Tag Archives: West Virginia

Spencer wants Sheridan Blackhawks to be ‘all-conference’ teammates

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Adam Spencer has learned that if you want to make a leader you let someone take the lead.
If you went them to be a valuable part of the group you show them how.
Spencer, the head baseball coach at Sheridan (Ind.) High School since 2017, defines his role.
“I’m a developer of men,” says Spencer, who is also a sixth grade math teacher and activities director at Sheridan Middle School (he earned an Elementary Education degree from Ball State University in 1998 and about a decade later at Masters in Education from Indiana Wesleyan University). “Everybody wants to win. I want to help make good fathers, good husbands, good friends.
“We talk about being an all-conference teammate. These are things we don’t have stats on.”
Through the years of coaching youth sports, Spencer has gotten to the point where players are asked to take charge in certain areas.
“Early on I never gave anybody leadership roles,” says Spencer. “Our guys run our drills (supervised by coaches). We put our upperclassmen in leadership roles.”
The baseball team is also involved in community service.
“We try to help others if we can,” says Spencer, whose players have raked leaves, pulled weeds and even helped the Sheridan Historical Society move across Main Street (S.R. 38).
Spencer is a 1993 Sheridan graduate. He did not play baseball or basketball in high school though he as a big fan of the sport. His father passed away when Adam was in elementary school and he worked during the winter and spring.
He did play football at Sheridan for Hall of Famer Larry “Bud” Wright and was on an IHSAA state championship team in 1992.
His love of baseball led Spencer to the Indianapolis Umpire Association and he officiated games for 17 years.
As his children got older (Adam and wife of 21 years, Lindsay, have four sons), he got involved in coaching at the middle school level.
At Lebanon (Ind.) High School, Spencer was on the football staffs of Lance Scheib and Kent Wright.
Years later, Matt Britt gave him the chance to coach middle school baseball at Sheridan. Some of those players were on the 2019 Blackhawks team that went 14-6 and lost to eventual Carroll (Flora) Regional champion Rossville in the Class 1A Sheridan Sectional championship.
Spencer was pitching coach for Larry Lipker for a season before taking over as head coach.
Sheridan (enrollment around 330) is a member of the Hoosier Heartland Conference (with Carroll of Flora, Clinton Central, Clinton Prairie, Delphi, Eastern of Greentown, Rossville, Taylor and Tri-Central).
In 2022, HHC teams will play one another on Tuesdays and Thursdays with some Saturday doubleheaders. In 2013, there will be 11 conference games included a seeded end-of-season tournament.
In 2021, the Blackhawks were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Clinton Central, Frontier (the 2021 host), Rossville, South Newton and Tri-County. Sheridan has won its lone sectional title in 2004.
Sheridan plays its home games on Kent Harris Field (named after a former Blackhawks baseball coach).
In the fall, Blake Marschand-owned Marschand’s Athletic Field Service laser-graded the diamond and there was no Limited Contact Period activity. Spencer says there might have been five athletes involved that don’t play football or another fall sport at Sheridan. Spencer also coaches middle school football.
Through a partnership formed between Spencer and Michael Tucker, Sheridan hosts some Bullpen Tournaments games and has access to the turf diamonds at Grand Park in nearby Westfield, Ind.
Spencer’s assistant baseball coaches are Sheridan alum Adam Durr and Ryan Conley, whom he met from IUA.
Sam Crail (Class of 2017) played at Indiana University and then went to Saint Leo (Fla.) University.
Zach Mannies (Class of 2018) played at Ancilla College and then West Liberty (W.Va.) University.
Cameron Hovey (Class of 2021) is on the baseball and football teams at Manchester University.
Spencer sees college baseball potential in current seniors Gavin Reners and Silas DeVaney if they should pursue that path.
“(Reners and DeVaney) will be the leaders of our team (in 2022),” says Spencer.
Caine Spencer played for his father at the end of his middle school and high school baseball days and is now a 21-year-old junior at Ball State.
Adam and Lindsay’s other three boys — sophomore Camden (16), eighth grader Chance (14) and fifth grader Crew (11) – are also baseball players.
Feeders for Sheridan High School baseball are a Sheridan Babe Ruth League team of seventh and eighth graders that play in the late spring and into the summer plus young players in Sheridan Community Recreation Inc. (SCRI).
A middle school baseball camp introduces players to the ways and the language used at Sheridan High School.
“I’m invested in the program at every level,” says Spencer.

Adam Durr (left) and Adam Spencer.
Adam Spencer, Cole Macintosh and Camden Spencer.
Adam Spencer and Sheridan, Ind., youth baseball players.
Adam Spencer.
Shirley Delph (stripes) with the Spencers (clockwise) — Lindsay, Caine, Adam, Chance, Chase and Crew,
The Spencers (from left): Chance, Adam, Caine, Camden, Crew and Lindsay.
Adam Spencer surrounded by sons Caine and Chance, Camden and Crew.

