Tag Archives: University of Southern Indiana

‘Small ball’ one way Stotts, Borden Braves achieve small-school baseball success




Being consistently competitive on the baseball field at a small school is no small feat.

Head coach Eric Stotts has found a way to make the Braves of Borden High School (enrollment just over 200) into a program to be reckoned with around southern Indiana.

Fielding just a varsity team with about 12 to 14 players, the IHSAA Class 1A Braves have faired well against a schedule that is full of larger schools, including 4A’s Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour and 3A’s Corydon Central, North Harrison, Salem and Silver Creek.

“Aside from conference, we have only one 1A opponent,” says Stotts. “It’s the nature of the beast where we’re located.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a modest amount of pitching depth for a 1A high school.”

One way Borden dealt with the new 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) last spring was to sometimes lift pitchers at the front of the rotation early in games and go back to them later if needed.

“Everybody’s dealing with it,” says Stotts. “With 12 kids on a baseball team, our arms are limited.”

In 2017, Borden went 16-7 and might have gotten to the 20-win plateau if not for some rainouts that never got made up.

Lanesville edged Borden 1-0 in the championship game of the 1A South Central (Elizabeth) Sectional. The Eagles went on to hoist the 2017 state championship trophy a year after beating Borden 4-1 in the Lanesville Sectional final then going on to be 2016 1A state runner-up.

“We have see-sawed back and forth (with Lanesville),” says Stotts, who has led  Borden baseball 2000-07 and 2015 to the present. “We gave them the toughest game in their state tournament run both years.”

Because of the IHSAA success factor, Lanesville will move up to 2A in 2018. That leaves Christian Academy of Indiana, New Washington, Shawe Memorial, South Central (Elizabeth) as potential sectional foes for Borden.

Borden will still meet up with Lanesville. They are both members of the Southern Athletic Conference (along with Crothersville, Henryville, New Washington and South Central).

If SAC schools meet twice during the season, the first one counts toward the conference standings. Crothersville (about a 50-minute trip) is the furthest SAC school from Borden.

Borden, Henryville and Silver Creek are all part of West Clark Community Schools.

With the help of full-time assistants Sam Beckort and Eric Nale and part-timers Kyle Kruer (Indiana University Southeast student) and Dawson Nale (University of Southern Indiana student), the Braves go into 2018 with a trio of seniors that have been starters since Stotts came back to the program in 2015 — catcher/shortstop/pitcher Lucas McNew (a USI commit), first baseman/utility player Cory Anderson and outfielder Noah Franklin.

Having seen him speak at clinics, Stotts has incorporated some infield drills taught by USI head coach Tracy Archuleta.

Stotts draws on the influence of a real diamond veteran. The 1993 Clarksville High School graduate played for the Generals and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Wayne Stock, who taught lessons of dedication and commitment.

“Coach Wayne threw every pitch of batting practice,” says Stotts. “He was a wonderful man and a wonderful mentor.

“I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet. I’m now a coach and social studies teacher. That’s exactly what he was. No one outside my family was more influential on me.”

Stotts recalls the words of the late Billy Graham: “A coach will impact more people in a season than the average person does in a lifetime.”

“I firmly believe that,” says Stotts, who is father to Jonathan (22) and Zane (15).

As for strategy, Stotts says Stock was not a fan of the bunt. It took Stotts some time to learn how effective “small ball” can be.

“Now that has become a main weapon in any high school coach’s arsenal,” says Stotts.

As an assistant to Larry Ingram at Eastern (Pekin) High School in 1999, Stotts saw the Musketeers lay down up to a dozen bunts a game.

“You can have a lot of success with it,” says Stotts. “Getting the ball down means somebody (on defense) has to make a play.”

Before the BBCOR era, Stotts might have multiple long-ball hitters in his lineup. He can’t count on power now.

“Everybody can bunt — slow, fast, whatever,” says Stotts.

Stotts began his coaching career in youth leagues while he attended IU Southeast. He was freshmen coach on Chris McIntyre’s staff at New Albany in 1998.

McIntyre was a student teacher at Clarksville when Stotts was still in school.

“Coach Mac is a great old-school kind of coach,” says Stotts. “His teams do things the right way.”

One of Ingram’s products at Eastern (Pekin) was Brad Pennington. Drafted in 1989, the 6-foot-5 left-hander went on to pitch five seasons in the majors with the Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, California Angels and Tampa Bay Rays.

Like tennis, track and softball, Borden has its baseball facilities about a mile from campus.

The baseball field does not have lights. But fencing and other equipment was replaced after a low-grade tornado tore through last season.

Upgrades last year at Borden Youth League meant that junior high age players no longer had to share the high school diamond.


