Tag Archives: Tippecanoe Valley

Manes wants Warsaw Tigers to play with sense of urgency

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Manes says he wants his Warsaw (Ind.) Community High School baseball team to “play with a purpose.”

That’s what Manes says after being hired as the program’s head coach. He spent the past four seasons as a volunteer varsity assistant.

“We want to play with effort and sense of urgency,” says Manes. “We can’t be afraid to fail.”

While Drake Graham and Liam Patton are expected to return and make college baseball commitment, Manes also looks for underclassmen to fight for some playing sports in the spring.

“I don’t care if you’re a ninth grader. I don’t care if you’re a senior,” says Manes. “If you can play, you can play. I want the best.

“There’s no reason Warsaw — year in and year out — can’t be a program others look up to.”

Being with the team that past four years, Manes comes in with a sense of familiarity.

“In know all the guys,” says Manes. “We’ve definitely laid a foundation.”

Looking to build a relationship with younger baseball players in the community, Manes has made it a point to be visible at Warsaw Little League’s fall session.

“We want to a strong relationship,” says Manes of the league that plays near Boggs Industrial Park. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much your care. We want to be visible.

“We want to teach them how we do it at the high school level.”

This past summer, the Little League had Junior League for ages 13 and 14, but lacked enough 15- and 16-year-olds for a Senior League.

Manes says if he can instill the “Tiger Way” to players before they get to high school, he will not have to spend as much time re-teaching them certain things.

His opportunity to join the high school staff came from Mike Hepler and Manes is grateful.

Hepler coached the Tigers the past 13 seasons, for bringing him on to his staff. The two knew each other from playing adult baseball together years ago with the Warsaw Indians.

Warsaw belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Wawasee).

The NLC plays 14 double round-robin games to establish its champion.

Warsaw, coming off a 2018 season in which it was 7-17 overall and 3-11 in the conference, is in a seven-team 4A sectional grouping with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge and Penn. The Tigers last won sectional titles in 2006 and 2010.

Warsaw expects to play non-conference contests against Columbia City, Elkhart Central, Fort Wayne Carroll, Huntington North, Kokomo, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Riley and Tippecanoe Valley.

Three players from the Warsaw Class of 2018 — Jared Hawley, Mike Nunez and Matt Shapiro — planned to play college baseball.

A new sprinkler system went in this fall at Tiger Field. On the wish list is lights.

“We’re the only athletic facility on-campus without lights,” says Manes. “It prevents us from hosting sectional. But I know you can’t have everything at once.”

Manes works as a financial advisor at 1st Source Bank in Warsaw.

His Tigers assistants are John Edwards and Adam Augustine with the varsity as well as Eric Lane and Aaron Christenberry with the junior varsity.

Augustine played at Warsaw and was an NCAA Division III All-American at Manchester University in 2005. Christenberrry played at WCHS and Grace College in Winona Lake, which is adjacent to Warsaw.

Manes (pronounced MAN-us) played for four seasons (1997-2000) at Grace College. As a catcher, first baseman and designated hitter, he made his way onto Lancers Top 10 lists for career hits (140), career runs batted in (110), career doubles (30), career home runs (11), single-season runs (33 in 1999), single-season RBIs (38 in 1998) and single-season doubles (11 in 1999).

After his college playing days, 2000 Grace graduate Manes turned down an offer to try out with the independent Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs.

Glenn Johnson, who was then the Grace head coach, drove 10 hours to recruit Manes out of Lincoln. He convinced the 1996 Lincoln Christian High School graduate to come to northern Indiana.

A small school, Lincoln Christian plays American Legion baseball in the summer. Manes played Legion ball from his eighth grade through senior years and was a part of district championship teams each year and two state runner-up finishes. Andy’s father, Mike Manes, was his head coach.

Andy is the oldest of Mike and Connie Manes’ four children. All of them went to Lincoln Christian and then to college athletics.

Second son Tony Manes played baseball at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and is now a chiropractor.

Daughter Michelle Manes played volleyball at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark.