Rockport wins 11th Indiana American Legion Baseball championship

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For the 11th time, Rockport Post 254 toted away the hardware.
Rockport beat Crawfordsville Post 72 by a 4-2 count in the Indiana American Legion Baseball Senior State Finals championship game.
The contest was staged Tuesday, July 27 at CFD Investment Stadium at Highland Park in Kokomo and closed out a five-day run for the eight-team double-elimination tournament.
Rockport (20-7) came out of the winners’ bracket, meaning that losers’ bracket survivor Crawfordsville (20-12) had to win twice to earn its first state crown and instead took home its first runner-up trophy.
Post 254 and Post 72 advanced to the championship game with wins in Monday’s semifinals.
With the state crown, Rockport moves on to the Great Lakes Regional Wednesday through Sunday, Aug. 4-8 at Dale Miller Field in Morgantown, W.Va.
Besides the Indiana champion, there will be state title-takers from Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia.
Eight regional winners advance to the American Legion Baseball World Series Thursday through Monday, Aug. 12-16 on Veterans Field at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, N.C.
Post 254 prevailed Tuesday by staying away from the big Post 72 inning.
“That’s been one of the secrets of this bunch,” said Rockport manager Jim Haaf, who has been involved with all 11 state titles. “They overcome and they did it several times today.”
Crawfordsville plated one run in the top of the seventh inning.
Drew Bradley (2021 Danville Community High School) led off with a walk.
With two outs, Post 254 right-handed starter Jake Stuteville (South Spencer Class of 2021) reached the 105-pitch count limit (he finished with 107 while finishing a batter) was spelled by right-hander Reece Davis (Perry Central Class of 2021), who yielded a single to center from George Valencia (Fountain Central Class of 2020) that plated Bradley then coaxed a championship-clinching infield pop-up.
“I trusted my fastball,” said Stuteville, who struck out six, walked three and gave up five hits and two runs in his 5 1/3 innings. “It was moving.
“I just had confidence in myself.”
Rockport scored one run in the sixth for a 4-1 lead.
Right-hander Landen Southern (Clinton Prairie Class of 2021) reached the pitch limit (he tossed 109 while being allowed to finish a batter) and was relieved by Bradley with the bases loaded and two outs after a pair of Southern strikeouts.
Bradley walked Ashton Tindle (South Spencer Class of 2022) to force in Bren Miller (Tell City Class of 2021), who led off the inning with a single to left) and the frame ended with a strikeout.
Southern gave up four runs and seven hits with seven strikeouts and three walks in 5 2/3 innings.
There were runners at first and second base against Stuteville at the close of the Post 72 sixth.
“It’s rough,” said four-year Crawfordsville manager Kyle Proctor, who saw his team strand eight runners, including four in scoring position. “I think we could have won the championship, but they beat us the first time and put us in the losers’ bracket, making it a lot tougher.”
Jacob Braun (North Montgomery Class of 2021) rapped a one-out single to left and Matthew Harris (Tri-West Hendricks Class of 2021) drew a walk before an inning-ending forceout and third base off the bat of Zach Fichter (Crawfordsville Class of 2021).
The Rockport fifth ended with a defensive gem. Post 72 first baseman Cade Walker (Seeger Class of 2021) made a diving catch of a line drive by Jackson Raaf (South Spencer Class of 2022) and threw to shortstop Owen Gregg (North Montgomery Class of 2020) to double off Jalen Johnson (South Spencer Class of 2022), who had reached on an error and stolen second base. Southern was on the mound for Crawfordsville.
Stuteville worked his way in and out of a jam in a scoreless Crawfordsville fifth.
With one out. Fichter was hit by a pitch, Bradley reached on an error and Austin Motz (Crawfordsville Class of 2022) walked to lead the bases before Stuteville got a strikeout and fly-out to end the threat.
“Our pitcher got squared away,” said Haaf. “Then we made some plays and began to hit the ball a little bit.”
Rockport went down 1-2-3 against Southern in the fourth with swinging strikeout, pop-up and looking strikeout.
Post 72 sent four batters to the plate against Stuteville in a score-free fourth and left Braun at first base following a two-out single to left.
Rockport went scorless against Southern in the third.
Crawfordsville turned a double play for the first two outs — shortstop Gregg to sprawling first baseman Walker.
The inning ended when Crawfordsville left fielder Ficther took away a hit from Diond’re Jacob (Tell City Class of 2021). Fichter made a dive and catch heading toward the fence.
Crawfordsville went down in order against Stuteville in the third with a fly-out, groundout and strikeout.
Post 254 went up 3-1 with two runs in the second.
Wes Scamehorn (Perry Central Class of 2021) drew a lead-off walk and scored on a two-run home run by Houston Compton (South Spencer Class of 2022).
The blast to left came on a 3-2 delivery from Southern that concluded an at-bat where Compton fouled off three pitches.
Post 72 pulled even at 1-1 with a run against Stuteville in the second.
Braun lashed a lead-off double to left, moved to second on a single to left by Walker and scored on a fielder’s choice forceout by Harris.
The frame ended with Rockville catcher Raaf firing to second baseman Johnson to cut down Harris attempting to steal.
Rockport scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the first.
Raaf drew a one-out walk from Southern and later scored on a single to center by Davis.
Southern struck out the side in Crawfordsville first.
Crawfordsville’s roster was full of older players so Proctor expects a different look next summer.
“We scout in the spring and see which players can join us,” says Proctor. “We play for everything. (Players) don’t pay anything.”
Indiana crowned its first American Legion Baseball state champion in 1926.

INDIANA AMERICAN LEGION
SENIOR STATE FINALS
(At Kokomo)

Championship
ROCKPORT POST 254 4,
CRAWFORDSVILLE POST 72 2

Crawfordsville 010 000 1 — 2 6 2
Rockport 120 001 x — 4 7 1
Landen Southern (L), Drew Bradley (6); Jake Stuteville (W), Reece Davis (7, S).
Crawfordsville: Hits — Jacob Braun 3, Owen Gregg 1, George Valencia 1, Cade Walker 1. 2B — Braun. RBI — Valencia 1, Matthew Harris 1. Runs — Braun, Bradley. LOB — 8.
Rockport: Hits — Davis 3, Bren Miller 2, Jackson Raaf 1, Houston Compton 1. HR — Compton. 2B — Davis. RBI — Compton 2, Davis 1, Ashton Tindle 1. Runs — Raaf 1, Compton 1, Miller 1, Wes Scamahorn 1. SB — Davis, Jalen Johnson. LOB — 5. T — 2:08.
Records: Rockport 21-11, Crawfordsville 20-12.

Rockport Post 254 won the 2021 Indiana American Legion Baseball state title in the senior division. (Steve Krah Photo)

