Tag Archives: Titans

IUSB’s Buysse notes change in catching philosophy

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

Doug Buysse is passionate about catching.
He was a catcher at John Glenn High School (Walkerton, Ind.) and Saint Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, Ind.).
For years, he has offered catching instruction at levels from youth to collegiate.
Buysse, who is entering his sixth year as head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend in 2023, gave catching pointers at the December 2022 meeting of the South Bend Cubs Foundation Coaches Club at Four Winds Field.
Addressing an audience with both travel and college coaches, Buysse noted that catcher and pitcher are the two positions that can’t be pushed on young kids.
“Kids have to really want to catch,” said Buysse. “You have to have that mentality that I’m going to strap that gear on and get behind the plate.”
Catchers have to be decisive, vocal leaders.
“I want my catchers to be the loudest guys on the field,” says Buysse. “Even if they’re wrong, they have to run things. I’d rather see them make a call forcefully and it be the wrong call (than say nothing or make a hesitant call).”
Buysse, who brought juniors Kaleb Farnham (Hamilton High School Class of 2020) and Anthony Pohl (Pewamo-Westphalia, Mich., Class of 2019) for drill demonstrations, spent much of his time on receiving.
“Catchers who receive well help a (pitching) staff and a team,” said Buysse. “They make the game flow.
“Chasing the ball to the backstop really kills the pace of the game.”
Buysse said the way he teaches receiving now is much different than seven years ago when he began offering instruction at 1st Source Bank Performance Center, where Mark Haley is general manager and executive director of the South Bend Cubs Foundation.
“The the way I was taught was what I call ‘drive the wheel system,’” said Buysse. “You caught the inside pitch here, top pitch here, outside pitch here and I worked around the wheel.
“The philosophy of catching has really changed. We work down to up and back to the middle.”
At IUSB — a member of the NAIA and Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference — the hardest throwers might touch 89 mph making the pitch at the bottom of the strike zone very important.
“A low pitch is a big deal for us,” said Buysse. “We want that more than we want any other pitch.
“With nobody on and no count we want them to be as low as they can get so the umpire can see over them. We want to stay below the baseball as much as possible.”
Buysse wants his catcher to be stable and comfortable.
“Playing with stances and getting comfortable is where we start with all of our (catchers),” said Buysse.
Catchers might prefer a two-feet stance, right leg down or left leg down. They might put the opposite leg way out to the side aka “kickstand” in order to get low.
Buysse said using the left leg down stance often helps younger players who can concentrate on what their arm and glove is doing and not on being able to hold their position.
“They don’t have the physical strength to stick (the inside pitch to a right-handed hitter) well,” said Buysse. “On two feet their (left) knee gets in the way the most.
“Don’t be afraid to put (young catchers) on a knee. It takes away from that fear that (they’re) going to fall over.”
While receiving, the idea is working everyone back to the middle of the plate and not chasing or dragging pitches out of the strike zone.
“As they get older the pitch they chase out of the zone the most is a breaking ball,” said Buysse.
The coach emphasized a habit catchers should develop.
“Too many kids keep their head (stationary) and use their eyes to follow the baseball,” said Buysse. “Let their head move. I’ve heard coaches talk about I don’t like my catcher’s head to move because he distracts the umpire.
“He’s not looking at your head. He’s looking where the ball’s at.”
Tracking the ball with the eyes really comes into play with the high pitch.
“My natural instinct when the ball goes above my head is to duck my head and stick my hand up,” said Buysse. “I lose that ball at about 50 feet. In the last 10 feet I’m hoping my glove’s in the way.
“The head has to go up with (the ball). That’s something you’ve to work on. At our level, any ball in the air has to be caught. That’s our rule.”
Buysse talked about blocking pitches.
“The glove has got to go first,” said Buysse. “Where the glove goes the butt follows.
“Once glove is down we’re working forward. We want to block off our belly button as much as we can.”
He encourages young catches to block straight down on pitches inside their two feet and get a body in front of anything outside.
One blocking drill that is used at IUSB is the “sit and get hit.”
The concept calls for having the chest up and absorbing the pitch with the body.
This gets catchers to stop flinching, which makes them stuff and allows balls to ricochet to different places.
“They track that ball until it hits him,” said Buysse. “I don’t want them to just sit there waiting to get hit.”
IUSB monitors development for all players with the use of video that is shared on a Google Drive. Catchers are captured on a tablet (a phone can also be used) during drills and bullpen sessions and can see what they’re doing right and wrong.
What about about stealing pitches (turning balls into strikes)?
“Don’t try to steal every pitch as a strike,” said Buysse. “Keep balls (as) balls.
“Umpires catch on. If you try to steal every ball that’s thrown by the third inning they’re not going to give you anything close because they think you’re trying to steal it.”
IUSB is scheduled to open the 2023 season Feb. 3 against Rio Grande and Lindsey Wilson in Johnson City, Tenn. The Titans’ first home game at Rex Weade Stadium in Granger is slated for March 14 vs. Judson.

Doug Buysse. (Indiana University South Bend Photo)

