By STEVE KRAH
Baseball teams at Lapel High School are faced with unique challenges.
At 470 students, the school is slightly smaller than its corporation partner, Frankton, and one of the smaller ones in the Madison Country area.
Yet, the 2018 schedule for IHSAA Class 2A Lapel features 4A schools like Anderson and Lawrence North and perennial 3A powers like Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and Western plus plenty of talented 2A and 1A programs.
“There are definitely challenges,” says Matt Campbell, who enters his second season as Lapel’s head baseball coach in 2018. “It’s not in the size or the athletes that come out of it. Location is a very interesting factor. There are not a lot a lot of schools in close proximity of the same size. We end up playing a lot bigger schools.
“It’s fun to go up against them and have success on different levels every night. I just want to play good baseball schools and play them well.”
In 2017, Lapel hosted a sectional with Frankton, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Shenandoah and Wapahani. The Bulldogs won sectionals in 1976, 1983, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2013 and 2015. Lapel’s lone regional title came in 2006.
Lapel is also an independent, having left the Indiana Crossroads Conference in 2014-15.
Where the disadvantage comes in is with scheduling. Lapel is often the first team to get dropped when conference teams need to make up games.
“In high school sports, there’s nothing better than having rivalries,” says Campbell. “It’s always better to be playing for something. That’s the same way it is with all sports at Lapel.
“Frankton is our rival (in Frankton-Lapel Community Schools). We may not circle it on the calendar, but everybody knows when that game is going to be played.”
The whole community is mourning the loss of Frankton baseball and basketball assistant Chris Hatzell, who died Dec. 26 at age 44.
“He was a great guy,” says Campbell of Hatzell, the Eagles’ first base coach. “He will be missed.”
Campbell enters his second season as Lapel head baseball coach in 2018. He is the eighth man to lead the program in 11 years. The Class of 2017 had four different coaches in four years.
The baseball field at Lapel went in with the new school building a decade ago, but improvement or maintenance projects have slowed with the coaching turnover. Campbell did participate in a recent irrigation upgrade.
Among those moving on were Brad Lantz, Dustin Glant and Matt Bair.
Lantz, a Lapel graduate, went on to become head coach at Guerin Catholic High School and is now an assistant at Noblesville.
Glant became head coach at Anderson University and is now entering his sixth season as an assistant at Ball State University.
Bair is entering his first season as head coach at Anderson U.
Campbell came to Lapel after serving as an assistant at Pendleton Heights — first to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt and then current Arabians head coach Travis Keesling.
“He is the epitome of baseball,” says Campbell of Stoudt. “I talk to him weekly if not more. I can’t get enough of him. There’s a reason he was so successful. He just loves being around the game. When I got this job, I think he was as excited about the game as I was. I gave him one more connection to the game.”
Stoudt was a regular spectator in 2017 at Lapel games.
Campbell played at Hamilton Southeastern High School, graduating in 2001 — the last season as Royals head coach for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Seitz.
“He has a ton of wisdom to give,” says Campbell of Seitz. “One of those things was — don’t stray, keep to the path. He saw the end in sight that we — as 17- and 18-year-olds — didn’t see.
“That’s something that’s stuck with me for a long time. Especially at this time of year. The season seems so far off. Pitchers and catchers meet at 6 a.m. After school, we finally get access to the gym (after winter sports teams). There’s the time in the weight room. But to us coaches, it seems like it’s just around the corner.
“It’s the dawning of a New Year.”
Campbell has also been coaching with the Indiana Bulls organization since 2006. He began as an assistant to Larry Fowler and took over the 18U squad in 2009 and a few years later joined the board of directors.
Fowler is now an assistant to Campbell at Lapel. His other assistants for 2018 include Ryan Scott, Jim Cook, Cameron Mendel, Hunter Cook, Sam Wides and Cade Luker. Scott, Mendel and Luker are all Lapel graduate. Jim Cook coached at Pendleton Heights and his son, Hunter Cook, played there.
Lapel is currently represented in college baseball by Brady Cherry (Ohio State University) and Jaxon Shirley (Weatherford College in Texas).
Left-hander Devon Frank (Lapel Class of 2018) has verbally committed to Anderson U. Other Bulldogs are considering college options.
Campbell graduated from Indiana University (where he did not play baseball), taught 10 years in Pendleton schools and is now teaching seventh grade at Lapel Middle School. Matt and Christene Campbell have two children — Easton (4) and Teaghan (3 months).
Matt Campbell, a Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate, is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Lapel High School in Madison County in 2018. (Brian Gill Photo)