The week that Wes Rincker became school-board official as the new head baseball coach at Shoals (Ind.) High School, he attended his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic (Jan. 14-16, 2022). “I learned a lot at that clinic even after coaching all these years,” says Rincker, who guided players for 14 years in various travel ball organizations in Missouri before moving to Martin County in 2018 to work as a supply technician at Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division. “I talked with (Jasper head coach) Terry Gobert and (Shakamak head coach) Jeremy Yeryar, picking up every little tidbit I can. “I know baseball. We’ll work on fundamentals, drill work, mechanics and conditioning and see how many guys have the tools we have to succeed. As an outsider I have a very open mind as who should play at what position. I just want to get them ready for the field. I’m excited to get it going. “(Athletic director) Bryson Abel and (assistant AD) Danielle Cornett taking a chance on me and I appreciate that.” Shoals (enrollment around 200 is a member of the Blue Chip Athletic Conference (with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Knox, Northeast Dubois, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial). In 2021, the Jug Rox were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Daviess and Vincennes Rivet. Shoals has not yet earned a sectional title. The Jug Rox have not won a sectional game in more than a decade. Rincker is a 1988 Shakamak graduate. He did not play baseball in high school. He retired from the U.S. Air Force after 26 year total in the military, including time in U.S. Army and U.S. Army National Guard. He was at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Mo., and did did four combat tours — Somalia in1993, Iraq 2006 in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2011. Rincker coached baseball for American Legion Post 131 in Warrenburg, Mo., and the Lee’s Summit (Mo.) Saints — a Christian-base travel team then featuring former major leaguer Les Norman — and in Sedalia, Mo. He also officiated high school basketball and football. Wes’ parents — Lana Bush and Charles Rincker — are from Shoals. “It’s a quiet area,” says Rincker, who enjoys hunting and fishing with his father. “I just love it here away from the city hustle and bustle.” Wes and Amy Rincker are empty-nesters. Daughter Chelsea and husband Jerril Eisenbeck are in Fort Campbell, Ky., where he is an Army sergeant. They have two boys. Oldest son Luke Rincker recently graduated from Iowa State University and moved to San Marcos, Texas. He is in the Air Force Reserve. Youngest son Caleb Rincker lives in Sellersburg, Ind., and is in the Air National Guard. He is also on his father’s Shoals coaching staff along with Kent Hall and Adam Showalter. The first official practice date on the IHSAA calendar is March 14.
B.J. Sigler has a long association with baseball, coaching for many years at the youth level and serving as president/executive director for Ohio Valley Sports Productions — a travel tournament organization that runs events from mid-March to late October — and as Kentucky USSSA Baseball State Director. He started coaching for the Indiana Bulls in 2015 and is now with an 11U group. Add to all that head baseball coach at Jennings County High School in North Vernon, Ind. He was hired to lead the Panthers in July and 2022 will be his first season. Sigler played for Ben Hornung at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, Ind. (Class of 1994) and one season for Rick Parr at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Ind., before serving four years in the U.S. Air Force, graduating from the University of Houston and returning to Indiana in 2005. He calls himself “pretty old school” when it comes to his diamond approach. “It comes down to pitching and defense and we’ll be playing a little bit of ‘small ball.’’’ says Sigler. “That goes against the grain a little bit in this day and age, but it’s still winning baseball.” Sigler, who lives in North Vernon, inherits a program that did not graduate a player in 2021. Among the returnees is Indiana University commit Jacob Vogel, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound right-handed pitcher in the Class of 2022 who is a three-sport athlete at Jennings County (tennis, basketball and baseball). Another senior, Carson McNulty, is committed to Indiana Tech while a couple of others have not yet declared their college choice. There were 26 players in the Jennings County program in 2021, but there could be well north of that number in 2022 and enough freshmen to play a C-team schedule. “We’ll evaluate that in the spring,” says Sigler, did get to have high schoolers and middle schoolers in workouts during the recent IHSAA Limited Contact Period (Aug. 30-Oct. 16). The Panthers have a home field with a turf infield and natural grass outfield. “I absolutely love it,” says Sigler. “We may be able to come outside during the next Limited Contact Period and get some work in. It also helps with rain (in the spring).” The junior high program is being jump-started in 2021-22. Other feeders include Panther Baseball Club teams and a local recreation league. High school players are part of several different travel organizations around Indiana. Jennings County (enrollment around 1,200) is a member of the Hoosier Hills Conference (with Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, New Albany and Seymour). Each HCC team meets once during the regular season. The champion of the seven-team circuit is determined during a tournament near the end of the season. In 2021, the Panthers were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, New Albany and Seymour. Jennings County has won 11 sectional titles — the last in 2006.
