-hander/catcher Andrew Dillon — have been drawing collegiate interest.
Brooks is all the school’s all-time leader in wrestling victories. Holley sees Dillon as his probable No. 1 mound starter in 2022. Other seniors include Colten Learned and Blake Smith.
The Apaches went 15-14 in 2021, making Holley’s career mark 87-76-1.
The 2022 coaching staff includes Kyle Kelsheimer (Kallen’s brother) as varsity assistant, Luke Helton as pitching coach, Nick Hentgen as junior varsity head coach and Andy Castro, Jordan Holley, Chandler Jones, Kent Montgomery and Shane Smith.
Kelsheimer and Helton are teacher at Wabash. Helton is a Tippecanoe Valley graduate who played at Manchester U. All the rest are played for the Apaches.
Justin Holley coaches the Wabash Middle School team. Started when Matt Stone was varsity head coach, the feeder team helps with the gap between Wabash Little League (T-ball through age 12) and high school.
“It’s an awesome addition to our baseball program,” says Holley. “(Junior high players) get accustomed to what we teach. It’s a way to retain those kids and keep them interested in (baseball).
“We were losing some of those kids. They’d go out for track and we’d never get them back.”
There are typically 20 to 25 players — Grades 6-8 — who play 12 to 16 games in the spring. Middle school practices and games are at Chris Rood Field.
“They usually practice before or after (the high school),” says Holley. “Someone from the varsity or JV staff can help them. They get to know us.”
There is a junior/senior league serving all of Wabash County. Middle schoolers used to practice and play on that field.
“There was a disconnect with middle school teams to our program,” says Holley.
Jack Holley Jr. is in his 21st year as a Welding Technology teacher at Heartland Career Center in Wabash. He and wife of 29 years on Feb. 20, Misti, have four sons — Jack III (29), Justin (27), Jordan (24) and Jared (20). All four boys played baseball at Wabash. Jack and Jordan are U.S. Army veterans. Jack III has two boys with a girl on the way.
Chris Rood Field is located on the Wabash campus and sits in a natural bowl. Spectators sit on a side of a hill looking down at the diamond. Trees were removed to place the field. A few years ago — needing a community service project — Holley’s students created the landscaped seating area around the press box.
An outfielder and pitcher as a player, Holley graduated from Wabash in 1988 and went on to play for Paul Twenge at Valparaiso (Ind.) University.
An ACL injury suffered on the football field as a freshman kept Holley off the diamond in 1989. He played for Twenge’s Crusaders 1990-93 — the first two years in right field and the last two in center. He was also a closer on the mound.
In 1992, Holley hit .285 (41-of-144) with two home runs, eight doubles and 16 runs batted in and five stolen bases.
Holley began coaching football at Wabash right out of college and was the Apaches head coach 2003-07.

Wabash Apaches Baseball. Hall of Famer Chris Rood wore No. 37.
Jack Holley.
Chayden Beeks.
Jared Brooks.
Colten Learned.
Shane Smith.
Wabash (Ind.) High School’s Ashton Smith at first base and Izaak Wright at second at Parkview Field in Fort Wayne.