IHSBCA Hall of Famers Calloway, Phares reflect, share views

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

Ty Calloway and George Phares were on opposite sides as coaches of baseball and basketball in Indiana’s Howard County.
Calloway, a 1968 graduate of Western High School in Russiaville was at his alma mater and 1965 Shelbyville Senior High School grad Phares at Taylor High School on the side side of Kokomo.
Success came to both men and Phares (656-412 in seven seasons at Morristown and 31 at Taylor with an IHSAA Class 2A state championship for the Titans in 2000) was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2004. Calloway (662-310 with a 3A state title in 2012) joined his friend in the Hall in 2012 and retired after the 2013 season.
Taylor’s diamond was renamed Phares Field in 2006. After retiring from the classroom, he helped out at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion on the staffs of Mark DeMichael and Chad Newhard for seven or eight years.
Phares says he enjoyed his interactions with former Bethel University assistant and fellow IHSBCA Hall of Famer Dick Siler.
Future major league pitcher Brandon Beachy went Northwestern High School in Howard County to IWU.
Phares also volunteered at Taylor and Kokomo and could be seen in recent years helping each January with registration at the IHSBCA State Clinic in Indianapolis. He is also on Hall of Fame selection committees.
As retirees, Calloway and Phares share a log cabin on Dewart Lake near Leesburg in Kosciusko County. They often spend New Year’s Eve there with wives Dallas Calloway and Martha Phares.
Ty and Dallas are the parents of Wendy and Betsy. George and Martha have Jennifer, Tim and Susan.
“We are the second-most famous George and Martha in the United States,” says Phares with a nod to the Washington’s.
Recently, Calloway and Phares offered their views on a variety of topics related to baseball and education.
Calloway was in the last eighth grade class that went through in Taylor Township prior to the completion of the high school.
Ty’s two younger brothers — two and three years behind him — both went to Taylor.
“My parents had to split time going to my games and their games,” says Ty, who got to compete against middle brother Mike on both the diamond and the basketball court.
Mike’s class played a junior varsity schedule as freshmen then a varsity schedule as sophomores.
There was one baseball game between the two schools where Ty was on second base and one of his teammates hit a deep fly to center field.
“We didn’t have fences back then at Western,” says Ty. “Mike took off and I thought for sure it was over his head and I came all the way and stepped on home plate. All of a sudden, he did one of those ‘Willie Mays’ over-the-back catches. I had to retreat back. He threw (me) out at second.
“I was at shortstop when we picked Mike off second base. That was an interesting game.”
Ty and Mike guarded each other on the hardwood.
There was one season of baseball for Ty at Ball State University in Muncie and summers with the Kokomo Highlanders. He went on to earn a bachelors and a masters degree at BSU. He applied in several places but was offered a chance to teach and coach at Western by Norm Llewellyn and took it.
Calloway taught middle school Health and Physical Education.
Beginning in the spring of 1974, he was JV baseball coach for four years. He was also a varsity assistant or JV boys basketball coach for about 20 years.
Phares played baseball at Seymour High School as a freshman and the next three at Shelbyville. He went to Indiana State University and was cut from the team.
He graduated with a degree in Mathematics and Physical Education and went to Morristown in 1969-70.
“I had played (American) Legion baseball at Morristown and knew a lot of people there,” says Phares. “They hired me as a junior high baseball coach. I graduated from college on Sunday and Monday I started working. I was made head coach at the end of the first year.
“Throughout my high school career I was always the head baseball coach.”
Phares was also a varsity assistant in basketball at the beginning of his time at Taylor.
Calloway says it was his raising with his brothers and sister that led to his philosophy as a coach.
“My dad taught self-discipline and being responsible,” says Ty. “No matter whatever did give 100 percent effort and that’s what I told (our players) we’re gonna get.”
At tryout time when it came down to cutting down the roster and Calloway had two players of equal ability, character would be the tiebreaker.
Students and athletes on Calloway’s watch were expected to behave.
“You can’t win with kids who have bad character,” says Calloway. “You’ve got to have good kids.
“As much as you can you’ve got to be a good role model for those kids.”
Between the lines, Calloway stressed fundamentals and saw to it that those were being taught at Russiaville Little League.
Among those fundamentals was the proper throwing mechanics.
“The teams that win games are the teams that play the best pitch and catch,” says Calloway. “That’s a fact.”
Calloway organized practices where his player got plenty of repetitions and got better.
“In high school baseball, reps is the key to winning,” says Calloway. “Sometimes I said we play too many games. We need a couple more practice in-between.”
Calloway says games are where skills are showcased. Practices are where they are built.
One Western player who got better even after being cut multiple times was Steve Bagby. He started as a senior then played in the outfield at Coastal Carolina University.
“He was one of those kids who just kept getting better and better and better,” says Calloway of Bagby. “He matured and he worked on a skill.”
Both former coaches talked about dealing with parents.
“I was blessed,” says Phares. “I really didn’t have problems mount. I had parents who were unhappy. I tried to explain things to them and — for the most part — it worked out OK.
“You try to be fair.”
Calloway says he had few problems with parents during his lengthy career.
“You went to be straight up with them,” says Calloway. “You want the administration to back you.”
Phares, who later coached in the college ranks, made a point of being a straight shooter when a college coach came to evaluate of one of his players or even others in the area.
“I was always honest with him,” says Phares. “High school coaches can’t lie to those college coaches. You gotta tell the truth.
“Most parents would rank their kid better in their skill level than where they’re at. It’s just nature.”
Calloway was the same way. He’d know an athlete’s potential and his maturity level and would share that with recruiters.
“You’ve got to have the skill,” says Calloway. “And you have to have the strength and the speed. I’ve had a kid who had the skill and strength but was slower than molasses and couldn’t play at the (NCAA) Division I level.”
Many parents and players don’t realize that a “full-ride” scholarship is a rare thing in college baseball with rosters of 30-plus and 13.7 scholarships at the D-I level (and less at D-II, NAIA etc.).
Phares became a Brooklyn Dodgers fan in 1955 the year the team won the World Series and his home is full of Dodgers memorabilia.
Through his relationship with Dodgers scout Dale McReynolds (who signed Bob Welch, Jeff Hamilton and Steve Howe), there is a photo of Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda standing with Phares and Calloway.
It was the New York Yankees — who won plenty and were on the “Game of the Week” on TV with Dizzy Dean and Peewee Reese at the mic as Calloway was growing up that became his team.
The coaching veterans are not fans of some of baseball’s changes reflected in Major League Baseball and moving down.
“It’s changed for the worse,” says Phares. “Now the baseball game has become kind of a side show and all the antics of the players.
“They all have to flip their bats, stare down and do this and do that. I just don’t like it. It’s television. That’s what they want. I can’t stand to watch the Little League World Series anymore. They’re encouraging those kids to act like (the bat-flipping big leaguers).
“When they get to high school they’re got a bad attitude.”
Calloway sees a lot of self-centered behavior.
“The the Little League to the high school you’re starting to see kids where it’s about ‘me’ instead of ‘we.’”
He sees it reflected in Kokomo shrinking at the neighborhood park level. Many are leaving for travel ball and the youth leagues have shut down leaving them to play at Championship Park.
“We had a park in about every little area of town — UCT, Southside, Indian Heights, Northside,” says Calloway. “Local teams now are dwindling.”
When Calloway was coaching he would often have his top players on a travel or American Legion team and then there was a focus on the others.
“If I could devote time and make my 6 through 9 players better than your 6 through 9 players I’m going to beat you because baseball is consistently up and down the lineup,” says Calloway. “We would work in the off-season to develop these kids.”
Phares always enjoyed going to clinics and attended about four every year. He went with a purpose.
“My goal is to find one thing that we can use that will fit the Taylor Titan program that we can use to make us better,” says Phares. “I don’t think most coaches have a program. They play their games and they spend all winter going to these (showcase) camps and saying this kid throws 95 mph.”
The way Phares sees it, a testament to a program is one that can do well with multi-sport athletes who have chosen not to specialize in one area.
“(Taylor) didn’t have enough athletes and had to pass them around,” says Phares.