Third son Aaron played baseball at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill. By this time, Mike Manes had become head coach of the Trojans. Since the 2008 season, he has been leading the baseball program at Cedarville (Ohio) University.

Andy and wife Jennifer Manes celebrated two years of marriage in 2018. Their large blended family includes Jacob Rios (Trinity International freshman football player), Braden Rios (Lakeview Middle School eighth grader), Michael Manes (Lincoln Elementary sixth grader), Sophia Rios (Jefferson Elementary third grader) and Luca Manes (Washington Elementary third grader).

ANDYMANES

After four years as a volunteer varsity assistant, Andy Manes is now head baseball coach at Warsaw (Ind.) Community High School. He played at Grace College in nearby Winona Lake, Ind. (Warsaw Community High School Photo)

 

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Doty sees buying into the program key for Wawasee baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With clear communication as a priority and continuity on the coaching staff, Wawasee High School baseball is looking forward to the 2019 season.

Brent Doty, a 2002 Wawasee graduate, is entering his sixth season as head coach at his alma mater, which is located in Syracuse, Ind.

Primarily a catcher, Doty was a four-year player for head coach John Blunk at Wawasee. He played two seasons for Mitch Hannahs (now head coach at Indiana State University) at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and two seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) for Billy Gernon (now head coach at Western Michigan University).

“I was very fortunate to have those three great baseball coaches,” says Doty. “I was able to pick the nuances that they were really, really good at and try to influence the players in our program with those things.”

With Blunk, it was his knowledge of the game and his drive.

“His passion for it was huge,” says Doty. “Coach Hannahs was just so detailed in everything he did. He always wanted things done correctly. He would show you specifically how it needs to be done.”

Gernon was also very organized.

“We had a schedule we followed every day to a T,” says Doty of Gernon. “It was timed out — 15 minutes here, 30 there. It’s the detail they go into at the college level because they have to, they have such limited time each day and each season.

“I thought that would transition nicely with us to get as much accomplished in a day’s practice as we can.

Wawasee players know what to expect when they come out to practice.

“It’s never, ‘Hey, coach! What are we doing today?’,” says Doty. “They know the expectation and it makes practice run a lot smoother. Hopefully that’s going to turn into success as we continue to go down the road.”

An IHSAA rule change allows for a limited coach-athlete contact period. Coaches can work with an unlimited number of players for two two-hour practice slots per week during a window in the fall.

Doty and his staff, which includes associate head coach Vince Rhodes, Scott Beasley and volunteer Kent Doty (his father) at the varsity level and a to-be-named head coach and assistant Brett Carson with the junior varsity, have been leading outdoor practices for a few weeks.

“That’s nice for us,” says Doty. “We can get live swings, grounders and fly balls.”

Team concepts — like bunt coverages — can be drilled outside and give them a true look as opposed to doing it indoors.

“It’s been nice to implement some of those things,” says Doty. “But you don’t have your full team so you’re not gong to go so in-depth.”

With fall sports going on, there have been 10 to 12 at most sessions.

“A lot of our guys play multiple sports,” says Doty. “At a school of our size (around 950 students) they have to. We can’t just rely on single-sport athletes.

“We want you to get in as many sports as you can.”

The IHSAA-adopted pitch count rules (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) has now been on the scene for two seasons.

What does Doty think of it?

“It’s definitely good for the kids,” says Doty. “Player safety is always going to be No. 1.

“The 120 max is good, too. I can’t see myself going farther than that.”

Doty says one change in 2019 is that the JV will be on the same regimen as the varsity.

“It’s good,” says Doty of the switch. “Why does a sophomore playing on varsity get to throw more than a sophomore throwing on JV?”

One way that Doty and company build pitching depth is by giving many players an opportunity to see what they can do on the mound, especially at the JV level.

“If you’ve got a healthy arm, you’re probably going to pitch at some point,” says Doty.

A year ago, Wawasee had more than three dozen players for varsity and JV squads. Being very senior-laden, the varsity carried 21 players.

