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NECC Home Run Derby promotes baseball, cancer awareness

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As a way of promoting baseball and helping the community, two senior ballplayers at Lakeland Junior/Senior High School in LaGrange, Ind., came up with an idea.

Jayce Riegling and Braden Yoder decided to organize a home run derby and invited other players from the Northeast Corner Conference to participate.

Sixteen hitters representing nine of the conference’s 12 schools — Angola (where Roger Roddy is head coach), Central Noble (Tyler Graybeal), Fairfield (Darin Kauffman), Fremont (Justin Bock), Garrett (Jason Richards), Lakeland (Michael Isaacs), Prairie Heights (T.J. Guthrie), West Noble (Doug Brown), and Westview (Jason Rahn) — are slated to slug it out, beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3 on the Lakeland diamond.

There will be four rounds with batters seeing how many homers they can hit in three minutes.

All proceeds from the event, which has 48 corporate sponsors, will be going to Hello Gorgeous!, a non-profit organization that provides complimentary, professional makeovers and cosmetic education to all women battling all cancers. Organizers says that more than $5,000 has already been raised.

Tickets will be on sale the day of the event for $3. T-shirts will also be sold. To keep spectators fed, the MADD Chef Creationz food truck will be there, too.

Why an NECC Home Run Derby?

“Everyone loves home runs,” says Riegling. “I want to be an agent. I was talking to some (sports) agents. They told me to come up with baseball projects.”

After batting around a few ideas, they settled on bringing in players with the pitcher of their choice for a home run derby.

“It helps the community better,” says Riesling. “It gets us closer.”

Yoder, who is considering a career in engineering, sees his role in the project as the proof reader and aesthetic editor.

“I try to make everything look nice,” says Yoder. “I’m more behind the scenes. I keep things straight.

“This is going to be a fun event. I’m excited. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this. So far it’s turned out perfectly.”

Yoder says permission forms need to be finalized, but they will welcome participation by younger kids to shag balls.

The event was originally scheduled for May 2020, but the IHSAA informed the organizers that players could not participate in-season so the date was changed.

If the weather does not cooperate Sunday, back-up dates are Nov. 9 and 10. Updates will be placed on the project’s Twitter page — @NECC_HRD.

Most of the participants came to a media day sponsored by Shipshewana Trading Place.

Here’s what the many of the hitters had to say:

Felipe Arevalo (Fairfield): “This is a very nice project … We all love baseball. This will be my first home run derby. It’s going to be fun … (Coach Kauffman) talks about hitting the ball hard.”

Brayden Bontrager (Lakeland): “I just love the game. Baseball is a fun sport to play. I always like to hit home runs … Home runs are the best part of the game. It rallies the team … (Coach Isaacs) is more of a contact guy, get guys on-base … The ball travels here in left field. There’s a cornfield out there.”

Nathan Burr (Central Noble): “I’ve never heard about anything else like this in high school. I thought it would be fun to be part of the first one … This is a great cause — cancer awareness. I’m real excited.”

Tyler Curtis (Prairie Heights): “I like hitting dingers. I like the competition … Last year I had one (homer) on varsity … Rotational hitting (which I learned at Hitters Edge in Sturgis, Mich.) is a big thing. A big shoutout to Mike Marks and Robert Riley … Stamina is a big thing we don’t focus on (in a home run contest). You have to control your breathing.”

Camden “Bodhi” Hall (Prairie Heights): “(Bodhi) comes from a movie called Point Break with Patrick Swayze. My dad just wanted to name me that. He still calls me Bodhi … Tyler Curtis and I wanted to represent our school and show them what we’ve got as sophomores … Tyler and I were in a home run derby together while with the Hitter’s Edge. He was first and I second one year … (Hitter’s Edge coach Mike Marks) is great. You go up there, you’ll learn something.”

