Tag Archives: University High School

Smith, Indy Genesis homeschoolers preparing for first season

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

Not all high school baseball players in Indiana are tied to a school.
There are homeschoolers who also take to the diamond.
Indy Genesis is a homeschool sports organization that will field its first baseball team in 2022.
While the majority of players are from the Indianapolis area, some come from as far away as Greensburg and Lafayette.
Phil Smith, who teaches life skills students to Special Education students at Beech Grove (Ind.) High School (he is a 1999 BGHS graduate), is Indy Genesis head coach.
“One of my strengths is the mechanics of a swing or throw, emphasizing technique and honing in those skills,” says Smith, who began winter workouts with athletes in early December. “We have a wide range of really good ballplayers and kids who haven’t played much.
“It’s interesting coaching the chasm. Some just need to be left alone. I know some coaches like it done their way. If they need something then we attack it.”
There are 14 players getting ready for a schedule that is slated to begin April 2 against Arsenal Tech. Indy Genesis will only have a varsity team in 2022. There will be a mix of varsity and junior varsity teams on the slate.
Indy Genesis practices indoors at Beech Grove and outdoors at nearby Sarah T. Bolton Park. The lone “home” game is scheduled for May 2 against Greenwood Christian Academy at Center Grove Youth Baseball in Greenwood.
Other opponents include Crispus Attucks, Eastern Hancock, Edinburgh, Horizon Christian, Indiana Deaf, Morristown, Oldenburg Academy, Purdue Polytechnic Englewood, Purdue Polytechnic North, Triton Central and University.
Indy Geneis is not an IHSAA member. A Midwest Homeschool World Series is scheduled for May 19-20 at a site to be determined.
“One of my goals is to not treat it like travel ball,” says Smith. “We do not have an exorbitant amount of cost.”
Assistant coaches include Phil’s brother, Chris Smith, Charles Howard and, occasionally, Indy Genesis founder Matt Hogan and oldest son Mekhi Smith.
Smith played baseball at Beech Grove for former University of Indianapolis pitcher Steve Bair (now assistant superintendent Beech Grove City Schools) as well as American Legion ball in the summer. He received offers to play college football.
“Baseball was always my first love,” says Smith. “My dad (David Smith) was a great baseball player growing up in Virginia.”
The elder Smith (who died in 2021) was part of multiple state championship teams at Turner-Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Va., with five players who were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including Alan Knicely (1974 by the Houston Astros) who played eight years in the big leagues.
A machinist for 17 years, Phil Smith obtained his teaching certification through WGU and is in his third year in the classroom.
Phil and wife Taunya Smith, who celebrated 20 years of marriage in February, have homeschooled their four children. Mekhi Smith graduated in 2021. Oldest daughter Maya Smith is a senior. Youngest son Keyton Smith is a freshman and an Indy Genesis player. Youngest daughter Abigail Smith is a fourth grader.

Indy Genesis homeschool baseball team head baseball coach Phil Smith (back row) with his family (from left): Keyton Smith, Mekhi Smitih, Abigail Smith, Taunya Smith and Maya Smith. IG is a first-year program in 2021-22.
Keyton Smith in the batting cage at an Indiana University baseball camp.

Cushenberry creating hard-nosed culture at Traders Point Christian

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jaylen Cushenberry was hired as head baseball coach at Traders Point Christian School in Whitestown, Ind., in January 2021.

Since then the enthusiastic 23-year-old, his assistants and players have been establishing the culture for the Knights.

“We’re going to work hard. We’re going to honor God. We’re going to play as one,” says Cushenberry of qualities he learned while being coached as a youngster by his grandfather. 

Robert Cushenberry, 78, is one of Jaylen’s Traders Point assistants.

“He likes to dance at practice,” says Jaylen of his grandfather. “He’s an energy source for us.”

Other Knights coaches in the Traders Point program are Nolan Nihiser, Conner Madding, James Gilbert and Ernie Mudis.

Cushenberry expects to have 17 or 18 players play a varsity-only schedule of more than 20 games. Participation and contest numbers are higher than usual at the school with an enrollment of about 130.

The 2021 opener is slated for March 30 against Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter. It’s the first time the Knights will meet the Raiders on the baseball field.

The Traders Point slate also features Providence Cristo Rey, Bethesda Christian, Tindley, Faith Christian, Lafayette Central Catholic, Heritage Christian, Purdue Polytechnic, Liberty Christian, Attica, Sheridan, North Vermillion, Irvington Preparatory Academy, Elwood, Wes-Del, Western Boone, Indianapolis Washington, Speedway, Horizon Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge and Muncie Burris.

“We want to play hard and fast,” says Cushenberrry. “It’s cool to see kids come out and want to be part of something special.”