The number depends largely on the number of potential pitchers and those who can play multiple positions.

It’s important for each player to know how they can contribute to the program.

“We talk with each player individually and say this is where we see this as your role for the year,” says Doty. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to stay there or written in stone. But this is what we expect of you or as a varsity or JV player or a swing guy (that could see playing time on both).

“If they start to develop into something we didn’t foresee at the start of the year, we transition them into that. We allow them to have ownership of their role because once they buy into their role, it’s only going to make us better as a program.”

Staff stability also translates to a consistent message.

Doty began his post-college career as a teacher and an assistant baseball coach at Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville, N.C. When he took over the program for the 2014 season, he was the third head coach in three years for that junior class.

“Building that continuity and having that same staff year after year is only going to help us be successful going forward,” says Doty.

The 2018 season saw Wawasee go 8-16 with some growing pains.

“We also saw some bright spots that we can build on,” says Doty, who identifies juniors Levi Brown and Carter Woody and sophomores Kameron Salazar and Parker Young as being among the top returning Warriors.

Recent Wawasee graduates on college baseball rosters are Jake Garcia (Goshen), Blaine Greer (Ivy Tech Northeast), Aaron Voirol (Grace).

Buildings and grounds personnel have talked about adding more bleachers down the foul lines past the dugouts at Warrior Field.

Wawasee softball added a windscreen last year. Doty says the same might be coming for baseball along with the addition of a batter’s eye. Right now, the backdrop is a water tower.

Getting lights has also been the part of discussions, which would aid in hosting tournaments.

Wawasee is a member of the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Warsaw).

The conference will again employ a double-round robin schedule with each team meeting each other home and away in two rotations.

“The coaches in the NLC talk often and we like it,” says Doty. “You don’t always see the same team at the end of the year as you do at the beginning. It allows for you to grow.

“We get to see teams progress as they get a little deeper into the season.”

Wawasee played in the IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional (along with Angola, Fairfield, Lakeland, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley and West Noble) in 2018.

After teaching at Wawasee Middle School, Doty has moved to the high school where he serves as both physical education/health teacher and assistant athletic director.

Brent and Ashley Doty have three children — Luke (5), Logan (3) and Emma (1).

BRENTDOTY

Brent Doty, a 2002 Wawasee High School graduate, is entering his sixth season as head baseball coach at the school in Syracuse, Ind., in 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Tippecanoe Valley, Purdue grad Andrews chose baseball over football and is now getting paid to pitch in Marlins system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tanner Andrews was on a pigskin path when the horsehide took over.

A three-sport standout (football, basketball and baseball) at Tippecanoe Valley High School near Akron, Ind., Andrews had made more than a half dozen unofficial campus football visits to Purdue University and thought he was on his way to playing receiver for the Boilermakers.

When his gridiron days at Tippecanoe Valley were over, he held just about every record — single-game, season and career — belonged to to Andrews.

He landed in West Lafayette alright. But as a baseball player.

“It’s God putting me right where I need to be,” says Andrews, who is now on the pitching staff of the Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs in the Miami Marlins organization.

While attending a clinic in Fort Wayne, Purdue pitcher Nick Wittgren (who is now also in the Marlins system and has spent time in the majors) saw Andrews pitch and arranged for him to throw a bullpen for Boilers pitching coach Tristan McIntyre. Purdue coaches liked what they saw and wound up signing Andrews.

Mostly a shortstop and center fielder in high school, where he played one year each for head coaches Scott Backus and Ryan Moore and two for Brandon Cody, Andrews came to concentrate on pitching at Purdue. He played four seasons (2015-18) — two for head coach Doug Schreiber and two for head coach Mark Wasikowski.

In 60 mound appearances (38 starts), Andrews went 17-15 with one save, a 3.69 earned run average, 184 strikeouts and 120 walks over 257 2/3 innings. He was used mostly out of the bullpen as a freshman and sophomore and a starter as a junior and senior.

Andrews says he appreciates Schreiber’s old-school approach.

