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Todd entering second season in charge of Wes-Del Warriors baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Defense is a priority for head coach Bob Todd and his Wes-Del Middle/High School baseball team.

Entering his second season in 2019, Todd is emphasizing defensive communication and execution at the school in Gaston, Ind., northwest of Muncie.

“If you’re defense is bad, it’s hard to win even if you do hit,” says Todd. “We try to limit the free 90’s and win that battle every game.

“That gives us a chance to at least be in the game.”

During this IHSAA limited contact period, Todd’s Warriors have been in the small middle school gym on Wednesday or Thursday nights and Saturday mornings.

“We usually have stations for defensive reps or conditioning for an hour then do hitting and flat-mound bullpens for an hour,” says Todd. “We keep them working. Everybody is doing something. We don’t want anybody standing around. We’re getting a lot of things accomplished and getting better at all times.”

Todd counts himself as a proponent of the arm care program discussed by the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

In the future, Wes-Del baseball may benefit from a new auxiliary gym in the works at the Delaware County school.

Wes-Del (enrollment around 280) is in the Mid-Eastern Conference (with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union-Modoc and Wapahani).

MEC teams play each other once at various times during the spring to determine a conference champion.

Todd says it has been announced that beginning in 2021 conference games will be played every Tuesday and Thursday with schedules being laid out around those days.

Non-conference opponents include Alexandria-Monroe, Anderson Preparatory Academy, Blackford, Delta, Eastbrook, Elwood, Frankton, Liberty Christian, Madison-Grant, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic, Southern Wells, Union City and Yorktown. The Delaware County tournament is slated for May 7 and May 11.

The home field is located behind the school on North Yorktown-Gaston Pike (North 600 West).

The Warriors are in an IHSAA Class 1A grouping with Anderson Prep, Cowan, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells and Tri-Central. Wes-Del last won a sectional title in 2011.

Todd is assisted by Ken Zvokel (varsity) and Zach Tanner (JV) with occasional help from other volunteers. Mary Helen Bink has been a scorekeeper for Wes-Del for more than three decades.

A year ago, Wes-Del had 20 players in the program. Nine of those have graduated and two others are not expected back. Based on call-out meetings, Todd says he may have as many as 24 this spring.

The first official day of practice is March 11. Spring break for Wes-Del Community Schools is March 22-29. The baseball team is slated for open its season April 2 and have six games scheduled in the first eight days.

“Players have 10 practice to get before spring break,” says Todd, referring to the IHSAA rule for participation. “It’s imperative that they come to all practices.”

Wes-Del Youth Athletic Association provides baseball and softball for T-ball through age 12.

To provide baseball opportunities for middle schoolers, a team has been organized for Wes-Del boys that plays in the spring and summer.

Others Wes-Del athletes participate in the summer in the East Central Indiana League and in travel baseball.

Bob and Felicia Todd have two children — McKenzie (20) and Zack (15). Zack Todd is a freshman baseball player at Wes-Del and plays with the Indiana Nitro during the travel ball season.

Bob Todd is a 1996 graduate of Muncie South Side High School, where he played freshmen baseball when Larry Lewis was head coach.

Before taking the job at Wes-Del, Todd had coached in area travel ball organizations, including the Indiana Mojo.

Todd is employed as a general manager for American Pest Professionals, which has offices in Muncie and Marion.

WES-DELWARRIORS

FELICIAZACKBOBMCKENZIETODDThe Todd family (from left): Felicia, Zack, Bob and McKenzie. Bob Todd is head baseball coach at Wes-Del High Sch

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Hardesty brings passion to diamond for Knightstown Panthers

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Daren Hardesty played for a passionate coach in high school and looks to bring some of that intensity in his role as head baseball coach at Knightstown (Ind.) High School.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt led the program at Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, Ind., when Hardesty was there.

“He’s just a student of the game,” says Hardesty of the now-retired Stoudt. “He’s always reading and learning and passes that stuff on to former players who are coaching now.

“He just never stops. He loves the game of baseball.

“He’s a competitor to the extreme. I loved playing for Coach Stoudt. He got so fired up. Doing things the right way was so important. His passion and drive was infectious. I hope my players get that from me from time to time.”