The Knights are in an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethesda Christian (the 2021 host site), Indiana School for the Deaf, Irvington Prep, Providence Cristo Rey and Tindley. Traders Point’s first year in the state tournament series was 2019.

Home baseball games this spring will be at Roundtripper Sports Academy or Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Cushenberry says a new turf field on the TPCS campus is expected by the end of this year.

“It’s going to be a very special time,” says Cushenberry. “The good Lord has blessed us with the opportunity to be part of something special.”

Traders Point added a high school program in 2008 and had its first graduating class in 2012. A junior high building was opened in 2020. 

As a feeder for high school baseball, Grades 5-8 play on “A” and “B” junior high teams.

Jayden Cushenberry played recreational baseball at Warren Township Little League then travel ball from 10 to 13 with the Oaklandon Bombers and 14 to 17 with the Tom Caster-coached Irvington Rattlers.

Cushenberry, a former left fielder on the baseball diamond and safety on the football field, began his high school career at Warren Central in Indianapolis and graduated from Avon (Ind.) High School in 2015 before earning a Physical Education degree at Marian University in Indianapolis in 2020. He was a student coach with MU’s perennial NAIA football powerhouse steered by head coach Mark Henninger.

Last fall was his first as defensive ends coach at Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School, where he currently works as a study hall supervisor. With Scott Turnquist as head coach, the Eagles finished as 2020 IHSAA Class 5A football state runners-up to Indianapolis Cathedral.

“I coach exactly how I played,” says Cushenberry. “We’re going to be tough. We’re going to be gritty. 

“We’re going to go after you every single inning.”

It’s all about hard work and dedication and reaping what you sew.

Cushenberry knows he’s one of the younger coaches on the scene. But he sees that as an advantage.

“I’ve always been called wise beyond my years,” says Cushenberry. “We’re in a time now where the young coaches do a better job of relating to their players.

“Everybody wants to know why. I can let them know why and still coach them hard. I believe they respond better to hard-nosed coaching. We’re preparing them for life and creating a family atmosphere.”

Jaylen comes from a large extended family. His mother, Donnice Cushenberry, is a former cheer and dance coach who instilled competitiveness and the willingness to understand people in her oldest son.

“I truly want to thank my family for engraving some core values that I live by,” says Cushenberrry, who is a brother to Jordan Cushenberry and stepson to Michael Howe.

When he’s not working at Zionsville or coaching at Traders Point, Cushenberry gives lessons at Roundtripper. He is heading into his fourth summer as a coach for the Indiana Mustangs. He leads a 17U squad.

“I want to thank (Roundtripper and Mustangs founder) Chris Estep,” says Cushenberry. “He believed in me when other people wouldn’t.

“He’s treated me like a son.”

Reid Andrews is Director of Baseball Operations at Roundtripper and coaches with the Mustangs and University.

“I’ve learned so much from him,” says Cushenberry of Andrews. “He’s a good source of information.

“I’m thankful to be colleagues with Reid.”

Cushenberrry was an assistant to Estep for two seasons at University, helping the Trailblazers win an IHSAA Class 1A state crown in 2019.

Before that, Cushenberry assisted Shane Abrel at Plainfield (Ind.) High School for two seasons and Troy Drosche at Avon for one.

“Shane taught me a lot about staying on top of things, being very organized and always getting the most out of players,” says Cushenberry of Abrel. 

Injury prevented Cushenberry from playing for Drosche, but he did play for David Seibel at Warren Central.

“I learned mostly about the fellowship of the game and to treat this game with respect,” says Cushenberry. “We always came to play and played very hard.

“I utilize that in my coaching today.”

Jaylen Cushenberry is head baseball coach at Traders Point Christian School in Whitestown, Ind.

Stevens making baseball important again at Bethesda Christian

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Raising baseball’s profile.

It’s the goal of Tom Stevens as the third-year head coach at Bethesda Christian School in Brownsburg, Ind.

Stevens took over the Patriots just a few months before the 2019 campaign, got through a year without games because of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020) and expects up to 20 players in 2021 at a private school of about 85 students.

“I’m trying to make this program relevant again,” says Stevens. “Baseball has been an afterthought for awhile.”

Bethesda Christian’s junior high baseball coach for a few seasons, Stevens was asked to head up the varsity in January 2019.

“We had to circle the wagons and get some practices going,” says Stevens. “We had no equipment and no set routine for the varsity schedule.

“We started building it basically from scratch.”

The school has replaced its rickety press box and Stevens would like to get a new backstop. 

The Patriots began workouts for 2020-21 in October and just finished the latest IHSAA Limited Contact Period for bat-and-ball activities. Players are now using a speed and agility routine devised by strength and conditioning expert Zach Dechant and a throwing strength training course put together by Jason Taulman, a former college coach who runs the Indy Sharks travel organization.

“I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made in the speed on my baseball team,” says Stevens of Dechant’s system. “It really works.