Camden Harris (Garrett): “I had four (home runs) last spring (behind senior Kobe Lucarelli’s six) … This will be my third (home run contest). I was in seventh grade and we were in Kentucky for nationals (in travel ball) and I got second place. As a freshman or sophomore, I was down in Florida and got first place.”

Connor Kreis (Fremont): “I heard about a slogan like ‘Swinging for Cancer’ or something like that. I figured it was going for a good cause. It’s just cool to get out here and see these other athletes that I’ve played against since I was a freshman.”

Owen Miller (Fairfield): “I hit two home runs last year. One was a grand slam (at Lakeland) … You have to have a good pitcher (Owen’s father, Tim Miller, will pitch to him) and you need to be confident.”

Nick Mortrud (Westview): “I thought it would be fun to do something to bring the schools together … In a way, this helps the school kind of showcase what they’ve got … We’re bringing the community here, too … I was in a home run contest in travel ball at around 10 (in Columbus, Ohio) at ended up winning it … I’m going to be thinking don’t take too many wasted swings. After each swing kind of analyze what you’re doing. Focus on what you’re body’s doing as you take the swing.”

Hunter Saggars (West Noble): “(Jayce) and I go way back. We used to play ball together … I’ve never seen anything like this before so I figured it would be cool to be a part of the first one … I’m not going into this thing thinking I’m going to win it. We’ve got some big boys. I just want to be a part of it … (2019 West Noble graduate) Jorge Villanueva will be throwing to me.”

Takota Sharick (Westview): “My Grandma has cancer so this is really important to me … I’m not necessarily a power hitter, but if I focus on it I can be alright … We use Blast Motion and (Coach Rahn) tells us when we’ve had good launch angle and bat speed.”

Gage Smith (Garrett): “We’ve got three (derby competitors) looking pretty sharp, honestly … I would honestly consider myself a power hitter (with four homers for the Railroaders last spring) … A Garrett cop (Kylan LaMotte) will be throwing to us.”

Evan Snyder (Churubusco): “I was in a home run derby a long time ago in Cooperstown. I hit one … It’s a good thing they’re doing this for, the charity.”

Tristan Taylor (Garrett): “We’re all a tight-knit group (at Garrett). All three of us are chatting and having a competition amongst ourselves. It’ll be fun … It’s a really good opportunity to support this charity. It’s a really good organization … Everything about this is great.”

NECC HR DERBY

At Lakeland

Sunday, Nov. 3, 3:30 p.m.

Bracket 1

First Round

Nick Mortrud (Westview jr.) vs. Brayden Bontrager (Lakeland jr.)

Gage Smith (Garrett jr.) vs. Dylan Eggl (Central Noble jr.)

Camden Harris (Garrett sr.) vs. Camden “Bodhi” Hall (Prairie Heights so.)

Owen Miller (Fairfield so.) vs. Connor Kreis (Fremont sr.)

Bracket 2

First Round

Tyler Curtis (Prairie Heights so.) vs. Evan Snyder (Churubusco jr.)

Nathan Burr (Central Noble sr.) vs. Kolton Taylor (Lakeland sr.)

Tristan Taylor (Garrett sr.) vs. Felipe Arevalo (Fairfield sr.)

Hunter Saggars (West Noble sr.) vs. Takota Sharick (Westview jr.)

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The NECC Home Run Derby brackets for 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The Northeast Corner Conference Home Run Derby with proceeds to benefit Hello Gorgeous! is slated for Sunday, Nov. 3 at Lakeland Junior/Senior High School in LaGrange, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Franklin College enjoys deepest playoff run in program history

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Franklin College came on strong at the end of the 2019 baseball season and the Grizzlies came within six outs of going to the NCAA Division III super regionals.

After a 13-10 start, Franklin finished 31-15 and forced a second championship game in regional play in Sequin, Texas.

“We’re just very of our guys,” says Grizzlies coach Lance Marshall of his student-athletes. “They did their best when it mattered most.

“It’s just a tough, resilient group. The seniors are great leaders and great players.”