Sigler’s Jennings County assistants are Jason Maddox and Tyler Vogel with the varsity and Pete Manowitz and Doug Mills with the junior varsity. Madison Consolidated High School graduate Jason Maddox is the son of Columbus North alum Parker Maddox (now at Iowa Western Community College). Tyler Vogel is a 2017 JC graduate who played two years at Marian University and is the older brother of Jacob Vogel. Manowitz prepped at Columbus East and Mills at Jennings County. Besides Tyler Vogel, recent JC grads who went on to college baseball include Caleb Eder (Indiana Wesleyan University) and Bret Sawyer (Franklin College). B.J., who has also served eight years as an assistant football coach, is married to 1995 Jennings County graduate, current Panthers head girls basketball and former Indiana University women’s basketball player Kristi (Green) Sigler. She was part of the 2020 Indiana basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Silver Anniversary Team. The Siglers have two baseball-playing sons — sophomore Cole (16) and fifth grader Brycen (11). Players is the Class of 2024 were 6 when B.J. began coaching them. Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Larry Sigler (Induction Class of 1993) is B.J.’s uncle.
“If we’re ever going to be competitive on a regular basis, we’ve got to get away from just because you showed up, you get to be on the baseball team,” says Weems, who was junior varsity coach at Pike for three seasons then was a volunteer assistant on the staff of Dave Scott at Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter before returning to the Red Devils in 2019 as assistant head coach to Todd Webster. “That’s not the way any of those (MIC) schools are and that’s the reason they are successful. There’s competition within the program. If there’s no competition within your own program, then how do you expect to get them to compete with them other teams?”
Pike won the MIC in 2018 then lost many players to graduation and struggled to win many games in 2019. The positive is that many sophomores got varsity playing time.
“They were the ones that earned it whether they were ready for it or not,” says Weems. “That’s what we had so we rolled with it. We’ll be better off for it because a lot of those guys — by the time they’re seniors — will be three-year starters.
“I’ve had my 1-on-1’s with guys I think will be competing for varsity spots and told them where they stand and what they need to work on. I also gave every one of them an idea of who’s coming up behind them and it’s their job to keep that spot.”
That’s the between the lines. There’s also preparing the young men for their next phase be it college, military or work.
“We want to make sure they’re prepared for what life’s going to throw at them,” says Weems, who served in the Indiana Air National Guard as a weather forecaster and observer for nearly seven years and attended Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and now is an accountant for Indianapolis Public Schools in his day job.
His father — the late Tommy Weems — was a disabled veteran who began coaching youth football while still serving in the U.S. Air Force and coached the Weems brothers — Brandon and Brian — in football and basketball when they were growing up.
“He was not able to work,” says Weems. “I don’t come from a affluent background. I come from the same background as a lot of our kids (at Pike).
“The main difference is that I had my dad. A lot of these kids don’t have their dads.
“They’re going to spend a lot more time with me and my staff. We’re going to make sure we’re leading them not only in baseball but we’re reminding them to make good choices like doing their homework, taking time to go to study tables, getting tutoring when they need it, making sure they’re treating the young ladies the way they’re supposed to. We go into all that stuff.”
The coaching staff features Caleb Wakefield (a Pike teacher and U.S. Army veteran who will work with outfielders), Cameron Gardner (a volunteer who coached with Weems and the Indiana Nitro travel organization and will help with infielders), Davon Hardy (the former Irvington Preparatory Academy head coach who will also help with infielders), Xavier Wilder (head junior varsity coach), Nick Lucich (catching coordinator) and Isiah Hatcher (JV assistant).
Even though Pike — which is part of the seventh-largest school district in Indiana — has three gyms, there are still so many athletes and other students vying for practice space. Many off-season baseball workouts are early in the morning or late at night.
Weems says funding has been approved for a new fieldhouse, which will come in handy in the cold months when the Red Devils can’t practice outside on Hildebrand Field.
Last year, beginning in August through the time of high school tryouts, Weems had players in grades 6-8 come in for Sunday workouts.
“We got a really good turnout,” says Weems. “I got almost a full off-season with our incoming freshmen. I knew who they were. They knew who I was. They understood what the expectations were at the high school level.”
This fall and winter, more free workouts have been twice a month on Saturdays for grades 3-8.
High school players are required to do community service hours and one way they fulfill them is to volunteer to help with the youth players.
Pike fielded a summer team last year that was organized by Weems and ran by assistants to provide a competitive opportunity and to make playing in the high school off-season more affordable. Others played for Little League and other organizations.
“We make it voluntarily,” says Weems. “It’s not that if you don’t play with us (during the summer), you can’t play for us (in the spring).
“That is totally fine. I make that clear with the kids. I make that extremely clear with the parents. I make my athletic director aware of what we do.
“It’s what we have to do to compete right now.”
Seems points to Ohio and the ACME Baseball Congress system in place there that provides high school players, coaches and teams an opportunity to continue to play after the high school season ends and is compliant with Ohio High School Athletic Association guidelines.
Weems, 33, hails from Springfield, Ohio, and played at the old Springfield North High School. His class (2004) was the first in school history to win at least 100 games in four years. The Mark Stoll-coached Panthers made it to the district finals (equivalent to the regional in Indiana) three of the four seasons.
He also played in the Babe Ruth League state championship at 13, 14 and 15.
