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Collins keeps wins coming for Evansville Memorial Tigers

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt “Rip” Collins learned a winning system established from one of Indiana’s most successful baseball coaches and he is using many of those things to enjoy more accomplishments.

Collins played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Quentin Merkel at Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, graduating in 1990.

“I rode the coattails of those guys on the 1989 state championship team,” says Collins, referring to Tigers diamond stars like Pat Schulz who went on to play at the University of Evansville and in the Cleveland Indians organization.

Merkel racked up 941 victories, three IHSAA state championships (1978, 1989 and 1993), three state runner-up finishes (1970, 1979 and 2005) and 26 sectional titles in his 45 years at Memorial head coach.

The 1978 and 1979 squads were led by Don Mattingly, who went on to play for the New York Yankees, be inducted into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and manage the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins.

Collins, who started his teaching career at Holy Rosary School then moved to Memorial (the Western Kentucky University graduate leads classes for physical education and driver’s education) and has coached football, basketball and baseball at Memorial over the course of more than 20 years, was a Merkel assistant in 2013 and took over the program the next season.

“He’s a man I’ve looked up to,” says Collins of Merkel. “I’ve instilled a lot of things he did, like his work ethic and overall approach to the game.

“We bought into it. That’s what we’ve tried to do on our staff.”

Collins’ assistants are Chris Schaefer (pitching coach) and Dan Durchholz with the varsity on gameday, Aaron Schmitt and Ethan Sauls with the junior varsity and Eric Chamberlain and Sam Mattingly with the freshmen.

It’s about consistency for Collins and his staff.

“Baseball hasn’t changed very much,” says Collins. “We try to keep it simple.

“We have a daily routine. Our drills might be monotonous, but we think it’s important.”

This repetition has helped the Tigers.

“You’re not surprised when good things happen,” says Collins. “Mentally, we can get through the tough times.”

With the IHSAA allowing courtesy runners for pitchers and catchers the past two years, there have been more playing opportunities for reserve players.

Collins asks his athletes to embrace their chance to contribute.

“Define your role and relish in that role regardless of what it is,” says Collins.

Memorial generally has about 40 players for its three teams, which keeps the Tigers hopping since their home diamond, Stone Field, does not have lights.

The facility, located behind Holy Rosary on South Green River Road, now sports new higher bleachers on the home and visiting sides.

With Collins in charge, Memorial is coming off a 2018 campaign in which the Tigers went 23-7 overall and 9-3 in the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference. Memorial tied for the SIAC title and won city and Class 3A Evansville Bosse Sectional championships.

A 7-1 loss to eventual state runner-up Silver Creek in the Bosse Regional championship ended the Tigers’ season.

Senior Isaac Housman is committed to play baseball at the University of Southern Indiana. Branson Combs (Southern Illinois University) and Michael Lindauer (University of Cincinnati) are bound for collegiate football.

Recent Memorial graduates to are on college baseball rosters are Caleb Meeks (University of Evansville), Drew Ashley (Indiana University) and Luke Johnston (University of Southern Indiana).

Memorial (enrollment around 610) is a member of the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Castle, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville North and Evansville Reitz).

SIAC schools play each other twice in a same-week home-and-home series to determine the conference champion.

Non-conference foes for the Tigers include Boonville, Gibson Southern, Henderson (Ky.) County, Heritage Hills, Jasper, Mount Vernon (Posey), North Posey, Southridge, South Spencer, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington. The Tom Miles Invitational at Washington is slated for May 11.

The Tigers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Boonville, Bosse, Heritage Hills and Mount Vernon. Memorial has won 28 sectional titles — two with Collins as head coach (2016 and 2018).

Reitz Memorial operates under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Evansville.

A Cub baseball team for seventh and eighth graders who have committed to attend Memorial plays in the spring. There are many travel baseball organizations for junior high and high school players.

“Rip” went into education like his father. Larry “Pops” Collins coached with James “Mojo” Hollowell at Henderson (Ky.) High School and picked up the habit of giving a nickname to each of his players in 40 years as an East Side Little League coach. He carried that over to his children and grandchildren.

Larry, who died in 2009, and Donna had four kids — Laurie (aka “Pumpkin”), Lainie (“Bird”), James Patrick (“Jock”) and Matthew Ryan (“Rip”).