Eric Stotts gets a point across to his Borden High School baseball team. He has led the Braves in two different stints — 2000-2007 and 2015 to the present. (Greg Mengelt/News and Tribune Photo)


Borden High School baseball players listen intently to head coach Eric Stotts. The 1993 Clarksville High School graduate is in his second stint with the Braves. (Joel Ulrich/News and Tribune Photo)



Kuester adding to rich baseball tradition at South Spencer




Down on the Ohio River sits the town of Rockport, Ind.

They love their baseball there.

South Spencer High School and Rockport American Legion Post 254 have been making them proud for years.

The South Spencer Rebels have won four IHSAA state titles in five State Finals appearances and won sectional crowns in 2015, 2016 and 2017, pushing the program’s total to 23.

South Spencer holds outright or share several 2A State Finals team records, including most hit (16 vs. Heritage in 2007), most runs batted in (12 in 2007) and most at-bats (38 in 2007). Todd Marn drove in a record five runs in 2007.

Rockport Post 254 has piled up all kinds of hardware at the state level and the 2016 team played in the American Legion Baseball World Series in Shelby, N.C.

Brian Kuester, who is also a social studies teacher, is entering his 22nd season as head baseball coach at South Spencer. He and his assistants also guide Post 254’s 17U Junior Legion team in the summer.

Kuester is just the third South Spencer head coach in more than 50 years. He took over for Jim Haaff (who is still the manager of Rockport’s Senior Legion squad). Haaff followed Bill Evans.

All three men are enshrined in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“I take a lot of pride in following two guys like that,” says Kuester, who took the Rebels to Class 2A state championships in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015.

Among active coaches with state championships, Tim Bordenet (Lafayette Central Catholic) ranks first with seven, followed by Terry Gobert (Jasper) and Dave Pishkur (Andrean) with five each and Kuester and Greg Dikos (Penn) with four apiece.

South Spencer was in the State Finals in the IHSAA’s third state tournament in 1969. “You’re expected to have a good program. Some years are going to be better than others. Like at any small school (South Spencer has around 400 students), it’s going to be that way.

“We know we have a target on our backs almost every time we go out there to play, which is a great thing. It’s better being on that end than on the other end. We see a lot of people’s 1’s and 2’s. That only makes us better.

“The kids expect it, know it and kind of relish that.”

Seven starters from the 2017 South Spencer Sectional champions graduated and Kuester expects maybe three or four seniors in 2018. This just means other players will now get their chance to shine.

“We’re a very small school and we have a lot of blue-collar type kids,” says Kuester. “We don’t get the big Division I players very often. But we’ve had a share of nice talent.”

After leaving South Spencer, left-hander Blake Monar pitched three seasons at Indiana University and was selected in the 12th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Nationals. He played two seasons in the Nationals systems and then with the independent Evansville Otters.

Right-hander Josh Garrett was a first-round pick in 1996 by the Boston Red Sox and pitched six professional seasons.

Kevin Davis, also a right-hander, pitched four season at Middle Tennessee State University and was a 55th round selection of the California Angels in 1996, but no record could be found of him playing in the minors.

Recent IHSCA North/South All-Star Series players have been Nathan Hall (2011), Jared Lauer (2012), Nathan Kuester (2014), Jon Stallings (2015) and Sammy Rowan (2017).

Brice Stuteville (Frontier Community College in Illinois) is among recent graduates playing college baseball.

South Spencer baseball is built on concepts like hard work, dedication and being disciplined in behavior and performance.

Multi-sport participation is the rule rather than the exception.

“We like them to be involved in other sports and have that competitiveness in them and we want them putting priorities straight,” says Kuester. “Baseball is obviously not more important than other things in life. But when we’re on the field, it’s got to be the most important thing.

“We try to instill dedication.”

Brian Kuester, the son of former professional player, manager and scout Ivan Kuester and younger brother of former Clemson University player Steve Kuester, is a 1976 Evansville Central High School graduate. For the Bears, he played for Bud Steiler and Ted Niemeier.

Brian calls his father and brother his biggest influences in baseball.

“My brother told me that as a catcher, you’re the only one who can see everybody else on the field,” says Kuester. “You have to be the leader. You have to know every position and what they need to be doing in every situation. You have to be able to basically teach pitching as a catcher and be a psychologist, trying to get the most out of your pitcher.

“Being a catcher definitely has a major impact in being a head coach.”

Like his brother, Brian was a catcher and went on to play at Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) from 1977-80. His coach was former minor league pitcher Larry Shown.

Kuester was a graduate assistant at Southeastern Louisiana University and served as coach for Boonville and Evansville Pate American Legion and Oakland City University teams and five seasons at Tecumseh High School. He was associate head coach at Southern Indiana and an assistant for one season of Haaff’s South Spencer staff.

