Tag Archives: Thunderbirds

Kutch, North Central Thunderbirds enjoy competition

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

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

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

Arthur anxious to get going with Eastern Greene Thunderbirds

NOTE: This story was posted a week before the death of Owen Valley coach Ryan Wilcoxen. He passed of a brain injury Feb. 25 at age 31. Schools all over the state lit up their fields in his honor.

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wesley Arthur peeks at his calendar and sees April 5 , 2021 as a special day.

That’s when the first-year head baseball coach at Eastern Greene High School near Bloomfield, Ind., is scheduled to coach his first game.

The Thunderbirds are slated to visit Owen Valley in Spencer, Ind. The Patriots are led by Eastern Greene alum Ryan Wilcoxen.

Arthur is a 2013 graduate of Owen Valley, where he played football for Duane Potts and baseball for Brian Greene. He was an OV assistant on the gridiron for Potts and helped on the diamond with Greene, Brad Garrison and Wilcoxen.

A corner infielder and designated hitter as a high school baseball player, Arthur also excelled in football as a lineman and received college interest in that sport.

Arthur opted to pursue an associate degree at Ivy Tech in Bloomington, Ind., and go into sales while beginning his coaching career.

He enjoys getting out on the field with his young athletes, creating a game plan and the chess match with the opposing players and coaches.

“I like to see what my kids can do and put them in the right place to be successful,” says Arthur.

Greene was the one that gave Arthur the opportunity to be a coach and both have shared time guiding players in baseball and football.

“We’re still really close,” says Arthur. “I consider him a close friend. He’s a mentor to me.

“We bounce ideas off each other.”

Besides high school assistant, Arthur has also been a head coach at the 12U and 13U levels for the Columbus-based Demand Command travel baseball organization.

Arthur, 26, is eager to make an impact on Eastern Greene baseball.

“We want to instill some continuity,” says Arthur. “We’ll probably have a younger roster.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away the 2020 season, Arthur says he will have essentially two freshmen groups (Class of 2023 and Class of 2024) that will be new to high school baseball. 

“We look to get our culture set,” says Arthur, who has seen some players during open gyms but not an entire group with many playing basketball and the school using a hybrid in-person class schedule (one half the student body comes two days and the other half comes two days). “We’ll look for upperclassmen with high school experience to be leaders.

“We’ll do what it takes to grind out some wins. We’ll be growing our baseball I.Q. We may take some lumps along the way.”

Arthur, who is assisted by Casey Bybee, hopes to have enough players for a junior varsity schedule.

“We want to grow the program and have fun,” says Arthur. “We want to keep the kids excited.”

Located a mile from Cincinnati, Ind., and 152 miles from Cincinnati, Ohio, Eastern Greene (enrollment around 300) is a member of the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Bloomfield, Clay City, Linton-Stockton, North Central of Farmersburg, North Daviess, Shakamak and White River Valley).

The Thunderbirds are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Linton-Stockton, Mitchell, North Knox, Paoli and South Knox. Eastern Greene has won five sectional crowns — the last in 2013.

Home games for the Thunderbirds are played on a field next to Eastern Greene Middle School and just over a mile down S.R. 54 from the high school.

“It’s been there forever,” says Arthur. “I think it looks nice.”

The field has dirt base paths leading from home plate and a “key hole” from the mound to the plate. Though its more work to maintain, Arthur appreciates the look it creates.

The middle school has seventh and eighth grade baseball teams.

At the younger ages, there is an Eastern Greene Youth Baseball with multiple teams in 8U, 10U and 12U divisions. A separate Thunder Travel baseball program sends players in those age groups out to take on teams around Greene County and the surrounding area.

“I want to build that chemistry and get it started early,” says Arthur of youngsters playing together who will eventually play at EGHS. “We want to get that momentum going.”

Thomas Wesley Arthur is the oldest of Tommy and Tina Arthur’s five children. Wesley’s four younger sisters are Tristany, Tori, Tiana and Teagan.

Wesley Arthur was an assistant baseball coach at his alma mater — Owen Valley High School in Spencer, Ind.
Wesley Arthur has coached football at Owen Valley High School in Spencer, Ind.
Wesley Arthur has coached with the Demand Command travel ball organization based in Columbus, Ind.
Wesley Arthur is the head baseball coach at Eastern Greene High School near Bloomfield, Ind.

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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What strikes him about the Midwest League?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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