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Wisemans, South Central Rebels enjoying the ride

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

They’re making baseball memories at a tiny school in southern Indiana.

Led by father and son co-coaches Brad and Alex Wiseman, the South Central (Elizabeth) Rebels have won the IHSAA Class 1A Shawe Memorial Sectional and are getting ready for the two-hour trek to the Loogootee Regional (South Central plays No. 9-ranked Tecumseh at 11 a.m., followed by Trinity Lutheran vs. No. 6 Barr-Reeve with the championship at 7:30 p.m.).

South Central spotted Borden four runs in the first two innings and trailed 6-2 after four frames in the sectional championship before winning 10-8 and earning a ride on the Elizabeth Volunteer Fire Department’s truck when they got back from Madison to Harrison County.

“It’s a good memory for the boys — something they’ll never forget,” says Alex Wiseman, who played for the Rebels and graduated from South Central in 2012 before pitching for Hanover (Ind.) College. “South Central baseball is a tradition around here. Everybody knows about it.”

The team mugged for the championship photo wearing the green “Hank Strong” T-shirts that they donned in a benefit game for Hank Sutherland, a young boy in the community dealing with Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome.

Kim Wiseman enjoys being at the park about as much as husband Brad and son Alex.

“She’s the epitome of a baseball mom,” says Brad Wiseman. “Alex is 25 and baseball has been a part of our lives for 22 years.

“(Kim) is just as excited to see a Cincinnati Reds game or a T-ball game.”

Alex and wife Leslie have a son — Maverick (1).

Will the boy be a ballplayer?

While sitting for her grandson, Kim got a fat lip when a baseball was thrown harder than she anticipated.

The younger Wiseman has watched the South Central team develop a “grind-it-out mentality.”

The turning point in the season came May 7 at South Central’s Donald L. Dones Field. That’s when the Rebels rallied from a five-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning to edge Austin 10-9. The Eagles scored all nine runs in the first two innings.

“That opened the eyes of the boys,” says Alex Wiseman of the comeback against a team that will compete in Saturday’s 2A Southridge Regional. “It shows they can accomplish a lot.”

South Central (enrollment around 215) part of the South Harrison Community School Corporation, which also includes Corydon Central High School (3A).

The Rebels belong to the Southern Athletic Conference (with Borden, Crothersville, Henryville, Lanesville and New Washington).

The top three finishers in the 2019 SAC pennant race were Henryville (5-0), Lanesville (4-1) and South Central (3-2).

The Rebels are part of a sectional grouping with Borden, Christian Academy of Indiana, New Washington and Shawe Memorial.

Brad Wiseman, who was a South Central junior varsity coach from 2014-17 before being joined by Alex to lead the Rebels beginning with the 2018 season, saw the team take an 11-16 regular-season into the postseason before beating Christian Academy and Borden for the program’s seventh sectional title (all since 2005).

“We were very aggressive (about playing all scheduled contests),” says Brad Wiseman. “We knew we needed as much game experience as we could get to get us ready for this part of the season.”

The Rebels took on 3A teams like Providence and Silver Creek (ranked No. 10 and the 2018 2A state runners-up) and 2A’s Lanesville.

“We really see the difference, especially in the sophomores,” says Alex Wiseman of the strong competition. “The game is coming a lot easier to them.”

Says Brad Wiseman, “We get overlooked because of our record. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Various factors, including injuries, left South Central’s sophomore-heavy roster with 16 players and many junior varsity games were canceled.

The Rebels’ top pitchers are junior Zach Needler, sophomore Frank Goodman and seniors Wyatt Crosier, Bryce Lewis and Will Weber. All but Weber are right-handers.

Crosier, junior Austin Tyree and sophomores Wes Wilson and Stephen Sawicki are offensive leaders.

The Wisemans are assisted by Jeff Riley and Jeff Skaggs.

Dones Field has seen upgrades in the past decade and more are on the way. New dugouts and backstop fencing was added around 2010. Since then, the Rebels have gained an indoor hitting facility, turf was placed around home plate and new bullpens and more fencing is coming in the near future.

South Harrison Athletic Corporation (SHAC) is a feeder system, training players from age 4 through eighth grade in the Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken system.

The Wisemans maintain a relationship with junior high coaches to make sure those players are prepared for high school baseball. The younger boys are invited to serve as managers for the older ones and experience the culture.

Brad Wiseman is a 1986 graduate of Castle High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Al Rabe.

“He was very insistent on the fine details,” says Brad Wiseman of Rabe. “You knew where you needed to be on the field at all times.”

Alex Wiseman’s coach at South Central was Nick Tremain (now head coach at Lawrenceburg).

“He was very much about the mental approach to the game,” says Alex Wiseman. “We played with a swagger. We expected to win. If you take that attitude, not a lot of teams are going to beat you.

“These are values we’ve tried to instill in the boys. Believe you can do it and you will get there if you put in the work.”

Work away from baseball happens in nearby Kentucky for both father and son. Brad Wiseman is a manager at Equian, a pre-bill medical recovery company. Alex Wiseman is a revenue analyst with Louisville Physicians Group.

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Father and son co-coaches Brad (right) and Alex Wiseman celebrate an IHSAA sectional baseball championship for South Central (Elizabeth) Junior/Senior High School.

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With co-coach Brad Wiseman toward the front, the South Central Rebels got to ride an Elizabeth (Ind.) Volunteer Fire Department truck after winning the 2019 IHSAA Shawe Memorial Sectional baseball title.

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The South Central (Elizabeth) Junior/Senior High School Rebels won the 2019 IHSAA Shawe Memorial Sectional baseball title. The team is wearing its “Hank Strong” T-shirts in support of Hank Sutherland, a boy in their community dealing with Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome.

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Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

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Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)