Weems began his coaching career with Springfield North’s freshmen team in the spring of 2005.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be a college baseball player, but I knew I loved the game and didn’t want to be away from it,” says Weems. “I’m an analytical guy. My degree’s in accounting and finance. Baseball kind of lends well to what my strengths are.
“Baseball is one of the last few pure sports that are left because you can’t fake it. When the ball comes your way, you cannot hide. If you’re not trying, everybody’s going to see it.”
Brandon and Dionne Weems celebrated five years of marriage last week. The couple has two sons — Carter (5) and Andrew (3).
Brandon Weems is the head baseball coach at Pike High School in Indianapolis.
The Indianapolis native grew up playing multiple sports, trying to become proficient in each of them.
He competed in soccer, football, tennis, bowling and volleyball and wound up being the best at baseball and that’s what took him to various collegiate levels and now has the left-hander pitching as a professional.
Seth could walk a few blocks from Calvary to participate at the Edgewood youth league on the south side. He later played travel ball for the Adam Robertson-coached Indy Bats.
“That’s where I learned and developed at an early age,” says Hougeson of the Bats. “(Robertson) brought out my competitive side. He was a very awesome coach.
“I owe a lot to him. We still stay in-touch.”
Hougeson says competitiveness is his No. 1 strength as an athlete.
“I never give up,” says Hougeson. “I’m always trying to complete that task in front of me.
“I’m hard-working and always doing the little things right. In college, I always prided myself on PFPs (Pitchers Fielding Practice drills).
“It was about fielding my position as a pitcher and being athletic enough to get off and field that bunt and throw it to first.”
Like a fifth infielder?
“Absolutely,” says Hougeson, who turned 22 on April 25.
Indianapolis Lutheran won four sectional titles with Honor Roll Student-Athlete Hougeson on the team and head coach Dick Alter leading the Saints.
“He expected a lot,” says Hougeson of Alter. “He wanted to push you until he got what he was looking for — the best out of your every single day.
“At first, I was a little standoffish. I didn’t know how to respond to it. But, as a I grew up and I matured, it’s just kind of clicked with me. He’s not against me. He’s for me and wants the very best for me.”
Hougeson came to appreciate Alter’s years of experience and it helped groom him for college and beyond.
“I’m always looking for the most competitive baseball and trying to better myself,” says Hougeson. “I continue to get better with the higher level of competition because it continues to push me to get to that next level.”
Concordia University Wisconsin is an NCAA Division III program. In his freshmen season (2016), Hougeson earned honorable mention on the all-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference and was on the NACC all-freshman year, going 3-3 in nine mound appearances (eight starts) with a 3.35 earned run average. In 40 1/3 innings, he struck out 38 and walked nine.
Next came Dyersburg (Tenn.) State Community College. In his one season with the Eagles (2017), Hougeson was named National Junior College (NJCAA) National Pitcher of the Year after going 14-1 with a 1.49 ERA. The southpaw struck out 107 and allowed just 74 hits and 35 walks in 92 1/3 innings.
Hougeson landed at NCAA Division II Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., for his final two college seasons.
As a junior in 2018, Hougeson went 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA in 12 games (eight starts) for a DSU team that went 42-11 and played in the NCAA Division II South Regional. In 35 1/3 innings, he fanned 39 and walked 22. As a senior in 2019, he made 14 appearances (10 starts) and went 9-0 with three complete games (one shutout) and a 2.44 ERA. In 59 innings, he whiffed 55 and walked 14. The Statesmen went 42-14 and played in the D-II South Super Regional.
“I went out there with no expectations,” says Hougeson. “I was just going to play the best baseball I could possibly do. If I was going to get signed by a team, I was going to be very, very grateful for that.
“If nothing happened out of the summer, I was just going to hang it up and say I gave it all I had.”
He is 15 credit hours plus an internship short of his sports management degree and plans to finish with online classes. He sees himself using his many baseball connections to get job in front office job in baseball which could lead to becoming a general manager.
Or he could follow a long family tradition and go into military service.
“I’d love to join the Air Force and become a fireman,” says Hougeson, noting that his father is currently active in the Air Force and serving overseas. Both brothers (including Caleb Hougeson, who was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as an Indianapolis Lutheran third baseman) are in the Army. A grandfather and uncle served in the Marines and a cousin is currently with that service branch. An aunt is in the Air Force.
But sports management or military service are in the future. Hougeson’s present is focused on baseball.
The southpaw pitched in three Palm Springs games and signed with Gary on June 30. That same day, he made his pro debut, tossing four shutout innings while giving up two hits with one strikeout and one walk in a no-decision start against the Kansas City T-Bones.
Altogether, Hougeson has appeared in six RailCats games (five starts) and and is 1-1 with a 6.65 ERA. In 23 innings, he has racked up nine K’s and issued nine free passes.
A 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, Hougeson possesses a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, “circle” change-up and curve ball. He usually has an over-the-top release, but sometimes drops down a little and gets arm-side run with his fastball.
Seth Hougeson, an Indianapolis Lutheran High School graduate who played college baseball at Concord University Wisconsin, Dyersburg State Community College and Delta State University, is now with the independent professional Gary (Ind.) South Shore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)