Swinson now leading Southwood Knights on diamond

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

Steve Swinson likes the kind of athletes he’s working with as the new head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School, part of the Metropolitan School District of Wabash (Ind.) County.
“It’s been really good transition,” says Swinson, who has been leading the Knights since January. “The players’ philosophies are pretty much on the same page as myself.
“These are competitive, hard-nosed kids. They want to succeed. They want to be better.
“It’s a winning attitude at Southwood. They don’t throw in the towel.”
During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, Swinson has been working with players who are not involved in basketball. Twenty eight have signed up for Southwood baseball this spring.
“We lost lost five pretty good seniors and a lot of pitching (from the 2021 team),” says Swinson. “The big thing is being consistent. not walking a lot of guys and letting the defense play behind us.”
The coach is confident his Knights will do their best to do just that.
“They’re going to work at it,” says Swinson. “By the end of the year they’re going to figure some things out.”
An advocate of arm care, Swinson wants to make sure he’s maintaining the health of his throwers.
“I like the pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days),” says Swinson. “A lot of it’s on the athlete. He has to make sure to take care of his arm.”
Swinson, who is working with a coaching staff of Cory Blocker and Dan Lloyd at the varsity level and Christian Deeter with the junior varsity, sees college potential in senior left-handed pitcher Koby Thomas, junior catcher Mo Lloyd and junior right-handed pitcher/outfielder Cole Winer.
Southwood (enrollment around 230) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).
TRC play each other once and games on Tuesdays and Thursdays
In 2021, the Knights were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston (host), North Miami, North White, Northfield, Pioneer and West Central. Southwood has won five sectional titles — the last in 2021. Carson Rich (Class of 2021) tossed a no-hitter in a 4-0 championship game win against Pioneer.
Fundraisers will be held to help maintain and upgrade Southwood’s home diamond located north of the football field on the northeast corner of the campus.
Swinson says the batting cage is top priority. Dugouts are likely to be re-painted with trimming and edging done to the infield.
Stepping down at Eastbrook High School near the end of the 2019 season, Swinson did not coach at high school baseball in 2020 and 2021 but did lead Indiana Nitro travel teams both summers.
He was head baseball coach at Eastern (Greentown) High School 2007-11 and has assisted at Western High School.
Swinson has served two stints as head wrestling coach at Northwestern High School and is currently head wrestling coach at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.
A 1987 Kokomo High School graduate, he retired after 27 1/2 years with the Howard County Highway Department, where he was a supervisor/foreman.
Swinson coached Southside baseball in Kokomo to the 1995 Bambino World Series in Abbeyville, La. His coaching stops also include Indiana Wesleyan University (football), Marion High School and Lewis Cass High School.
Steve and wife of 29 years — Stacey — live in Greentown and have two children. Son Saxon Swinson (28) is in the IT department at Marian University in Indianapolis. Daughter Shayden Swinson (18) is a Manchester University freshman.

Steve Swinson

Family comes first for North Miami baseball’s Floor

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

Shannon Floor has been coaching baseball for more than three decades.
He began in the Wabash (Ind.) Little League and Junior/Senior League and later led travel teams with the Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers and seventh and eighth graders at North Miami Middle/High School in Denver, Ind.
He was asked to join the varsity coaching staff and 2021 was his first season as Warriors head coach.
Floor credits three men for getting him to where he’s at as a coach — Carl Pace, Mark Delagarza and Troy Hudson.
“They’ve been tremendous mentors to me,” says Floor.
Pace, who is now head softball coach at Southwood Junior-Senior High School in Wabash, led Little League teams with Floor as his assistant.
Delagarza is the founder of the Summit City Sluggers and has run the organization since 1996. He counts Floor as a 17U head coach.
Hudson, the North Miami athletic director, ran the Warriors baseball program and brought Floor on board when Hudson moved up from assistant to head coach for 2017.
The 2022 season will be Floor’s fifth at North Miami. In 2018, he guided middle schoolers in the spring and then took players into Babe Ruth ball in the summer and finished as state runner-up to New Castle and placed fourth at the Ohio Valley Regional in West Virginia.
The following spring (2019), North Miami won its first-ever IHSAA sectional championship, besting West Central, Caston and Northfield to win the Class 1A tournament at Caston.
Hudson stepped down after what would have been the 2020 season (canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and Floor was installed as head coach.
Floor holds three things dear while guiding his team.
“No. 1 is family,” says Floor, himself a married man with three ball-playing three sons. “No. 2 is team fundamentals and development. We want to rely on each other and make each other accountable. We also want to be succeeding in academics.
“Then we work on playing good ball on the field.”
North Miami had just over 20 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in 2021.
“We could have 28 to 30 (for 2022) if everything holds up,” says Floor. “(Winning) has spring-loaded our program. It’s the first time the excitement has been at that level and the numbers started growing.
“We want to keep going in that direction.”
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period went from Aug. 30-Oct. 16 and the Warriors took full advantage of it.
“We had a very good turnout,” says Floor. “We averaged 16 to 18 guys (in twice-weekly two-hour sessions) — about triple from last year.”
Since North Miami is a small school with many fall athletes, one of the sessions was held on Saturday afternoons so it did not interrupt football activities.
North Miami (enrollment around 290) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).
Based on the IHSAA Portal, Maconquah and Peru are the largest TRC schools with around 660 students reach, followed by Tippecanoe Valley (around 570), Rochester (around 510), Manchester (around 500), Wabash (around 470) and Whitko (around 450). Below North Miami are Northfield (around 275) and Southwood (around 230).
“For a 1A school it’s one of the tougher conferences,” says Floor.
In 2021, the Warriors were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North White, Northfield, Pioneer, Southwood and West Central.
Warrior Field — on the North Miami campus — has received upgrades in recent years, including new layers of soil. Last year, a nine-inning scoreboard and flagpole was installed. This year warning tracks, dugouts and bullpens are getting facelifts.
The setting includes pine trees circling much of the outfield.
“Its come a long way,” says Floor. “It is one of the most beautiful fields you can play on.”
Floor’s assistants are Peru graduate Josh Donathan and North Miami alums Pat Masters and Chad Wright. Masters is a senior at Manchester University. Wright lead the JV Warriors.
Besides the middle school teams, North Miami Youth League, a Town & Country Baseball-sanctioned organization in Denver, feeds the high school.
The diamond is in Floor’s blood.
“My entire family has been a baseball family,” says Floor, a 1988 graduate of Manchester High School in North Manchester, Ind.
While he did not play the game in high school, Shannon did suit up until 16 and began coaching at 20.
Shannon (51) is the oldest of three sons born to Gene (now deceased) and Rita (now known as Rita Slater and living in North Manchester) and is six year older than Shawn and eight older than Shane.
Shawn Floor, who coached with Shannon, has two boys who played at Wabash High School and the next level — Jordan Floor at Jackson (Mich.) College and Trevor Floor at Indiana Wesleyan University.
Shane Floor played, but has not done much coaching. He has girls who are not into sports.
For as long as he’s coached baseball, Shannon Floor has been a cattle farmer — the last 15 years with his own farm.
Shannon and wife Amy have been married of 17 years. Their sons are junior Kolton (17), eighth grader Karter (14) and fifth grader Keaton (10). Kolton Floor has been with the Summit City Sluggers since 8. The other two play baseball and other sports.