George Phares (left) and Ty Calloway. (Steve Krah Photo)

Bickel leads IUPUC Crimson Pride into first baseball season

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

Athletic history is being made in Columbus, Ind.
Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus has been approved for NAIA status in 2022-23.
The Crimson Pride are up and running with three programs — baseball, softball and cross country — and more sports are planned.
The first official baseball practice was held Tuesday, Sept. 6 on the youth diamonds at CERA Sports Park & Campground in Columbus.
“The City of Columbus as a whole never had collegiate sports,” says Scott Bickel, IUPUC’s first head baseball coach. “We need Columbus and their business partners to support us for us to continue to grow.”
IUPUC is a sister school to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and offers Indiana and Purdue degrees at in-state tuition rates.
An independent pilot program that will not be eligible for NAIA postseason play in the first year, the IUPUC Crimson Pride hopes to get into an athletic conference — preferably the River States Conference (which includes national power Indiana University Southeast plus Indiana University-Kokomo and Oakland City University).
The baseball roster currently numbers 44 and the goal is 55 in order to have full varsity and junior varsity schedules.
“We want to give them an opportunity to compete for a position,” says Bickel. “We’re going to need to play at a highly-respected level to compete for conference championships.
“The main thing we have to do now is install everything. Everything is new to everybody.”
Former pitcher/outfielder Bickel was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star Series participant for Huntington North in 2006 and earned IHSBCA all-state honorable mention in both 2005 and 2006.
Among Bickel’s classmates and teammates were Chris Kramer, Andrew Drummond and Jarod Hammel. Kramer went on to play basketball at Purdue University and in the pro ranks. Drummond set offensive records at Huntington (Ind.) University. Hammel also played at HU and is in his second stint as Huntington North head baseball coach.
Bickel played two years each at Huntington North for Chad Daugherty and Russ Degitz (Chad’s younger brother Kyle Daugherty was an assistant) and Greg Roberts at the University of Saint Francis, an NAIA school in Fort Wayne.
Bickel is a first-time head coach with coaching experience as Roberts’ hitting coach for one season at Saint Francis (2016-17) and four campaigns at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne (2019-22) doing a number of things for head coaches Lance Hershberger and Connor Wilkins.
Others Ivy Tech coaches include Javier DeJesus (who gave pitching lessons to high schooler Bickel), Mark Flueckiger, Drew Buffenbarger, Benny Clark, Tony Gorgai, Jeff Griffith, Densil Brumfield and Seth Sorenson.
“I have Lance Hershberger to thank for taking a chance with me and offering me an opportunity to network with a great baseball town,” says Bickel. “I really grew my knowledge base from our relationships, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
In some way or other, Bickel says he has also been impacted by Brent Alwine (Indiana Tech and Indiana Summer Collegiate League)
Matt Brumbaugh (Fort Wayne Northrop), Patrick Collins-Bride (Indiana Tech), Mark Delagarza (Summit City Sluggers), Steve Devine (Indiana Tech), Rich Dunno (Ground Force Sports), Jason Garrett (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger), Zach Huttie (Indiana Tech/World Baseball Academy), Rick Davis (Strike Zone Training Center), Manny Lopez (The Diamond/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks), Kip McWilliams (Indiana Tech) and Mike Nutter (Fort Wayne TinCaps).
The 2017-18 Ivy Tech team — aka “The Dirty Dozen” for the 12 players left at season’s end — went 25-18 in that inaugural season. Bickel came along in 2018-19 and saw those players move on to four-year schools.
In 2017-18, Bickel was an assistant at Fort Wayne Snider High School. Marc Skelton and Bruce Meyer led the Panthers varsity and assistants included Tim McCrady and Josh Clinkenbeard (who is now Snider head coach).
The last two years, Bickel was a player-coach for the Richard Brown-owned Jackers, which qualified for the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series in both seasons.
While living in Colorado. Bickel met future wife Allie (the couple celebrates six years of marriage Oct. 15), started a business and played baseball.
Bickel holds degrees in Secondary Education for Mathematics and Mild Intervention from Saint Francis (2011) and a Masters of Athletic Administration and Coaching from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. (2021).
The IUPUC staff also includes pitching coach Zach McClellan (who is also the school’s Director of Athletics and a former big league pitcher), Mac Kido and Tyler Dunbar and is likely to expand.
Kido, a 2016 graduate of Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind., briefly attended Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., and has coached at Edgewood and travel ball at the Tier Ten Sports Campus in Spencer, Ind. He will coach Crimson Pride hitters.
Dunbar, a 2019 graduate of North Daviess High School in Elnora, Ind., played briefly at Hanover (Ind.) College and transferred to IUPUC to finish his degree in Elementary Education. He has coached travel ball for Demand Command. He will serve infield coach/assistant baserunning coach for the Crimson Pride.
“I’ll be mentoring and shepherding Coach Kido and Coach Dunbar the best I can,” says Bickel. “That’s a big goal for me.
“I want to give them the autonomy they need to be successful.”
Bickel will work with catchers and outfielders.
An exhibition game with Ivy Tech Northeast is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 8 at Fort Wayne’s Shoaff Park.
IUPUC is to open its 2023 season and play its first-ever games Feb. 10-11 against Huntington University in Tuscaloosa, Ala. New Foresters head coach Thad Frame is a 2004 Huntington North graduate, which means he was a Vikings senior when Bickel was a sophomore.