“I use (the throwing program) with the entire team. We use med balls and J-bands and do core work.”

With Bethesda’s basketball teams getting first priority on gym time in February, a handful of baseball players were at the school a 6 a.m. Friday workout. 

Stevens’ assistant coach is Bethesda Christian graduate Josh Stroud.

Besides the junior high team, Stevens would like to establish a feeder system at the elementary level.

“I want to get them younger if I can,” says Stevens. “You have to build a program from the bottom up.”

Bethesda Christian is a member of the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Preparatory Academy, Central Christian Academy, Greenwood Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic and University). Since Stevens has been involved, CCA and International have not fielded baseball teams.

PAAC teams are set up in two divisions and play each other one time.

The Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Indiana School for the Deaf, Irvington Preparatory Academy, Providence Cristo Rey, Tindley and Traders Point Christian. Bethesda won sectional titles in 2008 and 2011.

A 1994 graduate of Southmont Senior High School in Crawfordsville, Ind., Stevens ran the Walnut Township youth league then headed Southmont Little League when it joined the national organization.

“Before that Southmont played Crawfordsville and North Montgomery (school system players) and that was it,” says Stevens, who helped the league branch out to find a variety of competition around Indianapolis.

Tom and wife Christy’s daughter, Madi, transferred to Bethesda when she was a ninth grader. She’s now an elementary education major at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

When their sister changed schools, brothers Garrett and Wyatt — who began playing T-ball at Southmont — decided to also make the switch. 

Garrett Stevens is now a Bethesda senior. Bethesda is preparing to put stage “Beauty and The Beast” in March and Garrett is to play The Beast.

The Patriots’ top pitcher touches 90 mph on the radar gun, Garrett will be a teammate of freshman Wyatt. 

Garrett is committed to play baseball at Anderson (Ind.) University.

“(Ravens head) Coach (Matt) Bair knows baseball, but he’s a good mentor and cares about the boys,” says Stevens. “I’m more interested in these boys become good young men and that they become all-stars at leaders in their communities and their families.”

Bethesda Christian graduate Brayden Sayre is on the baseball roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.

Stevens is a licensed electrician, but has not worked in that field for about five years. He had a home improvement company in Crawfordsville. For the past three years, he’s been an apprentice to his wife in Winding Creek Ranch, a Crawfordsville-based dog breeding business specializing in Goldendoodles and Labradoodles.

Stevens has coached travel ball, but he’s partial to the community leagues for younger players.

“Travel ball has no place for any kid below the junior high level and that’s pushing it,” says Stevens. “Let’s play ball locally.”

The Stevens family (from left): Madi, Garrett, Tom, Christy and Wyatt. Tom Stevens is head baseball coach at Bethesda Christian School in Brownsburg, Ind., and both his sons are on the team in 2021.

Wellenreiter lends wisdom to Goshen Maple Leafs

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Wellenreiter has been swinging a fungo and dishing out baseball knowledge for a long time.

The 2019 season marks his 40th as a coach — five as an assistant at Goshen College after 35 in Illinois at the junior high, high school and professional level.

Since arriving on Hoosier soil, he’s also taken to coaching for the Michiana Scrappers travel organization in the summer.

What does he believe in as a coach?

“Hopefully my kids learn the game and it’s a lifelong value to them,” says Wellenreiter. “The values that you teach are not just baseball. You teach them things in baseball that will help them for the rest of their life — whether it’s discipline, being on-time or never say quit. You hope you have a lasting effect on kids down the road.

“I can’t tell you how many games I’ve won or lost (he actually 625 and went to the round of 16 in the Illinois High School Association tournament six times in 27 seasons at Momence High School). It really doesn’t matter.

“The only important thing is the next one. You don’t take the games with you. You take the people with you. That’s why (baseball’s) the best fraternity to be a part of.”

That fraternity may not have a secret handshake, but it’s given Wellenreiter plenty of memories and perspective.

“Lifelong stuff is what you take with you,” says Wellenreiter, who was pitching coach for a few summers with the independent professional Cook County Cheetahs. “I sometimes had a junior high game in the morning and a minor league game at night. I’m probably the only guy in America who coached junior high and minor league at the same time. Sometimes the junior high game was better.”

What’s the difference between junior high, high school, college and pro?

“In the big picture, the fundamentals of the game is the same,” says Wellenreiter. “It just happens at a faster rate at each level. At the pro level, it happens at 88 to 93 mph. At (the college) level, it happens in the low to mid 80’s. At the high school level, it happens in the 70’s.”

Wellenreiter sees freshmen working to make that adjustment when they arrive at Goshen.

“They may have seen a kid who threw 85 occasionally in high school,” says Wellenreiter. “Now, you’re going to see somebody like that almost everyday at our level. Everybody runs much better at this level. Everybody’s got a better arm.”