The latter handle is a nod to former big leaguer Rip or Ripper Collins.

“Jock” gives nicknames to his players in the same league where his dad coached baseball.

“Rip” and wife Shelby have three kids — eighth grader Leo (“Cleat”), sixth grader Clara (“Filly”) and third grader Walt (“Colt”). All are involved in sports.

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Matt “Rip” Collins enters his sixth season as head baseball coach at Evansville (Ind.) Reitz Memorial High School in 2019. He is a 1990 Memorial graduate.

 

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Cosgray builds Lebanon Tigers baseball on organization, communication

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rick Cosgray heads into his 20th season as head baseball coach at Lebanon (Ind.) High School in 2019.

But not only does he lead the Tigers at the high school level, has has helped organize a feeder system that starts with players ages 5 to 12 at Lebanon Little League and includes the Lebanon Middle School Farm Club program.

“There’s a lot of communication with Little League reps,” says Cosgray. “We range from three to four teams at the middle school (with sixth, seventh and eighth graders). It’s kind of unique. We do not cut (at that level).”

Drawing 40 to 50 middle schoolers each year, the best 12 players are assigned to Eighth Grade Gold, the next to Seventh Grade Black with the others playing in junior league associated with the Little League. The junior league competes against other districts during the summer. The top players tend to play on various travel ball teams.

At Lebanon High School, Cosgray has been fielding three teams — varsity, junior varsity and freshmen or C-team. Most seasons, there are 30 to 35 players.

In recent years, the Tigers have sent players on to college baseball. Among those are right-handed pitchers Reid Schaller (Vanderbilt University) and Travis Herrin (Wabash Valley College) plus Jackson Bland (Anderson University), Nick Bland (Anderson University) and Caleb Myers (Marian University).

Schaller is now is the Washington Nationals system after being selected in the third round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Herrin has been in the Los Angeles Angels organization since being drafted in the 18th round in 2015.

Lebanon graduate Joe McCabe played at Lebanon and Purdue University and played briefly with the Minnesota Twins in 1964 and Washington Senators in 1965.

Righty Doug Jones went to Lebanon and Butler University and pitched 16 years in the big leagues, beginning in 1982.

Current Lebanon shortstop/right-hander Garrett Harker is verbally committed to the University of Cincinnati.

Lebanon (enrollment around 975) is a member of the Sagamore Athletic Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville, Frankfort, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone). SAC games are played on Tuesdays and Thursdays with each team facing the other twice.

The Tigers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Crawfordsville, Frankfort, North Montgomery and Southmont. Lebanon has won 11 sectionals — the last in 2014.

Lebanon plays varsity home games at Memorial Park in Lebanon. JV and C-team contests are also played there if the varsity is idle. If not, game are played at Lebanon Middle School.

Cosgray’s coaching staff features Chris Coddington, Nathan Kincaid and Bob Adams with the varsity, Ryan Baldwin and Brad Bailey with the JV and Jared Long and Coty Edwards with the C-team.

A 1991 graduate of Twin Lakes High School in Monticello, Ind., Cosgray played football for coach Mark Hay, basketball for coach Rick Snodgrass and baseball for coach Larry Crabb. He counts all of them among his mentors and he served on all their coaching staffs.

“Coach Crabb was always disciplined, but he was still able to make the game fun,” says Cosgray. “He had high expectations in terms of your character.”

Cosgray attended Purdue as a student and played one season of baseball at the University of Indianapolis before going back to the West Lafayette campus.

Before coming to Lebanon, he taught one year and coached football and basketball at Mishawaka then spent one season as head girls basketball coach (1997-98) at Elkhart Central and one season of basketball at Jay County.

Cosgray is now a health and physical education teacher at Lebanon Middle School.

Rick and Shannon Cosgray have been married 22 years and have two children. Daughter Whitney Cosgray is a senior and Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and plans to be an educator. Son Drew Cosgray is a junior soccer and baseball athlete at Lebanon.

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Rick Cosgray goes into his 20th season as head baseball coach at Lebanon (Ind.) High School in 2019.

 

Anderson’s Earley enjoying his time with independent Southern Illinois Miners

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Earley is in his third season of independent professional baseball.

The Anderson, Ind., native is playing with the Marion, Ill.-based Southern Illinois Miners in the Frontier League.