Arsenal making its mark on Indiana travel baseball

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Arsenal Indiana is expanding for the 2021-22 travel baseball season.
The affiliate of Arsenal USA Baseball is to go with 12U, 13U, 14U and 15U squads in its third season.
“Within two or three years I want to have teams from 12U through 17U,” says Arsenal Indiana director Jeff Cleckner. “I want to have one team at each age group and be very competitive.
“I don’t want to water down the brand with seven 15U teams.”
Cleckner, a graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School (1989) and Purdue University living in Fishers, Ind., says the focus is on skill development at the younger levels and that the older ones grow their mental approach to the game as they prepare for college baseball.
But first the current campaign where Arsenal is fielding a 17U team with Cleckner as head coach and Arsenal Indiana director and a 14U squad guided by Steve Smitherman. In 2020, 16U and 13U teams took the field for the organization.
Playing six weekends of seven — starting with the first one in June — the 17U team has competed or will take part in events sponsored by Prep Baseball Report, Perfect Game and Bullpen Tournaments.
The team placed second during the holiday weekend at the PBR Indiana State Games at Championship Park in Kokomo. The 17U’s were 22-9-1 through 30 games.
The season wraps with the Perfect Game 17U BCS National Championship July 21-26 at Major League Baseball spring training fields in Fort Myers, Fla. All the other tournaments have been staged at Grand Park in Westfield.
“It’s nice with Grand Park,” says Cleckner of the large complex in central Indiana. “Everyone comes to us.”
High schools represented on the 17U roster include Avon, Fishers, Harrison (West Lafayette), Heritage Christian, Huntington North, Indianapolis Cathedral, Indianapolis North Central, Noblesville, Penn, Plainfield, South Adams, Wapahani, Wawasee, Westfield and Zionsville in Indiana and Edwardsburg in Michigan.
Since the older teams can play as many as seven games in five days, there are often a number of pitcher-only players (aka P.O.’s).
“It’s nice to have P.O.’s,” says Cleckner. “We can supplement as needed with position players.
“We’re mindful of arm care and arm health.”
The 14U Arsenal Indiana team began in early April and will play until mid-July and could easily get in 60 games in 3 1/2 months. The 14U team plays in same types of tournaments that the 17U teams plays at Grand Park in Westfield.
Arsenal Indiana tryouts are planned for late July or early August, likely at Grand Park.
A fall season of four or five weekends features a trip to the Perfect Game WWBA 2022/2023 National Championship Oct. 7-11 in Jupiter, Fla., for the upperclassmen.
“The goal of the fall season is getting a little more work going into the winter,” says Cleckner. “You have new kids who’ve joined your team and you’re creating some chemistry and camaraderie.”
The fall also provides more college looks for older players.
Arsenal Indiana trains in the off-season at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville.
What is now Arsenal USA Baseball was began in 1995 by Joe Barth Jr. and son Bob Barth as the Tri-State Arsenal with players from southern New Jersey, Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania. Besides USA National in New Jersey, there are affiliate locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
Many professionals and college players have come through the Arsenal program.

Arsenal Indiana’s Grant Brooks, a Butler University commit.
Arsenal Indiana’s Trey Dorton.
Arsenal Indiana first baseman Riley Behrmann.
Arsenal Indiana’s Joe Huffman.
Arsenal Indiana’s Jake Gothrup.
Arsenal Indiana’s Evan Jensen scores a run.
Arsenal Indiana’s Connor Ostrander, a Western Michigan University commit.
Arsenal Indiana’s Braden Gendron.
Arsenal Indiana catcher A.J. Dull.
Arsenal Indiana’s 17U with tournament hardware earned in 2021.
Coach/director Jeff Cleckner addresses his Arsenal Indiana 17U team at a tournament at Kokomo’s Championship Park. (Steve Krah Photo)

Crull sees maturity, speed as assets for Centerville Bulldogs

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A number of factors have combined to get Centerville (Ind.) Senior High School baseball off to a strong start in 2021.

One of them is time.

“I think it’s maturity,” says Bulldogs head coach Tracey Crull as his team took 13-2 mark into its May 4 home game against Union City. “We started five freshmen and a sophomore two years ago and we took our lumps.

“Then we took a year off for COVID, but the boys kept playing travel ball.”

Centerville players also added muscle and athleticism.

“We’ve got amazing weight training program led by our football coach Kyle Padgett,” says Crull. “These boys have bought into it and become bigger and stronger.

“Our overall team speed is a strength.”

With that asset, the Class 2A No. 5-ranked Bulldogs often turn singles and walks into doubles and doubles become triples.

“We put pressure on other teams,” says Crull. “These kids hit the ball really well and we have some really good arms. We’ve got six kids who throw 82 (mph) plus. That’s a luxury at the high school level.”

Centerville owns a team batting average around .380 with a combined earned run average near 2.00.

“Those two combinations are pretty lethal,” says Crull, who has been the Bulldogs head coach since 2013 after 12 seasons as an assistant to Mike Baumer. “Coach B was very even-keeled. He never got bent out of shape. 

“We kept everybody calm in difficult situations.”

Senior Cameron Newman has committed to continue his academic and baseball careers at NCAA Division III Elmhurst (Ill.) University.

A 1988 Centerville graduate, Crull played left field for Bill Richardson.

“He was absolutely no-nonsense,” says Crull. “He would say, ‘play the game’ (the way it’s supposed to be played).

“I say that to the boys a lot — just play the game.”

Assisting Tracey Crull this spring are brother Scott Crull plus Jason Searcy, Blake Babcock, Jeremy Blake, Steve Frye, Logan Moistner, Jason Martintoni.

Scott Crull played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Lloyd Michael at Hagerstown, where he graduated in 1995 and Tracey watched the Tigers play.

Searcy, Babcock, Blake and Moistner are all former Centerville players — the first three for Richardson and the last for Crull. Frye is a 1979 graduate of Frankfort High School in West Virginia. Martintoni played for a University of Indianapolis team that placed third at the NCAA Division II national tournament.

Born in Richmond, Ind., Tracey Crull grew up in Centerville, attended Indiana University-Bloomington and Indiana University East (Richmond) and earned a masters degree at Ball State University. He began teaching at Centerville 20 years ago. He is a business educator for the junior high and high school.

Located in Wayne County, Centerville (enrollment around 520) is a member of the Tri-Eastern Conference (with Cambridge City Lincoln, Hagerstown, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester Community). Each team plays each other one time.

The Bulldogs are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Hagerstown, Northeastern, Shenandoah and Union County. Centerville is a 2021 sectional host. The Bulldogs have won seven sectional titles— the last in 2011.

In 2021, there are 25 players for varsity and junior varsity games.

Centerville plays on a lighted on-campus diamond that received a brick and betting backstop and a 10-inning LED scoreboard a few years back.

Pre-COVID, the Bulldogs had a team in the East Central Indiana Junior High Baseball League ran by Wapahani’s Brian and Jason Dudley.

Also feeding the CSHS program are the Centerville Youth League (T-ball through seventh grade). All current varsity players are involved with travel ball.

Centerville (Ind.) Senior High School head baseball coach Tracey Crull. (DAJO Photo)

Thurston now leading Southwestern Rebels on diamond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nearly a decade after guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Thurston is back in that role.

Hired as School Resource Officer at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Ind., in January 2020, he became Rebels head baseball coach around mid-year.

