Tag Archives: West Lafayette

Willis keeps things fresh for Covington Trojans

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willis played for Mike Holland at Covington.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love the pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days),” says Willis. “It’s the healthiest thing for the pitchers’ arms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hartman has West Lafayette Red Devils’ best interests at heart

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Hartman is bringing a mix of old school and new school as the first-year head baseball coach at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School.

Hartman comes to the Red Devils after two assistant coach stints totalling seven years at his high school alma mater — McCutcheon.

“Today, they talk about being a player’s coach,” says Hartman. “That’s important. You need vested in these kids not only on the field but off the field.

“You can be strict and have discipline and still be there from a personal standpoint. When they see that you have their best interests (at heart), that’s how you get the most out of them.”

As a Mavericks player and then an assistant, Hartman learned from Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

“I learned many things, like how to build the program from the bottom up, player personnel, coaching strategy and (fundraising),” says Hartman. “It was a little bit of everything.”

Hartman, who holds a Law and Society degree from Purdue University and is a patrolman for the Lafayette Police Department, appreciates the new IHSAA rules that allow periods of limited contact. During these periods, an unlimited number of players can receive instruction two days a week for two hours at a time.

“I like the change,” says Hartman. “I need as much time as I can with these kids to get ready for that opener in March.”

“A lot is accomplished in those two hours. We’re getting a lot of team stuff done now that wouldn’t be done before March (under the old rules).”

The Red Devils have been practicing in the Cumberland Elementary School gym. Coaches man up to six stations for drill work. After that, everything is cleared out for the team to go over defensive coverages.

Hartman’s varsity staff includes Dan Penale, Dan Walbaum, Brent Talcott, Steve Hartman and Joe Richardson. Former McCutcheon and Lafayette Central Catholic assistant Penale is the pitching coach. Former West Lafayette head coach Walbaum is the hitting coach. Talcott directs the defense. Steve Hartman, Justin’s father, helps with base running and player personal. Richardson is the bench coach.

Bryan Dispennett is the head junior varsity coach and Buck Nelson is the JV assistant. Dispennett has coached all around Tippecanoe County, including at Central Catholic and Lafayette Jeff. Nelson is a former McCutcheon assistant.

Senior catcher Owen Walbaum has committed to play at Purdue.

Upon taking the job, Hartman established West Lafayette travel teams for 9U, 11U, 12U and 14U. They will play in five or six tournaments during the summer — some at the Noblesville (Ind.) Field of Dreams.

“To be competitive and improve, you have to be in those travel leagues,” says Hartman.

These players plus some from West Lafayette Little League serve as the feeder system for the high school.

The Red Devils play home games at Bob Friend Field, which is located adjacent to Cumberland Elementary and West Lafayette Little League.

Hartman has gotten approval to have padding installed in front of both dugouts. A local turf group is improving the surface. An irrigation system is on the way.

Friend, who played at Purdue and pitched 16 seasons in the big leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees and New York Mets, attended West Lafayette graduate.

West Lafayette (enrollment around 770) is a member of the Hoosier Conference (with Benton Central, Hamilton Heights, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes and Western). Burton is now head coach at Twin Lakes.

Each conference team plays each other twice in a home-and-home series during the same week.

The Red Devils are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Benton Central, Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru and Western. West Lafayette has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2011.

Justin and wife Megan have been married for 10 years. The couple has two children — daughter Chesney (9) and son Koen (8).

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Justin Hartman, a graduate of McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, is entering his first season as head baseball coach at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School.

 

Vernon brings ‘culture change’ to Benton Central Bison baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball players are buying what Jon Vernon’s selling at Benton Central Junior-Senior High School in Oxford, Ind.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have some good athletes and good players,” says Vernon, who is heading into his fourth season as BC head coach in 2019. “They’ve bought into my system.”

The Bison have improved its record in each of Vernon’s first three seasons in charge, going 10-17 in 2016, 17-9 in 2017 and 19-6 in 2018.

