Tag Archives: University of Illinois-Springfield

Willis keeps things fresh for Covington Trojans

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keeping things fresh and appealing, Evan Willis enters into his sixth season as head baseball coach at Covington (Ind.) High School in 2019.

A 2007 graduate of the school in Fountain County, Willis is constantly blending in baseball ideas to incorporate into the Trojans program.

Willis finds drills and other instructional materials online and shares them with his players.

“It’s not always the same thing everyday,” says Willis. “We mix it up.”

To build camaraderie, excitement and the understanding of the game, Willis adds competitive things to each practice.

“There’s a lot of down time in baseball,” says Willis. “You have to get the kids to buy into it.”

As a spring sport, baseball has to contend with seniors who are competing while graduation and their future often dominates their thoughts.

“It’s difficult to keep seniors focused on the game,” says Willis. “You have to be serious, but also keep it fun and exciting for the kids so they want to be a part of it.”

Willis played for Mike Holland at Covington.

“He made it fun for us,” says Willis of Holland.

After earning his elementary education degree at Indiana State University, Willis returned to Covington to teach second grade. Besides baseball, he has coached junior high and junior varsity basketball.

Covington (enrollment around 280) is a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Attica, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage, Riverton Parke, Seeger and South Vermillion).

Conference games play one another twice — either in home-and-home weekdays series and Saturday doubleheaders.

Non-conference opponents on the schedule include Benton Central, Clinton Prairie, Crawfordsville, Danville (Ill.), Delphi, North Montgomery, North Putnam, Southmont, Terre Haute South Vigo and West Lafayette.

The Trojans are in an IHSAA Class 1A grouping with Attica, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage (consolidation of Rockville and Turkey Run) and Riverton Parke. Covington won the latest of its 12 sectional crowns in 2018.

Willis has three other Covington graduate on his coaching staff — Matt Gerling (fifth season), Ryan Tolley (second season) and Jon Covault (first season). Gerling (Olney Central College) and Covault (Danville Area Community College) played college baseball.

Former player Ollie Pettit went to Danville Area while current junior Tanner Dreher has made a verbal commitment to the University of Illinois-Springfield. The versatile player has been used by Covington as a catcher, pitcher, shortstop and third baseman.

Willis says senior right-handed pitcher Logun Freed has shown an interest in playing at the college level.

During the off-season, the Trojans who were not in a winter sport went through strength training and conditioning. Hitters took cuts in new indoor batting cages. Pitchers began building up their arms.

“I love the 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),” says Willis. “It’s the healthiest thing for the pitchers’ arms.

“It also forces you have (pitching) depth. We play four games the first week. We’ll have to have a lot of people to throw.”

Many Covington athletes take part in an Advanced Physical Conditioning class.

Trojan Complex on Ninth Street is the home to Covington baseball, softball, track, football, soccer and tennis.

While its not affiliated with the school and is funded through Covington Youth Baseball (Scott Holycross is the organization’s president), there is a junior high team of seventh and eighth graders which play about 10 games in the spring and play home games on the high school field. Many of those players go on to to play Pony League in the summer.

Covington Youth Baseball sends its peewee, minor and major league players to a six-week youth camp conducted by high school coaches and players in the winter.

Evan and Shannon Willis have been married for two years. Their fathers (Ron Willis and Shane Bowling) coached together at the youth league level with sons Landon Willis and Bryce Bowling on the team.

Ron and Ruthann Willis sent three sons through the Covington High School program. Oldest son Brad Willis (Class of 2005) was a center fielder and played two seasons with shortstop Evan. Landon Willis (Class of 2011) and Bryce Bowling (Class of 2012) both played for coach Brad Short.

COVINGTONTROJANS

EVANSHANNONWILLIS

Evan and Shannon Willis take in a baseball game at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Evan Willis is head baseball coach at Covington (Ind.) High School.

Advertisements

Norton looks for Butler Bulldogs pitchers to be aggressive

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Norton wants his Butler University arms to go after hitters.

The third-year baseball pitching coach is not interested in nibbling at the corners of the plate.

“The whole staff has to buy into throwing strikes,” says Norton. “We want to to get (hitters) out in four pitches or less, always be aggressive and have the utmost confidence in yourself.

“If you don’t think you’re better than the hitter, you might as well get off the mound.”

As the NCAA Division I Bulldogs get ready to open the 2019 season Feb. 15 against Rider in Lexington, S.C., there are 17 pitchers on the roster. That number includes right-handers Ryan Pepiot (who went 6-0 with 12 starts in 2018 and is a preseason all-Big East Conference honoree in 2019), Jack Pilcher (10 saves and 20 relief appearances), Sam Hubbe (15 games, including eight starts) and Connor Schultz (16 games with three wins and one start) and left-hander Joe Graziano (13 games with three wins and four starts).

With Norton in charge, Butler had 405 strikeouts and 209 walks in 451 2/3 innings 2017. There were 454 K’s and 211 free passes in 481 innings in 2018.

Ideally, Norton would like to see his starters go deep into games and have one or two relievers finish it off.