“We did a lot of team bounding through hard work,” says Andrews. “We did a lot of early-morning running and were in very good shape. He pushed you beyond what you thought you could do.

“Coach Schreib gave me the opportunity to play baseball at the school I wanted to go to and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for.”

Wasikowski came in with an attention to details.

“All details matter to him,” says Andrews. “He puts his players in the best position to win.”

In his first two seasons, Waz led the Boilers to 29 and 38 victories. The 2018 team played in the Big Ten Conference championship game and participated in the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional.

Andrews played summer wood-bat baseball in college with the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the Prospect League and Kalamazoo Growlers of the Northwoods League.

His name was called in the 10th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Marlins. After one game with the Gulf Coast League Marlins, Andrews was assigned to Batavia in the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League.

The next stops on the Marlins minor league road are Greensboro (Low-A), Jupiter (High-A), Jacksonville (Double-A) and New Orleans (Triple-A).

In his first 10 games with the Muckdogs (eight in relief), he is 1-0 with a 3.91 ERA. In 23 innings, he has 19 strikeouts and four walks.

Former big leaguer Mike Jacobs is the Batavia manager. Jason Erickson is the pitching coach.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Andrews delivers the baseball from a high three-quarter arm slot.

Andrews considers his athleticism to be his best trait on the mound.

“I move pretty well and can field my position,” says Andrews. “I have good body control and fluid movement.”

Born in Rochester, Ind., Andrews played travel baseball for the Fort Wayne Indians from age 10 to 15 for coach Ray Moon, who played in the Cincinnati Reds organization and independent professional baseball.

After a travel season with the South Bend-based Michiana Clippers, Andrews used his summers to concentrate on football and basketball.

His head football coach at Tippecanoe Valley was Jeff Shriver while Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Patrick guided Andrews and the Vikings on the hardwood.

With friend and classmate Ben Shriver (the coach’s son) at quarterback, Valley footballers were a close-knit group.

“It was a family atmosphere,” says Andrews. “You were focused on the guy next to you. That’s the way it is in all sports, really. When you do that you get more out of yourself.”

Andrews credits Patrick for getting the most out of him and his teammates.

“Coach Patrick pushed us mentally and physically in practice,” says Andrews, who played all over the court and scored over 1,000 career points. “He prepared me for what I’m going through now.”

Andrews says what he enjoyed most about his high school baseball days was the two years he got to be teammates with older brother Brody Andrews (Class of 2012).

“It was fun to go tot he park everyday with my brother and best friend,” says Tanner.

Todd and Marget Andrews are parents to Brody and Andrew and their cousin Nico (9) is also part of the household.

Tanner graduated from Purdue in May with a degree in organizational leadership.

“I want to go into coaching and that goes hand-in-hand,” says Andrews, who learned about reading with change, making adjustments, solving problems and dealing with people.

TANNERANDRESWSPURDUE

Tanner Andrews, a Tippecanoe Valley High School and Purdue University graduate, is in his first season of professional baseball with the Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs in the Miami Marlins system. (Purdue Photo)

 

Davis, Northfield Norse are positively bound for 1A Kokomo Semistate

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Promoting positivity, third-year Northfield Junior/Senior High School head baseball coach Clint Davis has the program one win from a return to the IHSAA state championship game.

The Norse (16-14) play Daleville (20-9) Saturday, June 9 in the IHSAA Class 1A Kokomo Semistate for the right to go to the State Finals at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Rather than dwelling on the failures of the game, the Norse are focused on the good.

“We’ve made a pretty good transition the last month or so of getting out the negative thoughts,” says Davis. “We think positive.”

Northfield, which is located in the Wabash County city of Wabash, Ind., had the community full of positive vibes when the coach Tony Uggen and the Norse won state championships in 2001 and 2012 and had a state runner-up finish in 2013 — all in 2A. Uggen is now back at alma mater Blackford.

Davis says it has been a fundamental approach that has gotten the Norsemen this far.

“We run the bases, throw strikes and swing at our pitches,” says Davis. “I’m not re-writing the book at all.”