Benton Central lost 9-2 to Western in the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A West Lafayette Sectional championship game.

BC bowed out of the state tournament series with a  3-2 loss to Maconaquah on a seventh-inning wild pitch in the first round of the 2018 3A Peru Sectional.

“We changed the culture a little bit,” says Vernon, whose current seniors have been varsity since freshmen year. That group includes three who have signed for college baseball —

Center fielder Payton Hall (University of Southern Indiana), right-handed pitcher/third baseman Alex Stout (Bethel College) and first baseman/left-hander Matt Taylor (Anderson University).

Right-hander Taylor Varnado, BC’s probable No. 1 starting pitcher in 2019 and a third baseman, is expected to sign soon. Junior shortstop Alex Thurston is verbally committed to Valparaiso University.

Vernon says he expects to have about 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring. The JV went 11-6 in 2018.

Benton Central (enrollment of about 580) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division).

Teams play a home-and-home within their division then a crossover game with the corresponding regular-season placer in the other division.

BC is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

The Bison roam on-campus at Darrell Snodgrass Field, a facility that recently received new fencing and upgraded dugouts and sound system. The worked on the diamond in the fall, doing things like edging.

A unique feature is the sounds of wind turbines. Benton County is home to wind farms.

With all that breeze, Vernon says it is best to be conservative field conditioner in the like in the autumn.

“You put too much stuff down in the fall, it won’t be there in the spring,” says Vernon.

Vernon’s 2019 assistants include Denny Musser and pitching coach Brad Goffinet with the varsity and Tyler Marsh with the junior varsity. Musser, the uncle of former Benton Central and professional left-hander Neal Musser, was a JV coach at BC on the staff of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary DeHaven.

Neal Musser pitched 18 games for the 2007 and 2008 Kansas City Royals.

The southpaw was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets.

Goffinet pitched at Indianapolis Marshall High School and Butler University in the 1970’s. Marsh is a former North Newton High School assistant.

Right-hander Jayson Best graduated from Benton Central in 1985 and played at Milligan College in Elizabethtown, Tenn., before signing with the Minnesota Twins in 1989. He reached the Double-A level in 1992 and 1993 and hurled for the independent Lafayette (Ind.) Leopards in 1996 and 1997. He was pitching at Goshen College 2000-04 (one season for Todd Bacon and four for Brent Hoober) and Maple Leafs head coach in 2005.

Benton Central baseball is largely fed by travel baseball organizations, including the Lafayette Lightning and Indiana Nitro. In the past, teams have played Pony League and Babe Ruth.

Vernon is a 1989 graduate of Logansport (Ind.) High School. He played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr.

Turner’s Berries lost 6-2 to Evansville Memorial in the 1989 IHSAA state championship game. Vernon was his left fielder and lead-off hitter. It was the first of Logan’s three straight Final Four appearances. The Berries 7-3 in the state semifinals to eventual champion LaPorte in 1990 and beat Marion for the state title in 1991.

What was it like to play for Turner Sr.?

“It was a great experience,” says Vernon. “He knows more about baseball is his little pinky than I do in my whole body.”

Turner Sr., who was assisted for many years by Larry “Butch” Jones and Rich Wild, established a winning culture and a program.

“You didn’t want to let coach down,” says Vernon. “He trusted his players. A lot of people revere him.”

As a coach, Vernon learned from Turner Sr. that “you always have to play the best players” and it doesn’t matter what they’re family name is what grade they’re in.

“Sometimes that makes people happy and sometimes it doesn’t,” says Vernon. “If you want to win, that’s what you have to do. Sometimes you have to make those tough decisions.”

After a season of club baseball at the University of Kentucky, Vernon went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Huntington University and master’s degree from Ball State University. He was head baseball coach at Delphi (Ind.) High School from 1994-2000 and assisted Jim Turner Jr. at Logansport for one season in the mid-2000’s and ran Turner’s summer programs.

He picked up pointers on organization and running practice from Turner Jr. Vernon was also head volleyball coach for the Berries.

