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‘Little things’ key to success for Long, Hauser Jets baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nathan Long has set the standard high for his Hauser Junior/Senior High School Jets.

A 2004 graduate of the school in Bartholomew County, Long is carrying on the way Jerry Schoen led the program for two decades.

After a season leading the Cincinnati Flames travel team, Long was a varsity assistant to Schoen for five seasons before taking over the Jets for the 2017 season. He had been a manager and a player for Schoen before going to college.

“Day in and day out, we’re making kids accountable,” says Long, who was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state third baseman in 2004. “It’s about making kids get from start to finish.

“We’re focusing on the little things that are very important in the game of baseball.”

Among those things are always hustling on and off the field, running out every batted ball and improving through tee work, short-hop drills and more.

The approach had Hauser off to an 8-2 start in 2018 and a No. 1 ranking among IHSAA Class 1A baseball teams.

The recognition may bring more fans to the ballpark, which is appreciated, but Long is not placing too much stock in the polls.

“We have great community backing here,” says Long. “We don’t talk about rankings. It’s way too early to buy into that ranking. There’s a lot of baseball to be played.”

Hauser, located in Hope, Ind., is a member of the Mid-Hoosier Conference (along with 3A’s Indian Creek and 1A’s Edinburgh, Morristown, North Decatur, South Decatur, Southwestern of Shelbyville and Waldron).

Each team plays 12 conference games. The MHC stages home-and-home series on Thursdays and Fridays.

Long, who was a pitcher at Hauser and for four years at the College of Mt. St. Joseph in Cincinnati (now known as Mt. St. Joseph University), sets his pitching rotation around conference games.

“There’s pitchers and then there’s throwers in my mind,” says Long, who joins with Mike Flack (seventh year in the program) and Doug Johnson (second year in the program) to guide a group of 18 players in varsity and junior varsity action. “I try to develop my kids into pitchers.

“Being a small school, we lean on some kids who don’t have a lot of experience on the mound. When we do our pitching and throwing drills, we do it as a whole team. Sometimes we find kids we didn’t know could pitch.”

Long agrees with the parameters of the IHSAA 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).

“The days off amount is right on,” says Long. “As a coaching staff, we do go down the schedule and pick the games we want certain kids to pitch.”

Working with athletic director Ron Hounshell, Long crafts a challenging non-conference schedule.

“The better the competition, the better we’re going to be,” says Long, who already has or will have his squad square off against 4A’s East Central and Shelbyville, 3A’s Batesville, Greensburg and Lawrenceburg, 2A’s Austin, Henryville and Milan and 1A’s Indianapolis Lutheran, Jac-Cen-Del and Trinity Lutheran.

Hauser played in the Shawe Memorial Sectional in 2017 and now finds itself with a slightly different group (including Jac‐Cen‐Del, North Decatur, Oldenburg Academy, Rising Sun and South Decatur). Jac-Cen-Del looks to be the sectional host this year.

The Jets have won four sectional titles (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007), four regional crowns (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007) and one semistate championship (2005). The 2005 Jets were 1A state runners-up to Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian.

Hauser, part of Flatrock-Hawcreek School Corporation, plays its games on-campus on property that Schoen helped transform into a fine facility.

So far, wet weather has only taken away one game from the Jets.

“Our field drains fairly well,” says Long. “We’re able to play sometimes when other schools can’t.

“We take pride in our facilities. Our student-athletes work hard keeping it ready to play.”

Hauser’s roster sports four seniors (Jon Hatton, Jacob Johnson, Jordan Johnson and Sam Meek) and five juniors (Kameron Lawson, Jacob Luken, Sean Miller, Aaron Mee and Beau McKinney). Meek plans to play baseball at Bluffton (Ohio) University.

Besides Long at Mt. St. Joseph and Doug Johnson at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College, Hauser has sent number of players on to college over the years. Among them are Michael Shea, Joe Lange and Will Rose at Ancilla College, Jay McNicolas and Tim Munn at Anderson University, Tony Flack, Nathan Bryant, Jared Compton and Jared Schoen at Franklin College, Kyle Lawson, Rory Thayer and Brooks Bailey at Hanover College, Josh Gates at Illinois Valley Community College, Jared Turner at Indiana University Southeast, Jon Shaw at Trine University, Adam Newman and Aryn Ross at the University of Indianapolis, Reid Thayer and Nathan Branum at Vincennes University and Scott Henderson at Wabash Valley College in Illinois.