Northfield’s top pitcher the past two seasons has been left-hander Blake Harner. The senior left-hander had 16 strikeouts and one walk in the Caston Sectional championship game against South Newton and 13’s and one free pass in eight scoreless innings in the Caston Regional semifinals against South Central.

Junior right-hander Nate Drancik started the regional championship game against Fremont — a contest won in walk-off fashion. Sophomore right-hander Jonah Truman was the winner in relief.

Leading hitters for the Norse are junior shortstop Chance Hartman, Harner, senior left fielder Matt Coe, senior second baseman/first baseman Jared Vigar and freshman third baseman and lead-off man Clayton Tomlinson.

Varsity assistants to Davis are Tory Shafer and Erik Hisner (who came over to Northfield after a decade at Whitko, including earning the Wildcats’ first sectional title in 2017). Junior varsity coaches are Stan Cox and Shane Vigar. The Norse had 27 players in the program this spring, playing on-campus at Winegardner Field.

Davis, who also serves as Northfield’s athletic director and has been kept extra-busy this week preparing his baseball team while looking to hire a new boys basketball head coach.

“It’s been a good busy,” says Davis.

Through his relationship with Andy McManama at the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne, where the Norse played early in the season, Davis and his teammate getting a chance to practice this week on the ASH Centre turf.

Kokomo Municipal Stadium also has an artificial surface.

Early in the week, Davis had not yet gathered too much information about Daleville. But he is familiar with Broncos head coach Terry Turner. They saw each other twice a year when Davis was at Marion High School and Turner was head coach at Anderson High School.

Davis came to Northfield after two seasons as head coach at Marion. In his second year, he helped the Giants to 12 victories — their highest total in more than a decade.

His focus was teaching patience along with general life lessons.

“Those guys bought in,” says Davis, who was an assistant to Dave Ginder at Fort Wayne Carroll and Mark Grove at Churubusco before his stint at Marion.

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

A 1996 Churubusco graduate, the thing that Davis noticed must about Grove was his temperament.

“His his personality is very even the whole time,” says Davis. “He didn’t get too high or too low. The kids fed off that.

“As you spend some more time in the game, you understand that it is a game of failure.”

Davis did not play college baseball. He did earn degrees in sports medicine and health education at Ohio Northern University, a minor in physical education at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and a master’s degree in administration from Ball State University. Before going into administration, he was a teacher.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

TORYSHAFERCLINTDAVISERIKHISNER

Third-year Northfield High School head baseball coach Clint Davis (center) celebrates an IHSAA Class 3A Regional championship with varsity assistants Tory Shafer (left) and Erik Hisner.

 

Isaacs in charge of a baseball ‘brotherhood’ with Lakeland Lakers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Banding together as baseball brothers, the Lakeland High School program has enjoyed a turnaround in two seasons with Michael Isaacs as head coach.

“We call ourselves a brotherhood,” says Isaacs. “We’ve got a group of young men to believe in themselves and believe in each other.

“Our group is pretty loose. We’re not wound tight. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles the last couple years.”

The Lakers won a combined six games in 2015 and 2016. The first season under Isaacs (2017), Lakeland posted 10 victories.

Heading into three straight Northeast Corner Conference games — Tuesday vs. Hamilton, Wednesday at Churubusco and Thursday at Garrett — the 2018 LaGrange County-based Lakers were 16-5 and with two NECC setbacks tied in the loss column tied atop the standings with Angola.

The rest of the conference includes Central Noble, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview. Each team plays the other once and there is a midseason blind-draw tournament. Westview topped the Lakers 5-2 in the championship game this spring.

Lakeland is in the seven-team IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional along with Angola, Fairfield, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee and West Noble.

The Lakers play their home games on-campus. The field has received upgrades in recent seasons of new lights and re-worked dugouts.

There are 21 players in the Lakeland program, with some rotating between varsity and junior varsity as needed.