Franklin went 3-2 in Texas, besting No. 4-ranked Trinity (Texas) twice and going 1-2 against No. 25 Concordia (Texas). The Tornados scored four runs in the last two innings to win.

“We got shipped to the toughest regional in the country,” says Marshall, noting that No. 16 Texas Lutheran was also part of the field.

It was the deepest run the Grizzlies have ever made in the playoffs. In their previous NCAA D-III playoff appearances (2011 and 2018), they went 1-2 in the regional with wins against Frostburg State (Md.) in Marietta, Ohio, and Thomas More (Ky.) in Sauget, Ill. Losses came to eventual national champions Marietta in 2011 and Texas-Tyler in 2018.

Marshall, who just finished his 22nd season as FC head coach, credited senior shortstop Sam Claycamp (Columbus East High School graduate) and senior first baseman Drew Naumovich (Roncalli) for their leadership roles.

“They led by example — on and off the field,” says Marshall of Claycamp and Naumovich. “They brought great energy, were positive and respected by teammates.”

Claycamp (.400, 4 home runs and 48 runs batted in) and Naumovich (.356-5-36 with 12 stolen bases) were offensive leaders in a lineup that also featured junior center fielder Quenton Wellington (.348-5-41 with 23 steals) and junior right fielder Ryan Bixler (.307-10-55 with 13 steals).

A deep pitching staff filled with right-handers had seniors Jordan Clark (4-0, 3.31 earned run average) and Aaron Leming (7-3, 4.19) as starters with seniors Nate Stonebraker (6-4, 8 saves, 5.36) as closer with strong contributions from senior Tanner Nicholson (1-0, 2 saves, 1.88), Ben Sprinkle (5-1, 1 save, 6.29), sophomore Krae Sparks (2-4, 4.88) and freshman Nick Elmendorf (1-2, 4.97).

On a roster with just four players with hometowns outside Indiana, Wellington (Bishop Chatard), Bixler (Lewis Cass), Clark (Connersville), Stonebraker (Cascade), Nicholson (Greencastle), Sprinkle (Franklin Central), Sparks (Greenwood Christian) and Elmendorf (Indianapolis North Central) all played high school ball on Hoosier soil.

Claycamp, Naumovich and Bixler made the all-HCAC first team. Sprinkle was named to the Christopher M. Ragsdale Sportsmanship Team.

And the cupboard’s not bare for 2020.

“We’ve got a really good group of underclassmen returning,” says Marshall. “They’ve got experience on their side going forward.

“We’ll keep working hard and do everything we can to get back into the postseason.”

Franklin earned an automatic 2019 NCAA regional berth by winning the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament. The Griz topped Anderson 6-4 and Rose-Hulman 7-2 and 9-8 at Art Nehf Field in Terre Haute for the championship. FC repeated as HCAC tourney champs on a walk-off Wellington’s two-out, RBI single.

“We were fortunate to come out with a tournament championship,” says Marshall. “Coach (Jeff) Jenkins runs a great program at Rose. They’re always a formidable opponent.”

Franklin went 12-6 in HCAC regular-season action.

Marshall’s two assistant coaches for 2019 were hired in January.

“They did a fantastic job in a short period of time,” says Marshall of Tim Miller (who came from Frosburg State) and Tyler Rubasky (who came from Waynesburg State in Pennsylvania).

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Senior first baseman Drew Naumovich hit .356 with five home runs and and 36 runs batted in for Franklin (Ind.) College in 2019. The Grizzlies made their deepest run into the playoffs, reaching the second regional championship game and finishing 31-15. (Mike Lanke/Franklin College Photo)

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Senior shortstop Sam Claycamp hit .400 with four home runs and and 48 runs batted in for Franklin (Ind.) College in 2019. The Grizzlies made their deepest run into the playoffs, reaching the second regional championship game and finishing 31-15. (Mike Lanke/Franklin College Photo)