Scott Bickel. (Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Image)
(Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Image)
(Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Image)

Ivy Tech’s Smith honing two-way skills this summer in Kansas

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

Gage Smith grew up in the small town of Garrett, Ind.
The third baseman/right-handed pitcher is playing in another bantam burg this summer while playing for the Wellington Heat in Kansas Collegiate League Baseball.
“The community is close-knit and we have great group of guys here,” says Smith, a 2021 graduate of Garrett High School who has completed one season of college ball for the Connor Wilkins-coached Ivy Tech Northeast Titans in Fort Wayne.
Heat home games are played under the lights at Hibbs-Hooten Stadium in the seat of Summer County — Wellington. Road trips in the KCBL are as short as 30 minutes and as long as 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Wellington won the National Baseball Congress title in 2007 and were NBC World Series runners-up in 2013.
In his first eight games with the 2022 Heat, Smith is hitting .238 (5-of-21) with two home runs, four runs batted in and five runs scored. He has pitched in five games (all in relief) and is 0-0 with one save, a 2.70 earned run average, 11 strikeouts and two walks for 6 2/3 innings.
In 26 games at Ivy Tech in the spring, Smith hit .341 (29-of-85) with one homer, four triples, six doubles,15 RBIs and a .952 OPS (.411 on-base percentage plus .541 slugging average). The righty batter has also scored 16 runs and swiped 10 bases.
In four mound appearances (one start), Smith was 0-0 with a 4.91 ERA, nine strikeouts and four walks over 7 1/3 innings.
Smith does not wish to choose between infielder/hitter and pitcher as his favorite.
“I love both equally,” says Smith, 19. “I’d like to be a two-way for my whole career. I try to balance out the work with both positions.
“As a fielder my strength is putting it all on the line while backing my pitchers. At the plate, I try to spray it anywhere and be a tough out.”
While working with Ivy Tech pitching coach Javier DeJesus, Smith took the velocity on the four-seam fastball from 83 mph to 88 mph from the fall to the spring.
But Smith does not focus on speed.
“I try to be dominant on the mound,” says Smith. “I’m pitching in the (strike) zone and attacking hitters with their weaknesses.
“Every hitter has a tell about what he’s going to chase. The catcher will also help you with that.”
Throwing over the top, Smith has a 12-to-6 curveball and “circle” change-up and he has been working on a two-seamer.
Smith calls DeJesus “a pitching genius.”
“He’s been moving the ball around in our hand to get the best break we can on (pitches),” says Smith.
Another Titans hurler that has benefitted from working with DeJesus is Matt Peters, who is moving on to NCAA Division I Miami University (Oxford, Ohio).
“It was awesome playing with him,” says Smith of Peters, who throws the ball in the high 90’s. “We got to face him in live (at-bats).
“He made an impact on all of us.”
Smith has three Ivy Tech teammates at Wellington — Joel Deakins, Coby Griffith and Noah Matheson. Deakins is an outfielder, Griffith a pitcher and Matheson an infielder.
Another — Zach Green — plays for KCBL’s Park City Rangers as a catcher. Smith and Matheson are roomies with host family parents James and Jodie McCarthy.
“They are some sweet people,” says Smith. “They are willing to have people live there and care for them.
“It’s definitely more comfortable having (Ivy Tech mates) around.”
At Ivy Tech — an National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association Division II team — Smith has embraced the idea of a “JUCO Bandit.”
“I means you have some sort of grit to you. You’re dirtbags,” says Smith. “You train hard and play the game hard.
“That’s what a ‘JUCO Bandit’ means to me.”
Smith is in Kansas this summer and plans to return to Ivy Tech in the fall as a General Studies major with the idea of attracting a four-year school who will give him the opportunity to continue his baseball career.
Born in Fort Wayne, Smith grew up in Garrett and played about eight years at what is now Garrett Youth Baseball. The summers before and after his last high school season, he played for the Brett Ratcliffe-coached DeKalb County Thunder.
Ratcliffe was head coach at Garrett High in Smith’s freshman and sophomore years with Jason Richards leading the Railroaders in 2019-20 (the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and 2020-21.
“(Ratcliffe) was kind of an old school coach,” says Smith. “He taught me the basics of baseball and got me to where I wanted to play college baseball.
“(Richards) coached me in football in middle school. He was a guy I knew really well and could trust and depend on him.”
Gage’s parents are Pamela Smith and Chris Smith. He has a twin sister, Morgan Smith. Tori Smith is a few years older. Austin Carroll is second oldest sibling. Beau Carroll (who died in 2021 at 29) was the oldest.