Two Lakers seniors have made college commitments — right-handed pitcher/first baseman Drew Grossman (Indiana Tech) and first baseman/designated hitter Tristan Witham (Cincinnati Christian). Juniors with college baseball aspirations are shortstop/right-handed pitcher Hunter Frost and catcher Kole Miller.

All three of Michael Isaacs’ sons are involved with the program. Oldest boy Britain, who was a Lakers catcher, is now an assistant coach. Then there’s senior Nolan and freshman Colton. The latter has rotated in enough to earn his letter in his first year of high school.

Isaacs’ other assistants are Todd Miller, Kevin Witham and Aaron Pieri.

A 1987 East Noble graduate, Michael Isaacs played high school baseball for coach Steve Nelson.

After going to Taylor University in Upland, Ind., to play football, he transferred to the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, with the idea of playing baseball. But that was the year the Saints temporarily dropped the sport.

Isaacs coached in the Noble/LaGrange Little League out of high school then took about a decade off and got back in when his sons came along.

Besides the Little League, which serves players ages 6 through junior high, some Lakeland players are involved with travel ball organizations such as Hitters Edge and the Indiana Chargers.

The 2018 season marks the second season for pitch count rules in IHSAA-sanctioned games (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).

“At first, I was very hesitant about it,” says Isaacs. “But then it was not that big a deal. We have mindset for the week of who we’re going to pitch how much we’re going to pitch them. It’s worked out pretty good.

“(The rule) makes you develop four or five pitchers which is good for everybody.”

With teams counting pitches, Isaacs has seen a change in the game. Instead of a pitcher using extra pitches trying to get strikeouts, he’s seen some of them aim for efficiency.

“There’s more of an emphasis on putting the ball in play and letting the defense do the work,” says Isaacs. “It’s something we’re trying to beat into (our pitchers’) heads.”

If Isaacs could change anything about Indiana high school baseball, he would tweak the class structure.

“Personally, I think the private schools should be separate,” says Isaacs, who coaches at a public school. “Now you’re tied to a class because of your size. I’d have public school divisions and the private schools could maybe a big division and small division.”

Isaacs is not an educator. He works in the recreational vehicle industry.  He is a mill room manager for Jayco’s Starcraft division in Topeka, Ind.

BRITAINMICHAELISAACS

Michael Isaacs (right) bumps fists with oldest son Britain Isaacs during a 2017 Lakeland High School baseball game. Michael Isaacs is in his second season as Lakers head coach in 2018. Britain is one of his assistants.

 

 

Risedorph has NorthWood Panthers playing baseball with accountability, confidence, toughness

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

If it seems like NorthWood High School baseball players are jacked up all the time, there’s a reason for that.

First-year Panthers head coach A.J. Risedorph asked his players at the Elkhart County school and that’s the way they want to attack the 2018 season.

Several players, including seniors Payton Bear and Brant Mast (a Spring Arbor University signee) and juniors Matt Dutkowski and Alec Holcomb, return from a 2017 squad went 26-2 overall and 14-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference and won IHSAA Class 3A NorthWood Sectional and Bellmont Regional titles with Jay Sheets at the helm.

“We want to be high energy the entire game,” says Risedorph, a former NorthWood assistant baseball coach who returns as the leader of the program after a season away from the diamond. “We celebrate everything — regardless of outcome.”

A batter might see six pitches then fly out to center field.

But it’s a “quality at-bat.”

“We put a positive spin on something they would normally look at as failure,” says Risedorph. “Positive reinforcement is huge.”

In the Panthers’ first two games of the campaign (a 13-0 win against Westview and 9-8 triumph against Mishawaka), Risedorph has noticed Dutkowski coming up to his teammates and lending encouragement and that’s the kind of culture the NorthWood social studies teacher and student council sponsor is trying to build.

Risedorph wants his club to react well to adversity, something the Panthers did when down 8-7 in the seventh inning against Mishawaka.

“We don’t win that game is our guys panic,” says Risedorph. “I’m real happy with the group that we have. They are level-headed. They have ice in their veins.”