Thurston was head coach at nearby Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School 2009-11 while also serving as D.A.R.E officer in the junior high. He resigned as baseball coach when he became chief of the City of Madison Police Department.

Meanwhile, he headed up Long Toss Indiana LLC and the Indiana Rawlings Tigers LLC, helping players with arm care and Mental Toughness Training.

A few years ago, Thurston sold the businesses as a package. He was invited by head coach Grant Bellak to join the Hanover College coaching staff and had spent 2019 and 2020 with the Panthers when the opportunities came along at Southwestern.

“One thing I really enjoyed about Hanover was the personal interaction with players,” says Thurston, who played tennis, basketball and baseball at Mooresville (Ind.) High School and baseball at Hanove. “They knew where they were in life and where they were going to go. They were thankful to play more baseball. But it’s probably not going to be their profession after college.

“I learned so much in the last two years about how to run a program and how to run a practice. I think I’ll be a much better coach than I was before.”

As SRO, Thurston estimates that he spends more than half his time on relationships with the rest split between counseling and his law enforcement duties.

Until becoming coach, he got to know students as people and not as athletes. 

Thurston took the coaching job in time to lead a few summer workouts in June and then guided IHSAA Limited Contact Period activities in the fall.

“It was intrasquad games, (batting practice), infield drills and arm care. We did long toss to stretch arms out,” says Thurston. “Looking back on it, it more about me getting to the know the kids and the program and them getting to know me and my style.

“My style has evolved over the years. At Madison — to a fault — I was a little bit of a control freak. Now I have really good assistants and I expect them to coach.”

Thurston’s Rebels staff includes Ethan Leach, Brian Crank and Brendon Bump.

Leach played at Madison Consolidated and Indiana University Southeast. Crank, who is dean of students and junior varsity boys basketball coach at Southwestern, played at Franklin (Ind.) College an was a JV coach for Thurston at Madison. Pitching coach Bump took the mound for Marshall University (Huntington, W.Va.) and was on Shayne Stock’s Hanover coaching staff.

Winter conditioning began at Southwestern last week. Thurston expects around 22 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring.

Southwestern (enrollment around 375) is a member of the Ohio River Valley Conference (with Jac-Cen-Del, Milan, Rising Sun, Shawe Memorial, South Ripley and Switzerland County).

ORVC teams play each other twice on a home-and-home basis.

Though it may not happen in 2021, Thurston says he would like those games to come in the same week.

“That avoids team having one really good pitcher to space out their conference games and pitch the same kid in every game,” says Thurston. “You get more of a true team conference champion.”

Super ATV Field, located on the Southwestern campus, has a turfed home plate area. A new scoreboard — never used with the cancellation of the 2020 season — is expected to be in-place for the Rebels’ first home game of 2021.

Thurston says there’s talk of lighting the field and expanding the dugouts.

“Of course that comes down to that almighty dollar,” says Thurston.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Milan, North Decatur, South Decatur, South Ripley and Switzerland County. Southwestern’s lone sectional title came in 1999.

The Madison Cubs are on the Rebels’ schedule. Southwestern has never beaten Madison in varsity baseball. When the Rebels won the Class 2A Jeffersonville Regional in 1999, the Cubs and Indiana Mr. Baseball Bryan Bullington won the 3A state championship.

“I’m going to be low key,” says Thurston of this spring’s Southwestern-Madison meeting. “I’m going to treat it just like any other game.

“There’s no pressure for us to win.”

Thurston is also a regional scout for SportsForce Baseball — a recruiting service that helps players find the best fit at the college level.

Last summer, he was able to help athletes while serving as a tournament director for Pastime Tournaments

“I often tell players to take baseball out of the equation,” says Thurston. “Is it the right fit academically, financially and socially? Is it the right distance from home and the right size of school?

“Check all the other boxes first. If baseball is important to you, let’s go somewhere we can play. Some are OK with being the program guy.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic has come extra years of eligibility for college players. Thurston says his gut tells him that it may be until 2023 before the trickle-down effect that hits younger college players — and even high schoolers — settles down.

There has traditionally been youth baseball run by the Hanover parks department. Southwestern schedules up to 20 games in the spring for its junior team of seventh and eighth graders.

Recent Southwestern graduate Bailey Elliott is on the baseball roster at Vincennes (Ind.) University. Thurston says he expects the Rebels to produce more college players in the next few years.

Dan and wife Jackie Thurston will be married 32 years in March. The couple has three children — Trey (29), Ryan (26) and Trisha (22).

Trey Thurston is in veterinary school at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.

Left-handed pitcher Ryan Thurston played at Madison Consolidated and Western Kentucky University and in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He was with the independent Chicago Dogs and Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2019 and is expected to be back with that club in 2021. Gary did not field a team in 2020 and Thurston went with the indy Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and Winnipeg Goldeyes.

University of Cincinnati graduate Trisha Thurston works for Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati.

Dan Thurston was an assistant baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College in 2019 and 2020. He is now head coach at Southwestern High School in Hanover.
Dan Thurston is the head baseball coach at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Ind., and a regional scout for SportsForce Baseball. He was head coach at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School 2009-11 and the formerly owned Long Toss Indiana LLC and Indiana Rawlings Tigers LLC.

Keeran to manage Lafayette Aviators at new Loeb Stadium in ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Corn is not involved. But there’s a kind of a reverse “Field of Dreams” thing going on in Lafayette, Ind.

“If You Build It, He Will Come” — in this case — refers to Michael Keeran.

A new Loeb Stadium is being built for the Lafayette Aviators baseball team. After discussions with owner Bill Davidson, Iowa native Keeran has been named as field manager for 2021.

Keeran, a 2012 graduate of Clear Lake (Iowa) High School and the holder of two degrees from Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa (a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Masters in Organizational Leadership with a Sport Management emphasis), welcomes the chance to bring his wife closer to family while also moving up in the baseball world.

“My wife is from Centralia, Ill.,” says Keeran. “I’ve coached near by hometown the past couple summers. (With the Aviators,) I get to coach in a very good league and I get two birds with one stone.”

Michael and Kaitlin Keeran are expecting their first child in December. Centralia is 220 miles from Lafayette and Kaitlin will be able to spend time there and also visit her husband.

“I always wanted to go to a bigger league. It’ll be a brand new stadium and a very good franchise. I thought it would be a good fit.”