Gage Smith (Ivy Tech Northeast Photo)
Gage Smith (Ivy Tech Northeast Photo)
Gage Smith (Ivy Tech Northeast Photo)
Gage Smith (Ivy Tech Northeast Photo)
Gage Smith with the Wellington (Kan.) Heat (R .Newberry Photo)
Gage Smith with the Wellington (Kan.) Heat (R .Newberry Photo)

Even though program’s slated to fold, Ivy Tech Northeast baseball moving forward

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

Ivy Tech Community College Board of Trustees voted 8-1 April 7 to discontinue athletics at the Northeast campus in Fort Wayne, Ind., after 2022-23.
Titans baseball (established in 2017-18 by Lance Hershberger) is moving forward with the 2022 season and is looking to the 2023 slate, which appears it will be the school’s last.
Ivy Tech Northeast is 15-18 heading into a doubleheader Saturday, April 30 at Indiana Tech JV. After that comes a May 3 twin bill at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College followed by a National Junior College Athletic Association Region XII sub-regional May 5 in Sandusky, Ohio. The Titans must win two games in the four-team single-elimination event featuring the Nos. 2-4 seeds from the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference to advance to regional play.
“I’m enjoying the public response and fight to keep the program,” says Ivy Tech head coach and dual-credit advisor Connor Wilkins, 29. “I’m doing my part. (The board is) pretty dead-set on not having athletics. It comes down to financials and Title IX (gender equity).”
Wilkins describes the mood of the team.
“There’s a little defiance there,” says Wilkins, a Fort Wayne native. “We’ll show you how good we are and lay everything on the line representing our college. It’s frustrating as a coach knowing what we’ve built as a program and serving the community.
“In my opinion, northeast Indiana needs a junior college program.”
The Fort Wayne campus is the only one in the statewide Ivy Tech system with sports. An Ivy Tech Northeast volleyball team folded when the coach left and players followed after the COVID-19 year.
There are currently three junior college baseball programs in the state — Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson and Vincennes (Ind.) University.
Ivy Tech’s 2022 baseball team has 38 players with 22 on-target to graduate from the two-year school this spring. Some of that number have indicated that they will come back for a third year (granted because of the pandemic).
Six players — right-handed pitcher Matt Peters (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School graduate) to NCAA Division I Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), twins outfielder Conner Beatty and catcher Alec Beatty (Augusta, Mich.) and catcher/outfielder Joel Deakins (Heritage) to provisional NAIA start-up Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, infielder Brayden Dockery (Continental, Ohio) to the NCAA D-II University of Indianapolis and Coby Griffith (Papillion, Neb.) to NAIA Huntington University — have made commitments to their next school and others are expected to make that announcement soon.
This summer, fireballer Peters is to play in the MLB Draft League. Other Ivy Tech players are bound for the Great Lakes, Jayhawk and Florida circuits plus the local Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League.
Two players whose only college offers coming out of high school were from Ivy Tech Northeast are Grant Lashure (now a starting catcher at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University) and Zach Haefer (a right-handed pitcher at NCAA Division II Davenport University in Grand Rapids).
There are also 13 recruits coming to the Titans in 2022-23.
“We still have next year,” says Wilkins. “The recruits are still coming. It’s a testimony to our staff that they wanted to develop and leave after that.
“We’re going to do right by them. It’s our job to get them on to four-year or two-year schools.”
Besides Wilkins, the 2022 coaching staff features Scott Bickel (who is heading to IUPUC as part of Crimson Pride head coach Zach McClellan’s staff), recruiting coordinator Drew Buffenbarger (a member of the “Dirty Dozen” — Ivy Tech’s first team and an assistant admissions director at the school), pitching coach Javier DeJesus and hitting coach Mark Flueckiger.
Without conference membership, the Titans schedule this spring has been on-the-fly and inclement weather has not helped. NJCAA Region XII has a rule that teams are not supposed to play when the “Real Feel” temperature dips to 35 degrees.
Ivy Tech Northeast plays home games at Shoaff Park. The diamond is owned by the city, but is maintained by coaches and players.
“We take care of it,” says Wilkins. “We mow it. We weed-and-feed. We do it as a team.”
Fundraisers and donors have made it possible to do things like laser-grading the infield.
“It was hard to get donations during the COVID year,” says Wilkins.
And if the Titans are heading into their final days, the coach wants them to go out with their heads held high, representing their institution and community.
Says Wilkins, “We’re going to finish it out and hopefully make them proud.”

Gavin Smith makes a throw at third baseball for Ivy Tech Northeast baseball.
Gavin Smith swings the bat for Ivy Tech Northeast baseball.