The 2019 season will be Hardesty’s sixth as Knightstown’s head coach. An impact player expected back from a 15-11 team is senior right-hander/shortstop Jose Olivo. The athletic Olivo is currently the starting quarterback on the Panthers football squad and Hardesty says he will likely be the school’s No. 1 pitcher in the spring.

Knightstown (enrollment around 380) is an IHSAA Class 2A school which has been in a sectional pairing with Eastern Hancock, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Scecina, Irvington Preparatory and Triton Central.

Despite being a smaller school, the Panthers have been able to develop some quality pitching depth with Hardesty in-charge and he looks to beef up the non-conference schedule with bigger schools when possible.

“We’re blessed to have three of four quality starters,” says Hardesty. “We have good enough pitching to keep us competitive.

“We stress, stress long toss, arm bands and arm strengthening.”

The Panthers are members of the Tri-Eastern Conference (along with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester). Union County, Hagerstown and Knightstown placed 1-2-3 in the TEC in 2018.

“It’s competitive,” says Hardesty of the conference. “Everybody’s good.”

The Panthers have sent players on the college baseball in recent years, including Drake Peggs at Eastern Michigan University.

“He was our shortstop  and difference maker,” says Hardesty of Peggs. “He has great hand-eye coordination.”

Hardesty graduated from Pendleton Heights in 2013 and played four seasons at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., where he earned his diploma in 2007 and his head baseball coach was Mark DeMichael (now IWU’s athletic director).

“He was short-staffed for a college staff,” says Hardesty of DeMichael. “He did an excellent job of organizing practices.

“He is a Godly man who valued his relationship with his players and exhibited a good, Christ-like demeanor.

“Indiana Wesleyan athletics are getting better and better and it doesn’t surprise me a bit with Mark in charge.”

Hardesty joined the Wildcats as a corner infielder and pitcher and became a set-up man on a pitching staff led by future major leaguer Brandon Beachy, who was one year behind Hardesty.

“I had to really learn how to pitch to be effective,” says Hardesty, who ate up many relief innings. “That’s why I love to be a pitching coach. Learning a good change-up was huge for me.”

Hardesty began his coaching career at Greenfield-Central High School. He served five years as pitching coach to Pendleton Heights graduate Travis Keesling then spent one season with head coach Keesling at PH before landing at Knightstown.

He has really come to appreciate what it means to be a coach and educator at that size school.

Hardesty teaches math at KHS.

“We have small class sizes and the kids all work hard,” says Hardesty. “I’ve fallen into a really good situation here.”

His baseball coaching staff includes Knightstown graduate and former Hanover College catcher Nolan Hall plus teachers Nic Murray (a former Eminence assistant) and Darren Kessler.

In 2018, the Panthers played all their home games on a new on-campus field which Hardesty had the chance to help design.

“It’s awesome,” says Hardesty of a facility which includes a net and brick backstop, open-concept dugouts and fan-friendly berms around the field. “They don’t have to look through chain link fences.

“It’s got some unique features like Pendleton Heights and Wapahani. It’s not a cookie-cutter field.”

The former varsity field is located about about two miles from campus at what is now Knightstown Intermediate School.

Hardesty says the new field should have lights installed by next fall with the hopes Knightstown, which moved into its newer high school building on U.S. 40 in 2004, will be able to become an IHSAA postseason tournament host.

Since Hardesty took over the program, the Panthers have won three of their six all-time sectionals (2014, 2015 and 2016) and two of three regional crowns (2015 and 2016).

Daren and Morgan Hardesty celebrated four years of marriage this year. The couple have two children — son Bridger (2) and daughter Elliott (6 months).

DARENHARDESTY

Daren Hardesty, a graduate of Pendleton Heights High School and Indiana Wesleyan University, is heading into his sixth season as head baseball coach at Knightstown (Ind.) High School in 2019. (Knightstown Photo)

 

Conwell stays positive with his Cowan Blackhawks baseballers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a game filled with moments of failure.

Even the very best players and teams will inevitably have plays or games that don’t go their way.

Ryan Conwell chooses not to dwell on the negatives.

The Cowan High School head baseball coach always looks for the silver lining.