Henderson swiped a Hauser program-record 91 bases from 1998-91. Ross, who wore a Jets uniform 2003-06, swatted the most home runs (22).

On the mound, Tony Flack (28 from 2001-04) and Lawson (26 from 2004-07) ranked 1-2 in victories. Flack struck out a record 301 batters while Lawson whiffed 286.

Feeding the high school program are Hope Summer Playground, Babe Ruth and various travel ball organizations.

Long is part of a Hope-based family business — Indiana Custom Fabrication. Nathan is the son of John and Lisa Long and older brother of Nick Long.

Nathan and Stephanie Long have three children — daughters Emma (6) and Addison (2) and son Ike (5 months).

NATHANLONG

Nathan Long, a 2004 Hauser Junior/Senior High School graduate, is in his seventh season as a baseball coach for the Jets in 2018 — the second as head coach.

 

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Fougerousse has Linton-Stockton Miners digging the baseball experience

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mixing fun and a ferocious schedule, Linton-Stockton has launched into the 2018 high school baseball season.

The Miners, under the guidance of eighth-year head coach Matt Fougerousse and ranked in the top 10 in IHSAA Class 2A polls by Prep Baseball Report Indiana and the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, are off to a 5-1 start.

Fougerousse, a 1991 Shakamak High School graduate, played three seasons for Herschel Allen and one for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chip Sweet and gathered coaching wisdom from both men.

“They taught me a lot about how to run a program the right way,” says Fougerousse. “You keep things as simple as possible. You’re dealing with high school kids.

“We like laughing a little bit. We’re not not trying to be serious all the time. We tell them to go out there and have fun like you did in Little League.

“You try to make it as fun as you can for them and put the best schedule together you can.”

Linton, located in Greene County, has won nine sectional titles. Five of those have come with Fougerousse in charge — 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017.

The Miners, which went 22-9 in 2017 helped by all-state honorable mention selection Logan Hollingsworth (now a pitcher at Vincennes University), have not yet reigned at the regional level.

“Some point to winning 20 games. I’d like to win the (Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference), but I’m not concerned with rankings or records,” says Fougerousse. “We play the schedule that will help us in the state tournament. I look at the regular season like spring training.

“It’s paid big dividends at Linton.”

Fougerousse says the up side of rankings is the recognition it brings to his players and that it ups the level of the competition day in and day out, trying to beat his squad.

“But there are only two rankings that really matter,” says Fougerousse. “A north team and a south team will be clashing for the state championship.

“Everyone’s goal every year is to end at Victory Field (in Indianapolis) with a state championship.”

Linton-Stockton belongs to the SWIAC along with 2A’s Eastern Greene and 1A’s Bloomfield, Clay City, North Central of Farmersburg, North Daviess, Shakamak and White River Valley.

The Miners’ non-conference slate includes 4A’s Bedford North Lawrence, Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Castle, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo, 3A’s Brown County, Edgewood, Mt. Vernon (Posey) Owen Valley, Sullivan, Washington and West Vigo, 2A’s Mitchell, North Knox and South Knox and 1A’s Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, Northeast Dubois, Orleans and Vincennes Rivet.

“I like to play as many teams as I can, maybe 20 different teams — quality teams with different pitchers,” says Fougerousse, who works with Miners athletic director Charles Karazsia.

In besting visiting North Central 12-0 in five innings Wednesday, April 11, Linton spread the offensive wealth among junior Tucker Hayes (home run, double, single, four runs batted in), senior Noah Woodward (two singles, two RBI), senior Dreyden Ward (double, single, RBI), junior Dane Witty (double, single), sophomore Kip Fougerousse (two singles, RBI) and freshman Josh Pyne (single). Pyne also pitched a no-hitter with nine strikeouts.