The 2018 Rebels coaching staff features Shawn Kuester, Mike Ogilvie and Mitch Rust at the varsity level and Chris Bartlett leading the junior varsity.

South Spencer is a member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (along with Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City).

Games are not played in a set pattern.

“Some weeks we might have two or three conference games,” says Kuester. “Some weeks we have no conference games.

“Our schedule is very, very tough. But that’s the way we want it.”

Non-conference dates in Indiana include Boonville, Castle, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North, Evansville Reitz, Floyd Central, Jasper, Martinsvillle, Perry Central, Washington plus the Jasper Invitational.

Kentucky include Apollo, Daviess County, Hancock County and Henderson County and Owensboro Catholic.

Brian and Debbie Kuester have four children — Jeremy, Shawn, Nathan and Katie. All the boys played at South Spencer for their father. In college, Jeremy Kuester played two seasons at the University of Evansville and two at Kentucky Wesleyan College and is now University of Southern Indiana pitching coach.

Shawn Kuester at Evansville and Nathan Kuester is a senior at Southern Indiana. Katie Kuester is a softball player at Olney (Ill.) Central College.

Ivan Kuester, Brian, Kuester, Jeremy Kuester, Bill Evans and Jim Haaff) are members of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame — a group that inducted its first class in 2016.

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted a 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).

Kuester said it has had zero effect on his teams and he only had one pitcher — son Jeremy — ever go above 120 pitches in a game. The main reason is that his pitchers also play other positions.

“I’m not always going to save my best for conference,” says Kuester. “If he’s available, we’re going to do it. Last year, we only threw our No. 1 in a couple of conference games. That’s just how it fell.

“We want to win the conference, but that’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is the (state) tournament.

The Rebels are all in it together.

“We stay away from he ‘me, me, me’ that our society seems to be in right now,” says Kuester. “We try to concentrate on what’s best for the team.

“Our players have bought into the concept. They learned if they play together, it will make you better as a team.”


Brian Kuester is entering his 22nd season as head baseball coach at South Spencer High School in Rockport, Ind., in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)


Barnes taking on first head-coaching challenge at Boonville




Eric Barnes is getting his first opportunity to coach high school baseball players at the varsity level.

The 28-year-old is excited for the challenge and the chance to teach the game and impact young lives at Boonville High School.

Barnes played at Evansville Bosse High School, graduating in 2007 Evansville Courier & Press All-Metro Player of the Year with a .429 and 40 runs batted in that senior season.

Bosse coach Jeremy Jones (who later moved on to Evansville North) imparted a sense of excitement and selflessness.

“Nothing is done without enthusiasm,” says Barnes in echoing Jones’ message. “Putting team first should always be the goal no matter what the sport is and what happens. What is best for the team is not always what is best for yourself.”

“I took that with me as a player and as a coach.”

Barnes was at the University of Southern Indiana briefly and played his final collegiate seasons as a utility infielder at Oakland City University. He hit .365 with six home runs and 33 RBIs as a junior in 2011 and .326 with four homers as a senior 2012 for the Mighty Oaks and coach T-Ray Fletcher.

“One of the main things I learned from (Fletcher) is every player is different,” says Barnes, who was also an assistant at OCU after his playing days. “What is going to work for one player is not going to work for the other.

“I also learned to be patient and the importance of relationships.

I’m not just a coach. I’m someone that can help (my players) in life. I want to be more than the person giving the signs down at third.”

When Barnes completed his schooling, he started teaching fifth grade at Castle Elementary School and is still in that position. He was an assistant baseball coach at Castle High School in 2016 and 2017 and was named as Cory Julian’s successor at Boonville in September when Julian left to become assistant principal and athletic director at Loogootee High School.

“I know the city of Boonville is very passionate about its sports and wants to get a baseball tradition back,” says Barnes, who met with players, coaches and parents soon after his hiring for a field clean-up day following the Boonville American Legion Post 200 season and to lay out his expectations — athletically and acacdemically.

The plate and mound on the Pioneers’ on-campus diamond has been re-done. The field has been seeded and sod has been cut. There has been power washing and dugout painting.

“In the spring, look forward to edging the field, spraying for weeds a final time and painting the back stop,” says Barnes. “There’s a certain pride factor to have your field looking pristine and having people make nice comments. You want to make sure your field is top notch.”

Early indications have Barnes expecting around 35 to try out in the spring. He plans to keep somewhere around 30 for varsity and junior varsity squads.

Center fielder Evan Garrison is the line senior returnees.