Before retiring in 2014 and moving to Goshen to be closer to be closer to one of his daughters and his grandchildren, Wellenreiter was a biology teacher and driver’s education instruction in Illinois.

“I never had any intentions of being a bio teacher when I went to Millikin (University) in Decatur,” says Wellenreiter. “They had the foresight into what the future was going to hold in the education field. You take so much science when you go into P.E. They said, you’re crazy if you don’t take the extra classes so you’re certified to teach science. Make yourself as marketable as you can. That’s all I’ve ever taught — biology.”

With that know-how, it has given the coach a different outlook on training.

“I know how cells work,” says Wellenreiter. “I know what origin of insertion means and the difference between induction and abbuction.”

At Goshen, Wellenreiter works on a staff headed by Alex Childers with Justin Grubbs as pitching coach.

“Alex gives me a lot of freedom,” says Wellenreiter, who knew Childress when he was a student and baseball player at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., and Wellenreiter was an assistant men’s basketball coach for the Tigers (He was also a long-time basketball assistant at Momence) and later a part-time ONU baseball assistant.

Wellenreiter helps with scheduling (he has spent plenty of phone time already this season with postponements and cancellations), travel and, sometimes, ordering equipment. He assists in recruiting, especially in Illinois where he knows all the schools and coaches.

On the field, his duties vary with the day. While Grubbs is working with the pitchers, Wellenreiter and Childress mix it up with the positional players. He throws about 400 batting practice pitches a day and coaches first base for the Maple Leafs.

“When you’re at a small college, you have to be a jack of all trades to get things done. You don’t have a huge coaching staff. I’m part-time, but I’m like part-time/full-time.”

Wellenreiter makes up scouting reports before every game. He keeps a chart on every hitter and what they’ve done against each GC pitcher.

“I do it by hand,” says Wellenreiter. “chart where they hit the ball and plot whether it was pull, oppo or straight.

“The most important pitch is Strike 1. I chart that.”

Wellenreiter recalls a batter from Taylor University who swing at the first pitch just three times in 48 at-bats against Goshen.

“Gee, this isn’t rocket science,” says Wellenreiter. “If the guy isn’t going to swing at the first pitch, what are we putting down (as a signal)? Let’s not be fine. Let’s get Strike 1. Now he’s in the hole 0-1 and you’ve got the advantage.

“Sometimes, you can’t over-think it as pitchers. You’ve got to pitch your game and use your stuff. If the guy’s not catching up to your fastball, go with that. Don’t speed his bat up.”

Goshen coaches will sometimes call pitches from the dugout, but generally lets their catches call the game.

Wellenreiter says charts and tendencies sometimes backfire.

“I remember for one player, the chart said he had pulled the ball to the right side in all eight at-bats,” says Wellenreiter. “So he hits the ball to the left of the second base bag.

“That’s baseball.”

Wellenreiter learned baseball from Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Scott at University High School in Normal, Ill.

“That’s where I learned my stuff,” says Wellenreiter, a 1975 U-High graduate. “(Coach Scott) gave me a chance. I played on the varsity when I was a sophomore.”

Wellenreiter has added to his coaching repertoire as his career has gone along.

“You steal from here. You steal from there,” says Wellenreiter. “You hear something you like and you add it in.”

Smallish in high school, Wellenreiter ran cross country in the fall and played baseball for Pioneers in the spring. He played fastpitch softball for years after college.

“I miss playing,” says Wellenreiter. “ I had a knee replaced four years ago. I hobble around now.”

While coaching in the Frontier League with the Cheetahs (now known as the Windy City Thunderbolts), Wellenreiter got to work alongside former big leaguers Ron LeFlore, Milt Pappas and Carlos May.

One of Wellenreiter’s pitchers made it — Australian right-hander Chris Oxspring — to the majors.

Cook County manager LeFlore was infamous for running his pitchers hard.

“They had to run 16 poles (foul pole to foul pole) everyday,” says Wellenreiter. “Ox couldn’t do them all. We had to DL him because he was too sore and couldn’t keep up with conditioning.”

After spending 2000 with the Cheetahs, Oxspring was picked up by affiliated ball and played for the Fort Wayne Wizards in 2001 and made five appearances for the 2005 San Diego Padres.

Wellenreiter drove up to Milwaukee and spoke Oxspring after his MLB debut.

The pitcher called to his former coach and they met in the visitor’s dugout before the game.

“Hey, Coach Doug,” Oxspring said to Wellenreiter. “Remember those poles? I can do them now.”

Wellenreiter notes that Oxspring made more money in his 34 days with the Padres than he did his entire minor league career.

“That’s why guys fight to get up there,” says Wellenreiter of the baseball pay scale and pension plan.