“I’m constantly trying to stay positive — no matter what,” says Conwell, who was hired in the fall of 2014 and heads into his fourth season of leading the Blackhawks program in 2018. “Baseball is such a mental sport. Kids get down on themselves enough. They don’t need me mashing it into their heads as well.

“If you fail 7 out of 10 times at the plate, you’re doing well. We have to find something good out of every at-bat and find what we can do better the next time.”

Conwell is a 2002 graduate of Wapahani High School, where he played four baseball seasons — three on varsity — for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley. After graduation, Conwell coached junior high baseball for the Raiders for seven years.

By observing Dudley, Conwell saw the importance of fundamentals and mental toughness.

“We did a lot of reps of everything,” says Conwell. “Almost every practice there was a drill that focused on the mental part of the game, not just the physical part.”

One drill called for nine players to start in the dugout and sprint to nine different positions on the field then spring back to the dugout. Then players had to quickly figure out the next position they would take and then run there. The object was for everyone eventually being at all nine positions.

If two players ever landed at the same place, the mental toughness/communication drill would start over from the beginning.

There was always a lot of work on defensive situations.

What might happen next?

Where does the throw go if the ball is hit to me?

“(Dudley) also insisted that every player on the field needed to be moving on every play,” says Conwell.

After his time with Wapahani, Conwell moved across Delaware County to Delta High School for four seasons — two as a junior varsity coach and two as a varsity assistant on the staff of Terry Summers.

“He went a lot more into the details of the game,” says Conwell of Summers. “He wanted to make sure things were covered. It could be something as small as the wheel play or certain pick-off moves. We worked a lot on situational hitting.”

Conwell has taken what he’s learned about the game and molded it into his own style, which focuses on positivity and fundamentals.

“We do some team building exercises early in the year,” says Conwell. “We frequently stop during a practice to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“Several players play multiple positions. My whole infield can be different depending on who’s pitching that day.”

At a Class 1A school with an enrollment around 230, the Blackhawks have not fielded a JV team since Conwell has been in charge. He is hoping that might change this spring and get his younger players some more playing experience.

“I have a really good incoming freshmen class,” says Conwell. “I think I’ll have eight or nine freshmen. We could have 20-22 kids total.”

The Blackhawks had 18 players in 2015 (including Luke Miller, who is now on the Indiana University team) and 16 in both 2016 and 2017.

Feeding the program is the emergence of a junior high team in 2017. Playing on the varsity field from late May to early July, a combined squad of seventh and eighth graders is expected to play again in 2018 in the Eastern Central Indiana Junior High Baseball League. It’s a circuit that has been headed up by Wapahani’s Jason Dudley.

Cowan plays its games on-campus.

“Every year, we try to do something (to the facility),” says Conwell. “Money is always an issue.”

In Conwell’s second season, a four-foot fence was put up in front of the dugouts. It enlarges the bench area and brings players a little closer to the action.

Re-surfacing of the infield is on the wish list for after the 2018 season.

The Blackhawks play in the 10-team Mid-Eastern Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del). Eastern Hancock and Shenandoah joined the MEC in 2017-18.

Conwell also likes to get many of the traditionally-competitive 1A and 2A teams in the area on his non-conference schedule, including Seton Catholic and Union City in 1A, Burris, Centerville, Eastbrook, Hagerstown, Lapel, Northeastern and Winchester in 2A. Cowan is also slated to play 3A schools Delta and Mississinewa.

The Blackhawks are grouped in a 1A sectional with Anderson Prep Academy, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. In the future, Conwell would like to get more sectional opponents on Cowan’s regular-season schedule.

Not currently in the classroom, Conwell is taking online classes from Western Governors University toward a teaching certificate. Away from coaching, he works I work LifeTouch, a senior portraits lab in Muncie. Ryan and Katlyn Conwell have a daughter named Kinley. She was born in April of 2016 — in the midst of her daddy’s second season at Cowan.

Former Blackhawks baseball player Justin O’Conner is a minor league free agent who began his pro career right after the catcher was selected in the first round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

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RYANCONWELL

Ryan Conwell, who heads into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Cowan High School in 2018, shares a moment with wife Katlyn and daughter Kinley (born in April 2016).