Fougerousse and Pyne have already verbally committed to play baseball at Indiana University.

SWIAC teams play one another once during the season. When possible, Fougerousse tries to schedule those games early.

This year, Linton is in a sectional grouping with Eastern Greene, Mitchell, North Knox, South Knox and Southridge.

Led by Fougerousse and assistants Travis Hayes, Darren Woodward and Jared Pyne, there are currently 21 players in the Miners program, playing varsity and junior varsity schedules.

There is also a junior high program that is not directly affiliated with the school system but does use Linton facilities. That serves as a feeder system to the high school as does Linton Boys Baseball League, American Legion programs in Greene and Sullivan counties and various travel baseball organizations, including the Indiana Bulls.

Fougerousse went to the University of Southern Indiana and began coaching at the Babe Ruth level in the summer. He changed his major at USI from accounting to education for the opportunity to become a high school coach.

After graduating college in 1996, Fougerouse went to work at Shakamak where he teaches elementary physical education as well as junior high and high school health. He served 10 years on Sweet’s Shakamak coaching staff then succeeded Sweet when he stepped away from leadership of the program.

In Fougerousse’s three seasons at the Laker helm, he helped produce a 1A state runner-up in 2007, a 1A state champion in 2008 and a 1A Avon Semistate runner-up in 2009.

He left Shakamak to coach son Kip’s travel team (Sandlot) and then was coaxed back to the high school dugout at Linton, beginning with the 2011 season.

“I wasn’t looking to get back into head coaching at the time,” says Fougerousse. “But the previous coach — Bart Berns — had the program going in the right direction.

“I wanted to see that continue.”

Berns won a sectional in his final season and drummed up the community support to build a training facility next to Roy Herndon Field that the Miners can use year-round.

The Fougerousse family — Matt, Jill, Libbi and Kip — live in Linton. Jill Fougerousse was in the first graduating class at White River Valley. Libbi Fougerousse is a sophomore at Indiana State University.

Outside the high school season, Kip Fougerousse is in his fourth year with the Indiana Prospects organization.

“I like travel baseball,” says Matt Fougerousse. “You get to see different competition and make lifelong friends.”

The inaugural class of the Linton Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004 included Roy Herndon, Paul L. “Tom” Oliphant, Dick Fields, Tom Wall and the 1967 sectional championship team.

Herndon played minor league baseball in the 1930’s and 1940’s and was the property of the St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Tigers, Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Braves and Washington Senators. He later helped start Little League baseball in Linton in 1956 and was a big part of local Babe Ruth, high school and American Legion baseball.

Oliphant, great grandfather to Kip Fougerousse, coached Linton to three basketball sectional and the school’s first baseball sectional crown in 1967.

Fields helped revive the community’s Babe Ruth and American Legion programs.

Wall was instrumental in improvements to Roy Herndon Field.

The ’67 Miners went 13-3 and topped Worthington, Shakamak and Bloomfield on the way to sectional hardware.

In the fall of 2016, Linton won the school’s first state championship in 106 years when the Miners went 15-0 and took top honors in 1A football.

MATTFOUGEROUSSE

Matt Fougerousse is in his eighth season as head baseball coach at Linton-Stockton High School in 2018. The Shakamak High School graduate led his alma mater to an IHSAA Class 1A state title in 2008.

 

Veteran Edgewood Mustangs coach Jones just keeps on learning

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

One of the many lessons a son has learned from his father is that of lifelong learning.

With more than 40 years as a business teacher at Edgewood High School in the Monroe County town of Ellettsville and upwards of 30 as head baseball coach, Bob Jones can draw on a deep well of knowledge.

Jones, who recently turned 66, has plenty of know-how. But the former student at Central Catholic High School in Vincennes (now Vincennes Rivet), Vincennes University and Indiana State University is not content with that wisdom alone.

“He sits in the first or second row at the (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association) State Clinic each year,” says Sam Jones, one of Bob’s sons (Jade is the other) and a member of his EHS coaching staff. “He doesn’t want to miss a word.

“The knife most used is the best-sharpened.”

Bob Jones has also been a regular at clinics hosted by Jasper High School.