The scoreboard and flagpole at scenic Warrior Field at North Miami Middle/High School in Denver, Ind.
Assistant coach Pat Masters, senior Tyler Bauer, head coach Shannon Floor, senior Alex Masters and assistant coach Josh Donathan at the 2021 North Miami Middle/High School baseball awards program.

Littlejohn emphasizes fun, aggressiveness for Tippecanoe Valley

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

Just six seasons after playing his last baseball season at Tippecanoe Valley High School new Akron and Mentone in Indiana, Jarred Littlejohn became the Vikings head coach for 2021 after two years as junior varsity coach on Greg Prater’s staff.
As he prepares for 2022, the former four-year outfielder tells what is important to him while leading the Valley program.
“Our biggest thing is to make sure the kids are loose and having fun,” says Littlejohn. “If they’re tight, they’re not going to perform.
“On offense, we want to be aggressive and get the pitch we’re looking for. On every pitch, we have an approach. We know we’re not going to be perfect.”
And then there’s the moundsmen.
“Pitching last year was the best part of our game,” says Littlejohn. “We knew what was working and stayed with it. Work ahead and don’t get behind in the count.
“We had a good defense behind us. (Pitchers) knew we could make the plays in the field.”
Littlejohn played for three coaches in high school — Ryan Moore his freshmen year, Brandon Cody as a sophomore and junior and Justin Brannock as a senior.
“There has not been much stability in the baseball program,” says Littlejohn. “We’re going to try to bring that back.”
Assisting Littlejohn, a machinist at Craig Welding & Manufacturing in Mentone, is Anthony Newcomer and Mike Bowers.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period opened Aug. 30 and closes Oct. 16. Littlejohn has been conducting open fields and weightlifting program that has consistently had six to 12 participants.
Tippecanoe Valley (enrollment around 570) has many baseball players involved in fall sports.
In 2021, there were 26 players taking part in varsity and JV games. The varsity went 12-12.
The Vikings are a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with along with Maconaquah, Manchester, North Miami, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Wabash and Whitko).
Last season, Valley was part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Wawasee and West Noble.The Vikings have won five sectional titles — the last in 2012.
Tippecanoe Valley is fed by youth leagues in Akron and Mentone. Those organizations are a part of Town & Country Baseball of Indiana.
Tanner Andrews, who is now a pitcher in the Miami Marlins organization, is a 2014 graduate who was selected in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Purdue University.
Littlejohn says right-hander Owen Kirchenstien (Class of 2022) is expected to commit to junior college baseball.