“We have a wealth of youth and first-time varsity players,” says Barnes.

Fall open barn workouts have been focused on conditioning and fundamentals.

Barnes has a the Cub feeder program of seventh and eighth graders doing the same things as high school players.

“We’ve got a little momentum going toward the spring,” says Barnes. “It’s been exiting.”

Boonville assistants for 2018 are to include Chad Overton, Matt Fuhs, Jay Hachmiester at the varsity level with Trent Creek helping the JV. Barnes expects a few more additions.

The Pioneers play in the Big Eight Conference (along with Jasper, Mount Carmel, Ill., Mount Vernon of Posey, Princeton Community, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington).

Most of the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference is on the Pioneers’ schedule with dates against Castle, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North and Evansville Reitz.

There’s also clashes with Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Loogootee, North Posey, Perry Central, Pike Central, Southridge, South Spencer, Tecumseh, Tell City and Wood Memorial.

“It’s a pretty intense 3A schedule,” says Barnes. “(In 2019), I look forward to upping the ante a little bit and scheduling some potential regional opponents.”

Boonville reigned as sectional champions for the first time in 18 years in 2017. The Pioneers beat Gibson Southern in the championship of the 3A Bosse Sectional then lost to Lawrenceburg in the semifinals of the North Harrison Regional.

Barnes’ early baseball days were spent at Evansville South Little League, Evansville East Pony League and West Side Nut Club. After college, he had a short professional stint with the Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers of the independent Frontier League.

“It was a fantastic experience,” says Barnes. “My favorite team is Chicago Cubs. It was a train ride away from the city.

“I learned so many tips from guys who have been at Double-A and Triple-A. There were a lot of those guys were D-I players and high draft picks falling back to the Frontier League. At Oakland City, you don’t see talent like that very often.”

Eric is the youngest of George and Mary Barnes’s two sons. Mario is the oldest. Like his parents, Eric and wife Katy reside in Evansville.


Eric Barnes, a 2007 Evansville Bosse High School graduate, is now the head baseball coach at Boonville High School. The 28-year-old was mostly recently an assistant at Castle High School.


Alum Kluesner leading Bloomington South on diamond




It’s be said that people are the sum of their added experiences and influences.

Phil Kluesner picked up some things from his high school coach and others from his college coach and others along the way and it has brought him to where he is — heading into his 10th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater, Bloomington High School South.

Kluesner, a 1990 Bloomington South graduate, was an outfielder and left-handed pitcher in a Panthers program led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Grier Werner and later spent three seasons (1998-2000) on Werner’s coaching staff.

“I learned a lot from him,” says Kluesner of Werner. “He was very demanding but also very caring.”

From Werner, Kluesner saw a consistency of work ethic and the importance of building relationships.

He uses the latter not only as a coach but as an educator. He is currently a U.S. History teacher at BHSS.

Kluesner’s college baseball experience was a couple of seasons at the University of Southern Indiana, where Mike Goedde (now head coach at Evansville Central High School) was leading the Screaming Eagles.

Listing the qualities instilled by Goedde, Kluesner lists intensity, work ethic and competitive drive.

“We had a lot of talent on that team,” says Kluesner, who was with the baseball team for two years. He would earn a mass communications degree from USI and a secondary education degree from Indiana University-Bloomington.

Kluesner’s first coaching go-round came in Babe Ruth League baseball in Bloomington.

“I really liked it,” says Kluesner. “Rex Grossman was on my team. He was a phenomenal baseball player. He was just a better football player.”

Grossman would later be Indiana’s Mr. Football and quarterback at the University of Florida and in the National Football League.

After Kluesner’s stint as a South assistant, he served two seasons as a Shelbyville High School assistant to Mike Hobbs and Scott Hughes and then was head coach at Columbus North High School 2003-08 before coming back to wear the purple and white.

Kluesner coached a travel team made up mostly of South players known as the Bloomington Wizards and is considering bringing it back just to keep his players together.

“We’ve got some pretty good young talent coming through,” says Kluesner. “Travel teams are like mushrooms when you get too much rain. So many of them pop up. It’s almost overwhelming.

“The big thing I’ve noticed chemistry is difficult with them playing all over the place. They don’t know each other. It makes it difficult with our high school team. Chemistry is the thing teams are lacking. It’s become highly individualistic. It’s a team sport.”

With control of his own high school players, Kluesner will have a say in development.

“In the summer, it’s about showcasing yourself,” says Kluesner. “You get your hacks and sit down. I’m not going to discourage all kids from doing that. Some need (higher-profile travel baseball). But we could offer that with our Wizards and do it for less money. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just my opinion.”