He employs the same approach as an educator. To prepare for his personal finance and introduction to business classes, Bob takes his text book home every night and reads it over so he will know the subject when addressing students the next day.

“He’s definitely not going to settle for complacency,” says Sam Jones, a 2006 Edgewood baseball alum and himself a seven grade social studies teacher at Cloverdale. “And he’s always evolving with the game (of baseball).”

Bob Jones and his staff, which also includes Tom Anderson (pitching coach), Eli Mathers (strength coach), Mac Kido, Austin Chapman, John Cage, Kyle May (junior varsity), John Justis (junior varsity) view their baseball program as what Sam Jones calls “a living and breathing thing” that changes with the times.

When he saw the benefits, Bob Jones started having his players lift weights daily — even game days.

“We live and die by the weight room,” says Sam Jones.

When Jaeger Sports bands came along with J-Bands for arm care, Edgewood began using them.

With all the private lessons and travel organizations now available, the Edgewood staff knows today’s players are pretty smart.

“They can feel and understand what their body is telling them and make some adjustments,” says Sam Jones. “The last eight or 10 years, dad has also had a lot of success reaching to to (students at nearby Indiana University) who want to stay connected to the game.”

Those IU students come and work with the Mustangs on the diamond and influence them beyond it. Many have gone on to become business professionals.

“They give vision for these kids,” says Sam Jones. “They know what’s possible if they apply themselves.”

Bob Jones has led Edgewood to sectional baseball championships nine times (1987, 1991, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2014) and regional titles twice (2007 and 2011), all the while giving plenty of responsibility to his assistants.

“He empowers them to make decisions,” says Sam Jones. “We believe in building a tribe.”

Two years ago, Bob Jones was struck on the leg by a foul ball and a hematoma caused him to miss three weeks of baseball.

His assistants rallied in his absence and the Mustangs did not miss a beat.

Edgewood, an IHSAA Class 3A school with around 800 students, typically fields three teams. Last spring, there was a varsity and two JV teams.

Sam Jones says that is likely to be the case again in 2018.

“The new pitch count has forced us to spread out our games a little more,” says Sam Jones, who lays out the JV schedules, making sure to get a balance of 4A schools like Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo in with 1A and 2A competition. “We’re giving our freshman to compete against bigger and better competition right off the bat. We also do not wanted them to overwhelmed with teams that are above and beyond their skill set.”

The pitch count at levels below varsity is tighter than in is for varsity (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). There was discussion at the IHSBCA State Clinic of making one standard for all since many schools will use pitchers for varsity and JV games — sometimes in the same week.

Edgewood is a member of the Western Indiana Conference and is part of the East Division along with Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Indian Creek and Owen Valley. The West features Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo.

Each team plays home-and-home division series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with only the first game counting in the WIC standings. There are crossover games at the end of the season — East No. 1 plays West No. 1 and so on.

Bob Jones wants to see all sectional opponents during the regular season so Edgewood has Brown County, Owen Valley, Sullivan and West Vigo on its schedule.

The Mustangs plays home games on Ermil Clark Field, which is located between the high school and junior high buildings.

As part of a phase of athletic upgrades for Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corporation, the baseball field is scheduled to get new dugouts and a backstop after the 2018 campaign.

A few years ago, players, coaches and parents chipped in to eliminate the hill in right field.

During spring break, they laid the sod and put down the bricks needed to level the fence.

“There were a lot of man hours from our players to make that field playable,” says Sam Jones. “If we don’t have kids that are interested in our field or our purpose that doesn’t happen.

“We’re super grateful for that.”

While junior high baseball is currently on hiatus, Edgewood does have Richland-Bean Blossom Youth Sports feeding it program along with area travel teams including Tier Ten, Demand Command and Diamond Dynamics. These organizations have players from multiple high schools.

“It’s a cohesive baseball community here,” says Sam Jones. “We like to think Monroe County has some pretty good baseball.”

Edgewood currently has Tanner Kolbe (Taylor University) and Connor Morton (Franklin College) on college baseball rosters. Current Mustang Josh Chasteen committed to Campbellsville (Ky.) University.