A graduate of East Noble High School (2006) and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne (2011), former right-handed pitcher, shortstop and third baseman Risedorph has drawn some of his coaching philosophies and methods from his high school and college coaches and one current mentor.

“I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of leaders,” says Risedorph.

Kevin Irons was his head baseball coach at East Noble as the Knights competed in the old Northeast Hoosier Conference (along with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell).

Billy Gernon and then Bobby Pierce led the way at IPFW. Mastodons pitching coach Grant Birely also played a big role.

Irons brought Risedorph up to the varsity midway through his freshmen season and taught him plenty about the game.

Risedorph recalls the intensity of a Gernon-led practice.

“He really set a standard for that,” says Risedorph. “He made sure guys were going to buy into the program.”

Pierce took over the Mastodons after Gernon left to become head coach at Western Michigan University. Risedorph constantly picked the brains of Pierce and Birely while playing and also while serving as a first base coach during rehabilitation. Injury took away Risedorph’s 2007 and 2010 seasons.

“(Pierce) runs a very pro-style program,” says Risedorph. “He wants you to be you. He wanted players to represent themselves the right way. He didn’t want you to be something you weren’t and he was very big on the mental side.

“(Pierce and Birely) were able to get the best out of us.”

There were no radical changes in batting stances or arm slots. Players were allowed to work within their own approach.

Risedorph lets his players be themselves within a framework.

“They need structure,” says Risedorph. “They do better when they have it.”

Since 2012-13, Risedorph has been a varsity assistant NorthWood head boys basketball coach Aaron Wolfe and the Panthers have gone 123-25 with four sectional crowns during that span.

“He showed me that you can have meaningful professional relationships with student-athletes,” says Risedorph of Wolfe.

Attending his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January, Risedorph picked up some pointers about practice structure from Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki and outfield play from Indiana University Kokomo head coach Matt Howard.

Risedorph, who counts Matt Cox and Kevin Roberts as varsity assistants and Greg Estepp and Aaron Arnold as junior varsity coaches guiding a group of 32 players, has his practices broken down into individualized instruction, group skills and team skills.

While “Embrace the Pace” means one thing to the Nappanee Chamber of Commerce, it’s another kind of progression for the Panthers.

“There’s no down time,” says Risedorph. “There has to be a pace to our practice.

“We try to put ourselves in stressful situations. It’s so hard to simulate that stuff in practice. It comes from our pace.

“Yet we want to be calm when we do it. You cannot perform when you’re not loose.”

Risedorph says Birely used to say, “Know your numbers” — as in the stress scale.

“Sometimes you need to step back, breathe and slow your heart rate,” says Risedorph. “(The mentality is) Next Pitch. You don’t let the momentum get the best of you — good or bad.”

NorthWood players are also expected to embrace the concepts of being accountable, confident and tough.

Accountability means doing the right thing, at the right time, all the time.

Confidence entails the beliefs and behaviors that result from a passion to make oneself better.

Toughness is part of being ready, relentless and responsive.

The 2017 sectional title marked the 11th in NorthWood history and sixth since 2011. The regional championship was the program’s first since 1983.

In 2018, the Panthers are in a 3A sectional group with Angola, Fairfield, Lakeland, Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee and West Noble.

Besides NorthWood, the NLC features Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee.

Many NorthWood players are part of travel baseball organizations, including the Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Chargers.

Estepp coaches the NorthWood 14U team in the summer.

“We are not short of quality coaches in this area,” says Risedorph. “It’s nice they care about the kids’ future.

“We’re very fortunate so many of these kids are putting in work.”

Risedorph says he is looking to get more involved with Nappanee Youth Baseball League and Wakarusa Baseball/Softball League.

Before landing at NorthWood, a part of Wa-Nee Community Schools and where former Bremen baseball coach Norm Sellers is athletic director, Risedorph taught for one year at East Noble Middle School and was a baseball assistant to Irons. Risedorph did his student teaching at Fort Wayne Snider High School.

A.J. and Jenna Risedorph have two daughters — Quinlynn (4) and Reagan (1). A.J. is the son of Randy and Iolet Risedorph and has three brothers — Ryan, Eric and Brayden.