Kluesner has produced Class 4A sectional championship teams in 2010, 2015 and 2016 and sent a number of players on to NCAA Division I college baseball.

There’s Joe Forney (Class of 2011) to Xavier (and is now director of baseball operations at Miami of Ohio), John Robertson (Class of 2011) to Miami of Ohio, Jake Kelzer (Class of 2012) to Indiana (and is now in the Philadelphia Phillies organization), Nolan Rogers (Class of 2013) to Vanderbilt, Gage Rogers (Class of 2014) to High Point in North Carolina (and is now at Indiana University Southeast) and Tyler Van Pelt (2017) to Indiana.

Alex Franklin (Class of 2018) made a verbal commit to Indiana as a sophomore and signed in early November.

Franklin has been a shortstop and a center fielder. With his BHSS head coach valuing versatility, he’s also in the pitching mix.

“The more pitchers the better,” says Kluesner. “I don’t have a lot of pitcher-onlys.”

While on the subject of pitching, what about the pitch count rules (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) adopted in 2017?

“I’m a pitching guy and I think it’s too lenient,” says Kluesner. “The pitch count should be a little more stringent. I’ve never pitched a guy 120 pitches in my life. We try to set our schedules week to week basis. My big arm will only throw once a week.”

It’s all about a lack of effectiveness.

“We need to teach kids to be efficient and not be so erratic,” says Kluesner, who has had hurlers throw complete games in 70 or fewer tosses. That’s the reason they pitch so many pitches.

“Kids are out of control. They’re over throwing. There’s so much emphasis on velocity nowadays. Kids can be effective if they’re competitive.”

Catchers are expected to rely on their own knowledge to help guide the pitcher.

“I’m big on teaching kids to call their own game behind the plate,” says Kluesner. “You know they get it when they cut you off and say, “I know, Coach. I know what to call.’

“Catchers are better ballplayers if they learn.”

Besides letting the players take ownership of the game, there’s a third dimension by being behind the dish that coaches don’t see clearly from the dugout. Catchers know if the pitch is in or out, up or down and can adjust the pitch selection accordingly.

Another teaching point for all players is not to argue with or complain to the umpire.

“It’s their job to adapt to the umpire,” says Kluesner. “They’re all different.”

Kluesner’s assistants for 2018 are Trevor McConnell (varsity), Eric Dodds (varsity), Mike Vaughn (junior varsity), A.J. Hartman (JV and freshmen) and Kevin Gross (freshmen).

South typically keeps 45 to 50 players for its three teams.

“We always seem to have some large freshmen classes,” says Kluesner. “The year we went to semistate (2015), we had 11 seniors. On average, we have six or seven.

“It’s hard to keep all those kids anymore,” says Kluesner. “The mentality has changed. It’s hard to teach them roles. Everyone wants to be the star.”

Kluesner says the ideal number of players for a single week-night game is around 14 or 15. That way he can get his bench players into the game as courtesy/pinch runners, defensive replacements, pinch-hitters or relief pitchers.

The varsity roster might swell near 20 for the weekend doubleheader as Kluesner and his assistants bring JV players to reward them for their performance.

The Panthers belong to Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

Panthers home games are played at Groh Memorial Field, which dates back to 1965.

“It’s the original field,” says Kluesner, referring to the split of Bloomington High School into South and North for the 1972-73 school year. “It’s hollowed ground to us.

“When you think you’re playing the same place as thousands of other players, it gives you goosebumps. I make sure the players know that and respect that.”

Kluesner is expecting a major overhaul of the facility soon and South could welcome lights for the 2018 season.

The Panthers belong to Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Columbus North, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

In a format change for 2018, all conference teams will play each other once to determine the champion. Before, there were divisions with an end-of-season tournament.


Phil Kluesner, a 1990 Bloomington High School South graduate, is entering his 10th season as Panthers head baseball coach in 2018.

Respect for the game essential for May, Gibson Southern baseball







That’s what the Gibson Southern High School baseball program has had since the Titans first took the diamond in the spring of 1975.

Only two men have led the program — Jim Reid and Chris May.

Reid, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, coached the Fort Branch Twigs for one pre-consolidation season. After Fort Branch, Haubstadt and Owensville high schools combined to make Gibson Southern, he was head coach from Day 1 through 2007.

That’s when junior varsity coach and 1974 Haubstadt High School graduate May took over and he’s still on the job. A member of that last graduating class, he played second base for Elites coach Glover Priar then went on to Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) where he was guided for one season by Jim Brown and three by Larry Shown.

Cousin Gary May, a Gibson Southern graduate, was a ISU-E teammate and is now the Titans head softball coach.