Jarred Littlejohn.
Jarred Littlejohn.

Indiana Wesleyan’s Holtzleiter sees building rapport with players as coaching key

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coaches are in the people business.

To develop the athletes in their charge to the fullest, they must know what makes them tick.

Kris Holtzleiter, the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Indiana Wesleyan University baseball program, discovered this before he was still a player at the NAIA school in Marion and he has applied it at his coaching stops.

He grew up in Upland, Ind., and attended Eastbrook High School outside Marion, graduating in 2002. Brian Abbott was the Panthers head coach and lefty-throwing Holtzleiter was a center fielder and pitcher.

“He was a great mentor,” says Holtzleiter of Abbott, who has long been pitching coach at Huntington University and the executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association. “He understand how to communicate with people and build relationships.

“Relationships are the fundamental piece to coaching baseball. It’s the whole purpose behind it.”

Holtzleiter played four seasons and graduated from Indiana Wesleyan. The first few years, Mike Burchette served as pitching coach after that Wildcats head coach Mark DeMichael used student assistants.

“He did not have a ton of resources at the time,” says Holtzleiter of DeMichael, who is now the school’s athletic director. “He was basically running the entire program by himself.

“Looking back, I am incredibly impressed. You have to be really organized to run a two-hour practice and do everything by yourself.”

Holtzleiter’s first two years in coaching were 2010 and 2011 at Eastbrook. The first year he was a varsity assistant and the second head junior varsity coach.

He was an IWU assistant to head coach Chad Newhard from August 2011 to December 2012 and was then hired as head coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School near Wabash, Ind. He led the Knights for four seasons (2013-16).

The year before he arrived, Southwood went 1-26 and it had been many years since the Knights had won as many as 10 games in a season.

“There was not many expectations,” says Holtzleiter. “I began finding out what their goals were — individually and as a team.

“The biggest thing I learned (at Southwood) was about communicating and building relationships with the kids. If you do that, they’ll respond well to you.”

Holtzleiter guided the 2014 squad to the program’s first sectional championship in 11 years. The 2015 and 2016 clubs won back-to-back Three Rivers Conference titles. Several players went on to college baseball.

From there, Holtzleiter went back to Indiana Wesleyan to join a coaching staff led by Rich Benjamin.

He found another coach with the same foundation.

“He desires relationships,” says Holtzleiter of Benjamin. “He’s a good communicator. He wants to communicate openly and be honest with his guys.

“He’s also open about his faith.”

Through a common friend, Benjamin invited former National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to lead a team devotional via video conference. Because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that shortened the 2020 season to 19 games (the Wildcats went 10-9), coaches and players were communicating while practicing social distancing leading up to spring term finals last week.

The coaching staff, which also includes Brice Davis and Eric George, is now focused on recruiting at a time when players who lost most of this past season have been granted an extra year of eligibility.

“We try to find guys from multiple avenues that fit our program,” says Holtzleiter. “We look for guys who want to take a stride in their faith, are strong academically and can really play.

“This is an uncertain time for players, especially for (the classes of) 2020 and 2021).”

IWU’s staff will look at area high school players as well as transfers and those from the junior college ranks. This season, the Wildcats roster sported two players from Puerto Rico.

As pitching coach, Holtzleiter uses a mix of old school and new school.

Rapsodo is used to capture video to help pitchers with their delivery, sequencing, command and pitch design.

“We also work with feel to see why their pitches have certain movement and make adjustments,” says Holtzleiter, who has seen the Wildcats win 96 games since 2017. “It’s important for guys to pitch to their skill set and develop their strengths.

“Too many guys want to attack the opponents’ weaknesses instead of developing their strengths.”

Kris and Jessica Holtzleiter have two children — son Jackson (9) and daughter Madison (6).

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Kris Holtzleiter, an Indiana Wesleyan University graduate, is pitching coach/recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats baseball program. (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)

 

Stambazze keeping minds in motion for Whitko Wildcats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-year head coach Bob Stambazze says he wants his baseball players at Whitko Junior-Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., to process the game.

“Your mind is constantly in motion,” says Stambazze. “We do chalk talk and go through (defensive) scenarios. Every play, everyone has a responsibility. Who to back up is so important in this game.

“Remember, back-ups are your last line of defense.”

Stambazze says he wants to establish a solid base for the program in years to come.