While the lefty-swinging outfielder is driven to get back into Major League Baseball-affiliated ball, he is enjoying where he is now.

“It’s a great facility and the community is really supportive,” says Earley, 27, “This is a competitive league.”

Earley played at Brooklyn Little League in Anderson until age 12 and travel ball with the Indiana Bulls from 13 to 18. He also competed for Anderson High School and the University of South Alabama and then in the Chicago White Sox organization before joining the Miners in 2016.

Terry Turner was his high school head coach. His older brother Michael also played for the man who went on to win IHSAA Class 1A state titles at Daleville in 2016 and 2018.

“I remember his enthusiasm for baseball,” says Nolan Earley of Turner. “He’s probably one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. All the positive energy spreads throughout the team.

“I really enjoyed playing for him.”

At USA, Earley appeared in 201 games in four seasons with a .318 average, 11 homers, 138 RBIs, 53 doubles and 220 runs.

Steve Kittrell was head coach for the Jaguars when early arrived in Mobile, Ala., and Mark Calvi was and still is the leader of the program when he departed.

“I learned a lot from both of them,” says Earley. “(Kittrell) had an old-school look to the game. He all preached playing hard and control the things you can control.

“(Calvi) talked about being positive about the game. He had that hard-nosed mentality, but wanted you to keep your composure on the field.

“If stay positive and you can go a long way.”

Calvi was an assistant on the University of South Carolina staff when the Gamecocks won the 2010 College World Series. The next season, he became a South Alabama assistant and took over as head coach for the 2012 season.

Earley was selected in the 22nd round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox and signed by scout Warren Hughes. The outfielder saw time at Short Season Class-A Bristol, Low-A Kannapolis and High-A Winston-Salem through 2015. In 181 games in the affiliated minors, he hit .283 with five homers, 37 doubles, 76 RBIs and 62 runs.

Nolan was released out of spring training in 2016 and hooked on with the Miners — a team brother Michael hit .325 for in 96 games in 2015 after he was let go by the White Sox at the end of the 2014 season.

Michael Earley, a rigthy-hitting outfielder, graduated from Anderson High in 2006 and played one season at the University of Cincinnati and three at Indiana University before being drafted in the 29th round by the White Sox in 2010. After scout Mike Shirley signed him, Michael logged five seasons in the system, getting up to Triple-A Charlotte for 27 games in 2013.

Both Earley brothers have gotten instruction from and worked for Shirley at his Pro Source Baseball facility — aka “The Barn” — in Lapel, Ind.

Michael gave his endorsement of the Miners to his little brother.

“He definitely has a lot of influence when I make decisions,” says Nolan of Michael. “He told me how well he enjoyed this place. I’ve enjoyed everything about it.”

In 96 games in 2016, Nolan hit .291 with nine homers, 20 doubles, 70 RBIs and 53 runs.

The 2017 season saw him in 95 games and batting .264 with 11 homers, 16 doubles, 45 RBIs and 43 runs.

Through 56 games in 2018, Earley was hitting .264 with seven homers, 16 doubles, 21 runs batted in and 31 runs scored.

Mike Pinto is the longtime Miners manager.

“He’s definitely one of the most competitive field I’ve ever met,” says Earley. “He loves to win and hates to lose.

“If you’re going to play this game, you’ve got to have that feeling.”

Since there’s an age limit in the Frontier League, this season will be Earley’s last. If he is not picked up by an MLB organization, he has his sights on the independent Atlantic League or American Association.

Michael Earley is heading into his third year as an assistant baseball coach at Arizona State University, where Indiana native and former Indiana University head coach Tracy Smith is in charge of the Sun Devils.

Smith has turned over hitting coach duties to Earley.

Nolan gets pointers from Michael on the phone or makes a trek to Arizona to work with him.

“I take as much information as a I can and add it toward my game,” says Nolan, who enjoys learning things and holds a history degree from South Alabama.

Kevin and Tammy Earley are parents to Michael (married with children) and Nolan (single).

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Nolan Earley, a 2009 Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate, is now in his third season with the independent Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League. (Veronica Francis Photo)

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Nolan Earley celebrates after scoring a run for the Southern Illinois Miners. Earley is graduated for Anderson (Ind.) High School and the University of South Alabama and played in the Chicago White Sox organization. (Southern Illinois Miners Photo)

 

Homestead graduate Jernigan enjoying experience as second-year pro

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andre Jernigan grew up in Fort Wayne watching young baseball players chase their professional dreams in the Midwest League.