The Prospect League is a 14-team college wooden bat summer circuit with teams in Indiana (Lafayette Aviators and Terre Haute Rex), Illinois (Alton River Dragons, Danville Dans, DuPage Pistol Shrimp, Normal CornBelters, Quincy Gems and Springfield Sliders), Ohio (Champion City Kings and Chillicothe Paints), Missouri (Cape Catfish and O’Fallon Hoots), Pennsylvania (Johnstown Mill Rats) and West Virginia (West Virginia Miners).

While 2021 Aviators assistant coaches have been consulted, the official word of their hiring is yet to come.

Keeran managed Pioneer Collegiate Baseball League champions in 2018 and 2019 — the Albert Lea (Minn.) Lakers followed by the Bancroft (Iowa) Bandits.

After one season as an assistant at Valley City (N.D.) State University (NAIA), Keeran became head coach at Bismarck (N.D.) State College (National Junior College Athletic Association Division II) for the 2020 season. The Mystics had played two games and were in Arizona to play 10 or 11 more when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the season to be halted.

“We were on a bus for 60 or 70 hours,” says Keeran. “It was awful.

“It’s tough to tell a bunch of young men that their season is over and it has nothing to do with wins or losses.”

While they could have taken an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Keeran encouraged his second-year players from 2020 to take their associate degrees and go to a four-year school.

“It’s not ethically right to hold on to those sophomores,” says Keeran. “I didn’t see the point. You’ve got your degree, now move on.

“We have a very new group (in 2020-21) and we’re very talented.”

With players taking a hybrid class schedule (some in-person and some online), Bismarck State played  few games this fall against four-year schools.

“We treated it like a test for what it’s going to be like in the spring with temperature checks and protocols,” says Keeran.

As a outfielder and pitcher, Keeran played four seasons at Waldorf while also beginning his coaching career. 

Since high school baseball in Iowa is a summer sport, Keeran was able to play college ball and be on the Clear Lake coaching staff for four seasons (2013-16) and helped the Lions win three state titles (2013 in 3A, 2015 in 2A and 2016 in 2A).

“It was pretty cool to be coach at a young age and be mentored,” says Keeran. “Baseball should be played in the summer when it’s warm. That’s why I like coaching in the summer.

“It feels so authentic.”

Keeran says a typical high school gameday would involve batting practice and field preparation around 1 p.m. and the players would come back for a 5:30 p.m. junior varsity game, followed by the varsity.

“It gives kids a chance to work morning jobs in the summer and they don’t have to worry about the stress of class,” says Keeran. “It gives athletes a chance to do other sports. One of my best friends was a four-sport athlete (football in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring and baseball in the summer).”

While the pandemic wiped out high school baseball last spring in Indiana, there was season in Iowa. Four 2020 state champions were crowned Aug. 1 in Des Moines. 

In 2021, the Iowa High School Athletic Association has set the first practice date for May 3 with first of 40 allowed contest dates May 24 and state tournament concluding July 31. Showcase leagues ran by Prep Baseball Report and Perfect Game are typically conducted in the spring.

The 2020 baseball season was the first for head coach Michael Keeran at Bismarck (N.D.) State College, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II school. In the summer of 2021, he is to manage the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. (Bismarck State College Photo)
Michael Keeran, a graduate of Clear Lake High School and Waldorf University in Iowa and the head coach at Bismarck State College in North Dakota, has been named field manager for the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League in 2021. (Lafayette Aviators Photo)

Lowery fondly recalls Maloney’s first tenure at Ball State

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Maloney has been a head coach in college baseball coach for 24 seasons with 22 campaigns of 30 wins or more and 832 total victories.

Maloney has developed dozens players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

John Lowery Jr. was there at the beginning, serving as assistant coach to Maloney throughout his first stint at Ball State University and two seasons into his tenure at the University of Michigan.

Lowery, who was the West Virginia high school player of the year in 1988 and four-year right-handed pitcher at the University of Minnesota, was in his third season of coaching collegians when Maloney was hired at BSU in the summer of 1995.

After finishing his playing career, Lowery was on Joe Carbone’s staff at Ohio University heading into the 1995 season when Mike Gibbons left the Ball State staff to pursue a scouting job and Pat Quinn, a good friend of Carbone, was looking for a pitching coach for what turned out to be Quinn’s final coaching season. Lowery was hired in January.

When Maloney, who had been an assistant at Western Michigan University, was named Cardinals head coach he inherited Lowery.

“He gets his first head coaching job at 30 years old and he has to keep an assistant for a year,” says Lowery, who was in attendance at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville. “He was open-minded about it but he told me you need to be able to recruit and evaluate players and you’ve got to be loyal.

“We did have some good players over the years.”

While Lowery was on the BSU staff, the Cardinals produced four players that went on to be drafted in the first round — right-handed pitcher Bryan Bullington (No. 1 overall by  Pittsburgh in 2002), outfielder Larry Bigbie (No. 21 overall by Baltimore in 1999) and left-handers Luke Hagerty (No. 32 overall by the Chicago Cubs in 2002) and Jeff Urban (No. 41 overall by the San Francisco Giants in 1998).

Hagerty hails from Defiance, Ohio. The rest are Indiana high school products — Bullington from Madison Consolidated, Bigbie from Hobart and Urban from Alexandria-Monroe.

There was also catcher Jonathan Kessick (third round to Baltimore in 1999), right-handers Justin Wechsler (fourth round to Arizona in 2001) and Paul Henry (seventh round to Baltimore in 2002) and left-hander Jason Hickman (eighth round to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000). Wechsler prepped at Pendelton Heights.

In addition, MLB came calling in the first 20 rounds for left-hander Sam McConnell (11th round Pittsburgh in 1997), catcher Doug Boone (15th round to the Florida Marlins in 2001 and 36th round to the New York Yankees in 2002), left-hander Adam Sheefel (17th round to Cincinnati in 2000), right-hander Bruce Stanley (18th round to Kansas City in 1997) and shortstop Shayne Ridley (19th round to Baltimore in 2000).

Tapping into Indiana high school resources, Boone went to Providence and Stanley Shenandoah.

“He was definitely energetic,” says Lowery of a young Maloney. He was about getting after it. That’s for sure.