While coaching the Momence Redskins, Wellenreiter got a close look at future major league right-hander Tanner Roark, who pitched for nearby Wilmington High School.

“I had him at 94 on my radar gun,” says Wellenreiter of Roark, who helped his school win Class A state titles in 2003 and 2005, the latter squad going 41-1. “He’s probably the best I’ve had to go against.”

Wellenreiter notes the differences between high school baseball in Indiana and Illinois and cites the higher number of games they play in the Land of Lincoln.

Illinois allows 35 regular-season games and teams are guaranteed at least one game in the regional (equivalent to the sectional in Indiana). In 2019, the Illinois state finals are May 31-June 1 for 1A and 2A and June 7-8 for 3A and 4A. Regionals begin in the middle of May.

The maximum number of season baseball games in which for any team or student may participate, excluding the IHSAA Tournament Series shall be 28 and no tournament 26 and one tournament.

When eliminated from the tournament, most Illinois teams will let their seniors go and launch right into summer ball, playing 40 to 45 games through early July. The high school head coach usually coaches the team.

“Any kid worth his salt is playing another 25 games in the fall,” says Wellenreiter. “That’s 90 to 100 games a year. The difference in experience adds up. Illinois kids are seeing more stuff.”

Coaching with the Scrappers, Wellenreiter’s teams have never played more than 28 contests.

Junior high baseball is a fall sport in Illinois and has a state tournament modeled after the high school event. The season begins a few weeks before the start of school.

Wellenreiter coached junior high baseball for more than two decades and guided many of the same player from Grades 6 through 12.

There are pockets of junior high baseball around Indiana.

At a small school like Momence (enrollment around 325), coaches had a share athletes. What Wellenreiter saw is that athletes would pick the “glory weekend” if there was a choice between two or more sports.

“One thing I don’t miss about high school is fighting for the kids’ time,” says Wellenreiter. “I never asked my baseball players to do something during the basketball season.”

At Goshen, Wellenreiter can focus on baseball and his family. Doug and wife Kelly have Brooke, her husband and children living in New Paris, Ind., with Bria and her husband out of state.

GOSHENMAPLELEAFS

DOUGWELLENREITER

Doug Wellenreiter is in his fifth season as an assistant baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) College. It’s the 40th year in coaching for the Illinois native. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Aggressive style has Estep, University Trailblazers baseball in 1A semistate

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chris Estep, his coaching staff and players have built a culture of confidence for the University High School baseball.

“The kids have bought into what we’re trying to do as a program,” says Estep, the head coach that has his Trailblazers (27-6) meetings Tecumseh (20-9) in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate at 1 p.m. EST Saturday, June 9. “When we run out on to the field we can play with anybody.”

What is the root that confidence?

“It’s how we’ve structured practices,” says Estep. “We make practices run faster.”

In practices — and games — University pushes the limits on offensive and defense.

“We want to be very, very aggressive,” says Estep. “The last thing we want to see is a kid afraid to make a mistake. The more aggressive you are, the more chance you’ll have to make aggressive plays.

“You can not expect a kid to make a great play if they don’t practice making great plays.”

University, a private school of just under 300 students located in Carmel which played in its first IHSAA tournament in 2007, won the University Sectional and the Morristown Regional to find itself one win short of going to Victory Field in Indianapolis for the 1A state championship game.

Estep, who is supported by assistants Reid Andrews, Michael Thompson and Steve Nerney and athletic director John Walls, points to the regional to show how his players are prepared deal with misfortune on the diamond.

The Trailblazers were up 2-0 in the semifinals against Indianapolis Lutheran only to find themselves down 4-3 in the next inning. They came back with a 9-4 victory.

The championship game was tied 0-0 going into the seventh inning. Estep saw a pinch-hitter foul off pitches to get to a full count and University went on to score three runs in the top of the frame and then hold Hauser for a 3-0 win and the regional crown.

“If you can’t handle adversity, you can’t be a champion,” says Estep. “We put them into as many adverse situations as we can and ask them to go out and make a play.

“You never know when it’s going to be your time and you better be ready to answer the bell.”

The aim is to play as close to flawless as possible and make up for any mistakes that do happen.

“There’s really no such thing as a perfect game,” says Estep. “But if we try, we will give ourselves the opportunity to win.”

There are 18 players in the program in 2018.

University is a member of the Pioneer Conference (along with baseball-playing schools Anderson Preparatory Academy, Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg, Greenwood Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge, Liberty Christian in Anderson, Muncie Burris and Seton Catholic in Richmond). The Traliblazers went 7-0 this spring to win the conference title.

Top University pitchers include senior right-hander Cade Carlson (committed to Northwood University in Midland, Mich.), junior right-hander Brock Moore and senior right-hander Garrett Hill (Purdue Fort Wayne commit). When not pitching, the three rotate between first base and third base.