SAMBOBJADECRISJONESEDGEWOOD

Celebrating an occasion together (from left): Sam Jones, Bob Jones, Jade Jones and Cris Jones. Bob is a longtime teacher and head baseball coach at Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind. Sam, a 2006 Edgewood graduate, is one of his assistants.

 

O’Neil brings discipline, enthusiasm to Danville Warriors baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Backed by an administration and community that makes baseball a priority, second-year head coach Pat O’Neil and his Danville Community High School Warriors are aiming high.

“I want to bring a sense of confidence to the players and the program,” says O’Neil. “They can be as good as they want to be by putting in the correct amount of time, doing things the right way and doing things together.

“I’m taking the same approach I did at Brownsburg. A state championship is your goal. It’s not given to you. You’ve got to put in the effort and go the extra mile. I’m really pleased with the direction the (Danville) program is going.”

Including five seasons at the helm for Fountain Central High School, 10 for Brownburg High School and one for Danville Community, O’Neil’s career record is 348-112.

Armed with discipline, enthusiasm and organization learned as a player and later assistant for high school baseball coaching icon Ken Schreiber while serving on his LaPorte staff for IHSAA state championships in 1987 and 1990, O’Neil led Brownsburg on the diamond from 2001-10. The Bulldogs earned a state crown in 2005 after a state runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004.

“The main goal is to get the blue (championship) ring at the end of the season,” says O’Neil, a 1975 LaPorte graduate and younger brother of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chip O’Neil. “I’ve got three blue rings and I know how good the blue feels.”

O’Neil coached future major leaguers at Brownsburg — pitchers Lance Lynn and Drew Storen and catcher Tucker Barnhart — and still communicates regularly with all three. In the three years after leaving the Bulldogs program, O’Neil took time off from coaching and saw many of their games.

When Lebanon High School head coach Rick Cosgray was looking for a pitching coach, he invited O’Neil to join the Tigers staff. In the first of his three seasons (2014-16), Lebanon won its first sectional since 2000.

Danville, which won the most-recent of its eight sectional titles in 2015, went 15-11 in 2017 and lost a 1-0 pitchers’ duel to eventual champion Indian Creek in the semifinals of the Class 3A Danville Sectional.

“It just came down to us not making a couple plays in the seventh inning,” says O’Neil, who saw the game’s lone run score on an 0-2 passed ball with two outs in the top of the seventh. Danville had runners at second and third when the game ended.

O’Neil’s varsity assistants are Danville graduates Jake Marckel and John Fuson with Chris Marckel (father of Jake) leading the junior varsity. O’Neil says he expects to have around 36 players in the program in the spring.

The 2018 Warriors will sport a roster full of seniors who are three- and four-year starters.

“They want to send a message that Danville baseball is program to be reckoned with and they want to lead the charge,” says O’Neil, who counts catcher Tarron Lawson, first baseman Ethan Shafer, right-handed pitcher Jackson Wynn, center fielder Dylan Snider, right-hander Tristan Morrell and right-hander/third baseman Isaac McGregor in the Class of 2018.

Lawson, Shafer and Wynn are Danville’s tri-captains. Lawson has committed to Eastern Illinois University while there has been college interest in some of the other Warriors.

O’Neil looks to get contributions from a junior class which includes shortstop/second baseman Blake Mills, utility man Mark Broderick, catcher Shane Bradley and right-hander Max Schumacher.

The importance of the unit is stressed by O’Neil.

“It’s all about team and there’s a role for everybody,” says O’Neil. “We encourage them about doing the best they can.”

The veteran coach notes that it doesn’t really matter where a batter appears on the lineup card.

“In the game, there’s only one legit lead-off hitter in the game (and that’s in the first inning),” says O’Neil. “When it’s your turn to produce, go up and produce. I want everybody to think they’re the No. 3 hitter.”

O’Neil cites the example of Austin Nickol at Brownsburg. He batted No. 5 and went into the 2004 State Finals hitting .281 with eight runs batted in then batted in the No. 9 hole and hit  .407 with 22 RBI going into the 2005 championship game. The Bulldogs wound up 35-0 and Nickol received a scholarship to Butler University.