“He was aggressive. He could recruit. He understood projectability of players. That’s why he had so many first-rounders. He could look at guys who were sort of under-valued. We can do this, this and this with this kid and he has a chance to be pretty good.”

Lowery says Bullington was undervalued because he was such a good basketball player. He just hadn’t played a lot of baseball.

“For whatever reason he chose to play baseball instead of basketball in college even though his father (Larry Bullington) is one of the best basketball players ever to play at Ball State,” says Lowery. “(Bryan Bullington) really got good at the end of his senior year (of high school in 1999) to the point that he was offered to sign (by Kansas City) and did not.

In three seasons at BSU, Bullington went 29-11 with 357 strikeouts in 296 2/3 innings was selected No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates with a $4,000,000 signing bonus.

Lowery recalls that Hagerty’s parents moved into a smaller house so he could come to Ball State. He ended up being a first-round “sandwich” pick.

Urban was a 6-8 southpaw who got better.

“He could always throw strikes but he couldn’t throw very hard,” says Lowery of Urban. “All of a sudden, he got a lot stronger, did a lot of long toss and started throwing in the lower 90s.”

Urban was also first-round “sandwich” pick.

In their seven campaigns together in Muncie, Lowery and Maloney were part of 256 wins along with three Mid-American Conference titles and four MAC West crowns.

Lowery followed Maloney to Ann Arbor and those first two Wolverines teams won 64 contests and placed in the top three in the Big Ten Conference.

Top MLB draftees during those two years were Indianapolis Cathedral product Jake Fox (third round to the Chicago Cubs in 2003, Carmel graduate Jim Brauer (ninth round to Florida in 2005), Derek Feldkamp (ninth round to Tampa Bay Rays in 2005) and Brock Koman (ninth round to Houston in 2003).

“He’s a great communicator,” says Lowery of Maloney. “He has a vision. He’s intense.

“Kids like to play for him.”

At the end of his second season at Michigan, John and Tricia Lowery had three children under 6 — Abbee, Beau and Brooks — and he decided to leave college coaching and went back to West Virginia.

Lowery has a unique distinction. He turned 50 in 2019 and his high school and college head coaches — father John Lowery Sr. (a founder of the West Virginia High School Baseball Coaches Association and WVHSBCA Hall of Famer) at Jefferson High School in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va. and John Anderson at Minnesota — are still serving in the same positions as when he played for them.

For seven seasons, Lowery was head coach at Martinsburg High School. The Bulldogs’ arch rivals are the Jefferson Cougars, coached by his father.

Martinsburg won a state title in 2009 and Jefferson bested Martinsburg on the way to a state crown in 2011. The Lowerys won a state championship together when John Jr., was a player.

The younger Lowery, who now teaches at Jefferson, coached travel ball and softball on and off the next few years then became head baseball coach for four years at Mercersburg Academy, a boarding school in south central Pennsylvania that is about 40 miles from Martinsburg.

Last spring, he traveled often to see Beau Lowery play as a walk-on left-handed pitcher at West Virginia University.

How did Lowery end up going from the Mountaineer State to Minnesota?

Rob Fornasiere, who ended up as a Golden Gophers assistant for 33 years, was a good friend of Bernie Walter, who coached Denny Neagle at Arundel High School in Gambrills, Md., and had gotten the pitcher to come to play at Minnesota.

Fornasiere was at the 1987 Olympic Festival watching Dan Wilson and John Lowery Sr., approaches him to say that his son is talented and would consider playing for the Gophers.

“To Rob’s credit, he didn’t blow my father off,” says Lowery. “Rob was always very organized. At another recruiting even later that year, John Anderson saw me play. I was good enough.”

His first recruiting visit was also his first time on an airplane. He attended Game 7 of the 1987 World Series (St. Louis Cardinals at Minnesota Twins).

In the lunch room, Lowery sat the lunch room at the table next to Reggie Jackson (who was on the ABC broadcast crew).

In his four seasons at Minnesota, Lowery played with six future big leaguers — Neagle, Wilson, Jim Brower, Brent Gates, Kerry Lightenberg and Brian Raabe.

Lowery spent a short time in the Giants organization at Everett, Wash., and Clinton, Iowa, after signing for $1,000 as a free agent with scout Mike Toomey on a car trunk in Huntington, W.Va. His pro debut was memorable.

“I was nervous as all get out,” says Lowery. “I come in with the bases loaded. I balk all three runs in because the balk rule is different in college. You can basically change direction. In pro ball, you had to set.”

Lowery pitched for the Minneapolis Loons of the independent North Central League. The team was managed by Greg Olson. Teammates included Lightenberg and Juan Berenguer.

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John Lowery Jr., was an assistant baseball coach at Ball State University 1995-2002 and the University Michigan 2003-2004 — all but the first year as an assistant to Rich Maloney. Lowey is a former West Virginia high school player of the year who pitched at the University of Minnesota. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Frye expects commitment from himself, Logansport Berries

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Giving it everything he had each time he stepped on the diamond.

That’s what Dan Frye did as a player and that’s what he does as a coach.

Frye was a baseball assistant at his alma mater — Logansport (Ind.) High School. After being away for five seasons, he is now head coach for the Berries.

The 1988 LHS graduate expects his players to share in a sense of commitment.

“The kids should get the same out of me that I expect out of them and that’s being there everyday,” says Frye, who takes over a program that was led for the past 22 seasons by Jim Turner Jr.

Frye was a middle infielder for the Berries when Jim Turner Sr., an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, was head coach.

“Both are pretty laid-back guys,” says Frye of the Turners. “It takes a lot to get them excited. They wanted the accountability to be on the players and leave it up to the players to get the job done.”

Frye considers both Turners great baseball minds.

“It’s how they think about the game and situations throughout the game,” says Frye. “We’ll continue to work on situations.

“You should be practicing the way you anticipate playing. I practiced as hard as I played. Anything less than that is unacceptable.”

Three Frye brothers were standouts at Logansport and then at Indiana State University of Hall of Fame coach Bob Warn. Older brother Paul Frye played on the 1986 College World Series team and was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 11th round of that year’s Major League Baseball First Year Draft. The outfielder/infielder played four seasons in the minors.

Twins Dan and Dennis started at ISU in 1989.

“My decision was pretty easy,” says Dan Frye. “That’s where I wanted to go. I wanted a part of it.

“Bob Warn was a great coach and it was great to be around him.”