Hill, junior shortstop Dawson Estep (the coach’s son), Moore, freshman left fielder and senior center fielder Ryan Williams (committed to Morehouse College in Atlanta) are among the Trailblazers’ leading hitters.

Coach Estep calls No. 9 hitter Williams “a major catalyst” with “speed to burn.”

Estep watched junior catcher Kolton Stevens fight through hot conditions to shine in the regional.

“He caught best two games I’ve ever seen a kid catch,” says Estep. “I can’t tell you how balls he blocked.

“Nobody ever notices that position until there is a mistake.

“He was absolutely phenomenal.”

It’s phenomenal plays or games that earns players the right to wear the “U chain”.

Borrowed from the University of Miami football “turnover chain,” Andrews brought the motivating bling to University baseball in 2017.

“Miami’s ‘The U’ and we’re the ‘The U,’” says Estep. “It’s been (Andrews’) baby. He hangs the ‘U chain’ on the fence before games. He awards it to a kid and pictures are taken. Kids are excited for whoever gets the ‘U chain.’”

Also for the second year, the “U” took a southern trip at the beginning of the season. The Traliblazers played in Tennessee.

The squad got away and spent quality time together at the ballpark and the breakfast table.

“It’s really important for team camaraderie,” says Estep. “We went and played four games then released them to spring break. When they came back, we got back to work.”

Estep, 51, has been working as a baseball instructor for decades. His Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield is coming up in 25 years.

“It found me out more than I found it,” says Estep.

He grew up on the east side of Indianapolis and played wiffleball, basketball and football and, of course, baseball. Organized ball came at Christian Park, where he played for John Gannon.

“He was the greatest youth coach in the history of Little League,” says Estep of Gannon, who is expected to be at Saturday’s semistate. “He’s a legend. “He made sure we all stayed out of trouble. He was an unbelievable mentor to kids.”

A 1985 Carmel High School graduate (he played his first two prep seasons at Indianapolis Cathedral before his family moved), Estep was an outfielder at the University of Kentucky for two seasons and was selected in the 12th round of the 1988 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played at the Double-A level in 1991 and 1992.

While he was still a professional player, he was approached by a parent about giving lessons to one of their sons. They were impressed enough to bring another son to him. Before you knew it, Estep had a long list of students and less and less time to work out himself.

“Even though I didn’t hit very well, I understood the processes for hitting and defense,” says Estep, who now sees to the needs of many baseball and softball players. “The girls are quicker learners and they’ll do whatever they tell them. The boys will fight you on it.”

Roundtripper alums include Jeremy Hazelbaker, Tommy Hunter, Lance Lynn, Dillon Peters, Kevin Plawecki, Micah Johnson, Drew Storen and Chris Ulrey.

Extra-busy giving lessons and running the Indiana Mustangs travel organization, Estep put up a fight when he was approached repeated by a former University administrator a decade ago.

“He would not leave me alone,” says Estep. “He said, ‘If you don’t do it, these kids can’t play.’ That got me. I called my wife and begged for forgiveness that I took on another job.

When we first started I couldn’t have weekend games because of the workload. The school made it work. Now we play every weekend. The program’s worth it. I’m willing to pay a little extra price — my family is, too, though my wife doesn’t like me very well.”

Besides Dawson, Chris and Sue Estep have an older son (Chandler, who plays football at Elon University in North Carolina) and a younger daughter (Jasmine, a talented athlete who is headed into the ninth grade).

For Estep to be close to his business, University began playing its home games at Roundtripper and still does.

His first team was overmatched. The first game was a 32-0 loss.

“They were the the kids that always got chosen last,” says Estep. “But that team set the standard. This is where we built from. This present team has an attitude that they’re going to fight you to the bitter end.

“I love them for that.”

Estep does not love the IHSAA decision to suspend Indianapolis Scecina junior right-hander Mac Ayres (who is also in the Mustangs organization) for the 2A Jasper Semistate. Ayres went over the 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) in the Park Tudor Regional and the violation was self-reported by Scecina coach Dave Gandolph.

“It was a clerical/addition error,” says Estep. “(Scecina coaches) thought they were taking a kid out on 119 pitches for two games.

“There was no malice there. Now the kid is going to be penalized.”

If Estep had his way, pitch counts would be tracked in an official book in the press box and not with the home team. The scorekeeper would let the teams and umpires know how many pitches a player had going into the next game. When they got to 110, the coaches would be alerted.

“It should be a drop-dead (when the limit is reached),” says Estep. “You stop and make a pitching change.”

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

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

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

Plymouth

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

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

South

Plainfield

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

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

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

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

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

UNIVERSITYTRAILBLAZERS

REIDANDREWSCHRISESTEP

University High School head coach Chris Estep wears the “U chain” and assistant Reid Andrews holds the cake celebrating Estep’s 100th career win with the Trailblazers.