Danville belongs to the Sagamore Conference (along with Crawfordsville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone). The conference observes a schedule with home-and-home games in the same week for a total of 14 league games.

“The Sagamore is going to be strong this year,” says O’Neil. “It’s the most competitive top to bottom in the five years I’ve been around it.”

Danville has never won the Sagamore in baseball since joining in 2000. The Warriors were Mid-State Conference champions in 1946, 1951 and 1967 and West Central Conference champions in 1988, 1989, 1994 and 1998.

The Warriors’ 2018 non-conference slate includes Beech Grove, Cascade, Covenant Christian, Lafayette Central Catholic, Monrovia, Northview, Owen Valley, Plainfield, Speedway plus the Hendricks County Tournament (Avon, Brownsburg, Cascade, Plainfield and Tri-West Hendricks are in that).

Hendricks County Tournament titles came Danville’s way in 1989, 1991 and 1994.

Danville will again host the sectional. But the tournament field and the playing surface will have a new look. Because of success factor or shuffling, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter (2A state runner-up in 2017), Brebeuf and Tri-West Hendricks have moved in to join Danville, Greencastle and Indianapolis Northwest.

With support of superintendent Dr. Tracey Shafer, principal Dr. P.J. Hamann, athletic director Jon Regashus (who was an O’Neil assistant at Brownsburg) and others, there have been several athletic upgrades on campus. On the way for the baseball field are many new items — a turf infield, drainage and sprinkling system for the outfield, fencing and bleaches. The dugouts and press box are to be renovated with a locker room added upstairs in the press box building.

The community’s youngest players play recreation and travel baseball. Danville Community Middle School’s seventh/eighth grade team is to play about 20 games in the spring.

“We want them to play as much as they can and get as much experience as possible,” says O’Neil.

Before O’Neil went to Brownsburg (he has been a health teacher at the school since 2000-01), he was a Midwest scout for the Tampa Bay Rays. At Fountain Central, he was also head football coach for five seasons (1990-94).

In seven seasons at LaPorte with Schreiber, he became very close with the Hall of Famer and learned much about developing pitchers.

“You don’t start in March,” says O’Neil. “You have to build up strength so they can throw 110 pitches and feel strong.”

By state tournament time, O’Neil wants to have a well-establish No. 1 and No. 2 starter but depth is also important.

“We want to develop another four or five guys who can come in and throw strikes and feel confident,” says O’Neil, who saw four Danville pitchers — Weston, Shafer, Morrell, and MacGregor — go down with non-baseball injuries in the last month of the 2017 regular season and had younger players step in to pick up the slack.

Before coaching at LaPorte, Pat spent two season on brother Chip’s staff at South Bend St. Joseph.

The younger O’Neil played two seasons at Kentucky Wesleyan College after two at Vincennes University. He earned an undergraduate degree from KWC in 1980 and a master’s degree from Indiana University South Bend in 1990.

Married nearly eight years to Carol, Pat has two daughters. Oldest daughter Maureen and husband Matt Hoard have two boys — Clark (8) and A.J. (5). Youngest Katie and spouse Brandon Jewell have pets. Stepson Michael is a recent Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology graduate. Stepdaughter Jennifer is a nursing student at the University of Indianapolis.

PATO'NEIL

Pat O’Neil enters his second season as head  baseball coach at Danville Community High School in 2018. He coached five seasons at Fountain Central and 10 at Brownsburg, earning state runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004 and a state championship in 2005.

 

Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

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T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)

 

Alter has 1A Indianapolis Lutheran hanging with the big schools

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dick Alter has coached baseball in central Indiana for nearly four decades.

He has been around some talented players and coaches and helped mold young minds in dugouts and classrooms.

Since 2005, the former North Central player and assistant coach and former Manual head coach has made an impact at Indianapolis Lutheran High School, an IHSAA Class 1A member on the city’s southeast side.

The Saints won the eighth sectional title during Alter’s tenure and extended their streak of sectional championships to six in 2017. Lutheran went on to take the first regional crown in program history.