Mitch Hannahs (who is now Indiana State head coach) was a senior shortstop at ISU when Frye was a freshman second baseman.

“I don’t think Indiana State could be in better hands,” says Frye of Hannahs.

Playing in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Frye brothers got to play against several future big leaguers.

“The competition was phenomenal,” says Frye, who counted Mike Farrell (who is now a baseball scout) as a teammate at Logansport and Indiana State.

Among the opponents during Dan and Dennis’ time were 6-foot-5 right-hander Tyler Green, catcher Doug Mirabelli, right-hander Greg Brummett, shortstop Pat Meares, second baseman Mike Lansing, infielder P.J. Forbes and catcher and future big league manager/college head coach Eric Wedge at Wichita State University. IHSBCA Hall of Famer Wedge is now the head coach at WSU.

The Sycamores beat the Shockers 4-of-6 the year Wichita State won the national championship (1989).

“Each level of competition prepared me for the next level,” says Frye. “I was not in shock about seeing a fastball.

“Everybody (in the North Central Conference) threw hard. It was not odd.”

Dan and Dennis were drafted in 1988 by the Los Angeles Dodgers after high school — infielder/outfielder Dan Frye in the 56th round and first baseman/outfielder Dennis Frye in the 57th — but opted for college.

Dan Frye was selected in the 20th round of the 1992 draft by the Cincinnati Reds and played four seasons in the minors.

That first year he played in Princeton, W.Va., and he later began his coaching coach at Princeton High School.

With two small children, Frye moved back to Logansport in 1999 to be closer to family.

A few years later, he began coaching Little League and Babe Ruth baseball around town.

He was hired by the Logansport Police Department in 2002 and worked his way up from patrolman to assistant chief. He spent nearly four years on the narcotics unit. While coaching at Logansport High School, he also served as school resource officer.

There are now three lawmen on the Berries coaching staff — Dan Frye, Clayton Frye (his son and a Logansport detective) and Chris Jones (a Cass County sheriff’s deputy) — plus other former LHS players Brad Platt, Brian Gleitz, Ron Kinnaman and Cooper Kinnaman. Clayton Frye and Gleitz will work with pitchers, Jones with catcher and Platt with outfielders. The Kinnamans and Jones are assigned to the junior varsity team.

Frye looks to have a young first squad in 2020. At this point, there are three seniors — Matt Foutz, C.J. Hallam and Drake McLochlin.

During the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period, Frye and up to a dozen players got together for workouts.

“I saw some kids field, swing bats and throw,” says Frye. “The numbers weren’t always there to run a legitimate full practice. I was able to see what kids can and can’t do and start working on development stuff with ones who were there.”

Frye is catching up on 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), which was not in place the last time he was coaching high school ball.

“I agree with it,” says Frye. “It’s a good rule. It’s about the safety for the kids.

“We have to develop more pitching.

“It’ll be interesting to see how people coach a little differently with the pitch count and all that. I’m sure I’m going to learn some valuable lessons from coaches around here”

With the pitch limit, strike-throwing has become extra important.

“How many pitches can you waste anymore?,” says Frye. “When I played, I didn’t want to stand around taking pitches. One pitch and we’re headed around the base paths. I wanted to hit.”

He recalls hitting the first pitch of a game against Marion out of the park during his sophomore season.

“Walks put runners on base and I see it differently now.”

Logansport (enrollment around 1,250) is a member of the North Central Conference (with Anderson, Harrison of West Lafayette, Indianapolis Arsenal Tech, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Marion, McCutcheon, Muncie Central and Richmond).

The NCC tends to play Tuesdays and Wednesdays with Saturday doubleheaders.

The Berries are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Harrison (West Lafayette), Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon. Logansport won its 29th sectional crown in 2019. The Berries have been in the State Finals 10 times with state championships in 1975, 1977, 1979 and 1991 and a state runner-up finish in 1989.

Logansport plays on an artificial turf surface. Jim Turner Field has been covered since the 2016 season.

Dan Frye, 49, is married to Cynthia and has four adult children — Clayton Frye and Krista Frye in Logansport, Dustin Clements in Nashville, Tenn., and Katie Clements in Denver, Colo.

DANFRYEFAMILY

Cynthia and Dan Frye are surrounded by children (from left) Katie Clements, Krista Frye, Dustin Clements, KyLeigh Frye (daughter-in-law) and Clayton Frye. Dan Frye is the head baseball coach at his alma mater — Logansport (Ind,) High School.

Relationships the most memorable thing for Ball State’s Eppers

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Eppers can point to some memorable moments during his college diamond days.

The Ball State University senior baseball player is coming off a “career weekend” in which he went 10-of-13 at the plate with his third career home run plus a double, stolen base, sacrifice, four runs scored and three runs batted in.

The Cardinals stopped a nine-game losing skid with a three-game sweep at Western Michigan. BSU outscored the Broncos 46-17. Eppers went 5-for-5 in Game 2 of the series — the first five-hit game of his career.

“We had been pressing a little bit,” says Eppers, speaking for the team as a whole. “We started relaxing and having fun.”

On Tuesday, April 11, Eppers stayed hot with three more hits in an 11-2 win against visiting Valparaiso. In his last four games, he is 13-of-17, raising his average to a team-pacing .311.

Earlier in the 2017 season, Eppers was named Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week.

The 6-foot-4 outfielder strung together hits in eight consecutive plate appearances in his junior season of 2016, spanning two games against Dayton and one against Purdue.

The 2013 Elkhart Central High School graduate (he played center field and was the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner as the Steve Stutsman-coached Blue Blazers beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the ’13 Class 4A state title) also counts a victory against powerhouse Louisiana State in 2016 as a highlight.

As a sophomore in 2015, Eppers scored three runs against Akron and helped the Cardinals to the MAC tournament championship game.

But as outstanding as those achievements are, it’s the relationships that Eppers has made in his four BSU seasons that he cherishes most.

“I came on to this team not knowing anybody,” says Eppers. “My roommate, Sean Kennedy, had a monster weekend himself (at Western Michigan). He hit a grand slam and another home run and had a whole bunch of hits (Kennedy was 7-of-9 with nine RBI in three games). He and I are best friends. I’m going to be the best man in his wedding.

“The relationships that I’ve built, that’s what’s made college baseball worth it. Through the highs and the lows, the guys you’re around and that sense of brotherhood is heightened to a new level in college.”