“They can say I did it the right way and they can build off of that,” says Stambazze.

A familiar face and voice to athletics in the area covered by the Three Rivers Conference (Fulton, Kosciusko, Miami, Wabash and Whitley counties), Stambazze also serves as sports director and play-by-play announcer for WJOT-FM 105.9 in Wabash and WARU-FM 101.9 in Peru.

He was hired for the baseball job at Whitko this winter after the unexpected passing of head coach Mark Fisher at 35 on Oct. 15, 2018.

“Mark said he got into coaching for how I treated him in Little League,” says Stambazze. “I want to continue what he tried to set up.”

Fisher played for Stambazze as a boy in Huntington County Baseball and was close with Bob and Marla Stambazze’s sons, Jake and Bobby. Both sons are married with two children. Jake Stambazze played multiple positions for Indiana Tech coach Steve Devine and was an NAIA All-America honorable mention for the Warriors in Fort Wayne in 2005.

Bob Stambazze played baseball at Huntington North High School, where he graduated in 1971. The first three years, Paul Buzzard was Vikings head coach. Wally Stoffel began in Stambazze’s senior season and took the team all the way to semistate.

Stambazze counts Don Sherman, Chuck Brimbury and Mike Frame as mentors.

At Huntington North, Stambazze competed against Tipton High School and then-Blue Devils head coach Sherman. It wasn’t long after that Sherman became head coach at Huntington North and went on to a successful career that got him elected to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

In Sherman, Stambazze saw a fierce competitor and someone devoted to baseball basics.

“He was very intense and everything had to be fundamental,” says Stambazze. “Like he did, I teach (fielders) to track the ball into the glove and ‘gator’ the ball with your right hand and glove. You always used two hands.”

Brimbury coached at Huntington North with Sherman then enjoyed his own success at Peru High School.

“I don’t know if anybody will play as aggressively as a Chuck Brimbury team,” says Stambazze. “He’s one of the more competitive and fun coaches to be around.”

Stambazze credits long-time Huntington University head baseball coach Frame for setting an example of how to handle pitchers and student-athletes.

“He was pitcher and he’s a student of pitching,” says Stambazze of Frame. “He does such a wonderful job with his staff. He has minimized stuff with his staff so they can do more. He breaks things down.

“His faith toward his players, it’s so important. I’ve always believed in telling parents, ‘they’re your sons and daughters, but they’re always going to be my kids.’”

Stambazze sold sporting goods for 32 years. He’s been an IHSAA-licensed official since 1975. This school year, he worked about 20 football games and eight basketball contests. He will be occupied this spring so he won’t be calling softball.

As for calling games on the radio, he does that for high schools in Wabash and Howard counties and Manchester University football and basketball.

“No one has more fun doing it than I do,” says Stambazze, who went on the air 13 years ago as a color commentator and moved over to play-by-play when there was an opening for that position. Uniquely, his color person rotates by the game.

“I’ve had moms work games with me, but they had to keep all the stats,” says Stambazze, who earned the Virgil Sweet Distinguished Service Award from the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association in 2015.

He calls 80 to 90 basketball games a year between high school varsity and junior varsity and college. This past sectional season saw him pull through while dealing with acute laryngitis. He also hosts a weekly Coaches’ Show for during football and basketball seasons.

Stambazze was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1972 and served in Germany. where he played basketball, managed the AYA on base and coached swimming. He played for the Germany/American baseball team in the world tournament in Nicargua in 1973 and coached the European 14-16 All-Stars to the Big League World Series in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1974.

After his military service, Stambazze played in three world fast pitch softball tournaments and also served as Huntington County Baseball president. He has been head softball coach at Huntington University and an assistant at Indiana Tech and Wabash High School.

Stambazze took over the Wildcats in time to help with some winter workouts. His assistant is Preston Myers, who made a long daily commute from Lebanon, Ind., to assist with the Northfield High School boys basketball program and is doing the same with Whitko baseball.

There have been 26 players with just two seniors at recent practices for varsity and junior varsity teams.

“We have a good JV schedule with about 20 games,” says Stambazze.

Whitko (enrollment around 460) will compete in the TRC with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Wabash.

Non-conference opponents include Adams Central, Bellmont, Bluffton, Churubusco, Heritage, Lakeland, Lakewood Park Christian, New Haven, Prairie Heights, Southern Wells, Wawasee and West Noble.