Ivy Tech Northeast right-hander Peters now hitting triple digits

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

Matt Peters has not only unlocked the door to pitching velocity, the Fort Wayne, Ind., right-hander has kicked the door in and the baseball world is taking notice.
The 6-foot-4, 215- pound sophomore at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne has been clocked as high as 101 mph.
There are seven to nine pro scouts at all of Peters’ mound starts.
He nows gets mentioned among the nation’s hardest throwers, including University of Tennessee righty Ben Joyce, who has fired it at 104 mph.
Peters was on the cover of Collegiate Baseball.
The first time 101 came was March 5 against Lincoln Trail College at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Peters did that again as recently as Monday, April 11 as the Titans played the Trine University junior varsity in Angola, Ind.
A Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) commit, Peters has made a significant jump since the summer of 2021. 
“I worked a lot on my mechanics last fall with Coach Javi,” says Peters. “When I got into my legs my arm slot came up (to mid to high three-quarter overhand).”
Ivy Tech pitching coach Javier DeJesus helped Peters reorganize his mechanics to make him move more efficiently.
“Matt has confidence in how his body moves,” says DeJesus. “He can trust himself to throw the crap out of the ball and just where to put it.
“The first (bullpen) pitch out his hand in the spring was 99 mph. I thought, ‘what did I just create?’”
DeJesus gauged Peters’ deliveries last Aug. 16 and the speediest pitch came in at 93 mph.
DeJesus, who was an All-American at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, pitched professionally for 10 seasons and has instructed many young arms, put his Titans hurlers — Peters included — through a grueling training program he created 15 years ago that he calls “Hell in the Cell.”
“It is just as bad as it sounds,” says DeJesus of the routine that includes plenty of medicine ball work, long toss and sprinting to increase explosiveness.
“You get your quick-twitch muscles going,” says Peters. “Coach Javi knows how to teach. He makes me think. He’s taught me a lot about the game.”
After about six weeks of training with DeJesus, Peters attended a fall junior college showcase at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Miami pitching coach Jeff Opalewski saw Peters blaze them in at 98 mph and signed the hurler for the Danny Hayden-led RedHawks in 2022-23.
Peters follows another gas-throwing Indiana native in Sam Bachman. The Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate was selected in the first round of the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft by the Los Angeles Angels.
Bachman and Peters were on competing travel teams when they were of that age.
A general studies major, Peters says he needs summer credits to complete his associate’s degree.
Peters has been assigned to the MLB Draft League’s Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), where ex-big leaguer Homer Bush is the manager, former 14-year major league lefty Ron Mahay in the pitching coach and Craig Antush the assistant pitching coach. That season begins
Besides DeJesus, Peters is also thankful for mentoring by Ivy Tech head coach Connor Wilkins and Titans assistant Scott Bickel.
“(Coach Wilkins) is great role model,” says Peters, 21. “He’s helped me become a more mature person. He is a great example.
“(Coach Bickel) was the person I really looked to when my parents (Matt and Laurie) got divorced.
“I’ve had a lot of people who’ve helped me. My brother (David Peters) has pushed me very hard.”
Matt is the youngest of three with sister Rachel being the oldest.
Drew Buffenbarger and Mark Flueckiger are also Ivy Tech coaches. The program was established by Lance Hershberger, who was head coach from 2018-21.
Because of the savings, Peters transferred to National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Ivy Tech from NJCAA D-I Hillsborough Community College (Tampa, Fla.) where he spent the spring of 2021 after being at NJCAA D-III Oakton Community College (Des Plaines, Ill.) in the fall of 2020. It was while throwing at an indoor facility during winter break that Peters was spotted and presented with the opportunity to play in Florida.
A starter for Ivy Tech, he was a reliever for the Hillsbourgh Hawks and Oakton Owls.
Peters did not pitch during the summer of 2020 and was with the College Summer league at Grand Park’s Snapping Turtles in 2021. Robb Wicks was the head coach.
At Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School, Peters was on the baseball team as a freshman, sophomore and senior and was cut as a junior.
“My flip of the switch was when I didn’t play on my Senior Night,” says Peters.
Then he graduated in 2019, he was 5-9 and 160 when he graduated then hit my growth spurt his year of college.
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Peters played for the Indiana Prospects at 11 and 12 then for Indiana Baseball Factory from 13 to 17. The latter team was coached and organized by his father. The Prospects were started by uncle Mark Peters. The organization once included cousin Dillon Peters, who is now a left-handed pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Matt Peters’ four-seam fastball has the most giddy up.
“I get a lot of arm-side run with the two-seamer,” says Peters. “My change-up is a slower version of my two-seamer with more depth.
“My slider is good because I can throw it hard and it still has depth.”
He threw one slider at 90 mph with the rest at 87 to 89 Monday at Trine.
DeJesus showed him grips let him try to execute.
“Matt has been an absolute joy to work with,” says DeJesus. “I have not called one single pitch of Matt’s
“Pitchers and catcher have to work together. That’s how the they learn the game. They get a feel what they’re doing and give me the feedback.
“A young man has a mind and he’s got to use it.”

Ivy Tech Northeast’s Matt Peters’ delivery in slow motion.
Matt Peters (Ivy Tech CC Northeast Photo)
Matt Peters in 2021 with the Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (CSL Photo)
Matt Peters on the front page of Collegiate Baseball.

While pursuing his own baseball goals, Coursel helps others with theirs

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

Robbie Coursel has learned a few things on his baseball journey and he’s sharing those lessons with others.
Born in Michigan City, Ind., Coursel is a right-handed pitcher who has played at the college and professional levels.
Through his business – Robbie Coursel Baseball — he provides instruction and helps players go after their goals.
Coursel played three baseball seasons at Michigan City High School for Wolves head coach David Ortiz and campaigns for football head coach Craig Buzea and finished his diamond prep career at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg, Fla., graduating in 2012.
His head coach with the Vikings was Rob Stanifer, who pitched for the 1997-98 Florida Marlins and 2000 Boston Red Sox.
In October of his senior year, Coursel was given the opportunity to move to Florida with longtime scout and roving instructor Ralph Bufano, who has worked with Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and many others.
“He saw that I had a strong arm and was a good athlete and that I had the chance to play pro ball,” says Coursel of Bufano. “He changed the trajectory of my whole life.
“Getting into player development has given me a greater reach than playing alone. I’m able to serve others. As a player I can entertain others and profit myself like Ralph impacted myself.
“They carve a path for themselves using baseball as a vehicle. (Helping others is) where my passion is. The more I’m able to learn from my abilities, the more I’m able to teach. I love what I do.”
Moving away from loved ones at 17 was not easy.
“I did not know anybody, but I met people through the game,” says Coursel, who is now 27 (he turns 28 in December). “It was definitely challenging. But they had courage to let me go.”
Coursel impressed enough at Northeast High to land a scholarship with St. Petersburg College and played two seasons for the Clearwater-based Titans, head coach Ryan Beckman and pitching coach T.J. Large, who hurled in the Red Sox and is now in player development for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“(SPC) has such a history of producing professional players,” says Coursel, who lived with Bufano during his first year in Florida.
After his junior college experience, Coursel moved on to NCAA Division I Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
John McCormack was — and still is — the Owls head coach. Pitching coach Jason Jackson is now at the University of Alabama.
“I loved playing for him,” says Coursel of McCormack. “I still stay in-touch with him to this day.”
During Coursel’s time there, FAU was ranked as high as No. 8 in the country and had six players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft both seasons.
Coursel was taken in the 26th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and went to the Appalachian League that summer followed by fall instructional league where he got to compete with players from all levels.
The righty spent two seasons in the Pirates system then signed with the independent American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and pitched for a team he rooted for when he was young. He was with the Greg Tagert-managed club 2018, 2019 and 2021. There was no AA season in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Coursel was released by the RailCats in July, he is hopeful to earn a chance to toe the rubber for Gary in 2022 and — perhaps — make his way back to an MLB organization.
He has nothing but praise for longtime baseball man Tagert.
“He is very intelligent, very hard-working, very professional,” says Coursel. “He knows what it takes to win. He believes in his methods to accomplishing that. I’m behind him 100 percent.
“I respect that wisdom and Baseball I.Q.”
Coursel addresses what he perceives as the differences between indy and affiliated pro ball.
“The players are more refined in the American Association,” says Coursel. “Most of these guys are fully-developed. They’re more experienced.
“But it’s ‘perform now.’ They want to win.
“(Affiliated ball) has raw talent and younger players and is very developmental-based.”
Both brands of baseball seek folks who bring more than just ball-playing abilities.
“They have players who are so valuable that they want good people around them — high-character individuals. That alone — along with ability — can get you a career in independent ball.
“Ability is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s not the main thing we focus on (at Robbie Coursel Baseball). It’s championship mentality in everything you apply yourself to. You can be successful in whatever they put their mind to.”
Coursel conducts his lessons at various locations around northwest Indiana. A training facility with indoor and outdoor areas is in the works. He has several places around the country to see what he wants for his place. He is also looking for instructors with hitting, pitching and strength training knowledge to add to his staff.
Robbie and high school sweetheart were married a little over a year ago in Florida and welcomed daughter Layla into the world Oct. 28.