Eppers roomed with right-handed pitcher B.J. Butler as a freshman and later shared a place with Kennedy and Alex Call (selected in the third round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox  after earning MAC Player of the Year honors in 2016) before Call moved on.

“(Sean) has been very versatile. He’s played every infield position this year. He’s kind of the anchor of our defense. Anywhere we need him, he’s there. With his bat, too. In the middle of the lineup, he’s been a heavy hitter … It was a good weekend for him and I in our apartment.”

Besides Eppers, Kennedy and Butler, the other BSU seniors are right-hander David Current, third baseman Alex Maloney (son of Ball State head coach Rich Maloney), first baseman Caleb Stayton and left-handers Evan Korson (a transfer from Northern Kentucky) and Kevin Marnon (a transfer from Akron).

Rich Maloney has enjoyed watching Eppers perform for the Cards.

“He’s very athletic,” says Maloney. “He covers a lot of ground in center field. He has really good speed. He competes really, really well.

“With the other guys we’ve been able to surround him with in his class, he’s been a really nice piece of the puzzle.

“He’s been a joy to coach.”

The past three seasons, that recruiting class has aided in an overall MAC title, two West division crowns and a tournament runner-up finish while averaging 34 wins.

“They’ve all gotten a taste of winning and enjoyed it and they certainly want to pass it on,” says Maloney. “They are leaders and they’re all going to end up graduating. It’s all good and Matt is certainly a big part of it.”

How does Eppers prefer to do his leading?

“Day-to-day, I just try to lead by example,” says Eppers, who has played in 188 career games with 147 starts. “I’m not really one of the hoorah guys.

“I don’t speak just to speak. When I have to be a vocal leader, I pick my times. I feel like that’s not only benefitted me here but my whole life. When you can do that it makes your word go a little bit farther.”

Maloney coached Ball State 1996-2002 then at Michigan 2003-12 before returning to BSU for the 2013 season. A staple as he took over a program that had not been winning was “Gotta Believe” rally cry (#GottaBelieve).

“The first thing in building a program is you’ve got to get everybody to believe,” says Maloney, whose 2017 assistants are Scott French, Dustin Glant and Ray Skjold. “They’ve got to believe in the coaches. They’ve got to believe in the vision. They’ve got to believe in the system. They’ve got to believe in themselves. They’ve got to believe in their teammates. If you get that going then you have a chance to be successful.”

Facing the toughest schedule of Maloney’s BSU coaching career (win vs. Maryland, four losses to both Oregon State and Kent State and defeats to defending national champion Coastal Carolina plus setbacks against Louisville and West Virgina), Ball State got off to an 11-9 start in 2017 then hit a slide once the MAC part of the slate began.

“We came close in several or them, but couldn’t get over the top,” says Maloney. “(Against Western Michigan), we were able to break through.

Eppers has bought in to Maloney’s belief system.

“You gotta believe that you can get the job done,” says Eppers. “That’s something he’s instilled in all of us.”

“The whole reason I came to Ball State was the vision that he sold. To his credit, he did it. He promised us a new field, improved schedules and improved skills and we got it.

“No matter who we’re playing, you can see it in his eyes. He truly believes Ball State is going to win … Coach has taught us not to ever take a back seat to anybody.”

Since Eppers’ sophomore year, Ball Diamond has been covered with artificial turf. This is a growing trend in the northern U.S., where the maintenance is lower and teams are able to play more games even in cold and wet weather.

Another major difference been grass and turf is the speed of the game.

“On turf, everything is a lot faster,” says Eppers. “A single may turn into a double; a double may turn into a triple. Especially at our field, it plays very fast … It’s probably given me a few more triples, too, so I appreciate it.”

Of 33 starts for a 15-18 squad, Eppers has been in center field for 29 games and right field for four.

“Center has always been my favorite position, where I feel most comfortable,” says Eppers. “You’re the shortstop of the outfield in a way. You’re supposed to be the best all-around defensive player in the outfield. Something I’ve always taken pride in is tracking down balls and trying to make catches other people can’t make.”

Eppers, who hits from the right side, was in the No. 8 slot in the batting order during his recent hot weekend in Kalamazoo, but has appeared in every hole but Nos. 3 and 4 this spring and has led off eight times.

“Everyday I have to check, but it’s not that big of a deal,” says Eppers. “I know my job is to get on base. I’m not a guy who’s going to hit a lot of home runs. I do have a few extra base hits. That’s where I hit the gaps and I’m able to run.”

While he’s taken hundreds of fly balls in the outfield to improve his defense and bulked up to 202 pounds with work in the weight room, Eppers has also adjusted his approach at the plate. He has become more knowledgeable about situational hitting and what pitches he can connect with the best.

“Early in my career I was very vulnerable to the slider and pitcher-advantage counts,” says Eppers. “Now, I’m a tougher out. When the slider is in the dirt, I’m able to lay off that pitch.

“This year I’ve really worked at hitting pitches in the (strike) zone I know I can barrel up. I’m not chasing as many pitches.”

Eppers, 22, is scheduled to graduate in May with a “high stakes” degree in entrepreneurial management.

“It’s basically a pass-fail major,” says Eppers, who was on the MAC all-academic team in 2016 and carried 3.555 grade-point average in the fall. “For a year, you write a business plan, fine tune it and then Wednesday (April 12) we present it in a room with a panel of judges. If they like what you have to say, they pass you. If they don’t, they fail you. If you fail, you have to opportunity to come back next year and re-try or take a couple some classes and (graduate with a different major).

“It puts some stress on you.”

Eppers and his business partner will present a plan on a not-for-profit gym and counseling service for veterans, military members and first responders in the Indianapolis area.

While he is exploring his post-graduation options, Eppers says he is leaning toward staying on the diamond.

“I want to keep playing baseball as long as I can,” says Eppers. “When I’m not allowed to play anymore I’ll have to re-evaluate my professional life.

“For right now I’m just focused on playing baseball and having fun. I’m trying to play every game like it’s my last.”

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Matt Eppers contributes speed to the Ball State University baseball team. The Elkhart Central High School graduate is in his senior season. (Ball State Photo)

MATTEPPERS

Matt Eppers has played in 188 baseball games as a Ball State Cardinal through Tuesday, April 11. (Ball State Photo)