After beating Bethesda Christian 16-0 and University 5-1 to win the Sheridan Sectional, the Saints topped Edinburgh 10-1 and Rising Sun 6-1 in the Morristown Regional before losing 6-2 to eventual 1A state champion Lanesville in the Jasper Semistate.

What propelled Lutheran in ’17?

“Chemistry,” says Alter, who is also chairman of the school’s social studies department. “It was certainly not the best team we’ve ever had here. But those boys put it together better than the other teams did when it counted. We had unified players that played together and wanted to win.”

There are not that many 1A schools in the Indianapolis area. The smallest school in the Indiana Crossroads Conference (which also includes Beech Grove, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Scecina, Indianapolis Park Tudor, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central), Lutheran benefits from its strong regular-season schedule come postseason time.

ICC games are played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and there’s the test of the Marion County Tournament.

Ritter won the 2017 Class 2A state title. The Saints also squared off with 4A’s Lafayette Jeff and Perry Meridian (three times) and 1A powerhouse Hauser. In recent seasons, 4A’s Columbus North and 3A’s Bishop Chatard and Guerin Catholic have been on the slate.

“We play a very competitive schedule,” says Alter. “We go out of our way to play good schools. We don’t have the depth these 4A schools have, but on any given day we can play with them.”

Sophomores Matthew Alter (Dick and Karen Alter’s only child) and Noah Wood and freshman Bradbury Aiden — all right-handers — did the bulk of the mound work for last season’s Saints. It was the first campaign of the IHSAA’s 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).

The coach is not a fan of the new rule.

“It severely limits a 1A program,” says Alter. “We really have to plan and be judicious with our pitchers. I like the old rule — 10 innings every three days. That made a lot of sense to me. It worked for me. If you are an experienced coach, you’re not going to hurt your kids’ arms by overthrowing them.”

Alter has heard the response of those like him who oppose the new rule.

“You can say ‘go develop more pitchers.’ But that’s easier said than done,” says Alter, who notes that many schools have players who grew learning to be pitchers. “We’re developing kids who can throw and hopefully they throw strikes. I understand the concept, but in practicality you’re not going to get a lot of good pitchers out of it.”

The Saints play games on their Arlington Avenue campus. Land-locked in a residential area, the field has relatively short dimensions.

“There’s one house we regularly hit in left field,” says Alter. “Any home run to the right side is going into somebody’s yard.”

Since Alter’s arrival, the field located in a residential area has received upgrades like a new backstop and dugouts and netting instead of a fence. Windscreens have been added and the home plate area and mound have been re-done.

Alter graduated from North Central in 1973. His coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tom Bradley, who was the original host of the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series. Alter played one year on baseball scholarship to Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., Alter transferred to Indiana University, earned a degree and began his professional life in marketing research.

In 1979, he began running the summer baseball program at North Central and later served as an assistant to Bradley.

He decided to change his profession to teacher and wound up coaching baseball and basketball at Manual. For a short time, he was head coach for both sports.

Alter led the Redskins on the diamond 1994-2004 then went to Lutheran when Matthew was 5.

Nephew Jared Broughton was a freshman on the 2005 Lutheran team. He went on to be a Junior College All-American at Vincennes University, a starter at the University of Dayton and is now associate head coach at Piedmont College, an NCAA Division III school in Demorest, Ga.

Alter coached Caleb Hougesen, a third baseman who was selected in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Francisco Giants.

“He was a great player,” says Alter.

What feeds the Saints program?

The high school typically gets most of its students from four Lutheran K-8 schools on the southeast side of Indy. Almost all of the Saints have a travel baseball background.

As Lutheran plans for 2018, Tom Riensche (former Warren Central head coach) and Ryan Baglow are back as varsity assistants. Zach Akers has been a junior varsity coach.

The Saints normally have a JV team, but low numbers in some years and one available diamond mean they only field a varsity squad.

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A veteran of nearly 40 years as a high school baseball coach, Dick Alter has been head coach at Indianapolis Lutheran since 2005. The Saints won their sixth straight sectional and advanced all the way to the semistate in 2017. (Indianapolis Lutheran Photo)

 

Pro baseball vet Grube looks at 2017 as ‘tale of two tapes’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A change of scenery can be just what a ballplayer needs.