“I want the best pitcher on the mound,” says Norton. “We have to be creative with match-ups. Sometimes we might us a right-hander who has a great change-up vs. a lefty.”

Pitchers at the bottom of the depth chart may not rack up a lot of innings, but they are given a chance of developing so they can help the team in the future.

When Norton greeted his pitchers during fall workouts, the emphasis the first three or four weeks was getting arms in shape with consideration about how much they might have been used in the summer.

“It’s always good to have the blood flowing to the muscles and ligaments so they don’t tighten up,” says Norton. “It’s getting everything to fire.”

After early weeks of the fall came intrasquad games plus two contests against outside competition now allowed by the NCAA at the D-I level (Butler played the Great Lakes Canadians and Indiana University Kokomo).

“We were competing for jobs,” says Norton. “After the fall, we went into individual work.”

Some pitchers looked to add a third or fourth pitch to their repertoire.

Players were away for five weeks during the holiday break and were scheduled to pitch their first pre-season bullpen sessions Tuesday, Jan. 15.

“Right now I want them to be healthy — first and foremost,” says Norton. “We don’t want to pitch them too much too early.

“It is a long season.”

The goal is to build up arm strength so that starters can pitch 60 to 70 pitches live the weekend before the opener and be able to go five or six innings in a game. Relievers are trying to progress so they can recover and pitch every other day.

Norton expects his pitchers to throw five times a week this week and next and then five or six times a week depending on who they are.

“Older guys have more freedom to not do as much throwing,” says Norton. “They understand their body a little bit better.”

Norton wants all pitchers to have an understanding of how they move as the deliver the baseball.

“You don’t have to know biomechanics, you need to know how your body works,” says Norton. “I ask a lot of questions about how they feel.

“I want them to make adjustments as they go instead of overhauling.”

Besides guiding the pitchers, Norton participates in recruiting. Those duties are shared by head coach Dave Schrage, assistant Andy Pascoe and Norton (Brian Meyer is a volunteer assistant).

“I recruit all positions,” says Norton. “I try to see every pitcher we recruit — on film or live games. I evaluate how they fit into the program and also what their potential could be.”

Norton says Butler’s recruiting philosophy is to start local and work their way out, meaning go for Indiana players if possible but go where there are players who fit the program.

Besides the Bulldogs, the Big East’s baseball-playing members are Creighton, Georgetown, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Villanova and Xavier.

A former right-handed pitcher, Norton played for coach Larry Windmiller at Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, graduating in 2003. His older brother David Norton (Dwenger Class of 1999) also played for Windmiller.

“He was a great coach,” says Norton. “He built that field (at Shoaff Park). He was well-rounded in the game of baseball.”

He played at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., for coach Rob Fournier then at the University of Evansville for Schrage. He won nine games each in 2006 and 2007 and was selected in the 24th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He pitched one season in the Royals system before suffering a career-ending shoulder injury.

“I enjoyed playing for (Fournier),” says Norton. “He’s high intensity. He wants the best for everybody and pushes them hard. He has connections throughout the baseball community.”

His career has intersected several times with current Butler head coach Schrage. Norton played for and later coached for Schrage at Evansville and was on his staff at South Dakota State University.

Playing for him was great,” says Norton of Schrage. “He always cared about you on and off the field. Coaching for him, I have a lot of freedom with the pitching staff

“He’s been a mentor. He’s taught me to keep positive throughout the year as the season goes up and down.”

It was Schrage and Jackrabbits bus driver Rod Josephsen that introduced Norton to the woman that is now his wife. Nicole Norton is Josephsen’s daughter.

Norton began his coaching career at Evansville, spending the fall of 2008 as an assistant with the Purple Aces. He was an assistant at Indiana Tech in the spring of 2009. He moved on to the University of Illinois-Springfield for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, serving as an assistant the first spring and interim head coach for the second. He moved on to Lincoln (Ill.) College as an assistant for 2012 then went to South Dakota State as an assistant for four seasons (2013-16).

Norton was on the staffs of Kip McWilliams at Indiana Tech, former South Dakota State assistant Brian Grunzke at Illinois-Springfield and Tony Thomas at Lincoln.

“(McWilliams) is knowledgable about every position,” says Norton. “He allowed me to take over the pitching staff. He’s always on the phone trying to get players and get better.

“(Grunzke) is a high-energy guy. He’s always willing to work with guys and very personable. With recruiting, he does his dilligence on the phone and scouting on the road. It was good for me to learn from him as a young coach.

“(Thomas) does a good job of coaching guys up. It was a unique situation (when I went to Lincoln). I was was looking for a place to coach. I came in the middle of the season and took over the pitching staff.”

Fort Wayne’s Jim and Joan Norton have three children — David, Kyle and Ben.

BUTLERBULLDOGS

Butler University baseball versus Valparaiso University March 23, 2017.

Ben Norton is the pitching coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Butler University Photo)

bennorton1

Ben Norton, the pitching coach at Butler University in Indianapolis, played at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School, Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., the University of Evansville and in the Kansas City Royals organization. (Butler University Photo)