After college, Chris May taught one year in Evansville. In 1979-80, he began teaching third and fourth graders in the South Gibson School Corporation. He is now teaching third grade at Haubstadt Community School. He also has decades of experience coaching eighth grade basketball and Junior Titan Football in addition to the high school baseballers.

“It’s a nice change of pace,” says May. “I have the young kids during the day (and the older ones after school).”

Decades of coaching also has its perks.

“It’s neat to see kids coming through and I coached the parents years ago,” says May.

Gibson Southern has enjoyed its share of baseball success, winning outright or sharing nine Pocket Athletic Conference pennants with nine sectional titles, two regional crowns, two semistate championships and one state runner-up finish.

The Titans have reigned in three Evansville Bosse sectionals (2008, 2013, 2014), one Jasper Regional (2014) and one Plainfield Semistate (2014) and placed second in the state (2014 vs. Andrean) — all in IHSAA Class 3A — and also been co-PAC champions twice (2013, 2014) with May in charge.

The 1994 team was in the single-class Final Four. Penn beat the Titans 1-0 then McCutcheon 4-3 to claim its first state championship hardware.

Two Gibson Southern seniors — Brad Heuring in 1994 and Matthew Harpenau in 2014 — have been presented the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award at the IHSAA State Finals.

May likes to win as much as the next guy, but he bases his program on the enjoyment and respect for the game.

“We want the kids to come out and have a good time,” says May. “We teach them baseball the right way. We want them to respect the other team and respect the facilities.”

Countless hours have been spent tending Gibson Southern’s home field on its Fort Branch campus. Among the recent upgrades is the replacement of a windscreen on the outfield wall with privacy slats.

With an interest in hosting a sectional, May says adding more bleachers has been discussed. The 3A Titans were runners-up to Boonville in the 2017 Evansville Bosse Sectional and are assigned with Pike Central, Princeton and probable host Vincennes Lincoln in 2018.

The Pocket Athletic Conference provides a challenge with its competitive programs and its geography. The PAC’s nine schools are in eight different southwest Indiana counties — Gibson Southern in Gibson, Forest Park and Southridge in Dubois, Heritage Hills in Spencer, North Posey in Posey, Pike Central in Pike, South Spencer in Ohio, Tecumseh in Warrick and Tell City in Perry.

While North Posey and Tecumseh are less than 20 miles from Gibson Southern, the others at least least 30 and Tell City is nearly 70. When the Titans play the Marksmen, that game often comes on a Saturday.

“It’s a very good baseball conference,” says May of a circuit boasting seven state crowns (four for South Spencer, two for North Posey, one for Tecumseh) and three state runner-up finishes (two for Tecumseh and one for Gibson Southern).

Each PAC team plays the other once. Occasionally, there are three conference games in the same week, which makes for some decisions on whom to pitch and for how long.

The 2017 season saw the IHSAA adopt new pitch count rules (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). May says he rarely ever lets a pitcher go over 100 tosses in a game. He did have to adjust to the required days of rest when the hurler delivered just over 35.

“You have to be careful,” says May. “That was more of a thing for me. For the most part, (the pitch count rule) seemed like it worked pretty well.”

While he says others might get involved, May expects Zach Pullum, Steve Lintzenich, Danny Colbert and son Dustin May to be part of his 2018 coaching staff.

Chris and Lynn May have two children. In addition to Dustin, there’s Stacey (she is a meteorologist on Channel 25 in Evansville) and there are five grandchildren.

Gibson Southern had two ties to Japanese baseball in 2017. Not only did exchange student Sora Kashiwagi suit up with the Titans, 2004 graduate Eric Campbell played in 21 games for the Hanshin Tigers.

Selected in the second round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, Campbell played in Double-A ball with the Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners organizations.


Chris May is the head baseball coach at Gibson Southern High School. He followed Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Reid. They are the only two men to guide the Titans program. (Gibson Southern Photo)


Northwest Indiana Oilmen strike it rich in baseball fun, development




After another season of diamond progress, the Northwest Indiana Oilmen are again in the Midwest Collegiate League title hunt.

The summer collegiate wood bat baseball club that calls Whiting’s Oil City Stadium home has qualified for the playoffs in each of its six seasons.

The Oilmen went into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed (Bloomington, Ill., beat Northwest Indiana 3-1 Tuesday, Aug. 1 in Game 1 of a best-of-3 semifinals series). Game 2 was slated for Wednesday, Aug. 2 at Bloomington with Game 3 (if necessary) Thursday, Aug. 3 at Oil City. Home games have been broadcast live on the team’s Facebook page.

Don Popravak and Adam Enright have been with the Oilmen for each campaign. Popravak is president and owner while Enright is in his third season as head coach after three summers as an assistant.