After a brief stint in Florida, he came back to Indiana. He teaches business and computer classes at Benton Central has been BC’s head volleyball coach for three seasons.

Jon and Diann Vernon have been married for 25 years. They have four children — Matthew, Luke, Kailey and Karlee. Matthew works in finance for Amazon and lives in South Carolina. Luke is a dental student at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Kailey is in physician assistant school at Butler University. Karlee is 20 and works in Zionsville, Ind.

Staggered BC

ALEXTHURSTONBENTONCENTRALAlex Thurston (right) bats for Benton Central High School. He is a junior in 2019 and a verbal commit to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.

MATTTAYLORBENTONCENTRALMatt Taylor (left) catches a ball at first base for Benton Central High School. He has moved on to the baseball team at Anderson University.

PAYTONHALLTAYLORVARNADOALEXTHURSTONMATTTAYLORALEXSTOUTHOOSIERNORTHBenton Central players Payton Hall, Taylor Varnado, Alex Thurston, Matt Taylor and Alex Stout represent Hoosier North in the 2017 Colt Harry Bradway Classic in Lafayette, Ind.

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The Vernon family in Key West, Fla., with spouses and children (from left): Matthew, Emily, Mary Katherine, Mason, Kailey, Karlee, Diann, Aubriel, Jon and Luke.

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Another Benton Central High School baseball signs to play in college (from left): First row — Father David Stout, Benton Central Alex Stout and mother Stephanie Stout. Back row — Bethel College assistant Kiel Boynton, Bethel College head coach Seth Zartman and Benton Central head coach Jon Vernon. (Benton Central Photo)

Relationships are key for Lowrey, Harrison Raiders

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Lowrey wants to know how his players can hit, pitch or field the baseball.

But he also wants to relate to them as people.

The head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., puts a priority on building relationships as he develops his Raiders on the diamond.

“Without the relationships, players aren’t going to listen to you,” says Lowrey, who enters his seventh season in charge at Harrison in 2019. “It doesn’t matter how much you know.

“Then the baseball comes.”

Lowrey’s baseball knowledge was built as a player at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette and at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Senior right-hander Lowrey was the winning pitcher for the 1999 IHSAA Class 4A state champions (McCutcheon beat Lawrence North 7-6). He recorded a called third strike with the bases loaded to end the game.

“I threw a lot of pitches that day,” says Lowrey. “It was one of those drizzling nights. Between me and my catcher (Nick McIntyre, who went on to play at Purdue University then pro ball and is now an assistant coach at the University of Toledo), we had passed balls and wild pitches. But were able to get out of the sticky situation.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Jake Burton was then the Mavericks head coach.

“He had high expectations which made us better,” says Lowrey of Burton. “He helped me as a coach know the importance of organization and discipline both as a player and a coach.”

At Ball State, Lowrey spent three seasons for Rich Maloney and one with Greg Beals. Lowrey appeared in 32 games and the Cardinals won the Mid-American Conference title in 2001 and MAC West crowns in 2000, 2001 and 2003.

“(Maloney) does such a good job of building relationships with the community and players,” says Lowrey. “He connects to so many top-end recruits. He’s one of the best recruiters nationally. He has had a lot of success in the Big Ten and the MAC.”

Teammates who went high in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft during Lowrey’s time at BSU include right-hander Bryan Bullington (No. 1 overall in 2002 to the Pittsburgh Pirates), left-hander Luke Hagerty (first round in 2002 to the Chicago Cubs), outfielder Brad Snyder (first round in 2003 to the Cleveland Indians), right-hander Paul Henry (seventh round in 2002 to the Baltimore Orioles) and right-hander Justin Weschler (fourth round in 2001 to the Arizona Diamondbacks).

Outfielder Larry Bigbie went in the first round of the 1999 draft to Baltimore. Burlington played high school ball at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated, Weschler at Pendleton Heights and Bigbie at Hobart. Hagerty and Snyder are Ohio products while Henry played in high school baseball in Tennessee.