UNIVERSITYHSBASEBALL

University High School won the IHSAA Class 1A University Sectional and Morristown Regional and will play Saturday, June 9 in the Plainfield Sectional. Chris Estep is the head coach of the Trailblazers.

 

 

Thompson-led Tecumseh Braves small but mighty in southern Indiana baseball circles

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With around 300 students, Tecumseh Junior/Senior High School is among the smaller IHSAA members.

But just because the Braves compete in Class 1A in the baseball postseason, that didn’t keep them from being competitive against larger schools during the 2018 regular season.

Tecumseh, which takes a 20-9 mark into the southern Plainfield Semistate at noon CST Saturday, June 9 against University (27-6), went 4-4 as the lone 1A school in the nine-member Pocket Athletic Conference.

It’s the first time in years, the Braves have finished in the top five in the PAC, which features 3A’s Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Pike Central and 2A’s Forest Park, North Posey, Southridge, South Spencer and Tell City.

Southridge is in the 2A Jasper Semistate. North Posey bowed to Southridge in the Austin Regional championship game.

At the 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional, Gibson Southern was shaded by Washington in the championship game and Pike Central lost a one-run decision to Washington in the first round.

At the 2A Tell City Sectional, South Spencer lost to North Posey in the final. Tell City was edged by South Spencer in the semifinals. Forest Park was beaten by North Posey in the first round.

In non-conference play, the Braves topped 4A’s Castle (a Plainfield Semistate qualifier), Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison and was competitive with Evansville North and Evansville Reitz and 3A’s Evansville Bosse.

His peers named first-year Tecumseh head coach Ted Thompson an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district coach of the year.

“We really have a tough conference,” says Thompson. “It definitely improves us and makes us better for tournament time. (Games against larger schools) taught us how to be resilient, how to never give up and how to win.”

Tecumseh, located in the Warrick County town of Lynnville, Ind., counts Spencer Buse, Steven Molinet, Chase Howell, Josh Jagelewski, Aaron Beard and Gavin Oxley as its top pitchers. Beard is a senior and Howell a sophomore. The rest are juniors. Oxley is the lone left-hander.

When not pitching, Buse is usually the designated hitter, Molinet in center field, Howell at DH, Jagelewski in right field, Beard at shortstop and Oxley in left field.

Beard, Molinet, junior first baseman Woody Brucken and freshman Jalen Oxley have led the Braves on offense.

Coincidentally, their cousin — freshman Adam Oxley — is on the University team.

Tecumseh, which has 24 players in the program this year, has just three seniors — Beard, second baseman Carson White and right-hander Dalton Wesselman. Both are college baseball commits — Beard at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and White at Oakland City University.

“We are a young team,” says Thompson. “We’ve got a lot of freshmen and a lot of juniors.”

Semistate preparation will resemble the practices that got the Braves ready for the Jasper Regional, where they bested Borden 1-0 and Barr-Reeve 7-0.

“It’ll be the same routine,” says Thompson. “We’ll work on fundamentals. We’re not going to change a thing.”

Thompson’s Tecumseh coaching staff includes Kennan Barnett (pitching coach) and Seth Gorman.

Home games have been played on-campus at Braves Ballpark. A new stadium, with Bermuda grass and other amenities, is expected to be ready for the 2019 season.

To make a connection with youngsters that feed into Tecumseh, Thompson has been planning camps and working with Elberfeld Baseball League and Lynnville Ballpark.

Thompson is a 1991 graduate of Princeton Community High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tim Nonte.

After two seasons at Vincennes University, Thompson played two more for coach Les Hall at Florida Tech.

Thompson calls Hall “a class act.”

“He was always quietly telling you,” says Thompson of the man who died in 2016 at 80. “You knew where he stood. He expected excellence.”

It was at the Melbourne, Fla., school that Thompson got to catch knuckleball of alum Tim Wakefield in pre-spring training bullpen sessions and meet former Philadelphia Phillies “Whiz Kids” catcher Andy Seminick. Florida Tech plays on Andy Seminick-Les Hall Field.

Thompson was an assistant coach to Curt Welch for nine seasons at Castle High School and then served three years as assistant and recruiting coordinator to John Adams at Vincennes U.

“Coach Welch is an honorable individual,” says Thompson. “He had that ability to always work and challenge the kids. He always led by example with his hard work.”

Thompson is employed as a traveling health insurance salesman. He works out his schedule so he can coach baseball.

Ted and Sheri Thompson have four children — son Dillon (23), daughters Megan (22) and Payton (17) and son Drake (16). Payton is heading into her senior year at Castle while Drake will be a junior.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

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

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

Plymouth

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

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

South

Plainfield

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

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

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

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

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

IMG_20190318_131436

TEDTHOMPSON2

Tecumseh baseball coach Ted Thompson meets with his Braves players during a 2018 mound conference. Tecumseh is in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate.