Even if that scenery is familiar territory.

Jarrett Grube — traded from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Cleveland Indians organization in mid-June — is pushing the baseball re-fresh button in a return engagement with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers.

Grube, who grew up in Corunna, Ind., and graduated from DeKalb High School (where he played for head coach Chris Rhodes) in 2000, was the Opening Day starter for the International League’s Buffalo Bisons and made 11 starts with that Toronto affiliate before becoming Cleveland property for the third time in his career.

The 6-foot-4 right-hander played for Columbus in 2015 after a stint with Quintana Roo in the Mexican League in 2015 and again in 2016 after time with the Pacific Coast League’s Tacoma Rainiers in the Seattle Mariners organization.

Going into a start Saturday, July 22, Grube was 3-5 overall with a 4.70 earned run average in 16 starts, including 1-2 and 1.69 in five starts for the Clippers. He came off the 7-day disabled list July 16 (right-hand discomfort).

“Things weren’t going my way for whatever reason,” says Grube. “I just call it the ’tale of two tapes.’ Now I’m back over here doing what I’ve always done.”

What Grube has done when successful is keep the opposition off-balance.

“I’m not even thinking about mechanics,” says Grube. “It all just happens fluidly and easily. I’m throwing a lot of strikes and mixing my pitches and keeping the hitters guessing on what’s coming in different counts.”

As a free agent veteran, the Indians brought Grube back because of his track record at the Triple-A level.

“They support you and give you info about the hitters so you can have success,” says Grube. “When you’ve been around for awhile, they let you keep doing your program. As long as you communicate, they support you.”

Between starts, Grube does a longer running session with stretching, some weightlifting and works with a trainer on Day 1. The second day includes long toss, a bullpen session and heavier total-body lifting with two days of recovery before the start. Day 3 is about stretching things out and getting rid of built-up lactic acid. Day 4 is devoted to rest and stretching.

Grube, who played at Vincennes University for head coach Jerry Blemker (who died in 2012) and at the University of Memphis for for head coach Dave Anderson, was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 10th round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and made his lone MLB appearance with Los Angeles Angels in 2014 (he retired Josh Donaldson and gave up a three-run home run to Yoenis Cespedes).

One thing that’s kept Grube from being predictable is his ability to change arm angles.

It all just flows.

“When I’m at my best, I’m not really thinking about anything,” says Grube. “I’m throwing every pitch I want to throw in any count and getting a lot of weak contact, maybe strikeout an inning for however many innings I pitch.”

As a 14th-year professional, Grube has learned plenty.

“You learn to grow as a player,” says Grube. “Sometimes you have to take lumps and be able to turn the page pretty quick. You sit and dwell on things, I know that. There’s going to be a lot of things that are out of your control that.

“You just keep on with what you’ve got pictured in your mind that you want to accomplish.”

Grube has been a starting pitcher in Triple-A. If he gets called up to the big leagues, his role would likely be out of the bullpen.

“I’ve got the stuff to relieve, too, for sure,” says Grube.

Born in Fort Wayne (where he lives in the off-season with wife Alyssa and daughter Ensley), Grube’s early diamond days were spent in the Tri-County Little League and in AAU ball. He was a member of the Aboite Braves, coached by Brett Ratcliffe (who is now head coach at Garrett High School).

Grube credits Blemker helping to make him mentally tough, something that has helped him ever since.

“He’d say some things that would make you upset or frustrated,” says Grube, who won 12 games and struck out a then-school-record 172 batters in two seasons with the VU Trailblazers. “He was kind of like a drill sergeant. But he was doing it in a fatherly way. He was trying to get the best out of me. He was lying the foundation for me to go to D-I and then pro ball.”

Grube gained wisdom from Anderson, who played 10 MLB seasons including with the World Series-winning 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers and went on to coach and manage in pro baseball.

JARRETTGRUBE

Jarrett Grube, a 2000 DeKalb High School graduate, is in his 14th professional baseball season in 2017. (Columbus Clippers Photo)