Lowery remembers Beals (now head coach at Ohio State University) as having a high Baseball I.Q. and the ability to enjoy it.

“He really understood the game and he had a lot of fun doing it,” says Lowrey. “Baseball is a kid’s game and it’s meant to be fun.”

Lowery began his coaching career with junior varsity stints at Delta (2004) and McCutcheon (2005). He was pitching coach at Harrison in 2006 and 2007 before serving as head coach at Delphi (2008-12). He was going to be head coach at Brownsburg, but some health issues arose and he stayed in Lafayette, eventually becoming head baseball coach and a special education teacher at Harrison.

The Raiders have sent a number of players on to college baseball during Lowrey’s tenure.

“I take pride in that,” says Lowrey. “I try to help our kids reach those goals if that’s what they want.”

Outfielder/shortstop Carter Bridge has transferred from Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill., to Indiana University, where Franklin Community High School graduate Jeff Mercer is now head coach. Left-hander Matt McConnell and outfielder/left-hander Bobby Dearing are both at Western Michigan University, where New Albany graduate Billy Gernon is head coach.

Current Harrison senior Jack Ross, now recuperating from Tommy John surgery, has committed to play at Taylor University.

Lowrey says shortstop Trey Cochran and catcher/first baseman Jacob Kyle are starting the recruiting process.

The Harrison coaching staff for 2019 includes Christian Vukas, Dave Gilbert and Kerry Yoder with Lowrey and the varsity plus Jon Laird and Deryk Quakenbush as well as Shawn Louks, Leighton Mennen and Hayden Kuxhausen with the Blue and Orange units.

Lowery expects about 65 to 70 for tryouts with 45 to 50 making the three squads. There will be 14 to 20 players per team, including some used as courtesy runners and some pitcher-onlys.

“We want to develop these kids,” says Lowrey. “Especially at the two JV levels, we want to make sure we don’t miss out on the develop.”

Harrison has one on-field diamond.

“That goes back to Coach Burton and that organization,” says Lowrey. “We have to be organized and creative in how we approach practices and games.”

Harrison uses a batting practice circuit with every player on the field. The Raiders sometimes utilize the adjacent football field.

“We want to make sure kids are in small groups and constantly working,” says Lowrey.

Harrison is part of the North Central Conference (with Harrison, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport and McCutcheon in the West Division and Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond in the East Division). Teams play home-and-home series within their divisions then compete in a seeded cross-divisional tournament the two Saturdays in May.

The Raiders are in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport, McCutcheon and Zionsville. Harrison has won 11 sectional crowns — the last in 2015.

Pat and Lauren Lowrey were married in 2005. She is the former Lauren Jillson, who played three sports at Munster (Ind.) High School and volleyball at Ball State, where she met Pat. The couple have two sons — Jeremy (11) and Brady (8).

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Pat Lowrey, a graduate of McCutcheon High School and Ball State University, is entering his seventh season as head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., in 2019.

 

Purdue grad Isom embraces independent pro baseball manager role, wins title with Joliet Slammers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Isom got to do something for the first time in nearly two decades as a professional baseball manager in 2018.

Isom got to hoist the championship trophy as the decision maker for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers — his first title as a pro skipper.

“It only took me 18 years, but I finally got one,” says Isom, a 1990 Lafayette Jefferson High School and 1998 Purdue University graduate who still resides in West Lafayette, Ind. “A lot of teams made the finals and just came up short for one reason or another. Our pitching staff (at Joliet) was outstanding and did not lose guys to major league clubs like some teams did.”

Without Major League Baseball feeding them players, Isom and other independent ball managers go out and found their own players. The Slammers championship squad featured 14 that came from tryout camps.

“I love getting guys that have been overlooked by the draft for one reason or another,” says Isom of his attraction to independent baseball. “Scouting is not an exact science. We work with them and try to continue to make them better players.

“In independent baseball, most teams rely on the manager. I like it that way. I have the ultimate say in who is going to be on our club.