A veteran of more than three decades in marketing, Popravak conceived the idea of the team, negotiated with the City of Whiting for the use of the stadium and has built the Oilmen brand.

Enright is a Munster High School graduate who played at South Suburban College and then helped the University of Southern Indiana to an NCAA Division II national championship (2010). After one year each at Chicago State University and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, he is entering his fifth season as an assistant at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill.

TCC Trolls head coach Justin Huisman is a former Oilmen head coach. Huisman played at the University of Mississippi and pitched briefly with the 2004 Kansas City Royals.

Popravak, a Chicago native who grew up minutes from Whiting and played baseball and football at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., has watched the Midwest Collegiate League (founded in 2010) grow and greatly improve its ability to attract top-notch talent. Dozens of former MCL players have been drafted by Major League Baseball clubs, including six in 2017. Others have gone on to independent professional baseball.

Left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani, recently traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the Los Angeles Dodgers, played for the Illinois Jayhawks in the MCL’s first season.

Third baseman Paul DeJong played in the MCL with the Will County CrackerJacks (2012) and DuPage County Hounds (2013).

Former Oilmen player and Munster High graduate Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University and is now an outfielder the minors with the Chicago White Sox.

Hammond Bishop Noll Institute graduate Matt Pobereyko was a player and pitching coach with the Oilmen before going to independent baseball. He was with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and, after another indy stint, is now a New York Mets farmhand.

John Ely, who pitched for the Dodgers in 2010, 2011 and 2012, managed the Southland Vikings and is now a coach in the White Sox system.

“He credits his experience of coaching at this level,” says Popravak. “We have quality guys working with players and developing their careers.”

Former big league pitcher Marvin Freeman has been a pitching coach for Southland, where former Oilmen player Kevin Franchetti is now manager. Franchetti played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean High School and then at Ball State University.

Popravak said the teams in the MCL — Oilmen in Indiana and Bloomington Bobcats, Crestwood Panthers, DuPage County Hounds, Joliet Admirals and Southland Vikings in Illinois  — are “all on the same page with finding and developing the best talent.”

“We want them go back to their colleges and be an impact player,” says Popravak.

Unique to summer collegiate baseball, the MCL has some players that play in the league before they ever step on a university campus.

“That’s a real advantage for a college coach,” says Popravak. “That young players who’s hungry can get 250 at-bats against college pitching and work their mistakes out early so they can go to a college campus and compete for a job.”

Corey Ray played for Southland before going to the University of Louisville and is now in the Brewers system.

Donivan Williams impressed the Cardinals enough after playing with the Oilmen that they signed him and he by-passed college. The 18-year-old third baseman from Oak Lawn, Ill., is now playing in the Gulf Coast League.

The MCL roster limit is 35 and many are in the mound mix. There are several college underclassmen who have had a low number of innings in the spring.

“The summer gives them an opportunity to shine,” says Popravak. “We don’t want to overuse pitchers.

“Our goal is to always send the player back to college healthy.”

Enright and assistant coach Patrick Antone (who played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell at Chesterton High School, coached with Pishkur at Andrean and was recently named head coach at Boone Grove High School) have watched the Oilmen consistently perform on the bump in 2017.

“The reason we’ve done so well this year is our pitching,” says Enright. “I don’t think we’ve been deeper. It’s a good mix of guys with a lot of talent.

“We have overall depth with our position players. We mix and match lineups a lot. I make sure each of our guys have at least 100 at-bats if they are with us all season. It’s more about development than winning.”

The six MCL teams play each other 10 times during a 50-game regular season leading into a four-team, two-tier playoff format (both best-of-3).

Using his connections, Enright built the Oilmen roster with most of the players commuting from a radius of about 90 minutes from Whiting.

“I’m starting to build up some pretty good relationships with schools throughout the Midwest at all levels,” says Enright. “We like the local flavor that people in the community and the region are familiar with.”

The longest road trip for the Oilmen is about two hours to Bloomington.

Enright played for two respected baseball men in Munster’s Bob Shinkan and USI’s Tracy Archuleta and took from both in developing his own leadership style.

“Those two guys shaped who I am as a coach,” says Enright. “I bring my own flavor to the game and coaching. But I make sure guys have positive experiences. Happy players are productive players. I want guys getting the most out of each other and play together to win baseball teams.”

Enright says neither Shinkan or Archuleta do much yelling, but are “the type of coach you don’t want to let down.”

Shinkan is also an IHSBCA Hall of Famer.

“He makes you enjoy the process and being out there everyday,” says Enright of his high school coach. “It’s about having fun while doing what you need to do to be the best player you can be.”

Enright appreciates the cerebral side of Archuleta’s coaching.