Alum Catey keeps success going at Hagerstown

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Respect for all the little things have led to big things at a little school.

Hagerstown was ranked No. 1 much of the season in IHSAA Class 1A baseball in 2017.

The Tigers lost in the Carroll (Flora) Regional championship game to eventual state runner-up Rossville and finished 28-5 in Brad Catey’s sixth season as Hagerstown head coach.

Hagerstown reigned at the Seton Catholic Sectional.

Catey spent his whole pre-college school career in Hagerstown (K-12) and graduated in 2000 before studying and playing basketball at Indiana University East in Richmond. He played several positions for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Lloyd Michael — shortstop as a freshman, second base as a sophomore, left field as a junior and catcher as a junior.

“I moved wherever Lloyd needed me to move,” says Catey, who was part of 1999 squad that lost to eventual state champion Evansville Mater Dei in the 2A Indianapolis North Central Semistate and also played football and basketball for the Tigers.

Third baseman Cory Childs was a 2A first-team all-state selection for Hagerstown in 1999 while pitcher Jesse Johnson earned that distinction in 2000.

Catey spent four seasons as a Hagerstown assistant before taking over for Michael with the 2012 season.

“He taught me to respect the game,” says Catey of mentor Michael. “We made sure we do the little things right. We always ran on and off the field. We backed up the plate. You give yourself a chance to win.”

Hagerstown has won three sectionals (2013, 2016, 2017) and six crowns in the Tri-Eastern Conference (which also includes Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester) with Catey in charge.

At the same time, the Tigers have produced three first-all-staters — pitcher Cole Bartlett (2A) in 2013, outfielder Owen Golliher (1A) in 2016 and pitcher Drew Pyle (1A) in 2017.

Right-hander Bartlett pitched at the University of Missouri and was taken in the 25th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is with the Missoula (Mont.) Osprey.

Hagerstown’s success got Catey a spot on the North coaching staff for the 2017 IHSBCA All-Star Series in Muncie, where he got to coach TEC Player of the Year Trey Kelley one more time before he headed off to Earlham College.

“That was an awesome experience,” says Catey, who served on a South staff led by Plainfield’s Jeff McKeon and also featuring Batesville’s Justin Tucker and Columbus East’s John Major. “I got to coach a lot of (NCAA) Division I talent.”

H-town goes back to 2A for the 2018 season — and likely the Cambridge City Lincoln Sectional field — with plenty of optimism.

The junior varsity squad, coached by Bruce Charles, went 22-0 last spring.

“We don’t like to rebuild; we reload,” says Catey. “It makes my job a little easier.”

Hagerstown graduates Charles, pitching coach Dan Davis Jr. and outfielders coach Jay Hale (outfielders) are all expected to be part of the staff in 2017-18.

Hagerstown Little League has served as a high school feeder program for years. Many current juniors and seniors represented Indiana at the Great Lakes Regional when they were that age.

To help maintain the relationship with HLL, each high school player is required to umpire two games a year.

“That’s one of the reason we keep our numbers so high,” says Catey. who had 38 players on varsity, junior varsity and C-team squads in 2017. “For a 1A school, that’s really good.

“Most our guys have found a good travel team. We encourage our guys to find a little better competition.”

Among those travel organizations are the Hagerstown Heat, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Nitro.

Across Indiana, the 2017 season brought with it the new IHSAA pitch count rule (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).

Hagerstown had a number of quality arms to get through its schedule, including Kelley (Class of ’17) and Pyle (Class of ’18).

“It didn’t seem to effect us that much,” says Catey. “We had a lot of people we could use. Some other teams had to drop JV games because they had to use guys in varsity games.

“The biggest equation is the JV and varsity pitches they can pitch in a week.”

Catey leads students through simple equations as a math teacher at Hagerstown Elementary.

Recently, he has been teaching young girls how to slide. Oldest daughter Lilly (7) is an 8U softball player. Brad and Darcy Catey’s youngest daughter is Peyton (5).

HAGERSTOWNTIGERS

BRADCATEY

Hagerstown High School baseball head coach Brad Catey celebrates a 2017 sectional championship with daughters Peyton (left) and Lilly (right).