“I value those tryouts. I know the players are hungry if they’re going to a tryout camp.”

The Frontier League is considered a developmental circuit and the maximum age is 27. A couple of top pitchers from 2018 — Nate Antone and Liam O’Sullivan — will age out and Isom intends to help them make connections so they can keep playing either at the independent or affiliated level.

“Indy ball has been a great time for me,” says Isom, a three-time Frontier League Manager of the Year (2002, 2016 and 2018) who turned 46 on Sept. 22. “I loved every minute of it when I was a player and I’ve loved every minute of it as a manager.

“I’ve been fortunate to make a career out of this.”

Isom doesn’t see it as a job. He sees it as an opportunity to pass along what he knows about the game. He soaked up information from the folks in affiliated baseball and he has done the same thing in independent ball.

Besides his current job with the Slammers, Isom’s managing stops have taken him to the Canton (Ohio) Crocodiles, Washington (Pa.) Wild Things, Joliet JackHammers, Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums and Lake Erie (Ohio) Crushers.

In six seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers system, he managed the West Virginia Power, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Brevard County (Fla.) Manatees and Helena (Mont.) Brewers.

As a left-handed pitcher, Isom played for Tony Primavera at Lafayette Jeff then three seasons at Purdue (1991-93) — one for head coach Dave Alexander and two from Steve Green. Isom went 16-4 with five saves and a 3.72 earned run average over his last two Boiler seasons. In 149 1 /3 innings, he struck out 119 and walked 55.

Isom was born in Pullman, Wash., and wound up in West Lafayette when his father was hired at Purdue (Gary Isom is Professor Emeritus of Toxicology in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology).

The southpaw was an all-Big Ten Conference honoree in 1993 along with teammate and future major league Jermaine Allensworth. The Boilermakers were the only college to recruit Isom.

“As a player, (Alexander) instilled discipline in me,” says Isom of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He taught time management skills and how to hold yourself accountable.

“I had to grow up quick.”

Green imparted wisdom and inspiration.

“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without Coach Green,” says Isom. “He’s probably the most influential person I’ve had in my baseball career.”

At age 14, Isom played for a Green-managed Pony League team.

“He taught me how to throw a split-finger fastball (forkball) and my career took off from there,” says Isom. “As a pitching coach/head coach, (Green) instilled a lot of confidence in me. He wanted me to have the baseball in my hand.

“I got drafted because of what he taught me.”

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 18th round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Isom pitched three seasons in the Pirates and San Diego Padres organizations and then four more in indy ball.

While playing in indy ball, he met two managers — Doug Simunic and Andy McCauley — that helped him on what would lead to a career as a manager.

Isom played for Simunic with the independent Northern League’s Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.) RedHawks and was allowed to pick the skipper’s brain.

“I was just trying to learn and he took me under his wing,” says Isom of Simunic, who went on to become the first independent baseball manager to reach 1,000 wins. “I took best from all the managers I had.

“I’m learning everyday.”

MacCauley coached in Fargo-Moorhead and met up with Isom again with the Frontier League’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kodiaks.

Isom was released eight times during his pro playing career. After three starts and three losses for Kalamazoo, he cut himself from the team and headed home only to be called back by MacCauley to be pitching coach. The two men have bounced baseball ideas off each other ever since.

MacCauley has been the manager of the Frontier League’s Evansville (Ind.) Otters since 2010.

Isom’s best friend in baseball, MacCauley was in his wedding (Jeff and former Purdue volleyball player/current Klondike Middle School physical education/health teacher Lisa Isom have two children at Harrison High School in West Lafayette — senior volleyballer Samantha and freshman baseballer Will) and trades between Joliet and Evansville are common.

When school is out, Will travels with the Slammers and sees the effort that goes into being a pro player.

“In independent baseball, you’ve got to put up numbers or there’s going to be changes,” says Isom. “Hard work will pay off.”

When he’s not away managing professionals, Isom can be found back in West Lafayette spending time with his family and teaching private lessons at On Deck Baseball, a business owned by former pro player Josh Loggins.