Robbie Coursel.
Robbie Coursel.
Benea & Layla Coursel.

Bickel now in charge of baseball at Marian University’s Ancilla College

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

Attacking games and practices with passion.
That’s what Trey Bickel expects as the new baseball head coach at Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
“It’s business out there,” says Bickel, 27. “In baseball you have to be 100 percent focused.
“There has to be 100 percent intensity and focus or they’re wasting time.”
Bickel, who came to the Chargers as an assistant in the fall of 2018, took over the three weeks ago when Chris Woodruff left to become Assistant Athletic Director/Compliance Director at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College.
At the moment, Bickel is a one-man show. He is seeking at least one assistant.
“I have feelers out with buddies I played with,” says Bickel. “I want to make sure I get someone who fits in with our guys and gets us where we want to be.”
Bickel relinquished his athletic groundskeeper duties when Marian University came into the picture and hired a company to handle that, leaving the coach free to focus on baseball.
That includes recruiting.
“If you’re not getting that offer from your dream school don’t shut down any other options,” says Bickel. “Junior college is the route to go for a majority of guys if you don’t have those dream schools calling.”
There are currently 21 on the Marian University’s Ancilla College roster, including four pitcher-only players and a number of two-way players. Ideally, Bickel would like 25 to 30 athletes.
“Next spring I hope to have 15 to 20 pitchers rostered,” says Bickel.
Outside practices are now short and intense. When the team goes indoors its at the LifePlex in Plymouth.
This fall, the school formally known as Ancilla College took to the diamond to play five games against outside competition with others cancelled for COVID-19 reasons.
The Chargers were in 9-inning contests against Bethel University and Purdue Northwest and a doubleheader (two 7’s) against Indiana University South Bend.
The spring portion of the schedule is to begin Feb. 12-13 for a four-game series at Southeastern Illinois College. The first on-campus game is slated for March 19 vs. Morton College.
Marian University’s Ancilla College is a member of the Michigan Community College Athletic Association and National Junior College Athletic Association District 12.
Bickel finished his playing career at IUSB in 2018. The 2012 Mishawaka (Ind.) High School graduate went to Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., of the fall of 2012.
While he was not around the following spring then Cobras head coach Matt Kennedy (now a Butler University assistant) made an impression on him.
‘He’s a go-getter,” says Bickel of Kennedy, who he encountered again in the 2021 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. “He knows how to bring out intensity in his coaching. It shows in a (NJCAA) national championship (at Parkland in 2009 with a fifth-place finish in 2010). I definitely enjoyed the intensity he had as a coach.
“He attacks it. That’s what I’m looking to do.”
With a gap year mixed it, Bickel played two years at Holy Cross College for Brian Blondell before that program ceased and two at IUSB for Blondell, Mike Huling and Jon Koepf.
“They all brought something to the table to help me,” says Bickel, who was a right-handed pitcher. He threw a no-hitter in the Titans’ first-ever home game in 2016.
At Mishawaka, Bickel had John Huemmer as a head coach and Chadd Blasko as a pitching coach.
“(Huemmer) is one of the most genuine people I know,” says Bickel. “He’s a very nice guy and he’s there for his players and building relationships.
“He’s very good at that.”
Bickel spent a couple of seasons picking the brain of Blasko, who was selected 36th overall in the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs out of Purdue University.
Born in South Bend, Bickel spent parts of his elementary school years in Goshen, Elkhart and Mishawaka and was in the latter city from Grades 6-12. Trey is from a big family. He has two older brothers and one older sister plus one younger sister and one younger brother.

Marian University’s Ancilla College baseball coach Trey Bickel (left) in third base box.
Marian University’s Ancilla College baseball coach Trey Bickel.