Jernigan, 23, is now doing the same as an infielder with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

A Homestead High School graduate in 2012 and Louisville Slugger All-American at Xavier University in 2016, Jernigan was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round of the ’16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after being named Big East Conference Player of the Year.

At spring training this year, Jernigan enjoyed picking the brains of former Minnesota Twins who were Fort Wayne Wizards coming through the minors — LaTroy Hawkins (with Fort Wayne in 1993) and Torii Hunter (1994).

“It’s incredible to play on the same fields and in the same league as them,” says Jernigan, who played 36 games for Elizabethton (Rookie-level Appalachian League) after the draft and four contests for the E-Twins in ’17 before being assigned to Cedar Rapids June 29.

“We’re lucky to come out here and just play,” says Jernigan. “I just like to take it day by day and enjoy the experience. It’s that fun and excitement you had when you were a kid that made you want to become a professional baseball player.

“It’s very easy once you get out there to lose sight of that. You start to think of it as a job. My main goal is to come out and learn something new and get better each and everyday.”

Playing so many games, pro baseball can become a mental and physical grind. But Jernigan chooses not to see it that way.

“You don’t think I have to play today, I get to play today,” says Jernigan. “It’s really just a blessing to be out here.”

Jernigan grew up playing shortstop and accept for being moved to third base by then-Homestead head coach Steve Sotir during his sophomore year, he was an everyday shortstop until he became a pro. The Twins have used him at second base, third base, shortstop and even one game at catcher.

“A ground ball’s a ground ball though the ball gets too you faster at third base,” says Jernigan. “The Twins talk about (playing multiple positions). I’ve always been told the more versatile you are, teams can get you more playing time.”

Jernigan is thankful for a foundation laid by Sotir, who now works at The Base in El Paso, Texas, and current Homestead head coach Nick Byall.

“They run a great program,” says Jernigan of Sotir and Byall. “I look back on the drills and some of the things we did. I can’t thank them enough with helping me with my development.”

Scott Googins, who became head coach at the University of Cincinnati after the ’17 season, was head coach at Xavier during Jernigan’s days as a Musketeer.

“Coach Googins made sure that we put together a tough schedule and faced the Vanderbilts and the Arizona States and some high-power arms,” says Jernigan. “Playing those teams in those series definitely helped in the sense that I’ve seen the velocity and the breaking balls.

“I seen some of that electric stuff. The biggest thing (in the minors), everyone you face now is a Friday night guy.”

The key is to hit the pitcher’s mistakes.

“I want to find a pitch and drive it,” says Jernigan. “You must be ready for the fastball at all times. You can adjust to the off-speed after that.”

Andre was born to Frankie and Stacey Jernigan in Muncie and the family landed in Fort Wayne around the time Andre was starting school.

Frankie Jernigan graduated from Muncie Central High School and earned a baseball letter at the University of Nebraska (1989). He passed along his knowledge and love of the game to sons Andre and Austin (who played baseball at Homestead and is now a senior student at Ball State University).

“I can’t thank him enough for all those days when he threw us BP and hit us ground balls,” says Andre of his father.

Andre played travel in younger days with the Mavericks and then with the Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).

In one of those small world phenomenons, The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy owner/senior baseball instructor and director of player development Manny Lopez was a minor league teammate of Ramon Borrego when both played in the Twins organization. Borrego is now manager of the Gulf Coast League Twins.

Jernigan graduated from Xavier with a degree in finance.

“I’ve always been good with numbers,” says Jernigan. “It’s one of those things that I find interesting.”

Another interesting family connection is former NBA standout Bonzi Wells. He is connected in Andre’s mother’s side.

Wells shined on the hardwood at Muncie Central and Ball State and then played with the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets before stints in China and Puerto Rico.

At 40, Wells now plays in the new BIG3 pro 3-on-3 league.

Jernigan says Wells recently talked with youngsters at Muncie Central.

“He has that inner drive that keeps you going,” says Jernigan.

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Andre Jernigan, a graduate of Homestead High School and Xavier University, is in the Minnesota Twins organization with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. (Steve Krah Photo)