“I want to see kids get quality coaching,” says Isom, who coached two seasons at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the 1990s.

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Jeff Isom, a graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School and Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., managed the Joliet (Ill.) Slammers to the championship of the independent Frontier League in 2018. (Joliet Slammers Photo)

 

Second baseball coaching stint at Peru rewarding for Brimbury

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chuck Brimbury has enjoyed each stage of his professional life — from teacher and coach to assistant principal to principal to superintendent and then to athletic director along with a return to coach.

Brimbury is really basking in his second go-round as head baseball coach at Peru High School.

“I’ve loved every single job I’ve had in education,” says Brimbury, who also served 15 years as a football coach at Peru, including one as interim head coach. “The more you move up, the farther you seem to be from the kids and the daily guidance of them. I missed coaching. It was huge part of my life.

“I’ve been blessed to get back into it.”

After serving four years as superintendent of Peru Community Schools and helping to earn the district four-star status as one of the best-performing systems in Indiana, he opted in June 2014 to become AD and once again lead the Tigers on the diamond.

Beginning in 1998, Brimbury previously held the job for a decade.

“We had a really good run,” says Brimbury, whose teams were state-ranked in most seasons and had his 2000 squad reach the IHSAA Class 3A Final Four.

Brimbury borrowed methods he learned while serving as an assistant to Don Sherman at Huntington North High School.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer taught him all the intricacies of running a successful baseball operation.

“We believe in holding people to high standards,” says Brimbury. “We get off the bus all looking the same and we stay together. Our top players carry the water cooler. There’s no job too small.”

Peru baseballers wears “Program” on their shirts to remind themselves and everyone else that “the program is more important than any player or any coach.”

Brimbury also uses drills and teaching methods gleaned from Hall of Famers Bill Jones of DeKalb, Bill Nixon of Plymouth and Chris Stavreti of Fort Wayne Northrop as well as the man who won 1,010 games and seven state championships — Ken Schreiber of LaPorte.

It doesn’t have to be a Thursday for the Tigers to throwing it back.

“We’re throwbacks,” says Brimbury. “It’s an old-school approach and our kids thrive off it.

“If you resemble a lot of guys with blue rings you’ll get one for your community one day. If their kids can do it, we can do it. We believe that here. We use a lot of what works.”

In his first season back in charge (2015), Brimbury enjoyed Peru’s first sectional championship since 2000.

When the Mid-Indiana Conference dissolved at the end on the 2014-15 academic school year, the Tigers joined the Three Rivers Conference and have reigned in baseball in their first two seasons in the new league (2016 and 2017).

“It’s a really good small-school conference,” says Brimbury of a conference which also includes Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko. “I really enjoy the competition.”

Brimbury has also savored the ability to build a non-conference which has pitted the Tigers against the best competition from around the state and to a variety of venues.

Peru played Lafayette Central Catholic at Purdue University and both Providence and Rossville at Alexandria-Monroe in 2017 and this year will feature a program first — a southern spring break trip with stops at League Stadium in Huntingburg (where much of the movie “A League of Their Own” was filmed) to play Southridge and games at Muhlenberg County and Christian County in Kentucky.

“I want to make sure these kids have a tremendous experience in their four years at Peru,” says Brimbury. “I like exposing these kids to beautiful places and really good programs.

“Each year our schedule is a little different. We want to get our kids used to playing on the road.”

The idea is to prepare the Tigers for the postseason, which begins in 2018 with the Peru Sectional but another title would mean a trek to the always-tough Griffith Regional.

Getting to Griffith will be no small task. The 3A sectional grouping also features Benton Central, Maconaquah, Northwestern, West Lafayette and Western.

Peru is to play at Indiana State University May 5.

Nolan Brimbury — the oldest of Chuck and Michelle Brimbury’s three children — is a redshirt sophomore infielder for the Indiana State Sycamores.