TEDTHOMPSON1

In his first season as head baseball coach in 2018, Ted Thompson has the Tecumseh Braves in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate.

 

Team chemistry counts for plenty with Kokomo Post 6 baseball manager Andrews

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Don Andrews wants to fill his Kokomo American Legion Post 6 baseball team with talented players.

But playing ability is not the first priority for the man who enters his eighth season as senior team manager in 2018 after serving as an assistant and with Post 6’s junior squad.

“Team chemistry is more important than talent,” says Andrews. “It’s something we work really hard at.

“We’re finding out what the dynamics of the team are going to be. I go to a high school baseball game in the spring almost every night. I’m watching the players and also watching the parents.

“By the time (open) tryouts come around (in August) we almost know who we want (for the following year).”

Through his observations and conversations, Andrews will invite desired players to the tryout. He wants kids with a high baseball I.Q.

But — again — there’s more than that.

“A big basis of what we do is try to find high character kids,” says Andrews. “It’s a long, hot summer so we want to have good kids.”

Andrews normally goes through the regular season with about 15 or 16 players and adds a few worthy juniors at the end of the summer.

Post 6 plays around 35 games before the regional. This year, the regular season opens June 4 and closes July 10.

The Kokomo Summer Classic at Highland Park Stadium is slated for June 15-17.

Andrews estimates that 70 percent of Post 6’s games are at Highland Park.

“Everybody loves to play on that field,” says Andrews. “The parks department does a great job of keeping it up.”

Then there’s the dimesions.

“We have a big home field advantage,” says Andrews, eluding to the short distance down the right field line with a high fence. “We know we’ve just got to play. We don’t worry about hitting it over that fence.”

Meanwhile, left-handed batters on opposing teams are practically drooling when they see that short porch.

Kokomo has realized plenty of Legion diamond success in recent years.

The Sixers won regional titles in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Sectionals were eliminated in 2014, but Kokomo won a few of those on Andrews’ watch.

The Indiana American Legion State Finals rotates from north to south each year with teams bidding for the rights to host.

Kokomo hosted in 2016 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and will do so again this year at Highland Park. The eight-team event (seven regional champions plus the host) is scheduled for July 27-31 (the Kokomo Regional is July 20-22).

The Great Lakes Regional Aug. 8-12 in Napoleon, Ohio, with the American Legion World Series Aug. 16-21 in Shelby, N.C.

Rockport Post 254 won the 2017 state championship in a tournament hosted by Terre Haute Post 346.

While the deadline for entries is still open, Andrews expects there to be up to 32 senior teams in Indiana this year and maybe a dozen or so junior (17U) squads.

Kokomo will also host junior regional and state finals at Highland Park and Northwestern High School July 13-15 and July 19-22, respectively.

Post 6 will take its senior players in 2018 from the following high schools: Kokomo, Northwestern, Western, Taylor, and Logansport.

Junior players come from those those schools plus Oak Hill, Sheridan and Tri-Central.

In some years, the Sixers had players from Eastern, Lewis Cass and Peru.

American Legion Baseball has been a tradition in Indiana since 1926. Legion ball thrives in many corners of the state.

While many Legion rules mimic those of Major League Baseball, the national organization voted not to adopt mound visit restrictions now used by MLB.

Andrews began his coaching career when son Reid was 5 and playing T-ball at Russiaville Little League. Andrews, with the help of Dan Weaver, followed his son up the line, including four years of travel baseball — three with the Bullpen Aces and one with the Central Indiana Kings — and summers with Kokomo Post 6.

Besides bench coach Weaver, Andrews is helped with his Sixers by third base coach Will Harris and first base coach Dave Takacs.

Reid Andrews, a graduate of Western High School and Purdue University, is now general at Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield and an assistant to head baseball coach Chris Estep at University High School in Carmel.

The Andrews family is full of coaches. Don’s wife Deb Andrews is a boys and girls swimming assistant coach at Western High.

Daughter Rae Andrews, an Indiana University graduate, is a swim coach and lifeguard at the YMCA of Greater Rochester (N.Y.).

Don Andrews, a 1977 Northwestern High School graduate, played a few years of prep baseball then discovered a talent for running and turned to track and field and cross country.

He was on the track team at Purdue when he was struck by a vehicle during a November training run. A few years later, he was on the cross country and track teams at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and coached the sports during and after college.

Andrews now works at the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles transmission plant in Kokomo.

DONANDREWS

Don Andrews is manager of the Kokomo (Ind.) American Legion Post 6 baseball team. The Sixers is scheduled to open the 2018 season June 4. Post 6 will also host regionals and state finals for both junior and senior divisions.