The Wildcats are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lewis Cass, Manchester, Oak Hill, Rochester and Wabash. Whitko won the program’s lone sectional crown in 2017 with Erik Hisner as head coach and Fisher as one of his assistants. Hisner then went to Northfield as an assistant and is now athletic director at Eastern High School in Greentown, Ind.

Whitko plays its home games on-campus. Since his youth, Stambazze has known the importance of grooming the diamond.

“I’ve always taken care of the field,” says Stambazze. “That kind of comes naturally to me. Our kids do a very good job. They had the rakes in their hands after practice.

“You’ve got to own your program.”

Stambazze has held a clinic for the Larwill youth baseball league and hopes to do the same for youth leagues in Pierceton and South Whitley. Those organizations cover T-ball to Pony League.

There is currently not junior high baseball at Whitko, but it’s something that Stambazze and athletic director Josh Mohr have talked about.

Stambazze opposes some of the rule changes Major League Baseball is implementing like limiting pitching changes and the like.

“MLB doesn’t need to manage the game,” says Stambazze. “That’s part of baseball. They’re trying to take the human element out of the game. That’s the greatest part of the game. Leave it alone.”

The coach does favor the idea of high school batters staying in the batter’s box and the pitchers not taking too much time between deliveries.

“You want to have a flow to the game,” says Stambazze.

The IHSAA pitch count (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) came along in 2017 and Stambazze favors that. Prior to the restriction, he broadcast games when pitchers representing the same school threw 225 and 175 pitches in tournament play.

Scrimmage rules allow for four innings of 10 batters each. Stambazze says he is planning to use 10 pitchers for four batters apiece in Whitko’s scrimmage and then restrict them to 45 tosses in each of the Wildcats’ first two regular-season games and work up from there.

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Bob Stambazze is entering his first season as head baseball coach at Whitko Junior-Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., in 2019. He is a Huntington North High School graduate and is sports director and play-by-play announcer for sports director and play-by-play announcer for WJOT-FM 105.9 in Wabash and WARU-FM 101.9 in Peru. (Jan’s Photography Photo)

Rupley, Manchester Squires value baseball smarts

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jack Rupley began learning about the details of baseball decades ago from a man named Karl Merritt.

Merritt was the head baseball coach at Manchester High School in the Wabash County town of North Manchester. Rupley (Class of 1975) was one of his players.

“He taught us a lot of the intricacies of the game, which I try to pass along now,” says Rupley, who became Manchester Junior-Senior High School’s head coach in 1998 after a few seasons as an assistant. “It’s just knowledge of the game and see how the game unfolds. It’s baseball savvy. It’s baseball intelligence.”

Like Merritt, Rupley wants his Squires to carry a high Baseball I.Q.

“Every time that ball’s hit, everybody has a place to go,” says Rupley, repeating something that Merritt emphasized to his defenders. When it comes to fielding, if your feet aren’t right, your throw probably isn’t going to be very good.

“We work really hard and getting the feet set and going in the right direction.”

Next week, the Squires will be divided by positions. Shortstops and second baseman will get in plenty of double play flips and work on correctly back-handing the ball.

Infielders will rehearse their timing.

“A timing mechanism has to go off in your head,” says Rupley. “If I bobble the ball, do I still have a chance to get the guy at first? Our philosophy is if you can’t get rid of the ball in three seconds from the crack, you may not get the guy out because a decent speed from home to first is four seconds.”

Manchester plays on its campus on Faudee Field (named for former coach at Chester Township High School and the first athletic director at Manchester, Gerald “Doe” Faudee).

The diamond has a generous amount of foul territory. For that reason, making accurate throws and backing up throws is extra-important.

“We don’t want to compound a mistake by hurrying and making a bad throw and giving that guy second base,” says Rupley. “If a right fielder’s being lazy and not getting over there to help out, you might give them third.

“Baseball doesn’t change. Yeah, kids are bigger and stronger. But if you can throw the ball, hit the ball and catch the ball better than the other team, you’re going to be a pretty good shape.”

Manchester works hard on fundamentals in practice, going through fly ball, ground ball, bunting and hitting stations.

Merritt was a strong believer in the bunt game. Everyone on the roster had to be able to execute when called upon to put one down.

“We bunt almost everyday,” says Rupley. “We put the pressure on the defense. We make that pitcher think about getting off the mound in a hurry.”