Tiger Field will also be the site of 2018 Miami County Classic. Two of the three teams that visit Peru feature head coaches with close ties to Brimbury — former assistant Shane Edwards at Oak Hill and former player Troy Hudson at North Miami. Maconaquah rounds out the field for the May 12 all-day event.

“We have an old-time field,” says Brimbury. “It’s beautiful at night. It’s a really good atmosphere for home games.

“It’s one of the better small-school stadiums out there.”

Brimbury’s public address announcer at Tiger Field and assistant at Peru athletic events is Mike Stewart.

Now retired, Stewart was Chuck’s baseball coach at Fountain Central High School who also found his way to “Tiger Town.”

“(Stewart) was passionate about the game,” says Brimbury, who graduated from high school in 1988 and went on to play a little at Marian University in Indianapolis and receive various degrees from Indiana State.

Every Peru game and a weekly coach’s show has been on the radio (thanks to 101.9 FM and broadcasters Bob Stambazze and Doug Muzzillo) and many contests are shown on student-run Tiger TV.

Several players saw significant varsity action last spring, meaning Brimbury welcomes back 17 lettermen.

Among the senior returnees are catcher Nathan Brimbury (Chuck and Michelle’s son and a 2017 IHSBCA Junior Showcase invitee), right-hander Lucas McConahay (the top returning pitcher), outfielders Austin Caldwell and Robert Cunningham, second baseman Kasey Comp, first baseman Christian Gatliff and designated hitter Nathan Ramirez.

Juniors include third baseman Blake Edwards, outfielder D.J. Fuller, catcher Payton Honn and left-handers Chance Ogle and Zach Purcell.

Sophomores in the mix are right-hander/third baseman/shorstop Michael Chandler, outfielder Jonah Hoopenthal, outfielder/shortstop Daunte Majors, middle infielder Dmitry Reese and right-handers Jackson Green and Chase Tyler.

Hitting coach Rob Hileman has been with Brimbury in every season in both of his tenures except one. Jody Beauchamp is the Tigers pitching coach. Shawn Dwyer, Josh Ulrey, Brad Townsend, Gary Loe and strength coach complete the high school staff.

Sixth grader Madison Brimbury (Chuck and Michelle’s daughter) is a baseball student manager.

Michelle Brimbury, who is a special education teacher at PHS, is also team mom.

Feeders for the high school program include a Peru Junior High School team, which is expected to play 12 to 15 games in April and May.

There is also the Peru Cal Ripken League and many players wind up with various travel baseball organizations.

Besides Nolan Brimbury, recent Peru graduates on college baseball rosters include left-handed pitcher Cameron Beauchamp (Indiana University) and right-handers Dexter Shuler (Franklin College) and Sean Smith (Wabash College).

Beauchamp (2016) and Smith (2017) were both IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series participants.

“It’s fulfilling to see our kids playing at some level above high school and we try to keep (former players) a part of our program,” says Brimbury, who regularly welcomes baseball alums from his first Peru head coaching stint into his dugout and is now coaching the sons of some former players. “It’s a long history of former Tiger baseball players.

“We are totally vested in the success of our kids here.”

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The Brimbury family celebrates Peru High School’s 2015 sectional baseball championship (from left): Michelle, Nathan, Nolan, Chuck and Madison. In 2018, Chuck is in the fourth season of his second tenure as head coach. Nathan is a senior catcher. Michelle is team mom. Madison is student manager. Nolan is now a redshirt sophomore at Indiana State University.

Ward, Northwestern Tigers baseball enjoying ‘firsts’

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kokomo, Ind., touts itself as the “City of Firsts” with claims to America’s first commercially-produced automobile and more.

Northwestern High School is enjoying some its own “firsts.”

For the first time, the Tigers have artificial turf on three of their athletic fields — baseball, football and softball.

As Phase 1 of a improvement campaign, a committee of administrators, teachers, parents and community members used grant money to make the upgrades. While not yet determined, a second phase could bring lighted fields and academic improvements.

Fourth-year head baseball coach Ryan Ward got a chance to send his baseball players on the carpet for the first time during fall workouts.