“He will put the game straight into your brain and make you think of it all levels you’ve never done before,” says Enright.

The fans, who turned out for MCL games and a series this summer against the Serbian National Team, get a chance to enjoy baseball played in a park plotted on 119th Street near homes, oil rigs and not far from the water.

“It’s a special place,” says Enright. “The community really loves it. It’s a premier facility. You can’t ask much more for a summer collegiate team. Good product on the field and really nice atmosphere to watch a game in. When the wind blows you can hear the waves off Lake Michigan.”


Moore’s new flock leads Zionsville Eagles back into semistate




Zionsville was on the biggest stage in Indiana high school baseball in 2016.

The Eagles played Roncalli in the IHSAA Class 4A state championship game.

Zionsville led 2-1 after their sixth at-bat and then lost 3-2 with the Rebels scoring the decisive run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

That Eagles roster was chock full of impactful seniors. So even though they left Victory Field oh-so-close to a championship in 2016, they flew under the radar in 2017.

“We were so senior-heavy last year, everybody (outside Z-ville) assumed we were going to be down,” says fourth-year ZHS head coach Jered Moore. “Everybody assumed we were going to have to rebuild.”

People in the community knew better.

“Our junior class was always very successful at baseball,” says Moore. “They would have been starting (last year) on a lot of other teams.”

The 2017 version of Zionsville (22-11) is back in the 4A northern semistate against Penn (26-6). The game is slated for Saturday, June 10 at Kokomo (following the 1 p.m. 2A game). The Eagles topped the Kingsmen in last year’s semistate showdown at Kokomo.

The ’16 Eagles had five pitchers who touched 90 mph on the radar gun. There are practically no innings back from that squad and the hardest thrower hits 86 mph.

A deep mound staff is led by right-handers — seniors Max Bohrer and Eli Copner and junior Nick Brier.

The new pitch count rules (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) have been a “non-factor” for Zionsville this season. Starters did not pitch more than once a week and rarely went more than 100 pitches.

“Last year, we had one of the top pitching staffs in the nation — top to bottom,” says Moore. “This pitching staff is completely different. Last year, we threw strikes and threw hard. This year, we rely on throwing strikes and good defense.

“If you concentrate on defense, more than likely you’re going to win games.”

Zionsville stresses pitching and defense so much that they keep a “free base” chart that tracks walks, hit batsmen, passed balls, wild pitches, stolen bases, errors, dirt ball reads, advancing trail runners and extra bases on balls hit to the outfield.

“If we win the free base war, we’re going to win 90 percent of our games,” says Moore. “It’s pretty much held true.

“We can’t be giving up free bases.”

Moore notes that in the four games where the Eagles committed five or more errors, they lost three of those (the win came in extra innings).

Two full-time starters from ’16 (senior third baseman Chad Garisek and junior shortstop Riley Bertram) and one part-timer (junior first baseman Sam Edgell) can be found in the field for the Eagles. The first six batters in the order are all juniors.

Zionsville advanced to the 2017 semistate by beating Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon to win the Kokomo Sectional and Fort Wayne Snider and Fishers to take the Lafayette Jeff Regional.

Playing three-game series in the strong Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Westfield) gets the Eagles ready for the rest of their schedule.

“Our guys are not going to be intimidated,” says Moore. “We just go out and play baseball and see who wins.”

Jered Moore is the son of Craig Moore, who played at East Gary High School and coached back-to-back state runners-up at Blackford High School in 1977 (losing to Logansport and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Jim Turner) and 1978 (losing to Evansville Memorial and IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach Quentin Merkel and player Don Mattingly) and then at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and many years with the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

The Bulls offer the Craig Moore Memorial Scholarship in honor of the man who passed away in 2004.

A 1989 Brownsburg graduate who played for Bulldogs head coach Wayne Johnson, Jered Moore also took the diamond at Sam Houston State for Bearkats head coach John Skeeters.

Jered coached about 15 years with the Bulls (he is still a 17U assistant) before joining the Zionsville staff. His brother, Quinn, is also a Bulls coach.

The 2017 Zionsville staff includes Alex Graman (pitching coach), Jeremy Honaker (hitting coach) and Drew Koning (assistant coach) at the varsity level with Josh Medvescek, Jarrett Johnson, Brock Noye and Stephen Damm running the two junior varsity squads (Green and White).

Graman, a Southridge High School graduate, pitched at Indiana State University and briefly with the New York Yankees and in Japan.

Honaker, a Connersville High School graduate, played at the University of Southern Indiana and also coaches with the Indiana Bulls.

Koning, a Lafayette Jeff graduate, played football at Franklin College and also coached with the Indiana Bulls.