Rupley teaches these lessons with the help of assistants Matt Carver, Stacey Clark and Luke Helton.

Carver played for Rupley at Manchester. Clark represented the Squires on the diamond before Rupley’s time as head coach. Helton, a Manchester University student, played at Tippecanoe Valley High School and briefly for Manchester U.

Rupley really incorporates the bunt. In fact, his team bunted well enough and got enough timely hits, strong defense and solid pitching during the 2002 postseason to claim an IHSAA Class 2A state championship.

“We ran the bases like a Banshee,” says Rupley. “We might as well be aggressive. What do we have to lose?”

Manchester got off to a 4-13 start in 2002 and was 6-17 going into sectional play. But nine of those losses were by one or two runs.

“We had been in most every game we played,” says Rupley. “I told (my team), all we have to do is just relax and go play. What happened before doesn’t matter.

“Everything just clicked.”

The team, which included Ryan Roth (now co-head coach at Grace College), topped No. 3-ranked Batesville 9-8 in the championship game. Josh Staton got the mound victory and Todd Dale earned the save.

Baseball participation numbers at Manchester have gone up and down. Rupley has had as few as 20 players for varsity and junior varsity squads. In 2018, he had 26 and expects to have 27 or 28 in 2019.

“That’s about the right number for us,” says Rupley. “We don’t have enough kids to have a C-team or freshmen team. We’re not big enough.”

Everyone has a role.

“I sit them all down individually and tell them where I think they’re at,” says Rupley. “I ask them what position they want to play. I tell the kids up front, ‘listen, you may have two kids in front of you that are better at that position. But we may ask you to step somewhere else and help us out.’”

Lending a few more opportunities for players to participate is the rule that allows courtesy runners for the pitcher and catcher.

Rupley also wants his players to know the importance of being a student-athlete.

“I tell the kids, first and foremost, you’re in school to get an education,” says Rupley. “Grades are important because you use your brain the rest of your life.”

The coach notes that the percentage of going on to the next level is pretty minimal.

“I want them to be a good citizen — in and out of school,” says Rupley. “When you’re on that team you represent your parents, you represent the team and your represent the community.”

He also lets his young athletes know that life is full of adversity and the teen years are a time to learn about responsibility.

“Not everything is going to go your way,” says Rupley. “You have to understand that mom and dad aren’t always going to be there to make decisions for you. You’ve got to learn to make your own decisions and stand on your own two feet.

“I tell the kids, I know there are days when you’re not going to be at your best. But all I’m going to do is give me your best effort everyday.”

Manchester (enrollment around 510) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).

The Squires’ 2019 non-conference foes include Blackford, Caston, Central Noble, Churubusco, Columbia City, DeKalb, Eastern, Fort Wayne Wayne, Heritage, Oak Hill, Taylor and Wawasee.

The Wabash County Tournament (Manchester, Northfield, Southwood, Wabash) was suspended a few years ago since the teams already met in conference and sectional play.

When Rupley went to Manchester, conference games were played in the summer after the IHSAA state tournament series. At that time, the Squires played a double round robin in the Northern Lakes Conference through mid-July. There were a dozen or so non-conference games in the spring prior to the sectional.

If Rupley could change anything about Indiana baseball it would be to make the start of the season later.

“The weather is so unpredictable,” says Rupley. “To me, baseball is a warm weather sport.”

Recent Manchester graduate Hayes Sturtsman is on the baseball team at Indiana Tech. Seniors Mason Meyer (Grace College) and Grant Strobel (Ivy Tech Northeast) have made college baseball commitments.

Rupley says he will do what he can to help players who want to play college ball. He also explains what it entails.

“It’s going to be a lot different than what it is here,” says Rupley. “It’s 10-month commitment.

“It might be a lot harder physically and a little harder mentally, too. There are a whole bunch of guys who were good at their high school.

“It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work.”

Rupley saw that firsthand. Jack and Cathy Rupley have three sons — Keith (Manchester Class of 1996), Kory (2000) and Klint (2001). Keith played football at Earlham College while the other two played on the gridiron at Anderson University.

Jack Rupley was an assistant football coach at Manchester for 30 years. He has been IHSAA-licensed basketball official since 2000. He is the maintenance director at Manchester while Cathy is a cook.

Columbus East High School head coach Jon Gratz played for Rupley and graduated in 2001. Rupley-coached Dan Jones is a former head coach at LaVille High School.