Wilkins wants ‘selfless’ players at Ivy Tech Northeast

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

It’s a team-first concept that Connor Wilkins is emphasizing as the new head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind.
In June, Wilkins took over the Titans program started by Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Lance Hershberger.
“Be a selfless player and put your team ahead yourself,” says Wilkins, who turns 29 in October. “It’s a team approach. It’s never individual goals. Are you willing to do what is necessary for your team to succeed even if you fail?”
Wilkins has this in mind when looking for players to compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II program.
“We are very strict about how we recruit,” says Wilkins. “We see how they interact with their parents and their teammates. We coach the entire person. The results on the ball field take care of themselves.”
With games and practices at Shoaff Park, Ivy Tech is currently engaged in fall ball. They have had six scrimmages and could wind up having as many as 28 — most of them on the road at such four-year schools as the University of Northwestern Ohio, Indiana Tech, Indiana Wesleyan University and Taylor University.
The Titans went 1-0-1 in the recent Puma JUCO Classic — a Prep Baseball Report showcase at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
There are nearly 40 players honing fundamentals and getting down the details of Ivy Tech’s offensive and defensive systems.
“We start working on things now so that come spring time their mechanics and bodies are locked in,” says Wilkins, who is working toward a Masters in Exercise Science and Wellness with a concentration in Fitness and Performance through Liberty University.
Wilkins’ assistant coaches are Scott Bickel, Drew Buffenbarger, Javier DeJesus and Mark Flueckiger. Buffenbarger was Ivy Tech’s first baseball captain. DeJesus, who played for the Fort Wayne Wizards, is the Titans pitching coach. Flueckiger, who played at Huntington College (now Huntington University), has high school and college coaching experience.
A 2011 graduate of Concordia Lutheran High School, catcher Wilkins played for Steve Kleinschmidt as Cadets freshman and his last three seasons for Hershberger.
Wilkins went to Rick Smith-coached NJCAA member Jackson (Mich.) College then transferred to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, where an L5 (fifth Lumbar Vertabra) injury on top of a preexisting back issue ended his playing days in the fall of 2013.
His original career path was to follow grandfather Harry Wallace’s footsteps and become a chiropractor before he got the teaching and coaching bug. Wallace (who died in 2006) practiced for 60 years around Ligonier and Fort Wayne.
Wilkins transferred from Indiana Tech to Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and changed his major to Secondary Education through Indiana University.
In the spring of 2014, he was on the baseball staff of Fort Wayne Northrop High School head coach Matt Brumbaugh.
Before becoming head coach and an advisor at Ivy Tech, Wilkinson spent three years at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, where he taught History, Health Sciences and Strength & Conditioning.
Connor is the youngest of Dan and Beth Wilkins’ four children after Danielle Molter (36), Matthew Wilkins (34) and Brianna Kompara (32). Dan Wilkins is a retired IT specialist at GTE (now Verizon) and Beth Wilkins is in customer service at Parkview Hospital Randallia.
Connor and wife Alana will celebrate three years of marriage in October. Alana Wilkins is a Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School graduate and an insurance underwriter. The couple have a daughter — Rey (2).

The Wilkins family (from left): Rey, Alana and Connor.
The Wilkins family — Matt, Alana and little Rey.

New Richmond head coach Brankle combining Old School, New School

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

Matt Brankle is a familiar face in a different place on the Wayne County, Ind., baseball scene.
Brankle pitched at Earlham College and for the Richmond RiverRats and was head coach for the Richmond Jazz and Cambridge City Lincoln Middle/High School.
In July, the 28-year-old became head coach at Richmond High School.
With the Red Devils, Brankle is establishing a culture where Old School meets New School.
“I’m going to use a lot of the Old School strategies, but try to do it with a modern approach,” says Brankle. “That’s what our players have grown up with.
“We’re going to be disciplined in how we handle every moment of our day. I’m high on grades. We expect to miss zero assignments and have zero F’s. We’ll be 10 minutes early everywhere we go, including school. We’ll be dressed properly with shirts tucked in and hats forward.
“I know there’s a lot more to this life than baseball I’m going to try to teach them skills in baseball that will help them in those situations.”
Brankle has learned coaches he played for and applied it to his coaching style.
“I’ve taken the best of all of those and found a middle ground,” says Swinson.
Steve Swinson was his coach with the Kokomo (Ind.) Longhorns travel ball team.
“He never yelled,” says Brankle of Swinson. “He built a relationship with you that you respected.
“My high school coaches were more demanding, but also understood the New School mentality.”
Brankle played three years for Jeremy Luna and Brent Owens as a senior at Taylor High School in Kokomo.
(Luna) was hard-nosed — kind of a football style — and was upbeat all the time,” says Brankle, who played shortstop and third base when he was not pitching for the Titans. “(Owens) was even-keeled most of the time.”
At Earlham, Brankle’s head coach was Steve Sakosits.
“Coach was full of energy all the time — most of the time it was positive,” says Brankle of Sakosits. “He has one heckuva of a drive in him and it definitely leaks out to his players.”
Old School in his approach, Coach Sak’s Quakers were expected to be clean-shaven with short hair cuts.
At EC, Brankle was named Newcomer of the Year (2012), Pitcher of the Year (2013) and earned the All-Heartland Collegiate Conference Sportsmanship Award (2013), Captains Award (2015) and George Van Dyke Outstanding Athlete Award (2015). At the time of graduation, he was No. 1 in all-time strikeouts, No. 2 in career saves and innings and No. 3 in career mound appearances.
Brankle played for the RiverRats in the summers of 2013 and 2014. After graduating in 2015 with a Fine Arts degree, he played independent professional baseball with the Lake Erie Crushers.
He was the head coach for the Jazz in the summer of 2016 and assisted Patrick Flanagan at Eaton (Ohio) High School in the springs of 2016 and 2017.
Brankle was head coach at Cambridge City 2018-21. He taught at Richmond Community School’s Test Intermediate School for 2 1/2 years before Cambridge City and is now a Special Education teacher at Richmond’s Dennis Middle School.
In May 2021, Brankle completed a Masters in Education from Indiana University East and is now working on a Masters in Educational Leadership from American College of Education.
Richmond (enrollment around 1,375) is a member of the North Central Conference (with Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Harrison of West Lafayette, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon and Muncie Central).
The NCC is split into two divisions with Richmond in the East.
In 2021, the Red Devils were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Anderson, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Muncie Central and Pendleton Heights (2021 host). Richmond has won 29 sectional titles — the last in 2011.
Richmond plays home games on John Cate Field at Don McBride Stadium.
“The history is the best part,” says Brankle of a park built in the 1930s that has seen Bob Feller, Satchel Paige and many more diamond legends play there. “We don’t talk about it enough.
“Some of the kids don’t understand the significance.”

Matt and wife of seven years, Kelsey Brankle, have three children — daughters Amillia (5) and Abigail (3) and son Broden (1 1/2).

Matt Brankle (Richmond High School Photo)
The Brankle family (from left): Amillia, Abigail, Broden, Kelsey and Matt.
The Brankle family (from left): First row — Amillia and Abigail; Back row — Broden, Matt and Kelsey.