NorthWood graduate Blake Cleveland is now playing baseball at Central Michigan University.

AJRISEDORPH

A.J. Risedorph is in his first season as NorthWood High School head baseball coach. The East Noble High School and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne graduate is back with the program after a year away. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Prater now in charge of Tippecanoe Valley Vikings baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greg Prater wants baseball success for his alma mater and is working toward that goal as he approaches his first season as head coach at Tippecanoe Valley High School in Kosciusko County.

Prater, a 1992 Valley graduate, spent the past three seasons as an assistant to Justin Branock (now an assistant coach at Huntington University).

As a Vikings athlete, Prater played baseball for Duane Burkhart (who is now TV athletic director) and Doug Heinold. His football coaches were Scott Bibler and Jeff Shriver.

“We had a very successful career in baseball,” says Prater, who was part of the program’s second sectional championship in 1990. “(Burkhart) wasn’t easy. He was a tough coach. He worked us hard in practice.

“I loved playing for him.”

Prater has fond memories of Bibler, who was killed along with Charlie Smith, Scott Smith and Tony Elliott in a plane accident in 2015.

“It still affects us daily around here,” says Prater. Tippecanoe Valley School Trustees voted last September to rename the school’s gridiron to Smith-Bibler Memorial Field — Home of Death Valley Football. The Bibler family helped make a new football press box a reality.

While Prater was playing at Valley, Bibler took a group to a run-and-shoot camp at Georgetown, Ky., and there was much team bonding.

“He was a Godly man, which was great,” says Prater of Bibler. “He was a great role model for all of us. I’ve tried to carry on myself like he did and be a friend when (athletes) need somebody.”

Valley’s 2018 assistant coaches include alums Clayton Adamson (pitching coach), Mike Bowers and Jarred Littlejohn (junior varsity). After a call-out, Prater expects the Vikings to field two teams this spring — varsity and JV.

A young varsity squad with four seniors and plenty of sophomores is expected to take the field this spring.

“We’ve got some good ballplayers,” says Prater. “They’ve played a lot of summer ball and played for some good coaches. That helps.”

Among the TV seniors is Trine University commit Drew Hartman.

Recent Valley players to head for college diamonds include Tanner Andrews (Purdue University), Gavin Bussard (Grace College), Alec Craig (Danville Area Community College), Eric Hammer (Northern Illinois University) and Luke Helton (Manchester University).

The Vikings are members of the Three Rivers Conference (along with Maconaquah, Manchester, North Miami, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Wabash and Whitko.).

Valley last won sectional crowns in 2009, 2010 and 2012. The Vikings are in a 2018 3A grouping with Angola, Fairfield, Lakeland, NorthWood, Wawasee and West Noble.

Prater, who runs a milk hauling service that allows him the freedom to coach baseball, has been involved with upgrades to the Valley baseball field. The infield has been raised, dugouts have been changed and new wind screens have been added.

“We make it sharp looking,” says Prater. “We’re getting there.”

Prater intends to get even more involved in community baseball, working with players who come up through Town & Country youth league programs in Akron and Mentone. He wants to re-establish middle school baseball, which will likely start as a club sport in the summer.

“We’re trying to catch them up,” says Prater. “They’ve just never had the opportunity (to play at the level some travel baseball teams do).”

Prater says there is talk of bringing American Legion baseball back in Rochester or Plymouth, which will also help his high school program.

This summer, Prater will help Brian Blondell, Scott Rost and Bruce Baer coach a Michiana Scrappers 15U team.

Greg and wife Amy (a daycare provider) have three children — Katie is a freshman softball player and nursing major at Bethel College, Kinzie is a junior at Valley and Layne is a freshman baseball player at Valley.

KINZIEGREGLAYNEAMYKATIEPRAGERThe Prater family (from left): Kinzie, Greg, Layne, Amy and Katie. Greg Prater is the head baseball coach at Tippecanoe Valley High School.