“If it’s warm enough, we can take some kids out there in January and February,” says Ward. “We have the best practice field in the state, especially a school our size (enrollment around 550).”

As the Tigers play their first season on the new-look field in 2018, Ward will continue to assert some other firsts — something he has done since taking over as head coach in 2015 after serving on Kyle Beachy’s staff for the IHSAA Class 3A Twin Lakes Sectional-winning 2014 season.

“We want to play an aggressive style of baseball,” says Ward. “For pitchers, we emphasize first-pitch strikes. As hitters, we look for to drive early in the counts. As baserunners, we will be aggressive. If we make mistakes, they are aggressive mistakes. That’s the brand of ball we’re trying to play.

Ward knows it’s not always easy teenagers to make the right catch, throw and tag in the heat of the moment, so he is going to have his players force the issue.

“We’ve got to keep empowering the kids on our team,” says Ward. “The more we can force our opponents to do, the better chance they are going to make mistakes and give ourselves a better chance to win.”

Ward graduated from Hickory High School in Hermitage, Pa. (about 75 miles northwest of Pittsburgh), in 2009.

Gary Hinkson was Ward’s high school coach. He saw the potential for Ward to go into the profession.

“He gave me that encouragement and motivation,” says Ward of Hinkson, who would win 301 games at Hickory from 1994-2015. “He treated us (players) like we were major leaguers. We carried on the expectations that he set for us.”

In Ward’s sophomore season (2007), the Hickory Hornets won their first Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 10 title in 10 years, repeated the feat the next spring and lost in the district championship game in 2009.

At Northwestern, Ward prepares his Tigers for competition in the Hoosier Conference and athletic director and former Northwestern baseball coach Dan Armstrong schedules many other teams in the Kokomo and Lafayette areas.

The HC is split into two divisions — Northwestern, Cass, Hamilton Heights, Tipton and Western in the East and Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Rensselaer Central, Twin Lakes and West Lafayette in the West.

Teams play all the schools in their division in home-and-home series on Wednesdays and Thursdays with crossover games at the end. The top teams in each division square off the title with East Division No. 2 facing West Division No. 2 and so on.

Ward, who counts Jeff Trueblood and Dan Butcher as assistant coaches for 2018, gears his pitching staff toward conference games.

“We have our Wednesday starter and Thursday starter,” says Ward. “It helps pitchers get into a routine and guys are working to be a conference starters.”

In 2017, the IHSAA implemented 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).

“I love the intent of the rules,” says Ward. “It’s putting the focus on the health of the athlete. I’d like to see better communication on how we execute the rule between coaches, umpires and the IHSAA.

“Wow do we keep improving it?”

Northwestern doesn’t have to look far to see the future of its program since the Northwestern Youth Baseball League (T-ball through major baseball) is housed on school grounds and seventh and eighth grade teams play 15 to 20 games in the spring on the varsity field. Truebood, a Northwestern graduate who played college baseball, is NYBL president. Joel Downey and Bruce Smith are middle school coaches.

“From the time they’re 6, they think about wearing purple one day,” says Ward. “They are coming back as alumni. We’re putting the focus on the Northwestern school district and those relationships.”

Many high school-age Tigers play in the summer for travel teams or Kokomo American Legion Post 6.

Ward went to Butler University with the idea of playing baseball, but was cut in his freshman year. He still respects then-Bulldogs head coach Steve Farley as a mentor.

“He was honest with me,” says Ward, who earned a degree from Butler in 2013 and began teaching fifth grade at Northwestern Elementary that fall. Ryan and wife Katelyn, a 2008 Kokomo High School graduate and third grade teacher in Kokomo schools at Lafayette Park International Elementary, were wed in September 2016 and live in the Northwestern district.

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Ryan Ward and wife, Katelyn, are both elementary school teachers — Ryan in the Northwestern district, Katelyn in Kokomo. Ward is entering his fourth season as Northwestern High School head baseball coach in 2018.