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Jack Rupley has been head baseball coach at Manchester Junior-Senior High School in North Manchester, Ind., since 1998. He is a 1975 graduate of the school.

 

Good sees growth for Rochester Zebras baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cory Good is working to grow baseball in the town where he learned the game.

A 2007 graduate of Rochester (Ind.) High School, Good is entering his fifth season as the Zebras head coach in 2019.

He expects to have more than two dozen players — varsity and junior varsity — wear the Old Gold and Black this spring. Numbers vary with the size of the freshmen class. Last year, there were more frosh than usual. This year, the number has dipped a little. Next year, it looks to pick up again.

Good counts Tony Stesiak, Dave Baillieul and Fred McGlothin as assistant coaches and is looking for more helpers.

Brady Perez, a shortstop, third baseman and pitcher, is back for his senior year after hitting .479 as a junior. He is committed to Trine University. Senior catcher/third baseman Zaine Young is considering college baseball offers.

Recent graduates who went on to the collegiate diamond are right-handed pitcher Andrew Feldman at Taylor University with catcher Tanner Hampton and left-hander Carter Hooks both at Manchester University.

The Zebras play home games at Bob Copeland Field. After receiving a new home bullpen last year, the on-campus facility is getting a new press box and a batting cage down the first base line this season.

“I’d like to see new fencing or netting behind home plate,” says Good of his wish list.

“Small ball” is a brand that Good embraces.

“We want to do the things that it takes to put the pressure on,” says Good. “By being aggressive, we will make (opposing defense) make the play.”

Rochester (enrollment around 500) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).

TRC teams tangle with each other one time to determine the champion. Games are Monday or Wednesday with Friday as the rain date.

Non-conference foes for the Zebras include Bremen, Carroll (Flora), Caston, Culver Academies, Delphi, John Glenn, LaVille, Lewis Cass, Logansport, Oregon-Davis, Pioneer, Plymouth and Winamac. The Twin Lake Invitational is May 18.

“We play a pretty decent schedule,” says Good.

The Zebras are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lewis Cass, Manchester, Oak Hill, Wabash and Whitko. Rochester has won 11 sectional championships — the last in 2014.

Good spent the 2014 season as an assistant to Brian Hooker, his coach at RHS and one of his mentors.

“He impacted a lot of people,” says Good of former educator and multi-sport coach Hooker, who passed away Jan. 3, 2019 at 59. “He was able to connect with people.”

As sales manager for The Winning Edge, a sporting goods company owned Brad Good (his father), Cory had a working relationship with Hooker and sold equipment to him before and after joining his staff.

As Rochester assistant, Good came to appreciate all the behind-the-scenes things a head coach has to do for his program.

“It’s all the moving parts,” says Good. “There’s paperwork, grades, physicals, fundraising, transportation and gear.”

Hooker outfitted Rochester in many uniforms over the years. Good plans to have a basic home and road ensemble and possibly an alternate.

Good says he is also glad to see a junior high club program that will send players on to the high school.

In 2018, there was a combined seventh/eighth grade team.

“If numbers come, we’ll go with multiple teams,” says Good of a program that plays games in the spring and on weekdays. “Kids can walk the halls and talk about the game that night.

“It brings more excitement to the sport.”

Good says he expects that the Running Rivers Conference will someday adopt baseball and softball as school-affiliated sports. Rochester Middle School (Grades 6-8) belongs to the RRC.

Good studies sports management at Indiana University. He is the oldest of Brad and Kathy Good’s three children. His mother is a teacher. Casey Good is an Indiana University graduate and store manager at The Winning Edge. He was a football and track athlete at Rochester.

Maggie Good graduated from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis, where she played softball. Libby Good is a senior at Purdue University. She played volleyball and softball at Rochester.

Cory and Shelby Good were married in July 2018 and are expecting their first child in August.

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The Rochester Zebras celebrate a 2014 sectional baseball championship. The champions are (from left): First row — seniors Levi Brown, Tanner Hampton, Cyrus Holland, Carter Screeton, Brandt Eytcheson and Kyle Katschke; Second row — coaches Tony Stesiak, Brian Hooker and Cory Good.

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Cory and Shelby Good were married in July 2018. Cory Good is head baseball coach at Rochester (Ind.) High School and sales manager at The Winning Edge.